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The eight worldly concerns

Verse 4

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.

  • Benefits of renunciation
  • The Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa
  • Generating a meaningful life through the Dharma practice

Three Principal Aspects 04: Verse 4: Eight worldly concerns (download)

Renunciation is the first of the three principals of the path that we need to generate, because that’s what actually turns our mind to Dharma practice. We see here that the eight worldly concerns are really important. They can create a lot of problems for us, both in our life and in our Dharma practice. They have disadvantages because they cause suffering now and they cause suffering in the future. We can see, for example with the first one, the more attached we are to having money and material possessions the more we suffer. When the stock market goes down—the more we suffer. When people forget our birthday, the more we worry about money and the like—these cause unhappiness now. Also because of that mental unhappiness, because of that attachment and aversion, then we get involved in all sorts of negative actions to procure and protect our money and our possessions. Somebody might come to take something and we beat them up; or we lie to get material things. We can create a host of negative karma in pursuit of these eight. That brings more suffering in future lives in addition to the unhappiness right now.

We can see that similarly the more we are seeking for praise and approval, then just even this life we get so unhappy. If people don’t praise us we feel resentful, we feel unappreciated. If the people we love don’t tell us that they love us enough, we feel unworthy, we get angry. So we’re miserable now. In addition, in order to get that kind of approval and praise we might go against our own ethical principles to fit into a group; we might nag and pester people; we might do all sorts of things to get them to like us, or to say nice sweet people-pleasing words to us. Also we do all sorts of negative actions when they blame us. Especially look at the four negative actions of speech: lying, divisive words, harsh speech, and gossip. We often get quite involved in those because other people have blamed us for something—rightly or wrongly. So then we create all that negative karma and that brings us suffering in the future.

The same thing with reputation, the more we’re attached to reputation the more suffering we have this life. Some people even kill themselves because their reputation gets ruined. Many people commit suicide. Now that’s a lot of suffering this life. Similarly in order to get a good reputation we can lie and deceive and manipulate. Or when we get a bad reputation, again we deprecate others—do all sorts of really nasty things which create negative karma which brings suffering.

Then the attachment to the pleasures of the senses, we do all sorts of things to get them too. We oversleep in the morning to have more pleasure of lying in bed and sleeping. We stuff our food down really fast so we can get seconds before anybody else can. Sometimes we can get really quite nasty getting the sense pleasures that we want. Somebody makes food we don’t like at a restaurant we send it back and criticize them and make them unhappy. Okay? So we have a lot of misery this lifetime.

If you go to India, boy, all your attachments to pleasant senses are really challenged. Before we were talking about unpleasant smells; when you go to India there are lots of unpleasant smells and many things that are dirty. So then you come running back to your home full of criticism for other people because of unpleasant sense sensations that we had. Again and again, we create so much negative karma which brings suffering in future lives.

These eight worldly concerns are a huge problem. They’re the first level of things that we really have to deal with in our practice. Like I told you last time, my teacher Zopa Rinpoche would do a whole month-long mediation course on the eight worldly concerns really to emphasize to us to pay attention to these. If we don’t work on these eight, what else are we going to work on? We say that we are Dharma practitioners, well, if we’re not working on overcoming these eight, then what are we doing in our Dharma practice? What are we working to overcome if it’s not these basic principal eight things that come at the beginning? How are we going to overcome dualistic appearances if we can’t even give up our chocolate? How are we going to overcome selfishness if we cannot endure a little bit of blame, or whatever? So if we’re not working on these eight, then we have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing in my practice? What does practicing Dharma mean?” Practicing Dharma means transforming our mind. It doesn’t mean just looking on the outside like we’re a Dharma practitioner. It means actually doing something with our mind. These eight are the foundation that we really have to work with—so plenty of work to do here.

I asked you to keep a journal. Have you been doing that? No? Keep doing it now and next time I will ask you about, and if you haven’t done anything then I will ask which of the eight worldly concerns distracted you from doing it? [laughter]

When we sit down to meditate, what is it that interferes with our meditation? It’s always these eight. Always! If we want to develop concentration in our meditation, we have work with this.

