BUDDHISM IN OUR DAILY LIFE
A series of lectures delivered at The China Institute in America
New York, New York
THE SOURCE OF JOY
Let me make it clear, first of all, that the joy I refer to here is not the temporary joy that can be the cause or source of later suffering. For example, one does have a sensation of joy and being carefree when one is drunk. But the actions might commit while intoxicated could be so foolish that one might feel deep regret afterward, or they could cause such irreparable damage that the suffering created thereby would be much greater and longer lasting than the temporary joy that accompanied the drinking. That kind of joy, if you still wish to call it joy, is classified in Buddhism as suffering ?it is not joy, because it is the beginning of suffering.
The joy I refer to her can be better defined as the opposite of suffering, or, the cessation of suffering. An example is the kind of feeling one enjoys when one can fall asleep quickly and soundly without drugs, after suffering insomnia for many years, or when one is able to rest after a number of hectic days in a political campaign or a demanding day in the business world. One might find oneself enjoying that relaxation in a mountain-lake region. As one gazes at the high, snowcapped mountains and the huge pine trees, the world and its worries seem a thousand miles away; one feels so small, yet at the same time so great, that one feels alone in the universe.
In Buddhism, there are several ways to classify human suffering. The most common is a listing of eight categories of suffering:
1. Suffering because of birth.
Although no one remembers the pain experienced upon leaving the mother’s womb, the very fact that a newborn cries rather than smiles indicated that there is no bliss at birth.
2. Suffering because of age.
Although aging is a slow process that takes place over a number of years, the sometimes sudden realization of the reduction of youthful strength and ability is a painful experience for most people past the age of sixty. Evidence of this feeling could be found on a visit to a home for the aged, or simply by speaking to any older person on the subject.
3. Suffering because of sickness.
Very few people can claim immunity to sickness or injury. I do not have to elaborate on the painful experience of being sick. This kind of suffering is particularly prevalent among people who live in places where nutrition and medical care are inadequate.
4. Suffering because of death.
The majority of human beings suffer painfully because of their awareness of the inevitability of death. Such suffering is particularly severe for those who have a strong ego, great power, or great wealth, as it is very difficult for them to contemplate giving up these things.
5. Suffering because of separation from loved ones.
Death is considered by most to constitute permanent separation. One who has had the experience of losing a loved one knows how painful that experience can be, and that the suffering it brings can hardly be remedied. Heartbreak, worry, the expectation of bad news ?all these kinds of suffering are expressed through grief and tears by those whose loved ones have been kidnapped or imprisoned in concentration camps, who have faced the danger of death, been sent to war, or been forced into an indefinite period of separation because of political circumstances.
6. Suffering because of an undesirable confrontation with another person or thing.
Some occasions for this kind of suffering might be an unexpected meeting between two people who hate each other; a beautiful woman being chased by a man she does not like; suddenly coming face to face with a robber or maniac; turning a corner and finding a rabid dog or other animal on the attack ?all these encounters can be sources of great suffering.
7. Suffering caused by denial of one
A child will cry when he or she wants a piece of candy and the mother says no. Other examples are failure to win the heart of the one you love, or failure in business. One can also suffer a great deal if one needs money desperately and is unable to get it.
8. Suffering because of the burning characteristics of the human body and mind.
In Buddhism, this suffering refers to the five aggregates that form the human experience which is the body and mind. These five aggregates are form, sensation, perception, conditioned function, and consciousness. Examples of the burning characteristics of these five aggregates are anger, anxiety, excessive sexual desire, hatred, jealousy ?all these can be sources of suffering.
Since the joy I refer to is defined as the cessation of suffering, it becomes clear from the above description of the eight categories of suffering that the root of suffering is our concept of body and mind. If we do not have body and mind, there is no birth and therefore no suffering because of birth. Without body and mind, aging, sickness, death, and the other four kinds of suffering have no base from which to operate. Therefore, the root of all human suffering is the human concept of, and attachment to, body and mind. As in the case of the concept of birth and death, and the concept of karma, the complete cessation of suffering can only be achieved by the realization of our basic nature. This means the realization that the body and mind, which appear to our sensory organs to exist, are changing from moment to moment, and are impermanent and unreal. It is as if one saw oneself in a dream, or were an actor playing a part. All comes to be defined as emptiness.
Therefore, the realization of basic nature means complete cessation of suffering, which means ultimate joy. The conclusion of this theoretical analysis, which I have earlier referred to as Path 3, is that our own basic nature is the source of true joy. May I repeat that: Our own basic nature is the source of joy.
Now that sounds great, but it is just like saying the clear autumn sky is the source of cheer at a time when the sky is heavily overcast and it is raining, if not storming. Buddhism is not just a philosophical study. One who knows everything in theory about swimming but has never practiced in the water will still face the possibility of drowning if he or she falls into deep water. Buddhism places much emphasis on practice. So, to realize basic nature one must practice according to those methods that I have called Path 1 and Path 2.
