In the teaching today, we will examine in more details the differences between Buddhism and non-Buddhism, the mundane and the supramundane phenomena and, lastly, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. The questions regarding these three differences seem quite easy to some, but the answers may not be so obvious to everyone. For someone who wants to practice the genuine Dharma, it is imperative that one understands the answers to these questions beforehand, as different answers will engender greatly different results in whatever actions one undertakes, be it doing good deeds or sitting down to meditate.
The difference between non- Buddhism and Buddhism
Broadly speaking, the view, the practice and the behavior of non- Buddhist traditions and those of Buddhism are all different, and so are their results. The key difference lies in whether or not it requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. One that does is Buddhism; otherwise, non-Buddhism.
Although non-Buddhist beliefs also proclaim some notion of emptiness, they are unable to enunciate the void nature of all phenomena based on dependent origination. Their idea of emptiness is only some sort of simple emptiness, unlike the one that is inseparable from phenomena. For example, some non-Buddhists also point out that what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears is all illusory. However, most of their ideas about emptiness are just nothingness which ignore phenomena altogether. This is neither the emptiness taught by Nagarjuna and other like-minded masters, nor the one expounded by Asanga and the like that is inseparable from luminous clarity. Emptiness of non- Buddhism means simply non-existence, just like human heads are without horns, which is not the true meaning of Buddhist emptiness. But non-Buddhist idea of emptiness, regretful to say, is just this simple.
That was the view of the mainstream non-Buddhists during the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Later, when Islam invaded India, some of the most important Buddhist sites, such as Nalanda Monastery and Vikramasila(Precept Monastery), were sabotaged. Subsequently, a few non-Buddhist schools began to adopt certain Buddhist theories, resulting in the non-Buddhist canon being mixed with many Buddhist teachings.
Yet, up until now, not one of these schools is capable of enunciating realization of emptiness beyond the notion of “not-self.”
Anyway, the most important and the key difference between Buddhism and non-Buddhism lie in taking refuge in the Three Jewels. Accordingly, taking refuge is deemed a prerequisite for anyone who wants to learn Buddhism. However, it has never been forced upon anyone. Only those who want to learn the Buddha’s teachings or take up Buddhist practice must comply. Not taking refuge is to remain an outsider, is off the path to liberation and cannot be deemed a Buddhist.
The difference between the mundane and the supramundane practice
Nowadays, both in China and Tibet, many people identify themselves as Buddhists, lay practitioners, or monastics. They often participate in the activity of liberating animals, or practice prostrations and the five extraordinary preliminaries. Many feel proud that they practice every day. However, if you look closely at the motivations, you will find that quite a few practice only for their own benefits in this life, such as health, longevity, or the removal of a life-threatening obstacle. Others hope for a favorable rebirth in the god or human realm just because they fear suffering in the three lower realms (the realms of hell, hungry ghosts and animals).
But any form of practice undertaken with these kinds of selfish motivation is considered, at best, a mundane practice.
Furthermore, we should not think of burning incense and doing prostration as being mundane, whereas listening to the teachings of Madhyamaka or the Great Perfection is supramundane. The distinction between the two is simply not about form.
Take the example of offering butter lamp to the Three Jewels. Given the same object of offering, act of offering and person who offers, the practice will be deemed mundane when renunciation is not generated and the purpose of the offering is to obtain worldly benefits like health, longevity, job promotion, wealth and so on, or a favorable rebirth. Conversely, offering lamp out of true renunciation and to seek liberation from samsara will be considered a supramundane practice. Therefore, the gauge for distinguishing the mundane from the supramundane is no other than whether one has renounced worldly pursuits or not.
The Great Perfection itself is deemed supramundane, but our motivation for practicing it or listening to its teachings could turn it into a mundane practice instead. If our motivation were to gain benefits in this or next life, the teaching of the Great Perfection would cease to be supramundane upon entering our mindstream; it would not even be a Mahayana practice. What would it be then? It would just be a mundane practice, or, a practice of mundane Great Perfection.
What kind of practice is animal liberation? That also depends on your motivation. Even if the motivation is for a rebirth in the god or human realm or to avoid rebirth in the three lower realms, rather than for health or longevity in this life, liberating animal is still just a mundane activity. To liberate animals for one’s own freedom from samsara is viewed as a supramundane Theravada practice. To do it out of bodhicitta, the wish to attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, is a supramundane Mahayana practice. To couple the Mahayana practice with some Vajrayana views essentially makes animal liberation a Vajrayana practice.
