A River that Cannot be Frozen

A few years ago when I was in my monastery in Tibet, an American visited me and asked for teaching. I had a difficult time talking to him because I knew no English and the American didn’t understand Tibetan. So I composed this prayer in Tibetan and gave it to him. He spent a week with me in the monastery. He didn’t know how to eat Tibetan food like tsampa and I had to show him. I had a nice time with him. The teaching I gave him was later translated, but it has been a long time since I have written it and I’ve forgotten what this teaching is all about.

Buddha Shakyamuni taught eighty four thousand different teachings according to the interests and abilities of his disciples. There are three types of disciples, those of greater, middling and lesser abilities, and Buddha taught them accordingly. There are some teachings for the very intelligent that liberate in this lifetime. For the middling there are teachings that will liberate in the next life or in some future life. And for those with lesser ability there are teachings that will prevent rebirth in the lower realms. There are immense benefits for practicing and hearing the dharma. You don’t have to feel discouraged because of lack of improvement in your practice, because there are many layers of obscuration. Just like deep snow takes a long time to melt, those with thick obscurations will see improvement slowly. So don’t feel discouraged.

The teaching of the Buddha is that the nature of mind contains the seed of enlightenment. All sentient beings, even the smallest insect are equal in that regard. But insects must endure more suffering as a result of their negative karma. There are special means for saving beings like insects, through mantra and blessing pills that will liberate them from their suffering.

Even though the nature of mind carries the seed of enlightenment, we have many sufferings. Enlightened beings like Shakyamuni Buddha are liberated from suffering. The qualities of buddhas are vast, like space or the ocean. We are obscured, like a cloud, and enlightened beings are unobscured, like space. There are few enlightened beings and many who are ordinary. Enlightened beings have realized the equality of samsara and nirvana. They have realized the inseparability of appearance and emptiness. But ordinary beings have not realized this. Once they understand impermanence and that the mind cannot be found, they will have no attachment to phenomena. When they have no attachment, they will be freed from samsara.

In reality, the basic mind of ordinary beings and buddhas are equal. It is like water colored with different colors. Despite the colors, it is all water. Similarly, the minds of ordinary beings and buddhas are the same. But because we search all the time for happiness in this life and to avoid suffering we are bound by afflictive emotions. That is how ordinary beings and buddhas are different.

The deluded minds of ordinary beings see the unreal as real. It is like a jaundiced person who sees a white conch shell as yellow. The deluded mind sees phenomena as existent, concrete, and permanent. Even though there is no self in form, the deluded mind grasps at form as a self.

There are different levels of people. Some have practiced the dharma in previous lives. When they hear the teachings, they immediately have confidence in them, because their obscurations are few. Others do not have such confidence, because their obscurations are thick. Some scientists are brilliant, but they cannot see the nature of mind. Only an enlightened being like Shakyamuni Buddha can really understood the nature of mind.

There many jewels in this world, but only the dharma is the wish fulfilling jewel. It can remove the root of suffering. That is why the dharma is regarded as the incomparable jewel. The three refuges are Buddha, dharma, and sangha. Buddhas were once like us, but through their practice, they have become a refuge to all beings and show the way to attain enlightenment. The essence of all the methods for attaining enlightenment is relative and ultimate bodhicitta. The refuge of the Buddha are the enlightened beings of the past, present, and future. Their teachings are the dharma. And those who hear and practice this teaching are the sangha. In order for the sangha to be enlightened, they have to understand the nature of mind. The teacher represents all three refuges, because the teacher’s mind is Buddha, his teaching is dharma, and his form is sangha.

Teachers have two kinds of teaching, the absolute and relative teachings. The absolute teaching is very simple. It is just understanding the nature of mind. When mind is understood, so are all phenomena, because all phenomena come from the mind. Then all phenomena are seen as impermanent and all suffering and happiness are seen as coming from mind. When you look at mind you will discover absolute truth for yourself. Those students who are ready to practice the absolute teachings will definitely trust what the Buddha has taught. They will trust the teaching that happiness and suffering comes from the mind and all phenomena arise from mind. When they look at thought in meditation and it will disappear. By being mindful of thoughts in this way, no further karma will arise for them. When no karma arises, there will be no suffering.

