05
Jun
09

Patience and Effort


Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

In order to receive any genuine transformation we have to transform
everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, to the utmost
of our ability, into a Dharma practice. If we use every action of body,
speech and mind as our practice, by cultivating awareness, being
present in the moment, seeing things with clarity and understanding,
opening our heart in kindness and in love, thinking about other people
and how they feel, then there is certainty that there will be a
transformation. But if we think that Dharma practice is only what we do
when we go to a Dharma centre or when some Lama is visiting, when we go
to Dharma talks or we sit and meditate together or do some puja, if we
think that is Dharma practice and the rest of the day is just so much
extra time, then there will never, even after an aeon of time, be any
transformation.

If we use every action of body, speech and mind as our practice … then there is certainty that there will be a transformation.

We
have this precious life now. This is our opportunity. If we let it go,
who knows if the opportunity will ever come again. Now is when we have
the freedom to practice, we have the teachers, we have the intelligence
to understand, and we have a motivation to really, genuinely want to
practice. This is so rare.

But it’s not enough just to
intellectually understand. We have to take the Dharma and use it. We
have to take the Dharma and eat it and digest it until it permeates
every cell of our bodies. What use is it unless it really takes over
our life, unless we and the Dharma merge? Without this, it’s just
another -ism amongst all the many other different ways of doing and
looking at things. At this moment, our mind is in one place and the
Dharma is in another and they’re looking at each other. Occasionally
they touch. But that’s not enough. They have to become like one, so
that it’s impossible to see which is one’s mind and which is the
Dharma. It’s like a dye going into a cloth: the mind has to be
completely dyed with the Dharma so that every word, every thought,
every action is an expression of our understanding of the way things
really are.

In the beginning this is not so easy. We have to
work at it, we have to be mindful, and we have to remind ourselves.
That is what is meant by perseverance. It means moment to moment to
moment, to the very best of our abilities, whatever situation comes up,
we must really try to bring our intelligence and our heart into that
situation. If we have that attentiveness in the moment then everything
that happens to us will have some meaning. It will be an opportunity to
make some progress on the path. This gives us tremendous freedom
because whatever happens can help us. The Tibetan texts say that we
should use all occasions as aids on the path. If we believe this then
it doesn’t matter what happens to us because whatever occurs we can
transform into an aid on the path and so there is freedom.

But
freedom from what? From hope and fear. This goes back to having a mind
that is very open and spacious. When we talk about effort we don’t mean
huffing and puffing as though you’re in a marathon race. What we’re
talking about is a very spacious effort, a very constant ‘alertness in
the moment’ type of effort. It’s just flowing like a river, from moment
to moment to moment. It’s not doing push-ups, although sometimes
push-ups and prostrations might be called for! It’s the effort to be
here and now and to have a relaxed, open, alert mind which responds
appropriately and with clarity to whatever is happening. Usually we are
so absorbed in our own desires, our own thoughts and feelings that we
don’t see things very clearly. What’s needed is to be able to step back
and have this openness to see things as they really are and therefore
to respond in an appropriate manner. The ability to do this, to
integrate this with our life completely, is what is meant by effort.

What’s
needed is to be able to step back and have this openness to see things
as they really are and therefore to respond in an appropriate manner.

The
other application of this is what the Buddha called, I think, the four
right efforts. These are: the effort to prevent the unwholesome from
arising, the effort to discard that unwholesomeness which has already
arisen, the effort to create the wholesome which has not yet arisen,
and the effort to cultivate and maintain that wholesomeness which has
arisen.

Wholesomeness, sometimes also translated as skilfulness,
means those states of mind such as understanding, love, generosity and
openness of heart which create within us and around us a state of
harmony and peace. This is in contrast to the unwholesome, or
unskilful, states of mind such as ignorance, greed and aversion which
create within us and without us states of conflict. So, part of
maintaining our awareness is to be aware of the states of our mind and
where they are coming from. We must have discernment. We have to
recognise those thoughts and emotions that are rooted in the negative
factors. It’s not a matter of suppression; it’s a matter of recognising
them, accepting them and letting them go. We don’t maintain them, we
don’t follow them.

