37 practices: verse11, part 2

For the translation and audio of verse 11, to exchange my happiness for others’ suffering, click here.

We’re having a couple of weeks off while Chodron is traveling. Next class is October 19. In the meantime, here’s a contemplation from Ken McLeod’s book Reflections on Silver River:

Contemplation: “Suppose you were told that, no matter what you did, you would never be happy. Never. What would you do with your life?”

In other words, how much does the way we organize our life depend on the expectation that eventually, if some condition or other is met, we will finally be happy? If the pursuit of our own happiness were not a factor, how would we then relate to our own and other peoples’ suffering?

To take it further, how does this relate to the Buddha’s first noble truth, that within our samasaric existence based on ego-clinging and the pursuit of personal happiness, our experience is inevitably permeated with suffering? And with his explanation of the three types of suffering — that even what we perceive as pleasure (the suffering of change) is tinged with or leads to the suffering of outright suffering?

We’ll talk about this in the next class, when we discuss Ken McLeod’s commentary.

Meditation: Keep doing some taking and sending in formal meditation every day, using any method you like, and in daily life remember to apply Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s instructions for when we find ourselves caught up in emotional affliction:

Relative method for dealing with anger, desire, jealousy, anxiety, fear, etc.: Take on the suffering of all other beings who may be experiencing the same emotion, and through your own suffering free them from theirs. (This can be done as taking and sending.)

Ultimate method: Just sit quietly with the emotion and look directly at it, perceiving its lack of solid reality, its dreamlike quality, its impermanence, its emptiness of true existence.

See you October 19!

 

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37 practices: overview of action bodhicitta, verses 11-30

According to Dilgo Khyentse (pages 98 and 106), in practice 10 we cultivate aspiration bodhicitta, the wish for all beings to be happy and to be liberated from the confusion of samsara, which marks the beginning of the Mahayana path to full awakening (rather than the foundational but partial awakening for ourselves alone of verses 8 and 9). In practice 11 we set out on the path of action bodhicitta (aka application bodhicitta, aka engaged bodhicitta) by training in how to begin to bring this aspiration to realization through the practice of tong len, taking and sending meditation. Yes, meditation falls under the heading of action bodhicitta!

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37 practices: verse 11

11. To exchange my happiness for others’ suffering 

The source of every single suf-fer-ing / Is wishing for my happiness alone,

While focusing on others’ benefit / Gives rise to buddhahood, awakening.

Because of this to genuinely trade / My happiness for others’ suf-fer-ing:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 11 audio above.

For an overview of action bodhicitta, verses 11-30, visit here.

Meanwhile, you are here: Now that we have generated aspiration bodhicitta (verse 10), the wish to bring all beings to happiness and liberation, Togme Zangpo directs us to the specific practices of the Mahayana path, beginning in verse 11 with training in the basic underlying transaction that informs all the activities of body, speech, and mind of a bodhisattva: exchanging our happiness for others’ suffering through the practice of tong len, taking and sending. This will be the main tool in our bodhisattva toolbox, applicable to everything that arises in our experience from now on, and we need to hone it daily on the cushion (or chair) so it will be handy and sharp when we need it. (More on that in verses 12-19.)

We will spend two weeks on this verse.

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37 Practices: Verse 10

10. To liberate all beings

My mothers, each and every sentient being, / Since time without beginning cared for me.

How can I be happy while they’re suf-fering? / I must get to work and set them free.

To cultivate the mind of full awake-ning: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 10 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10 is here.

With verse 10, we expand our two basic motivations for dharma practice — to gain freedom from suffering by refraining from harm to others, and to attain complete liberation because even the apparent happiness and pleasures of samsara don’t last and are suffering in disguise — to include all beings. This is the final and highest level of motivation for practice, the Mahayana or universal motivation, and the one from which the rest of the path unfolds.

Who are all these beings I am resolving to liberate? According to the traditional formula for arousing bodhicitta that we recite at the beginning of each teaching, they are “all sentient beings, whose numbers fill the extent of space.” How big is space? It is said to be infinite. This is a vast scope of intention!

Meditation: Let your attention come to rest, naturally or by following a few rounds of breathing, and then, as you breathe out, let your awareness relax to fill all of limitless, empty space. Rest like that for as long as you wish, and then:

Contemplation / Meditation: Imagine this vast, limitless space completely filled with sentient beings, each of whom has been like a loving mother to you in a previous lifetime. Envelop them all in your heartfelt love, wishing happiness for each and every one. Rest in that feeling of love pervading space for as long as you wish.

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37 practices: verse 9

9. To strive for unchanging freedom

Like drops of dew upon each blade of grass / The three realms’ happiness evaporates.

In contrast, the supreme and highest state / Of liberation doesn’t ever change.

To strive in all my efforts just for that: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 8 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10 is here.

So…. in verse 8 we begin to practice the dharma in order to become free from the intense, outright sufferings of the three lower realms, which result from harmful actions motivated by the corresponding poisons of anger (hell realms), desire (hungry ghost realm) and ignorance (animal realm).

