terça-feira, 24 de maio de 2011

The Extraordinary Qualities of Lamdre


Lamdre teachings are based on the Hevajra Tantra. They were initially received by the 7th century Indian Mahasiddha Virupa, who founded the lineage and transmitted the teachings to a line of disciples in India. Virupa also wrote pith instructions known as Vajragatha. However, as these were heavily encoded and difficult to understand, Lamdre was transmitted as an oral tradition for some centuries. The teachings were brought to Tibet by Drogmi Lotsawa in the middle of the tenth century and were later codified in the twelfth century by Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, who also wrote eleven commentaries.

Lamdre is a complete path to enlightenment. It is taught in a single place by a single teacher over a period of several weeks. It is not offered in separate segments. It is a transmission of both exoteric and esoteric teachings by an officially recognised lineage holder. It cannot be offered by self-proclaimed teachers who just happen to attract crowds. Within the Sakyapa lineage, which is the Lamdre lineage, we have only a handful of lineage holders in any generation.
It is important to be aware that although some people may be very learned in the teachings and know the topic very well, they are not necessarily qualified to give the transmission. When His Holiness Sakya Trizin visits in 1997, it will be the first time the uncommon Lamdre (Lobshe) teachings have been given in Australia. His Holiness agreed to this because during his visit in 1988 to give the common teachings (Tshogshe), he was asked to return one day to give the uncommon Lamdre. The request has since been renewed many times.

The term Lamdre is Tibetan. Lam means path, dre means resell. The word as a whole means `the path including its result.' Lamdre is intimately involved with the Hevajra Tantra, one of the principal tantras in the class of highest Buddhist Anuttara Yoga tantras. It contains the entire Buddhist teachings at both the ordinary and extraordinary levels. In this talk I will focus on the extraordinary characteristics of Lamdre, what the teachings are about and how students will benefit from them. Traditionally, these extraordinary qualities are known as the `Eleven Greatnesses of Lamdre.'
Normally, we tend to draw a firm distinction between path and goal or result. The path often seems so difficult, and our progress so slow! We find ourselves longing for the result, desperate for a quicker way to reach that elusive goal. We don't always realise that what we experience on the path actually amounts to the goal.

The first major characteristic of Lamdre is the fact that the path actually includes its result. The result is not something that occurs at the finishing line. It is happening continuously from the moment we begin. Therefore we don't need to wait for results. They arise every day from our practice. Lamdre is all about practice. It is our experience during practice which authenticates the path. On the other hand, people who do not practise have no way of experiencing the result. They may develop an intellectual understanding of the Lamdre teachings, but that will be all. In fact any religious path which does not include practice is devoid of real experience and is therefore of limited benefit. We must never forget that the path is the result. Otherwise, when we begin to practise prostrations, for example, we may feel daunted by how many are still to be done. But we should try to develop enough humility to be happy with what we manage to do each day, instead of striving for great numbers. Once we receive the Lamdre and begin to incorporate it into our daily lives, we are no longer intimidated by the gulf between what we are doing and what remains to be done. We cease to distinguish between path and result.

The second extraordinary characteristic is not seeing the result as greater than the path. Just as the path is not separate from the result, the result is not separate from the path. At a higher level of understanding, this is the realisation of the non-existence of any dichotomy between good and evil. Dualistic concepts produce so much of our suffering. Much of our pain may be nullified when we realise this inseparability of path and result. Every individual's path is of course different. If your own path is actualised, it is the realisation of path into result for you. The person who has realised the result will not assume that he has laid down a path for others to follow. There is no highway to enlightenment, only tracks. Some very bold people manage to create their own new paths through their experiences. We may read their biographies and gain great inspiration, but we will never travel exactly the same road. For example, we cannot totally duplicate the Buddha's activities. But we can use his teachings as a guide to pave our own pathway. This is an important characteristic of Buddhism. The teaching is our refuge, and we use it to make our own paths. But we do not try to make it into a highway for others.

The third characteristic is the instruction that enables us to transform all our perceptions through an understanding of the nature of mind. When a person knows the nature of the mind, he or she can transform anything. Once we learn how to govern our mind, we will no longer be controlled by the mind's reflection of events and circumstances. We can transform all our perceptions. On the other hand, one who is unable to govern his mind always sees things as discriminatory. People, places and events have great power over him. Sometimes we may catch a glimpse of this transforming ability. We may even be able to practise it on the odd occasion, but not consistently. How liberating to be freed from the tyranny of events and circumstances! I am sure that the Buddha must have had this realisation when he sat under the Bodhi tree. Although faced with all kinds of adverse circumstances, he remained undaunted. He could turn everything to his advantage.

