Setting a Good Motivation
Now, please don’t forget the purpose of this course. As I mentioned yesterday, this is a very important subject – meditating on impermanence. Without this, whatever very profound teaching we find in our life, we won’t be able to practice it very well. With this motivation of having a little knowledge about impermanence, we will come to realize how fortunate we are and how precious our human life is. Then, we need some kind of protection that we do not waste our time, we don’t waste this opportunity. For this, we have the upcoming teachings of His Holiness Dalai Lama.
We will hear so many helpful, blissful teachings from His Holiness. But right after His Holiness’ teaching, we will surely start forgetting. It won’t take long, maybe right after the teaching, maybe after an hour and, all of a sudden, we are back to ordinary life. So, we should contemplate this practice in our daily life. If we do, we will feel very fortunate to know these practices and meet all these great masters. Once we start practicing, sometimes we forget how fortunate we are. We go back to our ordinary life and spend our days on the Internet and Facebook; we can get very busy with all that! That’s us younger generation. And then maybe for the older generations, television is very important.
So here, Konchog Tenpe Dronme shares his experience and advice. Please listen carefully. Maybe some of you have sadhanas or commitments to do. So maybe you tried what I explained yesterday. You recall what the real guru, the ultimate guru is. I don’t know if we use this word “ultimate guru,” but I want to say that the ultimate guru is the Dharmakaya and the Sambhogakaya. It really helps me. That’s why I’m saying it. Anyhow, you need time to reflect. If you listen to His Holiness and then don’t contemplate his teachings, then it’s a pure waste. So please keep this in mind. Let’s begin with the third stanza.
Recalling Impermanence to Overcome Laziness
(3) Thoughts that we might finish this life’s tasks within just a single month or year and only then to practice Dharma well are like harmful spirits that deceive us.
I divide this text into three sections. Remember, when we talk about laziness, there are three types of laziness. The first laziness is being busy with worldly things and so putting things off until later. We often have the thought that we will finish this life’s tasks first and then practice. There is also the laziness of not wanting to do anything. I think one of the last stanzas in the poem says that the Dharma is our guide on a path unknown. That’s talking about how to overcome or eliminate the laziness of discouragement or of feeling ourselves unworthy. This is my point of view, that the text is explaining how to overcome these three kinds of laziness with meditation on impermanence.
Here, let’s look at the laziness of being busy with worldly things. How the author explains it here, I understand well from my experience while I was studying in Canada. I would always have lots of homework to do on the weekends. But Friday evenings, we get this energy, right? So, I wouldn’t do any homework. Then on Saturday, I would feel like I can do my homework on Sunday. Saturday I should enjoy! Then on Sunday, something comes up during the day, and my homework remains incomplete! This is what this verse is talking about.
The important things we want to do, like meditation or just something positive in general, take effort. We call it “joyous effort.” Why “joyous?” In Tibetan, it refers to that kind of joy we get when doing something positive or virtuous. There’s some attraction to doing something positive. Before we have this attraction, we need to have some kind of interest, right? To be interested, we have to see benefits. To understand the benefits, we have to study what’s good for us and what’s not good for us. We are already blocked on this first step. Poor us! We know it’s very important to do something positive, but one of the biggest destructive things within us is that we postpone and postpone and postpone. It’s really funny, because once you do see some benefit, then you’ll do it.
Back in Canada, I often had to wake up very early, at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. to get what in Calgary is called the C train. I had to take this C train for two stops until I got to the bus station. In the C train, everybody would be holding coffee. It was so early in the early morning, but still they looked very refreshed. I don’t think any of them wanted to get up early in the freezing weather – sometimes it got down to minus 40 degrees – but they’d be refreshed because of the coffee. And I’m sure they all thought that going to work is very important, because money is important. Because they value something – in this case, money – they will put in the effort every day.
