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Cutting to the Chase - a teaching by Ven. Robina Courtin

(transcription of a talk given at the Kadampa Center -August, 1997) :

This is going to be "cutting to the chase" I like that. If Dharma is not practical, then it is just words, now or just pretending. Somehow that is something that is really clear. We can say that Buddhism is this incredible philosophy, this incredible psychology. Buddha's model of the mind is so sophisticated, all the ritual, all the meditation, this stuff. But somehow, unless it all comes together, and becomes experiential, then it is a complete waste of time. I think that's something, you know. I think that for us in the West that have such incredible minds, such intelligence, I remember one Tibetan Lama being so impressed with the intelligence of the Western mind, you know, it's such an incredible tool, you know, but it can become something that is completely just a , we can be sucked into really thinking we're really practicing, because we have a head that's full of knowledge, because we understand so well. To really bring it into our life, to really make it experiential, to really taste it, as Lama Yeshe would say, is the point, you know. Anything less than that is wasting time, ok, not completely wasting time, as we can say there are some imprints on our mind for future lives, unless we are actually making effort, you know, actually that is one of the most crucial qualities, is to make effort.

So what is practice? What is this thing we have to make effort in? What we're dealing with is the mind, isn't it? As Lama Zopa says, the workshop is in the mind. That's where practice is. That is what we're trying to become familiar with, which is the meaning of the Tibetan word for meditation, Gom, becoming familiar, and on the basis of becoming familiar with Buddha's model of the mind, Buddha's philosophy, for example, which we use as our basis for our practice, we learn to then bring that into our mind and then become familiar with what's there, because what Buddha's saying that we have this immense potential, this immense potential, and it's not some special gift that somebody has and somebody doesn't, it's something completely innate in every living being. We have phenomenal potential. With this alone, if we could get a taste for it, we would be so inspired you know, it would be such an antidote to depression and hopelessness, which is so common in our culture. If we really could get a taste for the logic of this, this that we just have innately, phenomenal potential. But potential for what? Not something holy, like heaven in the sky, next life, but potential for unbelievable bliss, for joy, for contentment, for clarity, for kindness, for compassion, for something we actually want. It is something so earthy, so tasty. Religion isn't something 'holy', this is the point. Things spiritual is actually experiencing the positive qualities we actually possess within us and developing those. I mean learning to see and face and confront you know, the delusions, the polluted part of us, which is what's holding us back, what's dragging us down. So we need to become deeply familiar with this. And the only way we can do that is by looking inside. Which is not our habit in this culture, is it? It is not our habit to look inside. We have never learned how to look inside. Which is why it is so difficult. We are halfway through our lives already, and we have only begun to look inside. If we were five years old, we would have a bit of a chance. But somehow the habit of not knowing how to look inside is one of the major obstacles. Then combined with the fact that we are living in a kind of a delicious environment, a sense world, a sensory environment, and because the main delusions are those that are always captivated by that sensory environment, then it is incredibly difficult to try and look into our minds, which is what we are trying to, you know. Because as Lama Zopa says, that's where the workshop is, and that's what practice is.

Understanding that basically our mind is made of up positive qualities, which is where our potential is The natural state of our mind, when it is non-polluted, when it is unencumbered by delusions, is the development of these positive qualities, which we have in us already. It's not as if we have to get them from the outside, somebody puts them in us. They are within us already. So that's what our potential actually is. We all we have to do is recognize that, acknowledge that, and that is something positive, which we don't tend to do, because we are caught so up with, ironically, this is the irony of ego, we are so caught up with the delusions, with the pollutions, with the stuff that drags us down, and that's the stuff that is captivated by the outside world, because those delusions are convinced that the outside world is where it is all happening. This is what we want. This is what we see, this is what we taste, what we smell, this is where real life looks like where it is, this what we are trying to get, this is the very nature of this universe we are living in, it is the very nature of samsara, the nature of our culture, we are particularly good at it, we have refined it, we know very well how to follow attachment and get the attachment object. We know how very well how to manipulate the outside world, and make it just so. We are very good at it. So our habit is to follow these delusions, the ones called attachment and pride and aversion and jealousy that are caught up with the outside world. The main one effectively is this attachment. So as Lama Yeshe says, "I could tell you about attachment for one whole year, but if we don't begin to build something up in our own meditation, and really look at it, really understand it through our own experiences, we will never understand it" And in a sense the key, you know, the fundamental pollution, the cause of our being in a body in the first place, in samsara in the first place, and even being reborn, is the one that is called ignorance, but effectively the main delusion is the one called attachment.

