Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 5. Preliminary Teachings

Teachings on Acharya Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa) and Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme's Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (Lagden Sodunma). Day 2

The afternoon began with the recitation of a Sanskrit tradition sutra in Chinese.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

Morality is more relevant that ever

HH contrasted two groups of people: those for whom inner values/moral principles/ ethics are of paramount importance and those for whom reaching money or power are of primary concern. Whether believers or not, the first group, in the long run, is happier because they can act transparently, sincerely, and confidently. The second group can gain a temporary benefit but often their ways lead to fear and hypocrisy, and, as a consequence, they have no self-confidence, no inner strength, and feelings of insecurity.

Societal problems are not caused by the lack of religious faith; rather, they are caused by the lack of ethics: too much greed and selfishness, lack of concern for (compassion to) the others lead to such issues as the polarization between the rich and poor, global warming, etc. Thus, at this day and age, morality is more relevant than ever. When HH speaks about religions he refers to the ethical essence of such teachings, and not to the rituals involved.

On misconceptions about Tibetan Buddhism

He than addressed some misconceptions about Buddhism in general and Tibetan Buddhism in particular. All Buddhist traditions are based on the recognition of the Four Noble Truths. Characterization of Tibetan Buddhism as “lamaism” is incorrect, it is a sign of ignorance. But, partially, the lamas themselves are at fault: HH criticized the situation when the institution of Tulku has become a sign of social status and relayed a story of a high lama who left a monastery and became a helper to a poor family in a remote village. The lama, HH said, should be judged not by the height of his seat or, to quote and old Tibetan saying, by a number of horses he has. Nor (on a lighter note) by the color of his hat: yellow, black, … (Gelug, Kagyu, …) Touching his red visor (shielding his eyes from the harsh stage lights), HH said, “One day, I may introduce a green hat, to remind lamas to take better care of the environment like the monks in Burma and Thailand already do. And remember: the historical Buddha had no hat at all :)”

Distorted sense of reality (mis-knowing) as the cause of suffering

“Blind faith is outdated,” he said,  and we should gain full knowledge of what Buddhism actually is. There are three goals of Buddha dharma:
  1. short-term: to transform our mind through intelligence and training;
  2. long-term: to purify our mind;
  3. ultimately: to achieve Buddhahood (nirvana/moksha)
The methods to achieve these goals are based on Buddhist principles of interdependence and cause & effect (karma).

Suffering comes from clinging/grasping/attachment. Often suffering exists not because someone directly inflicts it; rather the cause of suffering is ignorance. There are two kinds of ignorance:
  1. simply not knowing, like not knowing an alphabet;
  2. active mis-knowing, like saying A is B, and B is C. This is a symptom of distorted state of mind.
The second kind, distorted sense of reality, is more serious than the first: it causes all destructive emotions—anger, hatred, attachment, and, consequently, their effect, the negative karma. The antidote to that kind of ignorance is awareness, learning to differentiate between appearance and reality. The way to dispel this illusion is logic, and not merely a prayer or a ritual.

The distinction between illusion and truth, the constructs of our mind and the reality goes far back: it is made in pre-Buddhist Sanskrit texts, as well as in older Buddhist scriptures, and that understanding is what all schools of Buddhism have in common.

The nature of reality; reason and its limits

HH then mentioned that the differences among the four [Mahayana] Buddhist schools of thought [Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha, and Buddhist Logic (?)] are due to different understanding of the nature of reality. Furthermore, the Middle Way school [Madhyamaka (?)] has two main strands [Prasangika and Svātantrika (?)] whose views on degree of objectivity, nominalism, etc., diverge.

The principle of dependent origination is the most precious gift of Buddhism.

This is all rather theoretical but what is a practitioner to do? HH then returned to explicating Kamalashila's The stages of meditation (p.39) There are three levels of reality:
  1. obvious;
  2. slightly obscure; and
  3. extremely opaque/hidden.
  1. This one we can perceive by sensory experience.
  2. This one we can recognize via reasoning, inference, and critical inquiry. For example, the fact that nothing is permanent or that there is no fixed “self” are not immediately obvious but eventually we can arrive to these conclusions through logic.
  3. To perceive these facts we have to move beyond the level of our cognitive ability, we have to transcend our conceptual framework. For example, we know what our birth date is because we trust our mother's word. Of course, this has to be someone you can rely on, who wouldn't lie to you, and who has no cognitive impairments.
In the Mahayana tradition, some scriptures are definitive and can be taken literally and others are not. With the latter, you have to use critical thinking.
One of the means of overcoming suffering is compassion. How to practice it? One has to realize what suffering is:
  1. Physical pain;
  2. Suffering of change;
  3. Destructive emotions. This is the level Buddhism is most concerned about.
  4. The cause of suffering is ignorance (mis-knowing); once it is eliminated, the suffering is banished.
On unbiased compassion

There are two levels of compassion:
  1. natural empathy;
  2. unbiased compassion, e.g., warmheartedness without attachment. This develops through reasoning and training.
One has to cultivate true renunciation on yourself before practicing compassion to others. The approach has to be gradual. The text (p. 40) mentions equanimity: you start with yourself, you achieve a degree of liberation yourself, and then you can achieve compassion for others. That includes all sentient beings, likable and unlikable, and not just those you care about (p. 41, penultimate paragraph).

On levels of understanding

HH then turned to The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme (p.34). There are three levels of understanding:
  1. learning (verbal, word-based);
  2. contemplation (based on the strength of conviction, absence of doubt in the truth);
  3. meditation (transforming your mind, attainment of samadhi).
HH then expounded upon the four laws/principles of nature and on the basic and derivative elements.

Relying on your senses only makes your mind dull

Stressing the importance of the inner values over superficial stimuli he gave an example of rich tourists that travel from place to place not so much to satisfy their curiosity but rather to stave off their boredom. People who rely on sensory experience only are pitiful: if the external input stops (there is nothing to see, hear, taste, smell or touch) they instantly feel bored and miserable. However, deeper satisfaction comes from mental activity. Without it, your mind becomes dull. We must pay attention to the inner world. HH, for example, doesn't watch TV: he considers it a waste of mental energy. He prefers to listen to the radio (BBC) and then keep thinking and analyzing information. [Interestingly, I do the same :)]

Stanza (4) (p.34) concerns meditation on impermanence. Illusion of permanence is a waste of our energy/life.

It's your responsibility to put a guru to the test

HH then talked about importance of avoiding negative companionship and finding a mentor/spiritual teacher. In Mahayana, 10 qualities are required of the guru. In the Vajrayana, there are even more. At one time, someone came to HH and said that there were a proliferation of fake lamas seeking power, sex, etc., and that he must do something about it. HH responded that he couldn't: it is a student's responsibility to examine a teacher before accepting him as a guru. You must examine whether he meets the criteria set forth in the Buddhist texts, and that may take time.

How to purify our mind?

Mind is like water: no matter how muddy it is, the essence (clear mind) still remains. Awareness is the seed of enlightenment. There are different levels of mind: it is present in dreams, deep sleep, and death. As was explained in the yesterday's teaching, clear mind has no beginning and no end, it is the deepest level of our consciousness, and it is the basis for reaching the Buddhahood.

To prevent accumulating negative karma, one has to avoid 10 non-virtues:
  • Killing
  • Stealing
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Lying
  • Harsh words
  • Slander
  • Gossip
  • Coveting
  • Cruelty
  • Wrong view
  • ]
The evening concluded with the Tsog — ceremonial offering.

No comments:

Post a Comment