We, on the other hand, haven’t seen the benefits of the Dharma yet. We forget to value the teachings and so we don’t put effort into our study. Once we see that our teacher is as important as the Buddha, and that we have the Dharma as our medicine and the Sangha as the nurse: amazing!
Also, we need the good influence of others. A friend called me and asked, “What teaching is His Holiness going to give?” I said that His Holiness will teach on the Essence of Madhyamaka. And then he said, “Well, I have so many teachings on voidness. I think I will listen online and that’s fine.” I said, “Well that’s not good enough!” I gave so many reasons, so many reasons. And then finally he said he will come. So, I did the act of Sangha by encouraging him to do something positive.
We need this kind of influence in our life, just as we need friendship. It’s good to be in that type of environment, where we can be influenced by constructive people in general, not only our teachers. Anyway, unless we find that the teachings are very important in our life, I guarantee that we won’t take them seriously. That’s why first of all we really need to work on our motivation.
Recalling Impermanence as an Antidote to Attachment
Meditating on or thinking about impermanence has so many tremendous benefits. One of the most important things is that it is an antidote to attachment. This encourages us greatly to practice it. We will talk more about attachment later. Konchog Tenpe Dronme is really encouraging us to practice. Near the end, he shows us the main points for the practice. Before that, we set our motivation. We have a problem with this in our day-to-day life. Is there anyone who doesn’t have this kind of problem? Can you raise your hand? As the person here talking about such wonderful things, I have the biggest problem with this! I have the laziness of being busy with worldly things. I can probably say that. Here it says that this is like harmful spirits that deceive us. These “spirits” are not something outside of us. They are something we have inside.
Sometimes it is very good to make prayers. I just remembered a story of something that happened with His Holiness back in Tibet, when he was studying very seriously. One night he slept and had a dream of Chenrezig. He peeked into a temple and saw Chenrezig motioning him to approach. He went inside and immediately had a feeling of closeness with Chenrezig. He embraced Chenrezig, who then whispered in his ear, “Don’t be lazy for the Buddhadharma and for the benefit of sentient beings. With strong motivation and encouragement and motivation, employ both physically and mentally the perfection of enthusiasm and joyous effort.” That was Chenrezig’s advice to His Holiness.
This is a sign that His Holiness is not an ordinary person. If I dreamt this a thousand times, I would still be the same! But His Holiness changed. Then he started to do whatever Chenrezig asked him to do. From that point on, he continuously studied and thought about voidness and bodhichitta. Even these days when he is busy, his idea of how to spend his free time is to study. It’s really funny, because some reporters asked him, “What do you do in your free time?” He said, “Study.” They asked him again because they thought that perhaps His Holiness didn’t understand the question. Then he replied, “Study. Yes!” So, His Holiness asked them, “What do you do when you’re free?” Their answer was, “We mostly watch television.” Then His Holiness got to know what we do during our free time and learned from us what the meaning of free time is.
That is just a part of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s qualities. As it is already his habit, a part of his daily life, to study, and when he meets people, to give advice and encouragement, for him it does not take any effort, but only gives him joy. So, His Holiness sets a very good example. If we try to follow his day-to-day life, it’s a very good inspiration for us.
The Tasks of This Life Will Never End
(4) The tasks of this life are like ripples on water: fresh ones arising just as others fade away. Even as we finish them, they continue to increase. Wouldn’t it be better just to make them all cease?
Very easy to say, yes? This is the question. It makes such sense that we completely agree, but it’s a very hard thing to do. A very simple answer is that, in some ways, we love being busy with things. We want more and more. I went to my teacher, offered three prostrations, then I said, “I have a strong attachment problem. My anger does not give me so many problems. But attachment is a huge problem. Please give me an antidote.” That’s what I requested from my teacher. At that time, I was really suffering with attachment. I still am – I am not saying that now I am a better person! The difference is that, at that time, I didn’t have the kind of knowledge that I do now. But even now, it is very difficult to apply the antidote in my everyday life. He said, “Talking of attachment, when you desire something, all of your effort goes into getting it, and there’s so much suffering if you don’t get it. Also, things will never work out exactly as you plan. And it takes up a lot of your time. Finally, once you get it, your attachment is not finished; something else will take its place.”
