Monday, July 11, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 6. Preliminary Teachings

Teachings on Acharya Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa), Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme's Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (Lagden Sodunma), and Geshe Langri Thangpa's The Eight Verses of Mind Traininng. Day 3

The afternoon began with the recitation of sutras in Japanese and Vietnamese.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

As was noted on the first day of teaching, internal essence (“self”) has no beginning and no end. Similarly, external phenomena have no beginning or end either. For example, there is no reason to think that there was only one big bang, it stands to reason that there were and there will be an infinite number of big bangs.

Liberation from suffering

One has to look beyond appearances and recognize reality. Appearances are illusions; once this is understood the attachment/clinging/grasping, as well as resulting negative emotions (anger, fear, jealousy, etc.) are dispelled.

The liberation from suffering is possible because the basic nature of the mind is pure. Practically, to effect this change, one has to:
  1. avert acts of destruction;
  2. let go of grasping to your identity;
  3. let go of clinging to external things.
As was noted yesterday, there are two kinds of suffering. Avoiding 10 non-virtues, which is common to all great religions, is to free yourself from the first kind of suffering. This avoiding de-merit, avoiding negative actions can be achieved by modifying your behavior.

On wisdom

The main obstacle to liberation though is distorted ignorance (“mis-knowing”). All negative emotions are caused by it, i.e., by self-clinging, self-attachment. To overcome that, one needs to dispel distorted ignorance, i.e., one needs wisdom.

There are three levels of wisdom:
  1. sensory-based;
  2. reason-based; and
  3. internalized.
Wisdom is achieved through meditation. To achieve concentration, one needs quietness, noiselessness (which is difficult to find in a big city). The meditation should be single-pointed, which implies introspection, mindfulness, and concentrating on an object. Mind has to be sharp but relaxed. Meditation skill allows us to perform self-observation, to check whether our actions are right.

samadhi (meditation) = morality + meditation + wisdom

This is common to all three Buddhist traditions. The differences are contextual, they are only distinction of emphasis.

On the role of Tantric tradition in Buddhism

HH then addressed the issues that are sometimes being raised related to “legitimacy” of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. Some question whether Mahayana was taught by the Buddha. Others say that if the Buddha came to Tibet and observed the Tantric tradition he wouldn't recognize his own teaching.

Mahayana tradition is based on Theravada, and developed it further using the notion of infinite altruism (Bodhicitta). As far as Vajrayana is concerned, there is a source and foundation of the Tantric principle in the Sanskrit tradition. The contribution of the Tantric tradition is the notion of subtle energy. Without that notion it is difficult to explain the nature of achieving Buddhahood. The important consideration here is not to be bound by the conventional notion of time: the historic Buddha may not have taught Tantra directly but Buddha is eternal. The whole point of Buddhism is that the physical death of the historical Buddha was not the end. (Here HH relayed a story about a Theravada monk who had a visual experience of the Buddha.)

On altruism

Thus one of the main precepts of Mahayana and Vajrayana is altruism.
One has to practice selflessness, which can be of two kinds:
  1. intuitive altruism; and
  2. recognition of interdependent existence.
(An aside: In Buddhism there are no absolutes. Even an absolute devotion to god may become a hindrance on the path of liberation.)

Altruism is not hard to understand but difficult to experience. There are two methods of practicing altruism:
  1. treat others like people we love;
  2. eliminate self-centeredness, recognize that there is no “I”
The second method will banish anger, hatred, jelousy, and rid you of fear. It will fill you with self-confidence and bring you more friends. Egoism make one stiff.

As soon as selfishness is gone there is no hypocrisy, and all moral principles, like 10 Commandments are observed willingly, and not out of fear.

On strength of keeping your mind calm

Stanza (14). If your enemy has succeeded in provoking your anger, if he has made you lose your temper then the enemy has defeated you. But if your mind remains calm then the enemy has failed. (Here HH relayed a story from his childhood about an old Tibetan official who was famous for his humility: the angrier his adversary was the more serene he became. And then he struck back, at the right moment. That's a sign of strength.) Keep your mind peaceful; then it is not impossible that your worst enemy will become your best friend.

Remaining stanzas of The Thirty-seven practices

Stanzas (18–19). When one goes through the hard period on is in danger of losing optimism/hope. If one's life is very successful then he is in danger of becoming arrogant/conceited.

Stanza (22). Meditation on emptiness.

Stanzas (23–24). In the after-meditation state one has to cultivate awareness of illusion.

Stanza (25). Practice of six perfections, beginning with generosity.

Stanza (31). You have to continually examine your own confusion, check whether we follow the right path. That requires self-discipline and involves watching over verbal, physical, and mental actions.

That was the end of exegesis on The Thirty-seven practices of a Bodhisattva by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme.

The Eight Verses of Mind Training

HH then turned to The Eight Verses of Mind Training by Geshe Langri Thangpa (p.53) that he has known by heart since childhood. (He said that he doesn't get frustrated when there are flight delays: he occupies his mind with these verses.)

Modalities of perception of the world

There are two kinds of awakening mind, conventional and ultimate. As far as ultimate awakening mind is concerned, one can distinguish three kinds.
  1. Non-conceptual (sensory). This one is non-selective, immediate: it engages with whatever is in the field of vision.
  2. Conceptual (reasoning). This one is selective — does not engage with the object directly.
  3. Highly selective. This one operates on the mental level and chooses its objects. However, it tends to conflate time, e.g., “Is this the same thing I saw yesterday?”
On meditation

HH then spoke about meditation. Normally attainment of shamata (calmness) precedes vipassana (insight); however, in higher Tantras there are practices to meditate on both:
  • union of bliss an emptiness (Gelug);
  • union of samsara and nirvana (Sakya).
Coming back to Kamalashila's The Stages of Meditation (p 44, column 1, last paragraph), HH stressed the importance of the correct posture and said that breathing meditation can be helpful if your mind is distracted or agitated.

The object you concentrate on should be in your mind's eye. Visualize it. The image will become bright. Then you visualize yourself as a deity (Vajrayana) or as a chakra (Mahayana). Do not think about past or future. You should feel empty, no external stimuli or internal feelings.

Perception is not mirroring, it is taking one aspect of an object and constructing “knowing,” or understanding. There are different views on the nature of perception: is it a unitary moment or a multi-aspect/multi-stage process?

When we stop thinking of past and future this is a moment of nothingness. Prolong that and experience luminosity, the ultimate reality of the mind. Concentrate on that for as long as you can. Then take *that* and investigate; meditate on what is mind.

Your own breathing is a useful object of meditation. Concentrate on breathing. (Here HH engaged the audience in a breathing exercise.)

Chanting is a form of mediation too. One can visualize each word and continue doing so for many hours. This can train and discipline your mind, so that then you go to a subtler objects.

[This last day teaching felt special: HH talked about both rather abstract and rather personal matters.]

Evening dharma talk: Buddhism, Empowerments, and Everyday Life

The venerable Thubten Chodron gave a talk on Buddhism, Empowerments, and Everyday Life. She made several really great points. For example, when you realize that clinging to your constructed or imposed identities really makes your life unnecessarily difficult renouncing those identities can be truly liberating and can make your life much easier. Imagining yourself as a deity, e.g., Kalachakra, makes you free of fear so that you can aspire to act and think as an enlightened being would.

1 comment:

  1. How do you manage it; work, the teachings, taking notes, going to the evening talks, more work, transcribing the days teachings into a blog post....Very cool. Hope it was a wealth of information.