Meditation in action
His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge
There are many spiritual traditions in our world and Buddhisam is a major one. Ever since Buddha Shakyamuni taught in India more than 2500 years ago, the teachings of Buddhism have remained steadfast, in an unbroken stream. Through the tireless efforts of realized teachers, great scholars, and renowned translators, Buddhism was introduced to many countries in the East, specifically to Tibet. The teachings were treasured very highly by the people in Tibet, and through the Tibetans, Buddhism is being brought to the West.
One important point that we need to understand is that Buddhism is not a culture or custom of any particular country or nation. We need to know that spirituality and customs are not identical. Many people mix the two into one, and I want everyone to be very careful not to do this. All teachings of Lord Buddha permeate customs and cultures. Furthermore, Buddhism is not a set of beliefs one needs to follow, rather, it is based upon common sense and offers reasons that enable devotees to realize and experience who they are and what the nature of the world is. Disciples learn that human beings have the potential to experience their enlightened mind, which is free of confusion and suffering.
In our lives, we do everything we can to satisfy our desires and to eliminate anything dissatisfactory or painful. Yet, no matter how hard we try or how much we seem to succeed, we continue being dissatisfied and feel that our aims are never accomplished. Why is this so? We haven’t realized what suffering and happiness really are and have erroneous concepts about them. We think suffering can be thrown away and that happiness can be bought or acquired. These are wrong ideas and point to a wrong approach to gain lasting freedom from suffering and true happiness. By thinking that suffering can be discarded and happiness can be acquired, we experience tremendous discomfort because of our hopes and fears. We hope to get happiness and to get rid of suffering, and so, because of being confused about what they really are, we are afraid of experiencing suffering and fear losing any happiness that we have. We think that they are outside ourselves. We feel that suffering intrudes, that it threatens or attacks us from the outside, and consequently we try to escape. Since we think that suffering and happiness are outside ourselves, our thoughts about them are dualistic. We struggle to escape from what we think is suffering and are fixated upon getting what we think will make us happy. As a result, we experience a conflict between the two and thus suffer even more. No matter how hard we try and how well we succeed, we experience a conflict and remain frustrated and bewildered. That is why the Buddha taught that there is basic confusion.
We restrict our thoughts to “having” and “not having,” never go beyond both ideas, and therefore don’t even approach ultimate reality, which is attained when free from dualistic concepts. Certainly, every living being wants to be free of physical and mental suffering and pain, but first we have to know what suffering is. Now, the Buddha taught that the fundamental nature of existence is suffering and showed what true happiness is. If we want to attain the supreme goal, which is enlightenment, then we need to know what happiness and suffering are.
In order to experience the true happiness of lasting freedom from suffering and confusion, we first need to gain insight into the fundamental nature of all experiences and appearances. The Buddha taught that this insight is the view that is gained by realizing the inseparability of the two truths, the relative and ultimate truths. The relative truth concerns how things appear and how we perceive them. Gaining the right view of relative reality is carried out by identifying our perceptions with discriminating intelligence. Since the relative reality of experiences and appearances is obvious and perceptible, the relative truth can be realized and known. The ultimate truth is gained by investigating our perceptions and realizing the true nature of anything that manifests and appears.
The problem is that we are fixated on the relative truth and see it as the only reality. Should we acknowledge that there is an ultimate truth, then we imagine that it is separate from relative reality, and, without any and’s or but’s, we take for granted that phenomena exist. The Buddha didn’t negate relative reality but showed that all things exist in dependence upon other things. He taught that whatever appears to a perceiving mind does so due to the fact that all things lack independent existence. The truth of relative reality is the fact that all things are interdependent; the ultimate truth is the fact that all things lack a self-existing, independent reality. Knowing this, we see that the relative and ultimate truths aren’t contradictory and don’t stand in opposition to one another. Relative reality doesn’t obstruct ultimate reality, and ultimate reality doesn’t obstruct relative reality. Relative and ultimate realities are indivisible – this is the ultimate truth of the ground, which is the view.
As it is, we haven’t realized the indivisibility of the two truths and think that suffering and happiness are external factors. Suffering and happiness arise in dependence upon how we experience the world. Due to our habitual tendencies, we experience the world of appearances distortedly and thus are confused and suffer. Being free from confusion and suffering, i.e., being enlightened, depends upon experiencing appearances without distortions.
