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The secondary afflictions

Part of a series of talks given during the two-day Creating the Causes for Happiness Retreat organized by Buddhist Fellowship and given at Poh Ming Tse Temple, Singapore.

  • Final teaching on the root afflictions
  • The first of the 20 secondary afflictions
  • Definitions of the mental factors can be found here


We talked about attachment, and we talked about anger. The next one is called pride or arrogance, but I actually think conceit might be a good translation because there are different kinds of pride. You can be proud of your accomplishments in a good way. Sometimes when you’re proud of somebody it means you’re rejoicing in their virtue, or you’re rejoicing in their accomplishment, but that’s not the meaning here. Here it’s more like conceit or arrogance:

A distinct mental factor that, based upon the view of the transitory composite apprehending either an inherent I or mine, strongly grasps at an inflated or superior image of oneself.

When it says “the transitory composite,” it’s referring to the mental factor which is also translated as a view of a personal identity. That’s the one I’m using now. This is the mind that—on the basis of the body and mind—labels I or person, which is completely okay. But then, looking at that I, apprehending that I, this mind grasps that I as inherently existent.

In other words, it’s grasping at it as having its own independent essence that doesn’t rely on anything. That is part of the fundamental self-grasping that we have that is the root of samsara. Here this pride or arrogance is based on that view of a personal identity that apprehends either I or mine, and in addition, “this conceit strongly grasps at an inflated or superior image of oneself.”

“I’m the best,” or “I’m whatever it is”—it’s that kind of conceit, arrogance. There’s one kind of that conceit they talk about in the Pali tradition, and the term really resonates with me. It’s called the “conceit of I am.” It’s just the conceit of “I am an independent entity here in charge of everything”—it’s really inflated.


Then the fourth of the six root afflictions is ignorance:

An afflictive state of unknowing brought about by the mind being unclear about the nature of things, such as the Four Noble Truths, actions and their results, and the Three Jewels.

Here, ignorance is called “an afflictive state of unknowing.” In other words, ignorance is seen as an absence of knowing—a kind of fogginess, a mental unclarity of obscuration that prevents us from knowing the nature of reality.

In terms of the Prasangika view—this is the highest Buddhist tenet system—of ignorance, ignorance isn’t just an obscuration that doesn’t see reality correctly, but it’s a mental factor that actively misapprehends the nature of reality. It’s not just foggy; it actively grasps things to exist in the opposite way from how they do exist. Whereas things arise dependent on causes and conditions, and things exist in dependence upon their parts, their components, and whereas things also exist in dependence on the mind that conceives and labels them, ignorance apprehends things existing in the exact opposite way—in a very independent way.

It apprehends them existing independent of causes, independent of parts, independent of the mind that conceives them. Ignorance apprehends things one way; reality is totally the opposite. This is why we want to develop wisdom apprehending reality because it apprehends things as they really are, which is the exact opposite way of how ignorance apprehends those things. 

Ignorance is said to be the root of samsara because based on this fundamental ignorance—especially with regard to the self, the I—we develop a very distorted view of how we exist. And we have this strong feeling of I am. Yet the I that feeling grasps at doesn’t really exist in that way. It’s an overexaggerated view of how things—especially the self, the person—exists.

And because of that overexaggerated view: We get attached to what gives us pleasure. We have anger and want to destroy what interferes with us. We compare ourselves with others, and we feel arrogance— when we’re better, we feel jealous; when we’re worse, we compete.

This wrong view of how things exist is like the root that gives forth all these other afflictive kinds of emotions, and when they’re active in our mind, they motivate us to act—they create karma. And then based on that karma we get reborn and we face difficult situations. It’s for this reason that we want to generate wisdom that sees things as they are, because that has the power to totally eradicate the ignorance. When ignorance is eradicated, then all of its branches—the attachment, anger, arrogance, jealousy and so on—are also eradicated. 

Deluded doubt

The next one is called deluded doubt. This is:

A mental factor that is indecisive and wavering and tends towards the incorrect conclusion about important points, such as karma and its results, the Four Noble Truths and the Three Jewels.

We talked a little bit about doubt this morning when I was describing the various states of mind that we go through. We start with wrong view, then we go to doubt, and then correct assumption or inference, and direct perception. This is a deluded form of doubt that is inclined towards the wrong view. It prevents us from realizing the nature of reality. It comes to the incorrect conclusion regarding things, such as karma and its effects.

