Holding a retreat mind
Manjushri Retreat (2022) – Session 1
Part of a series of talks given during the Manjushri Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2022.
- Motivation for the retreat
- Three ways to see Manjushri
- Reading from Lama Yeshe’s refuge and bodhichitta teaching
- Creating a retreat environment
- Four immeasurables
- Value of talking about Dharma with your community
Welcome to our week-long vacation with Manjushri. He is a very good person to take a vacation with. He won’t bother you at all and if you’re bothered during the retreat, it’s your own mind. No escaping this one. So with a mind that wishes to overcome the oppressions of afflictions and karma. Not only for ourselves but for all living beings. And let’s generate bodhicitta motivation and practice the steps of the path that leads us to Manjushri’s state.
How to see Manjushri
Usually, people think of outside oppression and external liberation, and you know some external hero to lead them to the perfect place. Here we’re doing it all internally, the internal oppression, the path that we have to practice ourselves to transform our minds to get to another state of being. Okay, so I thought I would read something from one of Lama Yeshe’s teachings. But before doing that, I want to talk a little bit about how to see Manjushri. Okay. Because, though, you know, people not only those raised in, in theistic society, but theistic cultures, but others too tend to want a supreme being that’s all-powerful, that will rush down and pick us up and save us. So people can easily take any of the Buddha figures and see them that way. Because we chant and we talk about their good qualities and so on. None of the deities, especially Manjushri who is the representation of wisdom believe in a creator god or an all-powerful being who’s going to save us. Such things are difficult… to prove the existence of such a being would be quite difficult logically. But it is comforting emotionally, and many people – first they decide what they believe in and then they develop the rationale why they believe it. In Buddhism, we do it the opposite way. We hear things, we think about them, we analyze them, and then comes the trust and the faith in a very realistic way. So the Buddhas are omniscient; they know everything because the obstacles to all-knowing have been removed, but they are not all-powerful. What is it that interferes with that? Our karma. Our actions. So, the Buddhas do everything they possibly can to benefit us, but they can’t go into our own minds, flick a few switches and make us think differently. They can’t pour the Dharma realizations into our mind. So even though we may do many request prayers for inspiration, we’re more talking to ourselves. Saying our aspirations, and then asking for the Buddha’s inspiration to actualize that, but recognizing that we’re the ones who were responsible for creating the cause. The Buddhas have no power to swoop down, pick us up and take us to Never Never Land where we will forever be with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and free of Captain Hook. It’s not like that.
There are three ways to see Manjushri. One is as a person, and that’s the way people often go to it first. So when you’re chanting the praise to Manjushri you see him as a person and relate to him as a person. That’s one way to do it. But the problem with that is that then it’s easy to impute God. And also since we tend to grasp all persons as inherently existent we see Manjushri as inherently existent, too and that you know, it becomes an interference. The second way of seeing Manjushri is as a physical manifestation or physical embodiment of enlightened qualities, so we think of the qualities of the Buddhas and then imagine those appearing in a physical form. So that takes the emphasis off Manjushri being a person, but rather a manifestation and embodiment of these qualities. And so there we’re focusing on the qualities and we’re not just praising Manjushri for having those qualities, but inside our own mind, we’re saying I want to develop those same qualities myself. In that way, we’re setting our aspiration. And then that leads to a third way of seeing Manjushri, which is the Buddha that we will become in the future. So we can also, you know, take refuge and generate aspirations projecting our itty bitty, teeny, weeny, virtuous qualities now, imagining them growing through our practice and becoming Manjushri and associating Manjushri as our future self. Free of all of our complaining mind, judgmental mind, our grudge-holding mind, our minds full of resentment, full of trauma, full of betrayal, full of greed, full of craving… so to see ourselves as a being free of all of that, who has developed the paramitas, the excellent qualities to their utmost.
So, these three ways of seeing Manjushri you can use different ones at different times, according to how you feel and what you need at that particular time. So seeing him as a person who’s done what you want to do, seeing him as the physical embodiment of the qualities that you want to develop, and seeing Manjushri as the Buddha that you will become in the future. Okay, so that helps put Manjushri in a little bit, hopefully, perspective, that doesn’t make him some kind of savior. Yeah. So that’s one of the reasons why I really disagree with using Christian language in Buddhism. Okay. Especially the word sin, like banish that word. So that’s a little introduction to Manjushri.
Llama Yeshe, when he started to talk about the practice, the file is entitled, refuge and bodhicitta but he talks a little bit about the place to do retreat and then he goes directly into bodhicitta. Okay, now you have to realize, when you’re hearing teachings on bodhicitta, you’re also hearing teachings about what the Buddha’s mind is like. So it’s also giving you the idea of what a buddha is and you’re taking refuge in that, too at the same time that you’re trying to generate that bodhicitta. Of course, before generating bodhicitta, we have to do either of the two methods to generate bodhicitta and also, as a basis for that, the four measurable thoughts: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. And it’s that that Lama talks about a lot in that file.
