Monday, May 03, 2010

The Law of Cause and Effect Needs No Enforcement

 "One cannot judge Tertons as inauthentic because of their 
imperfect and mercurial character, 
even to the slightest extent."
--Tulku Thondup

Around twenty-five years ago, Tulku Thondup Rinpoche wrote a book entitled Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. I like Tulku Thondup -- he is from Golok, and I like people from Golok -- and I enjoyed his book, which was the first of its kind to be published in the English language. In fact, I believe the book is itself a treasure trove, touching on a great many useful topics not necessarily tied to termas and tertons. I do not mean this in a fulsome manner; rather, it is just what I believe.

In his book, Tulku Thondup makes the following statement:
"Among the false Tertons there are many who are harmonious with people, who seem to have disciplined conduct, and are fortunate and charismatic. At the same time, among the authentic Tertons there are many who are loose in speech and behavior and who, without the least hesitation, get involved in many activities that people will condemn. In that way the Tertons take many grave obstructions of the doctrine on themselves in the form of infamy and ill repute and they use them for the practice of taking every experience in the great equal taste."
That is an interesting assertion, and it brings us to the topic of our sermon for today, which is "The Law of Cause and Effect Needs No Enforcement." We have sniped at this topic several times in the past, here and there among the 1,600-odd posts comprising this imaginary offering we are pleased to call Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar. In my estimation, we have yet to hit the mark.

So, now we will take very careful aim.

When I was around seventeen or eighteen I was arguing with my teacher about something, and for the life of me, I really cannot remember what it was. All I remember is I was resisting doing something he asked me to do, going back and forth, and finally I said, "I don't want to do this because I don't know what I am doing, and I am afraid I will hurt somebody if I do it wrong."

"It is impossible for you to hurt sentient beings, " he countered.

"How is that?" I asked.

"Because even when you are wrong you are right," he answered.

Naturally, I stopped arguing about what I had been arguing about, and started arguing about that concept. You must understand that my teacher forbade me to ask him questions. "Any question framed in the mind," he used to say, "has already provided its own answer." So, if you asked him a question, he might snap at you, saying "if you can pose a question that you truly cannot answer there is something really wrong with you!" 

Starting an argument, on the other hand, would elicit dialogue. 

When I was seventeen or eighteen, I therefore argued about everything. My teacher is a monument of patience -- a saint, really -- and he uses logic the effortless way a surgeon uses a scalpel, albeit without anesthesia. He used to enjoy the operations -- I suspect this because he was often laughing -- whereas I used to get all worked up and red in the face. So, while I never "won" a single one of these arguments, as years passed I was able to appreciate the extreme skilfullness with which he cut away the cotton wool surrounding my innate view. 

I am telling you these things just in case you might find something helpful. I am also telling you these things just in case you are standing around with the other hoopoe-heads, yelling "Grab! Grab!"

"Even when you are wrong, you are right" -- takes a while to clarify itself. The first postulate is that, in the presence of awakened bodhicitta, it becomes impossible to harm sentient beings. One has already crossed the threshold of nondualism, so to speak. In yet another sense, since sentient beings are a fiction, the concepts of benefit and harm are likewise fictitious. 

If that does not work, then there is always the entitlement defense, implicit in Tulku Thondup's statement, i.e. because one is a this, or a that, or the other, one is entitled to act according to one's own lights. That is a not altogether impossible but nonetheless dangerous concept, yet then again, Vajrayana is a dangerous business -- like snatching a jewel from the head of a cobra, as they used to say. Sometimes, in the presence of spontaneously profound, beneficial activity, equally profound evil arises. As a friend of mine reminded me the other day:

The root of profound evil is the delusional belief that no evil deed is committed even when evil deeds are committed, and that you -- for whatever reason -- are uniquely able to color outside the lines of cause and effect.

Coloring outside the lines of cause and effect, while offering the rationalization that (1) bodhicitta is awake, (2) everything is fiction, and (3) you're too spiritual for your shirt is quick, convenient, and fun while it lasts.

