An emotion is like a cloud passing through the sky. Sometimes it is fear or anger, sometimes it is happiness or love, sometimes it is compassion. But none of them ultimately constitute a self. They are just what they are, each manifesting its own quality. With this understanding, we can cultivate the emotions that seem helpful and simply let the others be, without aversion, without suppression, without identification.
Turning our attention to the most basic condition for our life on this planet — the air we breathe — we see that we cannot be separated from our physical environment. Even if we could manage for some time without food or clothing, we cannot survive more than a few minutes without oxygen. A vast number of conditions need to come together to yield the uninterrupted supply of oxygen that is indispensable to keep us alive, yet we ourselves make no conscious effort to bring those conditions about. Contemplating this basic fact can spark a sense of wonder and gratitude toward the planet itself.
The Buddha advised that the practice of the Vinaya has to be progressive, adapting to time and place. Over time, the nature of emotions, hang-ups, reference points, and neuroses have adjusted because of changing culture; therefore, the solutions have to be progressive.
One can be progressive and still traditional. The guru should not insist that students visualize the offering goddesses in the cartoonish Tibetan thangka style; if a student wishes to visualize something more akin to Billie Holiday, that should be fine — it doesn’t alter the practice. Likewise, if the student wishes to add a few items to the mandala plate, like headphones and false eyelashes, the guru should rejoice.
Diligence has three aspects. The first, called armor-like diligence, is to develop a joyous courage and fortitude which you wear like armor against discouragement. The second is diligence in action, which is to set about accumulating merit through the practice of the six paramitas without delay or procrastination. The third is diligence that cannot be stopped, an insatiable and unremitting energy to work for the sake of others. Diligence should permeate the practice of the other paramitas, and invigorate them all.
The master Ashvagosha says:
All these sources of good that I have accomplished
I dedicate as the cause of the state beyond the world,
Without thoughts related to cyclic existence, or hopes
Of any resulting fame, praise, or happiness, celestial or human.
Unless all our meritorious actions are backed by the skillful means of compassion and the wisdom of emptiness, they will merely become causes of cyclic existence resulting in cyclic existence. So it is extremely important that our actions be exclusively backed by the wisdom that realizes the profound meaning.
As we find in The Way of the Bodhisattva,
When something and its nonexistence
Both are absent from before the mind,
No other option does the latter have:
It comes to perfect rest, from concepts free.
When we do not have in mind any characterizing thoughts, nor even think of emptiness, which is absence of characteristics, but remain, without remaining, in the state of emptiness — the ultimate nature that transcends both things with characteristics and the mental image of absence of characteristics — the accumulation of merit becomes perfectly pure, as indicated in Introduction to the Middle Way:
Giving, void of giver, gift, receiver,
Is called a perfection that transcends the world.
The object to which you are offering the Buddhafield, the things you are
offering, and you yourself, the offerer, are from the beginning devoid of real
existence or characteristics, so rest in evenness in the natural state completely free of elaboration, without any concept of subject, object, and action.
Offering in this way, as an unceasing manifestation of the merely illusory appearance aspect of interdependent arising, will become an unsurpassable source of good, in which generosity and the other transcendent perfections are performed with the eye of wisdom and the two accumulations are united.
We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can’t relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, and unbiased.
We have a tendency to think in terms of doing and not in terms of being. We think that when we are not doing anything, we are wasting our time. But that is not true. Our time is first of all for us to be.
To be what? To be alive, to be peaceful, to be joyful, to be loving. And that is what the world needs most.
If you want to know about buddhanature, then Maitreya’s Uttaratantra Shastra is the text you have to study. It’s important to be careful when establishing the idea of buddhanature, because otherwise it might end up becoming something like an atman, or a truly existing soul. The Mahayana shastras talk about the qualities of freedom, or elimination, such as the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, the thirty-two major marks, the eighty minor marks, and so on. If you’re not careful, you might start to think about buddhanature theistically — that is, in terms of the qualities of a permanent god, soul, or essence. But all these qualities talked about in the Mahayana shastras are simply qualities of the absence of dirt.
When we talk about the result of elimination, we automatically think we are talking about something that comes afterward: first there is elimination and then comes its effect. But we are not talking about that at all, because then we would be falling into an eternalist or theistic extreme. “Elimination” means having something to eliminate. But in the Prajnaparamita, we understand that there is nothing to eliminate. And that is the big elimination. The result of that elimination isn’t obtained later. It’s always there, which is why it’s called tantra, or “continuum.” This quality continues throughout the ground, path, and result. The window continues from before the dirt was there, while the dirt is being washed away, and after the cleaning is complete. The window has always been free from the concepts of dirt and freedom from dirt. That’s why the Mahayana sutras say the result is beyond aspiration. You cannot wish or pray for the result of elimination, because it’s already there; it continues all the time, so there’s no need to aspire to it.
The aim is to be able to feel the extent to which others are extremely important and integral to you and also to gain an emotional awareness that you are never, ever really separate from them. Others are part of you, just as you are part of them. You exist in connection with others. When you see this, you can also see that your happiness and suffering depend upon others. If you think solely in terms of yourself and your own happiness, it simply does not work. There is no happiness without relying upon others.