Working for Liberation
(9) A bodhisattva’s practice is to take keen interest in the supreme never-changing state of liberation, as the pleasures of the three planes of compulsive existence are phenomena that perish in a mere instant, like dew on the tips of grass.
We listen to our gurus and read so many books and, although we find a lot of inspiration from this, I think that we often also feel a bit blocked somewhere. I think this verse deals with this. We are kind of like insects, in a way. I’m just making an example here; I’m not saying that we are insects! Light a candle and see how insects are drawn toward it, how they fly around the flames, and then how they die by their attraction to the flame. All the efforts of samsara, everything we do and put effort into, is like this. Drawn to attractions, we enjoy what we do but, at the end, when everything is done, it is just like a memory.
Imagine your boss were to give you a one-year vacation, and you could spend the time doing anything you wanted. You’d visit this and that place, eat amazing foods, meet wonderful people. You’d enjoy the year and then you would come back, and everyone would ask you, “What did you do? What did you enjoy the most?” “I went here and there.” Everything you share would just be a memory. That is all we are left with.
The great master Shantideva said that everything is like a dream experience, and that everything will just become a memory. We take so many pictures of ourselves and post them online to get more likes. But what does this give us? All we achieve is a few likes and perhaps a comment saying, “Wonderful!” That’s it.
I give my dog nice food, and I see the other dogs looking at him. They admire him, or perhaps they’re jealous! But my dog is always looking at me while I eat, probably thinking “Wonderful! Lucky him!” And I’m looking at those billionaires who eat fancy food every day and can effortlessly buy whatever they like, whenever they like. For them, many of the things we want and need are given to them free!
Then there are those who are very rich, like Bill Gates, who might now feel that us people down here are happier even if we don’t have lots of money. They probably feel quite restricted because of their fame and wealth. Whatever they do, it gets reported in the news, it becomes public. Even their sons and daughters can’t do anything freely because of the paparazzi. When we do bad things or good things, who really cares? We have more freedom. This is what rich people see when they look at us.
When a great meditation practitioner attains shamatha, their mind becomes so controlled, the state of their mind becomes so subtle that their mind reaches a stage where there is no excitement and worry, just peace. We can reach this peak. Once we reach that stage, we really feel like we are the happiest. But there is an expiry date. You have to come back. This state of mind only lasts while in meditation.
I watched a teaching of my past life, the previous Serkong Rinpoche, on YouTube. A wonderful thing he asked his students was, “How long will you continue in samsara?” We always have to come back again and again. Once, he was in France and some people invited him to go up the Eiffel tower. Later, he remarked to his translator, Alex Berzin, "What is the point of going up like that? Once you get to the top, you can't go any higher. There's no place to go except back down. No matter what you enjoy at the top, you have to leave it and come back down.”
This is samsara. Life goes up and down. Sometimes, we have to learn this at the hands of other people or from what the natural environment gives us. Sometimes we are healthy, sometimes sick. The bodhisattva Gyalse Togme Zangpo says in the text that all the experiences of the three realms last for just a moment. By our age – I’m in my 30s – we have faced many problems in our lives. Sometimes we cried and yelled and screamed a lot. But now everything is done. It was just a moment. Whether we have taken refuge or not, whether we are Buddhist or not, we can all see that. Everything we experienced now just seems like moments in the past. And then there’s the future, what is coming up. We will continue to face good and bad in our life. At the time of death, we will say that everything went by just like a moment, in a flash. That is for sure. This is why Gyalse Togme Zangpo said that all the happiness of the three realms lasts for a moment and quickly disappears just like dew drops on grass.
Now, the question is, “Is there something better than this?” Gyalse Togme Zangpo says that yes, there is. It is the supreme never-changing state of liberation.
We have to remember the Buddha’s first teaching, on the four noble truths. He taught about suffering and said that we should know suffering. To know suffering well, we need to know the cause of suffering. Then, we don’t need to lose hope, because the third truth is cessation. This is liberation, everlasting liberation. Once you attain cessation, no matter what the suffering is, it won’t come back. None of the negative emotions can ever come back again. We have this intelligent mind, so if we really want to put effort into something, we should direct our effort to developing our mind.
