In this series, Transforming Negativities, you will be listening to lightly edited audio teachings by Gelek Rimpoche given between September and November 1992 at the Jewel Heart Center in Ann Arbor.5
Descriptions of the twenty sessions are listed below –
The Human Being
According to Gelek Rimpoche, all basic Buddhist teachings are dedicated to transforming negativities. Through learning, analyzing and the practice of meditation, we can clear our negative thoughts, ideas and habits—the obstacles to our spiritual development.
In this session, Rimpoche explores our nature as a human being and asks the fundamental question, “Who are we?”. We have a name, job, and family relations that seem to define us, but who is that “me” that gets insulted, and responds with anger? Right now, our negative emotions dominate. Rimpoche quotes Je Tsongkhapa who explains that Buddha nature is within us, but it needs to mature.
How Can We Improve Ourselves?
Can we improve ourselves? And if so, how do we do it? The Buddhist goal is to become a Buddha, but our goal right now should be to become a better person as we move closer to that ideal.
In this session, Rimpoche teaches us how to recognize our delusions, which we all have but tend to deny. Our delusions are anger, attachment, hatred, fear, laziness, wandering mind, and ignorance. It is important to examine the ways these manifest in our life and how we reinforce them through habitual patterns. We improve when we begin to intervene in our habitual negative reactions.
What is Buddha Nature?
Buddha nature is the basis of our spiritual practice, and the basis on which we are trying to uplift and improve ourselves. Buddha nature is the pure part of ourselves that continues on after death.
In this session, Rimpoche explores reincarnation and its relationship to Buddha nature. There are two Buddha natures: static Buddha nature and Buddha nature that is able to grow. When we engage in learning, analyzing and meditating, our static Buddha nature becomes a growing Buddha nature. Our growing Buddha nature eventually clears all delusions and becomes awakened mind.
Signs that Buddha Nature Is Activated and Growing
As we die our awareness shrinks and our consciousness becomes very subtle. At that point, we lose control, so that either our negativities or our wisdom will take over. At death, our Buddha nature may or may not be activated. Moving from static Buddha nature to growing Buddha nature is the basic principle of transforming negativity.
In this session, Rimpoche lists the signs that Buddha nature is activated, even though obstacles, or delusions may be present. Because of our negative habitual patterns, it is hard to overcome our delusions. Rimpoche reviews negative habits and their antidotes, and contrasts eastern and western types of laziness.
Questions and Answers
Rimpoche answers questions from students such as: If mind cannot become form, how do manifestations occur? What is Buddha nature? Is it a quality of the mind or a potentiality of the mind? When someone dies, is there something the living can do for them or is the deceased only subject to their own karma? What is the distinction between brain and consciousness?
Absolute and Relative Truth, and Dependent Origination
The Buddha taught that there are two truths: relative and absolute. They are sometimes called: “conventional and ultimate truth.”
In this session, Rimpoche explains the necessity to embrace both truths, because it is through relative truth that absolute truth is revealed. Also, Rimpoche explains the concept of dependent origination, or dependent arising, that everything is dependent on causes and conditions. Our positive qualities and experiences, as well as our negative qualities and experiences are dependent on the causes and conditions that we have created. Therefore we have room to play. We can alter our habitual patterns (the causes and conditions of our negativities) and create the positive experiences and qualities we desire.
Our Biggest Problem is Ignorance
To transform our negative emotions, first we must understand the base, which is ourselves in this life. Then, we have to understand dependent arising, or emptiness, which is revealed through existence. When you see the truth and understand the true nature of reality, the result will be to no longer create any karma to continue in this creation of life. Attachment is the glue to samsara. When contaminated attachment to the six senses stops then an opening comes for uncontaminated six senses, and true joy can arise. The beginning of this effort is the most difficult, but once you get used to applying antidotes to negativities it begins to become effortless. However, we have the habit of laziness. Enthusiasm is the direct opponent to laziness, all three types.