Kadampa tradition in Tibetan Buddhism

Now along this line I wanted to talk a little bit about the Kadampa tradition. This is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism that I really admire. Buddhism came to Tibet in two waves. The first transmission to Tibet was in the 7th century. Then there was some persecution by a Tibetan king. Then in the late 10th century/early 11th century there was another transmission of Buddhism to Tibet. That’s at the time when Lama Atisha came and he’s the one who began the whole cycle of teachings on the gradual path. From Lama Atisha there developed what’s called the Kadam tradition. These were very great spiritual practitioners who lived a very simple and humble life. They weren’t ostentatious. They weren’t all arrogant. They just lived extremely simply. They really paid attention to transforming their minds and working on these eight worldly concerns.

The Tibetans have a lot of stories about these practitioners. There’s one in particular—his name is Geshe Ben Gungyal. He was really firm with himself about these eight worldly concerns. There is a story that one time, you know, he was a monk. He was invited to a layperson’s house for lunch. While the family was in the kitchen preparing the food he noticed a jar with some cookies out in the room where he was. He really liked this kind of cookies. (The Tibetans make this kind of fried bread-like cookies.) So the family was in the other room and there is this jar of cookies there. He just goes over, opens the jar, and sticks his hand in. He has his hand on a cookie and then he realizes what he’s doing. With his other hand he grabs the hand that’s in the cookie jar and says, “Come, come! There’s a thief in the house! There’s a thief in the house!” The family runs in from the kitchen and he is standing there holding his arm and says, “This person is stealing your cookies, you better stop him!” That’s what a real practitioner with integrity is like. He’s not afraid to proclaim his own faults and call himself a thief. At that moment his eight worldly dharmas, and which one, which of the eight was controlling him at that time? Which of the eight made him take the cookie?

Audience: The last one?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): The last one, yes, attachment to sense pleasure and in particular taste. That’s what made him take the cookie. He caught himself. I really like that story. I keep thinking we should really have that attitude ourselves—to be able to catch ourselves, and then the ability to overcome our attachment to reputation and be able proclaim our own faults.

Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa

The Kadampa masters had a practice called the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa. I really like this practice. When you listen to it, it sounds really tough, and I think it is really tough. At the same time I know that just meditating on it, just even letting my mind think about these ideas, and trying to train my mind on these ideas—just even that I can see has very positive influence on my mind. It’s positive even if I’m not capable of living by these ten jewels one hundred percent. I thought I would go over these. You don’t often get these in teachings. They’re quite valuable especially as a way of overcoming the eight worldly concerns.

They’re called the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa. They are divided into three groups.

  1. The first is called the four trusting acceptances.
  2. The next group is called the three Vajra convictions.
  3. Then the last one is called mature attitudes towards being expelled, finding, and attaining.

The four trusting acceptances

Let’s start at the beginning. The first set, the four trusting acceptances. These are the first four of the ten. The first one is

As our innermost outlook on life, being willing to accept the Dharma with total trust.

To do this we reflect on the fact that we’ve received a precious human life, that death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, and that our body, possessions, and wealth don’t benefit us in death time. Understanding all of that, as the innermost attitude on life we accept the Dharma and commit ourselves to practicing the Dharma. That’s the first one. That gets us going.

Now the second one after that gets a little bit tougher. The second one is

As our innermost attitude towards following the Dharma, being willing to accept with total trust, even becoming a beggar.

What this means is sometimes when we start to practice the Dharma we have a lot of fear, “Oh, if I practice the Dharma, if I give up attachment to the happiness of this life, if I don’t work, then I’m going to be really poor. I’m going to be a beggar. And if I’m a beggar, I’m afraid of starving, I’m afraid of sleeping on the streets, I’m afraid of being despised by people.” You know all this fear comes up of being a beggar, of being really down and out. We may have that when we start to practice the Dharma because we begin to see that if we’re really committed to the Dharma practice, we’re going to give up chasing for money and material security and things. A lot of fear can arise, it’s very natural. When this happens then to accept as our innermost attitude towards Dharma practice the willingness to become a beggar, even if it’s necessary. Just being able to say to our self, “Okay, if Dharma practice is so valuable, it’s so meaningful in my life that if it means that I have to become a beggar, so be it. That’s okay with me.” That is a hard attitude to have, isn’t it? That’s not an easy attitude to have but just even meditating like this, trying to cultivate that attitude, gets us working to go against our eight worldly concerns.

