An oral discourse on the dharma given by His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III Wan Ko Yeshe Norbu Holiest Tathagata to rinpoches and other disciples:
WHAT IS CULTIVATION?
Today you, who are a rinpoche, respectfully requested a discourse on the dharma relating to the question “What is cultivation?” This is a very fundamental lesson; indeed, the first lesson. Nonetheless, this is an important matter that many cultivators, including those who have practiced cultivation over many years, do not understand and are confused about. It is difficult to incarnate as a human being. It is even more difficult to incarnate as a human being with the opportunity to encounter the true Buddha-dharma. Thus, today I will enlighten everyone on dharma relating to the question “What is cultivation?”
The essence of learning Buddhism lies with carrying out what we learn in our cultivation. We use good and bad causes and conditions as objects of cognition. Therefore, we must first understand what cultivation is. Cultivation is cultivating the increase of good karma and cultivating the avoidance of bad karma. It is increasing good karmic conditions, planting good causes, and reaping good effects. It is avoiding the increase of bad karmic conditions, not planting bad causes, and avoiding the reaping of bad effects. But the term cultivation has a rather broad meaning. We must first understand what cultivation is.
There must be that upon which the cultivator can rely. Without that which can be relied upon, your cultivation can easily become erroneous, non-Buddhist cultivation. For example, the cultivation of demonism entails cultivating the behavior of demons. The cultivation of Buddhism entails cultivating the behavior of Buddhas. Therefore, there must be that upon which the cultivator can rely. There must be models that the cultivator can reflect and rely upon.
All other religions espouse eliminating evil, promoting good, restraining selfishness, and benefiting others. The cultivator cannot rely upon this alone, for this is cultivation without understanding the purpose of Buddhism. This alone is not the practice of true Buddhism. Thus, in our cultivation, that which we rely upon is the Buddha. The perfect enlightenment of the Buddha is the model for our cultivation. We use our three karmas of bodily actions, speech, and thoughts to emulate everything about the Buddha. We thereby keep ourselves far away from all impure karma based on delusion and all evil conduct. We thereby constantly stay far away from that which is evil or bad. By not being involved with that which is evil or bad, our three karmas do not increase bad causes. Rather, we must carry out all good karma. Even one kind thought is something we should increase and never decrease. We should increase our good karmic affinity, good causes, and good karma every day. Simply put, we must always avoid that which is evil or bad and accumulate that which is good.
Why can it be said that we must stay far away from evil or bad karma but it cannot be said that we must eliminate evil or bad karma? Within the truth of Buddhism, there is the doctrine that the law of cause and effect can never be denied. Cause and effect cannot be eliminated. To say that it can is to take a nihilistic point of view. Hence, we can only build a wall of good karma, which is like building a retaining wall. This wall of good karma has the effect of blocking us from our evil karma.
Thus, only through learning from the Buddha, cultivating the conduct of the Buddha, and ultimately becoming a Buddha can we thoroughly liberate ourselves from the karma (cause and effect) that binds us to the cycle of reincarnation. Cause and effect still exists when one becomes a Buddha. However, cause and effect can not affect a Buddha. For example, the Buddha saw mountains of swords and seas of fire in the hell realm. The mountains of swords and seas of fire continued to exist as extremely painful means by which living beings undergo karmic retribution. When the Buddha suddenly jumped into the mountains of swords and seas of fire in order to undergo suffering on behalf of other living beings, the mountains and seas immediately transformed into a lotus pond of nectar. They transformed into a wonderful state. With respect to a Buddha, all bad or evil karmic conditions turn into the manifestation of good karma. Not only is there no suffering, there is instead a manifestation of great happiness.
Cultivation is to leave the cycle of reincarnation, liberate yourself from all suffering, become a holy being, and persevere until you become a Buddha. To leave the cycle of reincarnation, we must establish a mind of renunciation (a mind determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation), a mind of firm belief, a mind with immovable vows, a mind of diligence, and mahayana bodhicitta. All real states emanating from these minds rely upon and are based upon right view. Without right view, all states of mind will be inverted and confused. In other words, you will not experience any beneficial effects from cultivation that lacks right view.
