WE ALSO NEED THE DHARMA IN TIMES OF HAPPINESS
When ordinary people are faced with suffering and cannot bear it, suffering becomes an obstacle in their practice; their lives are also affected in many different ways. In the same way, when people are blessed with “happiness” – wealth, position, status – and cannot moderate their attitude, they become arrogant; they discriminate against others and even bully or oppress those less fortunate.
The worst thing about arrogance is that people believe they are better than everyone else and eventually lose respect for others. Additionally, they develop a mistaken view that money will resolve all problems. Not recognizing the benefits of practice and liberation, they plunge further into material pleasures and lack the impetus to improve. When advised to recite Amitabha or to practice with diligence, they respond, “Everything in my life is progressing smoothly; I have all that I want. Why would I still need to go to the Amitabha pure land?”
This complacency, unwillingness to progress, and even greater reluctance to engage in serious practice are not the problems of any individual but phenomena typical of our time. When these afflictions control us, our practice becomes difficult and is filled with obstacles. To surmount these difficulties, we need special methods.
Ordinary people are very knowledgeable about worldly matters – how to make money, how to live, etc. – but because they have never received Dharma teachings and are not educated on liberation and other profound issues of life, their values are often wrong and inverted. They only see what is immediately ahead and do not reflect on longer-term problems. Not knowing the fundamental nature of wealth and material things eventually gives rise to arrogance and laziness.
A lot of people opt for a life in the middle whereby there is neither great suffering nor happiness – a relatively placid life in which they can also practice the Dharma. However, an ordinary life such as this is not necessarily long-lasting. We cannot avoid the eight types of suffering, including birth, aging, illness, and death, and may even encounter great vicissitudes in life. Without the Dharma, how do we confront these circumstances?
Hence, it is not just in times of suffering, but also in times of happiness, that we need the Dharma. With the wisdom and the force of the teachings to face happiness, to share our good fortune with others, then happiness will not obstruct our practice.
Without the Buddhist teachings and practice, most people are still able to endure suffering; this is because they hold on to hope, even if it is very slight. Faced with good fortune, however, it is difficult for them to remain composed; with money, power, and status, they become megalomaniacal and self-important. Unable to return to their simple life before, and even less willing to listen, reflect, and practice the teachings, they indulge in material pleasures and gradually deplete their blessings.
A lot of people are envious of the rich and are mistaken in thinking material things can bring all kinds of happiness. Further influenced by materialism in the West, they relentlessly pursue a life of material pleasures. Except for those who understand the Dharma and are serious practitioners, many of the rich are not happy and are actually more troubled and afflicted than ordinary people. If we examine how they make and spend their fortune, we may discover countless negative deeds being committed behind the façade of glittering wealth. How can this be a blessing?
Thus the Buddha and many Buddhist masters explained there is no absolute happiness in the three realms, particularly the desire realm. Although there is happiness in life, it is relative and short-lived; within happiness are seeds of suffering.
Whether it is the temporary happiness we experience in everyday life, or the everlasting happiness one attains after transcending samsara, neither originate from a life based on material pursuit but from peace and freedom of the mind. When the mind is occupied by hate, selfishness, and desire, it is not free. To attain lasting freedom, the mind must be rid of the poisons of desire, anger, delusion, and arrogance.
As our understanding of the Dharma deepens, we can stay calm however great the vicissitudes in our life.
THE SPECIFIC METHOD
The specific method is meditation retreat. By meditation retreat, we are not referring to a retreat lasting two to three years or several months but to a consistent practice of one to two hours every day.
Methods of Relative Truth
First: Contemplate the Impermanence of Life
In accordance with The Words of My Perfect Teacher on the impermanence of life, we should contemplate: the wealth I have acquired in this lifetime is the result of good karma I created in the past and may be lost at any time. Hence, I should not grow attached to this wealth and become arrogant.