Then the third one is

As our innermost attitude towards becoming a beggar, being willing to accept with total trust, even having to die.

So if we get past, “Okay, I’ll practice the Dharma, I’m okay with becoming a beggar. I’ll manage being poor. But I don’t want to die. You know being poor was one thing, but I don’t want to die because of being poor.” Then a lot of fear of death comes up. It’s like, “I don’t want to die. This can’t happen. I’ve got to preserve my life at all costs.” That kind of fear could easily make us leave our Dharma practice. Or even if we don’t leave our Dharma practice totally, that kind of fear can make us create negative karma—let’s say by stealing from other people because we don’t want to die. Here, in order to counteract it, what we have to thinks is, “You know, I’ve died many times before in my beginningless lives in cyclic existence. Dying is nothing new. But how many times have I died in order to practice the Dharma? Now, I’ve had all these lifetimes, I’ve had so much pleasure, and I’ve died many times. But how many times have I ever practiced the Dharma and reaped its benefit? Of all the deaths I’ve gone through, how many of them have been in order to do something worthwhile with my life, like practice the Dharma?”

If you think in this way then you get to the point where you say, “Okay, even if I’m poor, I’m willing to die because that’s how meaningful the Dharma practice is in my life.” We realize that it’s better to have the Dharma in our hearts and die of poverty, than to forsake the Dharma and be surrounded by riches. We see very clean clear in our mind that at the time of death all the riches in the world don’t help us—but Dharma does. For sure we’re going to die. It’s much better to have the Dharma and die, than to live a little while longer without the Dharma and have riches—but then die without the Dharma.

The fourth one is

As our innermost attitude towards death, being willing to accept with total trust even having to die friendless and alone in an empty place, in an empty cave, in a deserted place.

Here we get past the place: “I’ll practice the Dharma, I’m willing to be poor, I’m willing to die, but if I die I don’t want to die alone. And what’s going to happen to my body if I die. I want to die surrounded by my friends and relatives. I want to die on a nice comfortable bed. If I die for the Dharma, at least I want people to know about it and have a little bit of fame and recognition for the sacrifice that I’m making.” At this point this brings up that kind of fear. In this one what we’re trying to do is see and to overcome that fear, and to say, “Okay, even if I die, I’m willing to die alone. It’s okay.”

We can get to that place in our mind because we see that even if we’re surrounded by everybody we love at the time of death, none of them can keep us from dying. None of them can keep us from going to the lower realms. None of them can keep us from suffering. In fact, dying surrounded by a bunch of people that we’re attached to can sometimes make death more difficult!

Here we get to the point where we’re willing to say, “Actually, it’s okay with me to die alone. It is okay because I’ll have practiced the Dharma. I’ll have the Dharma in my mind. I won’t have all the distraction of my wailing friends and relatives. I’ll be able to focus on my practice. So even if I die alone, that’s okay.” And, “I don’t care about what happens to my body because after I’m dead who needs this body anyway? This body is just a piece of organic vegetable matter. The worms might as well have a good lunch. So I’m not going to care about anybody finding my body, embalming it, putting an ad in the newspaper.” You know, an obituary, with all the lauds, all the praise that we give to people after they die. We criticize them when they’re alive, but after they die, “Oh, they were so nice, they were so wonderful.”

We’re willing to say, “That stuff is totally meaningless. If my Dharma practice leads to poverty, okay. If it leads to death, okay. If it leads to dying alone, that’s okay because I’m going to be able to make my own mind happy through practicing the Dharma.” Do you see how thinking about these four helps us face a lot of the fear that we have, and a lot of the attachment to the eight worldly concerns? Just even thinking about this really helps to free our mind.

The three vajra convictions

The second set of the ten is called the three vajra convictions or the three diamond convictions. Sometimes it’s also called the three abandonments. The first one is called:

Sending the uncatchable diamond ahead of you.

What that means is that we can make the decision to practice the Dharma and that’s going to bring about a change in our lifestyle. We’re going to simplify our life. We may ordain. We may cut out a lot of social activities because we see they aren’t so valuable. What happens then is that other people will run after us and try to bring us back to who we used to be. You see this sometimes. When you really start to practice the Dharma, sometimes our old family and friends go, “Who are you? I don’t know you anymore. You have to come out drinking with me. What? You’re going to a meditation retreat? What kind of life is that? Get a life! Let’s go to Hawaii for your vacation. You can’t go to a meditation retreat for your holiday.” We find that our friends and relatives try to catch us and bring us back to our old identity and our old way of life.

