Talk to the Baltimore Sangha

We can look at today’s world, with all its progress in development and thinking, either pessimistically or optimistically. From a pessimistic point of view this is a degenerate age, where passion, aggression and ignorance increase, as seen in recent events. But optimistically, human beings act better in difficult situations. This is because of Buddha nature. In spite of the busyness in our lives, there is awareness of spirituality and what needs to be done. Today there is a lot of talking and thinking about spirituality. So from negativity, positive things arise. When we are able to be in touch with this feeling our practice is positive. There seems to be an awareness and curiosity about contemplation and meditation today. People are asking questions and examining it. If contemplation leads to examination of our mind, spiritual practice has served its purpose. But if it becomes a cocoon for our greed and entertainment, then it is not very good. And not just meditation, any other practice, such as study, for that matter.

It is essential to keep the intention that you had when you entered practice. When a teacher gives refuge vows to people, the teacher encourages you to not forget the day it happened. That is because when people take refuge their minds are very honest and there is a fresh good intention, like a child’s heart. But soon form becomes more important. We worry about the books we read and the type of practice we do. There are the 84,000 teachings of the dharma and the study of them is unending. But a basic good heart should always be there.

We often talk about wisdom, but it is nothing other than common sense combined with an awareness of the truth. It is there inherently in all beings. Outwardly there is attachment, but within there is always some common sense. Even in the midst of aggression, there is always goodness. Even not wanting to harm oneself is not just selfishness. It is common sense. Wanting happiness and not wanting pain comes from our basic nature. Our life is sustained by that basic good nature. So inside there is an enormous wish to accomplish something good, yet there is an inability to do so. If we get stuck in the form of practice, we lose touch with that basic nature. We take refuge out of genuine selflessness and with that inspiration we enter into Buddhist practice. But I always think when giving refuge, what a pity, they will lose that inspiration in a few weeks. A certain loss of touch with that freshness occurs. We must strengthen the understanding of what practice is for. If we go about focusing on adding another name or another practice we lose touch with it. Our understanding of what practice is becomes some kind of barter system. We try to become a good practitioner rather than to become ourselves. We need to make some time with ourselves to pause and think why we are practicing.

All of us know the same things, no matter what spiritual tradition we are from. It is not very complicated. But we are unwilling to practice compassion until we hear that it has a 2500 year tradition. It’s a simple teaching. It’s what we teach our children. We shouldn’t hurt others but be kind to them. But somehow we are unable to keep it. We know everything but are unable to do anything. We hear about the ten precepts, but don’t put them into practice unless we feel it is a tradition. The basis of ethics is not just the outward form but seeing how ethics enhances our ability to be mindful of our actions. To think that just as I don’t want suffering, so others don’t want suffering either. If a person analyzes in this way, they are able to be honest and put the teachings into action. Meditation is to give ourselves a break or a pause to see the journey we are on in life. If we are unable to join the teachings with the basic qualities of human nature, meditation becomes the mirror for seeing this. We usually lead life without reflecting on it, or working on it, no different from any other species. In short, ignorance is having the capacity to generate goodness, but not doing so. How does that happen? After analyzing, one sees this is because there is no gap between thought and action. Meditation and practice are just to allow us to pause before negative actions. Meditation and contemplation are the ground that allows us to think carefully. Meditation is where we give ourselves the clarity to think more clearly, not to be thoughtless. Shamatha allows us to pause, to settle down. On that basis, we can think carefully. On that basis all the teaching are expounded.

Hearing the dharma is necessary. When we allow ourselves to settle down, we need to use that settledness in a better way. Hearing is not just listening to the teacher, it is gathering information. It involves using all the six senses. We must consider very carefully what we perceive and understand how our senses function. After that we examine or contemplate. Examination means to think carefully and with logic. Then comes meditation. It is resting in the essence of what we have examined. The three wisdoms of hearing, examining, and meditating are the only things that allows us to bring practice to fruition.

Even if it is a simple teaching, if we take the time to examine it very carefully, confidence will arise in it. We have meditated for years without examining the teachings. But ultimately we have to think for ourselves, just as we have to eat for ourselves and others can’t do it for us. Fruition will not happen until you begin to think on and understand the teachings. That recognition is the essence. Mediation is not just a ground, it is a path. We we see what suffering is, it makes a deep impression, because it is what we have realized. You aren’t mindful because you are asked to be mindful. It is like being in school, with rules and regulations. But it doesn’t matter who gives you the teaching, what matters is the inner understanding. Just as the ground is always there, our confidence in the truth should be unwavering. At that point, meditation becomes path, to remind us to remain with the understanding that we have gained. It is a road we walk upon that keeps aligned with what we understand. That can lead to fruition meditation. Fruition is when you are confident enough that you don’t need support. With fruition being able to be kind and generous is not deliberate, but spontaneous. So within ourselves we find the whole path of meditation and see its beginning, middle and end.

We need to aspire, but we also need to be realistic. First we need to plant the seed before we can get the fruit. From the understanding that one person can affect one thousand we see the necessity of restraining body, speech, and mind. From that understanding of karma, we develop a sense of our responsibility. We see that it isn’t so complicated, we only need to act to help others. But we see we are unable to put our principles into practice. So we investigate why this is so, and see it is ignorance. Ignorance is not about not knowing, it is about a sensible human being not being able to act sensibility. So we must examine that ignorance. If we create suffering from this ignorance, we should investigate it. We spend years investigating Buddhism to see if it suits us, but we never investigate ignorance. We should see ignorance and skillfully refrain from strengthening it.

We’ve all lost touch with the purpose of being spiritual. We should not talk so much about outward forms but try harder to develop some common sense and bring it into action. It need not be as complicated as we make it. Take time to reflect on your spiritual journey. It is not about who you become, it is about acting so you are not harmful to others. I often a theistic belief in the dharma. When I first came to the West I was often asked about how to get beyond the externals of practice, but now I see Westerners are more attached to them than Tibetans. There is a belief that someday something will happen that will make it easy to be good. We think we are exempt from having to work hard. We think if we meditate several years fifteen minutes a day, we will be exempt from having to be compassionate. Ignorance is the stubborn belief that action doesn’t matter. To cut through this stubborn belief we must work hard.