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How to release stress and anger by healing the mind
by His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche
translated by Tashi Jamyangling
October 16, 2003
Ratnashri Meditation Center, Sweden
I would like to wish you all Tashi Delek, in Tibetan, that means wish you well, good evening and everything is included in that. We come from different places. Although we belong to different countries and different ethnicities, none of us has not been each other’s parent before in former lives. This is the Buddhist’s view. From the beginningless samsara, we have taken many, many life forms in the past. Therefore, it is not just lip service when I say Tashi Delek or wish everyone of you well.
I would like to begin this evening’s topic by saying that on this planet, there are two systems. One is the secular system and the other is the spiritual system. Both systems are to benefit sentient beings because we human beings have intelligence and none of us desire pain and suffering. We all desire happiness and peace. These two systems are meant to benefit us towards that end. Of the two systems, the first one is the secular system. The secular system is in place because of human intelligence. Whether we are walking or sitting or whatever we are doing, the secular system is in place so that mankind will lead a decent life. All the civilization and all the organization everywhere are put together after tremendous sacrifice and efforts. For example, scientists have worked so hard to come to where we are right now. Statesmen and leaders have worked hard. Many people have made lots and lots of sacrifices to bring us to the level where we are right now. And today on this planet, we have many different kinds of secular systems. We have come a very, very long way in modernization and development. However, what we find as an end result is that none of these material progresses have made us completely satisfied or solved our problems. Therefore, we have a spiritual system which is beyond the materialistic system. Within this spiritual system, we also have many denominations and forms. Different religions have different teachings – some are very far-sighted and some are not so far-sighted. All these aim at eradicating pain and suffering. I am here to talk a little bit about Buddhism – the system put in place by Gautama Buddha.
Basically, Buddha teaches the two truths. Buddha teaches us how to find the root cause of pain and suffering. Buddha teaches us the nature of this pain and suffering. Buddha teaches us the essence of this pain and suffering. Buddha teaches us that unless we find out the root cause of pain and suffering in samsara, we will not be able to bring about the cessation of this pain and suffering. Buddha teaches us that all this pain and suffering come not from outside but from within. It comes from one’s own state of mind. Therefore, Buddhism has to do with the inner mind rather than the outer materialism. When we aspire to have peace and happiness, peace and happiness come from virtuous deeds. What is virtue? Virtue is love. What is love? Love is a mind set that is willing to benefit others rather than yourself. What is suffering? Suffering is self, selfishness. From where does this pain and suffering come? All this pain and suffering is due to these physical bodies of sentient beings who are born in the six realms of existences. The six realms of existences are the creation of one’s own mind due to the six afflictive emotions. Once you release or unleash the six afflictive emotions, you create karma, a variety of karma. As a consequence of the creation of this variety of karma, one is born either as a human or any specie of the other five realms of existence. This takes us to the idea of cause-and-effect relationship.
Cause and effect or action and reaction are absolutely infallible. Because once you unleash the negative emotion like strong anger, what you have to face is one of the six realms of existence. When you have anger, it is negative from the beginning. When anger arises in one’s mind stream, unhappiness starts. So from the very beginning, it is negative. When you unleash it, obviously it is negative to whom-so-ever you show it, it is mutually destructive. Finally, it is negative at the end because you have to face the consequence of having unleashed that negative emotion. All together, there are 84 000 different kinds of afflictive emotions which can be categorized into five classifications – which are called five poisons. Five poisons can be grouped into three classes – which are called three poisons. Three poisons really boil down to one thing that is self-cherishing attachment and clinging. In order to dismantle this attachment and clinging, we ought to have the antidotal weapon to fight it. The antidote to self-cherishing attachment and clinging is a mind set that is willing to benefit other beings. That mind set is the sublime Dharma or the teachings of the Buddha. When you think of the pain and suffering of others, you are sharing the pain and suffering of others. To liberate yourself from pain and suffering means that you want to free the mind from being bound into immobility. You are in that kind of bondage because at all times as humans, something is always wrong with “I” or something is always wrong with “my” or “mine”. So if you want to do away with that bondage, the only way to free yourself from that is to have a mind set that is willing to benefit others. When you do not understand this and when you do not have this altruistic mind, in the worst case scenario, there are cases of committing suicide. All because of far too much attachment to oneself.