The motivation of verse 8 is the essential foundation for any progress on the path, and it’s important not to gloss over it. But the point of verse 9 is that as we begin to progress along the path, we realize that freedom from outright suffering isn’t enough — the kind of happiness, pleasure, and comfort samsara has to offer even in the higher realms of humans, gods, and not-quite-gods is in fact the three types of suffering in disguise. At the very least, the highs of samsaric happiness don’t last very long (this is the all-pervasive suffering of conditioned existence, that it is deteriorating moment by moment). At worst, they turn at some point from pleasure to pain (the suffering of change — our old friend, outright suffering, e.g., Hurricane Harvey, August 2017).

With this realization comes the second, middle level of motivation: to attain freedom not only from suffering but also from the entire cycle of confusion that is samsara —the good, the bad, and the ugly. In this verse, Togme Zangpo instructs himself (and us) to direct all efforts in this life toward “the supreme and highest state of liberation.” Yep, he said all!

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37 practices: verse 8

8. To refrain from harm at all costs

The suf-fer-ings of the three lower realms, / These states of mind so difficult to bear,

According to the teachings of the Sage / Are the result of actions that do harm.

Therefore, even with my own life at stake, / From harmful actions always to refrain:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 8 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10, the three levels of practice, is here.

Now that we have, in verses 1-7, begun to disengage ourselves from samsaric habits and gathered the support we need,  we are ready to enter the actual path of awakening, which consists of three levels of motivation and practice.

The first level begins when we simply recognize how much we suffer because of our habitual emotional reactivity — the three poisons of desire, anger, and ignorance (the latter most easily understood as the solidification of our ephemeral, illusory experiences into fixed perceptions, opinions, and judgments). In the four noble truths, the Buddha taught that our experience is permeated with various types of suffering, that this suffering has a cause (the three poisons), and that by removing the cause it can be brought to an end. Once we truly understand this, we will automatically be motivated to apply the antidote.

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37 practices: taking refuge as a practice, verse 7 p.s.

In verse 7 of the 37 practices of a bodhisattva, Togme Zangpo reminds himself (and now us, since his writings have survived 7 centuries) to give up worldly refuges and look instead to refuges that are authentic and reliable and can actually protect us from the perils of samsara: the Buddha, dharma, and sangha.

This is not an instruction in the sense of an order or the threat of hell if we don’t follow it, but in the sense of lovingly pointing out to us that if we put this advice into practice rather than just think of it as a nice idea, the entire path of awakening will unfold before us. That is the promise of verse 3.

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37 practices: verses 8-10, the path begins

Click on the link for discussion and audio of the preliminary practices all together: verses 1-7.

8. To refrain from harm at all costs

The suf-fer-ings of the three lower realms, / These states of mind so difficult to bear,

According to the teachings of the Sage / Are the result of actions that do harm.

Therefore, even with my own life at stake, / From harmful actions always to refrain:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

9. To strive for unchanging freedom

Like drops of dew upon each blade of grass / The three realms’ happiness evaporates.

In contrast, the supreme and highest state / Of liberation doesn’t ever change.

To strive in all our efforts just for that: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

10. To liberate all beings

My mothers, each and every sentient being, / Since time without beginning cared for me.

How can I be happy while they’re suf-fering? / I must get to work and set them free.

To cultivate the mind of full awake-ning: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Audio for verses 8-10.

We have completed the preliminaries for traveling the path, verses 1-7. Well, not completed them, but we now know what they all are. As we continue to engage in these practices of disentanglement from samsaric habits and gathering of resources for the path, with verse 8 we now take the first step onto it.

Verses 8-10 are considered in Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary to be part of the main practice. But they may appear to operate as a separate unit: the three motivations or types of practitioners. This is resolved when we realize that these three motivations can also be considered cumulative stages of the path. We’ll discuss each of the verses individually in separate posts, but here we’ll look briefly at how they are connected.

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37 practices: verse 7

7. To seek refuge in the Three Jewels

Who can the worldly deities protect, / Themselves imprisoned in samsara’s jail?

The Three Jewels, which embody freedom’s path: / Reliable protection without fail.

To seek refuge in Buddha, dharma, sangha: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 7 audio

According to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “People naturally search for refuge, for someone or something to protect them from sorrow and torment.” He suggests we may typically seek protection and comfort from a variety of worldly sources, such as wealth, pleasure, and influence. In Ornament of Precious Liberation, Gampopa cites worldly deities, local nature spirits, parents and loved ones among the refuges we may habitually turn to. Ken McLeod adds knowledge, community, health, fitness, and transcendent experiences to the list.

Contemplation: What refuge(s) do you turn to when you get bad news or are ill, anxious, facing a challenge, or under stress? Might “worldly deities” include such refuges within samsaric experience as TV, video games, phone surfing, ice cream, shopping, substance abuse, gossip or venting? What is the outcome of relying on these sources of temporary relief? If, on the other hand, we feel we already rely on the Buddha, dharma, and sangha as our refuges, in what way do we do that in our daily life, and what is the outcome? Let’s take a few moments to reflect on this before going on.

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37 practices: verse 6, part 2 of 2

The translation of verse 6, to rely on spiritual friends, may be found in part 1 of the class notes, which touches on the definition of spiritual friends; how to identify an authentic teacher; and, once you have found one, how to be an authentic student.

This part of the class notes will include why we are encouraged to view our authentic teacher as the Buddha, how to do that, and how to respond if we feel the teacher has not lived up to our expectations.

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