Within Buddhism there exists a school of thought known as `mind only' or Cittamatra. Lamdre includes elements of this philosophy, teaching that all events and perceptions are nothing but a reflection of our own mind. Imagine how much benefit this realisation can be to people in simply facing their everyday problems!

The fourth characteristic is the ability to transmute faults into qualities. We may have developed skills over the years in avoiding difficult situations and people, in the mistaken belief that we protect ourselves by keeping away from them. But this technique involves quite the opposite. We must actually be close to difficult situations and people so that we can transform all faults, obstacles and adversities into qualities and opportunities. The fact is that all faults are impregnated with qualities. Our good qualities hide behind our faults. Faults are more visible than virtues. We remember people's faults far better than their good points. But if we look carefully at our negative experiences, we discover that they have taught us much more than the positive ones. Much more than all the laughter, hugs and presents we give each other. We don't learn much from them. On the other hand, we learn a great deal from difficult relationships. It may not seem so to us at the time. But after a painful experience we usually resolve to do things slightly differently in future. Lamdre teachings equip us with the ability not to shun people's faults, which really means shunning the people, too. We learn to accept both good qualities and faults in others. Particularly once we come to see their faults as no more than our own mind's reflection! If we want a person to be caring towards us, we will normally see him as uncaring. This is because we have expectations of people and things. But if we expect nothing, we may be pleasantly surprised. Faults are inseparable from virtues. They are two sides of the same coin. This is an important feature of the path including its result. Lamdre teaches us to learn from problems, not reject them.

The fifth characteristic is the ability to accept all obstacles and interferences and transform them into attainments. We can be sure that if we persevere in the face of obstacles we will attain something important. In fact, unless we strive for our achievements, we tend to take them for granted. Obstacles test our passion for the result. If we are only halfhearted, of course they will block us. The greatest trial on the path occurs the night before enlightenment. This is what happened to the Buddha. After meditating for six years, he was attacked by an army of monsters the night before he attained enlightenment. They wielded the most fearsome weapons. They pelted him with mountains of rocks and lakes of molten lava. This is what we call the Conquest of the Maras. If he had reacted by asking himself `Is this all I get after six years of practice?' and given up, his attainment would have been delayed. But instead of being threatened by the Maras, the Buddha saw them as objects of compassion. As a result, he subdued them all. He converted their weapons into garlands of flowers. If you practise for ten years, and then during the eleventh year face a great obstacle, you must persevere. To withdraw at that stage would be a waste of ten years' energy.

When we feel under attack from obstacles, it is important not to let ourselves be overwhelmed. The best thing to do is just to be there. Let the obstacles keep on coming. We can explain to ourselves that if we bear these, it will take away the negativities which persisted throughout our ten years of practice. In this way, we can make greater strides in one year than we did during the preceding ten years. This test comes every now and then in practitioners' lives. Transforming obstacles into attainments requires us to exercise patience with ourselves and to develop a degree of humility. It is a culmination, almost like a graduation after many years' effort.

The sixth characteristic is being able to recognise every experience. The pattern of experiences will be reflected in the pattern of samadhi. Consistency of practice enables us to identify hindrances. To use calm abiding meditation as an example, people may feel that they have no physical discomfort, and that the body is no longer a problem. Now the only problem appears to be with the mind. The mind feels dull. But the chances are that the dullness is actually physical. The meditator may not understand this. He may think he is sitting so well that the problem can't possibly be with his body. This is when we should be aware that it is very difficult to remove the physical aggregates. Sometimes people blame past lives. They don't recognise that the real problem is their attachment to the physical body and its comforts. Once they discover this, they can pinpoint postural problems. For example, if the back is not straight, the mind will become sluggish. It is easy to blame some mysterious mental or spiritual difficulty when we can't focus the mind. Usually, though, it is a physical problem. It is very difficult for us to transcend our physicality. The body and the senses are deceptive, and they mislead the mind. We must always return to the physical level - the level we are at, rather than seeking further afield for the source of the problem.

