Exercise to Harmonize the Various Aspects of Our Personality
[The beginning of the recording is missing. The exercise entails first bringing to mind, with miror-like deep awareness, the various aspects of our personality. Then to:]
…regard all the various aspects as equal, with equanimity. Our individualizing awareness is then individualizing one particular aspect. And the relating awareness (the accomplishing awareness) is extending out our energy with it to deal with it, not to ignore it. The reality awareness is aware of what it is and how to bring it into balance in our lives, enhancing its good qualities and diminishing its negative qualities or disadvantages.
Then we quiet down, focus on the breath, and let the experience settle. And slowly we open our eyes and return to the class.
This is a method that we can use to try to, first of all, become aware of all the various aspects of our personality in our lives and try to integrate and bring them into balance. Without being judgmental, but objectively seeing the advantages and disadvantages of each aspect of our personalities and, as I said, bring them into balance. Which means working particularly with those aspects that we tend to neglect and with those aspects which we tend to exaggerate and which tend to overpower.
Do you have any questions or comments?
Question: It’s a comment and a question. When the exercise just started, there came out the menu of the list of all those different aspects of my personality, and I realized that it was from the coarse ones to the subtle ones, like they were automatically ordered. That’s what happened. And something that I discovered, and that’s important to me, is that even when analyzing or focusing on the inconvenient aspects or negative aspects of my personality, I could find that there is always something positive that can be taken out of them or to enhance their potential in a positive way. So those two are comments. The question is: In daily life and in our Dharma practice, do you suggest that we should work with these aspects of our personality one at a time or as a whole?
Alex: The system that I’m using here comes from the Karma Kagyu tradition, which looks in terms of what’s called a basis awareness, general awareness, and specific awareness. These three different aspects are correlated with the mirror-like awareness, equalizing, and individualizing awarenesses. These three are going on together with each other. What we would try to do in our lives is to be aware of the whole scope of our personality, but then work on bringing each aspect into balance individually within that context of the whole scope.
We each have many different aspects of our personality. These are sort of like the basic materials that we have to work with in this particular lifetime. We may have a good sense of humor, we may be slow, we may be very quick, we could be a very serious person, we could be very athletic, we could be very social, or very private and we need our own space, we may have a very short temper. There are all sorts of aspects that we have, and these are what we need to deal with. So how do we work with that? How do we put that into balance and minimize the negative aspects of some of these and maximize the positive aspects? This is what it’s all about.
Now of course the question comes up: Can we really change our personalities? I don’t know if I’m making an artificial distinction here, but I think that there are, on the one hand, personality traits and, on the other hand, disturbing emotions, and I don’t think that the disturbing emotions necessarily are an integral part of our basic personalities of this particular lifetime.
For instance, having a good sense of humor or being serious – that’s quite different, isn’t it, than being very greedy or very angry. Preferring to be with a lot of people or preferring to be alone, these are more personality traits, I’m thinking. Or our level of intelligence, we might be very intelligent or not so intelligent. These are things that are not that easy to change. Obviously we can increase our intelligence with various methods, but it’s sort of a basic situation that we have. We have a really strong imagination or not so much imagination. Well, again, we can train our abilities to imagine, but there is a basic level that we begin with in this lifetime. Being creative, being not so creative. Having a very strong sex drive toward this particular type of person or that particular type of person, or not a very strong sex drive. These are things that I think that we can try to bring into balance; take advantage of the strong points and minimize the weak points of each of these aspects. A need for affection, not so strong need for affection, these sorts of things.
Applying the Method to Harmonizing the Various Relationships in Our Life
Now, within that context of the personality features, then of course we can all work in the Dharma methods to get rid of greed and selfishness and anger and jealousy, arrogance and so on. But whatever working materials we have, it’s important to try to blend them into a harmonious integrated blend, like having many different instruments in an orchestra. We want to blend them together to play a beautiful symphony, not have them be discordant and fighting with each other. But to approach that, we need to work with each aspect of our personalities – first of all – one at a time, then try to harmonize more and more aspects together.