In most romantic movies, especially Hindi ones, there is a big fight in order to get this beautiful lady, with so many romantic things happening along the way. We have all these fairy tales that say, once we’re married, then we’ll live happily ever after, forever. It doesn’t work that way, right?
The second thing is this: the biggest problem in this world is having no satisfaction. That’s the second thing when we think about attachment. Here it’s about wanting more and more and more, right? That’s why Apple and Samsung are doing very good business! They know how to manipulate us with all these advertisements. Right? I was wondering how advertising works because it’s like magic. At first, I wouldn’t take notice on the television when there’s an advertisement playing. During the shows there are ads and during them, I would do my own thing. But slowly they started to affect me. When I was about sixteen, there was a beautiful ad about a soap called “Rin.” Not Rinpoche, just Rin! There are like ten types of soap on the shelf in the stores. Then due to some kind of influence or manipulation from their great work, I automatically pick Rin soap, because I feel like I know it. This is an example of how our minds work, and they know how our minds works. It is very skillful.
Sometimes my biggest problem, well maybe not only my problem but a problem for many of us, is that we want to go out with our friends if they are going out. For ladies, if your friend is wearing something beautiful, then you also want something just as beautiful. Or something more beautiful. For boys, if a friend has the latest iPhone, maybe you want the latest Samsung phone. This seems to be in our nature. Here in India, a laborer only makes two to three hundred rupees, that’s about $3 or $4, for a whole day of work. In the West, labor work costs a lot, right? For an hour, maybe they get $15 or more, but still, they’re not very happy. Because there is no satisfaction.
Knowing When Enough is Good Enough
I can say I have these two young students. A while ago, they came to see me and asked, “Can you accept me as your student?” Then I told them that I am not a qualified teacher, so we can be friends and I could share my knowledge with you. But I cannot take you as my students. They said, “Whatever you tell us, we will listen to what you say.” I said, “Are you sure you will do as I say?” They said, “Yes.” Having this opportunity, I said, “Before doing any practice and getting into Buddhism, wherever you are, first go back to your home country and get a job, make a living. And once you feel like your bank account is quite good enough, maybe after six or seven years, then you can come back and listen to the teachings.”
They were surprised because they thought that I would give a very precious teaching. Actually, this was a very precious teaching. Our consciousness is more important than our body, but we have to respect this flesh and blood body too. We need to make a living to support the body, which supports our practice. To live, we need money and other things. That was my advice to them, and they are working at great jobs now. Even though I am not a very qualified teacher, but I accepted them like this as my students.
The purpose of my telling you this is because what some practitioners do is, when they see some samsaric thing, they say, “Oh this is very samsaric,” and just ignore it. Right now, we are beginners. We need to live on this samsaric level, and we need to know its limitations. We need to know when it is too much, and when it is good enough. All these samsaric things – the challenge is to know when to stop, when to say, “This is enough.” And to know when it’s not enough.
I’m saying this because in Tibet we have a story. I don’t know if it really happened or not. One person listened to a Dharma teaching, and he became so enthusiastic to practice, saying, “All these samsaric things, they’re nothing!” He felt as though he wanted to become the next Milarepa. He gave away all his belongings – his house, his fields, everything. He went up to the mountains and stayed maybe a year. He came back and started complaining, “Due to listening to that teaching and following the example of the beggar Milarepa, now I too have become a beggar.”
We need means to live. That’s why we do so many protector pujas, right? In the protector pujas, we’re saying that we are not going to collect all these samsaric things that we need, because our focus is on the meditation. But then we pray that whatever we need, you protectors please bring it to us. This is a great order! We say we need it. We don’t know how to set a limit. We need to know when to stop. This is part of awareness.