The Importance of Mahayana Motivation
In this session Rimpoche discusses the importance of Mahayana motivation in everything we do. “It is not what you do but why you do it.” In Mahayana practice, we dedicate everything we do for the benefit of all beings. He also answers questions such as: What makes a thought negative or positive? What are uncontaminated and contaminated actions? \Why are delusions such as anger so harmful? Rimpoche discusses in detail the delusion of attachment and the subtle differences between attachment and love. According to Rimpoche, attachment is the most difficult delusion to rid from our minds. It is important to look into ourselves and see in what ways attachment mixes with and overpowers our love.
Attachment is called the “glue of samsara” because it causes us to get stuck in never ending cycles of rebirth. Rimpoche urges us to overcome our denial and recognize our problems such as anger and attachment, so we can overcome them. Anger is the rough mind that wishes harm, and wants to get revenge, and we all know the effects of attachment in our lives. Simply recognizing these negative emotions weakens them. Rimpoche gives specific advice on how to overcome attachment. He ends this segment with a question and answer session on attachment and sexuality.
In this session, Rimpoche talks about anger and its antidote, patience. Anger has the same negative effect on our minds whether directed at a living being or an inanimate object. Anger, which creates a rough mind, is very difficult to get rid of. Jealousy can be a form of anger: for example, we can feel angry that someone has something or someone we want. Rimpoche discusses whether anger can be a force for good, for example, as a catalyst for social justice. He questions Western psychology’s emphasis on the ability to get angry as a sign of psychological health. Rimpoche takes questions and answers from the audience and discusses ways to handle anger when it arises. He then introduces the delusion, pride.
Pride is one of the eight fears from which Tara gives protection. The eight fears are called the “nightmares” of the spiritual practitioner and pride is one of them. The lion symbolizes pride because when anyone crosses or challenges the lion, he roars and is ready to kill with his claws. As humans, because we suffer from pride, we get our feelings hurt all the time, or thinking ourselves superior, we constantly look for faults in others. Rimpoche says, pride makes us look outside ourselves rather than inside, which causes us to avoid and deny our problems. He recommends ways to reduce pride including working to increase our respect for others.
In this session Rimpoche discusses doubt, one of the root delusions that causes us trouble. Doubting the Four Noble Truths, doubting Buddha, dharma and sangha, and doubting karma are what this root delusion is about. Doubt is a major obstacle for practitioners because it blocks our opportunity to develop spiritually. But, Rimpoche emphasizes, the antidote to the extreme of constantly doubting is not the opposite extreme of blind faith—something, which the Buddha himself warned against. Rimpoche recommends “intelligent faith” instead of “blind faith.” When we engage in Buddhist practice in order to overcome our delusions, it automatically builds up our positive nature. But if we continuously doubt the core teachings of the Buddha, we undermine our practice, and we will not make any progress towards reducing our delusions.
Cultivating Intelligent Faith
Intelligent faith is the balance between blind faith and doubt. Spiritual development is the struggle between negative habitual patterns and the positive patterns we would like to create. For this we need intelligent faith, which functions as our inspiration and encouragement. Rimpoche compares intelligent faith to a mother who protects and nurtures her child. He compares the lack of intelligent faith to a seed that has been burned and therefore will not grow no matter how much it is watered. The way for us to cultivate intelligent faith is to avoid taking the teachings at face value. Rather we should test them out through our practice and notice the changes in ourselves. If we have positive results, we can let go of doubt and fully embrace our practice.
Five deluded views that lead to Ignorance
Rimpoche reviews the five wrong views: 1. Jig Ta, or looking at our collection of impermanent skandhas (form, feeling, discrimination and volition within the individual, plus the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) and viewing that collection as a solid, fixed “me.” We see “me” or “I” as permanent and independent of the skandhas, when there is no such independent ‘I’ there. This is the wrong view, the direct opponent of wisdom. 2. Having the view that while alive, we are permanent, and when we die we will disappear—the two extremes. 3. Holding our wrong view of a self-existing self as superior to other views. We cling to this wrong view which prevents wisdom from entering our minds. 4. We practice dubious spiritual rituals and extreme spiritual discipline and insist we are correct in doing so. This is wrong understanding. 5. We reject karma, taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.
