How to Make Wise Choices
June 23, 2016 – New Delhi
Continuing a thought from this morning’s teaching on love and compassion, the Karmapa noted that all people are born with the innate capacity to love. In a few minutes children can make friends with someone they do not know. As people age, however, they learn more, become more one-sided, have greater attachment to those close and hatred toward those farther away, and their innate, loving thoughts toward others decline. This morning’s topic, he notes, complements this afternoon’s topic of wisdom; it is often said that compassion and wisdom are two parts of a whole. The aspect of wisdom, however, is more difficult and deeper than the aspect of compassion.
When we are making wise choices between virtue and non-virtue or what has faults and what does not, the point of view we hold is important since it forms the basis for how we choose. Of the many different viewpoints, no self (or selflessness) and emptiness are the basic or foundational ones. These two can explain anything we think about, whether it be the individual, actions, or things. “No self” has two aspects—the no self of a person and the no self of a phenomenon—and could actually be included within emptiness; the two come down to the same fundamental point.
When people hear an explanation of no self (dak mepa in Tibetan), they think it means that there is no “I” (nga me pa in Tibetan). But we need to understand the deep or inner meaning, not just the word. The Karmapa explained that self or person is an imputed object, just a label, or one could say that it has only a nominal existence. If in fact we would look for this self, we could not find it, and that is why the self is said to be merely imputed.
Another way of thinking about the self, the Karmapa explained, is in terms of two types: an instinctive or innate (lhen kye) self and an imaginary (kun tak) or superimposed (tro tak pa) self, which is learned through study or absorbed from the social environment. It could be said, however, that the self does not exist in the way we think it does. The Karmapa elaborated, “We assume there is an independent self and an independent other, both of which are in control and autonomous; however, in terms of the way things are, neither one exists.”
Actually the self is interdependent or interconnected; it exists in a relationship of mutual dependence, in which everything relies on everything else. We could take our body as an example. For its existence, it depends on our parents and on the various substances of its make up; it relies on food, clothing, and air that come from outside. So in reality, the self is a part of others; there is no separate, independent self to be found.
The Karmapa then turned to the question of what is really beneficial in working with with this question of a self. Whether the self exists or not, or whether this universe has an end or not are big questions, but they do not help us much to live our lives. This question of the self’s existence should be explained in terms of whether it has a positive or negative effect on our lives. No self should not be a philosophical question that absorbs us, but rather a perspective or value in our lives.
For example, the Buddha sometimes debated about vast philosophical questions with scholars of logic from other religious traditions. One time he was asked, “Does the Universe have an end?” and he replied with another question. Suppose, he said, you went into a dark forest where hunters roamed with poisoned arrows. Mistaking you for an animal, they shot a poisoned arrow deep inside you. Would you spend your time thinking, what direction did this come from? East? West? Would you think about what the arrow is made of? Of course not. You would try to save yourself and do something practical like removing the arrow.
The big question about no self is like this—a philosophical question that would be discussed for hundreds of years—and these long exchanges would just give us headaches. The Karmapa stated, “The real question is: Will the attitude of no self benefit us in this lifetime? If it doesn’t bring about change in this life, it is not helpful just like trying to figure out where the poisoned arrow came from.”
“No self does not mean that the self is completely nonexistent or that it is nothing at all,” the Karmapa clarified. “Not knowing this, however, we think of self as small and limited. This prevents us from knowing the big or greater self that is connected to the whole universe; it experiences everything as interrelated and relying one on another. This greater self is not independent but interdependent. And it is not just a viewpoint or some philosophical position, but it has value because it can transform us.”
If we look at how things are in the world these days, he continued, we can see that through the Internet and information technology, we are all becoming closer—countries, Dharma centers, and individuals. This relatedness is clearer, more obvious than before so we can see that others’ suffering and happiness is a part of us, and our suffering and happiness is a part of others.
This way of seeing is important to understand, the Karmapa remarked, because for our intelligence to increase, we need a fundamental point of view that is unmistaken. If it is correct, then our prajna will gradually increase. These days many people are studying Buddhism, but if their basic viewpoint is not right, in the end they become rather strange, as if their heart were corrupted.