So Buddha taught us in order to free ourselves from this bondage, we have to benefit others. We need to have the willingness to benefit others. In order to do that, we need to understand that the root cause of this bondage is the self-cherishing attachment and clinging. The root cause of suffering is attachment and aversion. We have a tendency to have attachment to the one who is close to us or to the things that appeal to us, but we are averse to those who are not our friends or things that do not appeal to us. If you have a mind set that is always willing to benefit others, you will not have this attachment or aversion. Then you may ask – would it be possible for me to generate the mind set that is willing to benefit others? For example, in the case of a stranger, the Buddhist view is that, from the beginningless time, we all have taken countless number of life forms. Therefore, we all have been each other’s parents, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends. Keeping that in view, we have every reason to be kind and gentle to each other. If one believes in Buddha’s view, then it is easy to generate love and kindness towards all sentient beings. Of course, in this very life, we have those who are very negative towards us. But if you understand that, in many life forms we all have been each other’s parent, then you will understand that certain beings are negative to you or harsh to you and cause pain and suffering to you because you yourself have caused pain and suffering to those who loved you in former lives. Or you have an outstanding debt to those who have been close and dear to us in former lives. With that kind of view, you will have the willingness to benefit others. And when you have this willingness to benefit others, it will automatically do away with attachment and aversion which are responsible for the self-cherishing attachment and clinging. If you do not understand this cause-and-effect relationship, even if you aspire to do virtuous deeds, it will not be possible. Even if you want to do something which is according to Dharma teachings, sometimes it will not work out and when it does not work out, you will feel very dejected and sad about it. What you have to understand is, if you do not accomplish something, it is because of your past karma.
Whatever kind of person you had been in former lives is reflected on who you are right now. But if you think that all the accomplishment will result from your diligent effort only, it will not work out like that at all because many things are highly predetermined because of past karma. There is no telling what you had been doing in former lives and if you are feeling rejected and going through a deep depression and feel sad, you should look at your own mind state.
If you are poor, instead of feeling bad about it, you should understand that being poor is the result of some actions in the past. Perhaps you have taken things from others that did not belong to you. If you are suffering from mental or physical pain, perhaps you have inflicted pain on others in former lives. But the real cause of pain and suffering is negative emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy etc. So if you understand these things, you will not be totally overwhelmed by the kind of predicament or challenges that you face in this life. And at the same time, you will know how to prevent the same occurrences for the rest of your life, that is, the recognition of what you might have done in former lives and refraining from repetition of what you could have very well done by the five poisons. If you are facing challenges etc and if there is nothing you can do about it, think that this is a payment of outstanding debt that you owe from former lives. We have a mixture of pain and suffering on the one hand and happiness and peace on the other. Some people have this notion that, if one is blessed with prosperity, one would necessarily be happy. That does not happen. If you have tons of money for example, hundreds and hundreds of thousands, it is not necessarily going to bring you happiness and peace. Instead, it is going to bring you lots of pain and suffering. In your effort to make more money, there will be competition, jealousy and all kinds of negative emotions associated with this. Prosperity is not the solution to the problem of having pain and suffering. All the pain and suffering are within the mind. It is a matter of thinking, how you take it. If you think that you are the only one who is going through all this pain and suffering, then what you are going through will be really hard to bear. On the other hand, if you say to yourself, “I am not the only person who is going through pain and suffering, but there are plenty of such people who are going through even worse than my pain and suffering”, then immediately, you will feel that your own pain and suffering is not so great. You have to say to yourself, what I am facing is nothing compared with the pain and suffering of other beings. Understand that virtue brings about happiness and nonvirtue brings about pain and suffering.