It does not last.

Coloring outside the lines of cause and effect seems harmless.

It is not harmless.

Coloring outside the lines of cause and effect seems easy.

It is not easy.

How do I know this? I know this because I tried coloring outside the lines of cause and effect. I know this because a friend of mine also tried, and he sent back a message:
"I went to a solitary place and for one year tried not to create any mental fabrications whatsoever. Some experiences arose, such as the feeling that 'emptiness is appearance! Appearance is emptiness! Appearance and emptiness are indivisible! There is no duality regarding buddhas and sentient beings! There will be no evil deed committed even if I were to engage in unvirtuous acts! There will be no benefit even if I were to engage in the ten virtues.'"
Sound familiar? Hear it somewhere before? Sound like a riff on the old "oh, spontaneous me" theme? Indeed it does, but my friend goes on to report:
"Regarding these as satisfactory, I related them to the guru. He said, 'It is foolish to be satisfied with meditation experience. If you think that appearance and emptiness are indivisible, you should be detached from appearances. 
Are you?
If you think that buddhas and sentient beings are indivisible, you should honor and serve sentient beings to the same degree as you would the buddhas.
Do you do that?
If you think, "I will have no karmic ripening even if I engage in the ten unvirtuous acts," you should be able to accept the ten unvirtuous acts of others directed towards you -- even if it might result in your death.
Can you do that?
If you think, "Even if I were to engage in the ten virtues, there would be no benefit," you should not have any sense of joy when you are benefited by others who are practicing the ten virtues -- even if your own life is saved.
Do you?"
These words were uttered by Padmasambhava himself, recounting the direct instructions of his guru, Shri Singha. Sounds a whole lot better that way, doesn't it? Sounds better than little old me telling you, "Know what? Learned this the hard way: the idea 'even when you are wrong, you are right' is not a get out of cause and effect free card." However this sounds, it also begs a rather fundamental question. If even Padmasambhava had these issues, how are you and me supposed to cope?

That question brings us to the second part of our sermon today.

Down in the southwest conventionally speaking, and the southeast unconventionally speaking, is one of the Wrathful Ones of the Ten Directions, abiding in an expanse of fire. He carries a blue club, but this is not about him or his blue club. This is about his consort, known as Dorje Dermo.

Dorje Dermo is singular. She is described as, "the daughter of those gone to bliss, the sister of the bodhisattvas, the consort of the wrathful ones, the foremost of dakinis, the friend of Vidyadharas, the ruler of the doctrine guardians, the guardian of the Three Jewels, the source of all attainments, and the ruler who liberates all maras and Tirthikas."

And, she has a few questions she wants to ask you.

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when someone was correct, and happy when they were mistaken?

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when someone was good, and happy when they were bad? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was in a high position, and happy when they were in a low one? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was famous, and happy when they were unknown? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was wealthy, and happy when they were poor? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was praised, and happy when they were criticized?

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was present, and happy when they were absent? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was content, and happy when they were suffering? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was respected by others, and happy when they are no longer respected? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody had power, and happy when they no longer had power? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody was loved by many, and happy when they were unloved by many? 

Are you now, or have you ever been unhappy when somebody has a perfect retinue, and happy when they lack one?

Those of you who are familiar with such matters will immediately recognize one of the passages from the Dharani of Glorious Dorje Dermo, running like a silk thread in the skein of my burlap postulate. You will also recognize that the dagger will stab, the hammer will beat, and there might also be Yak-Head and Raven-Head to contend with, yelling "Burn! Burn!" That is all part of the imagery: that is all part of the mandala.

What this means, is that if you are out there, running and gunning, coloring outside the lines of cause effect, none of this is happening in a vacuum. While you might feel yourself to be at the center of this mandala, that is not in fact the case. Neither is it the case that you are part of any solution to anything because nothing needs solving. 