Doubt might say, “I don’t know about this whole karma thing. I don’t know if our actions really have results or not. Maybe I can just do whatever I want to do, and it won’t have any bad results. As long as I don’t get caught by the police, it’s okay.” Many of us have this idea, don’t we? Many people don’t really believe in karma, in the ethical dimensions of our actions, but just think, “Okay, I’ll do what I want but I just won’t get caught.” That’s kind of a wrong view, and when we’re leaning towards that kind of view that’s a deluded form of doubt.

Put it this way: there are different kinds of doubt that we can have. There’s one kind of doubt that’s actually positive. This is a kind of doubt that is curious. We hear something, and it’s like: “I don’t quite understand this.” Like karma: “I don’t quite understand how karma works. I’m curious. How does that work? I’m not really sure if I believe in it, but I want to learn more.” That’s a good kind of doubt because that kind of doubt will spur us on to learn, to reflect, and to meditate—and in that way to reach some good conclusions. That kind of doubt is more curiosity.

This kind of deluded doubt is the one that goes: “Meh, I don’t really know. I don’t think so.” There’s no curiosity in it that wants to learn. It’s just the “meh” kind of mind. Sometimes we may have that. Sometimes we may be practicing and we start to doubt the path. “Is it really possible to get enlightened? No, I don’t know. Does Buddha really exist? Is it really possible to overcome ignorance? Maybe everybody else can do it, but me—no.” That kind of doubt is this one. It’s an afflictive kind of doubt because when it’s active in our mind, we can’t go forward. They say that deluded doubt is like trying to sew with a two-pointed needle. Can you imagine trying to sew with a needle that has two points? You can’t go this way, you can’t go that way—you’re stuck. That’s what this one is. We can see the detrimental effects in our life.

When we have doubt, it’s not about saying to ourselves, “Oh, I shouldn’t have a doubt. I should believe. I should have faith.” All these “shoulds” are not very useful. Instead, it’s more useful to say, “Okay, I’m having this deluded doubt now, but instead of staying in that mental state, let’s transform it into curiosity, and then go out and learn some more. By learning some more, may I then figure out what I believe in, and use reasoning to do that. Then I will be confident in what I believe in a very comfortable way, without being cynical with doubt or without having blind faith—but I’m going to go out and learn.”

Wrong Views

The sixth one is called wrong views. This one has five types.

Wrong views is either an afflictive intelligence that regards the aggregates as being inherently I and mine, or in direct dependence upon such a view, a deluded intelligence that develops further mistaken conceptions.

That’s wrong views. Here it talks about it being an afflictive intelligence. Remember yesterday when we were talking about the mental factor prajna, which is translated as wisdom or intelligence? Actual prajna apprehends things correctly, but it’s possible to have an afflicted kind of intelligence that apprehends things in the wrong way—that comes to the wrong conclusion. All these different types of wrong views are that kind of intelligence. You think about something but you come to the wrong conclusion. It’s based on conceptuality but the wrong kind of conceptuality. It’s intelligent in the sense that it analyzes something.

There are five kinds. The first one is the view of personal identity. That’s the one above that was translated as:

A deluded intelligence that, when referring to the aggregates of the body and the mind, conceives them to be inherently I and mine.

Some Buddhists say that this view of the personal identity looks at the body and mind. Other Buddhists—the Prasangikas, the Madyamakas—say that it views the conventional I that is merely designated in dependence upon the body and mind. But, in either case, this transitory composite refers to the body and mind because what are we human beings? There’s a body, there’s a mind, and then in dependence upon them we label I or me. Labeling that is okay, but when we’re not satisfied with the I just being a label, and we think that there’s something solidly there that truly exists—that really is me—that’s when we get into trouble.

That’s what this view of the personal identity is. It’s apprehending I, or it’s apprehending mine, as being something independent of everything else that exists. And it’s a wrong mind because in actual fact, everything exists in dependence upon other things.

Everything exists dependent on other things.

Nothing exists in its own right, from its own side. We look around—everything comes from causes and conditions, right? Absolutely everything you look at has parts. Things are not independent. That’s the I. The mine refers to the I when it’s the owner. I is the owner: “I own my body and mind.”

The second one about holding to an extreme is:

An afflictive intelligence that, when referring to the I or mine, conceived by the view of the personal identity, regards them in an internalistic or realistic fashion.

