Integrating Our Life: Inspiration & Focus on Our Mothers

Finding Inspiration

We have looked at the framework from which these teachings about integrating our life derive, and there are just a few more points I want to add before I open it up for questions. This is concerning the term “inspiration.” We have the Sanskrit word adhishtana, and we have the Tibetan term chin-gyi-lab (byin-gyi rlabs). In Sanskrit, the word basically refers to something that places us in a higher position. This implies something that lifts us up and gives us the strength and support to develop ourselves to a higher stage. The Tibetan word lab is a wave, and chin-gyi refers to potential, with the connotation that it brightens us. It’s like how waves of light activate a plant’s potential to grow. This is what we can derive from the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms for “inspiration.”

Now, what can uplift us? What can brighten us with strength and sustenance? Well, in the Buddhist description we derive this both upward and downward, in two ways. There’s a source that has more qualities than us that we look up to, and one that we look at in terms of those we can help. It’s not that they’re inferior and so we look down on them. We look at the Buddhas and the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in terms of our refuge and safe direction and we derive inspiration from that. We have many practices that we do in which we visualize waves of inspiration coming to us from Buddha and the refuge tree. We do this also in terms of Buddha-figures – Avalokiteshvara, Tara, and so on. But because the qualities of the Buddha are very, very difficult for us to relate to, we represent all of them with a spiritual teacher, someone that we know, that we have some personal contact with, some personal experience with, because it’s much easier to relate to such a person. The role of the spiritual teacher has always been described as the conduit through which we gain inspiration from the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It’s like a magnifying glass that will bring the brilliance of the sun to a plant on the ground.

Similarly, we can derive inspiration from all limited beings. We hear this term, “sentient beings,” but what it refers to is “limited beings.” A Buddha is not a sentient being. A limited being is limited not in the sense of being handicapped, but limited in the sense that the body, speech and mind are not able to function at their fullest capacity because of various problems: anger, attachment, and so on. A spiritual teacher or anyone else that’s working with other people, when they are with other people who need their help, draw a great deal of inspiration or strength from that situation to rise above it. They’re uplifted to go beyond what they would ordinarily be able to do just sitting in their room. Like here, explaining something sitting in front of the computer by myself is far less productive than explaining in front of a live audience, because I’m gaining strength and inspiration from the beings around me.

Faith in Tibetan Buddhism

We discussed belief in a fact, usually translated as “faith.” We have belief in a fact based on reason; we have a clearheaded belief that clears our mind of all disturbing emotions about the object; and belief in a fact with an aspiration about it. I’m not talking about confident belief, that’s not the term that I am using. “Confident belief” is a different Tibetan term that adds a sense of certainty to a belief in a fact. That’s a separate mental factor. When we talk about the spiritual teacher, then we use this term, “möpa” (mos-pa) in Tibetan. In addition to belief in the fact that the teacher has these qualities, and we don’t have any disturbing emotions about it like jealousy, and have the aspiration to become like that, when we also add a sense of total certitude about that, then it’s this other term, “möpa,” instead of “depa” (dad-pa), confident belief.

It’s the same difference between “distinguishing” and “discriminating awareness.” We distinguish light from dark, or what’s helpful from what’s harmful, but when you add decisiveness to that, then you have what’s called “discriminating awareness.” These are usually translated as “recognition” and “wisdom,” but when you translate it like that, it isn’t easy to understand the difference between the two. The difference between the two is the level of certitude about it.

In Buddhist analysis, there is a very precise differentiation between mental and emotional states, so we need to be careful to not obscure the differences being made here. This mental dimension of decisiveness, where we’re either indecisive or we’re totally decisive about something, is going to affect the emotion that we feel. This is why these distinctions are made here.

My point here, talking about inspiration, is that we really want to have this belief in a fact. All the things that led the spiritual teacher or the Buddhas to have their qualities are clear and based on reason. And in terms of our relationship to the spiritual teacher, our minds are clear, our emotions are cleared of disturbing emotions about him or her. We’re not attached, we’re not angry, we’re not jealous, these sort of things. And we have the aspiration to become like the spiritual teacher, to develop the same qualities further in ourselves.

