Buddha’s teachings on Sutra and Tantra are all designed to solve our suffering and center us in the solution. This is quite a big subject, so I’m going to try and streamline it by dividing Buddha’s teachings into five parts, called the “five seeds”. I didn’t make this up – Je Pabongkhapa, who is the Guru of my Guru’s Guru – my Great-Grand-Guru as it were – suggested we sow these five seeds together and let them all ripen together.
In general within Kadampa Buddhism we touch on these every day in our meditation sessions and daily lives – once we’ve had Tantric empowerments it’s all five and before then it’s the first three. The five seeds are:
- The wisdom realizing emptiness
- Generation stage Tantra
- Completion stage Tantra
Whatever painful problem comes up in our life – whether it’s physical, political, relationship, financial, or anything else – I’ve found that every single one of my problems can be solved by any of these five seeds. Whenever I bother to contemplate these with respect to a problem, that problem is obliterated.
I’m going to use a simple illustration to show you what I mean. You know how there are parts of your body that you never notice until suddenly they hurt? Well, I have had a sore tongue recently. It’s like, wait, I’ve got a tongue? I use it all the time but now it’s hurting so of course I am noticing it. When we have a problem it tends to fill our mind even if it’s just ridiculous like a funky tongue.
You can take any problem at all, relationship, political, financial, etc; but I am just going to use my tongue for the heck of it.
If I am thinking ordinarily about it, I think, man, that’s a disaster, it hurts! It feels funny speaking! Eating is not as much fun as usual either. I better look up some home remedies. So, I looked up 10 home remedies, 4 of which a friend has indulgently provided me with. Queue the baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and I’ve forgotten what else … but … not much difference so far.
Obviously I have had to do some more Google research because what else could this be but cancer? And they’re going to take away my Medicaid. And I’m going to die of it, but not before I can no longer eat or speak.
With ordinary think, we let our worry run away with us. Even the smallest things can be immensely thought-consuming.
The normal story, if we don’t have the first of these five seeds, is that my life is supposed to be basically fine. These things shouldn’t be happening to me. If they happen to others, well, that’s ok, really, because they can handle it, it’s not that big of a deal, come on, it’s only a sore tongue! But my life is supposed to work out.
Samsara is this impure life characterized by delusions that we currently have little impetus to get out of – all we tend to do is try and solve one problem at a time. That’s point number one. If we think samsara is okay, we lack vision – and all I’m thinking is that I just have to solve my tongue problem and then everything’s going to be fine.
But I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s not actually going to be fine at all. We’ve been trying to patch things up in samsara since beginningless time, and we still have problems with our body parts, with our politics, with our relationships, with everything, everyday.
Indeed, since I wrote all that, my tongue problem is now in the rear-view mirror – fill my mind as it assuredly did, I have already forgotten about it. Today I face a totally different calamity, which is that there is no city sewage pipe in our road and our million-dollar building project is utterly stalled.
(Update Dec 9 2023: The sewage pipe is now in the rear-view mirror too. Today’s problem is that the city council, embroiled in politics, have been mucking up all our plans for weeks on end as they delay in giving us the certificate of occupancy for this fantastical million-dollar building — completed or not, it may as well exist in a parallel universe at the moment 😆 Like I said, always something.)
Samsara is just a problem factory. All it does is throw up problems – but generally because we’ve not got perspective we think that every problem is THE BIGGEST PROBLEM EVER. All that stands between me and bliss is a sore tongue/missing sewer. How happy all those people with normal tongues/sewage pipes must be feeling today! Do they realize how lucky they are?!
There is always something standing between us and our happiness. What is happening is that we are not seeing the wood for the ugly trees and so we’re just trying to solve one problem at a time; but due to delusions and karma more ugly trees keep growing.
Samsara’s entire nature is suffering – it is rotten through and through. Another metaphor: Buddha likened samsara to an ocean throwing up endless waves of suffering. Regardless of how often we dive through them, jump over them, surf them, or are simply crushed by them, there is always another wave ready to take its place. Samsara is never going to work out, ever, at least not for more than the time it takes to jump over a wave; and samsara’s miseries (sickness, ageing, death, uncertainty, etc etc) are far more extensive than its temporary reliefs.
Funnily enough, this does not depress me but motivates me. If we get a problem into perspective, it automatically shrinks – and eventually, through getting good at this, all our problems go away altogether. So, I ask myself this question, and perhaps you can ask yourself a similar question about whatever problem you’re having today: How can this sore tongue/building delay motivate me to finally give up on samsara and seek the permanent bliss of liberation?