First he talks about needing the initiation so that’s why as a group, we’ll be doing the front generation and then the people who have the proper abilities, I can go through this self-generation sometime with you. So Lama starts talking about where you do the retreat. So a retreat place that is isolated and removed from afflictive influences is like Lama Zopa’s cave at Lawudo. If you’ve ever been this- Lawudo is outside of the town of Solukhumbu. It’s in the middle of the high mountains. Lama Zopa’s previous life was a yogi in a cave in Lawudo so that’s why he’s talking about it. The experience of Tibetan lamas is that retreat should be in an isolated place. At the big monastic colleges, they receive the information and then they go to a small, isolated place to meditate. It means an ascetic, isolated place.
Not a luxurious isolated place, like an American’s isolated place. Americans and Europeans make an isolated place fantastic. Through their self-absorption, they make the place fantastically luxurious. That’s different, isn’t it? Fantastic people, they know how to enjoy their trip. Sometimes they make it very isolated and do not even allow their friends to come. If anyone appears, don’t come! Why have you come? It is isolated, but it is not ascetically isolated. There is too much confusion by vibration. You’re saying you’re going to a nice little place but all your friends kind of dropped by to check you know, see how you are and have tea. He continues, you should cut superstitious connections, such as expecting maybe my friend will come or maybe my parents will send me some cheesecake.
There are two ways to cut such expectations: external cutting and internal cutting. This yoga method first slowly cuts external superstitious distractions and then comes cutting internal superstitions themselves. You cannot cut instantly. POM! Lama always likes to go POM. You do it instantly. You cut all your superstitious connections. POM! Instantly gone, so he’s saying you can’t do that. That is the thinking of Western people. Yeah, you know, like, quick, cheap, and easy. Nor can you instantly develop internal realizations. POM! Those who try to do it like this always meet complications and eventually give up. I cannot do it. This shows no understanding. Okay, so there it is talking about our expectations when we go into Dharma practice. And we hear about enlightenment in this life and how fantastic we can get enlightened. Check that off of our list of things to do and then go on, you know, to whatever else we want to do. But we don’t change quickly like that. It is a long path with many parts to it. There’s not just one simple thing to do and then we’re enlightened.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama repeatedly tells us that our mind is a very complicated thing. And so just one meditation technique is not going to develop all the aspects of our mind to develop, and just one technique is not going to rid ourselves of everything. He’s really emphasizing to become fully awakened we need multiple kinds of meditation, multiple teachings, and different kinds of practices to purify the mind to create the mirror to cultivate so many different qualities because these qualities are not just gonna come like this. And, you know, you can study a lot and still not have developed those qualities. So, you might get a degree for having completed so much study, but that degree doesn’t mean that you have the qualities. As Western people we’re very attached to degrees, you know, look, I have my piece of paper this says I graduated from high school, college, I have a Ph.D., I did postgraduate work. That certifies we have certain knowledge. It doesn’t mean we have wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom are two different things. We need knowledge, but that knowledge needs to be transformed into wisdom and integrated into our very being.
So, he’s saying you know, let go of the expectations because when we have a lot of expectations, we run into problems. Our expectations are not met. And then we say, I’m a failure. You know, I have been practicing so long. I did a meditation course six months ago, and I’m still not awakened. I am a failure. I can’t do it. To rid ourselves of those kinds of things. Of course, we come into Tibetan society, and we meet all these Rinpoches, you know, so people who have been identified as incarnations of previous masters. And since we come in and we feel so passionate about Buddhism, the thought comes, maybe I’m a Rinpoche too and they haven’t identified me. After all, I have such a heartfelt connection. I have so much faith, if they gave me a chance and identified me, I would just grow and blossom and become the Dalai Lama of the West. Please save me. That thought comes in the mind because you see it in Tibet society, and then you go well, why not me too? That is usually a phase that you go through, and that you grow out of. But some people don’t, and they go to different Lamas wanting to be recognized.
So, the meditation room where you actualize the yoga method should be clean, clear, without mental disorder. Okay, so clean, clear physically. Okay, but our mind should be clean, clear, without mental disorder. Okay, what is mental disorder? All of our garbage thoughts. I’m gonna do retreat. Yeah, I have this connection with Manjushri. I’m going to realize emptiness, you know, within the first day, you know, I’m just gonna have a realization of emptiness.