Every living being wants to be free from suffering. Suffering isn’t ever-lasting but manifests in dependence upon transitory causes and conditions. What is the cause of suffering? Conflicting emotions. Due to not having realized the indivisibility of the relative and ultimate truths, we experience relative reality in dependence upon our habitual, mental patterns and have an eternalistic view; or we experience ultimate reality wrongly and have a nihilistic view. We are confused as long as we remain trapped in one of the two truths. The true nature of every experience and appearance is the indivisibility of the two truths.
All teachings of the Buddha are skilful means that help us realize liberation from our emotional patterns and the resulting confusion that keeps us bound in suffering. When we become free from confusion and our emotional patterns, we will experience self-liberation from suffering. In order to experience freedom from suffering and based upon realization of the indivisibility of the two truths, we need to integrate skilful means in all we are and do.
Questions & Answers
Student: “His Eminence mentioned habitual and emotional tendencies. Would His Eminence give an example for those so that I’m not misunderstanding?”
H.E.: The root of all habitual patterns or tendencies is the idea that the self exists of its own accord, i.e., independently. Failing to realize that all things are empty of independent existence, one identifies the apprehending consciousness as a self and calls it ‘I.’ Failing to realize that all things are empty of inherent existence, one identifies apprehended objects of mind’s clarity as other than the self and calls them ‘things.’ The fundamental delusion is failing to realize the inseparability of the two truths, i.e., the inseparability of emptiness and clarity. Clinging to a self, which is empty, and to other things, which is clarity, is the habit that brings on delusory attachment to oneself and aversion to whatever is apperceived as other than the self. Reactions arise in reliance on attachment and aversion, and emotional conflicts ensue. As a result, one develops a personal history of karmic habits. The causes for suffering increase due to being dependent and reacting in reliance upon habitual emotions.
Next question: “When we talk about relative and ultimate truths, are we talking about Bodhicitta? The question would be: What is called primordial, pure ground? What is called the fruit? His Eminence spoke earlier about the ground. What would be the ground? What would be the fruit?”
H.E.: The mind of awakening or enlightened mind is perfect realization of the inseparability of the two truths. As to ground, path, and fruition of the Buddhist teachings: the ground is the inseparability of the two truths; the path is the inseparability of skilful means of a noble heart of fruition or realization of the Kayas. Realization of the Dharmakaya is realization of emptiness and benefits oneself; realization of the two form Kayas is realization of clarity and benefits others by means of spontaneous activities of skilful means. It’s impossible to be on the path as long as the ground hasn’t been realized, and it’s impossible to attain fruition as long as the path hasn’t been perfectly practiced. View, meditation, and action are another way of referring to ground, path, and fruition. Lacking the right view of the ground, which is the indivisibility of the two truths, it’s impossible to engage in the meditation practices of the path that enable one to develop and realize skilful means and wisdom. Lacking the right meditation practices of the path, it’s impossible to manifest enlightened activities.
Next question: “If one realizes the Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya at fruition, wouldn’t one automatically realize the Dharmakaya?”
H.E.: It’s the other way around. If you have realized the Dharmakaya, you realize the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya; in other words, having realized the Dharmakaya, you naturally display the form Kayas.
Next question: “I have become confused at one particular point. It was taught that it’s necessary to reach a fuller understanding of the inseparability of the relative and ultimate truths. It seems to me that to reach fuller understanding, one must have developed inner qualities. If we develop these inner qualities, we would already be able to escape suffering. There’s a difficulty for me here. In order to escape suffering, we have to understand the inseparability of the two truths, but usually our understanding depends upon the quality of our being. In order to reach a fuller understanding, we have to have escaped already.”
H.E.: Yes, the more freedom from confusion and suffering you have, the more insight you will have concerning the inseparability of the two truths; and the more insight you have about the inseparability of the two truths, the more possibilities to experience realization. Both support each other. But since we wish to become free from suffering, we must first know what it is. Without knowing what suffering is, in an attempt to become free from suffering, you will only accumulate more causes for suffering - that’s how it happens. Suffering isn’t something you can simply discard nor does it truly exist. Suffering only exists in dependence upon its causes. In order to become free from suffering, it’s necessary to become free from the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is clinging to duality. Suffering only manifests to the extent that you perceive the world in confusion.