Now this methodology can be extended to other dimensions in our life. For example, we can look at the dimension of all the different relations that I have in my life. We have relationships with various members of our family, various friends, various business associates, various people who run the stores that we go to and we buy from. We can examine all of these relationships and do the same thing – to maximize the positive aspects of this relationship and minimize the negative qualities or unhealthy qualities of this relationship, and to try to bring all the different relationships that we have in our life into harmony, including the relationships that we have with our teachers. That doesn’t mean that all our friends and relations have to get along with each other, and we’re with all of them at the same time, but the point is how does it fit into our life. Are we over-exaggerating the importance of one relationship, and neglecting another? Is one relationship sabotaging another relationship? It’s an interesting area to explore, and these five types of deep awareness can help us.
Sometimes we don’t recognize the importance of a relationship in our lifetime. For example, we could have a family, and be very involved with our family, and don’t realize the importance of having friendships outside the family who are just friends of me, not necessarily friends of both me and my partner. It’s very important for a woman to have another woman friend and for a man to have another male friend, regardless of being in a relationship or a partnership or with a marriage. And if these are neglected, that can cause difficulty in one’s life; there’s something missing.
Integrating Other Aspects of Our Life
Another aspect – or dimension, I should say – in which we can apply this method is to look at the various chapters of our life and to try to integrate them. Very often there are certain aspects of our history that we tend to overemphasize – at a certain stage of my life, I was abused, and so on – a nd we make that the main event of our entire life. Or there are other aspects that we really want to forget completely, like I was in a not-very-healthy relationship. We could also look in terms of the various things that we’ve studied as well, during our education and these various things. Well, how do I integrate them? If there were bad experiences – well, what could I learn from it? What is the positive thing that can come from that? And again try to get a balance, in terms of our whole life.
If we go back to our discussion earlier this week about the conventional “me,” the conventional “ me” is what is imputed on a basis, a basis for labeling “me.” And we looked just in general, earlier, in terms of a body and a mind and these sorts of things, but actually the basis for labeling “me” is all the aspects of our personality, all the relationships that we have with other people, all the things that have happened to us in our history. That’s the basis for labeling “me.” And I think the larger the basis that we consider, the healthier the sense of conventional “me” that we have, while always being open to extending that basis to new relationships, new things that we learn, new aspects that we develop.
The false “me” is when we identify “me” with just one aspect, or one or two aspects – “That’s the real me” – and then we forget about all these other aspects that actually are the basis for labeling “ me.” Then we get a lot of problems. Let’s think about that for a moment.
Okay. Do you have other questions or comments?
The Relation of the Exercises and Understanding Voidness
Question: With reflection on the exercises and after digesting the exercises we’ve been doing, both with the five aggregates and the five deep awarenesses, I have discovered that there are many thoughts, many emotions, many feelings in my mind at any particular time. And I have the capability of bringing them to maturation in a positive way or in a negative way. There’s that capability in me. I’ve also noticed that there’s like some short space in time before each of these thoughts or feelings arise or happen. And I also realize that whatever I think or I feel – it’s a constant process of arising and disappearing. So all of these things, emphasizing that it’s on me – I have the possibility of either working with all this material into a constructive goal or into a destructive goal. So is all of this that I’ve been discovering helping me to understand voidness or to approach the understanding of voidness, the understanding of rebirth, the understanding of the bardo experience?
Alex: Yes, all of this is very helpful in terms of understanding voidness. I was just speaking about that when speaking about the relationship between the conventional “me” and the basis for imputing the conventional “me.” The factors that make up our five aggregates in each moment are constantly changing; there’s nothing static that remains the same in each moment. The five types of awareness that help us to be able to cognize things, to perceive things, they also each moment are taking different objects; they’re changing from moment to moment. And the conventional “me” is just what is labeled on the basis of all of that, so there is nothing findable on the side of that basis that is a static “me.”
