Introduction

How to listen to and explain the teachings

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Part of a series of talks on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Aspects of the Path given in various locations around the United States from 2002-2007. This talk was given in Missouri.

  • The three pots
  • Six recognitions
  • Three characteristics of teachings
  • Lama Tsongkhapa and the three principal realizations

How to listen to and explain the teachings (download)

Now we will start a teaching on the prayer or the verses called The Three Principal Aspects of the Path by Lama Tsongkhapa. This is a really good text for understanding the general overview of the important points to meditate on in order to gain realizations of the Dharma. Before going into that text specifically, I thought to talk a little bit about how to study and listen to the teachings and how to explain the Dharma. This can be helpful to us at the beginning in order to prepare our mind so that we can really benefit from the teachings.

Venerable Chodron teaching.

We have to hear teachings so that we know how to counteract our disturbing attitudes and how to increase our good qualities.

It’s very good at the beginning to think about the benefits of listening to teachings so that we feel encouraged about it. There are many benefits. One is that if we want to meditate then we have to be able to know what to meditate on. To know what to meditate on, we have to hear teachings. If nobody explains to us how to meditate and we invent our own way, then we’re going to be in big trouble. Why? We have been inventing our own path for a long time already in samsara! We have to learn the teachings in order to know how to meditate and how to discriminate between constructive and destructive thoughts and emotions. We have to hear teachings so that we know how to counteract our disturbing attitudes and how to increase our good qualities.

When we hear teachings, the Dharma that we hear becomes our best friend and our most reliable companion that nobody else can take away from us. Here I really think of all the practitioners, let’s say in China or in Tibet, who were imprisoned during the Communist takeover—the Cultural Revolution. Those people who had heard a lot of Dharma, even when imprisoned, could continue doing their practice. Even if they did not have texts, even if there was nothing Buddhist around them—they could do their practice because they had heard so many teachings. I really admire that quality in other people. We can see there how the Dharma really becomes our friend wherever we are, whatever is happening, whether we’re happy or miserable. At the time of death if we’ve heard a lot of Dharma, even then when we die, we’ll know how to work with our mind and do something constructive.

Correct attitude to listen to the teachings: the three pots

It’s important when we listen to the Dharma and when we study it that we do so with the correct attitude and in a beneficial way. They often give the analogy of three kinds of pots. We shouldn’t be like those three kinds of pots. One pot is the upside down pot. One pot is right side up but it has a hole in the bottom. The other pot is right side up, there is no hole in the bottom, but it’s dirty.

To explain the analogy: the pot that is upside down, that’s like when we come to listen to teachings and we fall asleep. Nothing goes in. It’s like if you try to pour water into a pot that’s upside down, the pot remains empty. If we come to teachings and we’re nodding off it doesn’t even go in. If we come and we’re super distracted by lots of preconceptions or worried about, “How’s the dog doing?” and, “What color they are painting this?” and, “There was a tornado in Illinois”mdash;our mind is busy with all sorts of other stuff. Here also the teachings do not even go inside. It’s like a pot that’s upside down. In this way then we really miss out on a good opportunity.

Next is the pot that’s right side up and has the hole in the bottom. That’s like when we come to teachings, we’re not asleep, we’re awake, and we’re paying attention. But afterwards the mind is blank. I think we’ve all had this happen to us. We go and listen to a teaching; afterwards our friend comes and says, “Well, what did they talk about in the teaching?” We go, “Ahhhhh, Buddhism!” because that’s all we can remember. We can’t remember what the teacher said. We can’t remember the points to meditate on. In this case it’s just like a leaky pot: we were there, we heard it, but the mind is like a sieve and it went right through.

This is why it’s good either to take notes, or if you don’t take notes, when you go back jot down some notes. That really helps us remember things much better. One way that I studied—and I’m not saying that everybody has to do this but it was one way that helped me—is I developed a system of shorthand for commonly used terms. Then I tried as much as possible to take word by word notes of what my teacher said. I’d go back over them afterwards, and read through them and try to understand. Nowadays everything is taped. When I was studying in India it wasn’t taped. We didn’t have the option of going back and listening. It’s really good to review things and take notes so we can highlight the points in our mind to remember. That makes it easier when we sit down to contemplate the Dharma.

