Vajrasattva practice: The power of regret
Vajrasattva practice: The power of regret
Part of a series of talks on the Vajrasattva purification practice given at Jewel Heart Cleveland in Cleveland, Ohio.
- The power of regret
- How we interpret situations influences our actions
- Discerning what we are responsible for and what we are not
- The deception of low self-esteem
It’s good to get in the habit of learning how to generate your own motivation instead of relying on somebody else to lead you through it. It’s good also at the beginning of every day when you first wake up to generate your motivation. Before you even get out of bed to think, “Today I am not going to harm anybody as much as possible. I’m going to benefit them as much as I can, and I’m going to hold the bodhicitta motivation—that thought to become fully awakened for the benefit of all beings.” And make that your motivation before you even get out of bed, and then that sets the attitude for the whole day, and it’s really good because then all sorts of things happen in the day, and you can keep coming back to that motivation and having it inform what you do and how you act.
We will continue with the sadhana, explaining what it is. In the morning I just briefly went over the four opponent powers: having regret for our negativities, restoring the relationship by generating refuge in bodhicitta, making a determination not to do the action again, and then some kind of remedial behavior. Then I started at the beginning of the sadhana and explained the visualization and then the power of reliance, which is the power for restoring the relationship.
Then we’re at the subheading the power of regret. Here it says,
Spend some time reviewing harmful physical verbal and mental actions you have done, both those you can remember and those you created in previous lives, but cannot recall.
In our lives we have certain things that we look back on that we have regret for, right? We are human beings, surely this is the case for all of us. Instead of walking around with those regrets and letting them build up and letting them rot in our mind, in the sense of gestate and continually pollute our mind, then we want to get them out and purify them. This is the process of regret. Sometimes it’s translated as confession. I’ve recently learned that the word repent—which I usually don’t like, I tend to shy away from Christian-sounding words—repent means to reveal and to make amends, and we need to do both of those. So I think that that’s good. It’s very helpful to own up to these things ourselves.
In Buddhism there’s no priest in the confessional to go tell things to. Of course, if we want to, we can go to our spiritual teachers. In the sangha we confess to each other. The monastics do that every two weeks, and we tell each other our broken precepts and so on. There’s actually one line when we reveal our negativities to fellow monastics about how concealment in sorrow and revealing brings peace because when we conceal our negativities, that’s when you get involved with all these psychological mechanisms of denial and repression and suppression and rationalization and what are some of the others? Those of you who are psychologists, the various different things we do—blaming, anything to keep from owning our share of it and so to really have regret—we have to drop all of that, all of those psychological shenanigans and just say, “Yes, I did it,” which is actually such a relief.
One thing that we sometimes have difficulty with is discerning, in a complicated situation, what part of it is our responsibility and what part isn’t, because often what I find is that people blame themselves for things that are not their responsibility and do not take responsibility for things that are their responsibility. It’s kind of funny—we have it exactly upside down, because most situations involve multiple people, multiple factors. The whole principle of dependent arising—it just isn’t one thing that’s going on. There are many things contributing to some kind of situation, but to really look and think, “Ok, what were my actions? What did I think and say and do?” And notice here, because we’re responsible for what we think and say and do and what we feel are emotions.
It does not say contemplate how you’re responsible for other people’s feelings. Here’s one way we make mistakes in assessing what is our responsibility: we often think we are responsible for other people’s feelings. We are not. We are responsible for our own feelings. I’m responsible for my anger. I’m not responsible for your anger because I have no control over your anger. I have control over what I might say or do that could provoke your anger, but I am not responsible for your getting angry because before any of us have an emotion, the emotions are coming from within us, and we have a choice whether to have that emotion or not.
Now usually we operate so much on automatic that we don’t realize we have that choice, and we think that whatever we feel is the only possible way anybody could feel in that situation. And we believe that what we think, how we describe the situation to ourselves is a hundred percent correct, and anybody in their right mind would see the situation in that way. Both of those assumptions are wrong. Both of them are wrong.