Next Question: “On the subject of relative and ultimate truth, it seems that all we have available to us is relative truth. There seems to be a contradiction in the terms ‘relative’ and ‘truth.’ I am just trying to understand what the relationship is between that relative truth, what seems to be true, and the ultimate truth. Is it that there’s a reflection of the ultimate truth in the relative? Is that the relationship between the two?”
H.E.: Relative and ultimate truths aren’t two different things that need to be joined. ‘Truth’ refers to the inseparability of relative reality and ultimate reality and isn’t the unification of two different truths. Ultimate truth is the indivisibility of relative and ultimate reality, i.e., every appearance is both relative and ultimate. For example, without investigating the hand, we call it an existent on the relative level. When asked, everybody will agree that a hand is a hand and not something else. ‘Truth’ means that the object that everyone calls ‘a hand’ functions as a hand. It is relative from the ultimate point of view, and it’s true because it functions as a hand. According to Buddhist reasoning, a hand exists in dependence upon its parts, and its parts are understood to exist in dependence upon flesh, skin, nails, bones, blood, and so forth. Now, no part of a hand is called ‘a hand.’ If we investigate, we discover that there’s no independent entity that is a hand. Many causes and conditions make up the specific terms that we give objects. The Tibetan word for ‘relative’ is kun-rdzob and means ‘many things put together.’ The word ‘hand’ lacks the truth of being a hand, i.e., nothing exists which actually carries the reality of being a hand. Yet, the non-existence of a hand doesn’t obliterate its existence. Existence and non-existence don’t exclude or obstruct each other and aren’t contradictory. The relative truth doesn’t stand in opposition to the ultimate truth nor vice verse, rather, they are inseparable. The inseparability of the two truths is called ‘the middle way,’ i.e., the middle view that is free of nihilistic and eternalistic views.
I spoke about the necessity of realizing the fundamental nature of all things and developing and gaining insight of the ultimate view. In reliance upon our insight, we can discuss ground, path, and fruition – ground being the inseparability of the two truths. When speaking of view, meditation, and action, the ground is the view, and the path is meditation. Now I will speak about the path.
In Buddhism, the path or meditation practice concerns integrating the inseparability of skilful means of great compassion and the wisdom of emptiness in ones life. Skilful means is precious Bodhicitta, ‘the heart of the enlightened mind,’ i.e., being impartial and having loving kindness and compassion for all living beings. Loving kindness is the sincere aspiration that all living beings have happiness and its causes; compassion is the heart-felt wish that everyone is free from suffering and its causes. As it is, living beings experience suffering due to confusion. What is the causal condition of confusion? Clinging to a self and consequently clinging to duality. All beings wish to experience peace and happiness but aren’t aware of the means. Realizing our inherent nature of loving kindness and compassion and bringing our potential to fruition are done by practicing the path. Buddhahood is realized at fruition. Buddhahood is perfect realization of all-knowing and all-encompassing gentleness that brings peace.
We need to experience the heart of the enlightened mind, Bodhicitta. How do we do this? By practicing meditation, the second aspect in the sequence of view, meditation, and action or view, path, and fruition. The Tibetan term for ‘meditation’ connotes habituation. Due to our habitual tendencies, we cling to the duality of subject and object, experience the consequences, and don’t experience our abiding, pure nature. We meditate in order to become accustomed to wholesome habits, instead of unwholesome ones and to eventually overcome them completely. We meditate to become accustomed to sanity and instead of continuing to be the person we think we are, to become the person we really are. There’s a Tibetan saying that goes: We don’t meditate on something because of who we are not, rather, we meditate in order to develop the habit of being who we really are.
In order to experience our inherent, pure nature that is free of any confusion, we must train our mind through a formal practice. If it isn’t integrated in our daily lives, aspiring to have Bodhicitta is not sufficient. The title for this lecture – meditation in action - concerns meditation practice during daily life. Should we fail to integrate Bodhicitta in all situations, it wouldn’t be possible to experience realization of the enlightened mind. The purpose of meditation is to integrate Bodhicitta in all we are and do. We need to train our mind in all situations. In Mahayana, we practice the six perfections so that we make use of and experience our mind’s true nature. Generosity, ethics, perseverance, patience, contemplation, and discriminating awareness are tools for our body, speech, and mind – practicing them enables us to experience our enlightened mind that is never separate from us.