Milarepa teaches us in this way. Milarepa said that rich people have rich people’s suffering and poor people have poor people’s suffering. Have and have not, both suffer. If you do not understand the nature of the mind, there is nothing but suffering. But if you do have an understanding of the nature of the mind, there is nothing but peace and happiness whether you are a rich person or a poor person or a sick person or whatever. Then you would know how to cope with different situations. Take as an example someone who is rich and who has a true understanding of the nature of mind. He would say, “I am blessed with prosperity. I am a very happy person. It has been the result of my virtuous deeds in former lives. It is a result of me having purified obscurations and accumulated merits. I further desire to reinforce and replenish my accumulation of merits by making offerings to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and by giving charity to sentient beings.” He or she understands that prosperity like everything else is impermanent. He or she knows that there is a possibility that he or she could lose everything that he or she possesses. But if he or she does lose everything, it is because of karma, so there is no pain and suffering associated with that. A poor person who has the understanding of the nature of mind would say, “Yes, indeed I am poor but nonetheless I am a human being. I am not hungry and I am not cold. I have the Bodhicitta, the enlightened mind. I have the understanding of the cause and effect relationship.” That person would happily recite the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG. Such a person does not have a burden to carry. A sick person who has the understanding of the mind, he or she would say, “Yes, I am inflicted with this terrible disease, but it is because of my past karma. Once karma is created and as it has ripened, I and no one else have to face the consequences. Because I have to face the consequences sooner or later, it is far better to face it sooner than later. The fact that I am sick now is a repayment of my karmic debt.” So, with that kind of mind set, the pain and suffering is gone. You can transform pain and suffering. It is just a matter of thinking. You can transform pain and suffering into peace and happiness. So one would say, “Yes, I am a human being. I know the cause and effect relationship. Therefore, I have the ability to transform pain and suffering into peace and happiness.” You know that every single activity in samsara is a result of one’s driving force of afflictive emotions. Whatever pain and suffering you are facing right now is because of the five poisons. Having recognized that, you will ensure that you will not repeat the same kind of mistakes.
Loving kindness, compassion and treating all living beings as equal – equanimity, all these are possible when you understand the nature of your mind and the cause and effect relationship. When you have loving kindness and compassion in your heart, it is always good. It is good in the beginning when you generate it, it will give you a good feeling that is why it is good. When you show your love and compassion to others, express it when you are talking to others for example in a kind and gentle manner, it is good, mutually good. The result is of course good because it is positive, it is virtuous. At all times, try to have a kind heart. When you have a kind heart, it is the sublime Dharma. That is love. We talked about the two truths, relative truth and absolute truth. Up to this point, we have talked about the relative truth. By the practice of relative truth, by having the understanding of the cause and effect then you can definitely alleviate the pain and suffering of yourself and others. That is not the only truth. There is absolute true. When we talk about absolute truth, it is higher than what we have discussed so far. In the absolute truth, there is neither pain and suffering nor peace and happiness as such. It is because the true nature of the mind is beyond happiness and suffering, beyond attachment and aversion. The true nature of mind does not have attachment. If you have attachment, then attachment is going to bring about pain and suffering. A state of mind which is completely free from or beyond anything that can be conceptualized is the true nature of the mind. In this state of the mind, you do not have to focus on the cause and effect relationship. And when one is in meditation, the true nature of mind; at that time you are completely free from both pain and pleasure. These are some verbal teachings on happiness versus pain and suffering. But you really have to experience it yourself. If you experience it yourself, then you will understand what happiness is. In order to be able to experience real happiness, you have to experience real pain and suffering. If you have never experienced winter then summer is nothing special. In Tibet, winter is extremely cold and harsh, therefore, when spring comes when the flowers bloom, people feel so glad.
Question from the audience: What is emptiness?
Rinpoche's reply: It is the profound emptiness, emptiness as in all phenomena – the very cosmos as well as all sentient beings including human beings. The real experience and understanding that all of us are composite and do not inherently or independently exist, and are therefore empty of an absolute identity. It is empty or devoid of an independent existence. If no phenomenon has any independent existence to support itself, phenomenon is not so real. This is emptiness. But it is not just that emptiness; it is also not having attachment because of the understanding of that emptiness. With complete clarity, and yet we proceed and do our day-to-day activities. When you have an experiential understanding, not academic understanding of profound emptiness, then you will see the futility of both pain as well as suffering because it does not have a reality.