What makes me “me”? That is a very important question. If the basis for me – what I’m experiencing, and all these different factors of my personality and relationships and history, and these things – is constantly changing, then what is there that’s making me “me”? What we would say, in the Gelug Prasangika point of view, is that there’s nothing on the side of that basis that, by its own power, makes me “me,” or that in conjunction with labeling makes me “me.” In other words, that it’s some sort of hook on the side of the basis on which I can put my proper name – like an eye and a hook. There’s no eye on the side of the basis that then I can hook my hook of my label – “me” – o nto. That would be in conjunction; something on the side of the object in conjunction with labeling, and that doesn’t exist.
So what makes me “me”? It’s merely by the power of imputation alone. What establishes that it’s “ me”? It’s mere imputation. But I’m not just a word, “me.” On the basis of all of these things – they’r e changing all the time – well, we refer to that as “me.” That “me” is like an illusion because it appears to be solid, it feels as though it’s solid, but it’s not. It’s changing from moment to moment because my experiences are changing from moment to moment. But it isn’t a solid thing that’s changing in each moment to another solid thing, and then another solid thing.
Now what is not that easy to understand is that although there’s nothing on the side of me, or on the side of the basis for me, that makes me “me” – a findable defining characteristic – n evertheless, I’m an individual. Now, defining characteristics. (We’re in the last half hour of my whole stay here, so I can get a little bit more advanced.) Now if we think in the most general terms, is there a defining characteristic on the side of an object that makes it into a validly knowable object? Just in general, let alone make it into a table or a chair. The most general level is to make it into a validly knowable object of thing. Well, no. If there were such a thing, it would be like a plastic coating around something that makes it into a thing separate from anything else.
Now if we think… Simple example – the spectrum of light; the range of colors. Now is there anything on the side of light, of the spectrum of light, that divides it into distinctive colors? Like a plastic coating around: this is red, this is orange, this is yellow? That just makes it into things, then later on we give them names. There are no dividing lines on the side of the spectrum of light. That’s merely mental convention. Some people got together and they agreed that between this wavelength and that wavelength, we’re going to call it red or orange; and they just made up words. If you think in terms of the cave people, they just sort of put together grunts and sounds; and then this meaningless combination of sounds, they said that’s going to be a word. So what establishes the color “red”? It’s mere imputation. The mind – it’s from the side of the mind – divided the color spectrum like that.
Now, despite that, red is not blue. The colors are individual colors. They’re not just one big soup. But how do we distinguish the colors from each other? It’s from the side of the mind – the mental factor of distinguishing; the aggregate of distinguishing. We are distinguishing according to conventional defining characteristics that are made up. Now on the side of the object – is it just a blank slate and you could project anything onto it? Well, in a sense, we could give any name to anything. That’s just a name. But it would need to follow a convention in order to communicate with anybody else. We’d have to agree on the name.
So things function. They produce effects. They work. The table serves the function of holding a glass on top of it. And it doesn’t matter what we call this object. There’s so many different words in so many different languages for table. But it performs a function. It performs more than one function. Some schools of philosophical views in Buddhism say that establishes that this is truly a table – that it performs the function of a table – that’s its truly established existence. It’s truly established by performing a function. But is its performing a function also a matter of mental labeling? It is, actually, if you think about it. That’s not so obvious. We’d have to think about that one. Cause and effect. How do we know that? And so on. You see, cause and effect does, in a sense, define individuality. In other words, I am an individual based on my individual karma; you’re an individual based on your individual karma. So cause and effect is experienced individually.