Let’s say somebody comes to me and says, “Chodron, you had said you were going to do x y and z by a certain time, and it didn’t get done, and I’m kind of waiting on it, and it’s pretty inconvenient for me.” At that juncture that person said those words. They’re responsible for their words. The next portion is my responsibility. When I hear those words, do I think that person is just letting me know that they were inconvenienced and that they need me to do what I said I was going to do or am I thinking, “They’re criticizing me and pointing out my fault?” Those are two different things, aren’t they? Somebody just stating a fact that I didn’t do what I said I was going to do or somebody criticizing me and tearing me to bits.
The way I describe that situation is up to me. That’s my responsibility. I don’t know which one the other person meant it as, and actually it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they meant it as just some feedback or if they meant it as criticism. That doesn’t matter. But what matters is how I interpret it because if I interpret it as that person’s just reminding me and I said I was going to do something and I didn’t and it’s inconvenient. If I hear it like that, I’m not going to get angry. I’m going to say, “Wow, you’re right, and I completely forgot about it, and I’m sorry it’s inconvenient, and I’ll take care of it right away.” And the situation finishes. It stops at that point. If I interpret it as, “They’re criticizing me” because the first line is they’re criticizing me, then it goes from there. “They must think I’m incompetent,” then from there, “They’re putting me down and they think I’m an idiot. They’re disparaging me, they think I’m trash or they’re discriminating against me because I’m a woman or I’m a whatever.” And then I get upset.
Based on how I interpret it, then I get upset. The anger is coming in my mind due to how I’m interpreting it. That anger is my responsibility. When we say you made me angry, we’re lying. Nobody can make us angry. We choose to be angry by hearing things through that little periscope of ignorance, anger and attachment that says, “I’m the center of the universe. Any words somebody says, that’s an attack on me.” My periscope is looking out for criticism and danger, and I’ll hear it everywhere because that’s what my periscope is looking for. “Who’s criticizing me? What’s dangerous out there? Boy, do I hear a lot of criticism and do I get angry a lot.” Then of course that anger motivates me, depending on what mood I’m in, to either speak some harsh words to the other person because I now have the intention to inflict pain on them. That part I’m responsible for. The interpretation, my anger, my intention to inflict pain on them through saying something or doing something or whatever, all of that is my responsibility. Maybe I say something mean to them, maybe I just turn around and walk away and give them the cold shoulder. That’s also done with the motivation of vindictiveness. That’s my responsibility. How they respond in reaction to what I said is their responsibility. We have to look, what were my intentions? What’s going on in my mind?
In a similar situation, you may be with a friend or a child. A teenager is a good example. And you can see somebody is about to do something that’s not very wise to do, and [you have] of a thought to give them some advice that will prevent them from doing something that’s unwise that will bring them negative and painful consequences. So with a good intention of helping that person, not of controlling them, not of making them do what you want, but just to help them, you give them some advice. You say, “Oh that may not be such a smart thing to do” or “Be careful with that because I saw other people do that, and this is how it turned out.” You say that with a good intention. Then the other person hears it with, “They’re bossing me around. They’re criticizing me. They don’t think I’m an independent adult.” And they get upset, and they get angry, and maybe they leave the room crying or maybe they attack you back and tell you how unappreciative they are even though you’ve done a lot for them. Are you responsible for their anger? No. If they’re unhappy, their unhappiness is coming from their way of misinterpreting the situation. It’s not your job to do a song and dance to make them happy again. It’s your job, if you had a good motivation to just stay with your own motivation and try and explain to the person, “That’s not how I meant it.” They may listen. They may not. You do your best to clear up their misunderstanding, but you’re not responsible for correcting it, and if they choose to be angry, there’s not much you can do. You don’t hate yourself because somebody else is unhappy with you.
