Friday, September 26, 2008

Looking at Perfection… through the eyes of the Imperfect

When I look around, I do not see any sentient beings but only Buddhas. There is no suffering or pain of whatever kind. The ground is made of lapis lazuli and gold. Not a tiny speck of dust or dirt can be found. Such is the view of the world from the eyes of someone who has taken the Tibetan Buddhist highest yoga tantric vows, or someone practicing dzogchen. This includes himself – seeing himself as an enlightened being as personified by his/her meditational deity. Or, at least he is supposed to see it that way. Even for those not practicing these, you were taught to view your guru as an enlightened being who can make no mistakes. Hence, there is plenty of training methods to look at perfection in its various aspects in Tibetan Buddhism.

I need not go into the reasons or benefits of such practices, because these have been enumerated in many other commentaries and books. However, what are lacking are the precautionary advices of these practice methods of viewing everything as perfect. At this moment, I can almost hear some protests ringing out, “Oh- Are you saying there is something wrong with this practice?” The answer would be “No”. These are just some caution to be mindful of when doing these practices.

Caution # 1: Not to throw morality out of the window
Being still unenlightened, we can easily delude ourselves further by thinking that we are fully enlightened. Being enlightened, is not a ticket to immorality, even if we have achieved some levels of attainment. No matter which Buddhist tradition we are in, everybody can fall into this trap. We have read that in the state of Perfection, there is no dualistic view of good and bad anymore. And in that state, karma does not function. So, the moment we experience something extraordinary, we think that, “Oh, this is emptiness” or “This is Arhatship/ Buddhahood”. Then we think that we can sleep with anyone we like and it will be considered a “bodhisattva activity”!

If your attainment is not complete, then you will fall into the lower realms, and have to start your path all over again. Once caught in the lower realms, it is difficult to get out. Pitiful!

Caution #2: Not to throw common sense out of the window
Viewing our guru as fully realized beings is necessary for achieving realizations. This is mentioned in all Tibetan Buddhist lineages. While this is so, it does not mean we should throw common sense away, especially when we need to make certain decisions. We think everything we must check with the guru. So we make it into a habit of consulting the guru for every little thing. We start to forget we have a brain. For example, sometimes we believe too much (emphasis on too much) in consulting the Buddhas or deities or even lamas using oracles or other divinations. Even simple things we consult divination, instead of using common sense. You consult divination on whether property A is good or not. It turns out no good, and you go seek another property. Divination turns out no good again, and you seek another. This is not the right way.

The right way is to have property A, B & C ready for selection. But before that, we should evaluate using common sense. Eliminate the choices rejected using common sense. Once we have narrowed down our choices, then if you are still undecided, then only you seek divination. However in seeking divination, you should still inform the deity/lama that you have considered X, Y & Z and have rejected Z due to this and this reason. Yes, I think it is important to inform the deity/lama everything that happened. This is because you can still check using divination whether the one you had rejected was right or not. But the deity/lama must tell you a compelling reason for you to re-accept back that choice which you had earlier rejected using common sense. Otherwise, you ask the deity/lama to select X or Y only.

In seeking divination, especially on worldly matters, such as which property is good, which job is suitable, which person should you select, etc etc, perhaps it is better to consult our own common sense. There are other situations when we view things around us as “perfect or divine” but at the same time must never lose focus of the conventional truth where common sense operates in many aspects.

Caution #3: Not to expect others to view ourselves as “perfect” too.
There are people who are very devoted to their gurus. Then one day they become monks/abbots themselves, or directors/presidents of Buddhist centres. On a subtle level, without consciously knowing it, they may develop this expectation that their members need to see them as “perfect” too. So, when they do not get this subtle expectation fulfilled, they get annoyed and start exercising their “authority” or they and their members get into an argument. But this subtle expectation can develop in everyone, not just monks/leaders of Buddhist centers. Bottom line: those who are practicing it should view others as perfect, but they themselves should NOT expect anyone to view them as perfect. You should not tell someone else to view you as “perfect”. There is only a very fine line separating “divine pride” from “arrogance”; the former can easily degenerate into the latter.

Summing up, the road to complete Buddhahood is fraught with danger and pitfalls. Many people have started the journey but few have actually completed it. Many people fall by the side ways into the lower realms, or get distracted along the way and got stuck, or even back-tracking (i.e. walking 3 steps forward but not realizing he/she is walking 4 steps backwards after that). As there are many levels of attainments, it is also easy to fall into a trap when we think that we have reached the final level, when we have not.

Just take my Buddhist friends as example. I used to have a group of 5 or 6 friends closely dedicated to the Buddhist path. I went "cuckoo", 2 others stopped any serious practice after high school. Even my own sister, who was a committee member in the school Buddhist society, stopped any serious Buddhist study and involvement after marrying a Christian. So, I am speaking from experience. I have seen many serious practitioners who are not on the path anymore. So, now when I see beginners or seniors being so anxious in their practice and critising other traditions, I just wonder whether they themselves will complete the path or not.

Humility, constant self-checking and obtaining guidance from someone whom we know “had gone there and been through it” are vitally ingredients for a successful completion of the spiritual journey to PERFECTION.

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