What sending the uncatchable diamond ahead of us means is that we have to be uncatchable. We can’t let the attachment of our friends and relatives catch us and drag us back to the life that we used to live—which involves a lot of attachment and aversion and distraction.

The second one is called

Laying the unabashable diamond behind us.

What this means is to abandon thinking about what other people think about us; abandon wanting to please other people’s worldly aspirations. Again a lot of times what happens is, not only will people try and catch us, but then our own mind gets hooked and we say, “Oh, well, Buddhism teaches about compassion. So if I’m going to be compassionate to my family, I won’t go on the meditation retreat. I’ll go to Disneyland with my family.” Well, that isn’t very good logic because sometimes we use that as an excuse to not practice the Dharma. Or, we’re afraid of what other people are going to think about us. So we give up our practice and we give up our ethical principles in order to meet other people’s expectations and to please them.

This can be a super big hindrance in our practice. I remember when I used to live in Italy there was one young man who ordained there. He was from a pretty wealthy family, and I always had a lot of economic problems as a nun. You know especially in the beginning years, I didn’t have very much at all. His family gave him all this money, he could go to so many teachings, he had heat in his room. He didn’t have any problem living as a monk and I was having all these problems. I used to look and say, “Hmm.” But then I saw what happened is his family then demanded he had to go home for Christmas, had to go on family holidays, he had to this and that and the other thing with his family.

He wasn’t really free to practice the Dharma because his own mind was attached to his family and his family was pulling on him. He wanted to please them. When I realized that then I said, “Hey, wait a minute. I’m not jealous of his situation. I actually have a much better deal. It’s much better to be poor and have the kind of freedom I have than to have enough money like he does, but in his mind he’s not free.” This doesn’t mean here that we go out of our way to offend people. We’re not talking about that. We’re just talking about being clean clear on our priorities so that we don’t get distracted.

The third one is

Keep your wisdom diamond by your side.

Keep our wisdom diamond by our side. What this means is to carry on continuously and conscientiously with our practice without getting caught up in useless concerns. What that boils down to is abandoning the eight worldly concerns because those are the useless concerns we get caught up with. It also means abandoning the mind of discouragement; so abandoning the mind that criticizes our self and says, “Oh, I’m not a good enough practitioner. I’m a failure.” You know all these kinds of things. “Instead of practicing the Dharma, if I had run a business for those last ten years I could be really rich and secure now. What a failure I am because I practiced the Dharma.” You know these kinds of regrets that people might have. Again, we have to work really hard to keep ourselves from having those thoughts.

So those are the three vajra or diamond convictions.

The mature attitudes towards being expelled, finding, and attaining

The next set, and these are the last three of the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa, is called the mature attitudes towards being expelled, finding, and attaining. The first one of these is

Being willing to be expelled from the ranks of (so-called) normal people

because we don’t share their limited values. This doesn’t mean that we’ll definitely be expelled from the ranks of normal people. It means, at least in our life if this happens, being okay with it.

Sometimes it does happen. Other people get really upset with us because we have different values and they don’t want to be around us. They criticize us. They expel us from their social groups. It happens to many people I know—that because they practice the Dharma, then their family is unhappy because they’re not going to have material security. Their family kicks them out. Or, if they practice the Dharma and decide that they’re not going to have children, so their family gets mad because the parents want grandchildren.

Just even in regular society, when we really practice the Dharma sincerely, some people do criticize us. Even some Buddhists criticize us. I’ve heard people say, especially about living a monastic life they say, “Oh, if you’re a monastic you’re just afraid of intimacy. You go to the monastery because you are trying to escape the world because you can’t handle relationships.” Or, “If you’re a monastic, you’re repressing your sexuality.” Let alone non-Buddhists saying this, I’ve heard Buddhist lay people criticize the sangha for this. We have to be willing to bear this kind of criticism without doubting our practice and without doubting the Buddha’s teachings.