To attain liberation, we need to study and realize voidness. Only this can help us to attain liberation. Physically and mentally, I’d say we are 50% negative and 50% positive. Sometimes the negative comes, sometimes the positive comes. When we attain liberation and get rid of all the negative, what is the guarantee the negative stuff won’t come back again? I’ve wondered about this since I was young. I am not sure what the guarantee is! When you take out all the negative emotions and self-grasping, what is the guarantee that a small bug won’t live inside us and will one day grow back again.
Luckily, the great master Dharmakirti gave us many examples. Once we practice and realize selflessness and voidness, they act as antidotes to all our negative emotions and self-grasping. It is not like boiling water, where it will reach the boiling point and, once you turn the heat off, the water will eventually go cold. Here, voidness does not have a limit.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is such an inspiration for me. He talks a lot with scientists. During one of these talks, a lady presented research that was carried out with infants. Small infants were shown some characters in an animation. When one character was held by another character, the infant’s automatic reaction was to smile, and the areas of the brain associated with love lit up. But when scientists showed the infants one character harming another, the infants automatically showed unhappy, distressed reactions. What we can understand from this is that the inborn nature of small infants is “innocent.” Or at least, they have an innocent way of thinking, unbiased. They’ve not been taught that caring for others is good and harming others is bad, but their natural reactions to seeing the animations shows that our nature is something positive, something good.
This gives us great hope. His Holiness has said that when he learned this from scientists, he felt, “Now, I can do something.” It became a base for everything. His Holiness got a direct teaching in the form of these scientists’ research and from people with no faith in Buddhism, and that was that humanity naturally has something very positive inside. There is great hope in the fact that the nature of sentient beings is positive. We can call this natural positivity “Buddha-nature.” This is a great teaching from the scientists and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Developing a Bodhichitta Aim
(10) A bodhisattva’s practice is to develop a bodhichitta aim to liberate limitless beings, because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us from beginningless time, are suffering, what can we do with (just) our own happiness?
The practice of all bodhisattvas is to arouse bodhicitta. The aim is to bring freedom to all sentient beings in their infinite numbers. How could true happiness ever be found when our mothers, who have cared for us so deeply through the ages, feel such pain?
This is not just about this life, but about all our lives. In all our lives, we’ve had a mother who has cared for us and been so kind to us If we have difficulty in recognizing the pureness of our mother’s love in this life and in thinking about eons and endless lives, then it might be better to forget about this verse and jump to the next one.
But let’s think about our mothers’ kindness in this life. Actually, the number one most amazing thing any of us has experienced is the kindness of our mothers. Before we’re born, during the pregnancy, she never asked who is inside of her or thought, “I don’t want this stranger in me.” Most mothers, even animals, don’t wonder who is inside. They don’t have questions at all. And yet the mother will do anything to protect the baby inside, even before they’ve ever met. For nine months, mothers are very careful in what they do, and what they eat and drink. Even to their own detriment, the mother will do whatever she can as long as it helps the baby. Try to think about it now and feel the kindness of your mother. This kind of kindness cannot be repaid by giving her good food, expensive things to wear, or a nice house. Even if you became a billionaire and gave her a ten-million-dollar house, it would not come close in comparison to your mother’s kindness. We cannot compare it. For nine months, she carried us without any doubt. And after we were born, she took care of us when we couldn’t walk or talk and educated us. Of course, fathers help in this too, but generally speaking, we are more physically connected to the mother at that age. And we can also say that, generally speaking, the mother feels more affection and love toward the child too.
If we meditate on this, there won’t be any questions about the kindness of our mother. After we are born, our mothers worry incessantly about us. Until the time of their death, the mother’s worry is not only for us but for anything related to us. Our partners and children, she also wants to take care of them. Our mothers want to take care of them as their own. If you can imagine this kind of kindness of your mother, can you imagine feeling this kindness toward all sentient beings? Not a chance! Some people I’ve met in the West seem to have problems with their mothers. That’s an individual thing. But, generally speaking, we can say that truly, our mothers have been incredibly kind to us.
These days, I often tell younger people that taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha can be secondary. For most of them, they are simply not very interested in future lives. They just want to live a nice, normal life. So, sometimes it feels like a waste of time to talk about the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, because they have no interest at all.
That’s why the Buddha said, “Don’t teach those without faith.” So instead, I always tell them that if they want to have a perfect life in samsara, they must not forget the kindness they received in this life, which is their mothers’ love. They should focus on this and start every day thinking of it. For us Buddhists, those who have taken refuge, the mother and father are only for this life. The guru and Buddha, Dharma, Sangha are there until we attain enlightenment. That is out priority.