So if it is so, as Buddha is saying, you can't be happy if you have attachment, we better really know very clearly and precisely what it is, you know, and this demands immense work on our part. It demands at first learning the capacity, which is very hard, at first learning how to look inside, it seems almost mysterious, sometimes, because we are caught up in the sensory world, it is totally our life, from the second we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, totally captivated, seduced by this outside world, where real life is. So to begin to develop a capacity to see our own mind, and then slowly within this kind of soup of emotion that is inside us, to recognize the one that is called attachment, which is the root of it, which is the main, like the motor that is propelling us from moment to moment. Which is the cause of our suffering. It is so hard to see this, and the Buddha is saying that attachment is the cause of our suffering, we can't just, you know, if we're trying to take it seriously, then we better know very precisely what it is, otherwise we're going to chuck out the baby with the bath water, which is half our problem, you know.

So what is attachment? And how is it the cause of suffering? It is not enough to have some kind of faith and say, yes, it's fine, attachment is the cause of suffering. As Lama says, we have to really build something up, really look carefully, really be precise, and that is something interesting about the Buddhist approach to spiritual practice, it's not some question of, you know, only having faith, and sitting there with your legs crossed and your eyes closed and something happens, you get a spiritual experience, is something down to earth, something very real, very tasty, as Lama Yeshe says, you know. And it demands of us enormous precision, clarity, which we are used to bringing to the outside world, but as soon as we hear precision and clarity in the spiritual world, it doesn't seem to sort of add up for us. But we need that, that's the point, you know.

Because Buddha's model of the mind is so precise, it is quite profound, you know, I mean He's been saying it for two and a half thousand years, nothing is new. One of our major jobs is to be able to discriminate between what is delusion and what is virtue. If we look at our minds, which is where we have to look, where all the work has to happen, which is what we are trying to transform, which is where the potential exists, which is where the happiness exists, and where the suffering exists, not out there, in all those things, if we are learning to look at our mind, what is the mind made up of. What is this thing that is called mind, consciousness?

First of all, let's just reiterate some of the main points. It is very important that we get very clear what we are talking about. The consciousness, or mind, as Buddha says, is not something physical. There is not an atom of anything physical about our consciousness or mind. It's clear, and obvious, that it's connected. The grosser levels are connected to our physical body, to the brain. It's very clear. But it does not follow that the consciousness is the body, is the brain, is the nervous system, that it is something physical. This is a crucial point. That it's non-physical, all the spectrum of our inner experiences, all the way from the gross level, thoughts and feelings and emotions, you know, to the unconscious, sub conscious, soul, whatever word you want to use, you know. All of this, the spectrum of possibilities, the spectrum of an inner experience, this is our mind, this is what we are working with, this is what we are trying to transform. And all of this, all of our characteristics, all of our feelings, all of our emotions, our viewpoints, whatever it is, our lust, our love, our hate, our bad, whatever. All of this is consciousness, our mind. These words effectively mean the same thing.

