Venerable Lama Tenpa Gyamtso
Practicing Meditation Together & Speaking about Impermanence and Karma
Calm-abiding meditation means allowing one's mind to settle down and to be at peace. Whoever has trouble resting in a settled mind while practicing calm-abiding meditation should rely on a support, for example, by focusing on the breath. There is a term in Tibetan that is literally translated as "falling into oneself," i.e., not being distracted, not meditating, not creating anything with one's mind. Let us practice this together for a short while.
The Tibetan term for "abiding peacefully within oneself" is exclusive to Mahayana and means that one is present, undistracted, and doesn't do anything when one notices that one's mind has followed after a thought. What does it mean to be distracted? It means following after thoughts that naturally arise and that can be limitless and endless. There is no need to dissever thoughts that arise while meditating, rather one looks at the essence of a thought the moment it arises and doesn't do anything but rests in it. /Short meditation./
As said in "The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer":
"The essence of thoughts is Dharmakaya.
They are no things whatsoever, and yet they arise."
Since the essence of thoughts is the Dharmakaya ("the truth body that is emptiness"), the essence of thoughts is emptiness. There is nothing to block off or to practice in the vast expanse of emptiness.
It's important not to follow after thoughts but to look at the essence of thoughts when they arise and, without doing anything, to just watch them flow back into the mind out of which they arose. Looking at the essence of thoughts without following after them, but allowing them to subside into one's mind again is called "self-liberation of thoughts." /Short meditation./ Self-liberation of thoughts can be compared to the waves of an ocean. The waves are not different than the ocean - they arise on the surface of the ocean and subside into it again. In the same way, nothing needs to be created or added, because - like the mind - the intrinsic nature of thoughts is emptiness. Thoughts arise from the mind and subside into the mind again. /Short meditation./ Thoughts such as, "I'm distracted," or "I'm not distracted" are mental fabrications. /Short meditation./
The point of practicing meditation is to abide in the peace of the given moment. Beginners cannot abide in unmitigated presence for a longer period of time - maybe they can for a minute or two. One needs to practice naturally abiding in the intrinsic nature of one's mind for a short while. During this time, one doesn't follow after a thought that arises, thus producing more thoughts. A practitioner tries to extend the length of time abiding in his or her mind's inartificial, natural state. /Short meditation./
Differentiating during meditation practice that one has become distracted is fostering a discursive mind. Instead, one simply abides in the nature of one's mind the moment one notices that a thought has arisen and that one has become distracted by that thought. The purpose of this practice is not to be distracted for a few minutes. Let us meditate a short while together by concentrating on our ingoing and outgoing breath.
Impermanence and Karma
The Lojong-Teachings of Jowo Atisha that instruct practitioners how to tame and train their mind show how to develop loving kindness and compassion, which points to a future life. They instruct disciples that it's very important whether one's next life will be marked by freedom from suffering or not. Mahasiddha Khyungpo Näljor taught that this life is due to karma accumulated in a past life. He said that one doesn't need to fear impermanence, rather one should be fearful of creating negative karma in this life, because it will be experienced as suffering in one's future life. We attained this life due to the karma we created in our past life, so we can determine our next life by engaging in virtuous activities.
Seeing that we cannot look into the future, we don't know what we will experience in our next life. We can deduce from our past life, though, by looking at our present situation. If we realize karma ("the infallible law of cause and effect"), then we will see that our present situation is based upon our past actions. Trusting that this applies to our next life inspires us to accumulate positive karma by acting virtuously now so that we will have favourable conditions and good opportunities in our next life.
We are free to lead our lives according to the instructions our Lamas present, by acknowledging how invaluable the basis of our life (which is our human body that is endowed with favourable conditions) actually is, by understanding the meaning of impermanence and death, and by respecting the law of karma. Contemplating these preliminary practices of having attained a precious human life, impermanence, and karma, we have prepared the ground to engage in meditation.