The seventh characteristic is that by recognising obstacles, we can remove hindrances caused by evil spirits. Meditators attract evil spirits. As we learn more about hindrances, we won't blame external things such as the climate, a heavy meal or an empty stomach. We normally tend to look for excuses outside ourselves. Now the meditator can see the obstacles at a much subtler level. Take the example of craving for food. Evil spirits usually invade the weakest points of the practitioner. They may come in the form of food to tempt us. They may come in the form of people to lure us away from our practice. Of course people are not evil beings, but evil beings sometimes enter peoples' psyche. Don't you ever feel that you are not really you when you are doing something, as though some force seemed to have taken over? When we are thinking about negative things, evil spirits give us a hand. They are known as Maras. `Mara' means `kill.' They kill our conscience and take us over so that we do things we would not normally do. It is said that if we recognise these obstacles on the path, we won't blame concrete, objects. We will recognise our weak points and accept the level we have reached. If we think negative thoughts, we will definitely attract negative vibrations. Negative thoughts also attract accidents and misfortune. On the other hand, positive thoughts attract miracles. In some of the meditations our visualisations give us the ability to commune with Buddhas.

The eighth characteristic is the quality of transforming other people's faults into our own spiritual attainments. When we have passed through the preceding levels and transformed our own faults, we may notice that others still have faults. The real transformation comes about when we can perceive other people's faults as qualities. Of course we don't actually tell someone "you are great, you are such a short-tempered person." But if we tell ourselves that a particular person is very short-tempered and we can't bear him, it won't help us to develop. We just become exactly like the person we are criticising. The fault ceases to be only in the other person and infects us. It will become part of us. So what's the best way to cope? Once we have learned how to transform our own faults into qualities, we must begin trying to transform the faults of others, too. One way is to look at the other person's negative behaviour and tell ourselves "This reminds me of how I used to behave. What I used to be, I am seeing in the other person now." When we have transformed our own faults, we will have a loftier view of the follies of others. We will not be threatened by them. We will make no judgements about them. The faults of others now enable us to become more focussed. They become an inspiration. We begin to accept them as challenges rather than obstacles.

After people return from long retreats, they have to try to sustain their new vision of others. We can become pretty harmless, living a solitary life in a small hut and interacting with nobody. But what happens when we emerge? The tiger is harmless in his cage, but what about when he escapes? The challenge for us as practitioners is to find the faults of others just as useful as our own. Once we achieve this, we will not resent `difficult' people. After all, they help us to learn! We can emulate what the Buddha did under the Bodhi tree when he subdued the Maras. It was only through defeating the Maras that Buddha could gain victory. To become victorious, we must defeat our most powerful opponents. These are none other than our perceptions of other people's faults. We must churn the butter of realisation from the milk of our problems.

The ninth characteristic of Lamdre is that it enables us to see the non-contradiction between Sutra and Tantra, morality and metaphysical knowledge. Otherwise, many people see a contradiction between theoretical knowledge and practice. Some may be happy with their practice, but easily affected by the judgements of others. Actually we need criticism from time to time. It tests us. If we are easily put off, it shows we must be very shallow practitioners. Criticism is a wonderful opportunity to develop faith. If we become discouraged, it is because we are attached to mundane forms and concepts, rather than to the inner meanings of the teachings.

It is said that a person blessed by the transmission of Lamdre will not see any contradiction between sutra and tantra, morality and spirituality, monkhood and layhood. He will not practise anything contrary to the basic teachings of the Buddha. For example, in certain Vajrayana ceremonies it is permissible to drink a little alcohol as an integral part of the ritual. But some practitioners drink whole bottles. This transgresses one of the five basic Buddhist precepts. How can one hope to reach a lofty realisation of Vajrayana without the firm foundation of the five precepts? It is important to follow a complete path, rather than focus exclusively on one level. An individual's practice may be a source of either inspiration or humiliation to others. A practitioner of Lamdre will have equal regard for both sutra and Vinaya levels. One may not be suited to these levels, but one will still respect each of them, and lead a spiritual life founded on a firm basis of morality.

The tenth characteristic is that just like the elixir which transforms all base metals into gold, one receives teachings of pure gold which transform all of life's problems. No longer do we see problems as rigid. All obstacles become transformable, irrespective of how they originated. We will treasure the teachings as we would a priceless jewel.

The eleventh characteristic is that the benefits of the teachings surpass the qualities of the mundane material world in every respect. It is important however not to expect to demonstrate all of these qualities as soon as we receive the six weeks of Lamdre teachings. We will develop them gradually, but only through diligence and consistent practice.

quinta-feira, 19 de maio de 2011

terça-feira, 17 de maio de 2011

quarta-feira, 4 de maio de 2011