The whole thing is to really be sure of our own motivation and why we’re doing what we’re doing so that we can continue in a good direction without doubting ourselves, because if we become people pleasers and assume that we’re responsible for everybody else’s feelings, then we never really act authentically because we’re always trying to be what we think they think we should be. It doesn’t work out very well because then instead of speaking directly to a person, I’m thinking, “They want me to be this kind of person. I’m not that kind of person, but I want them to like me. Let’s remake my behavior and speak in a way that is not genuine and do a song and dance because this is what I think they think is good.” Then I do that. That’s people pleaserism, and it winds up a big mess because how long can you be a people pleaser until you feel frustrated, and when we feel frustrated, we blame them for our frustration when our frustration is our problem.
This is how we really have to, in any situation, see what is my responsibility and what is not. One of the things, my friends who are therapists often tell me, is that children believe that many things that happen in their family are their fault, are their responsibility. One of my friends was telling me that when she and her husband were separating, and they eventually divorced, her seven-year-old son said to her, “I know why daddy’s not coming anymore. It’s because I’m bad.” And that just totally broke her heart, and she told her ex about it because that’s totally untrue, but that’s the kind of illogical thinking children have.
We may have had that kind of illogical thinking when we were little and held onto stuff thinking that things are our responsibility when they’re not. Parents divorcing is not the child’s responsibility. If somebody is sexually abused as a child or physically abused or emotionally abused as a child, that is not the child’s responsibility. You need to be very clear about that and not sit there and beat yourself up about it. It really takes some time, I’ve found, to shift through all the various confused thoughts in the mind to actually figure out what’s my responsibility and what’s not.
You know how you have those situations sometimes where everything falls apart? Something big in your life just completely… I was working together with somebody on a project, and we really had many similar ideas, we got along quite well, and the project was going ahead, and I really liked the person, but then I saw there were a few red flags in their speech and I thought, “Oh that’s not so good, but I can ignore it. They’ll change along the way. They’ll see that I’m not like the other people, I’m more trustworthy or whatever. They’ll change.” There were a few little kinds of red flags, but I liked the person, and I really wanted this project to succeed. I didn’t want to give up. I just didn’t look at the red flags.
Well, the whole thing fell apart. The whole project fell apart. I had to go tell other people who were supporting me that it fell apart. The whole situation around us—many people were involved—fell apart. And the ostensible thing was, “It’s all his fault because he’s not treating me properly.” Now you see, right? because “I’m just sweet innocent me,” and whenever he did something that I thought was inappropriate, I told him so that he could change and improve. And he didn’t agree with how he could improve himself, and so then he started accusing me of all sorts of things that are not true at all. You got the scene?
I was totally embarrassed in front of a lot of people, and this friendship fell apart with this person, and soon thereafter I went to do retreat, and what I had to get clear during my retreat was there were warning signs, and I ignored them. If he said mean things or he didn’t do what he said he was going to do or whatever, that’s his business, but my business was I ignored the warning signals because I wanted so badly for this project to go ahead. And I had to take responsibility for that in my own mind. That it wasn’t just he did bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. If I had slowed down and been more astute, I would have said, “Oh be careful Chodron, this person may not be ready to do what he’s saying he’s ready to do” or “He may not have the attitudes that sometimes he’s saying he has and now other times he’s saying he doesn’t have that attitude.” That, as much as I hated to acknowledge it, was my responsibility. So I had to do confession and purification for that part of it. His part of it, what he did is his business. I just leave that alone. It’s not my business at all.
In our lives there are many times when [we can] try and tease the threads apart to see what is my responsibility. When I was a kid, whenever my mom was unhappy, I thought it was my responsibility to make her happy again because I was probably naughty, and so I felt guilty a lot. It took me a lot of meditation, after meeting the Dharma, to figure out that my actions were one thing. My mother’s unhappiness was another thing. I was responsible for my actions, but it’s not my responsibility to make somebody else happy because you know what, I can’t make anybody else happy. The only one I have a chance of making happy is myself through dropping my own negative thoughts. I can’t fulfill some other person’s expectations. I can’t fulfill their expectations of what they think I should be, because it’s impossible to fulfill anybody else’s expectations. Have you ever fulfilled anybody’s expectations completely? No. It’s impossible because as soon as you fulfill one expectation, they have ten more.
