Sadhana visualization

Sadhana visualization

Part of a series of teachings given during the Winter Retreat in November 2007 and from January to March 2008 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Setting a motivation
  • Question-and-answer session
    • The more I do purification the more negative things come up. Is this normal?
    • Is part of karma some external force that acts on us to act positively or negatively?
    • What is the thing that connects the action to the result in karma? How does the intangible karmic seed become the tangible result?
    • Are we trying to drop our preconceptions and the storyline when we do the meditation?
    • Why can I sometimes make a connection with the Medicine Buddha visualization and sometimes I can’t? Sometimes I may as well be visualizing a cartoon character.
    • Is there a way to focus on the qualities of the Medicine Buddha without the visualization?

Medicine Buddha one month retreat: Q&A (download)

Let’s recall our motivation. It can be helpful in doing that to remember that the Buddha hasn’t always been a Buddha. He was once an ordinary being like us. He too generated the supreme altruistic intention, motivated by great love and great compassion for all beings, wanting them to be free of all misery. Think with admiration for the Buddha that we want to follow in his foot steps, generating that motivation, practicing as he did and attaining the same goal of Buddhahood, for the benefit of all living beings.

This is your evening, ask whatever you wish to ask.

Garbage mind

Audience: The more you do purification and the more you get into it the more it seems like rubbish comes in your mind and old stuff comes up that you haven’t thought about or stuff that you thought you’d worked out. All of a sudden whamo it’s right there and is this normal because you had a full day of it yesterday?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): It’s typical. It’s very normal. This is to be expected. This is what the purification practice does. It’s like when you’re washing dishes after lunch. You have the soapy water to get the dishes clean—the soapy water gets dirty, doesn’t it? You have to see the dirt in the water to know it’s coming off. In the same way, when we’re doing purification, the stuff comes up.

A few things are going on. One is our mind is probably so full of distractions and rubbish anyway. Usually we’re so busy going to work, going here, going there, doing this, doing that, that we never check in with ourselves so we never notice how distracted our mind is and the kind of thoughts that are going on in it.

Just being in a retreat situation you’re going to notice a lot of stuff that you aren’t [usually] noticing. (Photo by Sravasti Abbey)

Just being in a retreat situation you’re going to notice a lot of stuff that you aren’t [usually] noticing. (Photo by Sravasti Abbey)

First of all, just being in a retreat situation you’re going to notice a lot of stuff that you aren’t [usually] noticing. Second, when you’re doing the purification, yes, all this stuff comes up. That’s what happens. That’s the beauty of the purification because when this stuff comes up now you have a chance to work with it. Usually in your daily life you don’t notice if it’s coming up or if you notice you go to the refrigerator and eat something. Or you have your distraction: you turn on the television, you go shopping, you drink. You do something to get out of yourself—to not face what’s going on. Whereas in the retreat situation, now you’re hanging in there. You’re going to watch it. You’re going to see it. And you have the chance to work with it. So don’t be alarmed when it comes up. In fact I have a philosophy that it’s better to say, “Oh good.” Because now I can see it, now I can work with it. If you can’t see it, how are you ever going to work with it?

So sometimes we have this idea of spiritual practice that we’re going to get a big hit out of it. We want a big whamo, kazamo some far-out experience where we just feel, “woooooo.” You know? We have the idea that that’s what Dharma practice is supposed to be about. The Buddha didn’t say that. Maybe you get that idea from all the advertisements in the Dharma publications but that’s not it. So that’s why we need a lot of joyous effort and a lot of patience and perseverance and confidence in the value of our final goal. So we have the courage to hang in there and keep going. When we really value purifying our mind and transforming our mind, when the stuff comes up we say, “Oh good, now I can see it. Now I can do something about it.”

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: So you’re asking is one part of karma some external force that acts on us and causes us to behave positively or negatively?

Audience: [Rephrasing of the question]

VTC: Where did you get the idea that there is one? Oh, so you don’t think there is one. So you’re seeing karma as some kind of interdependent thing. Some of it depends on your actions and some of it depends on other sentient beings being there.

Karma, seeds, and latencies

Let’s wipe the board clean and start over, okay? Karma means action. It means our actions, what we do with our body, what we do with our speech, what we do with our mind. That’s karma. Karma is principally the mental factor of intention, but it’s also the words we speak and the bodily actions that we do. So that’s what karma is.

