8 mins read.
We talk a lot about toxic relationships, poisoned environments, and so on, but according to Buddha all outer poison comes from the three inner poisons of attachment, hatred (or aversion), and ignorance. I don’t think we have to look far to see the effects of actions fueled by unbridled greed, intolerance, indifference, and basic confusion. I could put a long list here, or you could just turn on the news.
Carrying on from this article on the three nons, which help us overcome our delusions on even our busiest day.
Meanwhile, when not overtaken by these delusions, people everywhere are also doing extraordinarily brave and unselfish things for others, sometimes at the cost of their own comfort or even lives, such as those working in healthcare on the front lines, trying to put out wildfires, striving tirelessly for social justice, or rescuing animals. It restores hope in humanity, seeing these welcome glimmers of clarity, sanity, and kindness that arise from our pure Buddha nature. They are reminders that no one is inherently evil, that we are all good at heart; but that we fall tragically victim to our unpeaceful, uncontrolled thoughts and bad karma. It is the delusions that have to go.
Glimpsing a pure land
I got a good feeling for what it’s like for thousands of people to practice being peaceful and considerate for several days in a row at the recent epic opening of the fifth Kadampa world peace temple and the International Fall Festival. It was magical, to be honest. Deeply inspiring. A lot of fun. You see the goodness at the heart of all of us, and how it is perfectly possible to bring it out of each other if that is what we decide to do. We don’t need to stay petty, or selfish, or vindictive, or addicted to the drama of attachment, pride, and other delusions – we do have a choice here. Back home, we can become examples for others rather than just join back in the fray.
Sometimes we can see the value of a state of mind by extrapolating it to include everyone – what would this world be like, for example, if we all tried to practice non-harmfulness, never deliberately causing pain to others? Where would be the wars, the pollution, the shootings, the inequitable distribution of resources, the starvation?
Even if that seems too much to hope for, knowing what a pure land this would create we can at least start by practicing non-harmfulness ourselves and sowing the karma for a kinder more peaceful world. This is not idealism – this is creating a new reality based on compassion and a wisdom that understands the power of our mind and takes responsibility for our own thoughts, actions, and experiences. Rather than demonizing each other, thus remaining a victim of our own anger and frustration and very much part of the problem, it would help all of us a lot more to recognize the real demons that lurk within our own hearts — and turn this sorry situation around. That’s what Buddha basically said, anyway, and I agree.
(We’re on the third non, non-ignorance or wisdom.) Geshe Kelsang said in his 2000 Mahamudra teachings that all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously from karmic potentialities in the root mind, like waves from an ocean.
Mahamudra meditators therefore conclude that all the many appearances we perceive, such as the world, the environment, enjoyments, beings, our friends, and our bodies are all waves of the ocean of our consciousness. They do not exist from their own side at all. They exist as mere appearance to mind. This is very close to saying that they are mind, but they are not actual mind. They are not separate from mind. They are the nature of mind.
Everything appearing to you right now, including the words on this screen, is coming not from outside your mind but from inside. Truth! We know this if we take the time to do the analysis of looking for things with wisdom and get that insight into the mere absence of the things we normally perceive, the endless space-like emptiness of all that exists. Whatever it is we are currently grasping at, it’s not there! Grasping is as futile as trying to drink water from a mirage or grasp hold of a reflection.
This is one reason why objects of attachment such as handsome people keep slipping through our fingers; and the more we grasp the quicker that seems to happen.
If things are not out there, yet they appear, then what else can they be other than mere aspects or appearance of our mind not other than their emptiness? As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in his new book, The Mirror of Dharma:
When we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. However, we do not understand this because of our ignorance.
Geshe Kelsang has said that “anything can appear due to karma”; and it seems that anything does appear! – our mind is constantly throwing up new appearances, day after day and life after life, like an ocean throwing up waves, some of it quite cool, most of it really crazy (update: especially in 2020).
We manage to grasp at all of it, we are “deceived by grasping at things as they appear”, ie, they appear outside our mind, nothing to do with us. This means that if they’re attractive we want them (attachment) and if they’re not we want them gone (aversion). But if none of this exists outside our mind, these poisonous responses are a horrible and beginningless waste of time.
So much suffering we have had already since beginningless time, really way too much.
And so much more suffering awaits us all if we don’t stop doing this. I think it is good to keep remembering this every day until it sinks in and we commit to detoxifying our mind of the three poisons once and for all. These two verses from The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, transmitted to Je Tsonkghapa by the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, provide a graphic and heart-wrenching contemplation of our existential predicament. Applied to oneself, this swiftly brings on renunciation, and applied to others, bodhichitta.
Swept along by the currents of the four powerful rivers [birth, ageing, sickness and death],
Tightly bound by the chains of karma, so hard to release,
Ensnared within the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the pitch-black darkness of ignorance,
Taking rebirth after rebirth in boundless samsara,
And unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings [painful feelings, changing suffering and pervasive suffering] –
Through contemplating the state of your mothers, all living beings, in conditions such as these,
Generate the supreme mind of bodhichitta.
Just as the moon’s reflection in a lake cannot be separated out from the reflecting lake, so nothing that appears to us can be separated out from our reflecting awareness. If there is nothing “out there”, what exactly are we grasping at? We have to stop. If not now, in this precious human life, then when?
Practice all three nons in this context
I think it’s helpful to practice all three nons in this context. When an attractive object appears, such as sweet potato fries or a beautiful Fall aspen tree or even the huge Rockies seen through the window of this airplane, I can understand that these are not out there, and enjoy them as a mere appearance or reflection. I can know that when I attain liberation by purifying my lake-like mind, I will be able to enjoy pure appearances forever, and infinitely better ones to boot! This is all non-attachment.
When an unattractive object appears, such as someone arguing with me about politics, I can accept it as simply a wave-like arising within my own mind, resulting from my own karma, and let it go, not getting caught up in it.
And whenever something feels even more solid, fixed, and real than usual, this appearance itself reminds me that it is not real at all — just as a moon appearing in a lake reminds me that it is just a reflection, not outside the lake. Change the lake-like mind, the reflection changes automatically.
Practicing this with Tantra
- Non-attachment: If I encounter an object of desire, instead of generating attachment I can remember the faults of attachment, as explained in this first article. I can remember that all samsaric enjoyments are changing suffering and paltry compared with the pure enjoyments of enlightenment. I can remember that my mind is mixed with Guru Heruka’s mind of bliss and emptiness, and is giving rise to the appearances of the four complete purities – the body, environments, enjoyments, and deeds of Buddha Heruka or Vajrayogini, like reflections in a completely pure lake. Since this Grand Canyon or handsome fellow etc is in fact the same nature as the bliss and emptiness of my mind, he/she/it gives rise to even more bliss. In other words, I can have my cake and eat it. (As opposed to the frustration of trying to hold onto it with attachment, wherein I can neither have my cake nor eat it.
2. Non-hatred: If I encounter an unpleasant person, I can remember that this person is not their delusions, in fact they are a future Buddha, in fact they ARE a Buddha. And, just as important, I want them to be a Buddha. Ideally right now. This is the highest form of love and compassion, and will remind and inspire me to be Buddha Heruka.
3. Non-ignorance: When things get too real, I can remember that this is showing me that things are NOT real, just like that reflection of the moon. Everything is mere name, a manifestation not just of emptiness but of the extraordinary non-dualistic clear light bliss of my mind; and I am more inspired to be Buddha Heruka.
Over to you: I’d love to hear more from you in the Comments below on how you practice this instruction. It is such a vast and beneficial practice, given that it covers our three main delusions and all our waking hours! And there are so many different ways to go about it.