Nothing besides you, that is.

Depending on your view, you are framing intentions, laying plans, committing acts, entertaining feelings with regard to the outcome of such acts, and engaging yourself in samsara's business. You are, in a sense, arrogating unto to yourself the role of enforcing the law of cause and effect. You are not letting things happen naturally anymore.

That is where it begins to break down. The law of cause and effect does not need to be enforced. People who in fact can color outside the lines of cause and effect do not do so by answering "Yes," to any of our Dorje Dermo questions. Rather, as Tulku Thondup points out, they provide benefit by deliberately accepting that which many others might try to avoid.

As Westerners, we often fall into the trap of seeing cause and effect as an assay device: a judge, if you will. Cause and effect is the law, and karma is the judge. That is simply not true. Cause and effect do not comprise a religious law. Cause and effect do not comprise a moral law, on the "Thou Shalt Not" model. Cause and effect have nothing to do with "sin." Cause and effect do not comprise a social law. Cause and effect do not require a judge, a jury, or any enforcement whatsoever.

Neither is any protection required.

What is it that needs your protection in the constantly arising "now" if not the very enemy you seek to defeat?


Some people are choking on the final sentence. What does it mean?

I am suggesting that the impulse one might feel to enforce or protect is an aspect of spiritual materialism. It is the ego trying to assert itself as "still in charge," capable of enforcing this, capable of protecting that, i.e. reinforcing the illusion of a difference between one's self and others. Actually, the ego is saying "enforce me! protect me!" because it is challenged, and it is disguising its selfishness as altruism.  All sorts of ridiculous impulses arise from that, and all the myriad forms of suffering. This enemy, this false friend, cannot exist without your protection. If one withdraws that protection, then one must live very simply, and openly, in the constantly arising now -- one must live fearlessly. There is no more rushing around, righting wrongs, jousting with windmills, and taking sides. There is no more panic, running from this disaster to that outrage, trying to bring "justice." There is simply the natural truth of any given moment, and that really should be enough.

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18 reader comments:

Rabden said...

Rinpoche you write like a jazz musician plays. I have never seen anybody even begin to talk about these subjects much less weave them the way you do. Thank you so much for this. You are incredible.

bobby said...

Very well said.

Stephen said...

Tulku Thondup was saying that objectivity is essential in the matter. Tertons discovered what Guru Rinpoche had hidden. Thus, the authenticity or lack of it of any terma discovered is in no way dependent on the conduct of its discoverer. UNFORTUNATELY, too many contemporary Buddhists, especially those very much interested in "pure" Buddhism of any kind, are too preoccupied with the subjective aspects of Buddhism, as if the truth of Buddhism is solely dependent on one's conduct. We need to stop going over the edge at this end soon.

Anonymous said...

This is a very nice teaching. Thank you.

Learner said...

What to do? What place, what role in buddha dharma?

TENPA said...

The most important thing is to be kind.

Learner said...

For those who feel they must act?

Learner said...

And of the kindness mistaken for weakness?

TENPA said...

No true kindness could ever be mistaken for weakness.

Live generously.

Greg Johnson said...

Imagine my surprise when I saw your use the phrase "imaginary offering" in the third paragraph, heheheh. I guess you weren't blowing smoke when you said you liked the name of my blog.

I came across "Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism" a couple of years ago. The more I read it, the more curious it becomes.

TENPA said...

Well, Greg, I've been wanting to try it out ever since I saw you use it ;-)

Dan said...

Thank you for so eloquently sharing your stories and contemplations,your insight and knowledge. I'm curious about the final question in this one, though. While I can certainly see its application with fellow sentient beings, if the true "enemy" is within, is its protection--other than recognition of it when it arises--really desirable?


Stephen said...

Talking about the traps of conventions in Buddhism. I attended Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's talks over two days recently On Amitabha Sutra.

He brilliantly highlighted and dealt with off the cuff in an easy to understand manner the various issues/problems one would encounter when reading the Amitabha Sutra.

