Presented by Jhampa Shaneman
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity. These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Jhampa Nanaimo Sept 20, 1988
It can be said that Buddhism can be called a religion but the point of the practice is to be aware of ourselves in areas in which we are not normally aware. We have a body and are very aware of that, we do things with our body, go to work to make money to be able to have a nice home and good food and do the things we want to do with our body. And that is where a lot of our focus goes and we enjoy ourselves and have a good society to have pleasure in. However we don't often think about our inner being, our mind, spirit or whatever. It is not a priority in this society so we often get short changed.
The strongest example I can come up with is my own mother. Right now she is seventy five and has a lot of forgetfulness. It is sad to see her in the sense that she doesn't have any thought about what or who she is, what can happen after she dies, and so death is one sort of yucky and she has that to wait for and that's it. She has degenerated facilities. Her eyes aren't so good, her mind is failing, she cannot do her art work. She is getting stripped of the things that she likes to do. She is unhappy and has nothing to switch over to. She has never thought about anything beyond doing her art work and living a happy life, this and that. It is sad for me because I can see the emptiness. She has no focus for herself. She's lost the outside things, and there is no inner focus. She is a suffering person.
Many people have the same thing. Not that we have to be concerned about it at this point, we are fairly young! But it is good to have our life in context because that gives it structure. And I really have a distaste for people who go overboard spiritually. It's alright if that is what you feel. But better to have balance in one's life. Well we have a very good physical situation. To also put a little awareness towards what is inside of us, to think about us as a being, and that being is also a spiritual being. And that balances the scales a bit when various trials and tribulations come along. You have something beyond the physical. Certainly one of the biggest of the trials we have in our life is our own personal death. When it starts coming in front of us we will have something to click into in saying "Hey, I can handle my death because I have myself prepared. I have had that in the structure of what my life was all about." And then actually, you are alright. Sure. To die isn't any fun but at least you have yourself squared away about it. You thought about it. If you have a personal practice which you have devoted yourself to you can draw on that and you are so to speak, laughing! Anyway, at least you have things squared away and are a little happier than the next person.
There is a need and something useful in thinking about ourselves, in developing some awareness you might say "spiritually" or beyond the physical. There is value in that.
The second thought springing to mind is the value of being human in the sense that we have a very opportune position in the world right now. If we look at the world we can see with our two eyes that certainly human beings are in a very controlled situation, highly potential beings. We can ruin the world or we can make it wonderful. We really do have a high potentiality.
If we have good feelings and intentions, good potential can come from ourselves. It is not that we are going to sort of transform the world, become Ronald Reagan.... if we entered the political world we might have more influence on the course of world history but I think that is beyond most of us. So just looking at a more relative sense, like ourselves in our community, if we have good intentions and some idea of the value of the power and potential of being human, we are in a powerful situation. It's like what one of my teachers once said. If you were on a boat, rowing along, and came to a nice little island, walk all about the island, the colored stones everywhere, it don't mean much and you get back in the boat and row away. And then later on someone told you all those stones were diamonds. And then wouldn't you tear all the hair out of your chest! Wouldn't you beat yourself! Just think, you were in a place that had unbelievable wealth and you walked away from it because you were too dumb to see it.
Same thing. We are very wealthy beings in the sense of our high potential, our quality. We have got it right now. Let's try to realize it, that maybe we can put a few beautiful facets in the diamond of our being. It is important to realize we in this physical world are certainly in a very powerful position. We have the potential to do almost anything. Especially in Canada. In different countries it is not so easy to realize your potential and be able to express it. Here, we can do art if we want to. We can become political. We can go to school if we want to. We can do anything! For ourselves as Canadians, we should be aware that we are in a winning position. We also have all the facilities to do anything we want. We can be outspoken,and no one is going to limit us. Maybe my own financial resources might hinder me a little, but even that is adjustable. We can put ourselves into debt! There is lots of possibility.