The third pot is the one that’s right side up. It’s not broken and there’s no hole in the bottom. Rather it is all full of dirt and grime on the inside. Even if you pour something delicious inside—whatever delicious thing you have gets totally polluted because of all the filth inside. That’s like if we’re here, we’re listening to the teachings and we remember the teachings, but our motivation is totally polluted. Sometimes you’ll meet people who come to teachings not because they really want to learn in order to change their own mind, but they want to learn so that they become a teacher themselves. It’s like, Oh, I’ll learn and get this information, forget about practicing it. Then I can go and teach others; they’ll give things to me or they’ll think that I am really wonderful. Here our mind is polluted by our motivation. Another scenario is we come and listen to teachings just so we can criticize other people’s views; and just generate many opinions and views ourselves. That is not the correct motivation. The way we want to listen is: pay attention, have the ability to retain the teachings, and then especially listen with a good motivation to be able to use the teachings to change our mind.

I’m very suspicious. I get e-mails from different people who want to know where to go to study. Sometimes people will say, “I want to become a Dharma teacher myself, so tell me where to go to study or what to read.” I’m always very suspicious of that. While it is good to teach others I don’t think that should be our principal motivation for studying. Our principal motivation should be to change our own mind. Only through changing our own mind will we find any happiness and make our life meaningful. If we just learn Dharma so that we can repeat it to others and be famous or earn a living or something, then we might as well learn chemistry or physics because we would use that information in the same way. For learning Dharma we really want to have a very different motivation, so we get the taste of the teachings and it helps the mind.

Six recognitions

They also recommend listening to the teachings with the six recognitions. I find these six very good for helping me to set my mind and set my motivation.

  • The first of the six recognitions is to see ourself as a sick person.
  • The second is to see the teacher as a skilled doctor.
  • The third is to see the Dharma as the medicine.
  • The fourth is to practice the Dharma as the way of getting cured.
  • The fifth is seeing the Buddha as a holy being whose medicine of Dharma is not deceptive.
  • Lastly, the sixth is to see that the methods we learn are things that we pray exist and flourish in the world.

Going back through them, seeing one’s self as a sick person we might think, Well, I’m healthy. I’m strong. I don’t have a cold. I don’t have cancer. Everything is great. But if we look, our mind is pretty sick, isn’t it? Our mind is sick with the illness of ignorance, anger, and attachment. Our body is sick by being under the influence of those three poisonous attitudes. We’re sick in the sense that we’re under the influence of ignorance and karma. Due to their influence from lifetime to lifetime we just have to take one rebirth, after another rebirth, after another rebirth—without choice, without finding any kind of lasting happiness. If we look at that predicament which we are in, then we see indeed we are sick. Sick in the sense that our mind does not see reality: our mind is terribly confused about a lot of things and projects stuff and gets pushed around by all of our emotions. For the Dharma to be beneficial to us we have to see ourselves as sick. If we think everything is wonderful in our lives, then we won’t have any real motivation for hearing the teachings.

The second recognition is to see the teacher as a skilled doctor. Here the teacher could refer to the person teaching you; but ultimately it goes back to the Buddha, who is our real teacher. The Buddha as our teacher diagnoses our disease and then prescribes the medicine for us to take. In the same way that when we’re sick we go to a regular doctor: they diagnose and prescribe. Similarly here too we realize that we’re unhappy and we go to the Buddha. Buddha says, “You’re suffering from cyclic existence. Here’s some medicine: the three higher trainings and the development of bodhicitta. If you practice this, this is how you can get cured.”

That Dharma is the medicine. That’s the third recognition. When we go to the doctor and we get medicine, we don’t just keep it on the shelf and look at the labels on the bottles all the time. We have to take the medicine and put it in our mouth. In the same way here, this Dharma is the medicine to get cured. It will stop our unhappiness, stop our confusion.

The fourth recognition: we see practicing the Dharma as the way to get cured. In another words like I was just saying, instead of the medicine being kept on the shelf, we put it in our mouth. Likewise, instead of just having notebooks full of notes and tapes full of teachings, we actually go home and contemplate what we hear.

My teacher in Dharamsala, Geshe Ngawang Dhargye, used to tease us so much about this. There were no tape recorders then but we all used to sit there with our little Indian notebooks and take copious notes. He said, “Oh, you go to your room, you have so many bookshelves with so many notes. But when you have a problem your mind is totally empty. You don’t know what kind of Dharma to think about, what Buddhist teaching to apply to help your mind. You really have to review the Dharma and think about it and practice it when you have a problem—not just go back to our old ways of seeing and doing things when we are miserable.”