Now this table is doing a lot of things here. Supporting the glass, it’s supporting the pitcher of water, it’s supporting the recorder, it’s supporting the tablecloth. It is adorning the room; making the room look nice. It’s performing the function of making a background for the flowers in front of it. It’s making a shadow. Right? So it’s doing lots of different things. So are all of those functions that it’s performing encapsulated in plastic as things. “That’s the function,” as if – like the spectrum being divided into encapsulated portions. Likewise, is what this thing is doing encapsulated into specific portions of function? No. But is it just blank and we can impute any type of function onto it? After all, this table is not keeping thieves away from my house. This table is not holding up – preventing the sky from falling. So we can’t just impute any function onto it.
What establishes its performing a function? It has to be a valid cognition. From the side of the mind. Right? It fulfills a certain convention. Anybody can see – if he has any sense and his mind is valid – that it’s holding a glass, but it’s not keeping the sky from falling. Validly, you would know that. You move the table away – did the sky fall or not? No. The sky didn’t fall. So it was not performing that function. If we think that there’s some plastic coating around this – there’s some imaginary line that makes it into a thing, an object by itself – well, if we explore, can we find that? Where’s the solid boundary between the atoms of the table and the atoms of the air? There’s no line, is there?
So now we apply this to the topics that we’ve been speaking about in the spectrum of all emotions and all feelings. Are there these encapsulated things called sense of humor and intelligence and – any of these aggregates that we have been talking about; any of these types of personality traits. It’s like the colors. They are imputed by a mind, by mental labeling – conceptual mind – and even the definitions of them are imputed by the mind. Different cultures will define loyalty differently. Yet anger is not greed. I mean, various emotions do retain their individuality. Just because there are no solid dividing lines making things into separate packets, like ping-pong balls, doesn’t mean that everything is an undifferentiated one, in which absolutely everything is identical. We’re not talking about a continuum. Things are not an undifferentiated soup. There are individual things, but there’s nothing on the side of things that, like plastic coating, makes them anything. The same thing [is true] with our relationships with other people. What in the world is that? Is there some plastic coating around my relationship with you that isolates it and insulates it from everything else in our life and all the other people that we relate to? No, of course not.
So if the basis for imputing “me” is like this – that there are no solid dividing lines on the side of the basis, and nothing encapsulating this and that as a relationship, or a personality trait, and a skandha, and this and that – how could the “me” that’s imputed on that be encapsulated in plastic? So if – to use this image of ping-pong balls, that I like very much and I find quite helpful – if none of our personality traits, and none of the skandhas, and none of the mental factors, and none of these things are – Well, put it the other way around: If they were like ping-pong balls, and if “me” imputed on that was like a ping-pong ball, none of these things could change, could they? Nothing would affect them; it’s just a collection of ping-pong balls in a big jar. The ping-pong balls couldn’t really interact with each other; they could just be next to each other. They couldn’t be integrated with each other; they would be just a collection of ping-pong balls. But because they don’t exist as ping-pong balls, they are void. They are devoid of existing as ping-pong balls. There’s nothing on the side of any of these things that makes it into a ping-pong ball. Because of that, then, they can interact; they can change. And the “me” imputed on that can also change, and grow, and so on, while still maintaining individuality.
So yes, our study of the five skandhas and our study of these five types of deep awareness can lead us more and more deeply into an understanding of many, many aspects of the Dharma; and particularly the aspect concerning voidness.
That brings us to the end of this course. And I think what can be helpful is to just take a minute or two to sort of digest a little bit, if you can, what I said – this last portion. And to digest what we have learned, what we’ve experienced, so that when we make the dedication it’s a little bit more meaningful. In other words, we see what have I learned, what have I understood, what have I gained, what sort of positive force has come from this. And then we can dedicate that. But not in the matter of: What ping-pong balls have we collected? And we’re going to toss them into the basket of enlightenment. Not like that.
Whatever understanding we’ve gained, whatever positive force has come from this, may this act as a cause for everyone reaching enlightenment for the benefit of us all. Not just my enlightenment, everyone’s enlightenment.
Thank you very much.