Meditation and daily life
A Lecture at Fondazione Maitreya Rome
Geshe Gedun Tharchin
ROME: 4 September 2005
I feel today here a good, peaceful and harmonious atmosphere. It is what we usually call dharma meeting, which means that to have an experience of dharma. An experience of dharma is to be harmonious, peaceful and tranquil. That experience of dharma is something that is created by not simply gathering some kind of material objects or people rather that atmosphere and experience came out of a natural process of approaching dharma and an interaction or meeting between good hearts and wholesome attitudes.
I feel this extraordinary spirit among you today; I’m talking about my own experience, what I feel today here in our meeting after one month of break. In one month we haven’t any dharma meeting so we missed dharma meetings for a month. But, lack of opportunity of having dharma meeting is also conditions to have more intensive dharmic experience today. Everything exist relatively, paradoxically, there’s no absolute positive or absolute negative things. Relative means interdependent, interdependent means that two or more things must meet, encounter and from that meeting some new things will arrive. Having meeting and not having meetings are two things could create new phenomena, a new dharmic experience.
Today is a kind of meeting point after a long pause, a long holiday and starting new meetings, regular meeting. In this meeting point, where exactly come up the result, some new dharmic experiences. We always have to know what exactly means dharma. Dharma is not something given by somebody as help. It’s a natural phenomena. Dharma is not something that somebody is giving or somebody is taking. It’s simply a natural phenomena, reality, and fact, which come out as the result of the meeting of two or more different phenomena. We have to know how to find in them the result; every moment of our life, in every moment of our life there’s always some possibility to catch the dharmic essence.
We are using today as an example the meeting point of holiday and starting regular meetings, which meeting point is also giving us a dharmic chance. Similarly, every moment of our life there’s always some meeting points of different phenomena and from there one can find some possibilities of collecting dharmic essence. We shouldn’t think that dharma practise is something that when you come here, you can take it from me and then you’re taking home or going to be lost in the street or be stolen in the bus. Dharma is a gift of the universe, natural phenomena. There’s always the presence of dharma in our life everywhere and in any moment. Only thing that you have to know is how to collect it.
Nature has the possibility or capacity of giving good things and also bad things, for example some natural disasters as recently in America New Orland. Then people start to think: “Oh, nature can cause big damage”… but how much nature has given to us we don’t think about. How much we are taking from the nature, how much the nature is given to us, we don’t think about. When there’s some big damage comes due to natural conflicts, then we think: “Oh nature is very damaging, harming us”. We have to know that dharma is also a gift of the nature, the greatest, biggest gift of the nature. Nature is the guru, the master, the best teacher, so it’s beautiful. In this approach you see what dharma is exactly and how you can live in, with dharma constantly, without even missing any moment of life.
So, the special thing in human beings is the great thing that human mind. Human mind is also part of the nature and also is a gift of nature. I always tell that human mind itself is dharma, and human mind itself is the resource of all happiness and could even fulfil all our desires. The most precious thing we human beings have is human mind. We can produce dharma within our mind, within mind stream. We can produce peace, tranquillity and genuine happiness only within our mind and within our mind stream. There’s only a way human beings can produce and develop happiness, peace, tranquillity and all mental qualities. Realization, high realization, usually people have this fantasy of high realization. Where’s high Realization? High realization only can reside within the mind stream of our mind.
If isn’t exists mind, then there wouldn’t be peace, happiness, realizations. We human beings, from time to time, we make mistake: we exchange our mind against the money. Because we have the belief that money will bring all our desired objectives, but it’s not a good business, a good exchange. So, first thing as I talked dharma is the interdependent nature of reality, the second thing is the mind itself. Therefore to develop our mind is the preserving our mind. Taking care of our mind is the practise of dharma.