Therefore, we must carefully examine and ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of my years of participation in animal liberation? Did I do it mainly for my own benefit?” If the intention is to attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, then our action is undoubtedly a supramundane practice. If we liberate animals in the hope of attaining our own longevity, or a healthy human rebirth with long life, or a rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land for ourselves, the actual intended beneficiary is really just us while it may appear that animals are being helped by our action.
Other actions should be examined in this way as well. Is going to a Buddhist institute or other places to receive empowerment or Buddhist teachings a mundane or supramundane practice? As we just said, if it is for our own benefit or to avoid either physical or mental suffering in this or future life, it is a mundane practice. Why? This is because our action comes from a worldly motivation. To be more specific, all thoughts and actions will be deemed mundane if they are motivated as such.
What is a supramundane pracitce? Where do we draw the line between the mundane and the supramundane? Supramundane practices are encompassed in both Mahayana and Theravada traditions. Unbeknown to many, even practicing Theravada requires renunciation as a prerequisite. When virtuous actions are being executed out of genuine renunciation, they are deemed supramundane practices.
What does the word “renounce” mean? First, to renounce is to forsake all worldly concerns. In other words, to renounce is not to have any attachment to worldly things and, at the same time, to be fully aware of the suffering nature of samsara. Second, one must endeavor to seek liberation from all suffering.
To lead a “renounced” life as a monastic monk or nun connotes the same meaning as one must leave home behind to pursue ultimate liberation. Home, in this sense, represents the secular world. It is not
enogh a clear evidence that one has renounced all worldly attachment by just walking out of one’s home and putting on a monastic robe; one must also have developed a genuine sense of revulsion toward samsara.
For laypeople, cultivating renunciation also means not to be covetous of worldly things. Non-Buddhists cultivate renunciation as well. Many non-Buddhist monks or clergies do not wish to remain in samsara. They too seek liberation. However, lacking the right view, theirs are not considered true renunciation. What then is the right view?
It is a conviction of suffering being the nature of samsara to such a degree that one no longer harbors any desire for samsara and wholeheartedly seeks liberation from it. At the same time, one must also cultivate the transcendent wisdom that is implicit in the ultimate liberation. To seek liberation blindly without grasping the inherent wisdom will not bring forth a complete renunciation. The Four Noble Truths of the Theravada tradition is a part of this wisdom. And complete renunciation entails mastery of the Four Noble Truths.
Once having developed genuine renunciation, all the virtuous actions that one undertakes will be deemed supramundane. It is stated in the Abhidharma-kosha-shastra that one enters the path of Theravada after having successfully cultivated renunciation. Here, entering the path means taking the first step of learning the Theravada tradition. It shows just how vitally important renunciation is.
The four general preliminary practices of contemplating the precious- ness of human birth, impermanence of phenomena, suffering being the nature of samsara and infallible karma are greatly conducive to cultivating renunciation. But many so-called Buddhists are reluctant to practice the preliminaries, particularly these general preliminaries. Rather, they want to skip all of them and go straight to the practice of the Great Perfection, Mahamudra and other similarly profound teachings. Frankly, there is no need to make exception for Tibetan monks, but this tendency is much more common among lay Buddhists in China. The Great Perfection and Mahamudra are indeed supreme practices. What should be questioned is whether one has the requisite capacity, and if the mind has been properly tuned. One cannot hope to succeed in either of the practices if unable to give positive answers to these two questions.
What then are the methods we can use to train our minds? They are the four general preliminary practices, and their importance should not be treated lightly. Centuries ago, Venerable Atisha and many eminent practitioners in Tibet attained supreme accomplishments with nothing but contemplation of precious human birth and impermanence throughout their lives. They are our role models and we should do likewise. Those unwilling to practice the preliminaries yet hoping to stride far on first try will never be able to reach the final goal of liberation, just as if they were blocked from reaching the end of a journey by the numerous high mountain passes.
The following example should further illustrate this point. Once there was an accomplished master. A disciple went up to him for one more profound instruction before taking leave of the master. The master said, “I do not have any better teaching.” After offering all his possessions to his master, he pleaded again. The master, holding the disciple’s hand, said sincerely, “You will die. I will die, too. Do take some time to reflect on this. My master taught me this and it is what I have practiced. My master did not give me any other teaching, nor have I practiced any other. This is it, the best pith instruction that I know of. Now go and practice it diligently!”