Those of you who are parents, be careful with this because you probably have a lot of expectations for your children, and there’s no way they’re going to fulfill all of them. Impossible. We need to give other people space. We try so hard to control. “I’ve got to make it turn out this way.” Boy, what a recipe for getting exhausted. The most we can do is influence others in a positive way, and that comes from giving up our expectations of them. You might think, “But I have expectations, so I’ll help them go in a good direction because then their life will turn out better.”
Especially for parents. I mean, this kid has been dependent on you since they came out of the womb and you’ve been protecting them all along and then at a certain age they tell you, “Forget it, I want to be an adult.” It’s going to depend on what skills you gave them when they were young and what skills they were able to hear when they were young. You can’t make them hear everything.
And not just with children. With parents, with siblings, with everybody, we think we know what’s best for them, and they don’t like our advice usually. I mean sometimes people want advice, and they asked for it and we help, but often we give advice they haven’t asked for, and we think that we’re just offering suggestions, but when they don’t follow our suggestions do we say, “OK, that’s fine.” Or do we say, “Those stupid people.” We can try and control people while telling ourselves that we’re being compassionate by giving them suggestions. It’s not suggestions, it’s control. And we’re kind of control freaks, aren’t we? It’s this whole thing with getting our duckies in a row. And especially the other people in our life. They’re our little duckies, and we have got to get everything nice in a row and then make it stay fixed. But if you remember your duckies in the bathtub—they move around. They don’t stay in one place. They move even though the waves in the bathtub aren’t very strong, there’s a few little ripples and the duckies move.
This just gives us some idea of what to open up about and reveal. And I think when we can do it like this, it affects us psychologically as well as spiritually. And I think psychologically we just relax a lot and our relationships improve because we’re more responsible. And spiritually we aren’t stockpiling all this internal rubbish that we carry on year after year after year after year, piling regret upon guilt upon remorse again and again and again, but really clearing things up. I think this is actually a very ideal way to live, to not stockpile regrets.
At the beginning of our Dharma practice we have, however, many years behind us where we just stockpiled stuff. There’s a lot to clean up and as we clean up of course we’re still creating more because we’re afflicted sentient beings, so we keep on doing more and more and more purification. Like I was saying last night, we purify every day, so Vajrasattva becomes a very good friend. And when you visualize Vajrasattva every day, he doesn’t say, “You know you confessed to me yesterday, and I told you it was all ok, and you are purified, and now here you are again. You did the same stupid thing.” Vajrasattva doesn’t say that. We say that to ourselves. That is not the wisdom mind speaking. That kind of self-talk is not the wisdom mind. That’s the garbage mind. We have to identify it as garbage and put the duct tape over its mouth. That self-deprecating, self-loathing criticism, is total rubbish. You turn off the tweet account. Your internal tweet, your internal whatever, you shut it down and you don’t listen to all that rubbish that you’re telling yourself about who you are because it’s not true.
Why do you know it’s not true? Because you have the Buddha potential. We have the potential to become a fully awakened Buddha. So all those self-statements of, “I’m incompetent. I’m hopeless. I’ve committed so much negativity, and there’s no way I can ever purify it.” That is not believing in our own Buddha nature.
If the Buddha said that we have the possibility to become fully awakened, and we think that all these horrible things, self-loathing things, that we say to ourselves, are true because we really don’t have the Buddha nature, aren’t we essentially saying to the Buddha that he’s lying? “You know, Buddha, everybody else, all other sentient beings, have Buddha nature, but not me. I am irredeemably hopeless and full of shame. So you’re lying, Buddha, when you say everybody has the Buddha nature.” Are you willing to look at the Buddha and say that? Are you willing to look at Je Rinpoche and tell him he’s a liar? I don’t know about you, but I have enough bad karma already. [laughter] I don’t want to accuse the Buddha of lying. If I don’t want to think he is lying, that means I need to let that thought into my heart, into my mind, and the natural consequence of that is that all the low self-esteem and the self-loathing is false, and that the self-talk that’s doing that is blabbermouth. That’s the lie. That’s the lie. I need to stop talking to myself that way.