That’s our mental disorder. Our other mental disorder is “God, I gotta sit another retreat. My legs hurt. My back hurts. I can’t concentrate. This practice is so boring. I want to do something interesting, but I got to sit here”. Okay, so yeah, you’re assigning yourself to have a horrible retreat. The first- the first one, you’re assigning yourself to be a little disappointed that you didn’t become a buddha. But the second one is you’re assigning yourself like I’m miserable. I’m miserable. Manjushri is supposed to do something for me, but I just can’t relate to Manjushri.
Okay, so the meditation room where you actualize the yoga method should be clean, clear, without mental disorder. Not like my room which is a jumble of papers. The retreat room is so simple with nothing hanging on the wall to make you agitated. Sometimes you can hang your shoulder bag somewhere, and it gives you a different uneasy feeling. Do you know what I mean? Because your shoulder bags is what you grab when you go out. Objects of personal superstition are not so good. So make the retreat house clean, clear. So this is why we do not put photos of our relatives and our pets on the altar. First of all, they are not objects of our taking refuge unless you want to learn how to bark properly, but also because we’re attached to them and so you start out looking at Manjushri, and then you look at your dog and your cat, your child and your parent and then you start getting nostalgic and thinking of how lovely it would be to be with them especially the Fourth of July. Don’t you want to have a Fourth of July, all-American barbecue with your huge family? Everybody together. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Setting off fireworks just like you were when you were a kid. Don’t you want to do that? You’re not nodding your head. It’s barbecued hamburgers, the all-American meal. Hamburgers. French fries.
The family together, doesn’t that pull at you? The whole family together? No. Well, you’re not shaking your head now but when you request leave to go visit your family, you’re not shaking your head no. You’re saying I want to go. I haven’t seen them in a long time, and they need me, which means I need them. So, I want to go. Is it okay? Place an image of Manjushri or whatever is suitable on the altar. This is from the text describing the retreat place. And a torma on four lotus petals in front of the image. Arrange seven offerings neatly and beautifully. The Buddha image comes from the Buddha’s wisdom, and all the teachings come from the Buddha’s great kindness. So, whenever you see a Buddha image, we should remember his fantastic kindness and wisdom. In this world, we are trying to receive wisdom information.
So, place a buddha image on the altar. Okay, I am just adding this commentary. It is not in the text. If you have an image of Manjushri, place it on the altar, very nicely arranged with flowers and other offerings. The idea is when we have the Buddha image, we look at it, and we think this is what I can become. These are the qualities that I’m taking refuge in that I want to cultivate. Okay, and that’s the purpose of having an altar. You know, some days you’re just totally frenzied and freaked out, and you have gazillions of things to do. And then you walk past the altar in your room. And there’s the Buddha sitting there so- so peacefully. And it’s jarring, you know because I am frenzied and there’s the Buddha like this. Oh, I can be like that, too. I don’t need to be my usual frenetic self. It’s good. It makes us think. It calms our mind down.
Then he continues. It is very important to have a comfortable, professional cushion. I’m almost sorry I read that because I’m envisioning what the meditation hall is going to look like. As you pull out everything soft, inflatable, with a backrest with a footrest, with everything so you can sit comfortably. But let me tell you that you will never find a cushion that is perfectly comfortable. Yeah, you will try, and you will drive your neighbors in the meditation hall crazy changing cushions every session, but you will never find one that is totally comfortable. Why not? Because we are never satisfied. Okay, you must feel as if you really want to sit in meditation. Like- like the feeling you have that you want to lie on a very comfortable bed. Okay, except you’re not lying on a very comfortable bed. You’re sitting upright in your meditation. The cushion should not be like an uncomfortable bed hurting here and hurting there. Okay, so you’re not sitting flat because that can really add pressure on your legs. So it’s good to have some cushion under your rear.
The four immeasurables
Now he goes into talking about the four immeasurables, and he starts with a measurable love. The words of the four immeasurable thoughts are one thing. You need to be more concerned with the actual meaning. Because we always say it. Let’s recite it. May all sentient beings have happiness, and its causes. May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes. May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss. May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger. Okay, so we say it. The words are powerful. Are we focusing on the meaning of the words, or have our distractions set in already? Okay, so we need to be more concerned with the actual meaning.
So immeasurable love. Immeasurable means infinite, divine love. How is it infinite? Ordinary egotistical love is limited: I only love him. That is samsaric love. The object of immeasurable love is not just one particular person. It is countless beings. Okay, so big difference because in the world our love is very circumscribed towards certain people who just happen to be the ones who are nice to us and who help us. We all have fundamental love. So there is some factor of love in our mind already. We all have fundamental love, even animals have love. But the problem with human love is that it is limited. We seek the object of our love amongst the humans or amongst all things in the universe. We choose who or what we are going to love. We choose a particular one that is our flavor. This is my love object. In Buddhists’ love you’re not choosing particular ones and elevating them. Normally, we say that love is always good. But such narrow, fanatical love is a human problem because it becomes an obsession. He’s calling it love because that’s what we usually call it in society. But what he’s referring to is a strong attachment. Fickle loves cause reactions that are symptoms of our dualistic conflict.