For example :

He attacked mistaking culture for Buddhism.

For instance, he said that terms like "Sakya" and "Kagyud" STINK (he used that word!), preferring to say "Vitupa's teachings " and "Marpa's teachings " respectively instead, since Sakya and Kagyud were later developments of the teachings of Vitupa and Marpa.

To illustrate it further, he said that although same-sex relationship may be forbidden in some cultures, it is strictly speaking not sexual misconduct in Buddhism, perplexing some people even further !

Why bother to visit Starbucks and big branded stores carrying branded goods, which are more or less the same everywhere in the world ? Why not settle for the cosy humble stores in humble but exotic places, which are unique ?

In short, why must we interpret the Amitabha Sutra with a certain mindset , that is, the fantastic things mentioned in the Amitabha Sutra cannot be true, because "conventional plain pure " Buddhism has no room for such things ?

Since our conventional everyday real life is but an illusion, why can't Amitabha's Pureland exist ?

CONVENTIONAL BUDDHISM may think it is impossible for Amitabha Buddha to have made the 18th vow :

Provided I become a Buddha, if the beings of the ten quarters who after having heard my name, and thus awakened their highest faith and aspiration of re-birth in that country of mine, even they have recollected such a thought for ten times only, they are destinated to be born there, with the exception of those who have committed the five deadly sins (Anantarya), and who have blasphemed the orthodox Law (Dharma), otherwise may I not attain the enlightenment.

Many, many other WISE things he said during those two days, and I hope many people caught them all.

TENPA said...



TENPA said...

Along those same lines, for people involved in Tibetan Buddhism, it would be better if there were less "Tibetan" and more Buddhism.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the clarity of your comments.

There is so much that needs to be said by way of clarifying for practioners not only what the teachings actually are (in this case 'cause and effect') but also help for practioners to not go astray right in the moreorless beginning of Buddhism taking root in the West.

If practioners begin to see the teachings by way of spiritual materialsm now, as you - and Chogyam Trungpa so correctly pointed out - what will happen as time passes and these 'viewpoints' (in this case - cause and effect needs to be 'enforced') become more and more solid in the culture - when 'practice' becomes 'establishment' as is already happening.

You are obviously saying much more than this and I apologize for my lack of clearly saying what I mean.

Thank you again.

Stephen said...

Tenpa :

Yes, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche clearly meant that, too, for the Tibetan Buddhists. In fact, he was referring to all Buddhists of all schools from all cultures.

ON THE OTHER HAND, he dealt those who embrace "pure" Buddhism without culture, a "standard" form of Buddhism that accepted wordlwide, like Starbucks and it chains and branded goods that can be found globally to be the same, who think there is no place for the Amitabha Sutra,simply because there is no place for "belief" in their notion of standard "pure" Buddhism without culture, and as if it is the mistaken belief of Buddhists in the east like Tibet, Korea, China and Japan. For instance, the 18th Vow made by Amitabha Buddha allows a person filled with negativities, who breaks all precepts, etc, to enter the Western Pureland based solely on a strong faith and aspiration for rebirth there, excepting those who commit the 5 deadly sins and abuse the Dharma.

For those who cling to the notion of a standard "pure" Buddhism without culture, this is simply no longer "pure" Buddhism.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche went on to defend the role of "belief" in Buddhism, demolishing the fallacies of a standard "pure" Buddhism without culture.

Nightprowlkitty said...

Buddhist blogging, wowsville.

You wrote about first Tibetan text translated into English.

I've been reading you long enough to feel confident you are at least ONE of the first to truly blog Buddhism.

What I mean by this is, although the great teacher's I follow have websites and on those websites are teachings -- I have to print them out and read the hard copy to get the full flavor.

With your teachings, I not only don't need to do that, it is better NOT to do that.

This was a great post, truly excellent. Thank you so much for this wonderful teaching.