Now, remembering the kindness of this life’s mother, try and feel that all sentient beings have been our mothers in past lives. And think that they might become our mothers in a future life. Although they are not our mother in this life but try and feel the same toward other sentient beings as though they are your mother.
People who remember their past lives have parents in this life, but they also remember their past life’s mother and father. If you check with them, they will feel that their present life’s parents and past life’s parents are equal. Biologically they are not this life’s parents, but there is this feeling of, “I know them,” and it is not difficult for them to say, “Mom” to their previous life’s mother, because they remember it.
But it is not important whether we remember it or not. Sometimes it is better not to remember everything! We did so many bad things, it is better not to remember. But, all these other sentient beings have given so many things to us, and now we have many things to pay back. Not only money, clothes, and education. Even a smile and showing patience is a better gift than those physical things. But what we really need to do is start working for their liberation from uncontrollably recurring existence.
The Buddha said that when we have strong aversion toward someone, all the good connections we made before with that person in many previous lives will automatically be destroyed. I’m not sure about it, because I cannot see whether it’s true. But there is logic behind it. I feel it strongly. Once you have a fight with someone, it can ruin a whole lifetime of friendship. After a fight, it takes so much effort to even smile at the person. Even if we smile on the outside, what’s going on inside in indescribable. We can see in this life how connections can totally be cut. Our once beloved friend now becomes totally horrible and stirs within us an unstoppable hatred. We wish we had never known them. All these bad things come out, not only from our mouths but also from our minds. I can see how these kinds of strong, negative emotions could cut connections not only in this life but also in next lives. What we’ve built up totally goes to waste. That is the point when the Buddha says that strong, negative emotions like anger will destroy the connections we’ve built together. It will destroy 100 eons’ worth of our merit.
Exchanging Self with Others
(11) A bodhisattva’s practice is to purely exchange our personal happiness for the suffering of others, because (all) our sufferings, without an exception, come from desiring our personal happiness, while a fully enlightened Buddha is born from the attitude of wishing others well.
When you feel very happy, don’t forget what the Buddha taught us about happiness and the law of causality. The happiness we get from hanging out with our friends, with whom we can share anything, and with whom we gossip, drink and dance together, and who we feel give us so much pleasure, is it real happiness? Now, I’m not at all saying that all of this is not a part of happiness. It could be. But take one step backwards and think about why we like our friends? We say that they are important to us, but that’s not entirely correct. We say that they’re important, but only because they make our happiness grow. So, if they make us happy, we count them as friends.
Then we can take one more step back and ask, “Why am I important? Why do I always want to be happy?” It’s because we feel important. In the end, it’s all about “me, me, me.” We don’t say that out loud, but, deep inside us, there it is. Sure, we are important. But still, everything, all the decisions we make, the people we love, is based just around “me.”
It would be fine if our lives always went smoothly, and we were always happy. But it’s not like that. Even if we only think of ourselves and our happiness, we always have suffering. That’s why Gyalse Togme Zangpo says that all the sufferings we have come from seeking happiness for oneself alone. That is the key.
Opposite to this are the bodhisattvas. Instead of thinking only about themselves, they think only about the well-being of all sentient beings. In an election, all the candidates say, “I’m a simple servant for you, the people.” This is how they win the election! But once they win, they act so differently. They are not sincere. Bodhisattvas always practice sincerely. They have realized that suffering comes from thinking only about oneself. Bodhisattvas put others first and themselves second.
A few days ago, I saw a fight on the street. Not a physical fight but one with lots of screaming and harsh words. I was listening and I got bored because it seemed like they were never going to fight. Haha, I’m joking, of course! So, I was listening to them, and one said, “Say ‘sorry’ and the problem is solved.” The other person was very stubborn and said, “No. I won’t say ‘sorry.’” They are basically fighting over the word “sorry.” This is ego. Just saying ‘sorry’ could have fixed everything, but one guy was not ready to give up.
If someone gets upset with a bodhisattva, they will automatically apologize, no matter what. If you put others first and yourself second, then automatically you will think, “I might have done something wrong,” and apologize. But if you put yourself first and others second, when someone is angry with you, you will not care, or you just want to fight back. It is time to change this thinking.
Putting others first doesn’t mean they become our boss and we become poor little things that can be trampled on. It’s not like this at all. In fact, to think like a bodhisattva requires incredible strength and courage. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says that bodhisattvas are very clever because they know how to love themselves. We depend on others. If we can make others happy, we too will be happy. “I” am included in all of “us.” That’s why exchanging ourselves with others is very important.