It is really this simple. You will die, and I will die too. We all know this indisputable truth, yet we seem to keep forgetting it. It is thus advis- able for each of us to deeply contemplate this teaching, for nothing will come out of our practice otherwise.
Many people are convinced that what they practice must be of supra- mundane nature. How can it not be if they have been practicing the five extraordinary preliminaries? In fact, these five preliminaries are not only supramundane in nature but also part of the Mahayana practices. The key is, notwithstanding, having what kind of perspective when you sit down to practice these preliminaries. Though the possibility of practicing solely for the benefit of this life is slim, it is quite likely to undertake these practices to avoid rebirth in the hell realm. If the motivation is not to seek liberation for the sake of all sentient beings, the practice of the five preliminaries will be considered mundane, not supramundane. In that case, it won’t be so meaningful to practice the five preliminaries after all. We all know that chanting mantras repetitively and doing five- point prostrations require tremendous mental and physical efforts. If, in the end, the outcome of our practice is viewed as not being in accordance with the principles of Vajrayana, Mahayana, or Theravada tradition, but is categorized as being mundane instead, it will be a real pity.
Many of us had received empowerment from His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and are also fortunate enough to have learned many precious Buddhist teachings. These are not casual encounters. If we were to let them become just ordinary mundane affairs, they would lend no help to our quest for liberation. Even if we do manage to gain some benefits later on as a result of these encounters, which perhaps temporarily satisfy our worldly yearnings, liberation, on the other hand, will forever be lost. That would be regretful, wouldn’t you think? So keep in mind of the preciousness of this human birth. Don’t waste this life in neglect and ignorance, and miss the one chance for seeking freedom from samsara. In order to succeed, we must first begin by cultivating renunciation. Failing that, neither meditation nor mantra chanting can ever be deemed supramundane practice through which ultimate liberation can be attained. This is extremely important!
Renunciation is the prerequisite to bodhicitta. Without complete renunciation, genuine bodhicitta can never be aroused.
The difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism
What is the difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism? It is a matter of having bodhicitta or not.
What is bodhicitta? The answer is simple and known to everyone, at least in words: bodhicitta is the wish to attain Buddhahood so as to be able to liberate all sentient beings. But in practice, it is not so easy at all. Even some senior monks and people who claim to be yogis of Dzogchen or Vajrayana practitioners have yet developed genuine renunciation and bodhicitta.
When the Venerable Atisha was in Tibet, once during breakfast with some disciples, he blurted out, “Today, a practitioner of Hevajra1 Tantra in India achieved the samadhi of cessation of a sravaka.” (This is a concentration in which all gross sensations and thoughts have been totally extinguished. From a secular point of view, it means entering a completely thoughtless state and remaining in that state for a very long period of time.) The disciples asked, “How is it possible for a Hevajra practitioner to descend to a sravaka’s samadhi of cessation?” The master said, “Hevajra Tantra itself is a supreme Vajrayana practice. As he did not practice it for the sake of all sentient beings, it became a practice of the Lesser Vehicle, which led to his downfall.” This story tells us that it is the motivation or the purpose for taking up a practice that really determines whether such practice is Mahayana or Theravada, mundane or supramundane.
Let’s take liberating animals as an example. On the surface, it appears that we are benefiting other beings. But, in fact, the purpose of many people is that they themselves can avoid suffering or obtain benefit in this life. Can they achieve their goals this way? Yes, they can. However, to release animals from suffering with only selfish motives is not Mahayana practice because the actual beneficiary is no one else but oneself.
Many people are practicing the five extraordinary preliminaries diligently. If you ask them, “Why do you practice the five preliminaries?” “If I don’t, I won’t be allowed to begin the main practice of the Great Perfection.” or, “Without practicing these preliminaries, I cannot listen to the teachings of the Great Perfection.” These answers may sound reasonable at first glance. However, if you ask further, “What happens if you are barred from practicing the Great Perfection or listening to its teachings?” “Then it will be very hard for me to attain liberation.” Ask again, “What would happen if you were to attain liberation?” “I would have no more suffering, nor any defilement.”
If your motivation is as such, there can be no bodhicitta to speak of in your practice. In other words, where can we find bodhicitta, one of the five extraordinary preliminaries, that you are supposed to be practicing? I’m afraid your so-called bodhicitta practice may just be a matter of completing the required mantra recitations. Bodhicitta itself, on the other hand, has yet been aroused in your mindstream. You may think that your practice is to generate bodhicitta, but your aim is actually selfish. This can hardly be the way of a genuine practice of bodhicitta. And your practice of the five preliminaries also inadvertently becomes a Theravada practice as you have completely missed the point about bodhicitta.
