Understanding Human Nature
A talk given by Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
I don’t come here as a teacher. I’m here as your friend. I have known many of you 30 years, 40 years and some for only 1 or 2 years. Maybe I have met a few of you today. But most of you are old friends. I am talking as a friend talking to friends: how do we improve our understanding, how do we improve our way of life? How can we benefit human society? That’s all I am interested in. All of you have so many gurus, and I’m sure they always say the same thing. How do we develop loving kindness and compassion? How do we help other people, how do we deal with our negative emotions? How do we increase our positiveness? We all have inherited positiveness, there is no one who is only negative. There is nobody who is only positive. That does not happen. But we tend to look all the time at the negative. We look at the negative in other people. And if you don’t look at the negative in other people, then quite often we focus on our own negative. Even though there are so many positive things, we never look at that, or recognise that. We always run away from the positive things.
So when we are always looking at the negativity of other people, when we focus on our own negative experience then we are not able to recognise positive things. And so therefore we end up constantly suffering. That suffering is unnecessary suffering. People say, I am sick, I am not well, my mind does not work properly, the whole world is suffering, the whole world has so many problems and my neighbour is not talking to me. My friends don’t come any more and my business is not working. Of course there are many problems in the world but these problems and difficulties are the product of all of us looking for negatives, experiencing negatives and creating negatives.
The earth and climate are not changing themselves. They change because we want to fulfil our desires. We want our incomes to increase every year by 5 or 10%. So if you are 60 years old, how can there have been 5% growth every year? That is not possible. If you climb a mountain there is a limit, even if it is Mount Everest, there is a limit to how far you can climb.
We can’t have what we want all the time, that’s not possible. We are all born, and we don’t want to die: that’s not possible either. We don’t want to get old: that’s not possible. Everything has a limit but we aren’t willing to accept that. It is important to accept that there are conditions to our way of life and we have to be patient with ourselves, we have to be tolerant with ourselves. It’s like you are fighting yourself and if you fight yourself how can you win? There is no winner, no loser. For this reason, understanding may take time which needs more patience.
So what is the best practice for dealing with everyday life? Whatever comes doesn’t really matter. If that particular day is a happy day you appreciate it. Another day you may think of as a terrible day but you should still be happy. You should not be constantly looking to be happy because it’s not possible. There will be suffering. This leads to happiness. Many people have never been happy but when they had a sudden suffering, then they recognised happiness. I explain to them that before they had not recognised happiness and therefore the suffering made them more mature and able to understand what it means to be happy. But happiness is not always to be found in happiness itself because we have different ideas of happiness. For example eating ice cream every day may appear to make you happy, but the result of eating ice cream every day is that you will be getting fatter and then you have to think how to lose the fat. Instant happiness is not ultimate happiness. What you need to be looking for is ultimate happiness but in the moment there may be suffering. Suffering is not something negative. Suffering is a positive thing. And therefore since I am not talking as a teacher but as a friend, what I found for me, I hope that you may find this particular way of looking at things to be of some benefit.
What I’ve found myself is that if you welcome the suffering, if you no longer try to run away from the suffering and think this must be the teaching for me, then there is great understanding and great benefit. You will become more mature. You don’t have to create suffering but if you are grateful for all the things you experience - sickness, poverty, other people’s sickness, the whole world’s problems you will become very grateful for all the negative things that are happening. If you can accept every negative thing then there isn’t anything left which you have to run away from.
The Dalai Lama says that Dharma is a simple way of life. Dharma means the accumulation of compassion. Dharma means how to develop tolerance. Whenever he talks he always talks like that. His talk is of compassion, tolerance, not fighting, not being jealous. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. So that’s all he says, all the time. And I have heard many of the Karmapa’s talks. He says the same thing: be kind. He talks mainly of how to be kind, how to accumulate the Chenrezik mantra, how to lead a simple life. The 16th Karmapa also talked of this. And if they only talk of compassion, loving kindness, tolerance, being helpful, being beneficial for others then I have nothing further to add. I think we are looking to the Dharma for something different than what they are telling us to do: how to be simple; how to live a normal human life. I think that what we need to change is our understanding. We have to be mature. We have to be flexible. We are so rigid. We always have so many conditions: things have to be this way or that way. I am only willing to accept this and not accept that. I think that is our mistake. We need to learn how to be flexible. We need to learn how not to lose our temper and become angry because anger has no benefit for anyone. Having listened to so many years of teaching, but if you are still angry, gossiping, jealous, then what is the benefit of the practice? There has to be fruit, there has to be benefit. And maybe you are listening to too many teachings and are not able to apply them. Applying the practice may be more useful I think.