For example, if you want to practice bodhicitta first, you will not be successful. It will result in an empty and illusory bodhicitta, a deluded and false state of mind. That is because bodhicitta must be based upon a mind of renunciation. That is, you must have a mind that is truly determined to attain liberation, to attain accomplishment in the dharma, and leave all of the sufferings of reincarnation. You must deeply understand that the cycle of reincarnation is indescribably painful. Not only are you yourself suffering, but all living beings in the six realms of reincarnation, each of whom we regard as our father or mother, are likewise suffering in the painful state of impermanence. Only if you want to extricate yourself from suffering do you truly cultivate yourself. Only then do you engage in Bodhisattva conduct that benefits yourself and others. Only then can bodhicitta arise.
However, it would be a mistake if you begin by cultivating a mind of renunciation. That would not accord with the proper order of cultivation. That would result in a non-substantive, theoretical type of desire to leave reincarnation and a self-deluded and self-confused state of mind. In such case, you would not be able to establish the true state of mind that is determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation.
Thus, if you want to have this true state of mind that is determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation, you must first understand impermanence. The second step is to have a mind of firm belief. You must firmly believe in the sufferings of reincarnation, which has as its source impermanence. Only with such a mind of firm belief will you fear the sufferings caused by impermanence and successfully attain a state of mind that truly fears impermanence. Having attained a state of mind that truly fears impermanence, your state of mind that is determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation will grow stronger day by day. Naturally, your state of mind that is determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation will enter a real state that truly fears impermanence. If living beings do not understand that all conditional dharmas in the universe are impermanent, if they do not understand the sufferings connected with reincarnation and impermanence, then they cannot establish a firm mind that gives rise to thoughts of leaving the cycle of reincarnation. If you have never thought about leaving the cycle of reincarnation, you will not cultivate at all, and you will not want to learn Buddhism. Those who do not learn Buddhism have no desire to leave the cycle of reincarnation. How could one who does not learn Buddhism have a mind determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation? Thus, you cannot first cultivate a mind determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation. As for the first step, you will not enter Buddhism without having a mind of impermanence. (Truly giving rise to feelings of fear of impermanence and truly giving rise to a state that fears impermanence.) Even if you become Buddhist, you will not be able to attain a deep level of correct cultivation.
To understand what cultivation is, you must understand the eight fundamental right views relating to learning Buddhism and cultivation.
The first one is a mind of impermanence. The second is a mind with firm belief. The third is a mind of renunciation (a mind determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation). The fourth is a mind with true vows. The fifth is a mind of diligence. The sixth is the precepts. The seventh is dhyana and samadhi. The eighth is bodhicitta. Recognizing these eight dharmas and carrying them out with right views is correct practice of Buddha-dharma. These eight fundamental right views, which are indispensable for cultivators, must not be taken out of order. All the fruits resulting from a mind of impermanence are causes of cultivation. All of the fruits resulting from a mind with firm belief are causes of steadfastness that does not change. All of the fruits resulting from a mind of renunciation are causes of liberation. All of the fruits resulting from a mind with true vows are causes of action. All of the fruits resulting from a mind of diligence are causes of persistent advancement. All of the fruits resulting from the precepts are causes of correct direction of cultivation. All of the fruits resulting from dhyana and samadhi are causes of wisdom. All of the fruits resulting from bodhicitta are causes leading to becoming a Bodhisattva.
These eight fundamental right views are the foundation of cultivation, liberation, and accomplishment in the dharma. If the root is not right, cultivation will not be established. Therefore, cultivation cannot be disorderly. Thus, practicing the eight fundamentals of cultivation must be guided by right views. That is, guided by right understanding and right view, you correctly develop your cultivation by going through these eight fundamentals in their proper order. That is cultivation. In your cultivation, you must constantly put into practice bodhicitta. That is because bodhicitta is the foundation for becoming a Bodhisattva.