When we talk about meditating to attain shamatha, we say that to be successful we need to build up an accumulation of merit. But satisfaction is also something we need to build up and accumulate. We should know when we’ve had too much or too little of what we need. If we say we’re going to do a shamatha retreat in the middle of nowhere, where we cannot get anything, this is a big problem. We have to stay somewhere close to where we can get support. We need the support of samsaric things. But we need to be aware: when is it too much, when is it not enough?
The Uncertainty of the Time of Death
(5) Before tomorrow’s Dharma practice can arrive, there’s a danger death will come to us today. Thus, if we wish to practice the Dharma, then without self-deception, let’s begin right away!
Can you recall yesterday I said that it’s not like we sit here and wait for death to come all at once? Death is coming closer toward us all the time. That is a more powerful way of thinking. Actually, it is the same, whether we are waiting for death to come all of a sudden or death is coming toward us. We are going to die anyway. But if we think that death is coming toward us, like a ghost chasing us, that is more powerful.
So, while we have this precious human body, and especially this intelligent mind, we mustn’t think that we don’t need to think about death. If we think about sicknesses. There are so many strange sicknesses. It’s very difficult to say that we won’t get this or that type of sickness. One of my friends was doing very well in the morning when I saw her, but in the afternoon, after waking from a nap, she fell. Friends came to her aid, and when she’d regained consciousness, she’d forgotten all the languages she knew. She couldn’t remember English, Hindi, Tibetan, or anything. She can only say one Hindi word. Just “Gandhi.” I don’t know if it’s Mahatma Gandhi or not. Only this. She is still in this condition now, only able to say a few words in Hindi. Only Hindi. Yes, that’s impermanence.
So, there is no guarantee of what will happen with us. Maybe death will come into this room right now. But now we are alive and there are all these sicknesses that might come up, so how can we practice? How can we live like that? Some people in the hospital have so much pain that they request the doctor to kill them, because they simply cannot bear it.
So, there is no guarantee. But our way of thinking is full of guarantees! That is why we plan so much. For me, a few days after His Holiness’ teaching, I’m going to Germany. I’ve planned everything quite confidently. I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan. We should plan, but with some kind of acceptance of the reality that what we plan might not happen. Mostly, we plan like tomorrow we’ll be alive for sure. We say, “See you next time!” Most of the people who have said goodbye to this world have used these words before dying, “See you tomorrow,” and tomorrow doesn’t come.
This verse is saying that without an awareness of impermanence, planning and whatever else we do is self-deception. We should really think about this. It probably is not very comfortable to always think about death and what will happen to us. This will just cause us to worry. We should be optimistic. It does not require us to think all the time about death. Don’t think about death every day but think and act as if you are going to die tomorrow. We can make plans as if we will live forever, but there should be awareness to be ready with confidence for whatever will come.
A few days back, His Holiness was giving an audience for people who are above 80 years old. One elderly lady had waited for an audience for a long time. His Holiness advised them to think about bodhichitta and recite OM MANI PADME HUM. Maybe she didn’t even listen carefully, but with so much excitement, she said, “Now that I’ve had this audience, if I die tomorrow, I have no regrets.”
We need this kind of medicine! Our biggest problem is that this kind of thought will come up too late, when we are lying in bed with family surrounding us. They cannot join us in death. This is really painful. This has nothing to do with religion. I think. This has more to do with making a great decision. That is why the verse is saying, “Then without self-deception, let’s begin right away!” Whatever you are practicing, do it right now. When you are getting lazy, this is a quotation you have to remember. Before tomorrow’s Dharma practice can arrive, don’t have any confidence to say tomorrow! There is a danger that death will come today. If we wish to practice Dharma, then without self-deception, let’s begin right away.