Karma leaves seeds and latencies in our mind and the seeds and latencies ripen into results. The results affect our five aggregates, our body, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness. Our actions and the seeds affect our aggregates. They affect what we experience. They affect whether we’re happy or miserable. Other people who happen to be around, who appear to be the ones causing the happiness or the misery to us, aren’t really. They’re appearing to cause misery or happiness to us because of the ripening of our karma.

Karma and intention

When we use the word karma, karma doesn’t refer to the result. Karma refers to the cause and principally to that mental factor of intention; principally but not only to that mental factor of intention.

I remember, one time I was teaching in a high school. I think it was a kid who asked me this question who was a born-again Christian, and he said, “Do Buddhists believe in the devil?” I think his idea was that maybe there was some external entity acting upon him that made him do naughty things and then the thing is to be afraid of the devil or destroy the devil, or avoid the devil, because the devil was causing him to act in a negative way. I told him that in Buddhism there is no such thing as a devil and there’s no such thing as any negative external force that causes us to do things. The intentions come from within our own mind.

Now external events may affect us. No external person or thing can cause us to generate a negative intention. If it could, the Buddha would have already caused us all to generate only virtuous intentions so that we would only generate the causes to happiness. So not even the Buddha, who’s omniscient and who has no obstacles to benefit others from his side, has the ability to come in and tinker with our minds and cause us to have different intentions that we didn’t have before. The intentions come from within us. Now of course what we encounter can affect us, but they don’t make us generate intentions.

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: You’re thinking that if I steal something, somebody’s going to steal something from me and my karma’s making them steal that from me. Is that what you’re thinking?

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: So what’s the thing that’s causing it to happen to you? The primary cause for the things that happen in our lives, the principal cause is our previous actions, our karma. The cooperative conditions are whatever conditions that are happening right now. Karma ripening is a very complicated thing. It being created, ripening is a very complicated thing. You said, “What’s making us experience what we experience?” Right now our karma’s ripening too. Every single moment of the day our karma is ripening in terms of what we experience. There are all different types of karma ripening at all different times because sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re miserable. Karma is ripening all the time. Then depending on how we respond to the things we’re experiencing then we are creating new intentions, new actions, new karma. Maybe it would help if you gave an example.


Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: What’s the thing that connects the action to the result? Now you’re going to get a big bunch of philosophy here. But it is actually kind of cool. When we act everything that’s impermanent changes into something else. It ceases, but in the process of ceasing it changes into something else.

The tree, we see this when we’re working up on the landing. The tree falls down. It rots. It decomposes. It goes back into the earth. It’s changed. It’s ceasing. It’s changing into something else and it’s going to change into another kind of bush that grows out of the same soil. So things are all the time ceasing and becoming something else.

When an action ceases there are two things that are left. One is called the karmic seed. That is like an energy trace of the action. There’s no good way to define a karmic seed except it’s the potential of an action to bring a result in the future. It’s a potential. It’s like when you have a seed in the ground, the seed has a potential. The karmic seed, it isn’t a physical thing. It’s just a potential to bring a result in the future.

Zhigpa or disintegratededness or having-ceased-ness

What you also have when an action finishes is what’s called the disintegratedness of the action. This means the having-ceased-ness of the action. The Tibetan term is zhigpa. That having-ceased-ness is there after the action itself has ceased. And that having-ceased-ness continues on. It also can contribute to a new situation arising in the future. Both this having-ceased-ness, the disintegrated-ness, and the karmic seed, both of them, are affiliated with the mind stream or with the mere person. That’s what carries them into the next life. When different conditions in the next life come together they germinate; they bring about, in cahoots or in conjunction with all sorts of other factors that are going on, they bring results.

So let’s see. You worked for Google for a while and you learned about computers. A lot happened between when you worked for Google and when you came here and worked on a computer. You weren’t actively thinking about computers 24/7 from the time you worked there until now. There were times when you weren’t thinking about computers. But those times that you weren’t thinking about computers, it wasn’t like you lost all the knowledge. There were potentials in your mind to remember, or imprints in your mind of what you learned, so that later you could remember those things.