According to the Buddha’s exposition of the dharma, the true meaning of bodhicitta is that it is the cause that will inevitably lead to becoming a Bodhisattva. Whoever walks the path of bodhi will ultimately reap the fruit of bodhi. The broad meaning of bodhicitta includes all of the mahayana dharma having to do with saving living beings out of great compassion and the causes leading to attaining the stages of enlightenment of a Bodhisattva.
However, because of the insufficient good fortune of living beings, some of the originally complete meaning of the Buddha-dharma has been lost as it was handed down from generation to generation. Especially in this current Dharma-Ending Age in which the karma of living beings in the three spheres (worlds) of the universe is like a sea of surging waves, it is as difficult for living beings to encounter the true Buddha-dharma as it is for a blind turtle swimming in the ocean to stick its neck through a tiny knothole in a floating and bobbing board. Thus, it is now extremely difficult to obtain the perfect Buddha-dharma. As a result, the meaning of bodhi has shrunk. It has gradually shrunk from its broad meaning to the narrow meaning of bodhicitta dharma.
There are two types of bodhicitta. There is bodhicitta in the holy sense and bodhicitta in the worldly sense. Bodhicitta in the worldly sense can be roughly divided into “vow bodhicitta” and “action bodhicitta.” The practice of vow and action bodhicitta includes a myriad of dharma methods, such as those relating to sentient beings, non-sentient things, the four great elements, one’s own six elements, as well as breathing, the ear base, the eye base and other bases, inner and outer mandalas, and ritualistic chanting. Whether it is bodhicitta in the worldly sense or the holy sense, if you are guided by the two sets of seven branches of bodhicitta, that is the highest, most excellent, and most complete form of bodhicitta.
Each living being in the six realms of reincarnation within the three spheres of existence has the right to cultivate bodhicitta. However, most living beings do not have the karmic affinity. Thus, they practice a fragmented and shrunken version of bodhicitta dharma. As a result, they frequently harbor the misconceptions that only those with an enlightened mind can practice bodhicitta or bodhicitta is the dharmakaya state of enlightenment. Of course, we do not deny these are existing parts of bodhicitta. However, these conceptions omit the practice of bodhicitta dharma by those living beings who do not have an enlightened mind. More importantly, bodhicitta is not dependant upon an enlightened mind or an unenlightened mind. Bodhicitta is the power of vows made out of great compassion by those living beings who learn Buddhism in any of the six realms of reincarnation within the three spheres of the universe as well as the power of vows made out of great compassion by all holy beings in the dharma realm. Bodhicitta is actual conduct based upon great compassion that aids living beings in becoming Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. It is the mind of love in the holy sense that the enlightened and the unenlightened or the holy and the ordinary both have.
With respect to bodhicitta, those who are enlightened use their enlightened state of virtue and realization, correct practices, and propagation of the true dharma to teach and enlighten living beings so that those living beings will become Buddhas. With respect to bodhicitta, those who are not yet enlightened vow out of great compassion that living beings and themselves shall together attain accomplishment in the dharma and liberation. They help other people enter the path of the true dharma of the Buddha, vowing that they will become Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. To such persons, bodhicitta dharma is the virtue of aiding others to become accomplished in the dharma. Because they benefit others, they receive merit. They thereby increase the causes leading to their becoming Bodhisattvas.
The manifestation of bodhicitta is expressed through actual practice involving the three karmas, which practice reflects great compassion. Any true cultivator, no matter whether he or she is ordinary or holy, has the right to arouse bodhicitta and should arouse bodhicitta. That is because bodhicitta is not an enlightened mind possessed only by holy people. Rather, it is conduct based upon great compassion. It is the planting of causes based upon a vow that oneself and others become enlightened. Bodhicitta does not only include the ten good characteristics, the four limitless states of mind (the four immeasurables), the six paramitas (perfections), and the four all-embracing Bodhisattva virtues (four methods that Bodhisattvas employ to approach and save living beings). Rather, it includes the entireTripitaka, the esoteric scriptures, and all dharma transmitted orally, through the ears, or telepathically that engenders conduct that is greatly compassionate, is in accord with the dharma, and benefits and saves living beings.