This ability to endure their criticism comes not through shutting it out and saying “I’m not going to listen,” but by looking and saying, “Is what they criticize me for true?” They criticize monastics for avoiding relationship problems. Is that why the Buddha made a Sangha community—for everybody who couldn’t handle a marriage? I don’t think so. And I don’t think the Buddha himself was indicative of somebody who was repressing his sexuality because he can’t handle it, or was a flake seeking an escape from society. So we look with wisdom at what their criticisms are and we see that they’re untrue. Then if these people expel us, if they criticize us, it’s okay. They can think what they want—but I know the truth for myself because I’ve checked up with my own wisdom.

The second one of this set is

Being willing to be regarded among the ranks of dogs

or finding ourselves among the ranks of dogs. Again, this doesn’t mean that we’re going to be hanging out in the gutter with the dogs—although Naga would certainly like us to hang out more with him and play with him some more. What it means is, even if we have to face hardship in our practice, we’re willing to go through the hardship. This is a very essential thing to be able to practice the Dharma. If every time we face hardship we fall apart and we want security and comfort instead, we’re never going to get any where in our practice.

So finding ourselves among the ranks of dogs—it means even if sometimes we’re poor, be willing to be poor so that we can continue to practice the Dharma. If it means being uncomfortable because we have to travel somewhere to attend a teaching, then being willing to be uncomfortable to travel somewhere and get the teaching. If it means being criticized by people, then okay, we’re willing to be criticized because we know the value of the Dharma. It’s so important to be able to practice purely that we’re not swayed by what the general public thinks. The general public, and often unfortunately even Buddhists themselves, have very worldly values and they value people who look good instead of people who actually practice.

You’ll see the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa who lived in the 11th century. He attained enlightenment in this very lifetime; and he had been a criminal before he started practicing the Dharma. If there’s hope for him then there’s definitely hope for us. But he did really sincere practice. He was very poor so he just ate the nettles that grew by his cave and he wore very simple clothing. People would look at him and they would feel so sorry for him. His sister came one time to visit him and said, “My brother, my dear brother, you’re so poor and you’re eating such rotten food, and you’re living in a cave, and you’re freezing, and your clothes are rags. Why don’t you go be this Buddhist scholar and teach a lot of people because they’ll give you money and offerings and then you can have a good life.” Milarepa answered, “Forget it. If you think I’m going to sell my Dharma practice to have a comfortable life, what use is that?”

Milarepa went then on to explain how in the degenerate times in which we live, very often people who look good are proclaimed as very great Buddhist masters. But those people don’t necessarily practice. Whereas some people who are real practitioners other people just totally ignore and criticize.

You can see it. You can see it very clearly nowadays. One teacher of mine, you’ll hear me talk about him a lot, Geshe Yeshe Tobden. He really practiced these Ten Jewels of the Kadampa—incredibly humble, such a humble teacher. His hair was usually a little bit too long, so this gray hair kind of sticking up. Very wrinkled. His lower robe, we call it a shamtab, was always too high and his socks were falling down. He kind of shuffled because he had these old shoes. His robes were usually dirty because he lived up in a cave above Dharamsala. He’d come into town and if people didn’t know who he was, they’d say, “My goodness, look at that dirty old monk.” He didn’t look like anybody special. But he was this incredible practitioner and he did his practice totally secretly, totally secretly. He did the highest tantric practice and everything but he never showed anybody anything of it—extremely humble.

Geshe Yeshe Tobden was invited to Italy to teach. I was there at the time that he arrived in Italy and we had nice china and silverware for him to eat with. It was the first meal he was there, he didn’t even know us, first meal. He looks at these dishes and the silverware and he says, “Get rid of these and bring me a plastic plate. I’m not going to eat off of this stuff.” Then he came in to teach and we had prepared this big Dharma seat. You know, if you respect your teacher you make a very big Dharma seat—with a very nice enamel cup with tea and a very nice seat. He walks up there and he pulls the cushion off the seat, puts it on the floor, and sits on the floor. He wouldn’t sit on the big seat we had made for him. He was a real practitioner along these lines. If people criticized him he didn’t care. He lived in poverty in this cave up above Dharamsala. It was cold there. I visited him one day in the cave. It’s cold and it’s dirty. He kept the cave clean as he could, but still when you live in a cave it is never completely clean. He was a real great practitioner—so being willing to do that.