This great verse, if you can learn by heart, use it whenever you feel lazy. This is what we call a whip of advice. Up to here, as I said, we’ve looked at the laziness of being busy with worldly things. Now it’s up to you to see whether this verse fits this category. Mostly we do spend our time on more worldly, samsaric things. Here, Konchog Tenpe Dronme is encouraging us, saying that we should not plan for what we will do tomorrow: “Tomorrow I will practice.” And then tomorrow, we say “tomorrow” again. We have this kind of laziness. If we keep on repeating this, we might never get the opportunity to practice. If we want to do it, do it right away!
If we wish to practice the Dharma – There’s one good friend of mine, not a practitioner, just a simple lay person. Once he told me, “In the West, the word ‘if’ is very important.” I asked, “Why?” He said that in the West, “if” is very important. Everything starts with “if.” He said it’s because of insurance! Whatever you do, you need insurance, right? All the insurance letters start with “if.” We say with, “If something happens…” We mostly live on “if” actually. If I want to do this, I have to do that. Maybe we should have a mantra of “if.” So, all of this is in the category of “how to overcome the busyness of worldly things.” Now there’s one left for today:
The Greatest Teaching: Even the Buddha Had to Pass Away
(6) Although Buddhas and bodhisattvas have come in the past, their activities pervading throughout the three realms, now they’re no more and only their names remain. Still, in this, they are teachers of impermanence.
This is very hard for me to accept, because I depend on my teacher and classmates a lot. Take as an example Buddha Shakyamuni. He is not an ordinary person; he’s an extraordinary person. He had control of how long he wanted to live because he isn’t like us. He was not born from the ignorant mind of the twelve links of dependent arising. He was born of his own choice. And still, he is no longer with us.
I’m always seeking an answer for this. What do you think? If Buddha were alive, I am sure that Buddhism would be number one. But this is not a great thing to say, the whole world being Buddhist. Anyway, if Buddha were still here, he would be our best example. He would do so many things to make us interested in Buddhism, right? What do you think? Because he is omniscient, he really knows how to deal with you and you and you and all the other people in the world, everyone. He has all these skillful methods. The question is, why is he not with us anymore? I always asked my teacher this. My teacher said, “Well, Buddha came in flesh and bone and appeared as an ordinary person, so he had to die.” Still, flesh and bone can be preserved in chemicals, so Buddha could at least have done that!
One time during Saka Dawa or Vesak, I went to see my teacher. I requested him to give me a teaching on impermanence. At the end of the teaching, I gave him an offering. I don’t know whether I cried a little bit. I felt very sad. I asked my teacher this question about Buddha, saying I didn’t want the same old “flesh and bone” answer. He gave a superb answer that really helped me a lot. Maybe I won’t share with you what he said. I don’t know if you will feel the same way I did. I explained it to many other people who just responded, “Oh, okay.” They didn’t get as excited as I did.
He replied very straightforwardly saying, “Buddha’s teaching – the best message he can deliver to us is, ‘I was born and died, but in between I have done the most important things.’ The same is true for everyone else: you are born and then you die. In between you can practice. That is the goal. That is the message. We are born into this human form, but don’t cling to it. We will die because we are born. Between these two events, we can do exactly the same as the Buddha did. This is the best teaching.”
After that, I stopped asking. I stopped annoying my teacher. It is the same thing here in this passage. That really helped me. I cannot guarantee that what has helped me will be of help to you. Our task is to find another way to get this kind of excitement or bliss or happiness. Until then, don’t stop. This is a small tip for you all.
This verse – Although Buddhas and bodhisattvas have come in the past, their activities pervading throughout the three realms, now they’re no more and only their names remain. Still, in this, they are teachers of impermanence – shows that we can overcome the laziness of not wanting to do anything by studying about all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas that came in the past. We can all say without any doubt that one day we will all die. Dying is not such a big thing. The big thing is wasting time between being born and dying. That’s the more critical thing. That is why this stanza talks about all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past, and how their activities pervade through the three realms. That is how I understand this stanza.