Then the fifth recognition: seeing the Buddha as a holy being whose medicine of the Dharma is non-deceptive. We trust the Buddha as non-deceptive because he described the exact path that he himself followed. The Buddha didn’t create the Dharma, he didn’t make up the Dharma—he just realized what is. He realized what needs to be abandoned and what needs to be practiced. He saw very clearly how to practice what needs to be practiced, how to abandon what needs to be abandoned, and then he did it. Through his own personal experience the Buddha actualized this. Therefore we can trust the teachings because he spoke them with a good motivation and he spoke them out of his own direct experience.

Lastly the sixth recognition: we want to pray that this Dharma we learn exist and flourish forever. That’s an important prayer. Not only that we have access to the Dharma, but that the Dharma exist and flourish in our world. I feel very strongly that’s what we are trying to do here at the monastery: is set something up so that long after we’re gone there will be a place where people can come and learn, think about and meditate on the Dharma. If we have to go through some difficulties in setting things up, that’s okay, because our motivation is something that’s long term. We have in our heart the very deep prayer and aspiration that the Buddha’s teachings take root in this country and that they flourish in this country for many many generations, long after we are all dead. Maybe we’ll be reborn and come back here next life. Then everything will already be built. We won’t have to worry so much about it! Then if we get clairvoyance we can say, “Oh, my past life did that!” Even if we’re not here, there will be other people who benefit from our efforts.

Three distinguishing characteristics of teachings

I wanted to also mention a little bit about the kind of teaching that we should listen to and practice. This is very important especially in America where there is such a spiritual supermarket going on. They say that the teachings we should listen to and practice should have three distinguishing characteristics:

  1. The teachings have been taught by the Buddha.
  2. They are clean of any errors.
  3. They have been realized by the great masters.

Let’s go back to the first distinguishing characteristic: that it was taught by the Buddha. Why do we want to practice teachings taught by the Buddha? As I just said, the Buddha described the path based on his own experience and did it with a motivation of compassion. Now this doesn’t mean that everything that is taught in other religions is wrong. There are many points in other religions that correspond with what the Buddha said. We should respect and should practice them because they are the Buddha’s teachings even though may have they came out of the mouth of Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Lao Tzu, or somebody else.

All the major religions teach ethical discipline. They all teach about kindness. They teach about patience. Of course not everybody practices that; but not all Buddhists are Buddhas either. Still those particular teachings in other traditions are valuable. If we hear them, if they help us to become a better person, then we can consider them as the teachings of the Buddha. We can incorporate them into our practice. If there’s something contradictory: like if they’re teaching inherent existence or something like that, then that part we don’t incorporate because that contradicts what the Buddha said. It also contradicts reason because when we analyze we can prove that inherent existence doesn’t exist at all.

Next is the second distinguishing characteristic: the quality of the teachings is that it should have been cleaned of any errors. What this means is that the Buddha may have taught pure teachings but sometimes over the centuries things get corrupted. Things get misinterpreted.

We’ve been having a lot of discussions about that recently: how sometimes different cultural practices sneak into the Dharma. People start saying that these are the teachings of the Buddha when they aren’t. Or people leave out aspects of the Dharma that don’t correspond with what they personally think, and they teach that to others. Or perhaps they change what the Buddha said in order to agree with their own opinions. That may have happened sometimes over the centuries. Therefore, what we want to make sure is when we hear teachings, that we’ve heard teachings that have been cleansed of all of that. In other words, teachings that, when we hear them we can trace them back to the sutras and the Buddha’s word—they’re free of any kind of other accretions that may have snuck in either accidentally or deliberately.

The third distinguishing characteristic is that these teachings should have been realized by master practitioners. Once teachings have been heard, considered, and meditated upon, then they must be passed to us through the various generations of an unbroken lineage. The teachings haven’t just been preserved in an accurate form verbally, but the realizations of these teachings have been preserved. They have been practiced by successive generations of people; and thorough these people’s own practice they have been able to establish the validity of the teachings. That’s why it is so inspiring when we see modern day examples of real practitioners who have transformed their mind through the practice. Then we know that, yes, these teachings actually do work. We want to practice a teaching with those three characteristics.

