Path of Transformation» Compassion Training

Bodhicitta Workshop, Session Two


Khenpo Gyaltsen led a two-part workshop in Thailand that was open to Zoom participants. In this video, he covers many topics related to applying bodhicitta in daily life.

In Part Two of the workshop, Khenpo begins by answering a few questions from the previous session. First, he responds to a question about dealing with a difficult or unreasonable person who causes harm and disturbance. He suggests first trying to gently remove a person, but we must have the understanding that this situation is a ripening of past karma. It is important to practice patience in such situations, especially if we cannot remove the person skilfully. It is most important that we do not become angry in the face of difficult people. We many need to remove ourselves from such a situation. Getting angry or reacting negatively is the most important thing to avoid.

The second question is how to wish joy to those who derive pleasure from harmful deeds such as stealing, raping, or killing. Khenpo says that the joy or happiness that we are rejoicing in is happiness that comes from virtue. We aspire that others have the joy of virtue or neutral joy that comes from being comfortable. We are not rejoicing in negative deeds as that is a non-virtuous activity.

Another question asks how we apply the ultimate view when thinking of sentient beings as not truly existent. In the previous session, Khenpo talked about practicing the four immeasurable with and without focus. When we practice with a reference point we consider ourselves as the one contemplating and sentient beings are the object. There is a clinging to the subject, object, and action as being truly existent. But if we can embrace the practice with the view of emptiness, there is no clinging. Khenpo also spoke about practicing without any reference point. When we can do this, we are free of the three spheres of reference point. We do not ascribe true existence to the subject, object, or action.

Another question was raised about preventive vaccinations such as flu shots or COVID-19 vaccines. The questioner asked if such things potentially cause harm to sentient beings. Khenpo reminds us that in the Mahayana, actions are judged according to intention or motivation. If the motivation is to be of benefit to beings, then the act of medical intervention is virtuous. Doctors may harm someone in practicing surgery, for example, but if their motivation is to reduce suffering then whatever pain may be caused is not non-virtue. Khenpo speaks about the difference between pure and impure motivation and how that affects merit and karma.

Motivation is important in every aspect of our activities. Khenpo gives the example of making offerings or giving in general. We must examine our motivation when we make an offering. Are we making an offering to the three jewels or a monastery or to a beggar to receive praise or recognition? If we have this underlying motivation, then no matter how large the offering, it is not purely virtuous.

In the second half of the video, Khenpo discusses the meaning of being free from the three spheres of conceptuality. We talk about embracing the mindsets of the four immeasurables as being free from reference points.

The three spheres are the:

  1. Subject (the one generating the mindset)
  2. Object (the focus of the mindset)
  3. Action or concept

Sometimes people worry that if they see the objects of compassion as not truly established it will be hard to give rise to compassion. But this is not what happens. Our compassion can grow in strength if we realize that the object of our compassion is dreamlike or illusory. Why is that? Method and wisdom are a unity. When the wisdom aspect grows in strength, the method, or compassion, also grows stronger. If we gain the recognition of the dreamlike nature of all things, we give rise to compassion for all others who don’t recognize that. We see directly how clinging to things as truly existent causes suffering. Khenpo gives the example of a leper scratching skin to obtain temporary relief that will eventually cause more pain and suffering. From the outside, we can see how difficult this is, and our compassion naturally arises.

Embracing our practice with the view of emptiness varies between the Hinayana and Mahayana perspectives. In the Hinayana, there is an emphasis on the emptiness of a personal self. In the Mahayana, there is an additional view of the emptiness of phenomena. It is important to understand this difference in profundity and vastness of the scope. All of us need to respect the view of the Hinayana which is based on the words of the Buddha.

Within the Mahayana, we speak of the freedom from the extremes. We can list these conceptual extremes or elaborations in different enumerations. Here, Khenpo focuses on freedom from the two extremes. The Hinayana followers recognize the emptiness of the personal self. They say that the five aggregates are empty of the self of the person. This is indeed the nature of things. However, it does not go beyond the absence of mere existence. There is still a slight clinging to the absence of a personal self. This also is non-existent. Within the Mahayana, the investigation penetrates further so that one realizes the absence of non-existence itself.

The difference comes down to the profundity of the view. Because the view is different, the practice and pathway also is different. And the result itself is different. In the Hinayana, the practitioner attains the nirvana of peace and becomes an arhat. In the Mahayana, the view of emptiness brings the fruition of full and complete enlightenment or Buddhahood.

In the Heart Sutra of the Mahayana, we hear that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In the sutra, it mentions the emptiness of emptiness. Every phenomenon is empty of itself. All appearances are empty of themselves, while the emptiness itself is also empty. This is an example of the profound teachings that are free from all conceptual elaborations.


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