May bodhicitta, precious and sublime, arise where it has not yet come to be. Where it has arisen may it never fail, but grow and flourish more and more.
Unbroken lineages of wisdom traditions are rare in these times, and Kongtrul Rinpoche descends from a pure lineage of the Dzogpa Chenpo Longchen Nyingtik tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
We have two main study and practice centers in America: Phuntsok Choling in Colorado and Pema Osel in Vermont. Rinpoche teaches the core MSB programs at these two centers. In addition, MSB has several city centers or groups around the world where people gather for group meditation and study, and to listen to the LINK teachings together.
Browse to any of the calendars to find out more about the teaching schedules of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dungse Jampal Norbu, or Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. View the upcoming events at Phuntsok Choling, Pema Osel, or find out who is giving the next LINK talk.
MSB is a part of the Longchen Nyingtik and Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum lineages. (Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and Terton Chokgyur Lingpa, collectively known as Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum, were the heart of the Rimé, or nonsectarian, movement, which did so much to preserve and harmonize all schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the nineteenth century.)
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A Series of Personal Links by the Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche in which he presents how to apply the teachings of the Four Immeasurables in daily life.
Source: Crucial Point, Volume II, Issue 2 March 2001
Talk One: Equanimity
The study of the four immeasurables generally begins with a discussion of loving kindness. For the great masters of the Longchen Nyingtik tradition, however, the study of the four immeasurables starts with equanimity.
The immeasurables were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, the great bodhisattvas – the masters of the Mahayana tradition, and the realized beings of the Nyingma, Kagyu, old school Kadampa, and Gelugpa traditions, among others. Before we talk about equanimity, I will first mention the tremendous benefits I have received from my own study and contemplation of the four immeasurables.
Shantideva asks, in the Bodhisattvachavatara “What is the point of having any kind of discipline at all if you do not have discipline of the mind?” You should always observe discipline of the mind. Mental discipline will encircle you with the protection of the three jewels. Through mental discipline you will not be influenced by outer, inner, or secret maras, or be in danger of maras creating obstacles to your path.
Most of the time we are confused about how to keep our minds clear, how to think clearly, or how to process our feelings. We all have our usual patterns of how to think and how to feel, but these patterns do not serve us well; they only create further confusion in our already confused minds. These patterns also make our feelings more strongly disturbed. For instance, we are taught to cherish our desires and destructive emotions, like anger. We then indulge these desires and emotions at our own expense and at the expense of those connected to us. We create disharmony in our own minds and also within our greater communities.
This disharmony then becomes an everyday feeling or experience. We wake up in the morning emotionally disturbed and go to bed at night disturbed. In the daytime we feel disturbed. Isolated in a quiet, serene place, our experience can still be disturbed with thoughts of people from the past, present, and future. Even in isolation, we are still very much of this world – born to a family and part of social communities. We are involved with people all of the time.
Mind is always active and not easily at rest. Mind needs thoughts, continuation of thoughts, and emotions that follow thoughts. The object of our thoughts is often people we are or have been engaged with. When we are alone, we have the time to think about our relationships – people in our favor, people out of our favor, people who think of us this way, people who think of us that way, and so on. Mind is always engaged, whether we like it or not, or whether we are conscious of the engagement or not. We are constantly engaged with the outside world and with thoughts of other people. However, passion or grasping is so strong that, most often, we are not engaging with the world or with other people in a positive manner.
Some people do have a positive nature and naturally positive thoughts and emotions. But, in isolation, even people with a positive nature have increased paranoia, negative thoughts, and negative emotions. We feel a subtle level of pain. These negative thoughts are what torment our minds. This is my own experience; I am not saying that you think in this way and that I am somehow beyond these experiences.
The best thing we could do about all of this negative mental activity is to take refuge. Refuge is very important in our lives – taking refuge in the Buddha as the guide, the Dharma as the path, and the Sangha as our companions. Taking refuge means, ultimately, working with your mind. If you do not work with your mind, then you are not really taking refuge. You have to work with your mind. The best method that the buddhas of the past, present, and future have found for working with mind is the practice of the four immeasurables.
