All living creatures possess an innate notion of self based upon the aggregates of body and mind, a self that naturally desires happiness and wishes to avoid suffering. This natural instinct knows no boundaries, and pervades all forms of life in this universe, regardless of the external differences in the physical appearances of these forms. It is this urge that makes all of us hold ourselves most dear and precious. Because this instinct is a just one, the individual has a natural right to work for the achievement of happiness and the overcoming of suffering.
As mentioned in Uttaratantra (Unsurpassed Continuum), all beings further possess the potential to free themselves from the binding chains of suffering and anxiety. The presence of this potential strongly indicates the presence of the Buddha nature or the seed of full enlightenment inherent within all beings.
Retaining Human Qualities of Love, Kindness & Honesty
The factor that distinguishes humans from other living species is the ability to utilize intelligence while retaining the human qualities of love, kindness, and honesty towards fellow beings. It is vital for people with an appreciation of a deeper dimension of human nature not to let themselves be enslaved by materialism. It is possible to work for one's livelihood and yet not to stray from sincerity and honesty.
Ironically, although the underlying aim of material development is the attainment of more happiness and peace, if one were to lead one's life totally occupied with material development alone and were to disregard the needs of one's spiritual life, the fulfillment of this basic aim probably would not be realized.
It is very obvious to us that the experiences of the mind are far more acute and strong than those of the body. Therefore, if the continuity of the mind remains even after death, then it becomes most essential for us to ponder upon our after-death fate. It is important to probe whether or not it is possible, on the basis of this consciousness, for an individual to achieve a permanent state of peace and happiness. If it is, then it becomes a matter of great personal concern for us to take the initiative to make the necessary efforts to arrive at such a state.
Types & Levels of Consciousness
When we talk of consciousness superficially, it appears as though we were talking about a single entity. But if we analyze deeper we find that there are various types and levels of consciousness. Certain types of consciousness are undesirable in that when they arise they torment the individual's mind, but there are others whose arising ushers in calmness and peace. So our task now is to discriminate skillfully between these two categories of consciousness.
Generally speaking, consciousness is in the nature of clarity and knowing; it is susceptible to change and transformation. Therefore, the essential nature of consciousness is pure and clear, which suggests that the delusions that pollute the mind have not penetrated into its nature. All the mental stains, such as ignorance and the other delusions that often torment us, are adventitious and hence not indivisible aspects of our minds. Because these delusions, dualistic conceptions and so forth are unstable and reside only temporarily within our consciousness, they can be alleviated and eventually rooted out when their actual opponent forces are applied properly. The achievement of such a feat marks the attainment of a permanent peace and happiness.
As I often remark, in this world there are many different categories of people: those who adhere to some form of spiritual belief, those who are totally against it, and those who are just indifferent to religion. When people confront situations that defy rational explanation and that are adverse, they differ in their ability to cope with them. As long as those who do not believe in any spiritual system encounter situations that are within the scope of human understanding, they can cope with them. But any circumstances beyond their own understanding come as a shock, and their attempts to deal with them result in frustration and anxiety. A practitioner of dharma has a better understanding of life and therefore will not lose courage and hope, factors that are most vital for sustaining the force of life. Therefore, the importance of spiritual development in one's life is obvious; and in this respect, I believe that the Buddhist doctrine has much to offer.
Transformation: The Practice of Dharma
Editor's Note: Dharma is a Sanskrit word with many different meanings. The most common usage denotes a "way of life" or "transformative process". In this context, it not only refers to the process itself but to the transformed result as well.
There are many different ways of undertaking the practice of dharma; these vary from individual to individual. Some people can totally renounce the worldly way of life and choose the way of a hermit, devoting their entire time and energy to meditation. Others undertake their practice while maintaining a conventional life in the world.
One should not have the wrong notion that the practice of dharma is to be put off for the future when one can set aside a specific time for it; rather, it should be integrated into one's life right now. The essence is to live one's life within the noble principles of the dharma and give a direction and purpose to one's life. If one can adopt such an outlook, the dharma will not only be beneficial to oneself as an individual but will also contribute to the betterment of the community in which one lives.
Generally speaking, altruism is the genuine source of benefit and happiness in this world. Thus if we were born in a realm of existence where the development of altruism was not possible, we would be in a rather hopeless situation, which is fortunately not the case. As human beings we have all the faculties appropriate for spiritual development, among them the most precious of all -- the human brain. It is very important that we do not waste the great opportunity afforded by our being human, because time is a phenomenon that is momentary and does not wait. It is the nature of things that they go through a process of change and disintegration. Therefore, it is a matter of utmost importance that we make our human lives meaningful.
The Path to Bliss: The One and the Many
As explained earlier, just as one has a natural right to work for one's own happiness, so, in equal measure, do all sentient beings. What, then, is the difference between self and others? The only difference is that when one talks of one's own affairs, no matter how important one might be, one is only concerned with a single person, whereas the affairs of others concern the welfare of numberless living beings. The difference between the two concerns lies in the quantity.
Moreover, if one were totally unrelated to and independent of others, then one's indifference towards their welfare would be understandable, but this is not the case. All living beings survive in dependence upon others; even one's experiences of happiness and suffering come about in relation to one's interaction with others. One's dependence on others is not confined to day-to-day survival alone; all one's spiritual development depends upon others as well.