As our awareness grows so we become more
acutely conscious of our mental states and then we can see, for
example, when aversion, when anger is coming into our mind. We can
recognise it. We can even name it and say ‘This is anger.’ But we don’t
identify with it. We just see that this is an angry state of mind. We
accept that’s what it is. But in knowing that it’s not helpful, we can
also drop it. On the other hand, sometimes very positive states of mind
arise and because we are so busy we don’t recognise them and therefore
they fade away. If the mind is clear then when positive states of mind
come, again we can recognise them, we can acknowledge them and we can
try to help them remain, to grow, to be appreciated. So, it’s not just
a matter of blaming ourselves for all our negative thoughts. There’s no
blame here. It’s recognising what is and being able to let go. And when
it’s positive, it’s recognising it and encouraging it. It’s dealing
with knowing, knowing what is in the mind, without getting caught in
our conflicts.

It’s not helpful to have the mind as a
battlefield.  Shantideva writes about using the mind as a battlefield
and wielding the sword of discrimination to destroy all the negative
factors of the mind. But that is not really helpful because, especially
in the West, people start blaming themselves, castigating themselves,
feeling guilty and getting caught up in a lot of conflict. "Oh, I’m
such a bad person, I always was such a bad person, I always will be
such a bad person."  Using the mind as a battlefield against oneself is
not in any way psychologically useful.

Better than that is just
to see the thoughts and feelings as they arise.  Recognise them for
what they are,  accept them and, if they are not useful,  let them go.
Even better than that, of course, is to recognise their empty,
transparent nature because if we recognise that then, of themselves,
they will transform into a kind of intelligence.

It is actually better on the spiritual path to be a tiger than a rabbit.

In
themselves, negative emotions are not necessarily a bad thing.  Even
such strong emotions as anger, jealousy and desire are, at their very
root, an energy.  If we allow them to channel out through negative
channels then, of course, this creates a lot of conflict and turmoil.
But if we can see them in their true nature, then we get back to their
energy source and it transforms into a very deep and profound energy –-
intelligence.

Therefore it is actually better on the spiritual
path to be a tiger than a rabbit. Rabbits are very nice and they’re
quite cuddly and cute but what do they do? There you are, a nice little
rabbit twitching your nose, but there’s no power there, there’s no
force so, spiritually speaking, it’s not very helpful. It might be very
pleasant to live with rabbits, but there’s no drive. However, someone
with very strong emotions, like a tiger, can be very destructive if
left in the wild, but if they can learn to harness those emotions then
that becomes the drive to enlightenment.

That is why the
greatest practitioners in Tibet were usually Kampa. The Kampas of
Eastern Tibet were, left in their natural state, quite wild. They were
bandits and brigands. They were known by the more effete central
Tibetans as very wild and woolly. But those very rough and quite
violent people made the very greatest practitioners because when they
channelled that energy into a spiritual path nothing stopped them.

Using the mind as a battlefield against oneself is not in any way psychologically useful.

So,
it’s not our emotions, even our negative emotions, which are the
problem. The problem is whether they control us or we control them. The
best way to control is through seeing and thebest way to see is through
developing awareness. Once we are conscious and aware of our emotions,
of our motivations, then we have the wish-fulfilling gem in our hands
and everything can be transformed. As long as we are unknowing, as long
as we are identified with our thoughts and emotions, as long as we are
controlled by our thoughts and emotions, we are slaves. So it’s amatter
of learning how to master the mind. Who is going to be in control here
– our emotions or us? (Whatever ‘us’ may be — we’re talking on a
relative level here!)
Most of us are complete slaves to our emotions
and thoughts. When we are angry, we are the anger. When we are jealous,
we are the jealousy. When we are depressed, we are the depression.  We
are complete slaves to our desires, our angers, our aversions, our
jealousies, our hopes and our fears. We’re not in control at all.

Most
of us are complete slaves to our emotions and our thoughts.  When we
are angry, we are the anger.  When we are jealous, we are the jealousy.
When we are depressed, we are the depression. We are completely
enslaved by our desires, our angers, our aversions, our jealousies, our
hopes and our fears.  We’re not in control at all.

The Buddha said that someone who kills
a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield
is nothing compared with one who is master of himself.

First,
we have to learn to be in control of our own minds. After all, our mind
is the closest thing we have; it’s how we perceive everything. 
External circumstances are nothing compared to the internal
circumstances of our mind. So if we want to benefit ourselves and
others, we have to get our mind intosome kind of shape. The easiest and
quickest way to do that is to develop this moment-to-moment awareness
of the mind. By doing this we can find the space to see what is
happening within us and to select that which is helpful. That which is
not helpful, we can drop.  All our Dharma practices are directed
towards attaining this mastery and understanding. First we have to
understand then, through that understanding, we can gain mastery.