What I’m getting at is that between the cause (when you learned how to do something) and the effect (of when you’re using that knowledge now) there was a time space and your knowledge wasn’t conscious in your mind all the time from then until now. It was in a dormant state. It was like in a seed form where there was the potential. What I’m getting at: that’s just an analogy about how there can be a time gap between the cause and the effect, but there’s something that carries the energy between the cause and the effect. That thing that carries the energy it’s an impermanent phenomena. It’s nothing that you can see with your eyes or hear or touch.

Dependent arising

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: How it actually happens? How it happens at the time of ripening, you’re saying? How does that karmic seed, that thing which is not tangible, that’s an impermanent factor, how does it become the result? Somehow by dependent arising. I don’t know the exact mechanism of how it happens, but somehow that potential, it happens in conjunction with a lot of other potentials that exist at the same time. It happens in conjunction with the things that can be influenced by it. It’s like asking when you plant a seed in the ground, what’s the mechanism by which it actually sprouts.

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: They have some idea of how it works, but can scientists describe every single factor in it? It’s pretty complex, isn’t it? Like, why does that seed grow into a tree that has X number of leaves and not X number plus two number of leaves? There are causes for it. We know there are causes because it’s an impermanent result. It’s compounded. It’s a caused result. All the causes are beyond our ability to delineate them. I think it must be the same to try to understand all the causes at work, not only karmic causes, but for a karmic cause to manifest, you have to have physical causes too. If I have the karma for somebody to speak to me, well there’s the physical cause of that person’s body, their voice. So it’s very complicated. They say only a Buddha understands it fully. So that’s my out (L). So you become a Buddha then you can explain it to us.

Does that answer? I know it doesn’t answer satisfactorily.

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: No. There is a lot in between the cause and affect. It’s dependent arising. What we’re saying is that there are so many different factors and so many different things going on, that it’s too much for our limited minds to understand all of them.

You know how they talk about that thing of the butterfly in Singapore flaps its wings and then that causes that, causes that, causes that, causes that, causes that and as a result you have a big business merger in America? If you look at the big business merger, you’re not going to say that it’s due to the butterfly flapping its wings. There are more important prominent causes for that to happen. But without that butterfly flapping its wings in Singapore all these other things down the line wouldn’t have occurred. You would’ve had something key missing at the moment before the ripening of that big merger. But can we trace all those different things?

So dependent arising is very complicated. It’s just an interesting thing to think about if you look at your life. So, we’re all here together this evening. Well, why? We can say it’s because we all decided to come on the retreat so maybe that motivation to come on the retreat was maybe the principle reason. It certainly wasn’t the only one because there had to be a motivation to get to this room tonight. And there had to be a house built, which means that there had to be the previous owners who built this house. And there had to be their parents. Then there had to be the guy who mined the iron that made the saw that cut down the wood that the previous owners sold to get the money to buy the fan in this house. When you look at it, it’s like, my goodness. There are so many things going on just on a physical level. How do you get the effect of all of us being in the room here tonight? It’s incredibly complicated, isn’t it? Because then you have each of us with our own life history, then our ancestors, and our previous lives, an then us bumping into all the different people we’ve bumped into during our life that somehow contributed to us being here this evening. It’s pretty intertwined, isn’t it?

Detachment from anger

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: So you’re saying that you are finding this kind of complex analysis, that at the end makes you go “Wow, so many causes and conditions,” actually very helpful for you to see that your afflictions for example, anger, are not truly existent and are not inherently you. Because it’s not like anger is some solid thing that sitting there all the time unchanging, but you know a moment of anger is something that arises dependent on so many different conditions. And by the fact that it’s dependent, all you do is take away one of those conditions and your resultant anger is not going to be the same. It’s going to be something different. And then also seeing how your anger becomes the condition for so many other things going on too. So you are saying that it helps you see that all of this is a very interdependent thing of things coming together due to multiple causes and conditions so that they aren’t inherently existent.

So then you can release this mind that identifies so much with the defilements, “I am my anger” or “I’m always depressed,” or “I’m never going to get over it,” this kind of stuff. By seeing that these things are just caused by so many different factors and also because they are caused by different factors, they’re momentary. Because all the factors that brought them into existence are momentary, so that result itself is momentary, is impermanent. So you have anger coming, the next moment your anger is different and the moment after that it’s different, and the moment after that it’s different. So how can you say that there’s some solid thing there that is your affliction?

Audience: Knowing that it arises from the feeling aggregate, I think that’s helpful practically too. Because then if you stop and when we have a chance to do retreat and you go and look at that component, it helps you to take the whole thing and disperse it.