So it isn't physical. And it certainly doesn't come from anyone else. There is not one atom of our being that comes from anyone else; a superior being, Buddha, God, whatever, our parents or anyone else. It is simply impossibility, the way Buddha's presenting what mind or consciousness is. This has huge implications, doesn't it? If we really get this clear, these kind of intellectual facts, if we really get them clear, then the experiential implications are enormous. If my consciousness in nobody's but mine, then I have to take responsibility for it. The whole idea, which is so(???Devious), of blaming someone else for my feelings is bizarre, it's absurd, it's illogical, it's inappropriate. So this is why, to have a clear understanding of what we're talking about, a precise understanding of what is mind and what is not mind, it has huge implications, it is so important, you know. The consciousness, your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your characteristics, your hate, your love, your depression, your laziness, your aspirations, whatever it is of you, this does not come from God or Buddha. It does not come from your mother or father. It does not come from any other being. And it isn't physical. And it can't come from nothing; this is clearly absurd. You cannot just say, like this cup just pops up out of nowhere, like a mushroom, with no cause. It's bizarre. Then one's own consciousness is the same, it is according to the ordinary laws of how things exist. So the only other option is that it has to come from previous moments of itself, you know, isn't it? So it is in this way, that our consciousness, our mind, is this high dynamic energy, it's like a river of energy, something very dynamic, not something static, which is how we think about it, this "I" , my mind", it's something highly dynamic. So if I look into my mind, and whatever I see there, then I know it's come from previous moments (snaps fingers), of that, that's all. Previous moments of that. Whatever you put in the river down there, this is how the river is here. It is a kind of continuity of energy. All of this points to this taking of responsibility, which is the whole point, you know. Because we can see, that this is not how we feel, because of our of our own culture, which has views that we take so strongly, that we take totally for granted, that I come from my mother and father, and all of our psychologies in this world mostly point back to our mother and father, so we're looking for the source of where things come from, so we look to the outside. We to our upbringing, we look to the mother, the father, we look in there all the time, but only there. It's ok to look into the conditions, it's good to look into the conditions, as the conditions are vital. The conditions could be the ones that are mistaken.. Because they're not the only things, that's our problem in the West, we're too short term, we're too limited in the way we see, you know. But what Buddha is saying that sure, conditions are vital, but the crucial one, the central one, the main one is what's inside your thoughts and feelings. And they come from you, nobody else. They are literally our own creation. And so what Buddhism quite literally is saying is we are the creators of our own universe, the creators of our own emotions, the creators of our own life. Yes, there are external conditions, and they are enormous, but they key thing, the key factor is that we are responsible. We are the ones that did this life, we made this life, although it seems absurd, you know. After all, we didn't ask to be born, we just got plumped here, we're just an innocent victim, you know, waiting for someone to punch us or kick us. But actually what Buddhism is saying is the implication of all of this, discussing these few simple points, about what mind is and what it isn't. The implication is that we actually created this world. We created the cause, you know. This is the whole principal of Karma, isn't it? That there is not a single experience that we have that has not come from something we have done. There is not single things that we see, meet, taste, feel, that isn't as Lama Zopa says, our own karmic appearance. Every living being, every ant, every cockroach, which comes into our life is a personal relationship. It is not an accident.. Every single thing that that creature does to us, that human, that cockroach, that dog, whatever, is not an accident-it is the result, the reverberation of our own past actions. Every thing that comes in front of us, there is nothing just general, we make everything so general, you know, but everything is personal, everything is specific. This is the logical conclusion of Karma. Everything that we meet, everything we see, everything we taste, the parents we have, the kind of body, the experiences, how much money, how poor, how suffering, how depressed, how angry, who harms us, who rapes us, who is kind to us, whatever it is, there is nothing that doesn't come from our own past energy. It is so powerful, pointing all the time to the fact that we have no choice but to take responsibility. Take responsibility for everything that comes in our life. Everything-every second-every microsecond is our own karmic appearance, as Rinpoche says. There is nothing that isn't our own karmic appearance. Our own personal karmic appearance. We can see, as much as we might be Buddhists, this is not an easy one to really take. We can see, we might have it theoretically down, but experientially, it is really tough. I mean, this is kind of profound, you know. It is kind of very powerful. But the irony is of this, that the other view that we have, which is the schizophrenic one, you know, of seeing everything 'out there', being done to this innocent victim 'here', which is the way we feel, this is the voice of delusion, this is the lie that delusion says. And that is what Buddha is saying, basically.