The
Buddha said that someone who kills a thousand times a thousand men on
the battlefield is nothing compared with one who is master of himself. 
He who conquers himself is the greatest warrior. So we have to learn to
conquer ourselves. But we don’t conquer ourselves by creating an inner
battlefield; we conquer ourselves through developing understanding,
insight and awareness. This takes enormous effort because the inertia
of our mind is so deep, so entrenched.

Sometimes people ask me what I gained
from living for so many years in a cave.
I say, "It’s not what I gained, it’s what I lost."

I
have talked about how genuine renunciation is to give up all our fond
thoughts – daydreams, memories of the past, anticipations of the
future, the inner mental chatter and commentaries with which most of us
live our days and which keep us both stressed and entertained. To drop
that as much as we can and to live nakedly in the present, just with
what is happening in the moment, is very difficult. We are so attached
to our memories, our daydreams, our fantasies and our interpretations.
We think that they are who we are. We think that they are what make our
life so rich. But in fact, they are exactly who we are not and they
impoverish our inner life because we are caught up more and more in
delusion. To drop all that, to really drop it as much as we possibly
can, is a powerful practice.  That is the greatest renunciation. It
requires enormous application at the beginning because there’s
tremendous resistance in the mind to being in the present, to just
being with what IS, rather than with all our fantasies and projections
about how we want life to be.  Just seeing life as it is, without any
of our commentaries is very hard. For example, when I look at an
object, I immediately start thinking of others I’ve seen which were
similar, of whether I like the shape or don’t like the shape, of
whether the workmanship is good or not good, of how I might have wanted
one which was somewhat different. This goes on infinitely –
elaborating, elaborating, and elaborating until we don’t see the object
at all any more.

First, you have to empty out the cup and clean it,
and then you can pour in the ambrosia.

This
might not seem very important. But when we relate it to situations, to
people we know and with whom we interrelate, then these layers upon
layers of opinions, interpretations, elaborations and memories distance
us from what is actually happening, who is actually in front of us,
what is actually occurring inside ourselves. Dharma practice is not a
matter of learning more and more and studying more and more, although
that can also be important. It’s not a matter of adding more and more;
it’s a matter of emptying out, peeling off layer after layer. We’re
already so full of junk, so stuffed to the top, that first we need to
empty out.

A great Thai master was once asked what his main
problem was with people who came to him for instruction. He said that
the main problem with them was that they were already so full of their
own ideas and opinions, they were like a cup filled to the brim with
dirty water. You can’t pour anything ontop because if you do, it will
just become dirty too. First, you have to empty out the cup and clean
it, and then you can pour in the ambrosia. And so, for us too, we need
to clear out; we don’t need to add more at this time. We need to start
peeling off all our opinions, all our ideas, and all our cleverness and
just remain very naked, in the moment, just seeing things as they are,
like a small child.

If we do that then it gives some space for
the innate intelligence to which we are all heirs to surface. And with
that intelligence comes a genuine openness of heart. But if we try to
do all these practices on top of all the junk which we already have in
our mind, nothing is ever affected. We just distort; no real
transformation will take place.

..during the day, as much as you can,
 try to bring the mind back into the present and
try to see things as if one is seeing them for the very first time…

Sometimes
people ask me what I gained from living for so many years in a cave. I
say, "It’s not what I gained, it’s what I lost." I think that in Dharma
practice it is very important first to really have a period of dropping
rather than building up. This is why a practice like Samatha, just
quietly sitting, can be so very, very beneficial because it gives us
space to begin to peel off and empty out. But also, during the day, as
much as you can, try to bring the mind back into the present and try to
see things as if one is seeing them for the very first time. This is
especially valuable with people one is very connected to — one’s
spouse or one’s children, one’s colleagues at work. Try to look at them
as if seeing them for the very first time with completely fresh, new
eyes.

Moment to moment, we are.  After a while we become so
heavily habituated we don’t see any more. All we see are our own ideas
and impressions and memories. It’s very important that we should
practice now so that at the time of our death we can think, "Well, I
tried. I did the best I could and so I can die without regrets.’"

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