VTC: Okay, so seeing that karma ripens in all of our aggregates, but primarily the feeling aggregate, then you are saying in retreat you become very mindful of having feelings—and here feeling means happy, unhappy, or neutral; or pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings—and so then that you become much more aware of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings during the day. And if you see those as ripenings, as caused by a phenomenon that are temporary and will go out of existence, then you don’t become so reactive to them. And then you don’t generate anger at the unpleasant feelings, attachment towards the pleasant ones, and ignorance toward the neutral ones. And so you know, it kind of stops that whole process of the three poisonous minds arising and creating more karma.

Audience: I guess that the thing I’ve learned this week, actually, which has been really helpful, is for me when I want to change something: I have to see the harm in it. And until I can see the harm I really don’t get it. So I was able to actually look at some situations that have been bothering me a lot, making me very unhappy and actually I was sort of able to see how I got to those through having jealousy. I never would have done this; I haven’t really understood pride or jealousy, only since I moved here have I seen those things and tried to work with them. And I can actually see how that has been at play in a lot of my life. This week I actually saw the whole story line that was behind the scenes but it ripened in these moments that were very unpleasant. But I didn’t know that storyline was there until I was able to pull the whole thing up. I guess my question out of this is: is this what we’re dropping the when we do these meditations, when we’re trying to drop the preconception? Is this the preconceptions? It seems like I found like three things that fit that category in my experience.

VTC: Okay, so we have contact with an object, it generates a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling. Then we have preconceptions or the Tibetan word is namtok or actually [another Tibetan word]. We pay attention to those. If we pay inappropriate attention—we have let’s say an unpleasant feeling then we don’t just know it is unpleasant feeling and leave it, we make up a story about the unpleasant feeling: “I can’t stand this, it’s unfair, this shouldn’t happen to me, this person caused it,” blah blah blah blah. We make a whole interpretation, a whole story—that’s the inappropriate attention. Then based on that we get mad or we get jealous or we get resentful or we get belligerent or rebellious or whatever it is.

Audience: A lot of times I’m not really aware of, I mean, I become more aware of that story but it’s really hard. Your perceptions can’t be trusted, which doesn’t help. But it’s hard a lot of times to tie these things together to see how that storyline is actually functioning—can we do this without meditating?

VTC: I think that’s one of the values of meditating is that it helps us see how our storyline is functioning. And I think it’s helpful if you can be mindful. Not just, “Oh, I encounter this object and then I have a storyline” but “there was the object, contact with the object and then I had a certain feeling—pleasant unpleasant and neutral and I’m reacting to the feelings.”

Also sometimes you get to the point because these processes happen very quickly; so you might get to the point where you’re angry, you know, but you haven’t recognized it in your anger and the way you recognize it is because all of a sudden you tune into your body and you see what’s going on in your body. So that sometimes can be very helpful because often, we’re not aware of what’s going on in our mind. And sometimes the body can, if we tune into the sensation in the body, give us a heads up about what’s going on in the mind. You know, when your stomach’s tight, it’s not because you’re feeling loving! So when your stomach is tight, you can sit there okay, “Well, what’s happening, what am I feeling? What am I feeling in terms of the emotions, what emotional state with this tight stomach?” And then you can go, “Oh, this emotional state, okay, what is it anger? Where did the anger come from? “Oh, so and so did this and that.” Yes, they did this and that, but why am I upset about it? “Well, because I disapprove of what they’re doing and they’re not supposed to be doing that right now. And I saw them do that and I had an unhappy feeling.”

Audience: That’s a good question: “Why am I angry?” or feeling this, I find that really helpful. Run the whole scenario that I’m having difficulty with and then ask, “Why am I angry?” Like that’s my only possible response? And then, “Why am I miserable?” “Why am I depressed?”

VTC: We so often take what ever emotions we’re feeling as given, since that’s the only possible way we could feel, emotionally feel in response to a situation.

Audience: And part of the reason I’m feeling what I feel is because I have these physical sensations and those are the signals for the feeling; that’s new for me to see. I’m sure the mental part comes first, the mind part comes first, but I’m not always aware of that. And so I wondered about the word preconception—running in the background. It’s inspiring to see this.