For example, when our students come in contact with Buddhism, their love is transformed into “I love Buddhism”, or “I love Dharma”. This feeling arises because they think that Dharma is really good. It helps them. I was at the bottom, and this Buddhism lifted me up. Buddhism becomes their flavor, their friend. So you become a born-again Buddhist. Just like there are born-again vegetarians, born-again vegans. Have you ever come across anybody who was born-again? I don’t care into what they’re born-again. But they have certain characteristics. Yeah, they push, and they don’t listen. And they are absolutely right from A to Z. So, if we look at the Dharma, I am a born-again Buddhist and I’m going to convert all my friends and call them and tell them this is the most wonderful thing. Then there’s some- something going on that isn’t particularly worthwhile. At the beginning, each time you follow Dharma, you feel good. And instinctively, you feel that what is not Buddhism is not important. Especially when you develop some philosophy or doctrine. You see other religions as contradictory, and you put them down, just hearing the words. You think I don’t like to hear this. Whether it is Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or whatever, you reject even listening to what they say. There is no love present. Your attitude is completely a cause of conflict rather than being tolerant and liberating yourself.
We’ve all met born-again people from other religions and other whatever it is there and then we become like that, in terms of the Dharma, and in you know, everything else is bad. It’s evil, it’s wrong view. And that is definitely not the Buddhist view. Buddha’s very clear. Buddha in his life actually, respected people from other religions, and he told his supporters who used to offer alms to the mendicants from other religions. He told them to continue doing that, you know, not to the expensive offering to the Buddhist mendicants. But, you know, don’t just say oh, these people are awful, and run away from them. Okay, because if we do, our attitude is the cause of conflict rather than being tolerant and liberating ourselves. And unfortunately, that is what is happening in the country very often, with this thing of, you know, if you’re different from me, I’m not even going to work for you. So, we don’t want to get into that kind of mind state. I am talking about your point of view, I love dharma. This incredible, obsessive love is too much.
The proper function of Dharma is to solve your problems. You should use it as an antidote to your problems. Whereas obsessively loving Dharma only causes conflict and a samsaric result. It causes you to have bad communication. When somebody else talks about their religious views, you just say yes, yes, wanting to ignore them. And that becomes a problem. Or you say no, no, and walk away from them. And that becomes a problem. Your ordinary love becomes a problem because it is not a truly religious way of loving. Where one believes that there are no limits to the object of one’s love. That’s the true way of loving. If you check up, you have one sentient being who is the object of your love. And most times, you will say that the reason why you love this person is because he or she is kind to you. Actually, this reason for loving another applies equally to all universal sentient beings. Because they’ve all been kind to us. If not in this life, then in previous lives and will be in the future lives. Love should be limitless. But don’t take this too literally. I should love everybody equally. Therefore, I give myself to anybody who wants, or I will sleep with everybody because I love everybody. He’s talking to a group of young hippies, young people, but it’s not just young people who think like this. It’s middle-aged people and old people, too.
Some young people think like that these days. I heard that in Australia there was a community of people who believe that it is wrong for one person to possess another man or woman and amongst the community, they live completely freely. But after some time, the community became completely berserk. It is an interesting idea. Incredibly idealistic. It is good that young people are trying. They take an idea and put it into practice, but it doesn’t work. This is very interesting human evolution. So true, deep, universal love can also be very wrathful. Rather than laughing, it can be with big eyes like this. Our interpretation of love is so superficial. If we see somebody looking with big eyes, a ferocious look, we think, oh, he doesn’t like me. That is how we interpret, but a Tibetan saint said a negative friend does not necessarily look like a scorpion. The mere appearance of a scorpion makes us afraid, but a negative friend is not necessarily like that. He does not give you clothes, or say oh, you are cold; let me take care of you. On the other hand, the negative friend who brings you down makes a show of loving kindness of being incredibly dear to you, but he is cheating you. Okay, so we usually think you know, who’s- who’s our friend? Who are the people who are kindest to us, who do what we want when we want them to do it? Who cherish above us above everybody else, somebody to whom we are special because we want to be special to somebody because if we are then it means that we exist. And it also fulfills that factor, temporarily it fulfills that loneliness.