Question from the audience: How to generate compassion?
Rinpoche’s reply: In order to generate compassion, first, you have to have loving kindness. Bodhicitta consists of loving kindness and compassion. In order to generate loving kindness and compassion, first you have to have the Buddhist view established, that is, all sentient beings have been our mothers. When you see a tiny insect or a human being, they both have been our parents. The famous Nymapa teacher would take groups of monks to a slaughter house and make the monks meditate and think of the animals being slaughtered as one’s own parents. The teacher would ask the monks, “How do you feel?” Some of the monks would say, “I do not feel a thing.” They do not feel that their own mother is being slaughtered. The teacher then said, “Now, try to mentally visualize that the head of your mother is on the animal. The animal is now attached with the mother’s head.” The teacher asks again, “And now, what do you feel?” The monk replies, “Now, I do not like it very much.” So, like this, it trains the mind in the Buddhist view. Once the view is established, then you wish everyone to be well and generate loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings. Once you wish everyone well, then you want to do something to actually help to alleviate the pain and suffering of all sentient beings, that is compassion. You do not only want to wish them well, but you would want to do everything you can to put an end to pain and suffering. That is how compassion is generated.
Loving kindness and compassion complement each other. Like when you have a son or daughter, you always wish him or her well and that is loving kindness. Whenever your son or daughter needs your help, you actually giving that help is compassion. It is difficult to generate loving kindness and compassion. But you have to understand that without generating bodhicitta, loving kindness and compassion, there is absolutely no way to reach enlightenment. That is definitely so. There is no way to go around it. Without the two, loving kindness and compassion, it is totally and completely impossible to reach enlightenment. Yes, you can liberate yourself from your rebirth in samsara by doing other virtuous things but enlightenment, absolutely not. Because it is difficult, you have to train the mind by first wishing everybody well and then gradually go a little bit deeper than that. And then actually applying that loving kindness and transforming it into compassion by thinking of all suffering sentient beings, big as well as small, meditating three times during the day and three times during the night. Because back home in Tibet, one would meditate just on the suffering of all sentient beings for one hundred days. You have to be convinced of the fact that all sentient beings are your parents. If parents are not exactly the closest to you, then whoever is the closest to you, whoever you love the most, you should think that all sentient beings have been like that person in former life times. You must see with certainty that loving kindness and compassion are absolutely indispensable. If you have anger and jealousy, for example, when you pass away from this life, this would be imprinted in the mind stream and the result is that you will surely be born either in the realm of hell or hungry ghost because of what is imprinted in your mind stream. If you have loving kindness and compassion imprinted in your mind stream, it is an entirely different story. If you want to be reborn as a human being, loving kindness and compassion are indispensable. You must have loving kindness and compassion in your mind stream; otherwise, it is not possible to be reborn as a human being.
To generate loving kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings, you really have to start with whoever is closest to you. Loving kindness and compassion must start at home. Showing your loving kindness and compassion toward your family members and gradually extending it to others. It is important to generate your loving kindness and compassion toward your mother and think of all the sacrifices she made. When you generate this kind of loving kindness and compassion, it is yours. You are not parting from it. Having loving kindness and compassion is like a wish-fulfilling jewel. It is your mother who has giving birth to you; it is your mother who has given you love. Second, generate loving kindness and compassion toward your teachers. Without teachers’ help, you will be ignorant and an ignorant person cannot really fully enjoy peace and happiness. Teachers are extremely kind to all of us. Third, generate loving kindness and compassion toward your nation, your government and toward all those who are responsible for bringing this country to the level where it is now. Without the nation, without the government, without the civilization, just imagine for a minute what it would be like. There will be thieves, robbers and muggers everywhere. The roads will not be as they are today. So one’s nation is indeed important to oneself, whether or not one is going to have peace and happiness depends upon what kind of nation and government you have. A good nation means happiness and a bad nation means suffering. We all need to have some kind of association with the country or government, without which we really cannot live. What if you lived in a country just like in a ghost town? Therefore, one should be grateful and express your gratitude to all those former statesmen who are responsible for building the nation. When you have this kind of appreciation, you will be able to generate loving kindness and compassion toward them.