Okay, so there was being willing to be expelled from the ranks of so called normal people, being willing to find ourselves in the rank of dogs, and the last one

Being completely involved in attaining the divine rank of a Buddha

This is the tenth of the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa—being completely committed to our Dharma practice to progressing towards Buddhahood. Having that as the innermost thing in our life and if it means some discomfort in this life, so be it. That attitude of being willing to go through hardship is so important because as long as we’re in cyclic existence there are going to be hardships. There are going to be things that happen that are uncomfortable, either physically uncomfortable, or people are going to criticize and blame us.

There’s always going to be something going on that doesn’t meet with our approval. If we’re practicing the Dharma and we know we’re in a good situation to practice, then we have to be willing to go through those difficulties in order to continue our practice. If every time we have a difficulty we throw up our hands and say, “I’m going back to what’s secure and familiar and comfy,” then how are we ever going to work with the eight worldly concerns? We’re just constantly giving in them all the time.

Anyway, even if we go back to what we were doing in the past—thinking now, “Oh, I’ll be so much happier. I’m living here in a monastery, there’s this going on, and I have to do this, and I have to get up so early, and I can’t do this,” and on and on and on and on. “Maybe I’ll go back to my life as I used to know it. It was so much more comfortable then. I had my refrigerator and my car and my credit card. I could get anything I wanted and that’s happiness. I’ll go back to doing that.” The mind can be like that, “Oh yes, I’m going to go back and do that.”

Think about it. What was it like when you were living that way—when you had your refrigerator and your car and your credit card? Were you happy then? No! So if we’re going to give up the Dharma for a little bit of hardship, and run back to a life that we think is comfortable, then let’s ask ourselves if that life was really comfortable or not? Were we really happy? Did we ever really have security in that life? Check up and examine.

This kind of checking is quite important in our practice. If we don’t do it we’re not going to be able to practice continuously. We’re going to be constantly depressed and bummed out; and our mind is constantly going to be day dreaming about, “Oh, if I were only here I could practice better. If I were only doing that I could practice better.” We’re just going to not get anywhere really.

What we’re getting at here in talking about the eight worldly concerns and then the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa, what we’re getting at is the importance of practicing the Dharma. The first step of that is giving up attachment to the happiness of this life—because we want a greater happiness that comes from Dharma practice.

Giving up the attachment to the happiness of this life doesn’t mean that we put ourselves in suffering situations. We are giving up the attachment to the happiness. If happiness comes our way—fine—we enjoy it for what it is. We don’t have to feel guilty because we’re happy. We don’t have to feel guilty if we have sense pleasure or if people praise us or something like that.

What we’re giving up is not the objects but the attachment. That’s really important to understand. It doesn’t mean that we go out and buy the worst quality food and we sleep on a cold floor. We sleep on what’s there, we can be comfortable, no problem. We can eat good food, no problem. We need to keep our body healthy. What we’re trying to work on is the attachment to these things. It’s the attachment to getting them and the aversion to not getting them that causes the obstacles in our Dharma practice. It causes problems in this life also. So that’s one point when talking about the eight worldly concerns and the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa.

Another point of all of this is for us to really understand what does “practice the Dharma” mean? So what does “practice the Dharma” mean? Does “practice the Dharma” mean wearing robes? Does “practice the Dharma” mean having prayer beads? Does “practice the Dharma” mean shaving your head? Does “practice the Dharma” mean waking up in the morning and meditating? Does “practice the Dharma” mean having an altar in your room? What does “practice the Dharma” mean? We have to be real clear what “practice the Dharma” means.

There’s a real cute story, actually a very meaningful story about this. I forget who it was, if it was Atisha or Dromtonpa but it was one great lama. I can’t remember which one. But anyway, this lama, this spiritual teacher came to a stupa one day—you know, a pagoda, a monument where the people circumambulate. He saw somebody circumambulating; this man was circumambulating this stupa. The lama went up to him and said, “Oh, it’s very good you’re circumambulating, but it would be better if you practiced the Dharma.” The man said, “Hum?” In his mind he was going, “But circumambulating is practicing the Dharma. I mean this is a holy object I’m walking around. Isn’t that what you are supposed to do?” So then he thought, “Okay, well, I’ll try bowing.” He started bowing. He was bowing to the stupa, bowing and bowing and bowing. The lama came the next day and looked and said, “Oh, it’s very good you’re prostrating, but it would be even better if you were practicing the Dharma.” The man goes, “Huh? I thought bowing was purification. I thought I was practicing the Dharma. Well, hum.” Then he said to himself, “Okay, I won’t bow.” Next he took out a Buddhist text. He started reading the Buddhist text; and chanting the text. Again, the lama came by the next day and said, “Oh, it’s very good that you are chanting the text and reciting the text, but it would even better if you practiced the Dharma.” The man is totally confused at this point: “I was circumambulating. I bowed. I was reading text. I thought I was practicing the Dharma all this time. I’m really confused.” Then he looks at the lama and asks, “Okay, well, what does practicing the Dharma mean?” The lama said, “Giving up attachment to the happiness of this life and transforming your mind.”

