Developing Deepest Bodhichitta and the Perfection of Generosity

Verses 22 through 25

We have been going through the 37 Bodhisattva Practices by the great teacher, Togme Zangpo. We reached verse 22. Verse 22 to 24 talk about the cessation or stopping of suffering, and about deepest truth. 

Developing Deepest Bodhichitta, the Realization of Voidness

(22) A bodhisattva’s practice is not to take to mind inherent features of objects taken and minds that take them, by realizing just how things are. No matter how things appear, they are from our own minds; and mind-itself is, from the beginning, parted from the extremes of mental fabrication.
(23) A bodhisattva’s practice is, when meeting with pleasing objects, not to regard them as truly existent, even though they appear beautifully, like a summer’s rainbow, and (thus) to rid ourselves of clinging and attachment.
(24) A bodhisattva’s practice is, at the time when meeting with adverse conditions, to see them as deceptive, for various sufferings are like the death of our child in a dream and to take (such) deceptive appearances to be true is a tiresome waste.

In Buddhism, we have four tenet systems, or philosophical schools. Each one describes the nature of reality in a different way. It is rather confusing. The four systems are called Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Madhyamaka. The first two, the so-called “lower tenets” of Vaibhashika and Sautrantika, do not talk about the voidness of all phenomena. They only refute some, but not all, of the impossible ways in which the self exists. The followers of these tenets are not ready yet to hear about this voidness. 

The Chittamatra system is also known as the “mind only” school. It comes a bit closer to the voidness of all phenomena. It says that nothing exists on its own, but rather, everything is a projection of the mind. Except, they say that the existence of the mind is established independently on its own. The solid mind is there. 

The system one step up, the Prasangika Madhyamaka system, looks at this and says, “Hmm, no, that can’t be right.” When we talk about things like the mind, they are very subtle. We cannot pinpoint them easily like we can pinpoint this table in front of me. So, verse 22 refutes the Chittamatra school. 

In the Heart Sutra, there is a line about the Buddhas of the three times: the past, present, and future. Similarly, when we talk about the mind, we need to see that it exists dependently on being a mind of the three times: the past, present, and future. But, when we look at time, we see that there is nothing to hang onto. We can’t cling onto anything and say, “This is time!” The future hasn’t happened yet, and so it isn’t here now. And the past has already happened, and so it is nowhere to be found anymore. We can only talk about the present moment, but as soon as we talk of the present moment, it has already passed. There is nothing to pinpoint. This is a great refutation of the Chittamatra school – if the mind is dependent upon time, and the present cannot be found, then how can the mind be found either? The Chittamatra school doesn’t talk much about this. They are not ready to think like that. 

Although the mind is beginningless and endless, we cannot say that the mind is solid. When we try to speak about a mind itself, we cannot say anything. We have to speak of a mind in terms an example of someone that has a mind, like some human. We say, “This human thinks this, that human thinks that,” not, “This mind thinks this…” The mind doesn’t exist independently of the person that is an imputation on it.

The mind itself is dependent upon other things besides a person. When we say, “I feel like this,” we are talking about feelings. The mind doesn’t exist independently of feelings; it is dependent on them as well. So, we can’t find anything existing solidly as “this” is the mind. Even once we are fully enlightened, it’s not like we will find the mind then. The benefit of knowing the voidness of the mind is to help people who have grasping toward all phenomena, especially toward the mind. Otherwise, there is still clinging to the mind.

Verse 22, then, is very helpful for those who have a strong faith in the Chittamatra school of thought. It helps to open the eyes wider. 

Getting Rid of Clinging to Pleasing Objects

Verse 23 talks about deepest truth. 

(23) A bodhisattva’s practice is, when meeting with pleasing objects, not to regard them as truly existent, even though they appear beautifully, like a summer’s rainbow, and (thus) to rid ourselves of clinging and attachment.

As we talked about before, all of our suffering comes from hope. In Tibetan, the word for it is “rewa.” Expectation is maybe a better word. Hope is usually positive. Expectations can sometimes be good, sometimes bad. Sometimes – quite often – we have too many expectations. Some Buddhist schools say that uncontrollably recurring existence starts from having too many expectations. We could also call it attachment. Due to attachment, we have expectations for this and that. And then, in turn, expectation makes our attachment stronger. But, when we can’t get what we want, we have no choice but to let it go. It is true, whether we like it or not. When there really is no hope, we have to let something go. We kind of know this, we are not stupid. Inside, we are rather clever. We can see that so many of our problems and frustrations come when there is too much clinging, and our expectations are too high. 

Verse 23 talks about encountering something beautiful. When we encounter beautiful things, it’s certainly okay to enjoy them. Here, we are by no means saying that we shouldn’t enjoy appearances. We are not saying, “Don’t look at anything beautiful!” That would be ridiculous. But we need to understand the reality of everything that we encounter. We need to enjoy the appearance of an object while understanding that there is nothing to grasp at. We can try to see things as existing a little bit like a rainbow. 