In Buddhism, the negative friend, like the quote, he said, doesn’t look like a scorpion. Often the negative friends are the people who love us in a samsaric way, in an ordinary way. So those who are the people who say, you know, why are you going to a retreat over the Fourth of July? We can have so much fun. We can go to the beach. You know, we can go swimming, you can go play golf in Palm Springs. You can watch there must be some kind of bowl that you can watch. You know? Super Bowl – I don’t know. Something. Or some kind of movie, or you can go lie in the sun and get a tan because you don’t feel like going to the shop and having to pay money to get a tan. You know, so we- we think that oh, the person who wants to take us on vacation to a lovely place, who gives us money, you know, who feeds our attachments. We think that person is the kind person, but actually that person is feeding our attachments and taking us away from the Dharma. Whereas sometimes the people who really care about us, they may look a bit ferocious towards us. Or they may speak a bit strongly to us, but that’s because they say it out of care. But those people we don’t want to listen to. You speak strongly? You point out my fault? You do not exist. I am not paying any attention to you. Okay. So, we have to watch our reactions.
I will make a simple example. A common problem in the West is conflict between parents and their children. How many had that? Okay. How many still have it? The instinctive nature of most parents is to love their children no matter what their children do. They really love their son or daughter, but the aspect they show is unskillful. The mother shows the aspect of disapproval. You are no good. And it’s not usual-well, yeah sometimes you get told you’re no good. You know you’re hopeless. What you know, some kid like you who acts like that is never gonna amount to anything. Parents say that their kids. Or they just say you’re bad. You’re a bad girl. You’re a bad boy. You have no idea what you did or why you’re bad. Suddenly, those words come, and love has withdrawn.
Lama’s saying how they show their love sometimes is unskillful. The parents become frustrated when children are not successful or when they act stupidly, and they become very emotional and worried. Parents they want their kids to have a wonderful, smooth life with no problems. They want their kids to have everything they didn’t have, to be everything they weren’t, but in the process of having those expectations and having that kind of love (in quotes) for their child. They often get really fed up with the kid when the kids are not acting according to how they think their kids should act. So, you know, it could be when you’re very little, you’re quite obedient, and then when you become a teenager, you spread your wings, and a lot of conflict happens. Or it could start from when you’re young. You don’t like to listen to authority and speak back. Or you don’t like to clean your room. You don’t want to go to piano lessons and your parents want you to do certain things. They want you to be a baseball star or a basketball star, or a movie star, or something famous so that they- when they meet with their friends, they can say my daughter, my son is this. They want to be proud of us.
Those of you who have kids, you want to be proud of your kids. They’re an extension of yourself. But that really creates- it can create a lot of anger and harsh feelings too. Because whenever the child doesn’t act the way you want them to, you lash out, thinking that you’re directing the child towards something good. But that’s not always the response. Okay, so parents become frustrated. When the child acts stupidly, and children do act stupidly. There’s no doubt about it. Okay, parents do too. So sometimes, parents show much anger, and the children interpret this as she hates me, or he hates me. From the parent’s side, they think they’re, they’re helping to mold the child into somebody who will succeed in society. From the child’s side, you feel- oh, they don’t care about me. They hate me. The kids do not see that behind this anger the parents have deep love. Actually, it does not matter who you are. It is almost impossible for parents not to have some deep love for their child. I’ve heard from people who come here, my parents didn’t love me. Just flat out they didn’t love me at all period. You know, that is difficult to believe because I mean, as Lama says, it’s almost impossible for a parent not to feel love and concern for their child. But often, kids can’t see it. And often, parents have a hard time expressing it properly so that the kids can see it.
With her inner confusion, or his inner confusion, mommy and daddy cannot deal with the circumstances. They cannot put it together. That’s all. So Mom and Dad have their own problems. We expected our parents not to have any problems. They have problems, and they can’t get everything together. They aren’t perfect. Their temper overcomes them. But we want our parents to be perfect. Would be so nice wouldn’t it? Yeah? We would grow up so much more emotionally balanced if our parents- you know, just were really kind and together people. You know? But you think even if your parent were a Buddha, do you think you’d never get yelled at? Yeah, when you act like a brat. Do you think if your parent was a Buddha, the parent would say, “Oh, yes, very good”? No, Buddha would let us know. You don’t act like that. You don’t throw ketchup on the wall. You don’t throw ceramic plates so that they shatter all over the place. Okay?
Then immeasurable compassion. He’s saying in Tibetan that the term is nying-je and in Sanskrit is Karuna. It is funny karuna is now part of the Western language. But the Sanskrit for love is not. Isn’t that interesting? Although I don’t know how much is karuna part of the Western language? I don’t think so much. One of the people at Kopan at that time was named Karuna. So maybe that’s why, but he may have taken that name himself. All European Buddhists know karuna, but they do not talk about the Sanskrit word for love. It has not become an international word. Okay, as he’s saying it, it means divine compassion. The object is unlimited. So it’s not just a few sentient beings. And it’s not just people that we like who are nice to us. And then he didn’t spend much time on compassion. We had just had some Lamrim teaching so we supposedly were all brushed up on compassion.
