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Buddhism in Everyday Life

Lama Tubten Shenpen Rinpoche - 25.9.2001 / Teaching at Shenphen Rime Tschö ling, Vienna, Austria
'Buddhism in everyday life', this is not a scholastic subject, there is no particular point, a new term to learn. Yet it is an extremely important subject since it finds its justification in every moment of our life. 
(This teaching hasn't been verified by Rinpoche; it is published "as is")
The Buddha Dharma is not a mere collection of words, it is clearly something which has to do with experience. For some people though, Buddhism and Buddha Dharma has to do with a collection of knowledge, but if it remains at this level, there is a deep lack. As the root of the Buddha's teachings have to be applied in every single moment our dualistic mind is functioning. Well, until we are realizing Emptiness, our mind is working dualistically, which means that we have to apply the Buddha Dharma in every single moment of our life.
For some people, the Buddha Dharma is something we get from books or from teachers and that we discuss or practice in groups, but once we are coming out of the group it is not something that is alive in our mind. Even though group discussions and practice are very important, it is as well extremely important to keep the Buddha Dharma alive in every single action of the daily life.
You may think that there are many moments in daily life which have nothing to do whatsoever with the dharma, but this is an incorrect concept; the dharma can be applied in every moment of our life. Whatever funny or strange moment you may think at, saying 'Oh, this has nothing to do with dharma', if you are analysing it a little bit, then you will find that at one level or another, the dharma can be applied. Dharma has somehow the power or ability to transform everything from whatever gross state into something spiritual, depending on our motivation. And here is one of the key words: motivation. As often as possible, it is important to have a meditation about what is our motivation. What is our goal? What do we want to do with our life? What do we expect to achieve within this life? And since we belong to the Mahayana tradition, our right motivation has to be to benefit others. So, everything that we are doing, thinking, has to be directed towards the benefit of others. This might be our deepest thought, wish, goal: How to benefit others. It does not mean that we have to forget our own interests, our life, it does not mean that we have to neglect our body or our life, it just means that we have to think about our body and our health with the right motivation. And with that motivation, every single moment can be transformed into something wonderful.
This afternoon I was taking the example of 'taking a shower'. It seems to be a very common thing, and we may not think about what we are doing while taking a shower. While cleaning our body, we may think about a thousand other things. Yet, if we analyse the action of cleaning our body, and if we transform it in the right way, it can become a Purification practice: While the soap is taking out the dust from our body, we can generate in our mind the wish to clean the mind from its delusions in the same way, then this thought is completely transforming the situation. It sounds perhaps funny, but this is really something which is effective, because it really plants the seeds to actually purify the negativity in our mind.
You can transform most of your activities in that way. If you have a garden with some weeds in it, cleaning the garden, pulling out the weeds can be transformed into pulling out the roots of cyclic existence.
While you are just sweeping the floor of your appartment, then you may think that you are cleaning your mind from the Three poisons.
And the meal is a wonderful moment for the practice. It is a way to meditate both on attachment and on Bodhicitta at the same time. When you are in front of your meal, according to what is in your plate, there are a lot of conceptions that arise, either attachment or aversion [towards what is in front of you], and this is the right moment to think about and to meditate upon that. And at the same time, you have to ask yourself why you are eating, why you are maintaining your body in good health. Well, we are talking here about good health, this is in case you are eating good food ... And the right motivation to take the meal, to keep the body in good health, has to be in order to practice more, in order to develop your mind, and with the final idea, the final goal, to be able to help more sentient beings. With such a motivation we are not eating any more in order to increase our attachment to food, but we are eating in order to benefit others.
You see, whatever moment you are able to take as a possibility to be transformed can be a dharma practice. And since most of our day is spent not in an 'official practice', [reciting] a sadhana [and so on], but in daily activities, it is important to bring our focus on that.
Some people think they have a poor life, because they cannot retire in a cave somewhere and do as many retreats or solitary meditations they would like to do, but in fact in the daily life it is somehow as efficient to practice. Surely, to be able to retire may give a sense of deepest engagement into the dharma, yet, if the motivation is right, to remain in the life that we have and to transform it into a dharma practice is as efficient.
[First of all], it is important to keep in mind the Six Perfections, because in many moments of our days we will be able to emphasize more on one of the six perfections. From the morning, when we are opening our eyes, it is good to have a meditation, even if it is a short one, in order to give the day the right orientation, the right impulse to the day, and to take the right decision that we will do our best in order to apply the dharma teachings. This decision is important because it will launch a type of awareness within our mind.
There are two specific qualities which are important to be kept in our mind as often as possible, in the practice and in daily life: awareness and memory. Awareness is a quality that will warn us every time our mind will develop some negative aspect. Once we are aware that our mind is not going in the right direction, the we may remember what would be the right direction. So we can bring our mind in a more appropriate attitude.
