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Inseparability of Samsara and Nirvana By Aenpo Kyabgon Rinpoche Kyegu Buddhist Institute – 7/10/00No matter how much we interpret it elaborately or in many ways,the conclusion goes back to the purity of the mind, the purity of thenature. When it goes back to the purity that also brings a kind ofidea, how can it be two things? It is mind in relative reality but inultimate reality it is purity. One thing can be shared into twodifferent places, but in fact it is same thing. This is the nature ofthe inseparability of these two things, in other words we can call itthe non-differentiation between the relative and ultimate reality, orthe co-emergence of samsara and nirvana or the inseparability ofsamsara and nirvana.This inseparability of samsara and nirvana, there are manyBuddhists texts especially in Sutra which explain the inseparabilityof samsara and nirvana. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, the mostextensive teaching we can get on this topic is from the teaching ofLamdre, one of the main sacred teachings of the Sakya order ofTibetan Buddhism. It talks elaborately, comprehensively, about theinseparability.The inseparability of samsara and nirvana, the explanation fromthe text Parting from the Four Attachments, in this text there arefour lines:If you have attachment to your life you are not a DharmapractitionerIf you are attached to cyclic existence you do not haverenunciationIf you are attached to your own welfare you do not have theenlightenment thoughtIf the grasping arises one does not have the view.
This word “view” actually talks about the inseparability of samsaraand nirvana. Despite having an understanding of conduct, such aspracticing compassion and generosity and morality, if one does nothave the proper view then one will not be able to succeed in thepath. There are different ways of practicing this inseparability ofsamsara and nirvana, one thing is to analyze it with our own mind,all the appearances that we have in our mind, all the appearancesare mind. All the appearances that we have in our mind areillusory; it’s more like a magical show, illusory. These appearancesdid not come from nowhere and it wasn’t created by a creator, thenwho created that awareness in the mind? It was created by noneother than our own mind.Whatever things appear in our mind does not necessarily prove thatit is inherently existent, the appearances that we have in our mindwe call it deceptive appearance, or falsified appearance. But to sayit is not truly existent is contradictory because we see thingscorrectly; the answer is that whatever things we see doesn’tnecessarily mean that whatever we see is true. That is quiteunderstandable to start with. We can see the magic show but it isnot necessarily true, but we can still see it. Especially things likethe reflection in the mirror – things that we see but not necessarilytrue. The reason it is called deceptive appearance is that afteranalyzing the realities properly thus gaining realization, to see itform the Noble Beings point of view, all these appearances arecalled emptiness.Another way of contemplating upon it or meditating upon it, is thatfirst one has to pacify one’s own mind by a practice called “calmabiding,” in Sanskrit it is called shamatha. That is to calm ourmind so that our mind stabilizes. Even though we have a definiteunderstanding of the view, if we lack calm abiding then we can’tcontemplate for a long time and even though we contemplate for along time we cannot remember it easily, we keep forgetting thingseasily because our mind had not been pacified well and stabilised
properly. First we have to accomplish the practice of shamathawhich is the basis for all these qualities. If the mind doesn’t stayfor a long time no matter how much we contemplate or meditateupon this view then there is no benefit. So that it to pacify one’sown mind.In order to attain liberation, to eliminate all the sufferings one hasto first focus upon the selflessness of person. There are two typesof selflessness: selflessness of person and selflessness ofphenomena. In order to attain Buddhahood, on top of the practiceof selflessness of person one has to practice the selflessness ofphenomena. That is the ultimate practice of “penetrative insight,”this is the English translation of the Sanskrit word vipassana.There is an importance of meditating upon the selflessness ofperson. In order to abandon, uproot or eliminate the suffering ofsamsara, since the suffering of samsara is already existent there isno chance for us to eliminate the nature of that samsara, it hasalready been produced and it is already existent, so we have to puteffort in uprooting the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering isthe action, the things we do, the karma. That karma is produced bydelusion. The delusion was produced by self-clinging. The verysource, the main cause that produces suffering is actually self-grasping. That very self-grasping has to be abandoned by thewisdom of realizing the selflessness of person. It is quite importantto think constantly upon the selflessness of person. The root ofsamsara is self-clinging, self-grasping. It is quite obvious that self-clinging produces defilement and then we accumulate karma andthis is how our suffering came about. This is another way ofcontemplating upon the main source or main cause that bringssuffering for ourselves and it is quite applicable to other sentientbeings as well.Rinpoche, what do you mean by selflessness of person?