When you understand the genuine teaching of the Buddha it will remove your suffering because from the teachings you understand the truths of impermanence and suffering. With this understanding, a mother will see her own child is impermanent and must eventually die. If the child suddenly dies, the mother will be aware that this is just how things are. But if the mother thinks of the child as permanently existing and the child dies, the mother will suffer greatly. The reason we do not understand our own mind is because of so many layers of obscuration. When a child is born, attachment and obscurations are born at the same time in the mind of the mother.

You have to look at the nature of obscurations and eliminate them, whether they are greed, anger, or ignorance. It is very important to know how obscurations develop. If you don’t know this, you can’t dispel them. I spoke of the analogy of the child and its mother. First the mother likes the child, which is one layer, then the mother sees the child as beautiful, which is a second layer, then as intelligent which is a third layer. It is like being bound by a rope. If the child dies because of impermanence the mother will suffer greatly. If you know how obscuration develops, you can immediately look at the nature of the obscuration when it appears. Our minds are like ice that is frozen by the cold of the afflictive emotions. In order to melt it, we need sunlight, which is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Ordinarily, if your enemy harms you, you will feel anger. This is like cold freezing water into ice. In a situation like this it is important to be mindful and to cultivate bodhicitta.

If you can make the distinction between thoughts and mind, within that moment you can be enlightened. If you see the nature of mind and remain in that awareness you are enlightened. But when thoughts appear and you fail to recognize their nature, you become ordinary. So ordinary beings and enlightened beings are only separated by one moment. So first you must know the nature of your own mind.

If you have questions, you can ask them after the break.

Q: What is the difference between relative and absolute bodhicitta?

A: Relative bodhicitta is based on the understanding of cause and effect and karma. Absolute bodhicitta is based on seeing the nature of afflictive emotions. When you see their nature is emptiness, that is absolute bodhicitta. Then you are beyond these concepts. Cause, effect and karma do not affect absolute bodhicitta because absolute bodhicitta is beyond concept. But until you have realized absolute bodhicitta, you must believe in cause, effect, and karma. Until then you should practice virtuous actions. The unity of absolute and relative bodhicitta will happen when you understand emptiness as the nature of the mind. At this time you will develop great compassion for those who have not seen it. So at that point relative and absolute bodhicitta unite.

Q: I have meditated for eight years and when once working I lost my mind and didn’t know what to do for ten minutes

A:You have to continue with your practice of meditation, you can’t start and stop.

Q: Please tell us a mantra to use for animals

A: Recite om mani padme hum. You can chant any mantra, but the mani is the best and easiest way to practice. When you chant you should chant to dispel the sufferings of all sentient beings. If you wish to practice for those who have died in this attack [the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center], visualize Amitabha and dissolve all beings who have died into his form. Then dissolve Amitabha’s form into emptiness and rest there. That is a very effective practice.

When you practice absolute bodhicitta, you meditate on the nature of your own mind. Milarepa has said that this nature is our ordinary mind. Tilopa says when you look at the mind there is nothing to be seen. This may be a familiar teaching to you, but those new to the dharma may not have heard it. For beginners, when you meditate you should not chase after your thoughts, just recognize them. Through practicing in this way, experience develops and you get a glimpse of the nature of mind.

If you have trust in your teacher, when you look at the nature of your own mind you can also think of him or her, or remember the kindness of Milarepa. Then devotion and the practice of recognizing the mind can work together. Especially in Kagyu, devotion is emphasized. Having devotion to the guru, you will gain enlightenment in this life. There are two teachers, the outer teacher and recognizing the mind. The combination of these two teachers is the best teacher. The practice of recognizing the mind will weaken your afflictive emotions, strengthen your compassion and devotion to your teachers and lead you to see the nature of your own mind.

Progress in your practice depends on devotion. With great devotion, there will be great progress. If you see your teacher as enlightened, you will receive the blessings of an enlightened being. If you see him or her as an ordinary being, you will get the blessing of an ordinary being. If your teacher does a negative action and you only see him or her as enlightened, you can only receive blessings.