His Holiness often speaks about Nagarjuna and Shantideva. It feels like, “Oh this guy, that guy.” They are no longer with us, right? Physically, at least. Mentally, we can have a connection with them. But physically, there’s no connection. Some lucky people have a vision of them. Maybe it’s real or not, that’s not for me to decide. In Tibet we don’t have many people like that. In the West, I seem to meet so many people who claim to have met Nagarjuna and Shantideva. I feel jealous!
Back in Spiti Valley, India, His Holiness was going to visit my monastery, Tabo monastery. The Private Office and I worked together on who would have an audience with His Holiness. One couple and their infant child came to ask for an audience. The adults were dressed in robes. The husband had his long hair tied upwards like a Buddha. Very fancy and quite handsome. He came into my room and didn’t say hello or anything. His wife pulled out a small cushion for him to sit on and then sat next to him, but lower down, and started to speak on his behalf. She said, “This is my husband and guru.” Two in one!
I listened as she continued, saying, “Our relationship is not only in this life, but is carried on from our past life.” The husband remembers that, in his past life, he was a great yogi, and his wife was one of his students. Before passing away, he said that in their next lives, she would become his wife. Their son was perhaps a sponsor reincarnated as their child. Now, he wanted an audience with His Holiness. I asked, “What’s the purpose? Do you want to share this story with His Holiness?” He replied, “Yes,” just nodding his head. His wife pulled out a notebook and said they’d written down everything that came up in his vision.
I really wanted to see it before they would give it to His Holiness, but he didn’t want to show me, “That’s only for His Holiness, not for you.” I teased him, “You are an extraordinary person. You have bodhichitta. You want to show that notebook to a Buddha? A Buddha doesn’t need that. We sentient beings need that, so with your compassion, let me see it.” He said, “No, no. Can you arrange the meeting or not?” I said, “If I see a good purpose then I will surely arrange. But I don’t see any reason to, so I’m afraid not.” Then he got quite upset and angry, and they left.
His Holiness has met someone who claims he is Maitreya. Maybe they do have a special connection from their past lives. I don’t know. It’s not my job to say yes or no. But if I were to meet Nagarjuna, I would really want to ask him questions about his Root Verses on the Middle Way. Not just be amazed and take a selfie with him. That is why I’m not trying to get an audience with His Holiness very often. I collect a lot of questions on different things, but I don’t get much time to spend asking His Holiness questions. So, once I do go, I go with a lot of questions. But people these days are going crazy with requesting an audience. There should be a difference between having an audience with His Holiness and meeting with someone like Justin Bieber. They are not the same thing. Right? If you are meeting a celebrity, there’s no problem if you take a selfie and that’s it. Great moment. Show off and post it on Instagram and Facebook. But it is a different case with His Holiness.
You might remember as most of you were at the Bodh Gaya teachings this year. His Holiness gave us a task to read certain things repeatedly, so that for the next meeting there will be a change in us. That was a clear message. When we have the chance to meet Buddha Shakyamuni or Nagarjuna, then we will not just stare for 24 hours. We will stare for a few seconds or minutes for sure. But then we can make something useful out of it. When Lama Tsongkhapa met Manjushri, they looked at each other and Lama Tsongkhapa asked some questions and Manjushri gave some answers. Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Now, this is not helping much.” Manjushri then said, “Do purification practices and accumulate merit. Then, slowly you will understand it.”
Those are the things that we need. Maybe some of you in the future might meet Nagarjuna. This is the way to meet him. Don’t go crazy! Now we’ll stop here and continue tomorrow. Thank you very much for your attention.
May His Holiness live very, very long and all the wonderful teachers too, so that we may receive their teachings directly and indirectly. Through their guidance, we can practice more and more and become better human beings every moment, month after month, year after year, so that we can see the change within us. Thank you very much.