So, we have the conventionally existent I that exists by being merely labeled in dependence upon the body and mind, but this view holding to an extreme then says: “Either that I has to be totally independent in such a way that at the time of death it’s like a permanent soul that goes on to the next life, or the I, the self, completely becomes totally non-existent at the time of death.” These are two extreme views.

There is a conventional I—we say, “I.” But this view is saying that at the time of death, this I is not just a conventional I, but a truly existent one, like an independent soul. It’s something that is really truly me, and it kind of picks up out of his body, goes over to this other body, and goes kerplunk! It’s not like that. There’s no permanent soul. Who we are is in constant flux all the time. So, these two extreme views are saying either there’s a permanent self that continues, or at the time of death there’s nothing. It’s just total nothingness at the time of death. Both of those are wrong views because there’s not total nothingness at the time of death. There is a continuity of the self. There’s a continuity of the consciousness, but neither the self nor the consciousness are permanent, independent entities.

Three is holding wrong views as supreme. Again, this is:

An afflictive intelligence that regards other wrong views as best.

Looking at all the other wrong views, this one says, “Yeah, those views are the best ones to have.” You have a wrong view and then you rejoice at having a wrong view. That’s being totally messed up, isn’t it?

The fourth one is holding incorrect ethics and modes of conduct as supreme. This is

An afflictive intelligence that believes purification of mental defilements to be possible by means of ascetic practices and inferior codes of ethics that are inspired by wrong views.

This is a specific kind of wrong view. In ancient India there were lots of different religious traditions and many of them had quite strange, shall we say, views of things. For example, let’s say there’s somebody who has clairvoyant powers and sees that somebody who is a human being in this lifetime was a dog in their previous life. And then they draw the wrong conclusion that acting like a dog is the cause to be a human being in your next life. That’s a pretty wrong conclusion, isn’t it? These people believed that. When you read the Pali canon, sometimes these people would come to visit the Buddha, and they would be crawling along on all fours; they would eat by sticking their nose into a bowl. And when they came to the Buddha, they would curl up in a circle the way a dog curls up when it lies down, and it was because they thought that acting like a dog is the cause for human rebirth. Pretty wrong views about ethics, isn’t it?

Or there was another kind of school, another kind of wandering ascetic, that thought if you jumped on a trident and the middle point of the trident came out the top of your head that you had attained liberation—wrong view. Other kinds of wrong views would be thinking that drinking holy water or bathing in the Ganges, in and of itself, without changing your mind, purifies negative karma. That’s a wrong view. Or thinking that you have to please an external God by offering an animal sacrifice—that’s a wrong view. Those are examples of this one: holding incorrect ethics and loads of conduct as supreme.

The last one is just wrong views. This is

An afflictive intelligence that denies the existence of something that in fact exists.

It’s not talking about political wrong views or things like this. It’s talking about wrong views about really important topics—for example, that the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha exists. Somebody says there’s no such thing as Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and they’re very firm. It’s not deluded doubt; it’s firm conviction. That’s really a wrong view. Or it’s like somebody who says human beings are inherently selfish, so it’s useless to try and attain awakening because there’s no way that we can be free of our selfishness. That also is a wrong view. Another wrong view would be thinking that there is a creator God who created the universe and then sends people to heaven and hell. From the Buddhist viewpoint, that’s a wrong view.

Afflictions derived from anger

We will quickly go through the afflictions derived from these six root ones. First, from anger there’s wrath:

A mental factor that, due to an increase of anger, is a thoroughly malicious state of mind wishing to cause immediate harm.

Have you ever experienced that? It’s like being so mad that you want to punch somebody, or you want to tell them off—you’re going to slam that door, right here and now. We’ve been like that, haven’t we? Oh, you all look so innocent! “Who me? No, it’s my husband. It’s my life that’s like that. Not me—I’m sweet and innocent.” Right!

Number two is vengeance, which is also grudge holding. It’s:

A mental factor that, without forgetting, firmly holds on to the fact that in the past one was harmed by a particular person.

And we want to retaliate. So: “15 years ago my brother or sister did blah, blah, blah”—whatever it is—“and I want to get my revenge. I’m holding on to a grudge. I don’t want to forgive this person.” That’s a pretty painful state of mind when we hold on to a grudge and we don’t want to forgive, isn’t it? I come from a family where there is so much grudge holding that when they have a big family gathering, like somebody’s getting married, making a seating chart is impossible because this one doesn’t talk to that one, who doesn’t talk to this one, who doesn’t talk to that one. It’s crazy.

