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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
summer 2005| 62 |buddhadharma vation is very pure, you end up harming beings because you don’t know what you’re doing. If you say, “No, I can’t take time to study, all these beings are dying, I’ve got to go out and help them,” your motivation is good but it lacks wisdom. However, if you take the time to really study how to be a proper doctor, then there are endless beings out there whom you could help. So from a Buddhist point of view, the first thing is to help yourself, to get your own mind together, and to really understand how to benefit beings, not just on the physical level, but on all levels. Then there are endless beings you can benefit. In terms of merit, what about the koan where Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, “What merit have I attained?” And Bodhidharma said, “No merit whatsoever”? That’s from the point of view of emptiness, where there is neither merit nor no merit. And so, what about that? Yes, from the point of view of emptiness there is neither being nor non-being. But we’re not dealing with the point of view of emptiness; we’re deal- ing with the point of view of our relative being. Our relative being is what rules our relative world. So from the point of view of the relative world, merit is very important, because merit clears away obstacles. Why do some people, when they want to practice, keep coming up against problems and obstacles – inner and outer obstacles? It’s because of the lack of merit. Merit soothes things; it clears you. It’s like oil that gets things working nicely. I feel I’ve had many incarnations since I was born thirty-five years ago. That is my understanding of rebirth – that it’s happening constantly. That’s also true. We’re reborn every second, every moment. It’s on many levels. And what about the feeling that I am not a com- pletely different person than I was yesterday? Is that my delusion? That is ego-clinging, yes. But on a relative level, you need to have a sense of identity; otherwise you’d fall apart, wouldn’t you? To be enlightened doesn’t mean you end up stupefied and unable to function. So what does it mean? [Sighs] To be completely enlightened means that you’re a buddha. I don’t speak of enlightenment. Has anybody been completely enlightened since the Buddha? The Good News abouT Karma By Tenzin Palmo one area of diffiCulTy for some people is the notion of karma and rebirth. understanding rebirth gives us power over the future because in this lifetime we can direct things the way we want them to be in the future. This consciousness will keep going. The vows we take in this lifetime will continue to bear fruit in future lifetimes. of course, from a Buddhist point of view, we can question who the actor is. But right now we are talking on the relative plane. it is better to identify with the actor than to identify with the role. Then we come to the question: Who is the actor, anyway? accepting rebirth also gives us space to see that the conditions of the present life are just passing states. We don’t know who we were in our past lives. We would have identified totally with whomever we were at the time. next time we will be someone else with whom we will again identify very strongly. our basic problem is not the role; it’s our identification with it. So even if rebirth is not true, it is a very helpful worldview because it enables us to find equilibrium and space in the midst of our daily preoccupations. Without a belief in rebirth, Buddhism doesn’t make sense, because the path is based on the concept that we are trapped in ignorance. We don’t know what we really are. Because of our actions of body, speech, and mind, and our attachment to these actions, we are caught in this subject-object duality, which propels us from rebirth to rebirth. The Buddhist path teaches us to realize that there has never been any one person performing these actions. it helps us break that connection, to see the vast, spacious quality of the mind instead of this very tight, ego-centered identification. once we see that all other beings are equally caught in the trap, we develop a deep compassion, which makes us determined to be of benefit to beings throughout time and space. you can’t do that if you’ve got only one lifetime. you can’t vow to save all beings if you’ve only got the here and now, can you? how otherwise do we answer the question of, “Why are we here? Why are we experiencing the things which we experience?” if we only have one lifetime, anything that happens to us is just coincidence or accident. if we think in this way, life is aimless and has no real meaning. We might just as well settle down and make ourselves comfortable and simply try not to harm people. We want to be nice people. We want to make ourselves comfortable and be kind to our neighbors. But to actually undergo rigorous spiritual disciplines and practice to attain buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings would seem insane. it wouldn’t make any sense. Why would we bother? Why go to a dharma group? Go home. lie out in the sun. read the Sunday papers. The path of dharma is not easy. it is only when we see the larger picture, stretching over the endless rebirths, that we become truly motivated to transform ourselves. if we see things within the framework of eternity, it all makes sense. This perspective also helps us understand what is happening to us right now and how this very moment is the result of causes we have laid down in the past. once we realize that everything we are experiencing now is the result of past causes, we can understand that what happens to us now is not so important. What is important is the way we respond to whatever happens, because this will shape our future. With this knowledge we can become responsible for our lives instead of being helpless victims. isn’t this good news? it gets us away from the habit of blaming everybody else – our environment, our parents, our government – for everything that goes wrong in our lives. We can take responsibility because we understand that what we have in this lifetime is the result of causes we created in the past. We know it is no use sitting around bemoaning our fate. The issue becomes, “how are we going to deal with this?” from Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism, by ani Tenzin Palmo (Snow lion Publications).