Explaining and teaching the Dharma

Now I’d like to share about how to explain the Dharma. The teachings instruct us not just about how to listen to but also how to explain the Dharma. There are responsibilities on everybody’s side. In the same way that we think about the benefits of hearing the Dharma, we have to think about the benefits of teaching the Dharma. I think this part is included because not everybody likes to teach. I have some friends who say, “I don’t want to teach the Dharma. I don’t like teaching. I don’t want to stand up in front of a bunch of people.” Here thinking about the benefits of teaching can give us a little bit of encouragement to see the value of what we do. They say so often that the gift of the Dharma is the highest gift. I find that’s really true because when we look in our own life, what has benefited us the most? I can say personally that the greatest kindness I’ve received is the kindness of my teachers in teaching me the Dharma because the Dharma is the most valuable thing. So likewise, when we can share the Dharma with other people it becomes something quite valuable.

When you teach you also have to practice what you teach. That’s the really hard part. Why? Because what we know intellectually is always greater that what we’re capable of practicing at one particular moment—at least for us ordinary beings. Realized beings practice everything perfectly but the rest of us lapse a lot. There’s a great responsibility of the teacher to try and practice what we teach. In this regard when you see your teachers mess up, don’t blame it on the Dharma and don’t think the Dharma doesn’t work. Just remember that your teachers are also human beings who are trying just as we’re trying. Copy their good examples and leave aside the bad ones.

They also recommend for teachers the following: just as students should check out the qualities of a teacher, teachers should check out the qualities of students. This is to make sure that the students are appropriate for whatever they’re teaching. I have actually found just in how I teach that different audiences will bring out different kind of teachings. Something there is working.

Like this text that I want to teach now, The Three Principal Aspects of the Path: if I taught it to a different group the teaching might come out somewhat different simply because of who the people are who are listening. We all co-create these situations through how well we listen, if you practice it afterwards, the questions that you ask. We all are involved in creating what’s about to happen.

In summary, that’s just a little bit about how to listen to teachings, the kinds of teachings to listen to, and then how to teach.

Lama Tsongkhapa

This particular text is by Lama Tsongkhapa who’s sometimes called Je Rinpoche. He was a great reformer who lived in Tibet in the late fifteenth-early sixteenth century. There are reasons why his teachings have become so valuable. Buddhism was introduced in Tibet beginning in the seventh century. After a few centuries there was some persecution in Tibet and some lineages were lost. (This was similar to the way in the Tang dynasty there was persecution of Chinese Buddhism.) There was a certain amount of degeneration. Sometimes people developed many wrong conceptions and confusion about the teachings. Due to this in the eleventh century Tibetans brought Atisha to Tibet. Then many people, like Marpa the great translator, went to India and brought teachings to Tibet. Virupa came from India to Tibet and brought many new lineages. This was a revival in Tibetan Buddhism and occurred around the eleventh century. Things went very well for a while and then again there were certain confusions that arose. One thing Lama Tsongkhapa did is that he went back through and studied the scriptures, studied the commentaries, and he studied with masters from all the different lineages in Tibet at that time. Lama Tsongkhapa was not sectarian at all. His followers have all of a sudden established a tradition and called it Gelupa, but Lama Tsongkhapa wasn’t a Gelupa. He had no intention of establishing a tradition. He studied with everybody and he clarified many of the misconceptions about emptiness. He also clarified the role of morality and how important the monastic ordination was for the practice of the Dharma.

I’ve had the fortune to study many of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings and I find them very beneficial. I’m not somebody who says Lama Tsongkhapa is great because he is ‘my tradition.’ Not at all. For when I started Buddhism I didn’t even know about Lama Tsongkhapa. I didn’t know about all these different traditions. Yet I have just found that when I studied this and then when I practiced it, it really helped my mind. When there’s confusion, if you go into the teachings he really clarifies many things. The points can become very clear. I found it very effective.

Introduction to the text

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path is a very short text but with a very big meaning. Let me just go through very briefly what the three principal aspects are. Then afterwards we can start going through the text verse by verse and really understanding it.

First of all, when the Buddha taught he went around ancient India going from place to place, giving teachings to all different sorts of people. Some people he taught were already his followers, some were non-Buddhists, some were people with wrong views. He taught many different kinds of people. Some people were very intelligent, other people weren’t. The Buddha gave different teachings to different people according to their own disposition. These teachings were all recorded in the sutras. The sutras passed down from generation to generation, first orally and then about the first century B.C. they began to be written down.

This is the history of how the teachings were passed down. They were all put together in a big whole and sometimes people would read them and get very confused. Why? Because the Buddha taught this in one place, he taught that in another, and that in another. What then are you supposed to practice first? What are you supposed to practice second? What are the really important things that the Buddha taught? What things are sub-categories of those important things? It’s very easy to get confused.