What he’s getting at is even though the man was doing all these things that looked religious—circumambulating, bowing, reciting mantras, reciting text, all these things that look like your practicing the Dharma—the man wasn’t transforming his mind. He wasn’t changing his motivation. He was still doing those activities with some sort of wish for the happiness of this life, or to look good in front of other people, or to get some kind of benefit for this life, to get some kind of reputation, or for people to offer him things, or whatever it was. So if we ever wonder, what does “practice the Dharma” mean? Give up attachment to the happiness of this life (which means give up the eight worldly concerns) and transform our mind. If we do that, even we’re in crummy clothes, even people criticize us and blame us, our mind is going to be happy. Our life is going to be meaningful because through the Dharma practice we’re actually transforming our minds and progressing on the path to enlightenment.

Questions and answers

Okay, time for a few questions, comments?

Audience: The last three were mature attitudes toward being expelled, and what else?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Finding and attaining. Expelled from the ranks of normal people, finding ourselves in the rank of dogs, and attaining the rank of a Buddha are the three mature attitudes of being expelled, finding, and attaining. It’s very good to meditate on these. The way you meditate is read over your notes and ask yourself, “Well, how do I feel about that? How do I feel? Is my life really committed to the Dharma? What’s keeping me from being committed to the Dharma?” Then watch how that fear of being poor comes up; or how the fear of dying comes up; or how the fear of dying alone comes up; or how the fear of being criticized by people comes up; or how the fear of being thrown out of our social circles comes up. Watch—because that’s all eight worldly dharmas that are in there.

Don’t feel like you’re a failure because that kind of fear and concern is in there. Let it come up. Then think in the ways that I was just describing: about what the real value of our life is; and that death is definite and the time of death is indefinite; and that what’s of value to us at the time we die is not all of our worldly success. That vanishes like this [snap of the fingers] at the time of death. The only thing that’s valuable at the time of death is the good karma that we’ve created and the transformation that we’ve done in own mind. That’s what is going to carry on to future lives. We can have a fantastic super comfortable life this time and then you die and within a week you’re in total suffering. Even within one day you get reborn in a place with total suffering. So all the things that look like they’re going to bring security and comfort in this life are totally fragile and unreliable because it’s very easy to die—like that! Like that, we’re dead! And this whole thing that we’ve built up around us to make ourselves secure and comfortable is gone.

What do we have then? We only have a ton of negative karma to take with us because we have only been looking for the happiness of this life. Instead if we really see our inner potential and our Buddha-nature, then we see that we have the potential to actualize bodhicitta and wisdom. We have the potential to break the cycle of existence and to make our lives meaningful for ourselves and others. We have that potential.

When we have the potential to experience the happiness of a Buddha, then why are we messing around trying to make every little detail in this life exactly according to how my ego wants it to be? Let’s put our time and energy in a good direction. Let’s concentrate on what’s important instead of wasting time worrying about so much stuff that just disappears at the time we die.

It’s something really to think deeply about. It’s this kind of stuff that puts our mind in the Dharma. If we don’t have this kind of attitude we’re not really going to be able to practice the Dharma. Instead, constantly the mind is going to have doubts. The mind is going to be pulled away by things that look more attractive and more interesting. Or we just start fooling ourselves. This happens for old practitioners, too. You know, you’re in the Dharma for a while, so then it’s very easy to carve out my own comfortable ego niche in the Dharma: “I made it this far so I’ll just tolerate my bad habits. That’s okay, I don’t need to work on them.” We really need to take care because otherwise we lose out on an incredible opportunity.