Meditation, famous in the West today: why meditation is famous? Because it is a means of taking care of our mind, because if I am not wrong, today’s hi-tech world has lost that system. Due to that they have lost lots of happiness and peace… because simply they have forgotten it, they have forgotten their mind. When you’ve forgotten your mind, there’s no way to gain genuine peace, happiness, tranquillity. Then you come back saying: “oh mind is brain”, you go inside and do search all the time, and people think, I’m not peaceful, then they take pills or injections, some tranquillisers. This is a sign of that we have lost our mind. We shouldn’t lose our mind, which is very big question in civilisation of today: they almost have lost their mind. Meditation is a method to remember the mind, to take care the mind, to look after the mind. Today in terms of the western civilisation you can say recall your mind or the look after of your mind and the meditation is means of recalling your mind, if you’ve lost it.
We need dharma; we need dharma practise, not just once in month, once in week, but every day, every moment of our life. Let’s say, many categories of people don’t believe that existence of mind, then how you find peace? Peace, tranquillity, happiness are characteristics of mind. If you don’t believe that our mind exists, there’s no way to find peace, happiness, tranquillity. The principal problem is not lack of dharma, but the lost of mind.
Then, third level, we can say, yes, we have mind, we take care of mind, but what is really the essence of mind? How can we make to feel the mind within ourselves? That can take place through a very common concept of love and compassion. Love and Compassion are the essence of our mind and heart. Where do lie peace, tranquillity, happiness? Just being silence or being without thinking or keeping an empty mind is not peace and happiness. The real love and compassion means sense of responsibility and closeness, or sensibility of genuine love and compassion or experience of peace and tranquillity. Peace and tranquillity are some experiences reside within our mind and heart. Through recalling our mind and feeling our mind within ourselves one can produce peace, tranquillity and happiness - not only to ourselves, principally harmony with outside or others.
So these three things I feel are very important points, which can help how to define what we are practising, that is the dharma. Through these understandings and knowledges one can eventually understand and one can see; oh, there’s a precise and a way leading to peace and tranquillity, happiness and joy within our mind and heart.
There are the three steps when we talk about dharma practise. We shouldn’t think of just one point, or one object, but it’s a process, a process how to develop our mind. First we have to know is that the dharma is not something that categorically belongs to some authorities. Could be big mistake that if you thinks that Dharma belongs to me and I can sell it to you or something like that, or that I’m authorised as a dharma dealer, like a dharma agent. In today’s society there’s too many confusions. Many people think “oh this man has the authorisation of giving dharma to people”, and then other people think “Oh how wonderful if I would also this authorisation”so they go searching“that the highest dharma authority is?” Such kind of belief is based on huge ignorance and big confusion. First we have to know dharma is a natural gift, a gift of nature, dharma exists from without beginning time, it will exist endless time and it is everywhere and any time. There’s no place where we can’t find dharma.
Dharma exist everywhere, any time, any moment. To be able to get that dharma we have to know that dharma exists relatively, interdependently, there’s no a dharma as an independent phenomenon by itself. As the example we used this morning – not having regular meeting for one month and now going to have regular meeting – both these situations also can become conditions to produce moment that we can get some new dharma. That dharma comes from where? It doesn’t come by itself, independently, but from a meeting point of these two different phenomena.
There’s a very famous example, very common for the all religions, these two bells and with meeting sound comes. Then you say: “where the sound does comes?” So, you go and do research about it and write books! This sound is just the result of this meeting of these two bells. Without this meeting of these two things the sound cannot exist. This sound comes from where? It’s not coming from long distance; it’s simply due to meeting, interdependent, coming into being due to interconnection between these two bells. Similar, dharma is not something independently that we go and collect? No, meeting of different phenomena produce dharma. We have to know that dharma exists interdependently and it doesn’t exist independently. In sutra of the essence of wisdom says that at the end even no wisdom nor nirvana exist.
Second step, as we talked this morning, again, our human mind is the real dharma of human being. Then you go and say: “Mind doesn’t exist!” because you don’t find mind as any independent phenomena. But mind exists interdependently, similar to sound. The way, how exists our mind is the way, how exists the sound, how come to being the sound is the same way comes to being our mind. This is the very important point that we have to know through this kind of philosophy.
Since you don’t find mind as an independent phenomena, then you say: “Better go into my brain to find my mind”. Human mind is our dharma and that mind also exists interdependently.
Then third level: what is the essence of mind? How can we experience that mind? As I’ve talked, experiencing love and compassion. If there’s no experience and feeling of love and compassion, you can’t feel your mind. That means that you can’t feel your dharma. So, genuine happiness and tranquillity are the peaceful experience of love and compassion.