The Karmapa then turned to the subject of the relationship between teacher and disciple. Many people come to see him because he carries the name Karmapa, he said. If he did not have this name, they would probably never meet. Some people think that he has extraordinary intelligence and they request a special teaching that would eliminate all their problems, which, of course, is not possible.
Another attitude that is not quite right, he said, is that people could believe in a lama or become involved in Dharma because it has become the latest fashion. Their connection is an emotional one, which is not completely negative, however, meditation practice is to bring peace and stability to our minds so that they can rest in their nature. We do not need not emotional ups and downs in our lives, but rather a steady conviction, so that we can make the time we have in this life meaningful.
The Karmapa stated, “As for myself, I do not have the thought that I am a superior person and am going to help others. I am an ordinary person but I still do all that I can.”
He has the wish to help other people and dispel their suffering and tries to bring together all his abilities and see what he could do that would be beneficial. This is often simply suggesting a way that someone could come to protect or care for themselves. This is what is meant by the blessings of the name Karmapa. He explained,
Actually, the Karmapa counseled, we need to have confidence in ourselves and find our ability to take care of ourselves. The blessing of the name Karmapa, he said, sometimes can sometimes bring benefit, but it mainly comes through our taking care of ourselves, so we need to be self-reliant. If we place our hopes outside of ourselves, in someone else or something else, it will be difficult for us to practice Dharma.
For the intention or mind of the lama and the disciple to become ultimately the same, he advised, a disciple places their hopes in the lama and also brings forth hope in themselves. One day, the two will become the same and gradually the thought or intention of the lama and that of the disciple will become the same. But it will be difficult for this to happen if we have no hope in our own efforts, stop doing anything ourselves, and placing all our hopes on someone else.
If the lama remains separate as the lama and the disciple remains separate as the second-rate, inferior disciple the relationship will not work. We need to discover the same kind of confidence and belief in ourselves that we have in the lama. One prayer states, “May I achieve their level,” where “their” refers to the lama. To do that, we need the impetus of hope and belief in ourselves.
Since everyone is mutually related, we carry responsibility for our personal way of thinking and acting. Buddhist practitioners, for example, do not immediately start eating but make an offering of the food. This might include rice, which was planted by someone else, perhaps far away so that the one who labored and the one who consumed the results of that labor might never meet. Reflecting on this, we feel gratitude to them and enjoy the meal in that state of mind. This is not just following a custom and repeating some verses, but considering the actual situation and carrying responsibility. We do not necessarily have to say a prayer.
The clothes we wear reflect a similar situation. They are made in a distant factory by low-salaried workers in regrettable conditions. Their hard work brings us happiness, so we have a relationship with them and an ensuing responsibility. We should consider whatever we do in the light of how it affects others. Will it benefit or harm them? In this way we can study and reflect on karma with its patterns of cause and effect. With this summarizing statement, the Karmapa closed his discussion of making wise choices.
The Karmapa shifted to a new topic and said that the Hong Kong Dharma centers collaborating on this event reminded him of the Sixteenth’s Karmapa’s profound connection with Hong Kong and with Ven. Kok Kong. After the Karmapa’s visits, many Dharma centers were started in Hong Kong. And today it is an historic occasion that so many centers could come together and everyone could make this Dharma connection.
The lineage of the Karmapas has had a connection with China for hundreds of years, he recalled, and in the future it will become deeper and have a wide impact. The Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi had a pure vision of Manjushri with 1,000 arms and each hand holding an alms bowl. The yidam deity of wisdom spoke to Karmapa Pakshi saying, “In the future your activity will spread all the way to the Eastern Ocean,” which indicates that it would cover all the areas of China. Karma Pakshi also made the aspiration that this would happen. Later, the terton Chokgyur Lingpa in his predictions about the lineage of the Karmapa foretold that the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Karmapas would engage in extensive Dharma activity in China.
Through these teachings and events organized here by the Hong Kong centers, the Karmapa noted, we could actually meet and make an auspicious Dharma connection. In the future, he made the aspiration that the activities of the Buddhas would spread throughout the earth and especially to Hong Kong.