Then immeasurable joy means infinite divine joy. The object of joy is infinite. Most times, we discriminate, and we do not wish all persons to have joy. That’s true, isn’t it? Our mind is funny. We make the decision. This one I like. This one I don’t like. We have already divided people into so many groups. Discrimination does not come from the side of the object. The decision is made by us. So if we’re being eaten up by our resentment and our hatred, we can’t say it’s the object- it’s because those people are awful and terrible. You know, we have to own it. This is coming from our minds. I’m making the choice. First, I make the discrimination. This one is nice, and they act the way I want. That one is not nice. They don’t act the way I want. Therefore, I choose. I’m gonna love this one, and I’m gonna hate that one. Okay, so a Buddha doesn’t have this kind of discrimination- this kind of partitioning of sentient beings into different groups like this. So they love everybody, but they don’t act the same towards everybody.
The decision is made by us automatically when we see someone we think, Oh, him? I am not happy with him. I will not have pleasure with him. That does not come from him. It comes from your own dualistic mind creating divisions in your head, isn’t it? Okay, so automatically, when we see the person, there is difficulty. We are psychologically bothered. Our mind is in conflict. And sometimes people say that- just even they meet somebody new automatically they dislike that person and distrust that person. They’ve never even said hello, but automatically suspicious. Do you have people like that that you’ve responded to? Yeah. Oh, you know, you first meet them and I don’t feel comfortable with this person. It could be because of some discrimination on our part. Like racial or religious or who knows what kind of discrimination and how somebody looks. You know who they are, what they come from, or it could be on a personal level. Like, you know, I just don’t like the way that person looks. I’m staying away. Haven’t even said hello. But we’ve put that person in a box already. And our mind is in conflict. Lord Buddha’s psychology is really fantastic. It is a scientific explanation of how the mind works. I think if you are interested- if you understand this completely, it is too much. It is real. It does not need many words does it? So beautiful. So simple. So if we have that understanding in our heart, the understanding is there. That feeling is there towards others. It’s not something that you have to laboriously cultivate because you really can’t stand somebody but you’re trying to be a good Buddhist and wish them joy. Okay, so it’s not like that. Divine joy is not talking about cement. It is talking about living beings. Mostly our conflicts and our problems come from each other. They do not come from dogs or from cement. It’s true, isn’t it? You know, most of our problems come from other living beings. What do we complain about the most? You know, we may complain about the weather for a few seconds. But that doesn’t go on and on. It’s too boring to complain about the weather. Some sentient being who did something I don’t like? There’s no time limit on that. On how often and how much detail we can tell the stories of how they harmed us, how they betrayed our trust, how they sabotaged us, when we had such a good intention towards them. We can spend a while on that one, huh?
Although I must say sometimes we do get aggravated with machines. I think I told you when I was- I worked my way through college, and I was like, the assistant for somebody doing a psychology experiment, and we had to test them about different things, and sometimes the machine wouldn’t work and kicking it got to work. I didn’t kick it too hard. That wouldn’t have helped, but seriously, I kicked it and it behaved better for a while. Okay. So okay, automatically when we see someone we think oh, him I am not happy with him. I will not have pleasure with him. This comes from our own dualistic mind. The western thing is always oh, the environment? It is no good. That’s why we have problems. The house is not good. The food is not good. That’s why I have problems. There’s too many bugs. There’s too much rain. There’s too much knapweed. There’s not enough chocolate. People are not washing their share of the dishes. I have to wash more dishes than other people. It’s not fair. Or those people think that I’m their slave. Then we go on, and we can develop really big stories about that one, huh? The Tibetan monasteries- do they complain about having to wash lots of dishes? You think so? Yeah? Many times you wind up washing your own dishes, right? Yeah.
Man in Audience: Exactly. Except for taking around and going to the main kitchen to fetch food for the group was done by individuals except for the packets. So there wouldn’t be any ordinary day on ordinary days there. Wouldn’t be extra things that they have to wash.
Ven Chodron: But they’ll find something else to complain about?
Man in Audience: Yeah, definitely every day different something.
