From the Buddhist point of view, having renunciation of samsara and loving kindness bodhicitta alone is not enough to cut the root of the ego or the root of the dualistic mind.
By meditating on and practicing loving kindness bodhicitta, you can eliminate gross attachment and feelings of craving, but the root of craving desire and attachment are ego and the dualistic mind. Therefore, without understanding shunyata, or non-duality, it is not possible to cut the root of human problems.
It’s like this example: if you have some boiling water and put cold water or ice into it, the boiling water calms down, but you haven’t totally extinguished the water’s potential to boil.
For example, all of us have a certain degree of loving kindness in our relationships, but many times our loving kindness is a mixture—half white, half black. This is very important.
Many times we start with a white, loving kindness motivation but then slowly, slowly it gets mixed up with “black magic” love.
Our love starts with pure motivation, but as time passes, negative minds arise and our love becomes mixed with black love, dark love. It begins at first as white love but then transforms into black magic love.
I want you to understand that this is due to a lack of wisdom—your not having the penetrative wisdom to go beyond your relative projection. You can see that that’s why even religious motivations and religious actions become a mundane trip when you lack penetrative wisdom. That’s why Buddhism does not have a good feeling towards fanatical or emotional love. Many Westerners project, “Buddhism has no love.”
Actually, love has nothing to do with emotional expression.
The emotional expression of love is so gross; so gross—not refined. Buddhism has tremendous concern for, or understanding of, the needs of both the object and the subject; in this way, loving kindness becomes an antidote to the selfish attitude.
Western religions also place tremendous emphasis on love and compassion, but they do not emphasize wisdom. Understanding wisdom is the path to liberation, so you have to gain it.
As far as emotion is concerned, I think for the Western world, emotion is a big thing for some reason. However, when we react to or relate with the sense world, we should somehow learn to go the middle way.
When I was in Spain with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we visited a monastery and met a Christian monk who had vowed to stay in an isolated place.
His Holiness asked him a question, something like, “How do you feel when you experience signs of happy or unhappy things coming to you?”
The monk said something like, “Happy is not necessarily happy; bad is not necessarily bad; good is not necessarily good.”
I was astonished; I was very happy.
“In the world, bad is not too bad; good is not too good.”
To my small understanding, that was wisdom. We should all learn from that.
Ask yourself whether or not you can do this. Can you experience things the way this monk did or not? For me, this monk’s experience was great. I don’t care whether he’s enlightened or not. All I care is that he had this fantastic experience. It was helpful for his life; I’m sure he was blissful. Anyway, all worldly pleasures and bad experiences are so transitory—knowing their transitory nature, their relative nature, their conventional nature, makes you free.
The person who has some understanding of shunyata will have exactly the same experiences as that priest had. The person sees that bad and good are relative; they exist for only the conditioned mind and are not absolute qualities.The characteristic of ego is to project such fantasy notions onto yourself and others—this is the main root of problems. You then react emotionally and hold as concrete your pleasure and your pain.
You can observe right now how your ego mind interprets yourself, how your self-image is simply a projection of your ego. You can check right now. It’s worth checking. The way you check has nothing to do with the sensory mind, your sense consciousness. Close your eyes and check right now. It’s a simple question—you don’t need to query the past or the future—just ask yourself right now,
You don’t need to search for the absolute. It’s enough to just ask about your conventional self.
Understanding your conventional mind and the way it projects your own self-image is the key to realizing shunyata. In this way you break down the gross concepts of ego and eradicate the self-pitying image of yourself.
The characteristic of ego is to project such fantasy notions onto yourself and others—this is the main root of problems. You then react emotionally and hold as concrete your pleasure and your pain. You can also see how you feel that yesterday’s self-pitying image of yourself still exists today. It’s wrong.
Thinking, “I’m a very bad person today because I was angry yesterday, I was angry last year,” is also wrong because you are still holding today an angry, self-pitying image from the past. You are not angry today. If that logic were correct, then Shakyamuni Buddha would also be bad, because when he was on earth, he had 100 wives but was still dissatisfied!
Our ego holds a permanent concept of our ordinary self all the time—this year, last year, the year before: “I’m a bad person; me, me, me, me, me, me.” From the Buddhist point of view, that’s wrong. If you hold that kind of concept throughout your lifetime, you become a bad person because you interpret yourself as a bad person.
Therefore, your ego’s interpretation is unreasonable. It has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. And because your ego holds onto such a self-existent I, attachment begins.
I remember His Holiness once giving an audience to about 20 or 30 monks at a Christian monastery and His Holiness asking one of the monks, “What is your interpretation of emptiness?”
One of them answered, “From the Christian point of view, non-attachment is shunyata.”
What do you think about that? For me, somebody’s having an experience of non-attachment is super. Don’t you think it’s super? Attachment is a symptom of this sick world. This world is sick because of attachment. Do you understand? The Middle East is sick because of attachment. Oil-producing countries are sick because of attachment. Am I communicating with you or not? And that Christian monk experienced non-attachment. What do you think of that?
From the Buddhist point of view, it is very difficult for a person to experience non-attachment; it’s very difficult. For that reason, for me, it is extremely good if somebody—even somebody from another religion—experiences it. And that, too, is a reason for having the confidence to respect other religions.
How many Buddhists here have experienced non-attachment? None? Surprise, surprise! Well, excuse me; I’m just joking. But it is very important to have the experience of non-attachment; it is very important for all of us.
Now, I want you to understand what attachment means. We can use this piece of electrician’s tape as an example. From the Buddhist philosophical point of view, attachment for something means that it’s very difficult for us to separate from it. In this example, the attachment of the electrician’s tape is no problem because it is easy to loosen, easy to reattach and easy to loosen again. But, we have a very strong attachment—strong like iron—for the things we think of as being very good. So, we need to learn to be flexible.
Let’s look at this flower from the Buddhist point of view. My attachment for the flower is a symptom. It shows that I overestimate the value of the flower. I wish to become one with the flower and never separate from it for the rest of my life. You understand now, how sick I am? It is so difficult for me to let go of it. What do you think? Am I crazy? This craziness is attachment. But, non-attachment is flexible; it is a middle way, a reasonable way. Let go.
Do you understand?
The psychology of attachment is over-estimation; it is an unrealistic attitude. That’s why we are suffering; and for that reason Buddhism emphasizes suffering, suffering, suffering.
The Western point of view is that Buddhism overemphasizes suffering. Westerners can’t understand why Buddhism talks about suffering so much. “I have enough money. I can eat. I have enough clothes. Why do you say I’m suffering? I’m not suffering. I don’t need Buddhism.” Many Westerners say this kind of thing. This is a misunderstanding of the term “suffering.” The nature of attachment is suffering.
Look at Western society. The biggest problem in the West is attachment. It’s so simple. From birth, through school and up to professorship, or whatever one achieves, the Western life is built by attachment. Of course, it’s not only the Western life—attachment characterizes the life of each and every sentient being—but why I’m singling out the West is because Westerners sometimes have funny ideas about the connotation of happiness and suffering.
Philosophically, of course, you can research shunyata deeply; you can analyze the notion of the self-existent in 1000 ways. But here I’m talking about what you can do practically, every day, right now, in a simple way. Don’t think about Buddhist terminology; don’t think about what the books say or anything like that.
Just ask yourself simply, “How, at this moment, do I interpret myself?” That’s all.
This teaching was excerpted from the Essence of Tibetan Buddhism, edited by Nicholas Ribush.
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Ed: Sara Crolick