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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 39 ficult. Even those who present themselves as spiritual practitioners will find it impossible to make the superhuman effort necessary. The problem here is that on a superficial, worldly level, every- thing spiritual, especially the buddhadharma, appears to be utterly useless and a complete waste of time. We are practical beings who like to build houses so we can be comfortable and happy, and to put our resources into erecting a stupa with no bedroom or toilet or anything functional in it strikes us as being wasteful. But as Kong- trul Rinpoche pointed out, clinging to the merest hint of an idea that worldly values and ideals might somehow be useful makes it extremely hard for anyone to tackle something as apparently futile as spiritual practice. And cutting the ties of the habits that bind us to worldly values, especially when it comes to material wealth, is virtu- ally impossible. “Wealth,” from an authentic dharma perspective, is understood entirely differently. For a dharma practitioner, wealth is not gold, silver, or a healthy bank account; wealth is contentment— the feeling that you have enough and need nothing more. Liberation from Illusion and Delusion As the Buddha said in the Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra (Diamond Sutra), “Like a star, hallucination, candle, magical illusion, dewdrop, bubble, dream, lightning, or a cloud—know all compounded phenomena to be like this.” From a Buddhist point of view, each aspect and moment of our lives is an illusion. According to the Buddha, it’s like seeing a black spot in the sky that you are unable to make sense of, then con- centrating on it intensely until finally you are able to make out a flock of birds. It is like hearing a perfect echo that sounds exactly like a real person shouting back at you. Life is nothing more than a continuous stream of sensory illusions, from the obvious ones, like fame and power, to those less easy to discern, like death, nose- bleeds, and headaches. Tragically, though, most human beings believe in what they see, and so the truth Buddha exposed about the illusory nature of life can be a little hard to swallow. What happens once we know that everything we see and experi- ence is an illusion? And what is left once those illusions have been liberated? To be liberated from illusion is to dispel all the limitations that false perception brings and entirely transform our attitude. So “liberate” means to be released from the delusion of imagining illu- sions to be real. But crucially, we have to want to be liberated; we have to want to become enlightened. And it is only once we develop a genuine longing for enlightenment that, almost automatically, we start to learn how not to want to be ambitious in a worldly sense. Such a longing is not easy to generate, but without it, to step aim- lessly onto the spiritual path would be utterly pointless. Millions of people in this world are interested in some version of meditation, or yoga, or one of the many so-called spiritual activi- ties that are now so widely marketed. A closer look at why people engage in these practices reveals an aim that has little to do with liberation from delusion and has everything do to with their des- peration to escape busy, unhappy lives, and heartfelt longing for a healthy, stress-free, happy life. All of which are romantic illusions. So where do we find the roots of these illusions? Mainly in our habitual patterns and their related actions. Of course, no one of sound mind imagines any of us would willingly live an illusion. But we are contrary beings, and even though we are convinced we would shun a life built on self-deception, we continue to maintain a strong grip on the habits that are the cause of count- less delusions. Small wonder the great masters of the past have said that although everyone longs to be free from suffering, most of us simply won’t let go of it; although no one wants to suffer, we find it almost impossible not to be attracted to samsara. Mindfulness Most of us know that aggression is a problem, as are pride and jealousy, but the truth is that all emotions cause problems one way or another and each has a distinctive character. “Passion,” for example, is starkly different from “aggression.” Fundamentally, though, all emotions spring from one basic source, distraction. What is “distraction”? Clearly, it is not merely the sound of a chainsaw firing up or blaring Bollywood music that interrupts our meditation practice. On a more profound level, distraction is any of the emotional responses we are sidetracked by—for example, hope for praise and fear of blame, as well as its more subtle manifestations, like being spaced-out, distracted, lost in thought, or worked up. Since our fundamental problem is distraction, its fundamen- tal solution is to be mindful. There are an infinite number of methods for developing mindfulness that all fall into one of two categories: shamatha or vipashyana. The point of shamatha prac- tice is to make mind malleable. But a pliant mind alone will not uproot samsara completely; we also need to see the truth, which is why vipashyana, or insight, practice is so crucial. Unfortunately, though, mindfulness is difficult, mostly because we lack the enthusiasm to develop it but also because our habit of longing for distraction is both deeply ingrained and extremely tenacious. It is therefore vital for a dharma practitio- ner to develop renunciation mind and to recognize the defects of samsara, both of which lie at the core of the Buddhist approach to training the mind. The masters of the past suggest we should constantly remind ourselves about: the imminence of death; the futility of our worldly activities; and the worst news of all, that there is no end to samsara’s sufferings. Just look around you and you will see that the world never ceases to churn out more and more of the same thing, and that the result is unremitting pain and unbear- able suffering. It’s no surprise, then, as the great masters have pointed out, that to maintain mindfulness for as long as it takes to drink a cup of tea accumulates more merit than years of prac- ticing generosity, discipline, and asceticism. ♦ Adapted from Not for Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Prac- tices, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. © 2012 by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. Published with permission of Shambhala Publications.