Friday, October 24, 2014

What Buddha Brought to This World, By Shang Rinpoche


Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog TibetIn recent years, I have been on close terms with a group of priests and greatly admire the warmth and brilliance stemming from their immense inner joy. It was unfamiliar at first, perhaps because of my comparatively reserved oriental background, to hug as a way of greeting, but I have become used to it and harbor great respect for their ardent devotion and pure innocence. One day I was meeting three priests and over the course of our conversation, they expressed the wish to learn about some very basic concepts of Buddhism. I started with the story of Shakyamuni Buddha descending from Tushita heaven to the human world, taking the monastic vows at the age of 29 until his enlightenment at 35. Upon enlightenment, the words he said also sum up his mission in coming to this world: he said that just like him, all sentient beings are endowed with buddha nature, only theirs has been obscured by attachments and illusory thoughts. After attaining Buddhahood he set out to unleash the inner wisdom of sentient beings and help them transform their attachments and delusive thinking. The intractable habits and heavy karma of these beings proved an arduous task for the Buddha, taking him through 49 years of exhausting all means in passing on his realization and teachings. The Buddha was still teaching the Mahaparinirvana Sutra right before he entered into parinirvana.

To teach sentient beings the way to liberation, Shakyamuni Buddha turned the Dharma Wheel three times. Turning the proverbial Dharma Wheel actually means turning the mind. The mind, affected all the forms it perceives, subsequently gives rise to all sorts of illusory thoughts and attachments. Form includes anything tangible, images, tastes, sounds and words that are perceived by our consciousness. Perception, in turn, generates various ideas, emotions, thoughts and opinions, which result in karma. This corresponds with what is mentioned in Buddhist sutras: phenomena lives in the mind, and from phenomena the various states of mind arise. Turning the Dharma Wheel was, in effect, to make sentient beings understand that the mind is affected by these conditions and these conditions create our states of mind, a cycle of unending arising and cessation. If we do not understand this concept that whatever arises must cease, the mind remains bound by these conditions and cannot be liberated from samsara. Out of compassion for the ignorance of sentient beings, the Buddha first turned the Dharma Wheel and gave teachings on how the mind can renounce the greedy attachment to external conditions by the four practices of mindfulness: impurity of the body, that all sensations lead to suffering, that the mind is impermanent, and that there is no such thing as an ego. Persevering in this practice will eventually lead to arhatship. During the second turning of the Dharma Wheel, the Buddha transmitted the profound Mahayana teachings and also started the discourse on the mind and forms. The crux of this is that the mind is the basis of the Three Realms - it all hinges on the mind to become liberated from Desire, Form, and the Formless, hence, the famous quote “everything is but a figment of the mind.” Just as mentioned in a verse by one of the previous Buddhas, “The mind is non-arising until conditions arise.” Evidently, the teachings during the Mahayana period were very versatile and dynamic, accommodating different circumstances and individual capacities with the goal to enlighten sentient beings by any means possible.


In his later days, the Buddha managed to spread the Dharma to Nepal and Tibet, where it would eventually reach Bhutan and Sikkim. In these areas, the teachings have been preserved in the form of sutra and tantra. After Shakyamuni Buddha had passed these teachings to Maitreya Buddha, they were later passed down to generations of patriarchs such as Asanga, becoming the Yogacara school. The other lineage started with the Buddha’s transmission to Manjusri Bodhisattva, who subsequently passed it to Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, Deva Bodhisattva, Buddhapalita Bodhisattva, Candrakirti Bodhisattva, and down a lineage of achieved masters up to this very day. When Buddhism was introduced into Tibet, it first appeared as the old school (Nyingmapa) and later formed into the new schools of Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug. The Kagyu school later developed into four major and eight minor branches. Regardless of the variety of schools, the goal of Tibetan Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment through different stages of practice in the context of bodhicitta, which is also our source of motivation and aspiration. Esoteric practices must be supported by the concept of emptiness and compassion in that we always dedicate any merits generated from our practice to the liberation of every sentient being who is dear to us like our father and mother. Therefore, properly giving rise to compassion and bodhicitta forms the foundation of a Vajrayana education. Amongst the different Vajrayana lineages, there is a wealth of esoteric and exoteric teachings pertaining to the expedient means to liberation, which is beyond the scope of this article.



This is a short clip of a conversation that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, had with a group of non-Buddhist friends.

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