Another important point that should be known is that the ground or view is realization of the indivisibility of the two truths. The path or meditation is realization of the indivisibility of skilful means of great compassion and wisdom of emptiness. For example, we miss the point of Bodhicitta all together if we live in a remote place and think that we are practicing Bodhicitta, but are annoyed and lose our practice the moment we face an unpleasant distraction of some kind. It’s important to integrate the teachings in our worldly life and at all times.
As it is, we experience our lives from a confused angle. Mind conceives, while body and speech respond. All three – body, speech, and mind – depend upon each other. As long as our mind is confused, all verbal and physical activities will be in turmoil. We remain entangled in a state of confusion with our body, speech, and mind due to our habitual tendencies. In order to experience the enlightened mind, we need to know that our body and speech can do as our mind commands. We practice the Buddhadharma with our mind. If we fail to bring our practice sessions into our daily life, we have missed the point.
The definition of the word for a Buddhist is ‘turning inward,’ i.e., turning towards the mind to train and tame it. All activities turned outwards follow automatically and meditation in action ensues. Meditation in action implies that meditation practice is not restricted to a formal sitting session but is part of all aspects of our lives. I want everyone to know that in order to experience the enlightened mind, we need to integrate all elements of practice in our lives and at all times.
Questions & Answers
Question: “His Eminence spoke about the two truths. Could he elaborate on exactly what he means by that?”
H.E.: The two truths concern how the world is perceived or how it appears to be and how it in truth is. The truth of the way the world appears is the relative truth. The ultimate truth is about the way the world really is. Realizing the appearance of phenomena and at the same time realizing how things really are is the ultimate goal.
Next question: “I have three short questions. How long should we meditate every day? Is the best time at four o’clock in the morning, as I was told? That’s very hard to do. And, do we really need in this life a living master in order to attain realization through meditation?”
H.E.: Traditionally, since the mind is quiet and calm from a good night of sleep, it’s suggested that one should meditate at dawn; this is more conducive for good practice. There’s no fixed time, though, so you can meditate before four o’clock in the morning. There are no rules as to how long one should meditate. A beginner should do shorter sessions, without feeling pressure. One does more and longer sessions as one proceeds. Concerning your third question, in order to experience the realized mind, the spiritual master is necessary. This doesn’t mean to say that you have to find him in the next few days. You gradually find out who you are best connected to.
Next question: “In the discussion today, His Eminence tried to put the emphasis on being able to extend the practice into daily life. But, in daily life, the mind and activities are very fast. Sometimes when you realize what you are doing or thinking, you are a little late already. I would like to know if His Eminence would suggest a way to stay very close to the mind and action and being close to what the mind is doing in daily life?”
H.E.: The purpose of meditation practice and the meaning of taking it into daily life are to catch ourselves. Generally, our confused mind is usually distracted and therefore we have no control over our mind, which is constantly displaying all kinds of confusion. Afterwards, we admit, “Oh, that’s what the mind did.” Only advanced practitioners realize that his or her mind had been ripped off. It’s not common for most people to realize that they are caught up in distractions and confusion. Most people don’t even realize it until it’s too late. The purpose of meditation practice is to train the mind through the practice of Bodhicitta; it is to become accustomed to being alert, awake, and gentle. Then, during post-meditation, you know you must carry Bodhicitta, ‘the noble heart of compassion and loving kindness,’ together with mindfulness into your worldly life. You learn to be mindful of the need to develop Bodhicitta at all times. You try to bring mindfulness into your practice of Bodhicitta.
– Thank you very much.
Through this goodness may omniscience be attained and thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome. May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara that is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then lead every being without exception to that very state. May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so, and may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline but continuously increase.
The Long Life Prayer for Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Fourth
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm. May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent. Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
These teachings were simultaneously translated from Tibetan into English by Ngödrub Burkhar. They were transcribed in 1991 and typed and edited again in 2012 by Gaby Hollmann, who is responsible for any mistakes. The beautiful dedication photo of a water lily and two gold fish in a pond was taken and offered by Lena Fong, who is a most dear friend; copyright. This article is for personal use only and is copyright; it may not be copied or published, and it may not be translated into another language. All rights reserved. Munich, Germany, December 2012.