I went to Niagara Falls once. There was a rainbow, but nobody wanted to jump over the railings to try and hold it! Everyone enjoyed it, took a photo, and let it go. Rainbows are beautiful in appearance yet devoid of any substance. When we see a rainbow, we enjoy it without grasping, because we know we cannot hold on to it. In the same way, all phenomena are devoid of any inherent substance, and so there is nothing to grasp to. Deep inside, when we think that there is nothing to cling to, like the rainbow, it can immensely change the way we experience life. 

One benefit is that we will know what pure love is. We will experience what it is like to truly love others. Right now, most of us are very deluded and don’t know pure love at all. It feels like we love someone very much, but we don’t know how to love them. It’s just clinging and attachment. I have taught this many times before, the difference between attachment and love. 

I like to use the term “clinging attachment.” Clinging attachment is a stronger term. I think this applies to a lot of relationships. When we have clinging attachment, we say, “I will love you forever.” There is love, but it’s not pure because the love has conditions: “I will love you forever, as long as you make me happy.” We won’t say it, but it is hidden there. If the person we love goes out with someone else, we cannot accept it because we feel that they are ours. But pure love is more like, “I love you and I want you to be happy.” With pure love, if our loved one is not comfortable with us and wants to move on, with a great smile and great compassion we will say, “Move on.” That is true love. But people don’t practice this. Our love is, “I want you to make me happy.” True love is, “I want you to be happy.”

Getting Rid of Aversion to Adverse Conditions

It takes a lot of effort to see things as being similar to a rainbow. Verse 24 continues to explain deepest truth. 

(24) A bodhisattva’s practice is, at the time when meeting with adverse conditions, to see them as deceptive, for various sufferings are like the death of our child in a dream and to take (such) deceptive appearances to be true is a tiresome waste.

When we encounter suffering, it is very important not to use all our energy in simply dealing with the suffering itself. If we encounter something terrible, we cannot undo it. We can’t turn back time. We have a clever brain, so we have to find the cause of the suffering. Maybe our suffering came from having too many expectations? Maybe we had expectations about someone else, and that didn’t work out. We can put all of our sufferings in front of us and look at them. What was it that caused them? Why did we suffer in these situations? Even if we haven’t experienced deep suffering, we can infer that it might happen at any moment. Maybe it’s coming next month, maybe we will have to face it next year. We must prepare ourselves for it. Now, when we’re unable to see everything as an illusion, we will automatically cling to it. Whatever we encounter, we will either cling strongly or feel repulsion, in the case of adverse conditions. We need to have a method whereby we can let go. 

Gyalse Togme Zangpo says that the method to let go is to see all phenomena, including ourselves, as being like an illusion. If we can do this, then we can just talk, eat, sleep, teach, and enjoy life as we do. Life, lived in this relative way, can pass by very smoothly. When we see all phenomena as illusion-like, we will easily be able to let go. We won’t accept things as totally solid and precious, or think, “I can’t live without this!” When we are totally focused on small things and regard them as the only kind of happiness we can get, our mind becomes very narrow. 

We don’t want this narrow mind, where everything is so fixed and solid. We need to develop the opposite attitude, where we see the people whom we love and respect, our teachers and the Buddha, a poor street dog – all as being like an illusion. This way, we can love and receive love in return without clinging and attachment. We can experience hardships and setbacks without too much pain or aversion. Basically, we see and understand reality. That’s the very core practice of the Dharma. 

We need to do the research ourselves. Is it worth it to see all phenomena as solidly existent, as we currently do, or not? We need to look into it ourselves. When we examine our life, we can see that when we regard phenomena as solid and permanent and existing all by themselves, it actually brings us a lot of pain. Until we understand this and are 100% convinced of it, our Dharma practice is basically like a fairy tale. Wishful thinking. It will just be stories of great practitioners doing this or that. But when we feel that it is true and we listen to a great teacher talking, we will automatically feel, “Wow, this is it!” and the connection will already be there. 

This is why it is said that one of the main practices in tantra, that of seeing our guru as a Buddha, has a unique power. In India, they must have heard that Tibetans love to go to so many gurus and take so many initiations, and perform all sorts of pujas, so they have a saying. They say that the Tibetans have hundreds of deities, but they do not see one in their whole life. On the other hand, in India, a practitioner has one deity, but they see all the deities. Why? Once we realise the voidness of one thing – for instance, the selflessness or lack of an impossibly existing “I” – we will also see the voidness of all other beings and things. We can just focus on that. Of course, before this, we have to fight with attachment and other destructive emotions. Going directly to the big boss never works. We have to go step by step. 