The other thing about my tongue is that it is far more important than all your tongues combined – I’m sorry, but it just is. With this self-cherishing and lack of empathy, failing to understand that I’m just one person and other are countless, our problem looms large. “Poor old me!”, we think. We naturally chew over it and exaggerate its importance so that it hurts us more and more. Fact is, in the face of reality – that others are more important than me and that all the happiness in the world therefore comes from wishing others to be happy and free – our own problem dwindles away. Cherishing others solves all our problems. With compassion and bodhichitta, our problem is toast.
With respect to your problem today, try asking: “How can this motivate me to attain enlightenment to free all living beings from their suffering permanently?” And, if you have time, please report back in the comments.
The wisdom realizing emptiness
With our usual samsaric mindset, we think everything is real. Everything is fixed. Everything is really happening. Everything’s out there, outside my mind. None of this is true, but because we think it is, then of course we have some pretty rock solid insurmountable problems weighing down on us. How can we fix problems if they are fixed and real? Answer: we can’t.
The wisdom realizing emptiness is the supreme method to get rid of all our problems. Form is empty; emptiness is form. Tongue is empty; emptiness is tongue. (In the Heart Sutra, tongues even get mentioned by name, lol!) I can’t even find my tongue when I go looking for it. It is mere name, mere dreamlike karmic appearance of mind. With wisdom, I swipe away at this mistaken appearance.
So, again, with respect to your problem, try asking: “How can this motivate me to realize the dreamlike nature of things?”
Generation stage Tantra
Generally, unless we have some Tantric understanding, when things appear ordinary and impure we believe they are ordinary and impure, so of course we are surrounded by problems wherever we look. Everything is basically some sort of a problem, or potentially a problem, in an impure, ordinary, clichéic, unenlightened world.
If we want to really pull the rug out from under the pervasive sufferings of life, Tantra is the quickest and best way to do that. In Tantra we learn how to identify with our deepest realized potential, imagining that we already have the result we seek – we are already a Buddha. Buddhas don’t have tongue problems. Simple as that. Venerable Geshe-la explains this in Tantric Grounds and Paths:
“When we cling to being an ordinary person, thinking “I am Peter”, “I am Sarah”, etc., we are developing ordinary conceptions. Because we cling to an ordinary identity, if someone attacks us we feel fear, or if we run out of money we become anxious. If instead of clinging to an ordinary identity we were to overcome ordinary conceptions by developing the divine pride of being Heruka or Varjayogini, we would not develop fear, anxiety, or any other negative state of mind. How can anyone harm Heruka? How can Vajrayogini run out of money?”
So, again, with respect to your problem, try asking: “How can this motivate me to self-generate as a Buddha, experiencing a pure enlightened body and mind, environment, and enjoyments?”
Completion stage Tantra
In completion stage Tantra we generate the mind of spontaneous great bliss, deep in our heart chakra, wherein all dualistic appearances subside in the incredible limitless sky of the Truth Body. It is completely impossible for any delusions or suffering to survive that.
“In ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. Impure things are only the creation of the ignorance of self-grasping and therefore actually do not exist. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land
So once again we can ask about our problem: “How can this motivate me to centralize my inner winds and gain the clear light of bliss?”
In summary, if I am being bugged by a problem of any description, as soon as I remember I go through this five-part checklist and look at it in the light of renunciation, bodhichitta, etc. This serves the dual purpose of (1) dealing with the problem and making me peaceful again and (2) giving me daily incentive to meditate on the five seeds. There is literally no shortage of practice opportunities and it’s a win-win because we are both solving our problems AND getting deeper and deeper insights that will ultimately protect us and others from suffering forever.
Transforming difficulties like this is like using the floor to push ourselves up – without a floor, how can we push ourselves up? Long before I even get to #5, the problem has gone – and by the end, I am feeling like I have no care in the world.
Suffering has good qualities
I’ve been doing this for years and I find it just incredibly helpful. Today I used it for the sewage pipe, which was initially seeming like a complete disaster; and I feel fine now. The more we study these five, the easier and more fun checking off this checklist becomes. This is applied Dharma. We don’t practice Buddhist meditation in abstract but apply it to everything in our daily lives, wherein there is no shortage of material and opportunity.
Instead of trying to deal with everything out there, like putting hydrogen peroxide on our tongue (not a great idea, BTW), we think, “Great! First I am going to solve this inner, actual problem with Dharma, and then, if there is something I can do about the outer problem, such as the tongue or the sewer, then I’ll do that as well – but with a peaceful mind.” There is, after all, no law to say that we have to apply outer solutions to outer problems with an unpeaceful mind – we tend to get more done when we are happy and inspired. (See this article for an explanation of inner and outer problems). And when outer difficulties serve as a catalyst to solve our actual inner problems, they become helpful – thus no longer problems at all. I’ll let the great Shantideva have the last word:
Suffering has good qualities.
Over to you.