March 11, 2011 – Vajra Vidya Institute, Sarnath
“How to become a good person through the wish to benefit others.”
During this session, after brief introductory remarks, the Gyalwang Karmapa first answered questions posed by members of the audience. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche assisted by translating the questions into Tibetan for Tibetan-speakers in the audience.
How do we practise equanimity when it seems everyone tells lies and makes life difficult for those of us who are good?
Gyalwang Karmapa: This is a question that we all have to consider in terms of how great or small our own capabilities are. As it says in Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva:
If you can do something about a situation, there’s no reason to be upset.
If there’s nothing you can do about the situation, there’s no reason to be upset.
Having assessed how much control you have over the situation and how much you can change it, there may be some way you can help the other person to see the true situation, explain or give advice. But, if there is nothing you can do, you should bring the situation your practice. If you have an authentic practice of mind-training, you can apply the practice of transforming obstacles into the path of enlightenment. This is a way to purify misdeeds and an opportunity to transform difficult conditions and obstacles into the path.
When we are in a situation with few favourable circumstances, many difficulties and problems, we can often feel overwhelmed, and sometimes there are no external factors that can help us, and we have to rely on internal factors. We can reflect that at least we have some degree of virtue in our minds, at least we are a little kind-hearted, we have truth on our side, and this can bring us a degree of comfort and happiness. There may be nothing we can do about external conditions but at the very least we can comfort ourselves. We may think that we need an external source to comfort us, but, actually, what we need is to allow our minds to be more expansive, open and relaxed.
Traditionally, Buddhism teaches the equal nature of all phenomena, and this includes the equality of men and women. However, in Buddhist cultures women, including nuns, are considered inferior. Would His Holiness please comment?
Gyalwang Karmapa: Sometimes there seems to be a discontinuity or contradiction between what the Buddha taught and the situation in Buddhist countries or societies. However, because the Buddha Dharma exists in many different societies and environments, indigenous cultures can exert an influence over it. Thus, there may be Buddhist countries in which inequality between men and women appears to be a problem. However, it is not true to say that there is no equality between men and women in Buddhist countries, either.
Essentially it seems to me to be a human rights issue. The word we use in Tibetan for ‘rights’ is related to the word for ‘inheritance’ or ‘birthright’. In the world today, women face many difficulties which I do not need to enumerate. Yet, all human beings, including women, have the right to seek happiness and rid themselves of suffering. This is a natural right shared by all sentient beings. It’s not a question of apportioning the inheritance–I’ll have this, and you can have that–but one of respecting the natural right of women to work for their own happiness.
The Buddhist teachings apply not just to humans but to all sentient beings–all sentient beings share this wish to be happy and avoid suffering. It is important to respect this basic equality of all sentient beings.
As to the Buddhist tradition, in the stories of the Sravakas, there are many references to women who have become arhats. In the Mahayana, we remember how all sentient beings are like mothers to us, and in the secret Mantrayana women are respected even more highly. It is important to remember this and support women in being equal.
How should we as Buddhists take care of animals that are ill or dying? If there is no prospect that they will recover and if they are suffering, is it better to put them to sleep so that they are no longer in pain?
Gyalwang Karmapa: The Vinaya discusses this point with reference to an individual who had become very ill and had no hope of recovery. The question posed is whether it is wrong to kill somebody who is suffering in order to release them from their suffering. The answer is that it is still wrong to take life because the action includes the intent to kill. Because of the intent to kill it is a non-virtuous action and not permissible.
Further, when we decide to put our dog or cat to sleep, whose choice is that? It’s not their choice. In the case of humans, if I am terminally ill, are you going to put me to sleep too? We should treat all sentient beings equally, so we need to think carefully. If animals are in pain we can administer painkillers. It’s not necessary to kill them. “Putting to sleep” actually means killing them, and that’s very difficult from a Buddhist perspective.
However, there is one possible exception: a great bodhisattva, whose mind is not disturbed by the afflictions, and whose only concern is the benefit of sentient beings, might see a good purpose in such an action.
If we give some rupees to a beggar, who uses them to buy alcohol, has an accident and dies, are we involved in the negative karma of this, even if we had a good intention?