We should further contemplate: the wealth and position I have in this lifetime are all relative; in the end I will leave in the same way that I came – with nothing, except for the bad karma I have created. I must not be so ignorant as to think I can get away without practice just because I have a bit of good fortune now. I should be even more diligent in my practice and strive to benefit sentient beings.
By repeating this contemplation, arrogance can be diminished. Certainly, it is only after attaining the first bodhisattva ground that the seeds of arrogance can be eliminated altogether.
In Compendium of Training, Shantideva cited many sutras in describing a specific attitude: a king or an entrepreneur who has bodhicitta will think his wealth does not belong to him. He is merely a custodian who is responsible for discharging or distributing the wealth in such a way as to benefit sentient beings.
If bodhicitta is absent, wealth and worldly possessions are all causes of suffering which hinder us in our pursuit of liberation.
Second: Contemplate Present Happiness Doesn’t Come by Easily
At the same time, we should think: although all that is defiled or tainted is the cause of suffering, I enjoy a quiet and relatively happy life now because of the merit I accumulated in past lives; this happiness does not come by easily. The sutras state that true and unparalleled good fortune in the world is to be able to live a relatively good life and have the opportunity to listen, reflect, and practice the Dharma at the same time. It is exceptionally rare to find people in samsara who fulfill both conditions.
We should know it is not unusual or special to be a high official, business tycoon, or social elite. In the six cyclical realms, the celestial beings, azuras, and some of the hungry ghosts have wealth and possessions which are immeasurably greater than that of human beings. Although the rich have substantial wealth, they lack compassion and the wisdom that comes from listening, reflecting, and practicing the Dharma. From the standpoint of Dharma practice, they are deprived and unfortunate.
By comparison, we can see how well off we are; hence we should first exchange our blessings for the Dharma and then exchange the teachings for a deeper and more lasting happiness. In this way, happiness and the practice can become mutually beneficial.
Third: Recognize, Appreciate, and Share our Happiness
We should contemplate: I must recognize the blessings in my life now. At the same time, I should cultivate gratitude and live a simple and unpretentious life; I should also learn to moderate my desires, be content with what I have, share my happiness, and give to the needy. A simple act of giving even in small amount can also be endowed with all the merit of the six paramitas. To give on the basis of renunciation and bodhicitta results in the accumulation of substantial merit. In this way, the mind will gradually settle down and feel free and happy. I must always remember not to be intoxicated with the few blessings I have; I must exert even greater effort in listening, reflecting, and practicing the Dharma.
Unfortunately, ordinary people do not think this way. After they have attained material well-being, they are still not satisfied; not only do they not feel happiness, they try to look for other kinds of happiness. Controlled by desire, they can never attain true happiness!
Fourth: Exchange Oneself for Others
When we encounter suffering, we can practice exchanging oneself for others; when we experience happiness, we can also practice exchanging the self for others.
From a mundane standpoint, we are enjoying our happiness when we have good health and material comfort; but from a liberation standpoint, we are wasting our blessings and happiness. In the sutras, the teachings remind us over and over again not to waste our happiness. Hence, when we are successful in our career or feel great joy in life, we must practice exchanging the self for others.
As we breathe out during meditation, visualize our happiness and the causes of this happiness – the virtuous actions and merits of the past, present, and future – transformed into a white gaseous substance which is then dissolved into the minds and bodies of all sentient beings. Visualize all sentient beings receiving this happiness and its causes, and thus being free from suffering.
Without this visualization practice, many Buddhists are no different from non-Buddhists – when they encounter the slightest bit of suffering, they grieve and fall apart, unable to manage even a basic normal life. If they are more fortunate than other people, they become conceited and self-important. Therefore, we should really put this visualization method to practice in our daily living. In time, we can even do this practice when we experience happiness or suffering in dreams. If we persevere in our effort, we can maintain equanimity under the most difficult of circumstances and advance in our practice without hindrance.