I really saw that when I went to Singapore to teach initially. This was many years ago. People had many different Buddhist teachings there from different lineages. They had heard a lot but they didn’t know to put it together in terms of their own Dharma practice. They said, “Do I practice Amitabha, or do I practice vipassana, or do I practice meditating on death? How do I do this? Do I practice all three? Do I just practice one? What order do I practice them in?”

The nice thing that happened as the teachings developed in India especially with Lama Atisha’s teachings: he wrote a text called the Lamdron or the Lamp of the Path. There Lama Atisha began to systematize the teachings. He explained which points found in which sutras do you practice first, and then which ones after that, and again after that. Lama Tsongkhapa further systematized those teachings. This makes it much easier for people to know how to practice. If you have the big overview, lets say, of the four noble truths, or the overview of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, or the overview of the Gradual Path to Enlightenment—if you have this kind of structure in your mind, then when you hear any specific teaching you will know where it fits in the path. You will know how it relates to the other teachings. You will know what to practice in what order. This is really helpful for us so we don’t get confused.

In these three principal aspects there’s an order in which you develop them but we also train in all three simultaneously. We do this by emphasizing the first one at the beginning, then the second one, and then finally the third one.

What are these three principal aspects?

  • The first one is called the determination to be free. It’s sometimes translated as renunciation.
  • The second one is bodhicitta or the altruistic intention.
  • And the third one is the wisdom realizing emptiness.

These are the three principal realizations that we want to gain. If we look at all the Buddhist teachings we can categorize how they fit in to these three. Also we can see how if you have renunciation, it helps you generate bodhicitta, and that helps you generate wisdom. We can see how if we generate bodhicitta, that it depends on renunciation, and how bodhicitta can increase our renunciation. We can understand how wisdom can make our renunciation and our bodhicitta stronger. We can understand all these relationships and that really helps in our practice.

For a quick overview, when we talk about renunciation or the determination to be free, what we’re talking about here is a mind that sees the defects of cyclic existence or samsara. The mind that sees what samsara is very clearly and says, “I want out!” Now, part of our problem, one of the big obstacles we have in our Dharma practice is that when we look our determination to be free isn’t always so strong. Often what happens is, “Yes, I want to be free from samsara but I want my samsara to be really nice and pleasant too. I want good food, I want a comfortable bed, I want to have friends, I want people to speak nicely to me. I want to be respected.” We have all these kinds of worldly aspirations that part of our mind is still thinking will bring us happiness. As long as we’re clinging on to these worldly things and thinking they’re going to bring us ultimate happiness, then our determination to leave samsara, to leave cyclic existence, is very weak.

Do you get what I’m saying? We can look. If we’re single-pointed on, I’m fed up with cyclic existence, I want out, then we’re going to be single-pointed on, well, what do I need to get out? I need to realize emptiness, and I need to develop samadhi, and I need to keep my vows really well, and I need to develop some love and compassion. If we have strong determination to get out, we’re going to have strong determination to practice. When we look at our mind we get distracted so easily. It’s like, oh, it’s so nice, maybe I’ll go lie on the beach, take a break. I meditated so hard, let’s have a milkshake. Let’s watch some TV. Let’s do all these other things. Somehow our energy for the Dharma gets weakened because our determination to be free is not so strong.

When we say renunciation what we’re really renouncing is suffering. We’re not renouncing happiness. We are renouncing suffering. Lots of people think, “Oh, renunciation means I have to go and live in a cave like Milarepa, and burn my finger off like the great Chinese master. That’s renunciation but, oh, I can’t do that!” That is not what we are talking about! Renunciation means renouncing suffering; and we’re not just renouncing the “ouch” kind of suffering. Buddhism talks about three kinds of suffering (which I’ll get into later). We want to renounce all three of those kinds of suffering and their causes. Renunciation is really having compassion for ourselves. We want ourselves to be happy. We want ourselves to be free of misery.

Bodhicitta, the second principal aspect of the path, is based on renunciation. Renunciation says, “I want to be out of cyclic existence” and bodhicitta says, “Everybody should be out of cyclic existence because everybody is just like me—wanting to be happy and not wanting to be miserable. So I can’t just work for my own liberation. I have to be able to really extend a hand and help others. But to be able to really help others I need to get enlightened so that I have all the qualities of a Buddha.” We have some love and compassion now, we want to help others now, but sometimes we don’t know what to do. Or sometimes we try to help and we do the wrong thing. Seeing this we want to become enlightened. We want to gradually develop the path in our mindstream so that our ability to act with compassion and act in an effective way to help others increases. That’s the bodhicitta.