There are two things we can cling on. You cling on self – I I I. Thesecond thing we can cling on is things, because of clinging on self– that is the first thing – the second thing we can cling on is things,the phenomena. There are only two things on which you can cling,it’s either the person, the self, or either it’s something, me and mycup, me and my belongings. Practicing selflessness means notpracticing selfishness. That’s why we call it selflessness.Rinpoche you said that we should constantly think aboutselflessness of ourselves, how do we do that?By thinking. We should if we can of course, but if we can’t wecan’t really force too much sometimes, then we think of giving itup because we’re not used to it so as much as you can. Constantlyin terms of doing it as much as you can. Think upon it constantlydoesn’t mean that when we are distracted or when we are sleepingor when we are watching television, it’s a bit hard to think uponthese things but sometimes these kind of entertainments orattractions that we have through television is also a very good helpfor us to remind us. Sometimes we have a good time and forgetabout our concerns – the things that we are concerned about. Thenthat reminds you. It’s making use of those entertainments to helpour own way of thinking.You also said concentration about anything is useless you have arested mind, an open mind.We have to pacify our mind. If our mind is not pacified it meansyou are not actually taking it in. You are just going through on asurface level, bits and bits, it’s more like sight-seeing. Just lookinghere and there and that’s it, what do you actually get? It’s differentfrom discovering it.
Is there a balance between selfishness and getting your needs met?Can you be overly selfless? A selfless person who is always givingand doing for others so you don’t actually meet your own needs?Become less to start with.We become less?Hoping so. This is what we hope, that we don’t do too much formyself.So it’s lack of attachment to anything?Trying to reduce attachment, yes. Attachment is the cause.Attachment can be used as self-clinging. There are different formsof attachment. Positive and negative attachment, I woulddiscriminate.Acting selfless can sometimes bring self-clinging, like “I’m being agood person.”That’s that very individual’s problem. When we do that we shouldnot think that I’m doing it and I’m proud of it that means you aregoing downwards. We should not think that way. This is quitecommon, when people give help to others they brag and show off.In terms of spiritual practice, if we do this we are going totallyagainst what we are taught to be. We are taught to be good and notto be wanting. When you give service and help to others, thereshouldn’t be any intention involved in getting something backfrom them. That means the help is not genuine. Sometimes we cando it several times and people might start to praise you, “You arereally doing well,” sometimes the praise that we get from others,you tend to like it and then you think “Oh I’m really dong good,”and then you are flattered. This is where our ego arises. The bestthing is not to get carried away by the praise that we get form other
people too. When we are doing things good of course people willencourage and say, “This is good keep the good work going on”but then there might be some sort of pride that will come, “I’mreally doing good, those others are worse than me, I’m the best.”This is sabotaging oneself.How do you overcome that pride?By not falling into the extreme of liking that praise. Listen throughone ear and let it go through the other. Don’t think upon it againand again. Sometimes when we hear nice thing about ourselvesfrom other people you try to think upon it again and again andagain, that takes a picture in your mind and it stays there, then youlike it. It’s better than a digital picture! We say that the spiritualpractice can be a damage for oneself and the obstacles can be thegreatest chance for us to improve. It is not necessarily that theobstacles are worse because through the obstacles we get a chanceso we can try to do it. When we try to do something then if youmisuse it, it can lead to a wrong path.Sometimes when you help people, I feel like my ego is screaming,like I run around doing all these things for other people and I feellike my ego is screaming “What about me!” Like you’re pushingyourself too hard.You should balance. Do the best you can, up to one’s ability.Helping others does not mean that one should not be included, thenthere is no point. If oneself is totally excluded, you can’t reach tohelp them. Oneself has to be included in serving others or helpingothers. In this case there are different objects to which you canhelp, especially on a human level as we are. There are differentobjects to whom we want to help, objects we don’t want to helpand others that are ok. Different extremes we have. Since you can’thelp your enemy, the people you dislike, you can’t just go thereand help, so you can start to practice your help or service to those
who are close to you and then gradually promote your service toothers, developing. We can’t go to anybody and just say “Hey I’mhere to help you,” they may tell you to get out and that might bringyou pain, “Oh I’m here to help and now I’m being chased away.”Once you have started to help others then gradually it helps one tobe quite good.Rinpoche, to realize the selflessness of self is nirvana?No, through these two selflessness we are in the nirvana. Firstdefinitely is the selflessness of person and then secondly is theselflessness of phenomena. To delineate this: there are five paths.The path of accumulation, where probably we are in, trying toaccumulate merit, and then the path of preparation which is a bithigher level, that’s the place where you seriously practice upon theselflessness of person. Once one succeeds in practicing this, oneattains the wisdom of realizing the selflessness and that wisdomcuts the root of selfishness. At that moment, after seeing that, youare on the first bhumi – the first level of the Bodhisattva. InBodhisattva there are 10 levels. On the 1st level we call the path ofseeing, the third path. The third path is the 1st level of theBodhisattva. At that path of seeing it means you are now seeingmore than what you were first seeing on the first two paths. Youare in the process of seeing the extra nature of reality, not justbeing able to be free from suffering and not being able to attainselflessness. After that – from 2nd level to 10th – we call it path ofcontemplating. We contemplate more on the selflessness ofphenomena. When you are the 10th bhumi one is called Buddha –the path of no more learning. That means you have graduated, youhave done your studies, your PhD!When we listen to teachings or talks or whatever, just by listeningto those teachings and reading those texts, one will not achieve anysuccess or fruition just out of reading or listening. The analogy wecan give is that we humans, we sentient beings are like the patient,