I am sure that nobody came here to listen to my rubbish talk, you all came as my friends. And what friends discuss is how we can try to be a normal human. If we accept that we just want to be normal human beings then it is easier to deal with. When there are difficulties, when there are problems we should not look outside of ourselves, but inside ourselves. Then we don’t need to become violent or hateful to anybody. Accept good as well as bad, be grateful for everything that happens. If you have food to eat, be grateful. If you have nothing to eat you also should be grateful. If you have something to wear be grateful. If you don’t have anything to wear be grateful. If somebody accepts you, be grateful. If somebody does not accept you, be grateful. This is called practice together with your life. Some people may make a big deal and say, I practice for 2 hours every morning, I’m doing 4 hours practice. But if you are doing 2 hours practice out of 24, then you have totally wasted 22 hours. Practice is something that you have to go along together with your life, because you don’t leave your mind in the meditation box, you don’t leave your brain in your shrine room. For 22 hours wherever you are, your brain is there, your mind is there, your body is there, your feelings are there, your emotions are there, so practice has to be constant. It’s good to set up practice for 1 or 2 hours if you are able to. But it is very important to try to practice during the whole day. If you are practising compassion, you think about compassion for 24 hours. If you are doing shinay meditation, you try to meditate for 24 hours. When you train in shinay meditation, you train in walking meditation, in breathing meditation, in mantra meditation. And through your day you can use each step as your walking meditation. When you are talking then inside you recite mantra, talking meditation. And there is nobody who does not need to breathe for a whole day, so if you are practising breathing meditation then you do that all the time. It doesn’t really matter what you are doing, it’s not that important. You don’t have to be sitting down to do it. Because when people teach you shinay meditation, walking meditation you don’t sit, you have to walk, you have to be mindful. So there isn’t any difference. So don’t just think about practising for one or two hours and forget all the rest of the day. There has to be constant practice from morning to night until you sleep and don’t remember anything. But sometimes people say that they can’t sleep, they are so tired, things are so difficult. That’s very good because if you can’t sleep you meditate. And then you have many extra hours. But as soon as you meditate people soon go to sleep. So if you want to sleep, and you can’t, you meditate and I’m sure you will get to sleep immediately. So bad sleepers become good meditators and good sleepers in the end.
As to our way of life, what is most important and what we are all fail to do including me, is we do not apply the practice together with our life. Our practice is like a rucksack and your practice is left there once a day and there is no connection between your life and your practice. People say that they have been meditating for 20 years but have not achieved anything. Then you ask that person how long did they meditate for? I did 20 years. How many hours? 1 hour a day or perhaps 20 minutes. I don’t think you can achieve anything in 20 minutes or an hour because the emotions that are happening for 23 hours of the day are so strong that how can half an hour or an hour, or two hours practice change you? The practice has to be longer, much more your daily life. Then the practice will bring benefit. If you have a horse and you need it to carry two bags and 1 bag weighs 23 kilos, and the other weighs only 1 kilo then of course the 23 kilo bag will outweigh the 1 kilo bag. If the weight is not the same how can you change anything in your life? So therefore practice has to be like the weights you put into the horse pack. My friends all of you, I don’t expect that you will achieve enlightenment. I am not here to talk about enlightenment. What I want, if you take me as your friend, is for all of you to have more patience, to be more tolerant and better able to deal with whatever problems come from your home, or society. Whatever world problems, international problems, family problems, be able to enjoy, appreciate and accept, not looking for how to run. Because running isn’t very useful: not useful for me and I’m sure not for you. Because after all we have to go back to earn money, to do our job, whatever it is that we do. We cannot go into solitary retreat and leave this environment behind.
So I think that is all. My brain is empty now. It has very limited space. And at the end of every teaching time the 17th Karmapa requests us to make the Tara prayer. I hope that you have brought the Tara prayer or you can just say the mantra. Thank you.