Love and compassion are not something I can give you as a present of book, it’s not possible, and love and compassion also exist interdependently. Interdependently means your mind’s sensibility, understanding of others’ suffering and your own suffering. Love and compassion arise from interdependence and understanding of interdependent nature of reality and dharma. When that your understanding meets others’ suffering, the reality of others’ lives, then you feel the experience of love and compassion.
So, it’s very complicated, isn’t it? In this regard we have to recite this sutra, this is a quotation from a sutra, which says: “The Bodhisattvas when they practise one dharma it is valid to practise all dharma. That one dharma is great compassion. Holding great compassion is like holding all dharma in your hand. Great compassion is the breath of the dharma”.
This is what Buddha says, but when we read the lines we find that the great compassion is the life sustaining breath of dharma and the essence of dharma, but the detailed mechanism of how the great compassion is the essence of dharma has been explained before. Going through such process of knowledge, understanding, and experience one can really feel that dharma is something very precious and valid.
SILENCE MEDITATION and READING SUTRA OF HEART WISDOM
“Heart Sutra” is very powerful. It talks about interdependent nature of reality; things exist within empty nature, because of their interdependent nature. In the Sutra says No eyes means not exists an independent eye, eyes exist interdependently. No mind means mind exists simply interdependently, no independent mind exists. So, everything becomes easier. Usually we grasp everything, with understanding of interdependently existing things nothing to grasp. We are interdependent phenomena; human beings are interdependent of our components. Dharma is that not the blessed waters and blessed sweets. Dharma is Empty space like, openness!
SHORT TEA BREAK
The theme of today’s intensive session is the daily practise. The daily practise here we intend is how to bring a dharmic intention as integration of our daily activity. The practise of dharma usually is divided into two categories: one is the practise when you meditate formally; the other is when although you’re not in formal meditation and you’re in your daily routine, but you still can take that moment as a practise of dharma.
Regarding the formal meditation, as we talked this morning earlier, this kind of practise is when you reflect, learn and understand and then you try to experience, feel what you have learned and understood through a formal meditation sitting. Is important formal meditation: love and compassion, dharma, just reading books, oh beautiful, no, it’s not enough, to try to feel, digest food: not just looking oh, nice food, no, you’ve to try to taste and digest and then you will get some energy from that food. Just watching the menu in a restaurant is not enough! Read, read, read, every day buying and reading new books and then you find nothing: it’s like watching a menu.
Formal meditation, as we said earlier this morning, reading sutra like, all forms of formal meditations as sitting in silent and reflecting within etc. what you feel is meditation. Through the process of meditation one can feel inside of oneself that is the real healing internally oneself.
I believe you have already comprehension of what we have talked earlier. When we are not in formal meditation, in daily routine, but still our actions can be integrated with dharma practise that is withholding the intention of love and compassion. Throughout our activities, our daily routine, from time to time we have to re-establish intention of love and compassion. Though, it is difficult to have our activities be touched by genuine love and compassion, but still, our activities should be influenced at least by a kind of artificial one, motivated by love and compassion.
In Buddha’s time there was a king who asked to Buddha: “I’ve so many things got to do, I can’t concentrate on practise. So, what shall I do now, without losing my kingship, my role, my responsibility, and same time practising bodhisattva practise?” Then Buddha said: “The kings have lot things to do, a lot of responsibilities, so they can’t be concentrated always and they can’t always practise dharma through formal meditation, but each moment in your activities you must meditate, reflect and remember love and compassion. Your every activity should be motivated by intention of bodhicitta. If you’re able to hold your activities with intention of bodhicitta that is the way, how you can practise dharma and same time you will not lose your role. And all your activities would become causes to buddhahood”.
So, here this commentator says, it’s a very important point, “The bodhisattvas should be practising this way, if you’ve not enough time to practise formal meditation, then any activities should be in connection with Bodhicitta intention”. “For example, when you’ve been caught by some sickness, illness, suffering situation, then you should think: ‘May this suffering become purification of the suffering of all sentient beings’”. Or you can say: “May this suffering which I experience in this moment, May it can substitute sufferings that will be experienced by other beings”. Then when you have some happiness, some moments in which you have gained some physical or mentally happiness, health, some kind of wealthy moment, you should dedicated, you should think: “I will dedicate all these my joy, happiness, health to the benefit and happiness of all other sentient beings”.
