Vision and Mission: Buddhahood, Part 1
Vision and mission are terms we know well from our business and life planning. But when we begin to meditate, we also benefit from having a vision. What are the reasons we attend Dharma talks or practice meditation? Having a vision of buddhahood is a very skillful way to approach practice. Understanding our mission for practice makes a difference as to whether we succeed or get stuck along the practice path. Here, in a video teaching from a talk in Malaysia in July 2017, Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche gives personal advice on having a vision.
This teaching is in English and features Chinese translation.
First, when we learn meditation, such as mindfulness—it needs to be beneficial. If it doesn’t bring me benefit, then why would I want to practice? So, we need to learn the steps and the stages of mindfulness. These steps are not made for the teacher’s benefit. However, the steps are necessary for practitioners themselves.
When we begin to learn meditation, some people think learning how to sit correctly is the most crucial point. And of course, posture does help. But Rinpoche points out that meditation is a whole way of behaving, thinking, and being. All of that relatess to meditation. When we hear the term meditation, it helps to have all these aspects in mind—meditation as a total package.
In this talk, Rinpoche discusses different aspects of the “mind.” He specifies three categories
- Basic mind
- Habit mind
- Influenced mind
This is how Rinpoche says he looks at the mind. When we learn meditation, we shouldn’t just take notes on the teachings, nod, and smile. Nor do we benefit much from listening and then not attempting to put instructions into practice. Instead, we give it a try—we actually apply these instructions to ourselves. Also, when we investigate, it is our own minds that we analyze—it’s not something outside or on a teacher’s list. Start by thinking, ok—what’s my basic mind?
Basic mind means the mind that is neither super angry nor super happy. Normally, our mind is neither too up nor down, right? Basic mind is the mind that is just going through the day and observing what is going on. It is the mind that you have in a neutral situation. We describe basic mind as the mind we have in most situations, such as now, listening to a teaching.
Again, we need to review how we learn. We learn by doing and by being aware of our minds. Secondly, we learn by actually meditating. We pretty easily see how our mind jumps around without control. In this process, we can see that our basic mind is fairly neutral.
As we turn our attention to observe our habit mind, we see more fluctuation. And here, we observe what habits disturb our own minds, but also which of our own habits disturb others. Habits come in so many varieties, but here Rinpoche discusses a habit most of us share. All of us, regardless of age, experience, life situation—all of us feel somehow unfulfilled. We tend to think there is always something just not quite perfect—there is something missing. Although we practice, or we meditate—still—something is missing. We are planning, but we are not able to achieve everything we wish. There’s always the sense of a glass being half-full.
Additionally, on top of that unsatisfied feeling, we also complain. Mostly we complain to ourselves. Many of us actually show this dissatisfaction in our faces and in our bodily posture. And, most of us share this issue; it is not a rare condition, right?
If you look carefully, this type of mind is a habit. When we work or attend school, we learn to have a strong competitive sense. Our mindstreams are strongly conditioned to expect improvement and results. Based upon this expectation, we feel desire, and we want to be or to do better. Then, when we have desire, we start comparing and looking outside at other people. Next, comparing brings jealousy. From that jealousy, we develop dissatisfaction—the feeling of “not enough.” Finally, that “not-enough” feeling triggers our complaining mind. It is something very scientific—this we can see easily—and it has nothing to do with faith. This is simply how habits work.
Moreover, we should understand that dissatisfaction is only one type of habit. As we observe our minds, we can see additional habits. Blaming others or conditions is another strong habit that we may adopt. Often we take things very personally—even when the situation has nothing to do with us. These are just some examples of bad habits that we easily develop. As we practice observing our habit minds, we see more clearly how these sneaky and not-so -sneaky habits create anxiety and stress for us and others. Thus, awareness of bad habits is very crucial on the path.
Phakchok Rinpoche shares some personal experience, discussing his seventeen years of practice on the path. Sometimes, in the beginning, he acknowledges that he felt lazy or bored about doing practice. Often this happened when he was happy or busy with other things. Yet, he explains, that he came to quickly understand how happy time is very short. Then, he realized that regular practice actually brought more ease. In this way, he evaluated his own life experiences and saw how the practice made situations easier to accommodate. However, people still often ask if he gets bored with practicing. And here, Rinpoche confidently answers, “No!” Because, he says that he knows what basic mind is and now, through practice, he has observed his habit mind. And, importantly, he has seen that he can change his habits.
Many of us enter meditation, but we don’t look for anything but calm. We say that we want to learn meditation so that we can be calmer. Yet, if we think about it intelligently, what is the difference between that and a nap? Sleeping is actually more calming, right? Meditation can sometimes be pretty agitating! And we’ll soon see that our minds aren’t very calm.
But the point of meditation is not just to be calm. Instead, the point is to change. We can see very clearly how we change. That’s why understanding basic mind and habit mind is so important. Otherwise, we can attend teachings for ten years and we can meditate daily. And yet, we may feel dry and unchanged. Why does this happen to so many students? Because we don’t spend time observing the mind and our own habits. But the good news is that after we learn to observe habit mind, and make changes, we can develop into very strong practitioners.
Then, the vision for our meditation becomes enlightenment. Our vision is to become a buddha and our mission is to become bodhisattvas. We start down that path by changing our behavior—we train in letting go of our short tempers and become more open-minded. And we become smoother and calmer in our dealings with others.
By keeping the vision vast, we then understand that our “projects” are to practice daily. And what kind of milestones do we have as we aim for that vision? We remind ourselves to watch our habit minds on a daily and weekly basis. For example, we set small milestones to complain less. Sometimes, Rinpoche notes, it can be more helpful to explain meditation in terms like vision and mission that we already understand. Similarly, by having milestones that are small, yet clear, we can understand how to keep moving toward our big vision.
This week, spend some reflection time identifying your own habit mind. What habits dominate your thinking and behavior? Without judging or blaming, simply recognize those habits. Now, during the next several weeks, set some small milestones to change those habits. At the end of a month, how is this practice going for you?