There was a Lojong teacher named Karak Gomchung, who lived approximately 1000-1100 C.E. He spent much time living in a cave that became overgrown with a thorn bush more and more each year. Karak Gomchung became entangled in the thorn bush every time he had to leave his cave to use the outhouse. He thought that he would need to saw it down so that he could go outside when he needed to without trouble, but he looked at the thorn bush and thought, "Why bother? Maybe I will be dead tomorrow." So he didn't do anything and just left it, but he had to make his way past the thorn bush every time he needed to leave his cave. He contemplated impermanence and death every time he went outside, and for years and years he wondered whether he should saw it down or not. Karak Gomchung became a Mahasiddha because he contemplated impermanence and death so intensively due to the bush. Jetsün Milarepa practiced in the same way in that - not fearing impermanence and death - he focused all his attention on practicing and achieving the changeless state of Mahamudra.
Maybe we cannot practice as diligently as Karak Gomchung and Jetsün Milarepa, but we are practicing the Dharma when we contemplate impermanence and death again and again. By contemplating the truth of impermanence, anything that happens to us - joyous or frustrating, at work or at home - does not affect us as strongly. By contemplating the truth of impermanence and the law of karma again and again, we see that any pleasant and unpleasant experiences that we have are due to our own karma and that they change. If contemplated well, we will be less involved with transitory experiences and things. Therefore the teachings state that impermanence is our best friend. Being aware of impermanence diminishes our fear, diminishes our attachment, diminishes our wants and needs, and increases our wish and enthusiasm to practice.
Looking at the difference between disciples who practice and those who don't: Someone who practices is aware of the fact that all situations in this life - any unpleasant situations as well as suffering and pain - are transitory and do not last. Practitioners are also aware of the infallible law of karma. Non-practitioners, who usually become fearful when they contemplate impermanence, suffer very strongly when things don't work out for them or when they are sick or experience pain.
Jetsün Milarepa's disciples once asked him, "Whose emanation are you? Are you an emanation of Vajradhara Buddha or the reincarnation of a Bodhisattva? Whose Tulku (â€˜incarnation') are you?" Uprooting their wrong view that it isn't possible to attain realization in a single life time, the Jetsün replied, "No, I am not an emanation of Vajradhara and I am not the reincarnation of a Bodhisattva. My realization arose from my devotion and dedication. My karma was very negative. I killed many people when I was young. Then I realized the truth of karma and practiced with great joy and diligence." He told his disciples, "It's possible to attain realization in one lifetime if you practice."
So, it's extremely important to contemplate impermanence and then to practice meditation. One needs to rely on the experiences that one will have when one practices - then it will be very beneficial. These are a few thoughts about the tremendous importance of contemplating impermanence. Now I wish to speak in more detail about the inevitable law of karma.
The instructions that deal with karma teach about the ten virtuous and ten non-virtuous actions. Disciples need to know them well, seeing the one leads to the other quickly. Reading about them will not suffice, rather it's important to know them very, very well and to live by them. This is done by directly looking at what is taking place in one's mind, taking care that the results of one's actions will be wholesome and good.
Killing is the first very negative deed in the list of the ten non-virtuous actions and means taking away a living being's life. We think that we don't kill and have no bad feelings when we step on a tiny insect, but it denotes taking away life. Since one is free to take away the life of another living being, one is also free to spare or save life. The sacred teachings state that if one takes life once, one will be reborn as an insect 500 times.
We need to be aware of the fact that there are living beings in everything that we drink and eat, so nobody is free from engaging in the act of killing. As a result, we all have so much karmic debt and remain surrounded by living beings we are extremely indebted to. Dharma students know about the law of karma and therefore refrain from killing consciously. But there are many people who kill as a hobby. There are people who - due to ignorance and the ensuing mind poisons of hatred and greed - see killing as an entertaining past-time. Hunters go into the woods to kill deer or ice bears, or there are people who like to go fishing, or there are butchers, or there are people who shoot down birds. They do things like that due to their ignorance, and we should have compassion for them.