When we eat, breakfast, lunch, dinner: “I’m having and digesting this food for the benefit of all the sentient beings, just to sustain my body”; and same time when you’re having this food you’re not just feeding you but many other beings that are living in our body, Eighty-four thousands (84.000) beings living inside our body we are feeding them as well. So, you can think that: “Now I’m feeding them with foods, but in future I’ll feed them with dharma”. It’s very important, for the food that sustains our body to become as means of practicing dharma. Feeding those beings with foods and the prayer create a karmic link of possibility of feeding them with dharma in future.
When you sleep – sleep is not just enjoying and relaxing, sleep is also to sustain our body –: “I’m sustaining my body for further practise of dharma”. When you clean house, dust: “Oh, for the benefit of all sentient beings I’m cleaning all the negative karma and delusions”. When you wash your hands: “I’m washing all other beings’ mental defilements”. When you open a door: “I’m opening the door of liberation for the all other sentient beings to get into the liberation, Nirvana”. When you light a candle for an offering: “Space like sentient beings and lighting the wisdom to eliminate the ignorance”. All of these, each activities can be transformed into dharma practise with creating the connection with the bodhicitta intention.
So, it is the daily practise: when you’re not in formal meditation, any activities in our life can be transformed into dharma means becoming cause of Buddhahood through making connection with the bodhicitta intention.
Now, we go to Nagarjuna’s Letter to a friend, this is also our theme, the daily practise in the “Letter to a friend” by Nagarjuna. Verse number 38: this line is usually used for blessing meal, before consume the meal. You keep in your meal before you and recite this line and reflect and then we can have the meal. Subsequent lines, verses no 39 and 40 and 41. Here says, food is against the diseases of hunger, food is medicine. The food is real medicine. We must know that food is medicine against disease, illness… what kind of illness? No doctor knows, because the illness is the hunger, because hunger is an illness. A very important point that food is medicine against hunger, but when you take medicine you have to take right, perfect dose, so here says, nor too much neither too less. Not too much because of attachment. When we eat food without mindfulness, our intention of having food could easily get influenced by attachment or aversion.
Food is neither to gain simply physical energy, and also food is just nor it to make body flexible. All these things have only one motivation, when we have food, we should have a single motivation that is simply as a medicine, medicine against hunger and with bodhicitta intention; we sustain our body because the body should be allow to practise dharma which practise of dharma will help all other beings.
Then, about the sleeping, it’s not good sleeping daytime. Because, if you sleep daytime, as the defect of the sleeping is missing the opportunity, losing time, let’s say. It’s true, when you sleep daytime, then you don’t realise how much time passes, then you could miss office etc. Even during the night time is good not to sleep in the first part of the night, the evening, also in the morning because these two moments are for the practise of dharma, are for the formal meditation. You don’t have to go to the office at evening or at early morning. So, if you don’t sleep during these periods then you can find everyday the exact time for the meditation. That’s good. And then when you sleep, as I talked before, this is simply for sustaining the body for the benefit of all sentient beings with intention of bodhicitta.
Also another thing, here it is suggested to sleep in this position, with the right hand as a pillow under your cheek, the body lying on the right side. It is said this position front up is the position of the deva, and when you’re sleeping front down that is the position of the animals. Human position is on the right. When you sleep like a deva it brings you too much light, when you sleep down it brings too much obscuration. Sleeping with human way you are in the right position of clear light. Face towards north and head towards east, but if your bed in your room is not perfect for this situation you can imagine as if it this position, at the imagination level you can do it easily. This is the position of the lion. The lions sleep in this way, is it true?
In Tibetan society many monks when they die they die with sitting in the meditation position. But the best practitioners they die with the position of the lion, which is more difficult then that dying with meditation position. It is very rare that a Lama can do it, dying with position of lion. Buddha did pass away with position of lion. There are many Buddha’s images in this position, dying Buddha, Mahaparinirvana Buddha.