Every time that we are facing difficult moments, instead of taking such experiences as stressful or negative, we must search for the best way to solve it according to the dharma. Instead of taking a big part of our life as a burden, we should start to see it as a good opportunity for practice. And more we advance on the dharma path, more we engage into more advanced paths such as the Tantric path, more we will improve this transformation of the daily life into practice.
Along with the motivation, I would say that one important practice that we can apply regularly, is mental quietness, what is called Shine (tib. /zhi gnas/) in Tibetan. Because one of the sources, causes of our troubles, one cause of all the disturbances that arise within our mind, do arise because our mind is not focused. And the mind is usually not quiet at all, always jumping from an idea to another, from a fear to another, or from one desire to another.
You see, the real way to apply dharma lies exactly there, in how we are dealing with our mind, and how we are dealing with what we are used to call 'outside situations'. All the words have of course their own importance, and all the technical points [of dharma] have their own importance, but if you are a high scholar and you know many texts and you can recite by heart all kanjur (tib. /bka' 'gyur/) and tanjur (tib. /bstan 'gyur/), but if you don't understand how to apply it, if you don't make an effort in applying the dharma in every moment your mind is working, then it is useless. Nowadays, we have all the informations, all the texts, there are a lot of books and data support, computers, cds, thus it is not as important to memorize huge amounts of texts as it may have been in the past, but it is still extremely important to know how to deal with the situations we are facing. When I was living in Sera monastery, I met all kinds of monks, some high scholars and some so-called simple monks; I must say that it is not always the high scholars who show the best example. I have of course absolutely nothing against the scholastic knowledge, but for me the scholastic knowledge takes it sense when it starts to be applied in the daily life. We have a propension in the west to give a lot of importance to diploma and such scholastic degree. Yet, many high lamas do not have a specific degree, but were quite wonderful in their way to explain dharma. And when I am thinking about that, I am thinking about Lama Yeshe or Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche who indeed do not have a Geshe degree, for example, but they have been most respected for their way to explain the dharma which is just wonderful, because it is applied, it is practical.
As each of you is progressing along the dharma path, and as each of you has the wish to engage more and more, I think that it is important to focus on the practice and to focus on how to apply it, on how to change your mind, much more than learning texts by heart or to spend months for learning Tibetan, for example. If one has enough time and energy to learn the Tibetan language, it is fine. But I think this should be something extra, the cherry on the top. The main focus is on how we are dealing in our life with our children, our wife or husband, our boss, and so on. It is important because it is in all those situations that we are creating the various karmas that will make our future. And talking about children, it is how we are dealing with them and how we are showing the dharma principles to them, this will help them to get those good principles in a good way.
And as soon as we are known to be a Buddhist practitioner, we have also a responsibility in the sense that others are watching how we are behaving in our daily life. I am not talking at all about pretending to be what we are not, but to try to be what we would like to be. And as we are engaging in the path, we are expecting -- I do, at least -- to become better and better every time I have the opportunity to practice. Everything else, all the other formal practices and rituals are meant to help you in this approach. But the core of the dharma life, the core of our practice is at the same time our motivation and the way we are applying it every time we can.
I was talking about shine as one of the important practices, and once we start to have a good approach about shine, it is important to apply our quiet mind on a subject such as emptiness. To tend to have a clear understanding of the world in which we are living, not to grasp on it as most of the time we are doing. As you see, the basis of Buddhism does not lie in very complicated practices, sadhanas, but it is really lying in how we are dealing commonly with phenomena we are facing. Once again, I am not at all against the rituals and the studies, but I think we just have to relativize. It might seem to be a rather unconventional way, as many people rely much more on ritual and scholastic studies, but out of the experiences of many holy beings it appears that the way we are dealing with our minds moment after moment is what is helping us most.
[Facing ideologies]
Recently with the event that took place in America, we have been very much questioned (sollicité), many people may have asked us, what do you think about, and how do you analyze the event, and so on, it is in such moments that dharma has to 'show' itself. Regarding what is going on in the worlds or what might take place in the next months or years, it is more important than ever that we are developing a stable mind, together with a strong Bodhicitta motivation.