Mahayana practitioners should be aware of the fact that all living beings were once their kind parents and should know that they are eating their past mother or father when they eat meat. If one respects the law of cause and effect, one will know that eating meat will cause future problems.
As we saw, it's impossible not to kill, because space, our home, our furniture, vegetables are all filled with living beings. We constantly kill living beings, even if we don't see them. But we can be careful of not running over animals while driving a car. We can also take care and be attentive not to step on insects or worms while walking down the street. And if it happens, which nobody can avoid, one can speak the name of the Buddha, repeat mantras, and recite wishing prayers that they attain a higher rebirth in their next life and become free from suffering when we accidentally do - we can do that. We can also buy caskets filled with living fish at the market that are destined to be killed and set them free into a river, lake, or ocean, wherever they are at home. Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche (also known as Chetul Sangye Dorje, born in 1913 and now in his mid-90s) is one of the most renowned opponents of meat eating.He bought and continues buying many living fish for sale at markets in India and releases them into their natural habitation. It's very beneficial to do this, especially on the 8th day of the lunar calendar or on days that are auspicious for Mahakala practice. That's when I do this together with Ani-la. "Participant: Or feed mice or save rain worms from smouldering in the sun when they are stranded on a sidewalk after a summer rain." Lama-la: We once fed mice and the result was that more and more showed up.
A story is recounted about the historical Buddha's previous life, before he attained enlightenment. He was on a ship carrying 500 merchants and their goods across the stormy sea. He saw that a man wanted to kill the merchants and throw them overboard so that he could call all their goods on the ship his own. Out of deep compassion, Lord Buddha in a previous life thought, "If I don't do anything to stop this man from killing me and the 500 Bodhisattvas, he will necessarily experience unbearable suffering in the hell realms in his next life, so it would be better if he died than committing such a horrendous act." He killed the pirate in order to spare him from amassing so much negative karma. The Buddha in a former life saw the consequences that such a horrendous act would bring and accumulated the positive karma of 80,000 lives when he saw himself forced to do what he did. In the Mahayana teachings we learn that there are situations in which it is necessary to do things that seem to contradict the Buddhadharma.
The first non-virtuous action that one refrains from when one learns to live according to the law of karma is killing. The second wrongdoing is taking what is not given, i.e., stealing. For example, making an unjust profit through a business is also stealing, like selling things one bought for a cheap price overly expensive or selling rotten food - so beware of business men and women! It's extremely important to have ethical behaviour and to only engage in wholesome activities.
The third non-virtuous action is telling lies. Sometimes it is beneficial to say something untruthful. For example, if a hunter intent on killing deer asks whether one knows where deer are grazing, it's not bad to say that one doesn't know if one does. On the contrary, it's what is referred to as "a white deed." Another example of "a white lie" is not confirming statements made by someone when they speak badly about somebody they don't get along with. In this way, one hinders their anger and resentment from increasing - and that's good.
The fourth non-virtuous action is sexual misconduct. It's very important to be disciplined when it comes to one's sexual behaviour. Let me tell an ancient story: There was once a Brahmin named Kyebu Karma Senge. He had spent many years in retreat as a monk and was a gentleman. He went to a market to beg for alms when he left retreat, met the daughter of another Brahmin, and saw that she burned with desire for him. She thought that she would die without him. He had great compassion and gave in to her passion so that she would not die - and that was meritorious. It's important not to be greedy for inappropriate objects.
The fifth to tenth non-virtuous actions are slandering others, speaking harshly, engaging in idle chatter, having greedy thoughts, being malicious, and having wrong views.