Thus, the bodhicitta is ultimate truth in a broad sense. With respect to the Buddha, bodhicitta is the three bodies, the perfect wisdom of Buddha that is summarized in four truths, and the mind of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. With respect to a Bodhisattva, bodhicitta is propagating the dharma and benefiting and saving living beings out of great compassion. With respect to an enlightened being, bodhicitta is not being attached to the characteristics or distinctive features of things and not engaging in intellectual frivolity or conceptual elaborations. This is his or her original nature. The true emptiness of original nature is wonderful existence. It is the ultimate truth of all conditional dharmas. This truth neither arises nor ceases. With respect to an ordinary person, bodhicitta is compassionately helping other people and vowing that they learn Buddhism and attain liberation.
You must first have the perspective of impermanence before you can arouse bodhicitta. You must understand the impermanence and suffering relating to yourself and other living beings revolving in the cycle of reincarnation and thereby generate a perspective of awareness, a mind of impermanence. You will then vow to leave the cycle of reincarnation. As a result, you will then establish a mind that is determined to leave the cycle of reincarnation. You will say, “I resolve to leave.” You also want all living beings in the six realms, who are like your father or mother, to leave. You understand that the cycle of reincarnation is like a bitter sea, is difficult to endure, and is extremely painful. Because of this resolute perspective, you will generate a strong and pressing fear. You will constantly seek to be liberated at this very moment. But you understand that only by having the conduct of a Bodhisattva can you quickly attain liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. You thus vow to become a Bodhisattva. You seek to quickly enlighten yourself and others. Naturally, you then generate a mind of great compassion. As a result, the seeds of enlightenment are disseminated. The arousal of bodhicitta is based upon a mind of great compassion. Thus the Buddha said, “The water of great compassion irrigates the seeds of bodhi. As a result, the bodhi trees will have lush foliage and the fruits will be plentiful.” Hence, bodhicitta will naturally be established. Bodhicitta is the cause leading to becoming a mahayana Bodhisattva. You will attain pure and correct views and understanding of cultivation. Based upon these right views, you should deeply enter the emptiness bhuta-tathata (true suchness) and the practice of the state of emptiness. At this time, you transform worldy bodhicitta into a state in which you realize that “the three entities are inherently empty.” That is you transform everything in existence into bodhicitta in a holy sense. With bodhicitta, you cultivate the conduct of bodhi and enter the stage of a Bodhisattva.
Cultivation of bodhicitta requires implementation. Cultivation of bodhicitta is not a matter of just ritualistic chanting, making empty vows, or engaging in visualization. In the cultivation of bodhicitta, the most important aspect is deeply pondering the following concerning yourself: “My body is impermanent, is changing every nanosecond, and is moving toward decline, old age, and death. I compare why my face has aged over a ten-year period, over a forty-year period, or over a seventy-year period. The degree of agedness of my skin has changed. I will soon enter old age, sickness, and death and continue revolving in the cycle of reincarnation, where I will experience suffering. I also contemplate that joyfully innocent, newborn, fresh, and lively look I had when I was a small child. I contemplate how I no longer have that childlike appearance. My face and skin have aged. My energy has declined. I often fall ill. That quality of youth is gone. The power of impermanence will end my life. My relatives and old friends will all die one after another. Like a dream, it will soon be all over. My mind generates great fear. With a resolute mind, I act in accord with the precepts, practice in accord with the dharma, and enter bodhicitta by practicing the two sets of seven branch bodhicitta dharma: the Dharma of Great Compassion for All Living Beings as My Mother Bodhicitta and the Dharma of Bodhisattva Correspondence Bodhicitta.”
When practicing the Great Compassion for My Mother Bodhicitta, you arouse great compassion and cultivate the following: understanding who my mother is, bearing in mind kindness, repaying kindness, loving-kindness, compassion, renouncing greed, and eliminating attachment. When practicing this cultivation, everyone should carry out the following for themselves:
Understanding who my mother is: I deeply understand that all living beings in the six realms of reincarnation within the three spheres of the universe have been since beginning-less time my fathers and mothers in the revolving cycle of reincarnation.