Three is spite:

A mental factor which, preceded by wrath or vengeance, and as an outcome of malice, motivates one to utter harsh words and reply to unpleasant words said by others.

Spite is the mind that wants to tell somebody off and badly hurt their feelings. Anybody ever have that in your mind?

Four is jealousy:

A distinct mental factor that, out of attachment to respect [my reputation] or material gain, is unable to bear the good things others have.

We want whatever is good. We want respect, we want material gain, we want that boyfriend or girlfriend for ourselves—we cannot stand that somebody else has them. We can’t stand that they’re successful when we aren’t. We are burning with envy. It’s a pretty painful state of mind, huh? And it’s over what—over what? Is that thing that we’re so attached to, that we want for ourselves, really all that wonderful?

Five is harmfulness or cruelty:

A mental factor which, with a malicious intention devoid of any compassion or kindness, desires to belittle and disregard others.

Or we wish to harm them, flat out harm them. We’ve seen the news reports of what ISIS does in beheading different people? That’s this one.

Afflictions derived from attachment

From attachment there’s miserliness or stinginess:

A mental factor which, out of attachment to respect or material gain, firmly holds on to one’s possessions with no wish to give them away.

Miserliness is a mind of fear. It’s a mind that says, “If I give something then I won’t have it, and if I don’t have it I’m terrified that I might want it or need it sometime in the future.” Miserliness is the reason why at home your cupboards and closets and drawers are stuffed with things that you never use, that you cannot bring yourself to give away—even though other people need them much more desperately than you need them. It’s miserliness, isn’t it? Acting out of miserliness is the cause to be born in poverty.

Second is complacency:

A mental factor that, being attentive to the marks of good fortune one possesses, brings the mind under its influence and produces a false sense of confidence.

Sometimes it’s called complacency, sometimes haughtiness. This mental factor is kind of a combination of both of those. So, we have good fortune—look here in Singapore: what good fortune! What an incredible country you live in! But then we just have a false sense of confidence, and we take the whole thing for granted. We don’t think, “Oh, why do I have such a good situation—because I created good karma in a previous life.” We just take our good situation for granted. We don’t bother to exert ourselves, to be generous, to keep ethical conduct, to develop fortitude or whatever. We just take stuff for granted, even being a little bit haughty about the whole thing. We can see that that kind of attitude is going to lead to a lot of problems for us in the future.

The third is excitement or agitation; I spoke about this one earlier. It’s:

A mental factor that, through the force of attachment, does not allow the mind to rest solely upon a virtuous object but scatters it here and there to many objects.

Excitement is the one that when you sit down to meditate, all of a sudden you’re daydreaming: you’re on the beach with your boyfriend, eating this delicious food, you just got a promotion. You’re off in your daydream somewhere—“la-la land.” You can spend your whole meditation session like that. 

Afflictions derived from ignorance

The first affliction derived from ignorance is concealment. It’s:

A mental factor that wishes to hide one’s thoughts whenever another person with a benevolent intention, free from nonvirtuous aspiration, closed-mindedness, hatred, or fear, talks about such thoughts.

We have a good friend who sees that we’re going down the wrong path—we’re making some bad choices, we’re attached to a person who is not very ethical or who’s not going to really reciprocate our goodwill and trust, or we’re about to get involved in a bad business deal, or who knows what. So, our friend comes and talks to us with a positive intention, really wanting to help us and so they point out this fault—that we’re making wrong decisions or whatever—and we cover it up. “Who me? No, I didn’t do that. I’m not about to do that. No, no, no. You don’t understand.”

This is concealment, but it’s also the mind that rationalizes and justifies and gets defensive. It’s like when somebody points something out to us—“I thought you were going to have this report ready by Wednesday”—and we go, “Oh, well, actually I meant to. The boss changed it. It wasn’t Wednesday; it’s actually Thursday,” or “Oh, my car broke down and I wasn’t able to get it done,” or “It’s not done because somebody else was supposed to help me and they didn’t.” You know that mind, the mind that makes excuses? That’s this one.

Two is dullness or foggy mindedness:

A mental factor, which having caused the mind to lapse into darkness and thereby become insensitive, does not comprehend its object clearly as it is.