There is nothing like the four immeasurables. The four immeasurables are inherent in our mind stream as enlightened potential. Emotions are not pollutants to enlightened mind. Emotional qualities are there, fundamental and inherent to our nature; we cannot create or establish them. Emotional equanimity is inherent in our nature. For instance, if we had never felt a sense of equanimity or peace within ourselves, then we could never cultivate or grow that particular quality to its ultimate potential.
There are many examples of feelings of equanimity and peace. For instance, ask a parent, “Whom do you love and care for more, your daughter or your son?” The parent would probably feel equal love and care for both the daughter and the son. This example shows that the emotion of equanimity is there and is experienced by that parent. Or, ask whether someone loves his or her parents to any different degree. They might say that they love their parents equally, even though there may be a slight difference in how they relate to or feel about each particular parent. But the core of that emotion – love and care for the parents – might be the same. That shows that emotional equanimity is there, and, in some sense, is non-conceptual.
As practitioners of the four immeasurables, it is very important that we develop genuine, non-conceptual emotions, true to our hearts and authentic to our experience. Conceptual emotions do not last. We could rely on conceptual ideas of how to cultivate emotions, but, when it comes to the actual experience or actual practice of the four immeasurables, it must be non-conceptual. This non-conceptual, emotional experience that we cultivate will have much more power than any fleeting thought we might try to hold on to in our heads.
We should cultivate non-conceptual emotional experiences of the four immeasurables. To begin, we first have to be aware that we even have these emotions at all. We must recognize these emotions as they appear at different times in our lives and in different degrees. Only then can we have some reference point of what it feels like to, for instance, have a sense or taste of equanimity, or the peace that comes from that experience. Then, slowly, we can train our minds towards a more non-conceptual equanimity. This is a very important method we must stress in all of our practices.
Reading is a mainly conceptual activity. Because we read a lot, we assume that thinking is more important than cultivating emotions. We try to cultivate a particular pattern of thinking. Cultivating a particular pattern of thinking is helpful, but, if the thinking does not have any emotion attached to it, then it does not have any “juice” or any life to it. We must give juice or vitality to our thoughts about the four immeasurables. To do so, we need to cultivate and grow the emotional qualities of the immeasurables.
We are all used to training in samara, in negative emotions. We can see that, as we train, negative emotions grow bigger and stronger. Likewise, if we emphasize or try to cultivate any particular emotion, every day that emotion will grow bigger and stronger. Cultivating the emotions of the four immeasurables will create a positive difference in your life and in your heart. It will change your whole being, and will change what happens in your chest – in the core of your emotions.
It is wonderful to have a mind that can observe, cultivate, and refine itself, a mind that can resolve prob!ems incredibly well. This mind makes us different from the animals. But, if we forget how to cultivate and grow the emotional qualities of the four immeasurables, then we as human beings – intelligent, gifted with a human mind – seem to do even worse than the animals.
Animals have genuine, authentic emotions. They seem to get a better effect from their emotions. For instance, like how we ourselves aspire to train in and be affected by the emotions of the four immeasurables: an animal’s emotion of love towards her child seems to be much more pure – or at least less confused – than a human’s love for her child. Animals’ relationships with one another, in general, seem to be much less confused than our own – more basic, fundamental, genuine, and authentic.
Humans do not have to be inauthentic. The problem humans face is that we get confused. We have, on the one hand, incredible intelligence. But, if we do not use this intelligence in the right way, we get confused. We have to use our intelligence in a proper way – to grow our emotions of the four immeasurables, such as equanimity, flavored with love and care.
Equanimity that is not flavored with love and care is just a state of blankness. A lot of the time we feel blankness. Blankness is not a state of mind we need to cultivate. We have plenty of experiences of blankness or indifference, none of which have any positive qualities. What we are concerned with cultivating here is a sense of equanimity that has the flavor of love and care – a heart feeling rather than a conceptual thought. We are concerned with having that feeling present in our bodies, our chests, and in the core of our hearts. Only then can equanimity shine within your body, through your body, touch others, and radiate out into the whole environment.