When we talk in terms of non-virtues and non-virtuous actions and so forth, an action that leads to someone’s death is not necessarily one of the ten non-virtuous actions. With the non-virtuous action of killing, for example, you have to have the particular intent to kill. In fact, not all non-virtuous actions are included in the ten – there are several different presentations of the different virtuous and non-virtuous actions. If we do something which contributes to the circumstances of someone else’s death, it is difficult to classify it necessarily as a misdeed. When you give money to a beggar you are motivated by the wish to help, but if that help is unhelpful, you should try to give in ways which are actually beneficial to the person, otherwise your wish to help does not bring much benefit. It may be better to give beggars food or other necessities instead of money. In Bodhgaya, for instance, the government has forbidden people to give money to the beggars – you have to give food.
In general, you need to assess the situation and decide what action is most beneficial and least dangerous.
I am a teacher in a school with a thousand students. Every day the students have problems and need my help. If I set a limit on how much time I spend with them so that I can practise, some children will not get the help they need. Please advise me on how I can find a balance.
Gyalwang Karmapa: Get up early in the morning!
When you are doing things to help others is the time when you need to be practising, and a good time to assess your practice. The idea that practice is a time set aside to sit down and do formal practice is one thing, but our practice is actually something that needs to be put into practice in the way we conduct our lives. Those times when we are making connections with other people and other sentient beings are the times when we need to observe our own minds, when we should try to improve our minds, so that we have good motivation, the thought to benefit others, and good thoughts. This will be very beneficial and advance our practice. Otherwise, if we restrict our practice to meditation in the shrine room, we may feel peace and well-being at that time, but then when we go to work and are overcome by the afflictions or are minds become disturbed, we may feel that our practice is not helping us.
We need to link our meditation and post-meditation state, so that the former carries over into the latter, and they become inseparable. For a Buddha, meditative equipoise and post-meditation are indivisible. This is the culmination of a gradual process, which is why we should try from the very beginning to link them. It is very important that we create imprints during our formal practice sessions and then try to bring them fully into our lives in the post-meditation phase.
His Holiness concluded the session by returning to his thoughts being a good and happy person.
How can we create a meaningful human life, he asked. How can we become a good and happy person?
First we need to identify what really constitutes happiness. When people think of the things which will lead to happiness they have lots of different hopes and expectations: getting a new car, getting a new house, relaxing in a hot bath. But there is some doubt that external circumstances can bring us happiness. Will a house bring us happiness? Is happiness dependent on such things? If we have the idea that happiness depends on external circumstances, if we don’t have them, we become despondent. We need to know how to create our own happiness, irrespective of our circumstances.
Ordinary people look at wealthy people and think that they must be very contented, and so want to imitate their lifestyles. However, if we reflect, we will see that it is self-evident that wealth does not necessarily bring happiness. Tibetans call money “the source of all joys”, so we should investigate to see if that’s true.
Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man who lived in a beautiful house. Next door to him was a beggar living in a make-shift shack. Every night the rich man would sit and worry away the evening, counting his money, checking the profits, and planning his strategy for the following day. The beggar, on the other hand, sat in his hovel singing songs. When he heard the beggar, the rich man began to question why the beggar who had nothing could sing happily every night when he who was wealthy had nothing but worries. One day he had an idea and decided to carry out an experiment. When the beggar went out, the wealthy man crept into the hovel and left a gold bar there. The beggar returned, spotted the gold bar and immediately began to worry what to do. How did the gold get there? Should he return it to someone? How could he locate the owner? Or perhaps it was the blessing of the Three Jewels and he should sell it? All night the beggar worried about what to do, and forgot to sing!
Watching this, the wealthy man realised that his wealth was the root of his problem, preventing him from being happy, so he gave it all away, and became much happier.
This human life of ours seems to be a succession of difficult situations full of worries. First we need to set up house, then our children need schooling, perhaps we are unhappy at work, and so on. It may even seem that life is pointless. But if we think carefully we will discover that we are often creating the difficulties ourselves.
The secret of happiness is very simple: it lies within ourselves. If we can just be contented with what we have, that is the greatest wealth. Happiness depends on our having goodness and a virtuous mind, not on external circumstances. Something as simple as breathing can be a source of happiness. When we consider the air we breathe, the oxygen dependent on so many other causes and conditions, which keeps us alive, we should feel amazed and happy.
Being a good person and leading a good human life is very simple. There are many problems in life in samsara but if we keep our minds open and expansiveness, we will be happy. Conversely, if we continue to be attached to external things it will be very difficult to be happy.
Human history demonstrates the confusion over what can bring happiness. People have gone to war in order to bring peace, and brought more suffering. We have looked to economic development, but this has created more difficulties, problems and suffering. It is as if we have sacrificed our freedom.
Everyone should think more deeply about the true source of happiness.