A unique Tibetan scholar, Gedun Choephel (1903-19519) he’s the top Tibetan scholar in whole Tibetan history. Today in the world begun to acknowledge that he is the first Tibetan that went to Sri Lanka, he travelled 15 months in Sri Lanka and wrote an articles on his experiences in Sri Lanka, he translated Dhammapada from pali into Tibetan language and he said: “In Sri Lanka you find many Mahaparinirvana Buddha status, but you can’t see such status in Tibet. Because, Tibetans believe that image of dying Buddha is negative or misfortune”. He made jokes and critics to the Tibetan tradition. Because, In Tibet always find seated Buddha images. Might Tibetans think that Buddha is always meditating, not dying or laying down? But I personally feel Mahaparinirvana Buddha image is very important, to remember impermanence, to remember that even Buddha was passed away, can’t remain eternally. And to see Buddha images in positions of sleeping and dying is useful to recall us some Dharmic principles and also such positions are considered as the most important meditation positions as well.
I always think that sleeping is a small death, every night we face a small death, and all these small deaths are trainings for the big death. This is good that every night we train how to die. Also the procedure of how we get into death, devolvement of the senses is very similar to that when we go through process falling into sleep. And also it’s very important and to know the eating meditation and sleeping practises.
Then four immeasurable thoughts talking the “Letter to a friend” by Nagarjuna, we have already talked in the past. Four immeasurable thoughts are very important and the practice is useful also for holding positive intentions in everyday activities. And then comes four concentrations. Those four concentrations are more like formal meditation. The four concentrations practises are single-pointed concentration and practise with the integration of analytical practise. Stages of concentrations are to overcome the attachment towards the respective lower realms of the world.
Four concentrations practise are dedicated to superior attachment regarding the desire realm, very interesting technique. If you just practise and train your mind to see the defects of the desire realm and the qualities of the superior realms. With this practise, after sometime, you create more attachment towards the superior realms but you will get rid of the attachment towards lower ones. Then once you go there, once you’re able to overcome the attachment to the desire realm, then you get the first superior realms then you practise again further more starting to look the defects of that first level of the superior realms and then you see the qualities of the further, a higher one. So this practise is a bit complicated to explain here, at the moment, however we are going to precede some more lines from Nagarjuna’s Letter to a friend”.
Verse number 42 and 43. Here talking of five non-virtuous karmas and five virtuous karmas. First one is the constant karma, which is that either positive or negative actions, if you do it constantly regular basis then they become very powerful either positive or negative. And second very powerful karma is generating bodhicitta heart, which is very powerful positive karma but same time anger is very negative karma. Then third, the karma without remedies. Fourth is the karma related to the field that benefiting. Whether you bring either negative or positive effects to important field like your parents, when you bring either negative or positive benefit to that important field or object that is considered as powerful karma. Then there are objects of the refuge, whether you bring negative or positive actions towards of the objects of refuge – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Such karma or actions will certainly bring big amount results negative or positive respectively. So those five actions are called very powerful actions. Nagarjuna suggests to whom he has written this letter, try to avoid that powerful negative karma and try to engage in those positive ones.
The last verse says: “You have to be very careful that if you have a negative karma and positive karma, actions accumulated, if there is a very small amount accumulation of positive karma then even small negative karma can effect and attack you easily; if you’ve got a big amount of the positive karma the small negative karma cannot attack you”.
As I often have told you that accumulation of merit, here in west even you could get hundred books of Buddhism, born in west, very rarely speaking of accumulation of merit. Here often people think that Dharma is like a mechanism, modern psychology, modern science, and scientific research. They hardly comprehend what is accumulation of merit and what is spirituality? Accumulation of merit is spirituality. What is spiritual value? Accumulation of merits is spiritual value. A very important feature of Dharma practice; accumulation of merit is almost not speaking in western Buddhist world. Accumulation of merit is fundamental for Dharma practitioners.
We can stop here for today. Thank you so much all of you for being here. Hope we have accumulated good merits, one of those five powerful positive karma - we have talked today that we are protected from any attack from negative karma!