The View, Meditation and Action by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
I am very happy that I have the merit to discuss the wisdom of the Buddha. The Buddhist view or the wisdom of the Buddha is so difficult to present. It’s infinite and complicated. I studied Buddhism for a long time but I still consider myself a student. At times I feel that Buddhism should be simplified. If only we could make Buddhism into something like, prayers three times a day, once in a lifetime visit Bodhgaya, maybe once a month every year fasting, I think Buddhism would then attract a lot of people. But that is not the case.
Within our short span of time here it is almost impossible to talk about the wisdom of the Buddha. The fact that Buddhism is not that easy to comprehend is, partly because—if Buddhism is a religion, which I think it is—this is one religion that emphasises so much on wisdom; it is a more wisdom orientated religion. Everything else, compassion, ethics, morality, generosity, all these are secondary, which is what Shantideva said in the ninth chapter, the wisdom chapter of his Bodhisattvacharya-avatara..
What is wisdom? With my very limited understanding of Buddhism, I think the identity of wisdom is very complicated because it’s supposedly a mind in its height of normality. But what is normality? That is a very difficult subject to discuss. I am emphasising this because as I travel people ask me questions like, “What is the role of women in Buddhism?” “What do you do as a Buddhist?” “Do you eat meat?” What I am saying is that the approach to Buddhism or the interest in Buddhism is always an ethical one. Wisdom is always left out, and that’s when you begin to fail to understand Buddhism. Because whether you are a vegetarian or not, whether you are celibate or not, all these are actually secondary; wisdom is the most important. So I will try to discuss wisdom.
Traditionally wisdom is presented in three categories: the view, the meditation and the action. The view, simply speaking, is an idea. We are not only talking about Buddhism, but in every situation we always have a view. A view is basically an idea, for instance, we have views like ‘a BMW is a good car’. That’s the view. Then having received this information, which is like a teaching, then you contemplate on the shape and the quality of this car. This contemplation is actually a meditation. Then the actual process of buying one is the action. Then I guess having finally managed to get one is like liberation. What I’m saying is, there is always the view, meditation and action in every situation. For example, you can read a Cosmopolitan magazine— nowadays we have this idea that slender legs are supposedly beautiful legs. That’s the idea.
Then based on that people contemplate about having liposuction, diet, all kinds of meditation. Then having actually managed to do that is a bit like liberation. But of course it doesn’t last long. I’m just giving you an idea of what the view is, because the Buddhist view, the definition of view, is actually the same. Now when we talk about the Buddhist view, which is wisdom, how do we define wisdom, or the view? There are many different ways but I would like to explore the Therevada tradition, because personally I have a lot of respect for the Therevada tradition. It is like the root vehicle, and it really constructs the view of Shakyamuni in a very sort of risk free kind of style, which is so important. The way they construct the view is by first introducing us to the wrong view. The absence of this wrong view is what we call the right view.
So what is the wrong view? They believe that every time we look at things or when we hear things, when we experience things, we always make three mistakes, three downfalls. What are they? Let me give you an example, like my hand for instance. When I look at my hand, the first mistake that I make is thinking that this hand that I am looking at now is exactly the same hand that I had yesterday. For instance, we say, “I was in Australia two days ago.” There is this automatic assumption that the person two days before, that person was, is, the same person that is sitting here right now. That’s a very big mistake because it is not true. Yesterday’s hand is gone, today’s hand is a new one. This is quite obvious actually. My hand is decaying all the time, it is coming closer to its deformation, it is changing all the time, but we don’t think like that. We think it is the same hand that we had yesterday. That’s the first mistake.
The second mistake we make is, when we look at our hand we think of it as a whole abstract hand—when I look at my hand, a hand, that’s an abstract. Actually there is no such thing as a hand, as a whole entity. We say, “Please shake my hand.” We don’t say, “Can you shake my bones, skin and blood.” We think shake my hand, we don’t think let’s shake bones together, let’s shake blood together. But in reality the hand is made of a lot of different things. But we have this picture, this idea, a hand, and then we assume that that exists. That’s the second mistake. The third mistake we make is slightly difficult to comprehend, especially if you have not heard Buddhist teachings in the past. The mistake is that we constantly forget that this hand is an interdependent phenomena. We always think it is independent, that it does not rely upon other things. We keep on forgetting that its existence or its non-existence, or whatever, depends so much on all kinds of things. This fact we always miss.
So with these three, with ignorance, we relate to phenomena. But you shouldn’t take this as something negative because it helps. Understanding these three really helps in every level, not only the spiritual level but even on a very mundane level such as buying hand moisturizing cream. For example, if you don’t know that the hand moisturizing cream is impermanent, that it is many parts or is interdependent, then one can get so obsessed with what kind of moisturizer one should get. But if you understand this, then the obsession about the moisturizer cream is actually less. Or in fact when this doesn’t work—we have used moisturizers so much but our hands get rougher and rougher every year—it doesn’t bother us because we know the fact that this changes. So this is really a basic fundamental view, that’s all. This is the view that we have to contemplate.