How to connect to the visualization

Audience: Kind of a general thought, but it has to do with dealing with the connection to the visualization in a given session. To borrow Venerable Tarpa’s expression “it’s just like cartoons.” Because sometimes there is this connection, there is a feeling, whatever the energy of Medicine Buddha, or I think about the King of Prayers sometimes. So I’m looking for guidance in terms of maybe why is there a connection one time and why is there’s not another time. And what to do when you just feel like it’s just Mickey Mouse. You know I’m doing it but it’s not like I’m getting it—sometimes there is a disconnect for me because—I guess I want to be able to not to re-create it, but it’s like why is it—maybe the answer is karma—what’s ripening. Sometimes I feel like I can make the connection and other times it’s just like, not there.

VTC: Okay, so you are saying sometimes can you make a connection with the meditation or with let’s say with the Medicine Buddha that you are visualizing and sometimes, you know you might as well be visualizing Mickey Mouse for the amount of connection that you feel. Actually, you might feel more connection with Mickey Mouse!

Well, this is an interesting thing to look at and I could give you some ideas but I think it’s also interesting to look at when you have a session where you feel some connection, what was happening before that session. What were you thinking about, what were you doing when you sat down to this session, what was your mood when you came into the meditation hall, did you spend some time on the motivation or not? So to just trace a little bit about what was happening before. Because chances are if you were kind of busy, well it depends what you were busy doing. But I know for myself, if I was reading a Dharma book, then when I go in to sit down and meditate I’m thinking about what I was reading in the Dharma book and I usually feel more of a connection with my meditation. Or if earlier in the day I was really filled with a lot of stuff, then I take a walk, then I come in, my mind feels clearer as I sit down. There can be more of a sense of connection with it.

That’s why I’m quite specific when I’m setting up the structure of what it’s good to do during break time and what it’s not good to do during break time. So I’ve been trying to give some coaching for people when I observe them doing different things in the break time between sessions: I’ve kind of set up the structure of the retreat, with what everybody should be doing when and if people are choosing not to follow that I think that together as a group all of you will figure that out. So actually I think it might be good if you have a retreat manager who might look over everybody and see what they’re doing. I feel the structure of the retreat really impacts how you feel in your sessions.

Okay, so that is one thing, but also don’t expect to feel connected to the practice every time you do it because sometimes you’re just tired or sometimes you’re distracted or whatever. I think focusing on the motivation at the beginning of the session can be very helpful. I think because I noticed myself: if I sit down and my mind’s thinking about a lot of other different stuff because I was doing a lot of stuff in the break time, then it’s harder to feel connection in that session. So take care about what you do in the break time.

And take care not just about what you do but how you do it. So it’s not a thing of, “Oh, disturbing to do the dishes,” you know, “Washing the dishes disturbs my meditation. I have to wash the dishes at lunch so then my afternoon session isn’t good so therefore I’m not going to wash the dishes.” No, that’s not it. It’s how you’re washing the dishes that is disturbing your meditation session, okay? So if you’re washing the dishes with this mind that says, “I don’t want to wash the dishes, how come I signed up for this stupid chore, it takes more time than anybody else’s chore. When are we going to change chores? I really don’t want to do this. I just can’t stand the same old dirty dishes. Why can’t people wash their own dishes? Oh, the monastics do, that’s good at least I don’t have to wash theirs.” If you are having that kind of dialogue inside when you’re washing the dishes, you’re not going to have a good meditation session afterwards probably. It’s not the dishes that are the problem; it’s your attitude while you’re washing the dishes.

So then you have to look at, “Look, I’m going to wash the dishes anyway, I can either be miserable or I can be happy. There are a lot of people who have washed my dishes in my life, probably if I look back in the past more people have washed my dishes than even me washing my own dish.” If you think about it, all the years we were kids and our parents or older siblings or somebody else washed our dishes. “So there are more people that have washed my dishes then I’ve even washed my own dishes, so now I have the chance to offer service to people and wash their dishes and I’m happy to wash their dishes.”

And you generate a conscious motivation of kindness while you’re washing the dishes. And then that will change your mood while you’re washing the dishes and definitely change your next meditation session. Okay? That’s enough about that for now. But maybe it’s a good thing for all of you to just take some time this week and notice kind of what factors contribute to your having a connection with the meditation when you’re doing it and what factors contribute to your feeling “I’m just going blah blah” and doing it in a rote way. And so just observe your own experience see what you can come up with.