Path 1 is designed for the person who is able to divorce himself or herself entirely from the worldly affairs and to practice vigorously the concentration of the mind on one point. This method is analogous to launching a rocket from crowded Times Square in New York City on a stormy day with thick clouds. Now just imagine how difficult it would be to fire a rocket under such conditions. Many rockets, even when launched successfully, probably would fall back to earth without ever having reached the upper level of clouds. Only the ones that have enough strength to ascend nonstop can penetrate the heavy cloud cover. The instruments in those rockets that do make it will suddenly detect bright sunshine and the endless deep blue sky in all directions. At that time, what the instruments will detect is vast space, quietness, clarity, and emptiness. Crowded and noisy Times Square in New York City, and even the whole earth, will become so small by comparison that they lose their significance entirely.
A similar breakthrough in the human mind, according to Buddhism, is called enlightenment. At the moment of enlightenment, our basic nature reveals vastness, limitlessness, and an incomprehensible nature beyond description. All the habits, desire, discriminations, and attachments of human beings become insignificant. The concepts of birth and death, karma, and suffering are therefore inapplicable. One who achieves this status is said to be enlightened. Buddha Shakyamuni was a human being born more than 2,500 years ago in the land known today as Nepal. He achieved enlightenment at the age of thirty-five and thereby set an excellent example for all human beings.
As I said before, Path 1 is designed for one who is able to divorce himself or herself entirely from worldly affairs and to practice vigorously, just like the Buddha who gave up the king’s throne that awaited him and went to the mountains to take up difficult ascetic practices. Such a path is like attempting to dig out the root of a big tree without first cutting down the branches. It should be understood to be the highest standard that a human being can possibly achieve according to the Buddha’s teachings. Path 1, however, is not for everyone. Buddha therefore taught many other methods to enable human beings to realize their basic nature. I include these methods under Path 2.
All the methods in Path 2 can be described as aiming at one principle, that is, harmony with our basic nature. Here we should note that the concept of self is still in existence. It is ‘I?who am in harmony with basic nature. In other words, at the stage of cultivation which I have called Path 2, the self and basic nature are still experienced as separate entities. All the methods of Path 2 are therefore aimed at the goal of identifying the self with basic nature. Also bear in mind that basic nature is a term chosen for the convenience of people at the mundane level.
When the principle of harmony with basic nature is clear in our minds, every action and every thought in our daily life can offer us abundant opportunities to develop that harmony. At the mundane level, basic nature can be defined as non-duality, nondiscrimination, and no-self; or even more condensed, as nonattachment. Therefore, in our daily life, those actions and thoughts which can be qualified as non-duality, nondiscrimination, no-self, or nonattachment are those in harmony with basic nature. On the other hand, actions and thoughts that involve duality, discrimination, the concept of self, or attachment of some sort are not in harmony with basic nature.
Now I wish to give you a few examples of how to practice in harmony with basic nature. These techniques have been useful in my personal practice. But, since each person has different karma, you may find another method more effective.
1. Fifteen minutes a day of meditation on vast space.
You look at the open sky on a clear day. Concentrate your effort to see as far out as you can. If a bird, an airplane, a wisp of cloud, or any other object comes into view, ignore it and don’t let it distract you. If your eyes become tired, close them, but your mind should continuously “look” at the vast sky without wavering. The key to this practice can be found in the following verse taken from The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, translated by Garma C.C. Chang:
Like the sky devoid of edge or center,
Meditate on vastness and infinity.
That is the teaching Milarepa gave to his female disciple, Sahle Aiu. It clearly emphasizes nonduality, nondiscrimination, and no-self.
2. Fifteen minutes a day of meditation on energy.
First, think of the outer skin that covers your entire body. Skin is matter and is therefore a form of energy. Next, think of your flesh. Flesh is matter and therefore also a form of energy. The bones are also a form of energy. Further, your lungs, heart, stomach ?every part of your body from the outside to the inside, and then from the inside to the outside ?is a form of energy.
When you first begin this practice, repeat the process several times. You will reach the conclusion that everything in your body, as well as your body as a whole, is energy and nothing else.
Then realize that whatever you are sitting on is matter, and thus energy. The air is energy. The warmth of the air is energy. Light is energy. People and animals are energy. The room, the house, the village, the city, the earth, the moon, the sun ?everything in boundless space that you can think of is all energy. All is characterized by nonduality and nondiscrimination.
Whenever your mind wavers and you cannot keep expanding your vision of energy while meditating thusly, retreat to a point where your vision of energy is clear.
Since energy is a good analogy for basic nature, this practice can be very effective. It is simple, yet in harmony with the profound level of basic nature.
I presume that you all know how to sit in meditation, so I shall not describe it here. My essay “What We Can Learn From Buddhism” gives a brief description of the sitting positions. You might like to use it as a reference.
3. Practicing the perfection of giving (dana paramita).
Giving means to help or benefit others. Twenty-five years ago, when I first came to this country, I had the distinct impression that the people of this great nation have, in general, a warm generosity and willingness to help other people. I must admit, however, that this good impression has been gradually fading in recent years. I sincerely hope that this trend will be reversed. It is entirely up to each of us. Don’t forget that our social environment is the effect of our common karma.