the sick people, we need a remedy, a treatment, we need doctors.Instead of following doctor’s advice and taking the medicine,instead we read a medical text! Just by reading the medical textwill not help you to cure your disease. Unless you read thatmedical text and then follow the doctor’s advice, then you take themedicine, then one will possibly be able to be cured. Theselflessness sounds very far away in one aspect but at the sametime it is just another term used – it means not to cling towardoneself too much, this is a simpler approach.The second question is, how do we eliminate this self-cherishing,this self-grasping? First we have to find out what that “self” is,what that “I” is, what that “me” is? We have to analyze in a waywhether that me or self or I really exists or whether it doesn’t exist.When we say I or me, we generally refer it to one’s body or one’smind, this is what we generally refer to. In this case, one’s body orone’s mind has to be the self, the me, the I, but it is not. If one alsotries to find that self in each and every part of one’s body – outsideand inside as well – one will not be able to take that self out andshow that this is the self. For example, if one says that oneself isthe tooth, if we say the tooth can be referred to as the self, in thatcase there are so many teeth you may have about 20 selves. Thismeans you are more than one person – you are more than 20. Thesecond argument is because there are many teeth, you have to havethe many teeth together to form oneself, but to refute that it meansthat if one tooth falls out then the self falls out, one portion isexcluded then the rest can’t form the complete formation.We have to analyze whether this self is identical or similar to theaggregates or if it is not. There are many aggregates so there is anextreme of having many selves. The subject that perceives thatvery thing as a person is actually perceived and believed only by,what we can say is the human mind, but in philosophical terms wecall it falsified mind. Only the falsified mind sees this person as aperson and clings to it, but in fact when we analyze it there is no
such thing that exists. We are clinging toward something that isnothing. This is how we try to find out, we are clinging towardssomething but what are we clinging towards? This is how we findout, try to find out, the real object to which we say it’s “me.”Where does that me come from, that I come from? When we checkand try to find out we will not be successful in finding anythingtangible there. We can just say it’s me it’s mine, it’s more like yourbody, but where is that? To say “mine” you have to have “me,” it’seasy to say mine. When you try to find out that me or I, one willnot be able to find it.The self-grasping of the phenomena is the second one. When wesay the phenomena, we mean inanimate things. Inanimate issomething that has got no mind, like our body is inanimate, it issomething that has got a mind and something that has got no mind,when we die our body becomes inanimate. One with the mind andone without the mind. They are things that we see, the phenomenathat we see, houses and tables etc. The selflessness of person andphenomena: the selflessness or person and thing. Clinging towardsthat is the self-grasping of phenomena. When we analyze it, it isalso the same case as self-grasping of person because that we willfind out that none of these phenomena are truly existent. Nothing issolidly existing. That very awareness is called selflessness ofphenomena.In order to realise this there are many reasonings given. One of thelogics is to analyse upon the origination, the arising, the birth, todiscover it. If you believe the arising as truly existing either it hasto arise from itself or either another has arisen from other. Either itis produced from itself or not from itself. This another has arisenfrom other. Shen-le-kyewa in Tibetan. No relation, another arisingfrom another. The mango came from a mango tree, the apple that is“other” from Mango, has to arise from other, the other thing. Applewill not come from a banana tree. Another is arising from other. Itis arising from itself or either it has to be arising from another. Or
otherwise it has to be the combination of oneself and others, orotherwise to came from no cause. These four are the onlyextremes, the only things. If is origination or arising is not there,then it can’t be produced. If the production is not there then there itcan’t be produced. If the arising itself is there, then there is no needto arise it again, it is already there.Another reasoning is this, when cause produces result, if the causeproduces a result that is already existing upon that cause there’s noneed to produce that, but this cause can’t produce something that isnot reliant upon the cause either. Another reasoning is the logic ofone and manifold, singularity and plurality. Chig-dhang - dhu-main Tibetan, chig means one, dhu-ma means manifold. This one,when we analyse upon this one, this “one” also does not exist, ifsomething exists it either has to be one or it has to be manifold.When we analyze it, this one doesn’t exist and this manifolddoesn’t exist because the one is interdependent thing. Allappearances we have in our mind are not created by anyone, it isthe collection of causes and conditions, this is how it is formed, itis called interdependent. It is inherently non-existent, because ofthis we can analyze that none of these phenomena actually exist.As a conclusion we call this emptiness. In the case of one andmanifold, to have one you have to have many and to have manyyou have to have many. To have one you also have to have acombination of many. One car is not just one, this one is made outof many, when we take out all the parts, it becomes no car, it is justmerely a formation rather than inherently existing. Like amountain, it doesn’t exist by itself, it has to be formed. Since thereis nothingness there we call it emptiness or voidness.Rinpoche, the one gives rise to may and the many give rise to one?The one loses when you take everything out. A cup is made and webreak it and make it like a powder and mash that powder until it issmaller smaller smaller, even those manifold get lost a disappears.