Now, when we talk about deriving inspiration from all limited beings, there are those that we are trying to help. Then naturally what comes up is the discussion of compassion. Ordinarily, our compassion is mixed with attachment. For instance, our child needs our help, and sure we derive strength, even if we’re tired, to be able to help the child. But we are very worried and we are very attached and there might be a lot of disturbing emotions mixed in there as well. We are insecure; we are afraid we might do the wrong thing. At this time, are we really thinking of the good qualities of the child? Not really.

We can’t deny that we derive a great deal of strength just from this ordinary compassion to help others that need our help, like our child. But that’s not exactly what we are talking about in the Buddhist teaching in terms of deriving inspiration from limited beings. What we’re talking about is acknowledging the basis: everyone wants to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy, and the ability of everybody to be happy and not to be unhappy. We’re totally clearheaded and certainly believe that this is a fact. It is a fact, I have belief in it, we’re confident of that, and we don’t have any disturbing emotions toward these limited beings. And there’s the aspiration, of course, to help them get rid of their problems.

So, when we are inspired by a group of others that we can help, then there’s nothing disturbing about that. It is a totally clear, non-upsetting state of mind. We are uplifted, the mind is very clear, the emotions are very calm and filled with a great deal of strength, which is not unbalanced or anything like that. “It’s just flowing,” we would say in our colloquial language.

Types of Happy and Unhappy Feelings

When we talk about feelings, feelings of happy and unhappy, there are two types. There are upsetting feelings and non-upsetting feelings. If we were talking about the ideal form of inspiration, then we’re speaking of a non-upsetting form of happiness. It wouldn’t be a dramatic happiness that we might conceive of in a samsaric way. It’s a much more calm happiness, which many of us might not even recognize as happiness. Well, now we’re opening the door to a huge discussion of what it means to be happy, what all the different forms of happiness are, and what does it even mean just to feel good? But we won’t discuss this here.

My point in bringing all of this up is that when we’re working to gain inspiration from all the positive things that we’ve gained from others in our lifetime, and we’re focusing on the good qualities of these various sources, people, culture and so on,  we want to have that without any disturbing emotions about it. It’s not so simple. For this to work ideally, we have to acknowledge that this or that person might have hurt me or acted nastily, but we’re not angry and we’re not upset about it. Or, this or that person has been kind to me, but we’re not clinging to that and greedy for more and more; and we’re certainly not jealous or arrogant.


Any questions?

When we’re trying to direct compassion toward limited beings, we have in our minds people toward whom we have a lot of disturbing emotions. Realizing that we are filled with disturbing emotions, should we at that point stop the practice because we cannot get rid of those emotions immediately or should we proceed in doing the practice even with the interference of those disturbing emotions?

As Tsongkhapa explained, in order to generate a certain positive state of mind, we need to know what is it based on, what needs to precede it in order to support it. When we look at the various meditations which are aimed at developing a bodhichitta aim, compassion is a step in them, but it certainly is not the first step in them. We can go back to the very beginning of the lam-rim if you want to find the basis, but the immediate basis is equanimity. We need to view this person in terms of, “Well, I’m upset about them because they have or haven’t acted nicely toward me,” which creates attachment or repulsion, and see that, “Well, there are many other circumstances, and in different circumstances, the person that I’m so attached to can also cause me the most pain if they ignore me. Someone that I don’t like, if they change, they could possibly become my closest friend.” In this way, we develop a state of equanimity. So, the basis for developing love and compassion is this type of equanimity that at least temporarily frees the mind of attraction, repulsion and indifference.

In a more general way, as I outlined in Developing Balanced Sensitivity, we need a quiet mind. A quiet mind is quieted not only of attraction, repulsion and indifference, but also of dullness and of flightiness of mind, where our mind wanders off with all sorts of strange thoughts, either about the person or about something else. In order to develop proper compassion, the mind can’t be thinking about all sorts of other things, and especially not about the nasty things that this person might have done to me or the wonderful things that I want from them that make me so attached. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, when we want to develop compassion, we need to differentiate the person from what the person has done. What they did might have been quite horrible, but when we want to develop compassion, we do it on the basis of, “This is a human being, this is a limited being. They want to be happy; they don’t want to be unhappy, just as this is the case with myself.” Even if we have a lot of disturbing emotions toward someone, if we realize that the basis for it is what they did, but not the person as the person, we can shift our attention to the person as a person, and then develop compassion.

