Talk to the DC Sangha

It’s refreshing to get away from the crowd in Baltimore I remember spending a wonderful weekend here several years ago. I hope the center is growing and prospering. Each year there should be a significant growth in dharma. In the East we spend time fundraising and building and so much energy goes into this. On an optimistic day this seems very good. But on a pessimistic day you wonder what you’ve gotten into. There is no time for study or practice and it doesn’t seem very worthwhile. And it is the same in Western communities. We aspire to bring about sanity and basic goodness. But we do get involved in structures and the emphasis on inner understanding doesn’t seem as valuable. Part of the path is form, but the important thing is mind and meditation that leads to transformation of its basic nature.

When I first began to travel the questions were about how much tradition there was. People asked give me the dharma without the trappings of Tibetan culture. And many teachers obliged them. But now I have noticed a change. Now Westerners are becoming theistic and culture centered. Being centered on a belief is not what Buddhism teaches. We should cut through our hindrances even if it means we have to cut through our own beliefs. Belief in emptiness could be so very solid that it could hinder a person’s growth and that is theism. Theism is focussing on the form rather than seeing that the form is there to help us cut through those hindrances that do not allow the simplicity of mind to be as it is.

Why do we meditate? To be good Buddhists, to feel good about it? Once when flying I read Oprah’s magazine. There was a article on meditation. The people participating in a weekend program reported felt they did not know what meditation was, but in the end they felt it was worth while. If you do something that you’ve spent some effort on, you will feel it was worth while. You persuade your mind to thinking there was something worth while about it. So that is part of it. The other part is hope. There is a feeling something can or should happen from practice. At other times people are quite honest and they feel a taste of quietness and tranquility and as a result one takes to meditation. From the beginning of meditation to its highest point these feelings are quite useful. But the basis of meditation is understanding our attitude. The form is the basis, but the form needs to generate awareness and mindfulness and the coming together of body and mind. When we talk about what changes from one year to the next we are talking about bringing about a change in the way we look at ourselves and others.

It’s essential to meditate but to understand that meditation is working with ourselves. After the recent disaster people asked what practice can we do. But one thing comes up is how much we practice just for ourselves. Yes, we do weep, but our practice is so much just for ourselves. We need to put meditation into action, which is a genuinely transformed attitude. When we are in a peaceful environment, we don’t see the need to help others, but when there is a tragedy, we see the need. We see the uselessness of anger and the interrelationships between all beings. Although we may generate good thoughts in tonglen, but it pacifies our own thoughts more than they help others. We see that until all beings gain enlightenment we cannot fulfil the wishes we express in the four immeasurables.

We seem more focussed on the form of meditation than its real meaning. We must live our lives in accordance with the teachings. How many teachings must we get to realize the uselessness of anger, greed, and ignorance. Our teachers used to say when we wished to go somewhere else and practice that it would be of no use even if Padmasambhava appeared to teach us. So it is important to realize the essence of the dharma. There is no end to the levels of practice you can engage in. Ultimately what will make a difference is your attitude. If we remain the same person with the same attitude and just memorize about compassion and tolerance, you will have to think Buddhists are the stupidest of all beings. Some who people have never heard of the dharma show great kindness and compassion. So you have to wonder if we have good karma in practicing the dharma or are just the stupidest of human beings in that we need to practice the dharma.

Karma is very simple. What we do effects others and what others do affects us. So we understand karma, but we never create the causes of happiness. We never bring it down to practice. If we look our speech, it is harsh, critical, and lying so it is not creating happiness. Body, speech and mind are continuously creating karma. Our hopeful wishes will not transform into good karma, our actions will. We don’t seem to act with awareness. Who can enter Buddhism and not be aware of the importance of compassion.

All our waking moments are spent in search of happiness and trying to gain something. Mind is like a machine working non-stop, always working for self-benefit. All beings are like this and this is suffering, samsara. Suffering is never feeling settled or satisfied. There is always a tinge of a thought that this might go away. So mind never settles down and has a feeling of calmness. We go though a lifetime never having had a moment of genuine tranquility. Our thoughts are like being in a crowd at a baseball game and one would like to go to our car, but the crowd prevents us from doing so. No one wants to practice unkindness, it just arise from the force of habit. The mind doesn’t really have any training.

When we think about the four reminders, which we should be meditating on always, how much does it actually penetrate our lives? If we understood how joyful our precious human existence is and how precarious our situation is due to impermanence, how different would our conduct be. If we still have an uncaring attitude it indicates we have meditated on the four reminders but not put them into practice. Each passing day as meditators, we see that we have studied the teachings but not put them into practice.

So we are theistic Buddhists. Just doing the simple things, being kind to others. We rattle on about the teachings, but don’t even hold open a door for others. You may receive many teachings but the genuine measure of practice is how we react when faced with death and if there is regret then in not having helped self and others. Compassion is keeping in mind what will be helpful to others. If we go into a situation with a predefined thought of compassion and force it on others, that lacks the flexibilty needed. So carefully watch your actions of body and mind and see how flexible we are.

When we need to be still we should be still. Watch your speech and be quiet when best and speak when genuinely helpful. Why go into cave and renounce the world, except to quiet things down? We need to unclutter our lives to see the real nature of mind, to free ourselves of the karmas which choke it. When we engage in activities, it should be natural kindness. If it requires you to go into a three year retreat and do all kinds of visualizations to realize compassion, you are welcome to do it. But if we can keep it simple, that is better. All the practices start by saying first generate great compassion. Then after that there are the multitude of complicated teachings. You must think the Buddhas hitting themselves in the head saying how much more complicated do we need to make the teachings, so that they can see the compassion. The fact that we are sitting here means we still have more work to do.

Next Talk