Audience: Would you say this is mostly a matter of motivation or of your intention; the outward circumstances really are not the issue? That you can be in a monastery or in a work situation, that wherever you are …

VTC: Is it mostly a thing of motivation and the external conditions are not that important? It is mostly a thing a motivation. But as beginning Dharma practitioners the external conditions are important for us because we’re very easily influenced by them. Whether we’re practicing Dharma or not depends primarily on what our mind is doing. It doesn’t depend on where our body is, or what clothes we’re wearing, or what kind of hairdo we have. It is mainly a matter of motivation.

At the beginning—and the beginning doesn’t mean only the first year, it means for a while—we are very easily swayed by our environment. Sometimes if we’re very attached to things we have to really separate ourselves from the object of our attachment. We separate because our mind gets so uncontrolled when we’re around that object. Sometimes we find we embellish all sorts of rationalizations for our bad habits and our attachment, thinking that it’s a Dharma motivation. We might say for instance, “Oh, it’s not really the external thing. I can give this up like a snap of the fingers. It’s not really a problem for me.” But we don’t really give it up at the snap of our fingers. And we have this nice philosophy for why we’re holding on to it. Well, why? If we look deeply there’s some kind of attachment there. We’re full of attachments.

The thing is, we shouldn’t get down on ourselves and criticize ourselves, “Oh, I’m so bad! I’m so full of attachments! What kind of Dharma practitioner am I ever going to be? I’m just a failure.” That’s ridiculous! We’re going to have attachment for a while. The thing is to at least work with the attachment—at least try. We can’t overcome all of our attachment like this. We’ve had it since beginningless time. But work on it! Put some energy in! Start chipping away at it instead of just throwing up our hands and saying with discouragement, “Oh, I will never do it.” Or making up some elaborate excuse about why we don’t have to. Let’s just be honest, “Yes, I am attached.”

Audience: It seems since sitting in this meditation that some things are kind of heightened. I am even more aware of beauty, music, and art. It is even more intense than it was before. We aren’t supposed to be going for happiness.

VTC: [nods in agreement and folks laugh] Again, it’s not a thing that beauty is bad, or art is bad. That’s not the issue. And you’re right because sometimes when we do meditate, then we see things as so much more beautiful than before. The thing to do here is: we enjoy them and we let them go. That’s the trick. Here I’m seeing this beauty, I offer it to all Buddhas and bodhisattvas instead of sitting there looking at it myself because my ego is feeding on this beauty. So I enjoy it, then I offer it. I see all this beauty in nature and I offer it to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. I make prayers that, “May all sentient beings have what they need in nature,” and, “May the people in ugly, suffering places, see beauty and have happy minds.” So we enjoy things but the way we enjoy them isn’t just feeding our ego.

We’re trying to generate in reaction to the enjoyment virtuous attitudes of offering and sharing. I know one thing that I do. When I go to bed at night I’m usually so exhausted. So I get into bed and it’s, “Oh, this is so comfortable to lie down.” Then I think before I go to sleep, “May everybody in this world have a comfortable safe place like I do to go to sleep. May people, and especially children, who don’t feel loved when they go to sleep may they feel loved. May they be safe. May people be free of going to sleep with bombs going off around them.” So I try. There is attachment to the comfort of my bed. But I try at least to not just sit stuck in my own attachment. Instead just, “Okay. I give this. I offer this.” Also like Shantideva says, “May I become this for this, for the people who need this; and that for that, for those people who need that”—somehow using it to generate some virtuous attitudes.

Audience: How about if I’m feeling consistently too lazy or unmotivated to do that, or I’m just more focused on my own not wanting to be bored. I would rather read something interesting in bed rather than do these things. Is there some way to motivate myself more to do that?

VTC:[chuckles]: Well, I think thinking about the advantages of practicing Dharma and the disadvantages of not practicing can be a good motivation. And to remember that it really doesn’t take that much effort to change our mind. I mean it is not like the guys who pump weights, you really have to sweat to do that. But to change our mind in the Dharma attitude—you can even do that when you’re lying down. Remind ourselves, “Hey, it doesn’t need to be that difficult. I can just think about this a little bit and make this kind of dedication.” Remembering how good we feel when we do that, then that gives us further encouragement to do it some more.

Let’s sit quietly and meditate for a few minutes. While we’re meditating think about these and again put them into practice in your life.

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.