This is when you sit down to meditate and your mind is just flat, dull, lacking energy. You sit down to meditate on the lamrim or whatever it is—nothing. That’s dullness.

Then there’s laziness:

A mental factor that, having firmly grasped an object offering temporary happiness, either does not wish to do anything constructive, or although wishing, is weak minded.

We’ve got an object that gives us some temporary happiness like a comfortable chair and then we don’t want to do anything constructive, or even if we want to, we can’t get ourselves up. Laziness is the mind that cannot get us to the meditation cushion in the morning. It’s the mind that says, “I’ll meditate tomorrow morning; today I’m tired. I have to go to work. Work is important, and I don’t want to go to work tired, because work is much more important than Dharma.” It’s having wrong priorities. “I’ll go back to sleep and get a good night’s sleep and then I’ll do my morning meditation tomorrow.”  Laziness is the mind that appears when there’s some Dharma teachings going on or retreat going on and we think, “Oh, I don’t want to have to travel a half an hour across the city to get there.” It’s like: “Who wants to sit in traffic for half an hour? I’ll stay home and read the newspaper instead.”

Number four here is lack of faith or lack of conviction. It’s:

The mental factor that, since it causes one to have no belief or respect for that which is worthy of confidence, such as karma and its results, is the complete opposite of faith.

Yesterday we talked about faith, confidence, trust in the Triple Gem. This one’s the opposite of it. It’s having no belief, no respect, for what is actually worthy of respect and if we believed in it, would help us.

Then there’s forgetfulness:

The mental factor, which having caused the apprehension of a constructive object to be lost, induces memory of and distraction towards an object of afflictions.

This one—forgetfulness—is the opposite of mindfulness. Remember, mindfulness was able to focus on a good object in such a way that we didn’t forget it. This one cannot focus on a constructive object, and instead goes off and gets distracted about something. We have lots of this one in our meditation.

Then, six is non-introspective alertness:

A mental factor, which being a deluded intelligence which has made no or only a rough analysis, is not fully alert to the conduct of one’s body, speech, and mind, and thus causes one to enter into careless indifference.

Do you remember before when we were talking about introspective awareness? It’s this mental factor that in your daily life, checks up and asks: “What am I doing? What am I thinking? What am I saying? Am I living according to my precepts? Am I living according to my values and principles?” It’s that kind of introspective awareness that’s really useful and good.

This one—non-introspective awareness—doesn’t check-up or make any analysis at all or does a really sloppy job at it, and therefore it’s not very attentive or aware of what we are saying or doing or thinking. And thus, we just don’t care what we’re saying, doing, or thinking, and then afflictions manifest in our mind and off we go following the afflictions.

I’m noticing that as we’re going through these roots of afflictions, the energy in the room is getting heavier and heavier and heavier. [laughter] You have to remember that yes, we have these, but there are the virtuous ones that counteract them and that these things are all based on ignorance. They are not an innate part, an inherent part, of our mind. These things are not who we are. They’re mental factors that can be eliminated from our mind. It’s very important to remember that.

Afflictions derived from both attachment and ignorance

From attachment and ignorance comes pretension:

A mental factor which, when one is overly attached to respect or to material gain, fabricates a particularly excellent quality about oneself and then wishes to make it evident to others with the thought to deceive them.

We pretend to have good qualities we don’t have. This is the mental factor that’s active when you go for a job interview. [laughter] It’s like: “Oh, I don’t know so much about that, but I’m a very quick learner. I can pick it up,” or “Oh yes, of course I can do that—what does it mean?” We’re pretending to have good qualities that we don’t have. Or there’s some attractive person and you want them to like you, so you try and figure out what kind of qualities they like, and then you pretend to have those qualities so that they’ll be attracted to you. That is a dead end.

The second one here is dishonesty. It’s:

A mental factor which, when one is overly attached to respect or material gain, wishes to confuse others by keeping what’s false unknown to them.

This is another one that you do in a job interview or in a romantic relationship: “Oh, I don’t have that problem. Oh no, no.” You cover up, cover up. These two, pretension and dishonesty, function together fabricating good qualities we don’t have to deceive, covering up bad qualities we have in order to deceive. And it’s because we want material gain, or we want respect, or a job, or somebody to like us, or whatever it is.

The three poisonous attitudes

Then there are afflictions derived from all three poisonous attitudes: ignorance, anger, and attachment.