We’re not talking about achieving full happiness with “Dharma Lite” practice, but with “The Real Thing” Dharma we’re actually working toward full happiness. Is that correct or not?

That’s correct. With “Dharma Lite,” we’re not aiming for enlightenment in this lifetime. We’re only thinking in terms of this lifetime. We’re not even considering future lives, rebirth or liberation from rebirth or anything like that yet, or not at all. What we’re focusing on is just trying to improve this lifetime, to be happier in this lifetime. And we might not even understand the true suffering of change, or that the type of happiness that we have in this lifetime is always going to be frustrating, and so on. Or we might understand that and say, “Well, okay, but I’d like more of it.”

According to what I have understood so far, my happiness is my personal responsibility, and according to what I understand from the teachings that you just gave, because of all the influences of all the other people or all the other mental continuums, my own happiness also depends on the interaction with other mental continuums. Is that correct or not?

That’s correct. We have to be a little careful that we understand what we mean by the word “responsible.” I can’t expect other people to make me happy. In order to bring happiness to my experience, I have to work on that. However, it’s not that I exist in isolation from everybody else. So, I need to be able to appreciate the influence that others have on me that will bring me happiness and appreciate it in a way that is free from disturbing emotions about it, such as not clinging to it and so on.

The basic nature of the mind, from the point of view of many great masters, is happy, blissful. Because there are various fleeting stains obscuring this basic happiness, our natural drive is to be happy. In other words, we wish to be in that natural state of happiness and to get rid of the unhappiness from the fleeting stains. The discussion of the nature of the mind being happy or blissful is very much related to this whole nature of wanting to be happy and not wanting to be unhappy. In any case, what I wanted to say was that the deepest, ultimate source of happiness has to be internal. We can’t depend on others for our happiness. However, interacting with others can inspire us to develop these qualities within us, and can act as a condition for bringing about happiness. But the ultimate source of happiness has to be within.

I think of the analogy of entropy. We organize our experience into very tightly organized conceptual frameworks, and based on these conceptual frameworks, all sorts of disturbing emotions arise. Whereas the nature of the mind is to relax all of that. This is what we try to do in the meditation process, to deconstruct all of this framework, to go in the direction of entropy. My analogy – and maybe that’s just pushing the point – is that if we let go, in a sense, the natural tendency will be like entropy, to calm down, to go to this more disorganized state. “Disorganized” sounds like a negative thing, but in a sense it’s a relaxed thing in which the natural happiness of the mind shines forth. This is the point of the analogy I’m trying to formulate.

When I say that we organize things into a “conceptual framework,” what I mean is: “You did this to me and therefore you’re horrible,” and how we solidify that into a projection. We organize it into some mental construct and then we hold onto it, and we’re angry on the basis of it. We then experience the other person in terms of this highly organized conceptually constructed framework. We’re not just talking about general categories designated with words, but something that we have solidified in our minds. All of this requires a tremendous amount of energy, which manifests as all sorts of disturbing emotions and so on. If we were to relax and let the natural tendency of the mind deconstruct that in the manner of entropy, then we get down to the natural state. When we talk of Kagyu mahamudra meditation, for instance, that’s exactly what you’re doing. The way that it’s described in Kagyu mahamudra meditation is that this tight conceptual framework will naturally release itself, automatically release itself. That’s very descriptive of entropy.

This highly organized conceptual framework entails not just “the other person” as the criminal or monster, but also “me” as the victim. When we acknowledge the shortcomings of the other person, or the various harms that we might have received from the other person as part of our exercise here, we need a little bit of training in these methods to let go in order to be able to not hold onto that highly organized conceptual framework of the person, and not identify them with the offender and me as the victim. If we identify ourselves as the victim, we cannot easily see ourselves as the recipient of benefit from the other person. We’re just the victim; we’ve only received harm from them. So this whole process is not actually such a beginner process.