Bodhicitta (tib. /byang chub sems dpa'/) is much more than just Compassion as it is often translated in the west; Bodhicitta is much better translated as Awakening Mind. It is a state of mind which thinks in an altruistic way about all sentient beings without exception. And at the same time that we are thinking in an altruistic way about all sentient beings, there is this very deep wish to engage ourselves into the resolution of the Suffering of all those sentient beings. And this is an engagement without boundaries, without limits in time and space. That is very important to keep in mind, because otherwise, according to different situations, we may tend to make class distinctions among human beings. And to create some categories among human beings quite easily leads to a kind of xenophobia, a sort of racism toward another category. A good point to clarify within ourselves is to make the distinction between what the people are showing and the being, the consciousness by itself. We can disagree and we can show our disagreement to a certain behaviour, but it should not be a judgement on the being. If you are in front of a fascist person, of course you can disagree with fascism, but by no way, by no means can you take the being out of your compassion. So, when the time comes where for any reason we have to face a certain ideology, we have to really try to find an antidote to the ideology, such as fascism, without to take hateful decisions against the beings which are behind.
This can be applied in our daily life as well, it is not necessary only to talk about the attacks of the talibans or whatever, when we are facing somebody who shows very negative aspects, we may understand that it is an aspect, it is not the true mind, it is not the true consciousness, the person is acting out of Ignorance, showing an aspect, so we can disagree with an aspect, but never should we come to a point to hate a being.
If you are in front of somebody who is very angry, showing hatred or any wrong ideology -- by wrong I mean something which is against human rights, for example -- then try to take a position in front of the ideology without having to fight against a being. This we could apply in many different types of situation where we tend to mix the appearance with the being. We tend to fight against beings when we don't like what they are showing, what they are manifesting.
In front of any kind of things we do not appreciate, and mainly nowadays with what is happening in the world, we should keep in mind that violence is never a solution to solve violence. Gandhi was saying, 'Eye by eye, and the world will be blind soon.' It is extremely important to meditate on such things, because it is clear that we are living in degenerating times, and a number of events is showing that we are not going to the best. Thus, we as dharma practitioners have to be very clear about how to react in front of various situations.
Q. Could you please give some explanations about some parallels which might exist between the Islamic concept of Djihad and the Buddhist concept of Shambala warrior; because sometimes I thought about the fact that these people think they are very good, they are serving their god, and they are doing their best being very well-motivated, but they are doing very bad things.
A. Basically, I cannot make any parallel between Djihad and Shambala warriordom; because for me the object [of the action] and the way to act is diametrically opposed; I understand that the parallel which could be thought about could be the strength of motivation, but the object to reflect on is completely different. The Shambala warriors are never going against the beings, never against the reality of a being, his consciousness, and just for those of you who know a little bit about Shambala, it is just a way to fight against negativities, like we could see some wrathful Buddhas, for example, so there is a fight against negativities and not against beings. Basically, what we are calling 'warriors', or 'heros for liberation', or whatever, are really struggling for the best of all beings, for promoting the freedom of all beings. While the Djihad motivation is to promote only one side, their own side. And there is a concept which is for me unbearable: They do believe that the more human beings who do not follow their religion they are killing, the higher will be their rank in heaven. Thus, the object is not the same. Though, somehow we could take a lesson from that. When we are seeing the way they are struggling for a goal, even if the goal is not right, we can ask ourselves how far we are ready to struggle for our goals. How much are we willing to engage in the dharma in our daily life. How much are we willing to conduct our life for the benefit of others. Those people are ready to die for their goals, would we be able to think about engaging our complete life for the benefit of the others. When we are meditating about our motivation, about Bodhicitta, this is something we can ask ourselves, how deep am I willing to go for the sake of others?
Q. I have difficulties to separate the beings from their actions.
A. The being is the consciousness, a potential. On the top of that consciousness there are a lot of layers, of misconceptions, of social educations, of misunderstandings, which makes the consciousness to react most of the time in an inappropriate way. It is said in the texts that the consciousness is clear and all-knowing. Thus, each consciousness has that quality of clarity, but due to all the various karmic causes that we have created and due to all the various misconceptions that we have we are not in touch with this clarity. Thus, we do react out of our ego, all those kinds of misconceptions. This is something we have to understand when we are seeing somebody reacting. We don't have even to look at the others, we can look at our own reactions, for example, when we get angry: We can meditate on that: What really got angry? Is it my real fundamental Buddha nature which got angry? Or is it all this bunch of misconceptions and emotions that reacted? And I guess you have the answer. So then we can ask ourselves the same thing when we somebody else getting angry: This person, as ourselves, got angry out of misconceptions, misunderstandings, so we can find a way to react in front of this misunderstanding, but without to react against the being which is behind. Thus I could say: 'I don't like anger', but not: 'I don't like that being'. Acting like this, we can at the same time work on our own misconceptions, and we can avoid the escalade in our emotions against somebody else.