Discussing Dharma with friends
Okay. If we check up on our everyday life, we are always blaming external things. He says it again. Oh, shopping is difficult. Oh Katmandu is difficult. This is a very deep subject. It seems simple but it is not simple, dear. If you understand this, fantastic. The ego will completely freak out because you understand how ego, self-centeredness, and self-grasping are making a big deal out of nothing. Really, when you actualize this understanding, the ego has no space. I always emphasize that in your everyday life when you are involved with human beings, as much as possible you should solve any problems with your friends. Wherever you are, if you solve conflict, that is beautiful. That is your mandala, isn’t it? To the people you live with, that you’re in contact with on a daily basis they are your mandala. So if you can make peace with them and solve problems with them you will be happy wherever you go. And so similarly, if we can have infinite love, infinite compassion for others, then whoever we live with wherever we are, whoever we’re with, even for a short time, we will connect with, and we will feel close to, and we will have a good relationship with. But as long as our own mind is intent on categorizing people into different things, and being very judgmental about them, then wherever we go, whoever we’re with, we’re not going to be happy at all. You know, and we’re gonna long for that one perfect person. Who is that one perfect person? You know, they’re so perfect when you’re not with them. When you’re with them, they’re perfect for a while and then reality sets in. Your entire surroundings are symbolic of universal living beings. Within my mandala, Piero is symbolic of all others. If I can live with Piero wherever I am, I can enjoy with all universal living beings. And I agree. I know Piero. If you live with Piero you can enjoy everybody. For sure. Okay. Everywhere I go, I relate to others through my experience with Piero. Seriously, if you have affection for Piero, you’ve got it solved.
I enjoy being with people from any country and in any situation because they put the same situations to me as he does. So you can tell lama is practicing transforming adversity into the path. Because different people put you in different situations. If you see difficulties as part of your path, then when you have problems with somebody, it’s like oh, good. This has given me an opportunity to apply that dharma teaching
Okay. It’s kind of- we’ve gone over time already. I’ll read a little bit more. I love reading Lama. This is the first time I’ve ever done it for a class, but I love it. This is very good. Fantastic, really worthwhile. This is the real basic teaching. We think that teaching should be something great. Lama giving his imagination, but that is not teaching. Real teaching is Lama teaching and right now, you are actualizing. Right now you are watching all your friends. Yeah. And you might be sitting next to Piero. Okay, I think this is very useful, especially for you people in front- the sangha. It is really fantastic. The sangha community is your inner mandala. So, anything you do instead of saying, oh, you are not good, you did this, you did that and dah dah dah… it is very good to help each other. Also, try as much as possible to actualize infinite Divine Wisdom. This is very important. At its biggest, my class at Sera Monastery had about 400 monks. Now Sera has thousands of monks, but at that time, just coming out of Tibet being at Buxa and then reestablishing at 400 monks. Somewhere like college people who only study to gain intellectual knowledge. This kind of thing also exists in Tibetan monasteries. They are not at all actualizing, but about 100 of the monks were really fantastic. Every day they came together to discuss and debate the things they had studied. It was so helpful. They could say fantastic things with no hesitation because life was spent with each other. They never became upset and complained. Oh, he said this to me.
So here Lama is esteeming the value of talking about Dharma topics with your friends. Of discussing the Dharma with the people you hear teachings from. We may think when he talks about actualizing, it means we go into our cave, you know, and we meditate. Not always. We have to make sure we have the correct understanding of something before we meditate on it. We have to check it out. And so this kind of discussion and debate that they did in the monasteries was really good for checking things out and for sharing and from learning from your friends how they integrate the teachings, and to seeing parts where your understanding is incomplete, too.
It was so different to the usual defensive reaction because every day, we would come together at the same time and our purpose was Dharma. We were not involved with any samsaric business. Our relationship was completely Dharma. Every day we were always discussing the Dharma, and they would usually start in the evening and go quite late into the evening.
This was my small experience. I enjoyed it so much. Even now, I sometimes think of those fantastic times that I enjoyed so much. Sometimes I miss them. Whenever I meet the people I used to study with, we’re so happy there’s so much to discuss because our minds are so close.
Okay, so this is something I often hear when I am at different Dharma centers is we come together for teachings, and then everybody goes home after that. Or we come together for teachings then we go out for tea or whatever afterward, but we just talk about, you know, samsaric stuff.
And I hear that a lot. Westerners want community where you can share something deep in your own heart, your spiritual aspirations, but we don’t know how to make community. We’re afraid if we bring up some Dharma topic and talk about how we feel towards it, that other people- well, they may think I’m preachy, or they may think that I just don’t understand anything at all. Or that I’m too uptight. I should relax and talk about, you know, what JLo is doing.
People are scared to talk about the Dharma and how it relates to their life. So this is why we do discussion groups here. And we have a certain format for the discussion groups where we really can get people to open up and talk personally, from their own perspective, about their own relationship with the Dharma. And these discussions are really valuable. And that’s how you build real Dharma friendship and trust among practitioners.
Therefore, it is very good for the sangha to be watching and sometimes to ask each other why did you say that? It is fantastic to make things straight. It helps very much. And remember, as Lama Zopa explained, the Kadampa teachings means that when one’s ego is hurt completely that is the teaching telling you something.