Transforming Ignorance is the most difficult task
Ignorance underlies and links all the other negative emotions. Clearing the ignorance within us is extremely difficult. It is the ignorant “I,” not our Buddha nature, which has negative emotions. Our ignorant mind is focused on the contaminated continuation of “me.” The minute we clear our ignorance we will experience clairvoyance. Transforming ignorance into wisdom is the most difficult task because other positive virtues can do nothing to cut ignorance. Only wisdom can cut ignorance. You have to experience for yourself that the independent “I” is not there, without destroying the fundamental basis of “me.” True wisdom is finding the balance between essentialism and nihilism. Ignorance is like a thief that steals our spiritual benefits.
How negativities grow
Rimpoche continues the discussion of ignorance, the root of all delusions. The direct opponent to ignorance is wisdom. This wisdom is the wisdom of knowing the fundamental true nature of reality, which is “solving the mystery of life.” For achieving wisdom, Buddha presented the concept of non-existence. He did not mean we are not there. Rather, we exist relatively, which allows us to function, but in an absolute sense, we do not exist. So to achieve wisdom, we have to destroy our self-existing thoughts, because from there arises “I, Me, My” giving rise to all negativities. Rimpoche introduces the first two of six factors that contribute to the growth of delusions: base, and conditions. Our delusions grow from a karmic imprint, like a seed, which is the base. Secondly, the base, the imprint on our consciousness, only grows when it is connected with external causes and conditions.
Factors that cause growth of negativity
The third factor that affects the growth of negativity is the influence of virtuous and non-virtuous friends. In order to be virtuous, you need support. The sangha is your support system. If you have non-virtuous friends, then the condition for growing negative forces within you is stronger. It is very important to have the right friends. Wrong friends can cause you tremendous harm. The fourth factor is wrong encouragement. For example, reading the wrong books. The fifth one is habit. Delusions and negativities have been built up within us, from our former lives until today. We have a strong habit of being angry, jealous, etc. The sixth factor is exaggeration. For example, you look at some object with attachment and say, “How wonderful it is!” You exaggerate. Or, you exaggerate the negative qualities of someone because of your anger.
The effect of delusions on the individual
Delusions destroy your mind and morality. Morality means protecting yourself from negativities by keeping vows and commitments. When delusions come up within you, they go against your personal commitment to being good, your personal commitment to being a pure being, your personal commitment to clearing the obstacles inside. Negativity not only destroys the individual and the individual’s mind, it also destroys his or her moral conduct. Delusions are enemies of those seeking liberation. When our mind meets a delusion it “wakes up” and connects to negative karma. Our sufferings in samsara are nothing but the creation of these delusions. Rimpoche explains lucky, unlucky and immovable karma along with types of rebirth associated with each.
How negativities affect death and rebirth
Rimpoche teaches on why it is better to die with a positive mind than a negative one. He explains what to do to help someone who is dying, including making sure that the person dies peacefully, without any disturbance such as getting irritated, or angry, or attached. He then answers questions such as: What is neutral karma? How can you change neutral thoughts and actions into positive karma? What if you still have violent, disturbing dreams after you set positive motivation at bedtime? Rimpoche differentiates between the mental faculty that is dreaming and the principle mind.
The necessity of daily practice and meditation
Rimpoche explains why it is absolutely necessary to have a daily practice in order to put into effect the things he discussed during this series of talks. He recommends saying a series of short prayers and mantras and meditating as you say the words. The words you say must be strongly backed up by your own thoughts. Rimpoche introduces a simple practice that everyone can do on a daily basis. It includes the refuge prayer, saying mantras, seeking inspiration from Je Tsong Khapa, and a dedication. He then gives advice on how to meditate on the Lam Rim points.
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