Thus, we need to remain highly mindful and keep our conduct disciplined when undertaking any kind of practice. Often enough, upon closer examination, we may find that what appears to be altruistic actually only benefits ourselves. This is true in the case of the five preliminary practices as well as mantra chanting, animal liberation, prostration, etc. In short, if the purpose is to attain liberation just for oneself, no matter how sublime a practice is, it can only be deemed a Theravada practice. Conversely, if there is not one shred of selfish consideration, whatever one undertakes would all be deemed Mahayana practice, be it just reciting the Buddha’s name once or doing one prostration.
We have all learned many teachings and understood the perse aspects of the doctrine. If you were asked to give a teaching today, you probably could do a decent job as well. But very few practitioners today, either monks or laypeople, practice the teachings they received faithfully.
In theory, monastics should far exceed laypeople in their spiritual progress and attainments because they are supposed to have relatively (not absolutely) fewer defilements. This is due to the fact that they have abandoned most of the material and emotional attachments which often give rise to negative thoughts or induce troubling behavior, and thus are not easily bound and affected by various worldly matters. Even so, the spiritual practice of many monastics is still less than satisfactory.
People generally think that it is very difficult for laypeople to drop all worldly concerns in order to focus fully on spiritual practice. Consequently, for them to attain liberation is equally difficult. Yet, even in today’s world, there are still possibilities for people to succeed in their practice, to gain the ultimate wisdom and to be free from all suffering. The key lies in being able to cultivate a truly altruistic motivation and hold to the right view.
It is stated in The Words of My Perfect Teacher that mundane and supramundane practices are essentially contradictory to each other. For this reason, laypeople very rarely have the means or the will to drop all their worldly attachment to pursue a contemplative life. Nevertheless, if one could incorporate bodhicitta into one’s everyday activities, Mahayana practice would not seem so incompatible with the trivial and sometimes inconsequential affairs one has to deal with on a daily basis. Naturally, it would be great not to have to get oneself involved in these affairs, but unfortunately for most laypeople, it tends to be unavoidable. The good news is that although Shakyamuni Buddha did not set too stringent a rule for laypeople, it has not prevented more than a few lay practitioners from becoming accomplished masters in the past as well as in the present age.
Then, what should we do now? Despite the fact that we still need to go to work, it is altogether possible that we can cultivate compassion and renunciation at the same time. These endeavors are not contradictory since there are ways for us to turn ordinary activities, which normally are not altruistic, into actions that benefit other beings.
For example, is eating a meal counted as a good, evil, or neutral action? On the premise of not harming lives, eating itself is neither good nor evil. But as stated in the Abhidharma-kosha-shastra, if one wants to eat first in order to have the strength to kill, fight, or trick others afterwards, eating that meal is the same as committing evil. If the purpose of eating is to have energy to listen to a Dharma teaching, to liberate animals or to cultivate virtue, then this eating signifies a good action. Moreover, if these positive actions are invested with bodhicitta, eating can even become a Mahayana practice. On the other hand, when eating is without any specific purpose, not thinking of hurting or killing others, liberating or saving animals, it is neither good nor evil; it is, in Buddhist terminology, moral neutrality.
Take another example of working and making money. Why to make money? If it is for purposes related to spiritual practice, working can be viewed as a kind of supramundane practice. If the money is intended for ill purpose, even before any real action has taken place, evil karma will start being accumulated every day one goes to work. When working is simply a means for living, it results in neither good nor evil karma. So, action may be the same, but karma may not. And the determining factor is nothing but one’s motivation.
If willing, it is actually not so difficult to do good deeds, however one chooses to do it. On the other hand, unwilling to practice what has been learned, one can listen to the most profound teaching, such as the Great Perfection, all day long and still gains nothing from it. Nor is it so meaningful for the teaching to take place under this circumstance. No doubt listening to Dharma teachings is definitely helpful in terms of intellectual understanding of the Buddhist doctrines. Without this understanding, we will not know how to practice. But what good does it do if we do not put the doctrines into action? At best, we may just gather the merit of hearing the Dharma, but not much else. Neither can we hope for any progress in meditative realization. If we continue this way year after year, seemingly learning but never truly understanding the real meaning of the Dharma, we will surely be left empty-handed, with no guidance to rely on, when the time comes for us to leave this world. However, for someone who is willing and capable, even just eating a meal can be a cause of liberation. And the same reasoning applies to all other Dharma practices. So, be sure to have bodhicitta, the altruistic motivation, in whatever you do.