Scientifically it is called microscopic, when they check the atomsthey say things get smaller and smaller and at one stage you can’tfind anything. This is what Buddhists also say. If things are sochanging, then why do we have to get attached to it?Our minds are made up of many parts or arisings and if we removeall those arisings then there’s nothing left?We have to get rid of this many mind. It doesn’t mean that thismind is helping us to get rid of this mind too, because we need themind to think about things, what we are trying to get rid of thethings that we don’t want – what we actually don’t want.In the end there’s only a mind?No. In the end, I can’t say even “something.” In the end I can’teven say “it is.” Inexpressible. Unless we experience ourselves.Rinpoche, when something arises, for example yoghurt. Yoghurt isa substance, but it is simply a transformation of milk, milk issimply a transformation of the blood of the cow, and that is simplya transformation of grass. So the one argument is that whensomething is caused nothing new arises, it is simply atransformation of something previous. There is another argumentis that every arising is a new arising, something new is created.Old new. It looks new but it’s old.There’s not a modification of something previous?Because of this change, because of this transformation, it dependswhether it’s a good transformation or not, transformation in termsof production, so it’s the same old new. It’s very old, the thingsthat we’re doing, sometimes I think we should really get bored ofthis but we keep doing it again and again.
It’s all new but it’s always the same old stuff.Newly old, old new. Sometimes we try to follow the teachings butare quite new in this lifetime, which might not have been new inmany previous lifetimes as well, but it’s new in this lifetime. Wetry to do it and sometimes don’t know how to do it properly. Samething with the computer, they are interested in the computer, theydo something and maybe delete many things. They do a lot ofthings but you don’t know how to do it but try to do something.You have had one instruction before but you don’t have the back-up of contemplating upon it and then you can do so many things,you think you’re saving it in one folder but in fact you’re putting itinto the recycle bin. The constant back-up of contemplation to getfamiliarization is always important.To think about that would be to think that I can’t locate mythoughts, if you try to find it you can’t find the essence.This is what we have to think upon, we can’t really think upon itall the time, you might end up not eating. Think upon it a little bitto remind you – why am I so attached to myself? The more we dothen the more successful we are and that will bring us lesssuffering. All suffering came form self-clinging, now we shouldtry to do something totally different.As a conclusion we say this is emptiness. Nothing exists. Thesecond excuse comes that if things are not existent, how about non-existent? Somebody is so desperate to have it here think they canaccept it is not existent, then how about things being non-existent.But we say it is also not non-existent, because we have to have anobject on which we can interdependently call it non-existent. If wedon’t have existence we can’t have non-existence. If we don’t haveright we can’t have left. Now the third excuse comes that if it is notexistent and if it is not non-existent, then can it be both? The
answer is that it can’t be both because existence and non-existenceare two contradictory factors. These two contradictory factors can’texist in one. The last excuse is that does it mean that it’s neither ofthese two? You can’t say this because neither has to depend uponeither.That means that we can’t point out what the nature of reality is.There’s nothing solidly existing that you can point out and say,“This is the nature of reality.” The nature of reality is somethingthat you can’t describe, that is the real nature of reality. At themoment that very nature of reality is not the object of our mind,this is not an object that we can perceive at the moment. The objectthat we can perceive at the moment is called relative reality. Arelative mind will only perceive relative reality, we will not be ableto perceive ultimate reality, the ultimate mode of reality, unless weenthusiastically practice in transforming that mind into wisdom.This is the main view in Buddhism, especially in Mahayana, thatthings don’t exist at all, this is what we call emptiness, devoid ofall extremes, the voidness.Rinpoche, this is one of the hardest doctrines to actuallyunderstand because while you’re in the world perceiving it, thenit’s real. You cannot see at the same time that in actual fact it isemptiness, that it’s also an illusion, that it doesn’t exist.It doesn’t exist solidly. On a relative reality it 100% exists, itexists. On an ultimate level it doesn’t. Therefore we are saying thatwhen we do things why don’t we do them properly instead of justgoing here and there and liking this and not liking this – that isgiving us the problem. Since there is nothing much to attach to, weonly have about 100 years to live, so why are we so clinging onthis? Relax. If we think really how long we will live, that’s the firstquestion we can ask. How long? One of the five founding mastersof Sakya said ‘Life decays while we are preparing. We keeppreparing, we keep doing something for tomorrow, for next year.
