Notes on a talk by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche (August 12, 2014)
Practitioners who receive teachings hope to realize them in body, speech and mind. Once they are embodied, teachings become a genuine confidence in all practices in order to cut through grasping. One of the traditional ways of cutting grasping is called Chöd. Chöd means severance, it is a cutting without hesitation. Chöd cuts through all delusions and enables the practitioner to, how do you say it in the west? to walk the walk. The foundation of Chöd is the five slogans.
Machig Labdrön (1055 – 1149) was a renowned 11th-century Tibetan, Tantric Buddhist practitioner, teacher and a yogini who originated several Tibetan lineages of the Vajrayana practice of Chöd. Machig’s teachings (the Chöd teachings) were the first Buddhist teachings to emerge in Tibet. She led a very unconventional life, and lived in a moment of great flourishing for the dharma, there were many teachers and like today in the west, sometimes information became practice, it became practice itself. There was a predominance of intellectual understanding, of dharma as talking. Machig’s work cut through these words. Her practice created an indestructible confidence in what you have acquired as knowledge, and used that knowledge to cut through delusion, it became the basis for awakening. She understood that knowledge can be a defilement, if dharma is learned but not engaged. Thinking about non-duality can become a breeding ground for new dualities. How many teachings and words do we really need? Machig’s prominence arises because she tries to break through the stereotype of the teachings through gritty, earthy practices, to engage directly with the essential nature of mind. Can we really let go of what we are holding onto? We put so much effort into all of our versions of home, into daydreams, distractions, forgetfulness, dullness – all of these tendencies. How much concrete effort goes towards clarity, letting go, non-duality? When a person who doesn’t know how to swim is thrown into the water, the instinct is to grab the water. They want to hold onto water, instead of cutting through to the open field.
1) Confess your hidden faults.
2) Approach what you find repulsive.
3) Help those you think you cannot help (sometimes translated as those you do not want to help).
4) Anything you are attached to, give that.
5) Go to the places that scare you.
Confess hidden faults.
This is a daily practice engaging mindfulness of negative discursiveness in speech and conduct. Confession in a Buddhist context doesn’t only mean being remorseful about negative behavior, though it begins with regret. Regret demands a discriminating wisdom – to be able to tell right from wrong. Let’s call anger anger. Let’s see poison as poison and desire as desire, and not transform it into something for your own self defense or as part of a greater good. Confession means knowing self/ego-cherishing as a negative tendency, an impediment to awakening.
Regret turns into strong determination: I’ll never do that again. To refrain from the powerful impulses towards repetition.
What is one’s approach to this slogan? Like a person who is sick and goes to see a doctor and takes all of the necessary medications. It means taking your own mind as the subject of the dharma.
Or are you approaching like a hunter? Shoot to kill, what’s in it for me? Are you approaching the dharma because there is something to be gained, to increase your self worth, where self-grasping is the basis?
How do you undertake confession? 1. Power of regret 2. Power of support 3. Power of antidote 4. Power of strong resolve.
Power of regret recognizes defilement, to know the negativity that is anger and how destructive that can be. Or being jealous. Our own craving and self absorption. To spend ample time knowing and recognizing our defilements.
When you sit still the ego says: I need a cause, what am I going to do? How do you deal with an ego-driven person who thinks they have to be constantly generating opinions and views? Silence is best, or reciting words we don’t know. Silence is a way to relieve the impulse that you have to keep interfering with this present moment. Or perhaps while reciting 100,000 mantras this individual might come to a moment when they touch the understanding that without your interference everything is fine, the sun knows how to rise, the streetcars run on time. You don’t have to constantly cling and fixate. You could be a much more relaxed person, and when you become more settled come to touch your true nature. You don’t need anger to assert yourself. Desire is not the only way for you to feel alive. Discursiveness can loosen its grip. You can slowly dismantle the walls of discursiveness, your thoughts and restless agitations that you’re so dependent on now. At your core: discursiveness is not your nature (the unconscious is not structured like a language). You don’t need your grasping and clinging. Every time you sit in meditation you return to your true nature. You live most of your life underwater, and for a few minutes you break the surface and take a breath of fresh air. Meditation is that fresh air. It grants you the insight that you don’t need words to be a person.
The second quality of regret is recognizing the extent of the power of self-cherishing. I can see miles of me everywhere I look. Discursiveness is unnecessary, but its roots are a self-cherishing attitude, not understanding impermanence and interdependence.
There is no self – but nonetheless it is a very strong impulse to act as if there is. The veil of ignorance turns the impermanent into the fixed and unchanging. How do you understand impermanence when anger arises? Can you be patient and curious, can you examine these states and find the roots of self-cherishing when anger comes, can it become part of the dharma path, part of your practice?
Power of Support
Along with regret, the practitioner needs the power of support. There are eight of them, you don’t need them all, one is fine. Two is a bonus.
1. Taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma, sangha.
2. Practice: Breathing, resting, prostrations, recalling your teacher, or bodhisattvas, or someone who encourages you to be a better person, to bring your mind back to practice.
3. Chants: prayers, aspirations. Translators have made many texts available in the past few years, there’s no longer any excuse not to chant. Take any of these texts, they can shift chaos back into sanity. It is a direct application of power and knowledge. In the west the idea is that you can solve all your problems by yourself, applying rationality. There’s a self trying to solve the problem of the self.
4. Power of reflection: To reflect on the teachings. The wisdom that has been recognized, embodied, realized. Moments of everyday mindfulness, can you take that as a focus to weaken the habitual habits of being seduced by negative thought/emotional patterns.
5. Following examples: Reflecting on examples of great masters. To learn by observing, or if you can’t observe the maestros in person then read their biographies and find inspiration. There is no short cut to transformation and awakening. So many of us are chasing after the end result, we see the end result of some of these great figures, how wonderful they are. But it took so much hard work. Can we get there if we sit for 15 minutes each day, and then spend 23 hours and 45 minutes practicing distraction?
6. Touch base with your true nature, your natural self. Let your mind can come back to its ground and recognize its intrinsic nature. But if there’s no regret + support, then it’s impossible to find this nature, this ground.
Antidote. How to apply the dharma? There’s no other way than going ahead and applying the dharma or else dwelling in ignorance. Chew the flavor of what is being said. Analyze it until you have the “wisdom of no escape.” The most powerful antidote is to refrain from the seduction of discursiveness.
Develop a strong resolve not to have negative actions. Seeing your own weakness and bringing that into framework of practice. If it’s jealousy or anger – uproot negative emotions, trace their causes and conditions to the roots, be curious. See their impermanent nature, see their self-cherishing nature. See the holding and grasping nature that is creating the largest impediments. Then you can cut through.
Approach everything you find repulsive.
What do you fear? Blood, shit, emotions. Can you see what repulses you and maintain non-duality? Can you see the fear as a projection of your own mind? Go to the places where your attachments are greatest: husband, kids, teacher, money, identity, ego, self. That is the impediment to your liberation. The coming of the Buddha is impeded by that attachment.
When the mind understands one taste, non-duality and interdependence have arrived. But if your security matters most – then you need to go into it and try living without security, then see how you have been able to develop non-duality. The second slogan asks us to look at what is ugly and then examine our minds. What is repulsive in sound? Ugly sounds, people screaming insults at you, nails on a blackboard. Can you sit inside that? What is ugly in taste, in sight, in touch? How does your mind work when these events are occurring?
Help those you think you cannot help.
This slogan invites us not to be stuck in limitations you bring to yourself. Compassion rooted in self absorption means I would like to be kind but only at my convenience. I would like to be kind but I can’t. How do we keep applying limitations, how can we go beyond? There should be no one who is an enemy. If ego-cherishing is the cause of duality then go and make friends with everyone, practice unbiased patience with everyone. Usually we have compassion for everyone we don’t meet or only when it’s convenient.
Give everything away.
If there’s something you can’t give away, that’s what is keeping you from awakening. There is a practice of not saying no to anyone – all maras (devils, neuroses) are dualist. When you can give it all away there is no fear, no good or bad, all these have been created with our mind projections and are hindrances. How can we cut through the ego?
Can you feel empathetic joy, can you revel in the happiness of others rather than always associating happiness with yourself? How to be free of bias and discrimination? When you turn your mind to these four brahmaviharas (the four immeasurables): loving kindness, compassion, joyfulness and equanimity. Then you can help someone else, otherwise your ego-grasping tendencies are at play.
The first thing to give away is material wealth: land, goods, husband, wife, children. Simplification.
The second thing to give away is the body: its identity, security. Give it to whomever may need it.
The third thing to give away is merit: anything good that comes out of practicing these slogans – whatever virtue you accrue give it away. Though Buddhists love to give away merit, often when we haven’t done the work. It’s like writing cheques on an account that has no money in it.
The fourth thing to give away is awakening. Can a Buddhist practice without the promise, the hope, the lure of awakening? Would we embark on this journey, disciplining ourselves, can we let go of the cherished goal? Discursive knowledge is not our true nature.
Go to places that fill you with fear.
Go to the most repulsive places – traditionally these were charnel houses (a vault or building where human skeletal remains are stored. They are often built near churches for depositing bones that are unearthed.) What makes you afraid is self grasping. It’s often the best mirror to see how much self clinging is still there. But here in the west charnel houses are so clean and quiet, they are sometimes the nicest places to be in the city. The place that fills you with fear is to be alone, unplugged. Not to be recognized for the work you do (you recognize yourself through the work you do), left behind, forgotten, out of the loop.
We know so much. What are we going to do about it? Everything is in your hands. I can only show you the path. Nothing else matters.