In the beginning, we will find great obstacles and negative emotions occupying our minds. We will need to be very creative in cleaning them up. We need to be aware that the only way we can go on the path of the bodhisattva, the path of enlightenment, is to clean up our minds and to cultivate the four immeasurables.
Without bodhicitta we cannot go on the path of the bodhisattva or expect to attain enlightenment. This is the only way – it is said again and again by the great omniscient Buddha himself, the bodhisattvas, and the great masters of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. We cannot expect a shortcut to enlightenment, a shortcut that does not include cultivating the four immeasurables and the essential bodhi heart. No matter if we believe in the short path of the Vajrayana or in the long way of the Mahayana, we have to realize that, without the four immeasurables, there is really no way to get there from here.
Without bodhicitta we cannot become a bodhisattva or be on the path of enlightenment. We cannot become a good person, developed and free from even ordinary suffering. Once we know that bodhicitta is the only way, we have to find incredible attraction, inspiration, and devotion to cultivate emotional equanimity in particular, and the four immeasurables, in general.
Once we realize what must be done, then, very simply, observe. Do not be distracted as you wake up, go to bed, or go about your everyday life. Notice what is happening to your mind. When absentminded or distracted, you feel incredible pain – a subtle level of mental torment – of your mind filled with a continuity of negative emotions and feelings, fluctuating emotions of love and attachment, hatred and aggression, and a clinging to particular people with incredible desperation. For instance, you might feel “doomed” if a certain person does not pay heed to you or tum towards you. With another person, you may feel incredible aggression or hatred, as if this person is a threat to you just by existing in the world. This person may come into your mind as a complete monster to torture you.
We often feel this way, and this is how our relationship with the world manifests. It is because of lack of emotional equanimity and cultivation of the four immeasurables that it manifests in this way. If we do not practice equanimity and the four immeasurables then our mind is feeble, weak, and influenced by circumstances out of our control. Mind and emotions are also out of our control. We live in a state of perpetual chaos.
We can slowly clean up our hearts by cultivating the emotions of the four immeasurables, and, particularly, emotional equanimity. It will not happen all at once. If we clean up our hearts, next we can clean up our chests, and next, our brains. I am using scientific terms here because it seems easier to communicate this way. We need to clean up our chests. We need to clean up our hearts. We need to clean up our heads. We need to clean up all the disturbing sensations we feel.
All emotions are sensations. There is both a physical sensation and a mental sensation associated with each emotion. We are not concerned here about the physical sensation. We are concerned about the mental sensation.
Very little suffering is associated with physical sensations. Physical suffering is insignificant compared to mental suffering. Even if you are terribly sick with a physical illness, it is easier to handle that physical sensation than the mental sensation. For instance, you can take an aspirin if you have a headache, and the aspirin takes care of the pain. The mental sensation is not that easy to take care of. In order to take care of mental sensations, you have to be in charge of your mind. You have to develop the discipline Shantideva has spoken about. This discipline does not come from the outside. It comes from within yourself.
If you, as a practitioner, are not interested in mental discipline, then you may be a “practitioner” for many years but not develop any discipline. Discipline does not develop by itself; you have to be truly focused on its development. You need to be creative in many ways. The best way to start the process is by not being distracted. Then simply observe what is happening. If we are always distracted, how could we ever observe anything, notice anything, or make a change?
We need to have some sense of shamatha along with the discipline – being quiet and turning your mind inwardly, away from the phenomenal world. Then you can check your state of mind and your emotions, check how you are doing as a human being. Starting your practice or starting your day with shamatha is incredibly valuable. You begin to see that you do not have to cling so desperately to the material substances you believe to be so crucial to your happiness and joy.