Bearing in mind kindness: I should deeply bear in mind that all of my parents (i.e. all living beings) that now exist in the cycle of reincarnation have since beginning-less time given birth to me, reared me, loved me, and became tired and ill for me. Their kindness to me is as heavy as a mountain. I should bear in mind their kindness. I will then regard the sufferings of my parents (i.e. all living beings) as my own suffering.
Repaying kindness: I understand that my parents (i.e. all living beings) have offered me everything. They are now revolving and wandering in the six realms of reincarnation experiencing endless suffering. I resolve to take action to enlighten myself and others, to save and liberate my parents (i.e. all living beings) in order to repay their kindness to me.
Loving-kindness: At all times, through the actions of my three karmas, I am loving and kind toward all living beings, who have been my parents. I wish them a long life without illness, good fortune, good luck, and a happy life.
Compassion: Day and night, I constantly beseech all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to empower all of my parents (i.e. all living beings) so that they may extricate themselves from all forms of suffering, encounter and practice the Buddha-dharma, and liberate themselves from the sufferings of cyclic existence.
Renouncing greed: I hold no attachment in my mind to anything that I do to benefit any living beings, who have been my parents. I cultivate non-attachment to all of my good actions of body, speech, and mind. Thus, my good actions become natural and spontaneous, as my original nature is good. I do not do good purposefully. I do good and then forget about it.
Eliminating attachment: In my practice, as I cultivate all forms of goodness and benefit my parents (i.e. all living beings), I should not become attached to any dharma. I should eliminate all attachment to self. Realizing a state of emptiness, I am aware and I experience wonderful happiness that comes from samadhi. While practicing the dharma, I am not attached to the dharma. I do not intentionally get rid of deluded thoughts. I do not intentionally seek the truth. Not coming and not going, blissful, clear, and without thought, I am as calm as tranquil water. Everything, including myself, is inherently empty.
The supporting conditions for putting bodhicitta into practice must be based upon right view. We contribute to living beings in their performance of good deeds, but we do not contribute or help living beings in their performance of bad deeds. We rectify their behavior so that they perform good deeds. Thus, we do all good deeds that benefit living beings. We plant all good causes that lead to benefiting living beings. In that way, we carry out the seven branches of the Dharma of Bodhisattva Correspondence Bodhicitta. We help living beings in their performing good deeds and help increase their good causes. We help living beings reduce their accumulation of bad karma and help them stay far away from bad causes. The seven branches of the Dharma of Bodhisattva Correspondence Bodhicitta are as follows. The first branch is “self and others are equal” bodhicitta. The second branch is “exchange between self and others” bodhicitta. The third branch is “benefit others before self” bodhicitta. The fourth branch is “dedicating merit” bodhicitta. The fifth branch is “fearlessly protect the dharma” bodhicitta. The sixth branch is “effectively lead others to correct practice” bodhicitta. The seventh branch is “renouncing myself to help others build good karma” bodhicitta. When practicing this cultivation, everyone should carry out the following themselves:
Self and others are equal bodhicitta: When there is a conflict of interest between myself and others, I will rid myself of hatred, antipathy, greed, and arrogant, disparaging mentality. I must not emphasize benefiting myself. I should treat myself and others equally.
Exchange between self and others bodhicitta: I want to bear the sufferings of all living beings. I give to others all of my happiness and good luck so that they may leave suffering and obtain happiness.
Benefit others before self bodhicitta: When other living beings and I are suffering, I want others to extricate themselves from suffering before I do. When other living beings and I are happy, I want others to be happier than I am.
Dedicating merit bodhicitta: I dedicate to all living beings all of the merit and accomplishments from my cultivation in the hope that they will leave suffering and attain liberation.
Fearlessly protect the dharma bodhicitta: When any evil spirits or demons harm the Buddha-dharma, lead living beings to break the precepts, and harm living beings resulting in the suffering of living beings, I will maintain right view, will not fear the evil powers of those demons, and will step forward to protect the Buddha-dharma and the wisdom whereby living beings will become liberated.
Effectively lead others to correct practice bodhicitta: Because living beings