The thing is to realize as a human being we have high potential. It is not that we need to do something crazy like getting into a political party or something, but to realize that we are a valuable human being. We have the quality, the value, and if we realize it, then we can cultivate it. And whether it is cultivating our artistic side or our feeling side, our being with people or being helpful, just in recognizing our potentiality and starting to develop it the way we are inclined... as an artist, that is easy. If we are sort of socially inclined, there is an energy there. If we just like being a nice person, be more aware of I like being a nicer person. In that way you are realizing that you have some inner quality and you then learn how to express it.
It is like being on the diamond isle and picking up a few diamonds. However big your pockets are.... The point is to realize the potentiality of ourselves. Those are the two only points I wanted to touch on. To come back to what is ourselves as being, and what is the side of us which is spiritual? Because sometimes there is a lot of misunderstanding. We have a strong Christian emphasis in our society. I'd say it is more Victorian. I wrote a letter back to my brother in 1972 saying the main principles of Buddhism is to be kind hearted and compassionate, to practice the ten non virtues. I said the ten non virtues are not to kill, steal, and, I made a mistake. I put sexual misconduct. And the other ones for speech were to not have abrasive speech, slander other people and such, not to gossip. And for the mind were to try not to have ill will, covetousness. Those are the ten non virtues. Anyway that being just the wrong understanding of spirituality, my brother took sexual misconduct and figured that sex is bad! Four years later I came back to Canada and he made this big confession to me that he hadn't been able to get his sexuality under control! I couldn't believe it! I didn't mean that at all!
I am making a silly example but spirituality isn't inhibiting yourself, it is not putting yourself down. To identify spirituality, or religion, or in tune with yourself, the initial thing is to realize you are not only physical. If all you are is physical then all you need is to eat and sleep and have a good time. Party all the time. And that is fine, that's it, you now. But I think most of us know you can party for weeks on end and then at a certain point we burn out. We just don't want to party any more. Obviously being just a physical being isn't where it all is. It's good to have something else. What is the other thing we should have? Just to be aware that we have an inner self. That our personality and what it can lead to is worth developing.
I am trying to identify that our personality is the first place where spirituality happens. And by being aware of your personal expression and then aware of the feeling behind your self expression, and then those feelings, like finding the ones which really make you happy, the good feelings you have. Like feeling love, feeling happy, wanting to give happiness and joy to others. Just being in a big beautiful place. All those are the under currents of our personality. Starting to identify those. Cultivating those. And then if you enter into the meditative practice, the practice which allows you to access greater depths, then you get conscious awareness. Conscious awareness is the awareness of the inner energy of yourself and the way your being formulates yourself. So you have gotten deeper into yourself. That is spirituality.
The core or main point of spirituality is in Buddhism called your Buddha nature. That the most refined level of consciousness which exists in your being is called the clear light nature or the Buddha nature. That is neither pure nor impure. You could say it is the divine nature of your being, always with you, and whether you allow yourself to access that or not is the difference. If you think about it, if it was pure, and you acted in an impure way, those are contradictory. The most fundamental nature of your being, if it is said to be divine, is beyond the dualities of goodness or badness. If it was good, then how could we act bad. It doesn't work. If something is white, it doesn't have white on the inside and black on the outside. If it were bad, if the innate nature of our being was bad, what is the use of being spiritual? Because the core of your being would be wrong. Think about it!
In Buddhism we say that the core is pure, is clear light consciousness and clear light consciousness is everlasting bliss. It is omniscient, the omniscient mind of enlightenment. It has to be pure because if it wasn't we couldn't act the way we do. If it is pure we have the options of being good or bad if we want to. Buddhism puts emphasis on you are your own creator. You create your own situation. It is said on the scale of lifetimes you set yourself up in each lifetime. Perhaps not the detailed actions but the general feelings that you have, the attitudes. The type of actions that you create which are motivated by attitude. Lets say you are nice person. So if you have a good attitude about life, good actions, that influences the next lifetime. And if you have a bad attitude, you are always pissed off, you don't like people and you are always selfish, that attitude moves into the next lifetime, creates the same situation. And when you start realizing that you create the friends and enemies you have, that you create the life as you experience it, then you can start getting control of it.