You could cultivate joy without material substances; you could cultivate happiness and joy within your own heart. Then you do not have to act so desperately with other people. You could cultivate internal happiness and joy even while in the company of people you might have tremendous attachment to – happiness and joy in a general sense, not based on particular people or events. You can be there, in the world, and feel love and care with a sense of equanimity. The love and care that brings richness into your life can be right there in your heart. You do not have to be glued to the people you are in love with. You do not have to always spend time with them. Attachment creates so many complications in your mind and heart that it defeats the purpose of being together. You can always have the richness that love and care brings into your life if you have equanimity and appreciation in your heart.
You may think what I am talking about is out of your reach, but it is not. Bodhicitta is as fundamental to our experience as the fact that we are human, sentient beings. The qualities of the four immeasurables are also there as fundamental qualities of sentient beings. We just need to bring out these qualities in a non-egotistical way.
Even if the ego is involved, the feelings of the four immeasurables can be there too. For instance, a mother’s love for her child may contain some egotistical influences, but we can still use that love as a reference point to recognize how the basic feeling of love can be tasted, and what that feeling of “love” feels like. Then, we can begin to uproot the limited, small ego in charge of the emotion, remove it and replace it with a greater ego that embraces the whole race of sentient beings, rather than just particular people.
It takes intelligence to be creative. It is helpful to have a book like The Words of my Perfect Teacher. The bodhicitta section of this book gives incredible ways to develop the emotions of the four immeasurables. There are steps that you can go through in your life. The most important thing, though, is that we do it – not just that we have the ideas – but that we do it. You have to find your own intelligence to do it, not follow a book. Even if you do follow a book, you have to feel and experience the actual emotions. Otherwise you will be just reading words in your head, and nothing else will take place.
You have to find your own way to cultivate emotions. You can use the things I have spoken about today and be helped by Shantideva’s book. If you begin to cultivate the four immeasurables, the days, months, and years change. Your whole existence will change; from that moment on, the world will change for you. The torment, the suffering, the pain, the underlying misery that we go through as confused sentient beings, comes to an end, by degrees.
We can measure these degrees of change in our own experience. It is not like measuring space, or something dreamlike that you cannot measure. You can measure the changes because you can measure the growing sense of peace, tranquility, and nirvana that we are interested in – nyang-dey, in Tibetan. Nyang means suffering, dey means going beyond. So, “going beyond suffering.” It is there as an experience; the change is substantial, not abstract.
I suggest we train ourselves in the four immeasurables. I hate to sound “preachy” because that is not the right way for you to hear about the four immeasurables. It depends a lot on your karma and on your merit. Without great merit, even though you have “heard” my words, a part of your mind still thinks, “Oh, that sounds so corny, so new age, so lovey-dovey.” This kind of thinking totally destroys the possibility of cultivating the heart of bodhicitta in your mind. Do not underestimate the power of those thoughts; they could be the destruction of your very well-being. Not understanding why we must train in the four immeasurables comes from lack of merit.
Do not expect things to just “happen” as you hear or as you read the teachings. You also have to have an incredible sense of merit. When we take the bodhisattva vow we try to accumulate much merit. I have taken the bodhisattva vows many times. There is a difference between when you truly feel you have received the bodhi heart in the process of taking the bodhisattva vow and when you have just taken the bodhisattva vow as just words or as just an idea. In that case nothing in your heart or in your being can change. When I reflect on what makes the difference between the two, the difference is in the merit.
There are times when I have not experienced bodhicitta when taking the bodhisattva vow because I have not accumulated enough merit. When I have felt the vow in my heart, then I know I have accumulated enough merit to feel just a fraction of bodhicitta. That small fraction of bodhicitta changes your whole world, your whole life, your whole well-being in an instant. This change cannot be done through any other practice. No other practice can change your life in this way.
Having the merit to change your life is not so easy. I encourage all of you to pray so that the emotions of the four immeasurables may be reborn in your heart – present and being there – within the pain of your ego. May the pain of your ego go away, and may you genuinely experience the emotions of the four immeasurables. May you be freed from your own entrapment in confused mind, in negative emotions, negative projections, and in seeing the world in a dark way. May you become a bodhisattva living in samsara, but above samsaric suffering. This is the only way you can live in samsara and, at the same time, live above samsaric suffering. There is no other way.