Bodhisattva Behavior: Dealing with Harms
(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone under the power of great desire steals or causes others to steal all our wealth, to dedicate to him our bodies, resources, and constructive actions of the three times.
Forget about all the other verses for a moment and imagine somebody who doesn’t believe in Buddhism seeing this verse. They will think that it is the craziest thing ever! There are limits, and we shouldn’t tolerate this kind of behavior, they will say. They have stolen from me, said something bad to me, they hit me. That’s why we have to sue these people. We need to get revenge on them! That is how normal people think. But bodhisattvas give away everything easily. Why? For them, it is easy and natural; it is not a crazy thing to do at all. For us it would be craziness. We are not ready to do that. I am not ready to do that.
For sure, we would like to follow in the footsteps of the bodhisattvas, and we admire them deeply. But we feel I’m not ready to do it – we can’t just give everything away so easily. So, we need to ask ourselves why we’re not ready. The reason is quite simple. It’s because we don’t see all sentient beings as precious as bodhisattvas do. It’s like what Geshe Langri Tangpa writes in the Eight Verses of Mind Training, “Sentient beings are very special for me, like a treasure. Through them, I get fully enlightened. They are like a most precious treasure.”
Bodhisattvas see immense good qualities in all sentient beings. The previous Serkong Rinpoche said in one of his teachings that the kindness of the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, our gurus, and sentient beings are equal. The kindness of all sentient beings is equal to that of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The kindness of sentient beings is immeasurable. If we don’t see the kindness of all sentient beings, it can be quite difficult to see the good qualities of them all.
To accustom ourself to the idea of giving everything away, it’s also good to think about impermanence. We might have billions of dollars in our account, but when it’s our time to leave this world, none of that money will come with us. It’ll go to the children and to charity and here and there. And the children might come when we’re in hospital, maybe with a little sadness but probably with bigger aims. They will try to get all the money for themselves! Maybe the will is already signed. Like it or not, we have to give everything away. We can’t tell our children, “Please send it all to me in heaven.”
So, whatever bodhisattvas have, they are ready to give away to whoever needs it. There is one geshe, a friend of mine who is a great practitioner, who was a student of my past life. When my current teacher was young, he went to see this geshe and asked for tips to meditate on impermanence. The geshe said, “I don’t know.” Very humble. My teacher insisted many times, but all the geshe said was, “Nothing is coming out of my brain.” So, my teacher thought to leave and asked permission to do so. But the geshe asked him to stay and ended up giving him tea and lunch and dinner. Eventually, my teacher said, “I should go, it is getting dark and late.” This geshe lived up on a hill in a cave. So, the geshe said, “OK, now you should leave.” And then he pulled out something from under his bed to give my teacher. It was 200 rupees, which was a huge amount back then. He also gave my teacher a pair of socks. The geshe said, “Think about how, like it or not, you will have to leave everything behind. What can you do before that? Prepare yourself.” For my teacher, this was such an amazing teaching.
When we die, we have to give everything up. We have no choice. So in some ways, isn’t it better to start giving away everything now? You can all line up here and I can give you things one by one! Then, I can see your happiness with my own eyes. That would be quite heroic, wouldn’t it? And in the same way, we can wish that all the positive potentials we have, we just offer to others. It is like opening a bank account in everyone’s names, where I give you all 1000 dollars in this life. But in the next life, I will take 3000 dollars from you! Haha! I’m just kidding, that is not right at all.
My main aim here is to bring you my own way of thinking and to show how this practice is important. If I can deliver some of what I’ve learned from my teachers and express the great qualities I have seen in my gurus, then great. If it helps you, even better. But even if not, it gives me the great feeling of serving my teachers. What they’ve shared with me is not going to waste. My own practice is only 1% out of 100%, but if I can share these great teachings with you, I feel like I’m doing great work for them. I feel very grateful.
Please dedicate all the positive potentials we’ve created today to the long life and good health of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We should not waste time with His Holiness, because he is aging. He came in a form of a human being. He is in his 80s now, and soon will be in his 90s. We cannot ignore reality. He will not be able to teach for very long. We used to get two sessions of teachings a day, but now we only get one session. So, we cannot be lazy. When we listen to His Holiness, for certain we will find a lot more inspiration inside of us.