Wisdom, renunciation, and attachment

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Part of a series of teachings given during the Manjushri Winter Retreat from December 2008 to March 2009 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Great versus profound wisdom
  • Dakas, dakinis and Dharma protectors
  • Meditating on the disadvantages of cyclic existence
  • Vipassana meditation and Vajrayana
  • Working with physical and mental restlessness

Manjushri Retreat 12: Q&A (download)

You wanted to know the difference between profound and great wisdom. Now here is another example of where the wisdoms are not contradictory. In other words, if it’s one wisdom it doesn’t mean that it’s not the other wisdom. So it doesn’t have to be that they’re so different. So the great wisdom, or it’s usually the extensive wisdom. Usually extensive is talking about on a wide range of things, and profound is talking about going deep in it. So that’s probably the main thing here. “It has no resistance to understanding the meaning of the extensive scriptures,” so all of the different scriptures including the scriptures on the extensive aspects of the path—which are the scriptures on bodhicitta. So that. And then the profound wisdom understands the meaning of the scriptures in a profound, limitless way—so really penetrating into the emptiness meaning of the scriptures.

Audience: So the more I’ve done the wisdoms the more I’ve thought, “What’s the difference?” So, to be able to think that the greatest wisdom is more about wisdom from bodhicitta, or cultivating bodhicitta?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Or more about having wisdom that extends over a lot of different scriptures, a lot of different approaches. It could be different approaches even to emptiness also. Did you have any other things concerning the Manjushri?

Sangha refuge

Audience: I have a question related to sadhanas, when doing the Sangha refuge. And I don’t have anything really to think about when I do the one on the Sangha related to the dakas, dakinis, and Dharma protectors because I don’t read about that.

VTC: Okay, well remember the Sangha refuge isn’t just the dakas and dakinis. Dakas and dakinis are beings who practice the tantra who are especially helpful to tantric practitioners. So you can think in terms of when you get to that level of practicing tantra that they’ll be there to help you. In the Vajrayogini practice they talk about 24 holy sites on the earth and there are different dakas and dakinis living at each one. I’ve been to a few of those and there’s some special energy at those places. And then in terms of the Dharma protectors, there are different kinds of Dharma protectors. There are the four great kings who are devas, who are in one of the deva realms. And when you go into the Chinese temples you may have noticed that: they have the four great Dharma protectors there. And so those are one kind of Dharma protector. And then there are other kinds of Dharma protectors that are bodhisattvas and are at different levels on the bodhisattva path. And so we take refuge in them because what they do is prevent obstacles and hindrances.

Making progress with attachment

Audience: It’s not so much of a question but it was an experience this week in the hall. I was taking the six disadvantages [of cyclic existence] and going through them over and over and over. And I have had the experience of doing that and ending up really sad and it didn’t happen this week. And I started wondering why? I think it’s because I’ve been working so much on attachment before I came back to these. So it was real interesting effect this week of coming out of the sessions feeling very energized and thinking, “I shouldn’t feel this good!” [laughter] Thinking piles of bones, you know, all this stuff; but I just came out so energized. So it was a really different experience looking at those two.

VTC: Very good. Very good.

Audience: Cutting away at that attachment, at my grasping at true existence, thinking here I am making up a story and, “Am I exaggerating?” I think it’s a sign of it going down. It was very rewarding.

VTC: Yes. Very good. Very good.

Vipassana in Vajrayana

Audience: And then I do have a question, how does the vipassana technique show up in Vajrayana?

VTC: The section in Lamrim Chenmo that, you know the three-volume set? The third volume, the first part of it is about how to attain serenity. The whole rest of it is called lhag thong chem mo. Lhag thong means insight, means vipassana. It’s the Tibetan word for vipassana.

Audience: Special insight?

VTC: Yes. Or sometimes in the new translation they just called it insight. And what’s interesting is what they call the vipassana tradition is basically mindfulness meditation. Whereas even in the Theravada vipassana is analyzing things as impermanent, as dukkha, and as selfless. That’s what’s really meant by insight. But mostly what they’re teaching is not that analysis but just watching the different things that arise in the mind. It’s gotten confused.

Working with restlessness

Audience: I’ve got a question when working with my mind. I’ve gotten very restless this week. For almost 18 hours, it came on, it was just weird. So one time I was in the hall. But it was when I was in the hall and out of the hall. But when you’re in the hall or when you’re trying to sleep, both those times it’s really annoying because what to do? So one time when I was in the hall I was just, like, restless, restless finally I just picked up the Shantideva book on introspective alertness, and he said [roughly paraphrasing], “Just be like a log when you’re like this. When you’ve lost your mindfulness and introspective alertness, be like a log.” So I didn’t do anything, I didn’t move, I just didn’t think about anything. And the whole thing subsided for the rest of the session which was quite nice because I was feeling like I was coming out of my skin. And then it came back the next session. I was in the hall and I really couldn’t work with it at all. I actually got up and left.

VTC: And did it go away when you left the hall?

