Pain and Suffering

1375908_727269923966662_1356277323_nThe Buddha Shakyamuni taught different approaches to turn the experience of pain and suffering into Dharma practice:

  1. We can understand that the present experience of pain and suffering is the consequence of previous negative acts. This unwholesome karma was in our mind continuum as a latent seed, and is manifesting now. We can resolve to abandon the causes of future suffering, and be grateful that once this negative consequence is experienced, that particular unwholesome karma will be definitely purified.
  2. As we experience pain and suffering, we can reflect on the fact that countless other sentient beings are enduring similar or worse circumstances. We can utilize this understanding to deepen and intensify our loving kindness and compassion, wishing that our present hardship free all beings from suffering and its causes.
  3. From the level of absolute truth, we can contemplate that the one who suffers and the experience of suffering have no real existence. The pain and suffering, although appearing to our consciousness, are insubstantial, impermanent, and dependent on multiple causes and conditions. Thus, suffering is an opportunity to cultivate wisdom.
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There Is No Distance

J TreeDirect contact with our teachers can be beneficial, but it can also degenerate into an excessive familiarity that impedes Dharma transmission.

Many great Buddhists of the past sat with their masters perhaps once or twice in their entire lives, and received from them one line of one text. The quantity of the contact is not the essential component in a teacher-student relationship.

If we truly aspire to merge our minds with the mind of the teachers of our lineage through study, contemplation, meditation, and application, there is no distance.

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art-stuThe sooner we purge our negative karma, accepting its consequences as lessons and motivations for practice, the sooner we will see that life becomes, if not easy, at least more manageable. Persevering in Bodhisatva conduct, we establish in our mental continuum the causes of our own and others’ happiness.

Patience —with others, with our circumstances, with ourselves, and with the Dharma— is essential. We did not accumulate these negative tendencies and karmic formations in a few days or a few lifetimes, and we must free ourselves systematically and gradually from their chains.

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Dharma by the Slice

slicesIt has become fashionable these days to reduce the Noble Eightfold Path to —at most— its last two components: the ill-understood ‘mindfulness’ (Right Recollection) and meditation (Right Concentration). Instead of the full and complete Wheel of Dharma, we only want one or two ‘slices’, as if we were eating pizza on the run.

And then we are surprised when these ‘Dharma slices’ do not lead to happiness, when our ‘mindfulness’ is not stable and our meditation is neither deep nor helpful. Enlightenment on this ‘path’ is not even a remote possibility.

The Jonang Masters advise us to never skip any of the eight components of the Path, and to cultivate them in their proper order:

Without Right View, there is no Right Thought;

without Right Thought, there is no Right Speech;

without Right Speech, there is no Right Conduct;

without Right Conduct, there is no Right Livelihood;

without Right Livelihood, there is no Right Effort;

without Right Effort, there is no Right Recollection;

and without Right Recollection, there is no Right Concentration.

Of course, it is neither necessary nor prudent to postpone the cultivation of each component until the previous ones have been perfected, but it is absolutely indispensable to practice every one, and to recognize that without all of them, happiness, liberation, and enlightenment are impossible.

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Dharma Merchants

greedIt is fairly easy to become a popular “Dharma Teacher” these days if one repeats banal platitudes and shares psychological strategies that make people feel comfortable in samsara. Thousands pay great quantities of money to hear these fraudsters preach a Dharma without renunciation, without precepts, and without commitments.

  • Right View? Instead of the Four Noble Truths, karma, rebirth, and Buddha Nature, these merchants promote their personal opinions, selling a Dharma without Buddha, without doctrinal content, and without disciplic succession.
  • Right Thought? Instead of the Four Thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma (this precious human life; the inevitability of death; the inescapable consequences of action; and the pervasiveness of suffering in cyclic existence), they misrepresent Buddhism as a humanistic philosophy and a psychological technique for generating complacency and ‘self-esteem’.
  • Right Speech? These merchants concoct their own versions of the Dharma, promoting unrestrained ‘self-expression’, regardless of the harm it may cause.
  • Right Conduct? These ‘teachers’ do not observe the Precepts themselves, nor do they encourage others to do so, as if peace of mind were possible without basic morality.
  • Right Livelihood? They disregard the specific instructions of the Buddha against trafficking in the Dharma by charging for instruction, and in their desire to accumulate followers and ‘donations’, they are complicit in their students’ participation in corrupt and harmful industries.
  • Right Effort? They do not abandon their own unwholesome practices, nor do they cultivate the Ten Perfections, and much less do they recommend that their followers engage in radical transformation.
  • Right Mindfulness? They promote an extremely narrow view of what is more aptly named Right Recollection, as if mindfulness were merely a way of ‘being present’ for personal effectiveness, without recollecting the Buddha, His instructions, and universal welfare.
  • Right Concentration? These Dharma merchants misconstrue meditation as mere technique (a breathing exercise or visualization practice), instead of promoting the true cultivation of peace and clarity.

The Dharma is not meant to make us comfortable. It demands that we transform ourselves. It shows us the way to renunciation, moral discipline, and selflessness. It is not a business. Let us always prefer an honest word, a faithful teaching, even if it does not come wrapped in the best ‘production values’.

Lest someone think this is an overly harsh assessment, the Buddha states in the Ākāśagarbha Sūtra:

Dishonorable teachers and their patrons declare pure Dharma to be non-Dharma, and refer to that which is non-Dharma as Dharma, thus abandoning the true Dharma.

Having abandoned their training in loving kindness, great compassion, and the perfection of wisdom, as well as their training in skillful means and the trainings taught in other sūtras, they manufacture rules for the community that are dissociated from meritorious activities and therefore harm the Sangha.

They resemble donkeys, as they carry the texts of the Dharma, without understanding them.

Once they have been greatly honored and venerated and have received the offerings of their patrons, they criticize, in front of the householders, those monastics that diligently practice relinquishment of wrong conduct. And their retinues become angry at the monastics that diligently practice relinquishment, and disparage them. 

—Buddha Shakyamuni

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cube_illusionIf you have contemplated the empty nature of all phenomena in your meditation sessions, it is easy to see the dreamlike nature of phenomena between sessions.

At the same time, you will feel effortless compassion toward all those who suffer needlessly because they are unaware of the illusory nature of everything.

—Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

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Eight Illustrations

LongchenpaAbandoning the mind that craves security

in what is but a dream, a magic show, an optical illusion,

a mirage, a reflection, an echo, a city in the clouds, an apparition,

let pure awareness and spontaneous action regain their primacy.

—Longchen Rabjam, Finding Comfort and Ease in Illusion

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