The secondary aspect is they say the innate nature of your being is divine. It is the "God" consciousness. It is pure and neutral. If it wasn't neutral you wouldn't have it in you to be bad. If it was bad, there would be no use in practicing. It has to be of a neutral quality. Start to be aware of your personality, because that is an expression of yourself. You start to try to cultivate good aspects of your personality. And the bad ones, you try to work with them, you can almost say in a transactional way, talk to them. When I am in a certain situation I feel jealous. A person I care for is not doing as I want. Why don't they like me more? These sorts of things. We feel maybe they are seeing someone else. I'm talking from my own experience. The thing is, I am starting to get a bad mind. What I have to do is say, "Alright, I'm feeling jealous and will soon start laying a trip on someone if I am not careful about it." I have to ask myself, if I follow through with my negative energy, I'm getting jealous, I'm getting uptight, I'm getting pissed off. Let's say I express it. What is it going to do to the other person? Right away the person is going to get defensive. They are going to say you don't trust me any more. And then they are going to say "well, maybe I don't trust them." A lot of garbage comes out if that. Because you have a little negativity, you start to express it. If nothing else you have a bad vibe with them and they will pick it up and start looking for problems. And you look for problems with your jealousy. And then of course comes big problems because you are making problems.
So, instead of that, when you get a negative mind, alright, that is part of your personality. And you are getting jealous. And jealousy comes and expresses itself through your personality. So you say, alright, I am feeling jealous right now. If I express it I'm sure I can drum up a few problems. Inevitably we all have causes for not liking people we live with. That's the way it is, you know! So rather than going that route, think about it. Right now I am getting into my own negativity and I am going to start projecting my jealousy. If I start doing that, I am starting to express negativity. Instead maybe I should start looking at myself. Maybe I'm not being a nice person any more and that is why they look for someone to be friendly with. Chances are that other person if they are fairly faithful, is only looking for others who are nicer to be with. So maybe I have a problem. You start looking at yourself.
That is more spiritual. In looking at yourself first, and if you look at yourself and you say, I can improve a bit. I throw my clothes all over the floor, I leave the bathroom in a mess, never wash the dishes, I'm a slob, or whatever. If you start to see I am that way, you see that person wouldn't like living with me. And then you start changing yourself. All you have done is drawn up your negativity and said, hey, jealousy, what are you going to do to me? You are going to make a lot of problems for me. And I don't want to have hassles. I would like to have the best partner. I would like to have a beautiful person with me. So that is what I want. I am sure the other person wants that.
Alright, if I start getting jealous and I start accusing and such things, I am going to make the other person defensive. I am going to be expressing a lot of negativity. And then any of the anger I have, whatever other garbage is in me, has an avenue to get itself expressed. Well that is going to make the whole situation a bummer. And maybe that might work it out, but chances are it won't.
So, jealousy, you are not going to do much for me. So, why am I getting jealous? Well, they are not paying enough attention to me any more. Am I worthy of having attention? Am I a nice person? And you criticise yourself. And maybe you are a nice person. Maybe the other one isn't. Well then chuck it all!
The point is to look at yourself first. I am sure that you will find some areas to improve in. And if you start being a nicer person, the person you are being jealous about will come back for sure. You can almost put it in writing. When you start being attractive is when you are nice, charismatic, fun to be with. And as soon as you are that, others are attracted to you and you won't have jealousy. Lots of people will get attracted to you. And the other person will get jealous. And that will be their problem!