Although this visualization method appears to be very simple and cannot compare with the profound practices of Dzogchen or the Great Middle Way, it is the best method for us at the initial stage. There is a progression in spiritual growth which must start from the very beginning. With concerted effort, we can be sure of eventually attaining the highest state of realization.
Happiness is not founded on wealth or social status. Even without money, we can still live a life filled with ideals, compassion, high morals, and respect for cause and effect – a life which does not bring harm to others or destroy the environment. Regardless of how others see us, we can feel joy in our heart; this is true happiness.
Unfortunately, most people live by a completely different set of standards – lacking moral character, they are empty inside, emotionally unstable, and mutually distrusting; they inflict injury on others, exploit the land, destroy the environment, and place money above everything else. If all human beings behave in this way, there is no hope for this society and for mankind.
Although many people are Buddhist followers, they have not given sufficient time to listening, reflecting, and practicing the Dharma, and are in that sense no different from non-Buddhists in character. Within the Buddhist community, we can see disharmony and grievances throughout. Why do they not practice? It is because they do not know how precious human birth is and how rare this opportunity is. It is useless to buy a larger house or a more expensive luxury car. We should cherish our life and this exceptional opportunity. We should know this is the most fortuitous time; if we still do not recognize our good fortune and begin to practice, our blessings will diminish in the road ahead.
Methods of the Ultimate Truth
The method of the ultimate truth is to realize emptiness. There are two concrete practices:
First: The Middle Way Logic
Using the logic and reasoning in the Middle Way, we can gain certainty in the view that the world is illusory and that all phenomena lack inherent existence. When we are in a dream and dream of becoming a high official and having a lot of money, the experience is not unlike in real life; however, when we wake up, we realize everything in the dream is unreal. Similarly, even though we are now a high official or a tycoon in real life, we will one day realize this too is a dream. The difference between real life and a dream is only in length of time; there is no difference in their basic nature.
Second: Directly Observe the Mind
This is also the best method: before practice, we must first understand what is perceived to be suffering and happiness is just a feeling, and is unrelated to wealth, position, or power. This conclusion is not only the underlying view in Buddhism, it is also the conclusion which psychologists, economists, and sociologists have reached in their research conducted over half a century. Moreover, there are substantial data to support this viewpoint.
It is like on a summer day, or when the sun rises and it becomes warmer, a snowman or ice sculpture melts and disappears. Or sometimes in the midst of a blue sky, clouds appear in the shape of animals or solid structures but suddenly vanish without leaving a trace. Before realization is attained, the mind perceives all phenomena to be real. Once the nature of mind is realized, it will recognize the nature of either mind or consciousness is non-existent, like empty space. Suffering and happiness, which are attached to the mind, can also vanish suddenly without a trace like the clouds and ice. As in the saying, “To what do you attach hair if there is no skin?”
The first step is to practice guru yoga. The guru we refer to here is His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche; all other gurus can be embodied in him. Visualize His Holiness and Padmasambhava as one and the same – the guru’s appearance is Padmasambhava, its essence His Holiness. After completing the practice, visualize the guru dissolving into oneself. Next allow the mind to rest and observe its basic nature. In that moment we will discover the mind is inherently pure, free of mental activity, tranquil, luminous, and empty. We will realize all things lack true existence, whether it is suffering or happiness.
When we come out of meditation, we should also know everything in our daily life is illusory like a dream. With this in mind, we can face any circumstance in life with ease and fortitude.
As with all practices at the initial stage, it is best to find a relatively quiet place away from the crowd to practice so as to achieve concrete results. If this is not possible, we should at least create a relatively quiet space at home and resolve to meditate one to two hours daily. By persevering in this way over a long period of time, we can also achieve the expected results. As our practice gains stability, our mind can stay calm and peaceful at all times as in pure land, and not be disturbed one bit by the samsaric world, whether we live in the city or in sacred surroundings. The body resides in the world while the mind abides in pure land.