Medicine Buddha and your guru

Audience: Actually I do have a thought about that. First thing of course is whether or not I’ve cultivated the motivation strongly before hand but then there are two things that sort of help me to enhance the feeling of connection because one I’ve never like actually met the Medicine Buddha before in real life, so it’s kind of hard to imagine him as being one nature with my guru—that helps a lot. And also when I think about the qualities of the Buddha’s mind and body and speech and activities and so forth, then I actually have like some sort of idea—like what is this thing before me? Is it just a picture or is it like a representation of incredible compassion that’s in the space? Is it the ability to help all sentient beings perfectly from his side? When I think about the qualities as well, that totally enhances it. Although I did say that it was—I have difficulty with the imagery—that’s because I’m fresh to the Dharma. So I find those things very helpful.

VTC: So you’re saying that seeing the Medicine Buddha and your guru as having one nature helps you feel more connected? That also works for me. And then also thinking about the qualities of the Medicine Buddha and particularity, like the bodhicitta and the ability to reach out to so many beings and be so committed to healing beings, that that helps you feel that connection. And what is it with the imagery?

Visualizing the Medicine Buddha

Audience: I’ll try to explain it this time, I explained it in a haphazard fashion the other night and it came across kind of funny there. It’s just that the space in front of me is an utter vacuity of life and Medicine Buddha’s body at least in the thangka in front of me is quite dark. So I have very much difficulty distinguishing between sometimes the space in front of me and the … Because they’re …

VTC: So the space in front of you is dark and the Buddha’s body is dark and so you have a difficult time. Okay, what color it is when you look backwards, in the back of your head?

Audience: Pardon?

VTC:: What color is it when you look backwards?

Audience: Dark purple.

VTC: Are you sure? Can you see a color when you look backwards? You can’t look backwards, can you? You can’t look backwards at the side of your vision when you have your vision, you see all these colors here but where your eye socket blocks your vision, do you see some color? There is no color, is there? So it’s not even like the space in front of you has a color, it’s just empty space.

Audience: That makes a lot of sense!

VTC: And so then the Medicine Buddha appears there and you can color that space, and the Medicine Buddha’s made of blue radiating light.

Audience [different retreatant]: There is a question I had about this too. Is there a way just to focus on the qualities rather than the imagery and get to where you are going?

VTC: So, is there a way to focus on the qualities of the Buddha but not the imagery? What’s behind that question?

Audience: It seems that for me it’s the imagery that’s difficult to wrap my mind around. So the question is the essential Buddhism, the essential tenets, can they be extracted from the visualization?

VTC: Can you do the sadhana without visualization, without seeing those qualities being embodied in a form? If you do that then you are not going to visualize light coming from the Buddha into you. Because where is the light coming from?

Audience: I wasn’t thinking about light, I was thinking about being a good person, being compassionate.

VTC: But you see, if you are going to do the sadhana with the steps in the sadhana, then if you’re going to visualize light coming and purifying you, then you can think of the light from those qualities, like those qualities radiating light. But just kind of the way our mind focuses, I guess you could think of those qualities not having any form and then there is light and there’s you’re going to have light coming from the space around you into you. So there is still a spatial dimension in our mind. I don’t think you have to fret over the visualization and get tight over it and think, “Oh, now I can’t get the right color blue in my visualization and Medicine Buddha is not sitting still, instead of his right hand on his right knee he’s waving the arura branch in the air and his left hand—he’s tired of holding that bowl and he put it down. He’s holding a lotus now. And I just wish the Medicine Buddha would like sit still.” Don’t worry about any of that, okay? But it’s more a thing like sometimes we get very tight about the visualization feeling like we’re trying to see it and you’re not trying to see it, okay? You’re not trying to see the Medicine Buddha with your eyes. Now, if I say Michaela—Michaela is your daughter. Okay? I say Michaela, what comes in your mind?

Audience: A lot of energy and Michaela.

VTC: Do you have an image of her face, are you thinking of her qualities?

Audience: Yes.

VTC: So her qualities come in your mind, her face comes in your mind, what she looks like comes in your mind, even though you’re sitting here looking at me. When I say Michaela, something comes in your mind. Okay, that’s visualization. It’s just a mental image appearing in your mind. Michaela is not in the room, you are not seeing her with your eyes.

Audience: So it’s calling forth the Buddha?