So, it says,
Generate deep regret for having done these negative actions.
Also, it was saying here in the previous sentence—one sentence—I go on a long time about one sentence, don’t I? It says,
Both those you can remember and the negativities you created in previous lives but cannot recall.
Who knows what in the world we did in previous lives? They said we’ve been everything, done everything. It’s kind of humbling. When you think about that, that every single negative action that is possible, we’ve done in the past and may not have purified. All those things that we criticize other people for doing, some time in a previous life, we’ve done. It’s humbling. It’s humbling. We’ve been like Isis soldiers before. We’ve been like the Taliban. We’ve been like—who’s that, that what’s his name, Price, who just resigned because of using other people’s money for his own trips? We’ve done that. We’ve acted like Jeff Sessions before. We’ve acted like the white supremacists. We’ve acted like the Nazis. We’ve done all of this before. We cannot remember it, but the seeds of those actions are on our mindstream. So we have a lot to purify.
Now, you read different kinds of confession prayers. In the 35 Buddhas, it talks about different things that we’ve done. There’s another prayer that’s a general confession that talks about the kinds of things that we’ve done, and sometimes—I don’t know about you, but I read those confessions and I go, “Who in the world would act like that?” I mean even now things are happening in this country, and I’m going, “Who in the world would act like that?” It’s shocking, and then I have to remember, “Oh, I probably did something similar in a previous life. So instead of criticizing these people, I need to criticize the behavior because the people and the behavior are different. And then I need to see that I can’t remember what I’ve done in previous lives. I may have done that, I may have already purified it, but in any case, I need to make a strong determination never to act like that again. And if I haven’t, if I’ve done those kinds of actions in the past, I need to regret them, and with all four opponent powers, and have a strong determination to act differently. It’s very humbling, and it helps us have compassion for other people. But it makes us very humble.
Like I said, sometimes I would read things, especially things about how people break different precepts and things to do with the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and I think, “Who would act in that way?” If you’ve been around any period of time, eventually you see people acting in that way.
I won’t mention names, but I think most of you know that there’s a big scandal in one Buddhist organization right now with the lama, who’s a lay lama, whose actions to the common perception are very unacceptable and very damaging to the students. And I look at that behavior, and I make very strong thoughts if I’ve ever done that in the past, I confess it and I will never act like that. May I never act like that and deceive other people and make them lose their faith in the Dharma because making other people lose their faith in the Dharma is a really serious negativity, and I never want to do that either deliberately or unintentionally.
In that kind of way, and I do this similarly as much as I joke about Trump, I use his behavior as a thing: anytime I’ve acted like that in the past, I confess it, and may I never act like that in the future. May I never randomly insult people. I mean I won’t go on and on, you know the news, but may I always act with dignity, not arrogance, with dignity, with benevolence, with kindness, not with vindictiveness and blame. Thinking like this performs a few functions. One is it helps us to purify things in the past and prevents our doing them in the future. A second is that it makes us have compassion for the people that we see right now, who are acting that way and who are at some time in the future going to have to experience the results of their own actions.
So I think I finished that sentence.
Generate deep regret for having done these. Have a strong wish to be free from their suffering results,
because of the results that we will experience from having created those actions.
And have a strong determination to avoid causing harm to others and to ourselves in the future.
Really say “I’ve got to change,” and have a plan for how to change.