The first one is lack of integrity. Remember yesterday when we talked about personal integrity—this is the opposite of that one. It’s:

A mental factor which does not avoid negative actions for reasons of personal consciousness or for the sake of one’s own Dharma beliefs.

When this one’s prominent in our mind we just do whatever we want to—we don’t care.

It’s the same thing with the next one, which is inconsideration for others:

A mental factor which, without taking others or their spiritual traditions into account, wishes to behave in a manner that doesn’t avoid negative behavior.

Again, we don’t care. This one is like: “I don’t care about the effect of my actions on others. I’m just going to do what I want to do.” The first one is more like: “I don’t care about my precepts. I’m just going to do what I feel like doing.” Both of these are mental factors that lead us in the wrong way.

Three is un-conscientiousness:

A mental factor that, when one is affected by laziness, wishes to act freely in an unrestrained manner, without cultivating virtue or guarding the mind against contaminated phenomena.

This is a reckless mind: “I don’t care about virtue. I don’t care. I’m just going to do what I want.”

Four is distraction:

A mental factor which, arising from any of the three poisonous attitudes and being unable to direct the mind towards a virtuous object, disperses it to a variety of other objects.

So, you’re sitting down to meditate and your mind’s all over the universe thinking about all sorts of other stuff, or even when you’re not sitting down to meditate, your mind’s bouncing around the universe.

Four variable mental factors

Then we have the four variable mental factors. These four, in and of themselves, are neither virtuous nor non-virtuous. They become virtuous or nonvirtuous in dependence upon our motivation and other mental factors that arise with them.

The first one is sleep:

A mental factor that makes the mind unclear, gathers the sense consciousnesses inwards, and renders the mind incapable of apprehending the body.

We have to sleep. We have these kind of bodies, so we need to sleep. But it’s very important before we go to sleep to generate a virtuous mind because if we do, then our sleep becomes virtue. For example, we think something like: “I’m going to sleep to rest my body, so that with an invigorated body and mind tomorrow, I can arise and practice virtue and generate bodhicitta and practice the path.” If you think that before you go to bed, it transforms your sleep—you’re sleeping for a good reason. A non-virtuous reason is: “I am just so exhausted”—kerplunk!

The next is regret, and we talked about this earlier too. It’s:

A mental factor which regards an appropriate or inappropriate action, which one has performed of one’s own accord or under pressure, as something one does not wish to repeat.

When we regret our nonvirtuous actions, that regret becomes virtue. When we regret being generous, that regret becomes nonvirtuous. We have to be careful about what we regret.

Three is general investigation. This is:

A distinct mental factor that, in dependence upon either intention or intelligence, searches for merely a rough idea about any object.

Investigation is very useful in Dharma practice. It will help us to get a general understanding of, let’s say, one of the teachings that the Buddha gave. That kind of investigation is virtuous. Investigating which horse to bet on, [laughter] that’s a nonvirtuous one.

The last of the 51 mental factors, precise analysis is:

A distinctive mental factor which, in dependence upon intention or intelligence, analyzes the object in detail.

When you’re meditating on emptiness, you really need to analyze in detail how things exist. This factor of analysis is crucial to understanding exactly what emptiness is. On the other hand, analyzing the account books of a company so that you can “redesign” the accounting books is a nonvirtuous type of analysis. Those are the 51 mental factors.

We went through them rather quickly, but it can be really helpful to think about these. You can go into and find it and download it. It’s really useful to use as a meditation tool—to really think about these different mental factors and how to encourage the virtuous ones, how to discourage the nonvirtuous ones. Also, on—because I’ve taught the mental factors in much more detail, longer than a quick weekend—we have tapes of those teachings on the website. You can go and listen to them as well.

Questions & Answers

Audience: I would like some guidance and advice on how to manage my frantic and panicky mind, to keep it checked in general? In our daily lives, how do we strike a good balance between letting go and being proactive? Can you share how to balance between tranquility and motivation?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): There have been a lot of questions about how to find balance in your daily life and how to maintain a calm mind. The first thing I recommend is when you get up in the morning, take refuge in the Three Jewels and generate your motivation. So, even before you get out of bed, make the strong intention: “Today, I’m not going to harm anybody as much as possible. Today, I want to help others as much as possible. Today, I’m going to really nurture the aspiration to become fully awakened for the benefit of all beings.” That’s called the bodhichitta. Think: “I’m going to nurture that as much as possible.” You cultivate that motivation in the morning, and then you come back to it periodically during the day.