One very important thing that you have to learn is when Buddhists talk about this kind of view, lets say my view based on this hand, we are not saying that our tantric vajra master will come and replace our bony hand with a divine hand, we are not talking like that. What is the divine hand here? The divine hand, in this case, is when you know that this is impermanent, this is interdependent and this is pus, blood, veins, and all of that. When you know that, that realisation is the divine hand. It’s not suddenly that you have a very sort of exotic and nice hand through chanting mantras or visualisation and so on and so forth. Why we call it divine is because you are free from these three kinds of ignorance, and that helps you to get closer to the truth.
So that’s view, very simplified. And this is all I can do. As I told you right at the beginning, I still consider myself a student, and this is the view now.
What is meditation? What do we do? Meditation is to get accustomed to this view, one can get used to this, a method to get used to this. Everything we can get accustomed to, that’s the beauty of the mind. Initially of course the realisation that, for example, one’s hand is impermanent, is pus, blood and bone and all that, and is interdependent, that kind of realisation might come intellectually. But initially it’s difficult for it to remain, practically, emotionally, within you. It takes a lot of effort, because, for example, we have so much habit of clinging and hoping for a better, smoother and moisturized hand, and that’s very difficult to get rid of. So many times we have changed moisturizer but when we have a new moisturizer we think, “This is it, this is going to change my hand.” I’m only using hand as an example of course, but everything is like this, relationships, ideas. How many times have we changed boyfriends, girlfriends? Of course the present one is the one, they are going to be the one. But it doesn’t really happen like that. Why? Because we have forgotten the three mistakes that I mentioned.
Next time when you date you should really date like that. You meet a person and then immediately think, “Okay, these three, this person is not going to be the same person tomorrow, the second day.” It really helps. Also when you look at your new date you should really leave a lot of room for all kinds of things that you have not seen. Who knows, maybe the person has three breasts. Maybe the person has all kinds of other attributes that you might like very much or you might really hate. All of this happens, but you don’t see this when you first meet. Also the relationship is dependent on so many things. For instance, you might be a person who really hates pizza with salami but in order to protect this relationship you might have to eat pizza with salami because your new partner likes it. So interdependence. If you understand these three things then I think it will really help to keep your relationships intact much better than many of the books like Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, because you have to really face the truth.
Anyway, meditation, that is what I am talking about. So initially, as I was telling you, it’s difficult to get used to this truth because truth is very bitter, we don’t like to hear the truth. We like to always have constant holidays. But holidays are usually where you don’t have the truth, where things sort of work more like in a fantasy and all that. I think you know what I’m talking about.
But as Shantideva said, it’s not something impossible, you can do it. It’s like drinking alcohol. If you have never drunk alcohol in the past, then what do you have to do? If you want to become a person who drinks alcohol, then what do you have to do? You have to find the right master, someone who goes to the pub every now and then and you have to hang around with him or her, then this person will give you the transmission. In the beginning some of that alcohol might burn your throat. But that is necessary if you want to be a diligent follower; you have to go through this tolerance. If your master is very compassionate and skilful he might not give you a whole bottle of alcohol at once because that will put you off. Then you will never touch it again. But if he is skilful he will give you maybe one or two sips every day.
Then six months later, maybe you can drink half a glass. About a year later you will speak every language in the bar, you will understand it, even the sight of the bar and the smell of the pub really excites you. That is the time when your master’s and your mind have been mixed; you have become a perfect alcoholic and have no difficulty at all in drinking.
So meditation is a bit like that, it is something that you have to do little by little every day and then one day you get used to it, and when you are completely used to it then you will have no difficulty in doing it.
But now, what is meditation? Meditation, in a very ironic situation, is actually doing nothing. That’s the quintessence of meditation, doing nothing. There are two things that are very difficult: doing everything that you want to do, and doing nothing. Doing everything that you want is really difficult because there are inhibitions, there are hang-ups and we have insecurity—we don’t want to do everything that we want. Even the person who considers themselves as the most free and anarchistic, whatever, they will find it very difficult to do whatever they want. So doing nothing is slightly better than doing everything that you want to do.
Meditation is basically doing nothing, completely doing nothing. Because, for instance, when you go home, when you are sitting on your couch in the living room, try doing nothing for two minutes. Immediately you will be looking for the remote control or a newspaper or a novel. Why? Because you need to get occupied, you have to. You have to get engaged. If you are not engaged then you become very insecure; we can call it being lonely but actually insecurity is growing, so you have to do something. It’s a bit like a painkiller—when you do something it makes you forget this insecurity. This is why you always end up doing something. And this doing something creates more hope and more fear and this is how we entangle ourselves all the time.
So what do you do during meditation? You do the opposite, you do nothing, completely refrain from doing anything. But that’s difficult. Now this has so many methods of how not to do anything. In fact, many of these methods are elaborate ways of doing things so that we do nothing. This is where Buddhism becomes very complicated because it’s very paradoxical. The very path, they tell you not to do anything, they tell you things like emptiness and so on and so forth, but at the same time they tell you to chant mantras, visualise extra hands, extra eyes, extra heads, as if the head that you have is not enough. They tell you all of that and it really can confuse you. But those are necessary because the path is like a boat; if you go to another shore you take a boat. So you take a boat but once you reach the other shore you have to abandon that boat.