Okay, so if you’re talking with a Dharma friend, and your ego gets completely trampled on, the Kadampa teachings, says that is the teaching telling you something. Okay. Kadampa say that when the teaching shows a reflection of the ego, and the ego freaks out completely so that it hurts in the heart. This is real teaching. If the teaching does not show up the ego, and nothing will happen. The Kadampa teachings are like a storm that knocks down all the rice. They thoroughly beat the ego, and it has no space. It goes underneath the ground. This is what Shantideva does to us, too. That is the real teaching. That is real Dharma. It is real wisdom because you can recognize it. It is real communication. It is not just intellectualizing, like in the West when people say who wants this? It is not the real meaning. What he says is horrible. I know best. The way to show Dharma needs wisdom. If you are dogmatic, I say it is like this, your ideas are pom pom. This is not good for Westerners; you must be skillful; too much pom pom is difficult for the Western mind. So be careful.
I tend to think that unless you know when I’m giving a talk unless it stirs up some reaction in people, then I haven’t been doing something worthwhile. If somehow people’s ego is going , then the Dharma teachings have been worthwhile. If they know how to practice and they and they see for themselves, oh, you know, this is a call for me to look at what I am conceiving? What am I dreaming up? What am I imputing? Okay. And then that becomes just a wonderful way to understand what the Dharma is because you see what the Dharma isn’t and how much you cling to what the Dharma isn’t, and how you’re so sure what the Dharma isn’t is actually right. You know, and you see that because, you know, ego freaks out a bit. Yeah? So when that happens, we should say yippee. Now I get to practice. We usually say, oh, that person, I went to teachings. They’re supposed to be amusing. They’re supposed to flatter me. That’s my teacher. They’re supposed to look at me, always smile at me, tell me how wonderful I am. Tell me I’m the best disciple they’ve ever had. Give me all sorts of little perks like being able to make their tea. You know, wash their dishes, hang around a little bit. I want to be special. And that’s how my teachers should make me feel. Also because I have so much trauma, and I don’t feel loved. And you know, nobody’s loved me my whole life. I have all these emotional needs that need to be satisfied. And my teacher should satisfy those. Oh, boy, what a job description you gave your teacher. I don’t think anybody’s gonna bite that hook.
Yeah, but really, you know, in the West, that’s what many people are looking for. Somebody who will think you’re special. Somebody who will flatter you, somebody important that you can be close to so you can feel good about yourself. We want that, don’t we? It’s embarrassing to admit it, but we’ve got to admit it. Okay? It’s there even when we pretend to be ascetic. Then we go to the opposite extreme. I don’t want any emotional anything for my teacher. I’m- I am an adult. I am minding my own business. (Makes faces.)
Yeah? We’ve got to admit what’s there. Otherwise, we’re in trouble. Okay, so I didn’t finish the talk. Of course, I never finish anything, do I? There’s still a measurable equanimity but we’ll talk about that tomorrow.
Okay, do you like hearing Lama’s talk? Yeah, that’s helpful. So I should say, too- what he says. Lama- people love Lama. Yeah. Because he made you laugh. He made you- look- he had this ability to make us see our defilements and laugh at them and laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously. So it seemed like he was always joking and playing and things like that.
But you knew when Lama didn’t like something. Yeah? If you were a student, you know, sometimes the new people would be laughing at what Lama was saying, and the sangha was going hrrm. (Silent still motion) Because we knew what he really meant. It wasn’t the laughing joking. What he would also do, he pointed people out in public too. And we don’t like to be pointed out in public unless we’re getting praised. But our mistakes we don’t like anybody to point out in public. You know, that’s just terrible. How can they do such a thing? Yeah, but he would do that sometimes.
We all knew that he cared about us. I’m just going to tell you this story. One thing he did- We used to have pujas sometimes with the little monks and the older monks because it was a school. Kopan was basically a school for little monks. And so we would have pujas with the little monks and you know little monks are little monks. And older monks are older monks. Sometimes, people would fall asleep during puja. Okay? So if you were falling asleep during puja, Lama put off and have you get one of the small offering bowls and put it on your head with the water in it. And then you had to chant with everybody else, and you dare not fall asleep. Otherwise, that water bowl goes crashing down, you get wet, and it makes a ton of noise on the floor because it’s a wooden floor, and then everybody turns around and looks at you. Okay, so he would do that. And it worked. It worked, you know, you managed to stay awake during that puja somehow.
The topic once came up we were discussing, have you ever seen anybody actually fall off their seat because they fell asleep in meditation or in puja? You know, because we see people (lean forward) and sometimes it gets (leans even lower until her head touches the desk in front of her), but actually fall off. In one retreat, we were doing- somebody, I think it happened at four o’clock in the morning, because Lama Zopa was, you know, you were waiting there since seven. He would start teaching at 11 and the teaching was still going at four o’clock. And, and, yeah, somebody actually fell off their seat.
So you see how kind we are here? Yeah? Yeah? Not starting at 11 o’clock, and going to four. That’s only when we burn. Which can be avoided if we time things better earlier. Yeah?
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.