It is only in relation to others that one can cultivate such human qualities as universal compassion, love, tolerance, generosity, etc. Even the Buddha's noble activities come about because there are other sentient beings to work for. If one thinks in such terms, one will find that working for one's own benefit, totally neglecting the welfare of others, is very selfish and hence unfair. When one compares the welfare of oneself with that of the numberless others, one finds that the welfare of others is far more important; and therefore giving up the benefits accruing to a single person for the sake of numberless others is a just and a righteous act. On the contrary, sacrificing the well-being of many for the benefit of one is not only a most unfair act but also a foolish one.
At this juncture, when we possess the intelligence to judge between right and wrong and also can draw inspiration from the examples of great bodhisattvas of the past, we should make every attempt to reverse our normal self-centered outlook. Our attitudes towards our own welfare should be such that we open ourselves completely to the service of others -- so much so, that on our part there is not even a slight sense of possessiveness towards our belongings or our being. We have this great opportunity now.
The Practice of Altruism or Selflessness
We should rejoice in our fortune of having the precious chance, as humans, to practice altruism, a practice that I personally believe is the highest fulfillment of human value. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to speak on the importance and merits of a good heart and altruism.
Should we persist in our normal self-centered tendencies and behavior in spite of our human birth, we would be wasting a great opportunity. Our tenure in this world should not be that of a troublemaker in the human community. Therefore, it is very important to realize the preciousness of the present opportunity and that such an opportunity comes about only through the aggregation of many favorable conditions.
On our part, as practitioners of dharma, it is very important to put the noble principles of the Buddhist doctrine into proper practice within our lives, and thus to experience the real fruits of the dharma. Dharma practitioners should set good examples and demonstrate the true value of the dharma. Otherwise, if our dharma remains only conceptual and is not transformed into experience, its real value may not be realized.
Disciplining the Mind
The essence of dharma practice is to bring about a discipline within the mind, a state of mind free of hatred, lust, and harmful intentions. Hence the entire message of the buddhadharma could be summed up in two succinct statements: "Help others," and "If you cannot help them, at least do not harm others." It is a grave error to think that apart from such a disciplining of the physical and mental faculties there is something else called "the practice of dharma". Various, and in some cases divergent, methods to achieve such an inner discipline have been taught in the scriptures by the Buddha.
This task of bringing about an inner discipline may look very complex and difficult at the outset, but if we really make the effort, we will see that it is not that complicated. We find ourselves caught in the confusion of all kinds of worldly conceptions and negative emotions and so forth, but if we are able to discover the right key through the practice of dharma, we will be able to unravel this knot of confusion.
The Path to Bliss: Be Righteous & Kind-Hearted
Practitioners of the dharma should have not only the ultimate aim of attaining full enlightenment, but also the goal of becoming righteous and kind-hearted persons within this life too. Let us say that there is a person who is normally very short-tempered, but as a result of his listening to the teachings and practicing the instructions he changes; that really is the mark of having benefited from the dharma. The fundamental questions, such as whether there is rebirth or not, and whether or not full enlightenment is possible, are difficult to answer. But what is very obvious to us is that a positive state of mind and positive action lead to more happiness and peace, whereas their negative counterparts result in undesirable consequences. Therefore, if as a result of our dharma practice we are able to alleviate our sufferings and experience more happiness, that would in itself be a sufficient fruit to encourage us further in our spiritual pursuits.
Even if we were not able to attain high spiritual realizations in this lifetime, but were able to develop the altruistic mind of bodhicitta -- even to a very small degree -- we would at least be able to perceive all beings as our closest friends. If, on the other hand, we were to cling to the self-cherishing attitude and the misconception that grasps at the inherent existence of things, there would be no possibility of a genuine and lasting mental peace and happiness, even if all the living beings around us were trying to be friendly towards us. We can observe the truth of this in our daily lives. The more altruism we develop in a day, the more peaceful we find ourselves. Similarly, the more self-centered we remain, the more frustrations and trouble we encounter. All these reflections lead us to conclude that a good heart and an altruistic motivation are indeed true sources of happiness and are therefore genuine wish-granting jewels.
The Relevance of Spiritual Development
The twentieth century was an era marked with revolution in many fields of human knowledge. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when revolutionary scientific discoveries were being made, religion and science became more and more separated. Many people felt that they were perhaps incompatible.
But in this century, when human intelligence has been so enriched by new knowledge derived through important scientific discoveries, a new trend is fortunately emerging. People in the scientific disciplines are taking a fresh interest in spiritual and moral concepts and are prepared to reappraise their attitudes towards the relevance of spiritual development in order to achieve a more complete view of life and the world.
In particular, there is a growing interest among the scientific community in Buddhist philosophical thought. I am optimistic that over the next few decades there will be a great change in our world view both from the material and the spiritual perspectives.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 14851.
Path to Bliss: A Practical Guide to Stages of Meditation
by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
In The Path to Bliss, the Dalai Lama shows how visualization, reason, and contemplation can be systematically crafted to enhance personal development. Beginning with practices designed to create an effective mental outlook, His Holiness skillfully guides the student to more advanced techniques for developing the mind's deepest potential and happiness.
For info or to order this book (2nd edition, different cover). Also available as a Kindle edition.
About The Author
Tenzin Gyatso was born in Amdo, Tibet in 1935 and was recognized as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. Since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959, he has served as head of the Tibetan Government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India. Today he is known the world over as a great spiritual teacher and a tireless worker for peace. He is the author of numerous books, including his recent Ethics for the New Millennium.
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