I sincerely want you to internalize in your mind the instructions on avoiding the ten non-virtuous actions and to directly look at your mind with wakeful awareness so that whatever you do is truly meritorious and beneficial. Wakeful awareness helps us to really know the relevance and significance of refraining from carrying out the ten non-virtuous actions and engaging in the ten virtuous actions. Integrating these teachings fully helps us to increase our wholesome actions and to diminish any wrongdoings we might be inclined to commit. Wakeful awareness helps us become naturally peaceful, joyful, and worthy individuals, who can truly help others in best ways.
The Buddhadharma clearly instructs us what to abandon and what to adopt so that our negativities decrease and our goodliness increases. By realizing and experiencing the benefits that arise from adhering to these teachings, further qualities will manifest from within and for us. We will have confidence and devotion in the Dharma and will try to lead a worthy life of enthusiastic effort if we take these teachings to heart. Out of gratitude to our spiritual teacher and friend who gave us these instructions, our devotion will grow and become irreversible.
The Dharma taught by Lord Buddha is so very beneficial, because invaluable qualities become manifest, one from the other, and increase if we practice. Lord Buddha is the One we sincerely trust and deeply revere. Being an example, he illuminates our mind. The Tibetan term for "Buddha" is bcom-ldän-â€˜däs, which means "the One who has subdued all obscurations and transcended negativities."
Our mind will be peaceful if we are heedful of all our actions, i.e., if we are mindful of purification by abandoning all non-virtuous actions and mindful of accumulating merit by engaging in wholesome actions. As a result, it will be very easy to practice calm-abiding meditation. And that is why the Lojong-Teachings tell us that benefiting others is more important than thinking of oneself.
Three great masters have gone down in history as the most excellent proponents of Lojong. One was Dharmarakshita. Due to the habitual imprints he had created in past lives, he was deeply affiliated with Hinayana, but he naturally had great compassion. One day someone nearby was very sick, whose doctor told him that he could only recover if he ate the meat of a human being. Dharmarakshita heard about this and, in order to stop someone from being slaughtered for the sick man and out of great compassion, he cut meat from his thigh and gave it to the sick man to eat. Seeing he leaned towards Hinayana more strongly than Mahayana, Dharmarakshita had not realized emptiness and therefore - although he never regretted having done what he did and certain that it was the right thing to do - he suffered immensely from the wound. The sick man recovered, and Dharmarakshita thought, "That's important. It's no tragedy if I die from the infected wound, because I have the Dharma." Yet, he suffered immensely from the pain and couldn't sleep. One night, at about 3 o'clock, he was able to sleep for a few minutes and had a dream. An image dressed in a white gown appeared to him in his dream and said, "Oh, son of a noble family, you have performed the most excellent deed to attain Buddhahood. The highest means to attain Buddhahood is compassion." The image who appeared and spoke these words to Dharmarakshita in his dream was Bodhisattva Chenrezig, the Lord of Compassion, who blew on the wound and healed it. Even though he had not realized emptiness, Dharmarakshita experienced the benefit of having great compassion. As a result, he read the philosophical Madhyamaka treatises of Nargarjuna and understood them without very fast.
Jampäl Näljor was another renowned proponent of Lojong. Jampäl Näljor was able to actually take other beings' suffering upon himself when he meditated. While sitting on a throne and offering teachings one day, he saw a man throwing a stone at a dog. The dog felt nothing, because Jampäl Näljor had taken the pain upon himself. But he did react by shouting, "Ouch." The people in the audience thought, "What a strange Lama." He was clairvoyant, knew what the people thought, and showed them the black and blue mark on his body. They searched but couldn't find a slightest bruise on the dog, so they won great trust in Jampäl Näljor.