A girl bending her head down with her hands covering her ears

Sometimes there’s physical restlessness and sometimes there’s mental restlessness and sometimes they’re related. (Photo by Hartwig HKD)

Audience: No, it didn’t. [laughter] I stayed up really late that night trying to read, for sometimes that turns my mind. I finally worked it out. I talked to S the next morning. I felt like I was doing a shift—I wasn’t aware of it all. And I was thinking about the question when S was here and she said, “I had all this energy but there was nothing, like, tied to it.” And that’s how it started out. I was so aware of this energy, even when I went to sleep. I thought, “Geez, I have all this energy, what am I going to do with it? There’s no way I’m going to sleep.” But there was like, nothing. The content wasn’t there. And, you know, I figured out the content later, and I had to work out some things, and I kind of felt like I was in this “retreat mode” and like I was getting grabbed out of it by the “task mode” and I was trying to stay in the “retreat mode” because there were things I was actually working on and trying to come back to consistently every session and deal with these things. And so later I kind of realized that was it, but I felt like that there must be, there is sometimes just the experience of this restlessness, and I was thinking maybe when they teach those hindrances, you know it’s one of the five hindrances. What is the antidote? Maybe I could try to really just don’t move a muscle and not think about anything.

VTC: Yes, yes. So sometimes there’s physical restlessness and sometimes there’s mental restlessness and sometimes they’re related. And one causes the other, yes? And I think sometimes, I mean, if you can figure out what the content is and then see if there’s something you can do to resolve that. That’s the best way. If you can’t figure out what the content is, then I think just watching the breath, sitting still and watching the breath during your sessions is good, and then in the break time, you know, for the physical side of it, take a walk or do some prostrations.

Audience: The feeling of, like, you’re gonna crawl out of your skin is really hard to sit through.

VTC: Those are my suggestions. Anybody else for the other people?

Audience: To just drop it.

Audience: Sometimes the breath is the only place I can go and I spend most of the session bringing my mind back to the breath because of restlessness.

VTC: And one thing is, is you can also ask yourself, “Is there anything I absolutely have to do now that can not wait?” It’s a life-and-death issue? That I have to do now? If there is, then go do it. And if there’s not, then drop it.

Audience: I had that interior buzzing and that sense of wanting to get out of your skin this week, too. And one thing that helped, sometimes it’s just sitting through it and I don’t even know how. But one thing that helped was just asking, “What is it?” Not meaning what the content is but just going into the buzzing thing. Going wow, “It’s really, really buzzing, you know. Like where is it in my body?” Asking those kinds of questions it started to dissipate a little, it got more tolerable. It’s like trying to go right at it.

VTC: You make it the thing that you’re being mindful of.

Audience: Because trying to get rid of it, for me, made it really hard. It seemed bigger than when I just went right at it, asking, “What is it, where is it?”

Audience: Did it resolve?

Audience: Not completely but I didn’t have to jump up and leave.

Audience: When I have that in my body I just really accept it. Well, you know, that’s what it is. Knowing people are around me and I’m moving around like some kind of jumping bean. I just, that’s just what it is right now even if I don’t know content. And I, too, know that it’ll change. It’s that feeling that if you accept it, it will change but if you fight against it you keep it there a long time. It’s the same with pain; I just try to accept it, that’s just what it is.

Audience: I was listening to Bhikkhu Bodhi talk about the extra energy you get [inaudible]. That way during the day I won’t have so much energy, but I will have more time so it will be dispersed a little better rather than all kind of concentrated. Today I’ve been just wild and I realize I was just really, really sleepy when I woke up and I kept kind of drifting off and falling back asleep. [inaudible] Usually I’ve been sleeping four or five hours, and this morning I slept at least 6-1/2 [inaudible] … my mind is just nonstop [inaudible]. I think I would have rather stayed up and not slept so much and been able to have… You know, and then early in the morning you try to meditate and try to stay awake, but it’s like, it seems like the energy is dispersed.[inaudible]

VTC: How’s everybody doing?

Experience of time during retreat

Audience: The time goes a lot faster when you’re in front of a computer rather than on the cushion. And this retreat time has just felt like the days have just been so full and I had lots of good energy. And been really alert and been able to just take in so much Dharma which I think is due partly to the Manjushri retreat and I also think is partly because of this expanded capacity of the work I’ve been doing here. So thank you for that. So it’s just felt huge and lush and I wanted to be able to carry that part of the feeling into work, and it’s not. There’s just that the task takes concentration which is great but then the time is gone. So I don’t have the mindfulness of the passing of time, and I don’t have the fullness of the passing of time because I’m putting the energy into something else. That’s been a little bit disconcerting. Lunch comes, “What? We just ate.” Well, I’m not ready. Not just for the food, but in terms of time [inaudible].

VTC: I find that happening even without changing tasks, that the longer the retreat is, it just goes very, very quickly. It’s the same, always. The beginning of the retreat each day just seems like, “Wow!” Like there’s so much in it, and now it goes very quickly. “I just woke up, what I am doing waking up again, I just woke up!” [laughter] “What am I doing going to bed? I just went to bed!”

Audience: I’ve been having these thoughts sitting in the meditation hall at night and kind of like in the evening practice because it’s different than the two morning ones, and I’ll be sitting there and I get into a peaceful state and I’ll be like, “Is this morning practice or evening? [laughter] I don’t really know. Are we starting the day or ending the day? A couple of times I’ve been really confused by it because it’s dark at both times in the hall.

VTC: So, how is everyone else?

Audience: I’m having just a delightful time offering service. I enjoy being in the hall morning and evening and a little bit missing that but my mind has been really happy.

VTC: Great. That’s the way it should be.

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