Always when you generate loving kindness, generate it toward your mother, your teachers, toward the nation and government and gradually you can extend it to all of us on the planet and everybody in samsara etc. When you have loving kindness and show it to your parent, then that loving kindness and compassion that you show will be imprinted in your mind stream. This is something that you build on and it is something you carry forward. Besides, if you are kind, gentle and caring to your parents, when they are going to pass away, they are leaving everything they have to you. You can inherit it. If you are kind, gentle and showing your love and compassion toward your teachers, you will be able to get all their knowledge. When you show your love and compassion to your nation and government, when you abide by the law, pay your dues and pay your taxes, then in your life, who knows, you may even become a leader and that will amount to satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. And when you pass away, you will of course carry forward love and kindness imprinted in your mind stream. Therefore, gradually, you should think of all mother sentient beings. When you have this kind of attitude, then you would become someone who could make a positive impact on all sentient beings and in your own country. Conversely, if you only focus on yourself, be selfish, over-indulge in alcoholic beverages and abuse drugs etc, all because of self-centering and attachment, the result would be self-destruction and you will be born as an animal. You should have the right kind of attitude toward your nation and government. All the law and order is in place in order to serve its citizens. The good civilization, the law and order, the police, for example, when you think of all these qualities, not the faults, then you will be able to generate love and kindness. But if you do just the opposite, that is do everything against the rules, against the law, black marketing and breaking the law, then one day you will be caught. It is you who will be the loser, in this life as well as in the next. It is because when you do these kinds of activities, you have no loving kindness and compassion. So you should always try to find qualities rather than faults, not only with your nation but with your spouse, for example, whether it is a husband or a wife. None of us are fully enlightened, all of us have faults. Do not dwell on the faults. Capitalize on the qualities. If you capitalize on the qualities, you will be able to generate love and kindness. Cast your mind back many years when you and your spouse had the most wonderful time and when you exchanged love and kindness. Relive those moments and if you do that, you will then live together until you die. In all likelihood, you will meet again in your next life. All is possible because of love and kindness.
Question from the audience: What is the benefit of showing love and compassion when someone has died?
Rinpoche’s reply: Generating love and kindness is like a telephone call, the minute you generate love and compassion, then you are sending that to the other end whether it is an animal or a human being who has passed away. Whenever you generate loving kindness and compassion, it will reach the other end. Loving kindness and compassion is the only thing that links beings together. If you are a lama who is asked to pray for a deceased person, if you do not have loving kindness and compassion, no amount of prayer is going to have any effect at all. So when you generate loving kindness toward a deceased person or an animal, think of all sentient beings and send out your love and compassion to them. If you do that, the deceased will derive the benefit from it because loving kindness and compassion is the antidote to attachment. When you have loving kindness and compassion, it will benefit whomever you are praying for. For example, when you hear the news of a major disaster, whether it is a train collision or something else; immediately, you will feel it and when you feel that you are touched, you will have a genuine desire to send out your love and compassion. When you have a genuine desire to send out your love and compassion, it will benefit the one that is struck by the disaster. That is how all bodhisattvas benefit sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are the enlightened ones with heroic mind. Heroic mind because they have love and kindness in abundance.
Question from the audience: Can you talk about compassion from the ultimate point of view?
Rinpoche’s reply: At the absolute level, this compassion is called untargeted compassion. That is to say, at the relative level, you need to see, to hear the news of the train disaster. It has to touch you and then you generate the loving kindness and compassion and think of what may have happened to those people. So there is subject and object. You need to have those people toward whom you are directing your compassion and your feeling. At the absolute level, you do not have subject and object. It is the union of emptiness and compassion. That compassion is all-pervading compassion. It is at all times there, it pervades all.