There was once a king named Pema, who was Lord Buddha in a former life, before he became enlightened. The kingdom was called Nye-yong. During the reign of King Pema an epidemic broke out in Nye-yong and many people got sick. The king asked every doctor he was able to summon to help. They told him that they could not cure the epidemic, but if the sick people ate the meat of a fish that had the name Naroheta, they would become well again. King Pema, who was a Bodhisattva, wanted to help people living in his kingdom, so he made many offerings and recited many wishing prayers to be reborn as that fish. He jumped from a cliff into the ocean, drowned, and was reborn as the fish Naroheta. In the language of fish, he called to the people, "I am Naroheta," thus inviting them to eat him up. The people took Naroheta, and when they cut meat off his body, it grew again, so there was enough meat for everyone. Naroheta then said to the people, "Give up non-virtuous ways and accumulate merit by doing good. That is the way to freedom from suffering." This took place in a past life of Lord Buddha, when he was a Bodhisattva who did not shy away from any hardships while treading the path to enlightenment.
In yet another former life of Lord Buddha, he was a tortoise. He saw a large ship filled with merchants sink to the bottom of the deep ocean. Being a Bodhisattva in his former life as a tortoise, it rose from the ground of the ocean, carrying each merchant on its back to the shore, and saved their lives. But then, the tortoise became tired from swimming back and forth and laid down to rest on the sand of the beach. It fell asleep, and while it was sleeping many blood-sucking insects nestled in its skin and woke it up. The tortoise thought, "If I scratch at the biting insects, then they will die." And so, the tortoise died. Having offered his life for the sake of the insects, the Bodhisattva attained enlightenment in a future life at Bodhgaya in India and turned the Wheel of Dharma for the benefit of all living beings at Varanasi. In the past, those insects drank the blood of a Bodhisattva which caused them to be reborn in godly realms of existence. Living in a heavenly realm, they could watch how Lord Buddha's teachings were brought to the world and spread. They took birth in the world and became 80,000 disciples in number.
Because of having offered so much in many past lives as a Bodhisattva, Shakyamuni became Lord Buddha, the "Fully Enlightened One," during our fortunate aeon.
Asanga was a Bodhisattva who longed to see the future Buddha so strongly that he did not stop meditating Buddha Maitreya in retreat for a total of 12 years. He did not attain any results, though, and thought that he would never be able to accomplish his wish to meet Buddha Maitreya face to face. Asanga gave up, left his cave, and came across a wounded dog lying on the road, so wounded that its entire body was being eaten up by maggots. Asanga felt immense compassion for the distressed and aggressive dog and wanted to help, but he realized that if he pulled the maggots out of the wounds, then the maggots would die and if he left them in the wound, then the dog would die. He cut flesh off from his own thigh to put the maggots on, but realized that if he pulled the maggots out with his fingers, it would kill them. So he drew them out of the dog's wound with his tongue. He couldn't bear to look at what he was doing, so he closed his eyes, lifted them out with his tongue, and put them on the piece of flesh. When his tongue accidentally touched the ground instead of the wound, he opened his eyes and saw Buddha Maitreya, who had manifested as the dog, standing before him. Asanga said to him, "I've been practicing 12 years to see you and you never appeared to me. Why now?" Maitreya replied, "It's not that I was ever separated from you. We were always together, but you couldn't see me, because you still had many obscurations. You had not generated great compassion in your heart and that is why you couldn't see me. Through practicing well, all your obscurations of knowledge and conflicting emotions eventually diminished and, like waking up from a dream, immense compassion arose in your heart when you saw the wounded dog and then you could see me." Maitreya continued, "If you don't believe me, go into town carrying me on your shoulder and ask the people you meet on the way what they see you carrying." Asanga did as told. The people he asked answered, "We don't see anything on your shoulder." He asked a young girl who had purified many of her obscurations and she replied, "You are carrying an injured dog." Let us now meditate together for a short while.
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!
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.
Presented at Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling in Heidelberg in September 2008. Sincere gratitude to Lama Dorothea Nett for all she is doing and to Bärbel Reinschmidt for having translated into German; translated into English by Gaby Hollmann, solely responsible for all inadequacies and mistakes. Copyright Lama Tenpa Gyamtso and Chang Chub Choephel Ling, 2008. May goodliness and truthfulness increase!