So the Buddhist path, Buddhist methods, are like a boat. In this way it is probably the last and most difficult obstacle to abandon, the Buddhist path itself. You have to realize this, which I think not many people do. Many people think that Buddha was a Buddhist, but he was not. Buddha was not Buddhist. Buddhists are followers of the Buddha. We created this, but we have to have the courage to abandon it. What I am saying is that the method is not the result, broadly speaking.
We have to be ready to peel off these skins. It’s like peeling off a fruit that has so many skins. Meditation is a bit like that, you meditate, you see something and you think this is it, this is the fruit, but soon you realise, no, this is just a skin. At that time you peel off that skin, that layer of skin, then you see another skin inside, but maybe initially you think it’s the fruit, but even that you have to peel off. As you peel off layers of skin then you eventually see there is nothing, and that is supposedly liberation; liberation from the path, liberation of course from the delusions and so on. Anyway, that is a brief introduction to the meditation.
Now I’m only talking here about a sort of example and trying to present some quintessential points of the Buddhist view, meditation and action, so please don’t think that you have got all the information on Buddhism that you need because this is not everything. So what is Buddhist action? What should Buddhists do? What is the right thing for a Buddhist to do? Some sort of ethics and morality, some kind of rules and regulations? What is Buddhist action? There is plenty, countless—the Vinaya has 250 and 300 and so on different kinds of actions, the Bodhisattvayana has even more and then Tantrayana has even more again. But the quintessence of all these actions is one thing, the unity of elegance and outrageousness.
This is kind of difficult to present so I’m going to give you an example that I use sometimes, which is wearing a tie. The ties that we wear, actually they are the most useless piece of cloth. They don’t have holes to keep coins in. They don’t keep you warm, on the contrary, they choking you. But I have noticed with a lot of my friends that it is also the most difficult piece of cloth to choose. Every time they go to a party they go through hell—does it match with the shoes, does it match with the belt, all of that. Then of course the designers tie and all of that. But it’s actually really the most useless thing of all the clothes.
Now as a Buddhist, what should we do? Should we wear a tie? As I speak, as I say that a tie is the most useless thing, then escapist oriented Buddhists would immediately say “Oh no, no more ties from now on.” But that’s not a great thing to do. That means you are a coward. So this is where outrageousness and elegance has to come. You should wear a tie properly, you should buy the best tie, whatever you can afford, and you should wear it. Put it on properly and think constantly, if not constantly at least as you are putting it on, you should know that this is the most useless thing that you are doing. That is the outrageousness and the elegance.
Because you would think for what, because if you know, if you don’t have this hangup about which tie and what kind of designer tie and all of that, when you are free from that kind of hang-up, then you might even have the courage to wear a dead fish to a very special ballroom dance party or something. In that way you have reached to a small level of a mahasiddha.
Let’s say you are someone who is so obsessed about a tie. Sometimes when you travel, inevitably you see executives in elevators, sometimes they have mirrors in them and every time they have a chance they always look and adjust their tie. They also make sure that nobody looks at them doing this. But once you have this realisation that this tie is actually a really useless thing to wear, you will not do that.
Or maybe you do it to inspire other people, but you have a different purpose. Lets say your tie is stained or whatever, you don’t care. And this kind of couldn’t carelessness is actually a small tiny nirvana, Buddhist liberation. Really, I didn’t make this up, I have support from all the Buddhist panditas of the past. I can quote them. But of course they mightn’t have used the word tie but this is how it is. A small tiny liberation you have achieved when you don’t care about certain things. Otherwise, even a Buddhist, a matured seasoned Buddhist, a so called seasoned Buddhist, we are trapped with a lot of spiritual materialism.
There are so many things that we as Buddhists do just because we think that it is the right thing to do. But please let us go back, this so called right thing to do has to be based on wisdom, because if you forget wisdom then the so called right thing to do is a bit like what we are facing today in the modern world—people do all kinds of things just because it’s the politically correct thing to do. That’s actually arrogance; it’s not compassionate and it has nothing to do with wisdom. This can actually create a lot of pain.
Americans are so conscious about the politically correct thing to do. For example, I was in San Francisco and I was going to New York but my flight was overbooked so they took me out, they didn’t let me on the plane. I really had to go to New York and I had a confirmed ticket but because it was overbooked that’s the normal procedure, this I know, but then I wanted to play a game with the Americans. Because I had a lot of American friends with me I said look, watch this. Then I went to the counter and said, “Oh, I see, so this is just because I am Asian, this is being racist isn’t it?” Immediately they upgraded me to first class. But that is not so compassionate. The right thing to do, ethics, morality, always has to be based on the view. The correct view I broadly spoke about earlier, with the absence of three kinds of mistakes. Now if you have any questions.
To be continued…
Click Here: Part 2