The point is to look at oneself. The doorway to spirituality is first being aware of your own personality and what it is doing. As you become aware of that, that is superficial. Then get into your own feelings. And feelings are in a deeper current of things. You get moved by a feeling and then you start to articulate it in your mind. Like get the feeling, like I am feeling depressed right now. Then you start expressing how that energy comes out. I don't want to be around people, this and that. You start to get into your feelings. As you do that, you can realize where you have made some mistakes about how you have set yourself up. You start to get into the structure of your existence.
That is where meditation is important. Meditation allows you to see how you have set up the structure. As you start to see it, how you have set up your perspective in the world, then you can understand why the feelings come out the way they do. With that in place you can start to work with your personality better. It all fits nicely. And in that way, you have personality becoming more refined or polished, we come back to getting more in touch with your feelings, behind that comes the structure.
The structure is your fundamental idea about life. Why or what is life all about? That comes back to like I said, we have a nice physical situation. We are all gung-ho into that one. I can guarantee that we are. We like our life. We all like having a nice car. We all like having good food, having a nice house, having a nice partner, partying whatever.
The other is what do I think about myself? What do I think about life in general? How do I think life functions? What is going to happen when I die? What is waiting on the other side of death for me? In that way you start to investigate how you have set up your structure. Is it lopsided? Is if fairly balanced? Do I have an idea about what is coming in the future? How will I relate to changes that might come about? Possible future suffering?
That is the fundamental idea of getting in touch with yourself and becoming a spiritual person. And you have done it none other than being aware of yourself and developing personal inner awareness and re appraising how you structure your existence. You have done something which is natural. And it is not a trip that has been laid on you, rather it is inside yourself. And that is important because in being part of any religion we often give away responsibility. We say I am part of this church or I am part of that group, whatever, and I am covered. But it doesn't work that way. I wish it would. Because then I would join the club that works. Sure you can get baptised in the Christian faith and salvation is there. In Buddhism you have refuge ceremonies and it is said if you take refuge purely you will never be born in a lower realm. Every religion has it's little clip that tries to attract people. But when you really come down to it, if you don't practice it, don't think about it and make it part of yourself, the name and the label and the group you belong to doesn't mean anything. You will be left out in the cold.
It is important to get in touch with yourself and then when you have religion you have the faith, the spirituality. And whether you are part of a group or not is immaterial because you know that you are covered and that is what counts. You have your own situation and control. I'm not saying that Buddhism is the answer because I don't think it is. I think there are lots of different personalities and different people go different ways. But in any faith that you are involved with or any practice, any religion, spirituality, whatever you phrase it, you should be aware that the label, name, and the rituals that are done to you are very superficial. The real thing is what is happening to you inside yourself and where you are coming from.
That is what is important. Because when you come to your death you are the one who is going to say hey, I feel good about myself because I am this. It's just me. And no one can take it away from me. The important thing is to be in touch with your own inner feelings. You know where you are at, you know how you feel with yourself. So if you have those feelings and you know those feelings are you and no one can take them away, you can have the whole world come to you and say you are a horrible person, but if you know you are a good person, you might be a little hassled by the fact that people don't like you so much, but if you know inside yourself that you did the best you could, that you are a nice person, you have what you need. You have your ticket to a nice place after you are dead. As I say do always realize that the fundamental focus of spirituality is you yourself and your relationship to yourself. Because you are the one that is with yourself, you are the one that lives with yourself.
Secondly that spirituality is just being aware of your expression. Nice terms in the west is to ask, am I a very positive person or am I negative? What am I doing? Like what I am putting out to the people I am with right now. Am I nice, or am I a creep? In that way you start to get aware of what you are creating for yourself and others around you. That is developing spiritual awareness. If we go deeper than that, start to appraise how you structure your life, how you experience it and that applies to me as much as all of you.
This is what we will be dealing with over the next weeks to come. Things like appraising the structure and it is important that you appraise your own structure. I sort of introduce topics but how you think about them and how they affect you is your business, and it is for you do deal with.
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