The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes

Now we are on verse 25. Bodhisattvas see that our real enemy is inside of us. It is our own unaware mind, which leads to self-grasping. With the power of voidness, seeing all phenomena and ourselves as like an illusion, we understand that there is a way to benefit ourselves and all others. Life is not like watching a movie, where we watch helplessly as characters go through ups and downs. We can help. This is why bodhisattvas practice the six perfections, or far-reaching attitudes.  

The Practice of Generosity

(25) A bodhisattva’s practice is to give generously without hope for anything in return and something karmic to ripen, because, if those who would wish enlightenment must give away even their bodies, what need to mention external possessions?

Bodhisattvas love everyone equally, and when they see someone in great suffering or encountering problems like going bankrupt, they are ready to help. Well, I just said that bodhisattvas love everyone equally, but what does this actually mean in practice? It means that their love is unbiased. It doesn’t matter whether someone has given a bodhisattva a gift or insulted them, whether or not they are good-looking or they ask intelligent or stupid questions, the bodhisattva will love and treat them equally. It’s not like the example of being in love with someone and, if you only have one bowl, you are happy to share it back and forth with them. But with a stranger, especially one who is not good-looking, you don’t want to share it and, if you do, you wash the bowl three or four times after they use it.

When we love others, we like to show it. This is something we can try and develop toward all beings. When we think of our guru, even if their behavior is strange, we have this practice where we think that whatever they are doing, they are doing it on purpose. They are doing it to teach us something. That’s how we train our minds. Of course, this should not only be practiced with our teachers, but also with all sentient beings. Other people will do something wrong, but we will be ready to accept it. 

For most of us, giving small things is not a problem. Ten rupees is no problem. Fifty is OK, as an exception. But one hundred or two hundred is too much. Then, we think, “No, I can’t possibly give this much.” This isn’t necessarily bad because we might be thinking about our future. We also have to eat! We need to have some money to do this and that. Actually, often, people who are very rich are more miserly than the poor. For sure. 

Personally, I depend on benefactors, but I’m not looking for millionaires or billionaires. My benefactor should be in the middle, so they can give purely, and I can take purely, and the relation we build is pure. Otherwise, things can get a bit funny. 

I’ll tell you one story. At the time of the Buddha, there was a woodcutter who found a load of gold in the jungle. He was a great practitioner and follower of the Buddha, so he went to the Buddha to offer this precious gold. He said, “I want to give this precious gold to you, but perhaps there is not much use because you are the Buddha. I just want to give it to someone who really needs it to make them very happy. With your omniscience, can you tell me whom I can give it to who will be very happy?” The Buddha smiled and said, “Go to this king, he will be very happy.” The woodcutter was very surprised, and replied, “But the king has his own kingdom, he has everything he could want.” The Buddha just smiled and said, “Go and give it to him and see his expression and you will know how very happy he is.” So, the woodcutter went off and offered the gold to this king, who really enjoyed it, even though he was sitting on a golden throne. This is an excellent teaching that however much we have, it is never enough. 

It is like as we saw in Verse 21. 

(21) A bodhisattva’s practice is immediately to abandon any objects that cause our clinging and attachment to increase, for objects of desire are like salt water: the more we have indulged (in them, our) thirst (for them) increases (in turn).

There is an analogy here of drinking salt water. Drinking salty water might give some respite for a few minutes but our thirst will only come back stronger. So, when we indulge ourselves in the things we crave, we are never satisfied but just end up craving more and more.

When Apple launches a new iPhone, people rush to get it. They’ll even queue for hours and hours to buy it. Rich people show off and have protector cases covered in diamonds on their iPhones. Very beautiful cases that can cost even more than the phone itself! These people can give money without pain, to show off. They want to show how important they are. Bodhisattvas do not care about showing how important they are, yet they are willing to give anything to alleviate others’ suffering. For us, we have so many things in our closet. We have summer clothes and winter clothes, and then the fashion changes and we still don’t give them away. As Shantideva said, “You collect so many things but one day you will have to leave everything behind. Let someone else enjoy these things by giving them away and you’ll get to see and enjoy the smile on their face.” This is generosity. 

I’m not saying it is only important to give possessions away, but also time. Giving away our time is equally as difficult. If we have a little bit of time before dinner, we prefer to make excuses and not do anything. We are not ready to give our time. We actually prefer to spend our time mostly just wasting it. It is sad, but it’s true that often we cannot give our time to someone who needs it. But there is always a chance for us to practice. Even when tiny insects come near us, we could quickly feed them. His Holiness the Dalai Lama does this. One time he was doing something, and I wasn’t sure what. But I noticed that he was putting some bread here and there and some ants were getting lunch! 

This is Dharma practice. How many ants can we feed? In the Amazon, there are billions of ants. But we can start with one ant, then two ants, one person, then two people. Compassion in action is starting with generosity like this. Compassion is a motivation to help. But to do it, we need wisdom and also bodhichitta. We need each of the six perfections.