If you find that you’re confessing a lot of actions that have been motivated by various degrees of anger, like spite, wrath, vengeance, resentment, irritation, annoyance, frustrations, many different things that fall under the general category of anger. If you find that you’re confessing a lot of those, then you might also discern that you have a problem with anger. And then know that you have to, in your practice, apply some dedicated effort to dealing with your anger and learning the antidotes to anger and how to apply those antidotes and then meditating on the antidotes. Not just read them and think about them once, but meditate on them. Apply them to situations that you’ve experienced in the past, and see if you can think about acting differently in those past situations. Think about something in the past and how contorted your mind was and try and see the Buddhist viewpoint, the antidote, and develop some confidence that that’s a more accurate way to see the situation. And then relive in your mind how you would deal with those circumstances if you had opposed your anger during them, so that you didn’t act out of anger. The same thing goes if you see that you’re confessing a lot of things due to attachment, then learn the antidotes to attachment. Practice them in your meditation. Develop a new habit of how to look at situations.
That’s what learning from our mistakes really means. “Seeing Vajrasattva as a combination of the wisdom and compassion of all the Buddhas and as your own wisdom and compassion in the fully developed form, then make this request.” Here we’re saying to Bhagavan Vajrasattva, “Please clear away all negative karma and obscurations of myself and all living beings and purify all degenerated and broken commitments.” It sounds like here, from the wording, that we’re asking Vajrasattva to please purify us, like we’re just sitting there, and Vajrasattva is doing all this work of clearing away our negative karma and obscurations. Although the wording sounds like we’re requesting Vajrasattva to do the work, actually, it’s a skillful way, because remember Vajrasattva is a projection of our mind that we’re visualizing. This is actually a skillful way to get ourselves to purify our own negativities because we’re visualizing Vajrasattva, we’re imagining the qualities of the Buddha and the qualities that we will gain in our future lives, and that’s what we’re addressing to help us purify. It’s not, “Vajrasattva, I’ve done all this negativity. I’m going to go to sleep because I’m really tired, and please will you just purify all that stuff, so I don’t have to suffer as a result of it.” No, that’s not it. We can’t give our garbage to Vajrasattva, because Vajrasattva is the Buddha we’re going to become, and the Vajrasattva we are visualizing exists in our mind. So it’s a clever way: we projected Vajrasattva outside, and now we’re allowing Vajrasattva to purify us. But it’s really our own wisdom and our own compassion that is going to purify us. And that’s manifesting in the form of Vajrasattva.
All the negative karma, the actions, the obscurations of ourselves, both the afflictive obscurations that prevent liberation, the cognitive obscurations that prevent full awakening of our self and all living beings.
So at this point what you can also do is imagine yourself surrounded, as far as the eye can see, with all other living beings and there’s a Vajrasattva on top of each of their heads. And especially the people that you don’t get along with, are right in front of you, with Vajrasattva on their heads. And you say “I’m confessing their negativities for them as well.” Even though they have to confess their own, out of compassion, we’re saying essentially, “If I could purify their negativities, I would, so I’m confessing as if their negativities were mine.” So requesting Vajrasattva for purification and then also whatever broken precepts we have, whatever degenerated tantric commitments we have. Maybe we haven’t done our daily practice like we said we would do at the time of the initiation, or who knows what we’ve done. So we’re confessing all of that of ourselves and others. And it’s also very effective to imagine ourselves surrounded by all these other living beings, and we’re confessing their negativities as well. And I find this especially very good for calming my own mind and preventing my own mind from falling into negativity and judgment.
At the Abbey on Tuesdays and Saturday nights, as part of our meditation session, we do certain chanting, and some of that chanting is purification. We do chanting every day, and we do purification every day, but Tuesday and Saturday we do this special one. Often, as we’re bowing and imagining the Buddha is sending purifying light into us, they usually say imagine your mother on your left and your father on your right, whether or not your parents are still alive or not it doesn’t matter, and yourself surrounded by all living beings and the people that you have difficulty with in front of you. I often in doing this when we’re bowing to the Buddha and the lights coming, I have the whole US Congress bowing to the Buddha with me. [laughter] Donald is in front, and Jeff Sessions is next to him, and we are all bowing to the Buddha, and light is coming and purifying all of us. And I find that really helpful to my mind—not only the Congress, the whole cabinet. I put Putin in there as well and Kim Jong-un and all these people, they’re right in there, and we’re all bowing to the Buddha together. And it is such a relief. It’s really very helpful. I highly recommend this. It’s really kind of cute imagining Donnie on his knees. He can kneel, you know? He can kneel.