What then is the most important thing to do now? It is to reform our mind, i.e., to adopt a different mindset. For this, we should begin by giving up two things. First, we need to stop the hankering for things of this world, in other words, the attachment to samsara and the yearning for human or celestial rebirths in all future lives. Why? For if we don’t, no matter what practices we take up, they will all be deemed mundane which inevitably will turn out to be a huge obstacle to our progress on the spiritual path. So we must.
Realistically speaking, most of us still need to partake in everyday activities in order to survive. Although we may be unable to stop completely at the moment, it will not be a real hindrance to us so long as we consider this just a temporary expedient. Once the determination to gradually approach the path to liberation starts to germinate in our minds, we can reasonably presume that this is the sign of having developed renunciation. By then, the first requirement—to forsake attachment to samsara—is basically satisfied.
As the saying goes, “It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep.” We are after all ordinary people, unable to just give up our insatiable worldly desires overnight. But as mentioned above, it does not matter what we practice, Mahayana or Theravada, as long as the aim is to attain ultimate liberation, genuine renunciation will gradually arise over time.
The second thing to abandon is the habit of looking out for self- interest only. Fail to stop this and continue to do everything with only self-benefit in mind, we will forever be barred from the realm of Mahayana and remain an outsider regardless of how our actions are classified, mundane or supramundane. Although we may think of ourselves as Mahayana or Vajrayana practitioners, we in fact have not even set foot on the right track of Mahayana practice, much less that of Vajrayana, if the motivation stays selfish. For this reason, selfishness must be forsaken.
No doubt this is something of great difficulty to do, as we have been drifting endlessly in samsara from beginingless time, all along holding close to our hearts the necessity of benefiting ourselves above all others.
Understandably, we cannot hope to discard an old habit like we do an old shirt. But if one wants to practice Mahayana, one must overcome this inherent tendency in spite of the apparent difficulty. Otherwise, one can only be a Theravada practitioner, lacking the requisite capacity to practice Vajrayana or even Mahayana. This is an extremely important point to remember!
The preliminary practices have always been the foundation of all practices. Often when hearing the word “foundation,” people tend to think that it means not very advanced and thus not especially important. That is a misunderstanding. As the saying goes, “What can the hair adhere to without the skin?” With respect to the Dharma, the so-called foundational practice is really the root of all practices and hence the most profound.
Nowadays in Tibet and China, many practitioners, including some monastics, only want to practice the five extraordinary preliminaries once and no more. The fact is that there is never a stop to these preliminary practices for all the Dharma practitioners. These preliminaries were never intended for being practiced just once or twice. As far as the practice is concerned, many practitioners simply emphasize the completion of mantra recitations and not the quality of their practice. However, even if the quality has met the prescribed standards, it still gives no reason to stop. These practices may be described as being preliminary rather than the main practice, but they in fact constitute the main body of all the practices. Therefore, one really needs to work hard on these preliminaries if the aim is to be free from samsara; if not, then it is a totally different matter.
Actually, many people have been making the same mistake. That is, all the efforts that they have put into the preliminary practice only go to fulfill the requirement of certain amount of mantra recitations, missing the essential points of the teachings instead. To handle the practice this way is a foolish waste. The saving measure is to carefully examine the motivation for whatever we do, be it undertaking to practice the supreme Vajrayana, the foundational five preliminaries, or just doing daily activities.
Today, many supposedly reincarnated lamas are traveling frequently to the Han Chinese region. Over the years, they have made empowerment the most popular ritual there. Whenever an empowerment is to be given by one of these lamas, people all flock to attend, however far it may be. Some believe that they can immediately attain Buddhahood after receiving an empowerment; others, thinking they have gained a special status after receiving empowerment, become self-important. It is true that empowerment is very special and powerful. But what happens upon receiving empowerment? Most of the time, it just turns into something mundane (due to the factors mentioned above). This is the case with some Tibetans, but the situation is much worse with the Han Chinese. Many Dharma practices by themselves are really wonderful. To see them being practiced as tools for worldly gains is truly distressing. For most of us, there is already not enough time to practice, and other merit lacking as well. If, in the end, what little practice that we manage to do become just mundane undertaking, it will be most regrettable.