Q. Just imagining somebody is attacking my children, I know how I would behave, but I am not sure whether this would be the right way to behave ... ;-)
A. Also in such case we have to separate the action, the way we are reacting, and the motivation for doing so. With the right motivation, we will never engage into harmful activities. Though, at the same time, this does not mean that we will not have to fight in order to help others. When I say 'to fight', it is obvious that when somebody is trying to attack your children, it is implied that we have to do everything that has to be done in order to preserve the well-being of the children. But we have to do it with the right motivation. The right motivation lies in how we emotionally are engaging ourselves in the relationship both to the attacker and the children. Briefly, we could say that the limit of our activities is the life [not killing]. If you are good at fighting, you may try to save the lives of your children by fighting, but the limit has to be the live -- of the person who is attacking. We cannot act for the good by killing, there is nothing which can justify killing.
This is a difficult subject, because it involves at the same time both our emotions and a whole bunch of attachments, and since most of the time we don't have the right view on cause and conditions, it is difficult to find the right way to face such situations. That's why it is much better to prepare ourselves by meditating as often as possible on emotions, motivation, interdependence of phenomena, in order to be able to face any kind of situation later on.
Q. How far does this affect your Karma, if you are acting with good motivation, but you have to harm somebody in order to prevent some bad things?
A. The motivation is prime in everything. You may know the story of the Bodhisattva who had to kill somebody in order to save a boat. Do you know this story? In any case, we can say that to kill is negative. Nevertheless, in the story of that bodhisattva, who killed one person who was ready to kill 500 passengers ...
Q. Did he take the karma from this guy who wanted to kill the others?
A. We can ask ourselves: Why did he want to kill that person? He did not kill that person in order to save 500 people. He wanted to kill that person in order to avoid that this person will accumulate 500 murders. It is slightly different, because we cannot avoid [that] beings [are meeting the results of] the causes they have created. If someone has created the karma to be killed, he will be killed, whatever we are trying to do. But if somebody is wanting to kill, the wish to kill is not karmically conditioned, it is out of your free will that you are deciding to kill. Thus, you can act on that. In that story, many people think that the bodhisattva killed the person in order to save the lives of 500 people, but this is not true. He killed that person in order to avoid that person to accumulate 500 murders. Surely, we can say that because he has killed one man, he has accumulated the negative karma of killing one man. Nevertheless, his motivation was so pure, and the act was so much directed for the benefit of that being, that the negative aspect is covered by the right motivation.
Thus, if we have to prevent something to happen, we have to analyse quickly why we are doing it, and to do it in the right motivation. If you have to punch somebody in order to save somebody else, I would say there is no negativity in doing it, since the motivation is right. And even though there would be a slight negativity just by the fact to punch, it would be covered by the right motivation -- if the motivation is right.
Because, in the story of the bodhisattva who has killed a person, he could be sure of what he is doing because he had Bodhicitta, not just the taste or an idea of Bodhicitta, but the realization of Bodhicitta, thus, his motivation was truly good. So it is not the action which is important, it is what is behind the action [the motivation]. And if one day you have to fight, if you are fighting for something which is really motivated by Bodhicitta then I would not say that it is creating negative karma. And I go further in saying that in the bodhisattva Vows, it is said clearly that we should not avoid acting in such a wrathful way, if it is for the real benefit of some sentient beings. We cannot hide behind the bodhisattva ideal saying 'I am non-violent and I cannot do anything violent!' -- which seems to be violent [itself]. The violence for me is not in the movement, it is in the motivation. There are people who look very calm, but are extremely violent in their words, in their behaviour, and there are some other people who seem to be rude and rough while having a good motivation. You understand?
Think about the wrathful deities; if you take Mahakala, for example, he is an emanation of Chenrezig who is the embodiment of compassion, yet Mahakala is frightening, represented with chopped off heads around his neck, and so on. The wrathful aspect does not imply angry motivation. We have to make the difference between what we are seeing and what is behind.
Q. Do you personally think that the third world war will come?
A. In brief, we can say that we have to pray for the world peace, because it will take place what the biggest number of people have [karmically] created. Whether there will be a third world war or not, it seems that the future will be less peaceful, without any type of emotion we have to pray as much as we can. We have to pray for two things, one thing is to be able to help in any situation, and secondly, to hope for a peaceful situation. If we understand well the law of cause and effect, there is no reason to be either optimistic or pessimistic, but just to wait and see what happens in the outside world and at the same time to grow spiritually inside. We cannot change somehow what has been created by the big number of beings, but we can change ourselves inside, and because we are changing ourselves inside, we can have an influence on our surroundings.
I wish you a good evening and if you have the opportunity tomorrow, the teaching will be about the Twelve interdependent links.


Words of Wisdom

"Support beings with your whole nature and protect them like your own body. Indifference towards beings must be avoided like poison!"
- Nagarjuna

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