Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Few Things One Must Guard Against, by Shang Rinpoche


A student asked me, “Once I’ve understood all the necessary preparations I must make to walk the path of practice, what else is there I must pay attention to?” I’ve had a similar question posed to me by other students after they’d studied Buddhism for a period of time. Actually, practice at any time can lead into unexpected and unpredictable states, in which you cannot put aside the eight worldly winds. The circumstances may be favorable or otherwise; sometimes it’s the troubles found in relationships, at others, it’s the ups and downs of our innate emotions that sweep over our self-nature like great thunderous waves. Sometimes our external experiences are not as we had anticipated; sometimes we’re certain success is ours and in the blink of an eye it vanishes. Sometimes we feel entirely safe and secure, only to see our accomplishments collapse in an avalanche of defeat. Sometimes you think you’ve found your life partner, someone whom you can grow old with, then suddenly you suffer betrayal. The human world is full of twisting, zigzagging, uneven paths. Sometimes the journey is pleasant, at times it leaves you worried; maybe you feel you’ve really seen the truth of it all, then it’s as if you’ve put on sunglasses, plunging your world into darkness. Sometimes you feel like you’re in full control, then, as if a dam has burst, all your gains pour out in a gush of wasted effort. In short, there are many unpredictable situations that we must be ready to face.

In my own pursuit of truth and wisdom, I’ve picked up a few small realizations, yet to summarize them means to speak of a few key points that we must guard against. These are issues any practitioner will encounter and some simply must be undergone individually. So, if one has enough wealth, companionship, Dharma methods, and space to practice, then obstacles may gradually dissipate. There are some problems that you may not have come up against yet, but if one is to truly dedicate themselves to study, they are certain to crop up eventually. These are the obstructions (referred to as demons) of death, illness, afflictions, the five aggregates, and of the Mara (demon) of Heaven. As to the questions of life and death, we must be as if looking at flowers in the water. As for our physical and mental suffering, we should spend time considering the line from the Diamond Sutra, which says that all is, “like the morning dew or a flash of lightning in the sky.” This mortal body and the pain it experiences are not just confined to this lifetime. The mental hindrances we experience are just like clouds, coming and going; there is nothing solid or fixed, so don’t be attached. Calmly abide at the source of the greatest pain and you will see that its essence is just like thunder or lightning - insubstantial. In our human existence, the afflictions and obstacles we encounter are as densely packed and infinite as pebbles strewn on a beach, more than the cold stars scattered across an autumn sky. Working hard is not enough to go beyond the cycles of life and death, you might forever tumble through samsara with no way to achieve liberation. The only thing you can do is to physically integrate with every situation you encounter, your mind remaining detached, just like watching a play, and after some time you naturally become disinterested. Afflictions will likewise evaporate like ashes or smoke, allowing it to be as it is. As for the five aggregates of form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness, they are just like a magician’s sleight of hand. It’s also like a child watching the transformations within a kaleidoscope, or an elderly person leisurely sunbathing, with nowhere else to be. Like a ghost trying to crash into a wall to no avail. Thoughts can be regarded as a speeding Mercedes-Benz on the freeway, why even take notice of it? If you can perceive the five aggregates in this way, you will not see the five aggregates as dualistic or afflictive in any way. Maybe if you reach a certain level of achievement, you might make a name for yourself, maybe amass some wealth, and perhaps gathers a lot of followers. Life might even seem as if one were a god, with anything you wish coming true. Maybe it’ll seem like the life of a Hindu deity, complete with psychic powers, but one must remember it’s in fact an obstacle, the Mara of Heaven presenting himself. Don’t be fooled by him for a second.


Even more importantly, you must be aware at all times that it could all disappear in an instant and so we should look on all honor and disgrace, gain and loss as if we were learning about the world like a 5-year-old child. When we are cheated or hurt by others, we should train ourselves to accept it consciously, even inviting others to cheat us. In the end, even if the other person understood that we know, don’t expose their deceit and thereby hurt them: this is the magnanimous attitude that we need to cultivate. Favorable circumstances or predicaments are just like fish in the water, like a mountain brook, like an empty flower, like the four seasons of the world, all are simply part of nature’s matrix, so there is no need to get attached to anything. We should be careful about getting entangled in the relationships we have with our relatives and spouses because “the debt of love” is the greatest barrier to practice.


In response to being asked about what one must look out for while on the path of practice, since I am a man of few words, I would simply reply, “Follow the karmic conditions without being affected, and remain unaffected in the face of karmic conditions; welcome whatever comes, and let it leave no trace once it departs.” If you can really grasp the salient truth of this sentence, it’ll be your best resource for achieving freedom and liberation.

These are a few suggestions selected from what I, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, shared with a group of enthusiastic students one evening in late September, expressing to them my meager understanding of the path of practice. Now I share it with those who have a connection. If I have committed any faults therein, I am willing to set them right.

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