Now I’d like to caution you not to treat what I have said as mere knowledge. I am not introducing some Buddhist ideologies to you but rather the main points of Buddhist practice, i.e., the meaning and the methods of spiritual practice. Nor am I teaching you what renunciation or bodhicitta is, as you all have had the teachings on the related subjects often enough. But are you successful in meeting the requirements set out in each of the practice? I am afraid only very few have succeeded. If you cannot forsake worldly attachment and selfishness, a monastic robe, a title of Rinpoche, Khenpo or lay practitioner are no more than just labels and therefore not very meaningful. For the same token, having a rosary draped around your chest is equally useless if not accompanied by an altruistic aspiration. However, as long as one is armed with the correct knowledge of the Dharma and grounded in the right view, it really does not matter anymore whether you are a layperson or a monk.
As I said earlier, something as simple as eating a meal can also be a kind of Mahayana practice, purely depending on your motivation. If that is the case, it is all the more so for other Dharma practices. Clearly, we should always be mindful of our practice as being mundane or supramundane, Mahayana or Theravada practice. Only when the right mindfulness is maintained at all times can we properly assume the role of a monastic or a lay practitioner. Absent such mindfulness, contemplative practice will just be a meaningless exercise.
Naturally, if we were to abide by all the requirements of Buddhist teachings, no one, including myself, could comply one hundred percent. Yet, we should still try our very best, as the endeavors will invariably benefit us in the end.
We may often think to ourselves: I am not really willing to generate bodhicitta, as I am only interested in my own benefit. But I will force myself to do it. Because if I don’t, whatever I do will not be considered practicing Mahayana. This is called “contrived” bodhicitta.
How to differentiate between something contrived and uncontrived? For example, when you are very thirsty, you want to drink water. Drinking, in this case, is uncontrived. When you do not feel like drinking water, but drink it anyhow for reasons other than your own wish. This drinking is contrived.
If in this life we only have contrived, not genuine, bodhicitta, just as the Venerable Atisha said, “Those who have aroused contrived bodhicitta in this life will become great bodhisattvas in the next life and be able to deliver as many sentient beings from samsara as there are in Jambudvipa.2 " Why is that? That is due to the fact that simply arousing bodhicitta is already a supreme Dharma practice. Based on infallible karma, it is only logical for those people to attain equally supreme result in their next lives.
It is a common phenomenon nowadays to see people keep putting off practicing the Dharma and just idling the days away, as if they are sure of a second chance to be born a human again or to listen to Mahayana teachings and encounter Mahayana teachers once more. But there is no guarantee of that second chance ever coming through. Now in this life, we, the fortunate few, have met basically all the necessary conditions required for the journey to enlightenment. We ought to treasure this truly rare opportunity and immediately set about the task of practicing the Dharma.
When practicing, we should not simply adhere to the formality. Rather, the emphasis should be placed on inner transformation. This is important to note for both the monastic and the lay practitioners. If we manage our practice this way, even without engaging in very profound practice such as the Great Perfection or Mahamudra, we can, at the very least, safely put our practice down as being supramundane and a Mahayana practice. To be able to go this far with our practice is already quite an achievement, in my opinion.
Many of you have practiced the five preliminaries. Can you now forsake worldly attachment and selfishness that we discussed earlier? Just keep in mind that there are actually many levels to the process of forsaking them. It is usually considered good enough if you can more or less let go of some. One way to gauge how you have done is to check your intention. For example, before taking up these practices, you were primarily concerned with your own interest. Now that the altruistic motivation has since strengthened, it serves to prove that you have been positively influenced by the practice. Otherwise, when no change takes place either in your thoughts or actions, how can anyone tell if practicing these preliminaries makes any difference?
According to some highly respected Tibetan masters, when practicing diligently, superior practitioners can progress every day, average practitioners every month and the least capable every year. It is understandable if lay people do not make substantial progress because their attention must still be directed to the various daily chores. But monastic practitioners like us whose main concern is solely Dharma- related ought to feel ashamed if we fail to accomplish much more in spiritual practice.
Finally, the point to remember is that altruistic motivation will naturally arise over time when practice is conducted properly and consistently. That is to say, our practice should follow the course of first establishing the right view, then learning to gradually forsake attachment and selfishness, and lastly endeavoring to arouse genuine bodhicitta. Taking these three steps is the minimum required of a true Mahayana Buddhist.
1. One of the main yidams in Vajrayana Buddhism
2. the south of the four continents around Sumeru