According to Buddhism, there are three kinds of giving:
a) To help or benefit others by giving them material objects.
Food, clothing, shelter, vehicles, money, and many other items of a material nature are included in this category.
b) To help or benefit others by giving them right knowledge and correct view.
In Buddhism this refers especially to Dharma, i.e., the Buddha’s teaching, because according to Buddhism, Dharma is the most important knowledge that can help people to rid themselves of suffering. Broadly speaking, the teaching of the knowledge and skill to enable people to be productive members of society is also classified as giving under this category.
c) To help or benefit others by protecting them from various kinds of danger, and by alleviating their fears.
This is called the giving of fearlessness. People who contribute to keeping a place, say, Central Park in New York City, secure and peaceful are performing the act of giving as defined in this category. To save people from a ship in distress or from places hit by earthquakes, hurricanes, tidal waves, or other disasters are also good examples of this kind of giving. A doctor or nurse who comforts a patient who has great fear is also performing meritorious giving.
All of the above is giving, but it may not be the perfection of giving. You may remember that when we talked about karma, I said at one point that one who does good deeds with selfish motives receives limited merit, while one who does the same good deeds with no specific purpose or desire receives infinitely greater merit. Let me now describe the perfection of giving, which is one of the six paramitas, or perfections, taught by Buddha.
Perfection of giving means giving without duality, without discrimination, and without concept of self. To put it another way, perfection of giving is giving without any idea as to who is the recipient, what is being given, or who the donor is.
Giving conditionally, or with strings attached, is not the perfection of giving.
Giving with the expectation of reward is not the perfection of giving.
Giving with discrimination regarding the recipient, thinking, “I only donate to the church but not to the school,” is not the perfection of giving.
Giving for selfish reasons is not the perfection of giving.
The perfection of giving demands a mind of equality, nonduality, and nondiscrimination, and no-self. Such giving is in harmony with basic nature.
For those who have not achieved the ability to be in harmony with their basic nature, intensive prayer to a tangible supramundane authority may sometimes be helpful. In Christianity, the Holy Mother Mary and Jesus Christ; in Buddhism, Buddha Amitabha and Bodhisattva Kuan-yin; the gods of other religions, etc.; all serve effective purposes when one is seriously ill, in danger, desperate, approaching death, and so forth. Prayer, particularly for those who have had faith in one or more of these gods during their lives, can help to restore one’s concentration. The unwavering tranquility of mind is itself a process in harmony with basic nature ?the source of joy.
I thank you for your patience in listening so intently during these four sessions. You have probably noted that the key expression in these lectures has been ‘basic nature.?It may be helpful to offer you, as a conclusion, the following quotation from chapter nine of The Holy Teaching of Vilamakirti, entitled “The Dharma-Door of Nonduality,” as translated by Prof. Robert A.F. Thurman.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti asked those bodhisattvas, “Good sirs, please explain how the bodhisattvas enter the Dharma-door of nonduality!”
Thereupon, thirty-one bodhisattvas expressed their views on nonduality. I quote three of these expressions as examples:
The bodhisattva Srigandha declared, ” ‘I?and ‘mine?are two. If there is no presumption of a self, there will be no possessiveness. Thus, the absence of presumption is the entrance into nonduality.”?/P>
The bodhisattva Tisya declared, ” ‘Good?and ‘evil?are two. Seeking neither good nor evil, the understanding of the nonduality of the significant and the meaningless is the entrance into nonduality.”?/P>
The bodhisattva Suddhadhimukti declared, “To say, ‘this is happiness,?and ‘That is misery?is dualism. One who is free of all calculations, through the extreme purity of gnosis ?his mind is aloof, like empty space; and thus he enters into nonduality.”
And near the end we read:
When the bodhisattvas had given their explanations, they all addressed the crown prince Manjusri: “Manjusri, what is the bodhisattva’s entrance into nonduality?”
Manjusri replied, “Good sirs, you have all spoken well. Nevertheless, all your explanations are themselves dualistic. To know no one teaching, to express nothing, to say nothing, to explain nothing, to announce nothing, to indicate nothing, and to designate nothing ?that is the entrance into nonduality.”
Then the crown prince Manjusri said to the Lichavi Vimalakirti, “We have all given our own teaching, noble sir. Now, may you elucidate the teachings of the entrance into the principle of nonduality!”
Thereupon, the Licchavi Vimalakirti kept his silence, saying nothing at all.
The crown prince Manjusri applauded the Lichavi Vimalakirti: “Excellent! Excellen, noble sir! This is indeed the entrance into the nonduality of the bodhisattvas. Here there is no use for syllables, sounds, and ideas.”
Dear friends, why have I used so many words?
[At this point, Dr. Shen suddenly raised his voice.]
NOW ANSWER MY QUESTION, QUICK! QUICK!
[The audience kept silent.]
Excellent! Excellent! We have so many more Vimalakirtis here.
[The audience burst into laughter.]
Now you have experienced it. The very moment that you laughed was the moment that you were in harmony with your basic nature. Perhaps you would all like to go home now and practice harmony with basic nature.
I thank you very much.