Maybe you could set your screensaver or computer background to say “bodhichitta” or “loving kindness.” Maybe on your phone your notification sound could be Om Mani Padme Hum instead of a popular song. You can establish some things in your life that become reminders for you of your good intention. Setting that intention is very important to actually be able to be calm and relaxed during the day.

Then make sure you have enough time each day to spend alone—either reading a Dharma book, or doing some kind of meditation, or going to Dharma class or something. That way you have time to really think about what’s worthwhile. You discipline yourself so that you don’t get so caught up in work; you don’t get so anxious about work that it becomes all you can think about. Really make Dharma a very important part of your life. Just as you nourish your body every day by eating, you have to nourish your mind by reading Dharma, meditating, chanting—whatever it is. That will help you a lot to keep a kind of balanced, relaxed mind during the day.

Audience: Can you please explain more about the prayer request?

VTC: The Abbey does this every year because people like to request the monastics to make prayers and dedications for different purposes. This year we’re going to do it on Chinese New Year—on February 19th, I think it is. The puja we’re going to do is the Cittamani Tara puja. Tara is one female manifestation of the Buddha; she’s kind of related to Quan Yin in a way. Tara’s specialty is removing obstacles, and she also has a kind of quick wisdom. If people have specific things that they would like us to dedicate for, they list what those things are, and then at the puja we read out the names and we make the dedications. By doing the puja we accumulate a lot of merit, and then we dedicate it—or steer it—in the ways that people had requested us to do. Some of you may have seen pictures of Tara; there are many kinds of Taras. One is a green Tara—you’ve seen green Tara? Another is the white Tara.

Audience: How do we work with fear? In my case, my fear seems to arise more as I age.

VTC: I think that maybe our discussion group covered some of this—you can reflect on that. Like I said, with fear, there’s this element of exaggeration. It’s important just to realize that our mind is exaggerating and that even if something we don’t like happens, we still have resources to rely on externally, we still have our own internal resources, and that most of the fear is basically exaggerated.

Audience: What is the Buddhist view on sexuality? How do we support a family member who is gay or lesbian?

VTC: Sex is part of having this kind of body. It’s important if you’re a layperson to avoid unwise or unkind sexual behavior. That means, for example, adultery—you’re in the relationship and you go outside of your relationship, or even if you’re single and you’re sleeping with somebody who is involved in a relationship. It also means having unprotected sex if there’s danger of a sexually transmitted disease. It also means just using somebody for our own sexual enjoyment without caring about the effects on them emotionally. You may think, “Oh, this is just a fling,” but the other person may be getting very attached to you. That’s not really very fair to the other person, and it brings a lot of hurt feelings to it.

In terms of being gay or lesbian and supporting somebody, it’s just accepting that they’re a regular person, that they have the choice of who they’re going to fall in love with. And you know, that’s it. I don’t think it has to be a big deal. In the States, many years ago, being gay or lesbian was a big thing. Now, within just the last couple of years, state after state is allowing gay marriage and the court systems are saying that not allowing gay and lesbians to marry is against human rights and is against the Constitution. So, things have really changed a lot in recent years. 

The four immeasurable kitties

I think one more question and then we’re going to stop. Oh, I know what the question is: “Who’s going to take the kitty home?” Anybody want to take the kitty home? Are we going to take it back to Pureland? Yes? Okay, we’ll take it back to Pureland. [Speaking to the kitten]: Are you ready?

We already gave the kitty a name—it’s Upeksha. Upeksha means equanimity. The reason she got this name is that at the Abbey we had two kittens: Maitri which means love and Kuruna which means compassion. Then a couple of weeks ago, a new kitty showed up at our door and said, “I want to live here!” [laughter] That kitty is named Mudita or joy. There’s Four Immeasurables, so we’re saying the next kitty is going to be named Upeksha or equanimity. This is Upeksha! Yes. You have beautiful eyes, and now you have a name. 

Thank you all very much for coming. I rejoice in the merit you created. I rejoice in the merit we all created together. What you gain and what you heard in this weekend, please take it home with you and think about it, meditate on it, reflect on it, apply it to your life—make examples of all these different mental factors in your life. Continue to study the Buddhist teachings so that you learn how to increase the virtuous mental factors and decrease the nonvirtuous ones, and continue with your Dharma practice.

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.