You can say that it is emptiness that makes bodhisattvas able to live in samsara but above samsaric suffering. It is true that emptiness does that. But emptiness without bodhicitta is nihilistic emptiness. Emptiness that has no open heart of bodhicitta is just an idea of emptiness, a nihilistic experience of sunyata.
There is the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realms. Sunyata without bodhicitta is probably one of the four formless realms. The cause for rebirth in one of the formless realms is cultivated in the human world. It is a particular kind of samadhi that we can cultivate in the human world that causes rebirth in a formless realm. For instance, thinking everything is empty; meditating on an idea of emptiness rather than a realization of emptiness. The realization of emptiness has to be free from all grasping. It is said you will be reborn in the formless realms just by grasping upon the idea of emptiness.
What protects us from the dangers of meditations on emptiness is the heart of bodhicitta. The heart and flavor of bodhicitta should be ever present in your mind, even when you are meditating on emptiness. When you meditate on emptiness, you never try to create a void state of mind. All appearance should be ever present – sights, sounds, everything. Emotions should also be present. As you realize deeper levels of emptiness, the heart of bodhicitta should become ever more present. It does not become non-existent. The way to protect yourself from the dangers of sunyata meditation is bodhicitta.
The path of the bodhisattva is said to be a middle path, not a desire for peace. What does that mean in our own limited experience of the path? Sometimes, when we meditate, we get addicted to the experience of quietness, loneliness, or a certain kind of tranquil shamatha state. You can become so absorbed in and attached to that state that you do not want anyone to come close to you or to disturb you. You wish the world would disappear from your sight, sound, and experience. You wish to be left alone in this tranquil state of shamatha.
If people or relationships surge into your life, you do not want to relate. Instead, you become agitated, angry, and feel a total loss of control of your mind and your meditative state of mind. That is what, in our limited experience, we become attached to; to our sense of peace and nirvana, the shravakayana’s sense o f nirvana.
As a bodhisattva on the path of the Mahayana, the middle way, what can protect us is cultivating bodhicitta. When you cultivate bodhicitta, you do not have to go out and be socially engaged. Social engagement is not the idea of the buddhas or the bodhisattvas. If you are truly practicing the Mahayana path, you are already socially engaged on a deeper, greater, more profound level-with the world and with beings – in your own mind. You do not have to go out and be socially engaged, or bring loaves of bread to poor people.
If the opportunity comes to help poor people, then, of course, you practice generosity. You must do so, but that does not mean this is the only way you can be a bodhisattva. What about meditating in a lonely cave on bodhicitta and wishing to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings? One can see how much suffering, pain, and misery sentient beings are in all the time. Wishing them to be free; trying to cultivate an understanding of how this all happened, how this can all be ended for yourself and for others is very engaging.
Trying to cultivate the path is very engaging in itself – it does not mean you have to go out and distribute loaves of bread. I am not criticizing helping the poor, of course. But do not feel insecure about our tradition of isolating in the mountains and doing practice in a lonely cave or cabin. Do not think this path is selfish. People might judge your intent as selfish, insane, or something else. People’s intentions are hard to judge from the outside. Any path can become selfish, even handing out loaves of bread. But, bodhicitta can help to resolve these problems of the ego. You can appreciate people who are practicing in caves as well as people who are socially engaged, if they each have the proper intention.
Ultimately, only you can judge your own intention, and you cannot do well without the reflection of your mind in the teachings. The bodhicitta, the bodhi heart, and the four immeasurables can be a great way to protect ourselves from our own obstacles, obstacles of all sorts.
Please take my words to heart. I hope you were truly present to hear this talk and to hear my words, that you were not simply taking my words into your ear in the present moment, and then forgetting them. I hope something shifts in your heart, and that shift is sustained until you attain enlightenment.