People sometimes think twice about getting onto a spiritual path because they worry about having to give up so much. There is this feeling like, “I can’t be a good Dharma practitioner because I like to have sex, I want good food, I want to have money in the bank, and I don’t want to stay in a cave.” But the Vajrayana doesn’t place any importance on austerity. Or one might say it has a different interpretation of austerity.
Our culture finds this question of losing very difficult. It’s very good about getting. Our consumer culture, especially nowadays, is all about getting, getting, getting. We throw away those things which were fashionable yesterday but are no longer fashionable today to get something new. We don’t have that attitude, though, toward our own bodies or the bodies of others. We don’t think that we too need to be recycled from time to time, but we do. It’s ironical that in our society everybody talks very openly about sex, which in other societies is a big taboo. But in our society, the big taboo is death.
How do we become a qualiﬁed disciple? One quality to develop is open-mindedness. In other words, we let go of our own hard and fast agenda, of our likes and dislikes, and of our erroneous opinions about the nature of reality or the stages of the path. If we attend a teaching yet still hold strongly to our preconceptions about the path, we will evaluate teachers by whether or not they agree with our ideas. Is that a valid criterion for selecting a teacher? Such an attitude blocks us from learning because we’re holding on to what we believe and only accepting what validates our own opinions. In that case, we aren’t receptive to the Enlightened One’s teachings. To learn, we must set aside our own prejudices, be open-minded, and listen with a fresh mind.
We have created the illusion of a unique and unchanging self, an individual “I” that we believe remains fixed somewhere within us all the time as feelings and thoughts come and go. In Buddhism the term we use to describe this is “ego.” Our assumed identity leads to discrimination and splits the natural oneness of our mind into two. It imposes a dualistic relationship between our ego-self and the object, dividing experience into sight and the seer, feeling and the feeler, or thought and the thinker. This is the basis for our grasping. “Wanting this” and “not wanting that,” we project the attachment and aversion of the ego onto the external world. In fact, there is no “I” beyond our basic consciousness, no “I” different from the experience. The experience is everything. We do not have any ownership over it. If we do not recognise this and subdue these projections, we will continue to suffer.
In the past, perhaps people could justify actions that had a harmful impact because they didn’t have access to the right information. We no longer have that excuse. On the contrary, we have more than enough information. Once we know where to find it online, we already have all that we need to describe in great detail the patterns of interconnectedness that encompass all aspects of life on this planet. However, as powerful a resource as connectivity can be, and as great a wealth of information as it puts at out disposal, the way we use technology can make it harder for us to make the shift from intellectual to emotional engagement with the world it opens up to us. We now have access to far more information than we can reasonably process. Our response to the sheer volume of information to be found online is often to just surf along the surface of an infinite number of issues and events. We need to go deeper. Knowing more is not a substitute for feeling more.
Rigpa awareness, or Samantabhadra, is a primordially enlightened state, a quality of buddhahood that we all possess from beginningless time. However, this primordial quality of buddhahood is obscured by adventitious mental factors, our afflictions and other thought processes. Through practice, this primordial quality of buddhahood manifests. That is why, when all of the adventitious stains are cleansed, one is said to become re-awakened or re-enlightened.
Just as a waterproof covering protects against rain, diligence protects against all the circumstances and conditions that tempt us to give up on ourselves. Especially in meditation practice, diligence is required, not only to go beyond physical discomforts, but to work with the fear and resistance that arise in the face of letting go of ego fixations.
As we go through life, we accumulate layers of ideas about who we are and what we’re capable of achieving. As these layers accumulate, we tend to become increasingly rigid in our identification with certain views about ourselves and the world around us. Gradually, we lose our connection to the basic openness, clarity, and love that is the essence of our being. Our awareness is overwhelmed by hundreds of different thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Some we latch onto because they’re attractive fantasies or scary preoccupations; some we try to shove away because they’re too upsetting or because they distract us from whatever we’re trying to accomplish at the moment.
Instead of focusing on some of them and pushing away others, though, just look at them as feathers flying in the wind. The wind is your awareness, your inborn openness and clarity. Feathers — the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that pass through our awareness — are harmless. Some may be more attractive than others, some less attractive; but essentially they’re just feathers. Look at them as fuzzy, curly things floating through the air.
As you do so, you begin to identify with the awareness that is watching the feathers and allow yourself to be okay with whatever feathers happen to be flying at the time. You’re accepting them without latching on to them or trying to shove them away. This simple act of acceptance — which may only last a few seconds — offers a taste of that open space of essence love, an acceptance of the warmth that is your basic nature, the heart of your own being.
Patience is essentially the ability to bear with suffering. It is the fertile soil in which the flowers of Dharma (in other words, the three disciplines) can grow and spread their perfume of good qualities. Encircling these flowers like a protective fence are the three kinds of patience. The first is the patience to bear the sufferings and difficulties that occur while one is striving for the twofold goal: Buddhahood for one’s own sake and the accomplishment of the welfare of others. The second kind of patience is the ability to put up with the injuries that others might inflict, while the third kind is the ability to confront, without fear or apprehension, the doctrine of emptiness and other profound teachings.
We continue in samsaric existence as long as we are covered by the emotional obscurations and the cognitive obscurations. These two obscurations are precisely what hinder us from attaining the state of omniscient buddhahood.