The third principal aspect is the wisdom realizing emptiness. This is important because in order to actually free ourselves from cyclic existence, in order to purify our mind of all defilements so that we can become a Buddha we need to realize emptiness—the lack of inherent existence. As long as our mind is confused by grasping on to inherent existence and also by the appearance of inherent existence, as long as our mind is obscured by all of that, we’re not going to be able to liberate others or liberate ourselves. The wisdom realizing emptiness is the actual thing which purifies the mind and cuts the root of suffering. This is why the wisdom realizing emptiness is important.

That’s a quick overview of the three principal aspects. We will go into them more in depth next time but I wanted to see if you have any questions so far, or comments, or whatever.

Audience: [inaudible]

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Yes, the three aspects are renunciation, bodhicitta, and the wisdom realizing emptiness. We can go into those three much deeper, but it’s good just to think about the overview: why each one of those is important. Then that gives us some energy to do the meditations that lead us to generate those realizations.

Audience: So the three principals, is it like you do renunciation first? And then when you go to bodhicitta, then you have to refer back to renunciation? But for renunciation do you think about bodhicitta?

VTC: They’re developed in that order but it is not a strict order. In other words, we start out meditating on renunciation. We need some understanding of that to meditate on bodhicitta because with bodhicitta we want others to be free of suffering. Before we can want others to be free of suffering we have to want our self to be free of suffering. That’s why renunciation comes first.

It doesn’t mean you only meditate on renunciation and never bodhicitta and never wisdom. We do all three. But we emphasize renunciation a little bit more at the beginning. Why? Because the stronger our renunciation or determination to be free is the easier it will be to generate bodhicitta and the more energy that we’ll have for meditating on emptiness. If we don’t have any motivation, like wanting ourselves to be out of cyclic existence or wanting all beings to be happy and to be out of cyclic existence, if we don’t have either of those motivations—then we don’t have any energy to meditate on emptiness. Why should we meditate on emptiness? I mean, we don’t do anything without a motivation. If you don’t want yourself or others to be free, well, why put in so much energy to meditate on emptiness—which is hard. You know, it’s not easy and it takes a lot of study, and it takes effort. And then you have to develop concentration and work with our mind that’s so full so distractions and always falling asleep and full of rubbish. If we don’t have any motivation to do anything then we won’t do it!

As you get some understanding of each of the three aspects, then it helps you understand the others. So even though the wisdom realizing emptiness is the third one, the more understanding we get of that, then when we meditate on renunciation we’ll begin to see that the suffering we want to be free of is empty of inherent existence. That gives us a whole different understanding of suffering and a whole different feeling about the determination to be free. Or if we have some understanding of emptiness, then when we meditate on bodhicitta we’ll see how it’s possible for sentient beings’ defilements to be eliminated from their minds. That deepens our bodhicitta.

Audience: So, renunciation you start with developing compassion for yourself by wishing yourself to be free of suffering?

VTC: Yes.

Audience: And then when you’ve worked on that you start developing compassion for others?

VTC: Right, because if we don’t wish ourselves well, how are we going to wish anybody well? I think this is a big misunderstanding that sometimes Westerners bring into Buddhism, is they have the thought that to be really compassionate means, “I don’t take care of myself. I neglect myself and I have to suffer in order to be really compassionate.” That’s wrong! Buddhism teaches we have to have love and compassion for our self. We have to take care of our self but in a healthy way, not in a dysfunctional way. We have to want ourselves to be happy but not in a selfish way of wanting my chocolate but in a way of, I want myself to be happy because I want to be out of cyclic existence. Okay?

That’s very important and many people in the West, because of our culture, misunderstand that. People here have so many problems with self-hatred. Then they think, “Oh, I have to renounce myself to benefit others. I hate myself for being so selfish and I’m such an evil wicked person because I’m selfish.” That kind of attitude becomes a big impediment on the path.

We have to really care about ourselves in a healthy way. Respect ourselves. Respect our own spiritual interest. That’s important you know. We have a precious human life. We have the interest in the Dharma. We have to respect that part of our self! And nurture it and feed it because it’s something very precious.

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