The mind of the teacher and the mind of enlightened beings are connected, even if the teacher is not fully enlightened. It is like electricity and a wire. When the connection is made, there is light. The teacher and the student are also connected like that. So it is important to practice with devotion to the teacher. It is also important to make practice a habit. you should practice at all times by working with emotions. You should graduate from observing the smaller emotions when you are relaxed to observing stronger emotions. When you have succeeded in doing this, your ability to see the nature of mind will be like a raging fire and emotion will be like grass which only feeds it. Naropa said that once you are well trained, you will not grasp after appearances. Good or bad things will happen but they will pass you by

Obscuration has no form that you can see. Still, there are countless layers of obscuration. All these layers are removed by confidence in the law of cause and effect and by practice and devotion to the root guru. These will dispel obscurations no matter how strong. Obscurations will lessen and the nature of the mind, which is like a clear diamond, will shine forth. Then there need be no effort to see it. It will shine effortlessly. Reading the life story of Milarepa will lessen your obscurations. So will the practice of Chenrezig, or chanting the mantra of the guru. Until now our life has been like watching a movie which increases our obscurations. Chenrezig’s practice is like watching a movie which decreases them. When they are gone, there will be enlightenment.

Until now we have not practiced mindfulness. That is the basis of our obscurations and how our perceptions have become deluded. Now is the time to be mindful of our thoughts and how they arise so that our afflictive emotions will lessen. In that way mindfulness is like a strong fire.

Even though you have received this method, through past habitual tendencies you cannot dispel your emotions. To do so you should put more effort into your practice. But in the practice of absolute bodhicitta you cannot make an effort, except by strengthening your devotion. When looking at the mind, the mind must remain natural. You cannot apply effort. But when practicing relative bodhicitta you can apply effort by generating compassion. From now on you must make a decision that the nature of your own mind is enlightenment. In order for this nature to appear you must apply effort in practicing relative bodhicitta. It is like an antidote for your obscurations. It is like warmth which melts the ice of your obscurations.

The great Jigten Sumgon, who is like the Buddha, said the only way to understand absolute bodhicitta is to practice relative bodhicitta. You start with the person who you love the most and then expand that love to your friends, those you you feel indifferent to, then to your enemies and finally all sentient beings. If you practice relative bodhicitta it will liberate you from the suffering of the bardo, because when you practice relative bodhicitta all being become like your mother and there is no way you will gather afflictive emotions. In that way you will not fear the bardo state. you will see all beings in the bardo as your mother.

If instead of practicing compassion you have anger, it will lead you to hell. When you are angry you will never be happy. It will even influence your dreams and you will have nightmares. If you have anger in the bardo you will also have bad experiences. When I was young I was very short tempered and I had horrible dreams. But my root teacher taught me compassion and I no longer have bad dreams.

If you practice detachment it will be easier to keep it in the intermediate state. If you are mindful and do not follow your attachments now, when you are in the bardo and see your future parents, you will not be attached to them and not be reborn in this world. The mind is like a flowing stream. It will not stay in a cup but will go where it will go. If you do not practice well you mind will flow away. When the glass of your body is broken, it will go where it will, just as the water would land where it spills.

I have said many things but there are two main points. First, you have to see all beings as your beloved. This has an immense benefit, like a wish fulfilling jewel. This is the practice of relative bodhicitta. The second point is absolute bodhicitta. You have to be aware of the nature of mind, no matter how many thoughts arise. You should not be distracted by thoughts, but be mindful.

All disasters are caused by mistaken thought. Mistaken thoughts cause disasters when you are careless. Not only will there be attacks from the outside, but from the inside too. The attacks from the inside are the afflictive emotions. Supporting the practice of recognizing the nature of mind is relative bodhicitta, Of all emotions, anger is the worst. It will destroy yourself and others. So you have to be careful. The result of anger is obvious in recent attacks. There will be endless destruction if you engage in anger. If you attack one, they will attack two, and so forth. So you should be mindful of the result of anger. Think that if anger arises again it is like committing suicide.

The members who come here are very fortunate to have this center. You have a wonderful teacher and you should learn from him. He [Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen] has been practicing from childhood. I am like nothing. I am just myself. So you should feel happy about that. The spiritual teacher is very important, like your eyes or heart. You should respect them like your own eyes.