Any questions so far or comments?
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Yes well, the question is not to ask, why aren’t they instant? The question is, why do I think they should be instant? That’s the question you need to answer. Why aren’t they instant? Because that’s their nature. Why do I think things should be other than what their conventional nature is?
VTC: Until we attain the path of seeing, when we realize emptiness directly, which is quite a high realization, until then, we’re still capable of doing all these things. You’re on his side—it should kind of go faster. The extent to which we can avoid these things in future lives will depend on the sincerity and frequency and power of the resolutions that we make in this life. If we just say, “Oh, may I never be a bigot.” That doesn’t have much force. But if in our heart we are really saying, “I absolutely, positively do not want to harm people in that kind of way. No more. Finished.” And we do that repeatedly because we really feel it inside, then we’re putting a very strong imprint in our mind. It won’t necessarily prevent us from ever doing it because the only full security is the path of seeing, but there’s incremental security. It’s like you can take your social security out early, but you get less. You can certainly prevent or soften doing that in future lives. That power of determination is very important.
VTC: The only karma we can really purify is our own, but there is power to prayer and aspiration. It’s psychic power of some sort by putting forth that intention. The mind is quite powerful. It’s not like the Congress is going to wake up tomorrow morning and say, ”We need to become Buddhist and purify.” Even the Buddha’s power of mind can’t make that happen, but there is some influence that can happen. And it definitely changes our own mind and our own attitude towards them, and by changing our own mind and our own attitude, it changes our behavior, which can influence them in a positive way, if our behavior changes.
VTC: What if the people are dead? The reparation of the relationship occurs within our own mind, and that goes for even if the person is alive. Because sometimes things may be such that we’ve lost touch with them or maybe they’re not ready to talk with us yet or maybe there’s other circumstances that make it difficult to contact them or to talk with them. The important thing is that in our mind, we generate bodhicitta for them. And instead of wishing them harm, instead of, “I hope they get a taste of their own medicine” or “May they get hit by a truck” or many of those other lovely thoughts we think. To just keep on generating bodhicitta and love and compassion towards them, and that heals the relationship from our side, which is all we basically can do.
Of course, if the person is alive, and if it would help them for us to go and make amends, then I think that’s a very good thing to do, because it can often just even going to the other person and acknowledging our responsibility, just often takes a whole thing off the other person’s mind. We acknowledge our share, and we express regret for it, and then that often allows the other person to release their anger, which is a big blessing for them.
VTC: What do you mean connected to their good karma? Right, your karma—it’s not like merit exists in my bank account, and I’m doing a wire transfer. [laughter] It’s not like that. There’s force in what I’ve done, and I want that person to experience, to share in the force of what I’ve done. And by sharing that, it doesn’t diminish what I’ve done. Dedicating the merit doesn’t mean I’m giving it away, and now I don’t have it. Whenever we dedicate merit, it’s a practice of generosity. We’re actually creating more merit. And so to make those kinds of aspiration prayers for example for your father or for whoever else you know, again they have to have created the positive karma, but our dedication towards them sends a good energy field for their own karma to ripen.
VTC: Ripened karma. When we say we can’t purify ripened karma, it’s like saying once somebody breaks a leg in a skiing accident, we can’t undo the skiing accident because it’s already happened. In the sense of karma, whatever karma that was ripened, it’s exhausted, it can’t ripen again, but we may have done other actions that were similar, and the seeds of those other actions are still in our mind stream. Those we can still purify.
VTC: I was saying when we think of Vajrasattva above the crown of our head, we can think of that Vajrasattva as the Buddha that we will become. Seeing ourself as a Buddha, that comes after you’ve had tantric empowerments and as part of the sadhana, but in this particular practice, Vajrasattva is external. We think of the Buddha, we think of Vajrasattva as the Buddha that we will become in the future.
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.