VTC: Yes, it’s calling forth the Buddha and having some way for you to kind of conceptualize you being in the presence of the Buddha. Okay?

Audience: That helps very much, thank you.

In the presence of the Buddha

VTC: So it’s really about feeling like you’re in the presence of the Buddha. And this is something that I find it helps me to make connection to it, is if I think I am in the presence of the Buddha and the Buddha is my best friend, my most trusted friend. Here I have this time to spend with my most trusted friend. And why can’t the Buddha be our best friend? Why not? I mean Buddha is certainly a better friend than a lot of the friends we’ve had. So then we just spend some time with the Buddha.

So this has to do with our outlook on the practice. If we look at the practice as, “Okay, here is this visualization and I’ve got to do it exactly as it’s written here. And this is a skill I’ve got to develop, so there’s the Buddha and there’s his two eyes. Hum, now does he have a third eye like all these other Buddhas?” And, “Oh yeah, long earlobes and wearing monks robes or does it go over his right shoulder or not? I can’t remember. Maybe I’d better open my eyes and look.” We get all fixated on that. We’re regarding this as like an external skill to develop, so we’re not going to feel real connected.

Whereas if we think, “The Buddha is really my best friend and he has all these good qualities and I get to hang out with somebody that has these wonderful qualities, who really understands me, who has complete acceptance for me, who isn’t going to judge me. Everything I’ve always wanted to but never found in a human being. Somebody who is compassionate, who loves me unconditionally, who doesn’t play favorites for me or against me, but I’m equal with everybody else. No matter whether I behave well or behave poorly, the Buddha is still going to be there.” And so you think of those qualities and you think this is a really good friend that I can be depend on. And then, you relate to the Buddha as a friend. We relate to a lot of our friends you know, we talk about Kung Fu movies, we talk about shopping, we talk about politics and we gossip about the Dharma teachers and we gossip about our Dharma friends, we just gossip!

But with the Buddha we are setting aside some time to relate to a friend in a really different way than how we relate to our other friends. And we can tell the Buddha exactly what’s on our mind; so that’s part of confession, isn’t it? I feel really crummy about this and I did this, I feel crummy and here it is and I really don’t want to do it again. And the Buddha says, “That’s good. Try and understand how you got involved in it so you don’t get in those causal conditions again, in that situation again.” So Buddha gives us something to think about and then we think about it and then we tell the Buddha what we come up with and the Buddha sends all this light and says, “Okay, let’s wash it away and start over again.” So in your meditation you are creating a relationship with the enlightened being. So it is with all of our relationships in life: we play an active part in creating the relationship.

Question on interdependence

Audience: I’m sorry I have sort of a technical question that I don’t even know if I can word properly. It’s about the four point analysis. I think the fourth point, finding out that it’s impossible for the “I” to be inherently other than the aggregates. And one of the reasons that I read once, I just wanted to ask about this. If the “I” was inherently other than the aggregates, then there would be no basis of designation, and therefore it would be a non-product, and therefore it would be permanent. Obviously the “I” changes so it’s impossible. I was just wondering why it follows that because there is no basis in the designation that you disinherit (?) the other that is the non-product.

VTC: I’ve never heard that.

Audience: Okay, it’s in the book Meditation on Emptiness by Jeffrey Hopkins.

VTC: Okay, maybe you could show it to me and then I could see how he traces it back. But they usually say if the self, the “I” and the aggregates were inherently separate okay, then they would be totally different. So then that whatever happened to the body and the mind, you would never say, “That happened to me.” So when the body dies, you wouldn’t say, “I die.” Or when the mind feels happy, you wouldn’t say, “I feel happy” because they are entirely separate, distinct, unrelated things.

Audience: You wouldn’t have the character of the aggregate: you would never say I’m walking, sitting.

VTC: Right.

Audience: Okay, yeah. To be honest though, that point, because he lists a number of reasons but he skips over that point and it makes no sense. But the one you just talked about makes sense.

VTC: Unless he’s saying that if they’re different then they have different characters and so since the body is impermanent then the self would have to be permanent because they have different characters. But that doesn’t necessarily follow.

Is anything burning that anybody wants to discuss? How are people doing in general? Some people are doing better than others? That’s always the case and tomorrow’s going to be different. Anybody having big problems: that are lasting more than a day? Are you seeing how the mind is changing all the time? Yes, all the time, isn’t it?

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.