We have all these literally wrong views, misconceptions, a very precise word, misconceptions about the way we interpret everything that is happening. And this is why we suffer. That's the actual function of these delusions; looking at what these delusions are, you know. These attachments and all the rest. One of the key characteristics of these states of mind, which we think of emotion, something very real in our heart, if we analyze them and slowly break them down, and become familiar with them, what we really get to see, which is what Buddha is saying, is they are a bunch of concepts, actual misconceptions - we are walking around with a huge conceptual construction, a bunch of wrong views, about everything we meet: why this happens, who this is, what is this, good, bad, unkind, all the stuff. And it is completely dualistic. Which is a polite way of saying it. Lama Yeshe would say schizophrenic. Much more direct, isn't it? This schizophrenic view of reality. Split, separate, cutoff. This innocent victim. Which is how ego feels, that's the irony of it. And we have no sense of connectedness with what is happening to us. We have no sense of ownership of our experiences, we have no sense of responsibility, saying the same thing, of whatever happens to us, we have no sense of that. Because that's the function of delusion. All these states of mind that are within us, that are pervading our being, that totally govern our lives, if not totally, but pretty much, you know, they are liars. That is basically what a delusion is, a liar. It is a part of our mind that misinterprets every thing, and that's the key characteristic of these deluded emotions, these negative states of mind, that's the key characteristic, which is something we can't really see, we don't think of an emotion like that, do we? That it's a misconception, misconstruing something. We don't think that at all. That is an interesting characteristic, and it is a vital one that we begin to get to see. This is why Lama says: "you people think, he said, you think attachment has got something to do with the senses, it has nothing to do with the senses". This seems kind of shocking, because, attachment being the main misconception we have in the mind, the main delusion, like I said, that propels us from moment to moment.

So what does this mean? We need to analyze it. It is not enough to think "I've got to give up attachment, I'm so attached" you know, it's not enough just to say that-we mean well, but it's not enough. It's kind of like saying 'I've got such a headache' - but unless you can diagnose what that headache is, where it is, what its source is, how it functions, how can you possibly get the appropriate medicine? It is just not possible, is it? So this is why it is demanded of us to have precision and analysis, or as Lama Yeshe said, to be our own therapist. So let's look at how delusions are misconceptions, look at that characteristic. Like I said, we think of them as this big fat emotion at our heart, don't we? We think up intellect and thought as up here, and anger and pride and attachment and jealousy down here. But actually what Buddha is saying is that they are concepts. There are only two kind of mind. In Buddha's model of the mind, there is only two ways the mind functions: as so called direct knowledge, direct perception, which only functions at the subtlest level in meditation, which most of us never get anywhere near, you know, so there's that, and then the other kind, in Buddha's model (we're using Buddha's model here) , the only other way the mind functions is conceptually. There's is no other word- they don't have a word which says emotional. We have conceptual and emotional-we have two, but Buddha says everything is conceptual, that's the gross level of our being, besides the sensory, I beg your pardon, besides the sensory-the sensory is just the dumb animal. It's like the senses are dumb animals- they just follow whatever the concepts do, don't they. So let's look at this one of attachment, try and understand it, break it down, and try and see how it is conceptually based. Let's think: we have a relationship with a person; there are a whole bunch of things going on there, with the mind, isn't it? You have a whole series of responses to that person, a whole series of emotions and feelings and concepts, whatever. So let's just look at some of them. Because part of our problem is that it is like a soup of emotions inside, that we don't know how to distinguish all the different bits, and this is what is demanded of us in [meditation] practice. It's not enough just to do our meditation and be 'holy'-it is already profound, I'm not criticizing, but we need to have this kind of analysis and precision. Don't just think of it as intellectual; that is completely mistaken. It is just exactly the same as if you have someone present you a delicious cake, and then you want to know how to make it, you can't just be all airy fairy, and cross your fingers and put in 14 eggs, and hope for the best and think it will be a marvelous cake, 'it's so experiential'- excuse me, you have to have a precise recipe, right? You know exactly, two eggs, three and a half of this, a spoon of that, and if you look at just the intellectual, just the recipe, it is very boring, right? You can't see any relationship between those boring words and that delicious cake. But you know that getting the recipe right, precision, accuracy then brings you that delicious cake. It's exactly the same with our mind. It's exactly the same with practice.

Which is why, especially in the Tibetan tradition, actually studying the philosophy, the psychology, going into it deeply, is seen as such a profound way to really deeply transform our mind, because it is learning the recipe, learning the theory, then you transmute those theories into experience. You have the words and then you learn to taste, as Lama Yeshe says. So don't underestimate using the conceptual mind, it's so powerful. And it's a stepping stone.

OK, if you were to learn the recipes, and then pretend you know how to make a cake, and then never make a cake, you'd be embarrassed to call yourself a cook, wouldn't you? If you only knew the recipes? No one would be fooled by that. So that's the trouble with spiritual practice- we either throw out the intellectual, we become all experiential, spiritual, we become beyond the intellectual, or we get all caught up in the intellectual, we learn the recipe but we forget how to make the cake. We need both.

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