To be able to do this practice, we need to be able to let go. Therefore, as in the entire Developing Balanced Sensitivity program, the first step is to quiet the mind, to let go. In fact, we need both sides of the preparation for each exercise we do for Developing Balanced Sensitivity, which is the quiet mind and the caring attitude. We quiet our mind even just using the simple method of letting go of these disturbing thoughts, like opening up our closed fist. But on top of this, we also need the caring attitude, which is, “I care about what happens to me,” and that is based on acknowledging that, “I want to be happy and I don’t want to be unhappy. I’m concerned about that and I take that seriously. Therefore I am going to try to do something, and I realize that just staying focused on the negative things that I’ve gotten from others and complaining about them is only going to make me more unhappy. Therefore, since I care about my happiness, I will try to focus on the positive things that I’ve gained from others.”


Quieting Down and Generating a Caring Attitude

Let’s try the exercise. First, we need to settle down and quiet the mind. The simplest method is to let go of our various disturbing thoughts and feelings. Just as we breathe out, we imagine that they leave us, so it’s in a graphic form. We can imagine that our mind is like a tight fist and we just open it and let go. As we breathe out, we just let go of holding on to these thoughts and disturbing emotions. And we don’t need to just simply picture this in our mind. If it’s helpful, we can actually do this with our fist. We start with a closed fist and then we slowly open up our fist. This is perhaps most useful in real life situations in which we are not letting go and we can recognize that we’re not letting go. This simple method could help us to let go of holding on to some really negative thought.

Of course, it’s very artificial to lead a meditation like this, because each of us will need a different amount of time to quiet down. So, take however much time you need. You can have your eyes either open or closed, but what’s always recommended is for them to be half-opened, looking down at the floor. The relevant reason for this is that it’s important to be able to calm down or to generate any sort of positive mind in our daily life. If we have to close our eyes in order to do that in daily life with regular people, then that becomes extremely awkward!

Ok, the next step. With a caring attitude, we recall, 

  • I’m a human being like everybody else. 
  • I want to be happy and not to be unhappy, like everyone. 
  • And it’s possible to be happy and not to be unhappy.  
  • I care about myself, I care about my feelings and how I feel.

Focus on Our Mothers

Now we turn to our families, and we start with our mothers. 

  • We recall our mother. 

We can use some sort of mental image of her to represent her. This is not an exercise in visualization, so don’t worry about it being clear or not. 

  • We acknowledge that she is a human being, like everybody else, and wants to be happy, and doesn’t want to be unhappy. She tries her best to accomplish that.
  • And my mother has shortcomings, certainly, like every other human being. So, we try to recall them. 

We don’t have to go into a deep analysis of what are all the causes for these shortcomings, but just be aware that they did come from causes. Just acknowledge what shortcomings she might have. Whether she is still alive or she’s already passed away, it doesn’t make any difference. 

  • There’s no point complaining about her shortcomings, so, I’m not going to dwell on them. I’m not going to just think of her in terms of these shortcomings.

It’s not a matter of forgiving or not forgiving. It’s just being objective about it.

  • Instead, we turn to her strong points, her good points, the positive things about her. We try to identify those good qualities and have strong belief that they’re true. We’re not just projecting them, but they’re true. Whatever those good qualities might be, whether grand or small.

If while we are trying to focus on and recall her good qualities, thoughts of her shortcomings come up again, we let go. We let them go with a general emotional feeling of kindness toward her. 

  • Okay, she has these shortcomings; but that’s not what I’m focusing on now. Instead, we feel very deeply, she really does have these good qualities, and we have firm conviction in that. There can be a little bit of admiration here as well.
  • Then we think about the benefit that others, and in particular ourselves, have received from these good qualities, whether they have helped us or whether they have influenced us.

We might notice that, as we continue this process, we recall more and more good qualities that we might not have identified earlier in the meditation process. This often comes up the more that we think about her in this positive light.

  • The emotion that we generate here is one of deep appreciation and deep respect for the benefits that we have derived, and others have derived as well, from these good qualities. It’s not just that we appreciate her for having these qualities and benefiting us, but we appreciate very much the qualities that we have in ourselves that we have gained through her influence, through the influence of those qualities.
  • Finally, we develop this strong wish to be able to develop these qualities more and more in ourselves, these qualities that we have somehow gained through her influence.
  • Then we calm down and just let the experience sink in and gradually return to our ordinary state, a non-meditative state.
  • Then we think that whatever positive influence has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and actually further develop these positive qualities to be able to use them to benefit everyone.