We keep preparing but then sooner or later you have to change. So,why not live it positively? Even if I don’t come back I can leave abad imprint for the next generations, this is what the Buddhist textsalso say. If we are concerned about ourselves too much, then youhave to be concerned in a helpful way. We have to be concernedabout next time when we come then we come a bit better. Beforedoing most of the practices we say contemplate deeply uponimpermanence first, the impermanence of death especially. Sooneror later we have to say goodbye. To face death easier, we can seemany people when they die it’s a really big pain, but we can seemany people who have all these practices and when they passaway they have excitement or enjoyment. This is more or less liketaking off old clothing and putting on new clothing, the theory ofreincarnation is more like that. Don’t think that this is the onlychance, you will have a next chance so make sure that the nextchance is better that this.Rinpoche psychologists say that our own unconscious self willattract situations towards us to give us the opportunity to let go ofnegative patterns that we are trying to eliminate. For example, ifI’m trying to resolve anger then it seems like life shows up moreand more and more experiences for me to get angry, in thatprocess of trying to resolve that anger. Is that how it works?More chance for us to see it and make use of it. If you can then it’sreally good. Sometimes we can’t transform or overcome our anger.When we are in the process of learning it, if there’s no attacking orno obstructions then one will not get angry, why would one getangry? But at the same time we do get angry too, just sometimeswhen you are in your own room and you just go to sleep and wakeup and wake up angry. This is the time when we have to, instead ofsaying it’s bad, we have to transform this mind and then say this isthe chances that we’re getting and I’ll try to make use of that. Try,and then if you’re good you can be successful, and if not then not.
Is there a difference between transforming that and denying that?Even in Buddhism, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, they willnot use the words “transformation.” They would rather use theword “abandoning.” In the lower vehicle they call it suppression ordenying, or running away from it. In Vajrayana, in TibetanBuddhism, we call it transformation because it’s all about dealingwith our own emotions and no matter how much you try to runaway from it it is always there, you can’t really run away from it.The second things, if you try to suppress, it’s like a gas cylinder, ifyou put too much gas in there then sooner or later it will explodeso why not let it come but don’t take it so seriously as a negativebut take it as a chance and transform it.Rinpoche, what about the mind that perceives the inseparability ofsamsara and nirvana – is that just the wisdom that perceives it?Does it use the relative mind?In terms of path – the second path it is still mind but we can alsosee the inseparability of samsara and nirvana practically a little bitas well, the mind is somewhere near the process of becomingwisdom.A combination of the two?Mind can see it yes, but when you see it, this is sometimes verytricky, “see” means you have to see it completely. When you seelittle things we don’t count it as seeing because it’s too little and itis not enough. Seeing means seeing completely. Only the wisdomsees things completely. But because of this thing that has been seenby the Noble Beings they have put it into words and passed it over.Now this is something that they have and this is something whichattracts me and then this is something that I want to do – then wedo it and then while in the process there will be a certain level or
time that you will not even think upon whether this is a mind orwisdom or whatever, it is just going on and on and on.To say it simply, it is seen by the wisdom, what mind sees ismostly intellectually. Wisdom doesn’t even doesn’t even see it assamsara and nirvana, it is like water and milk, you can’t reallydifferentiate. The Arhats, who we call foe destroyers, foe refers tothe defilements, the way they can see the things, it’s like a tortoise,I have seen it personally. If you put milk in the water and then puta tortoise in it, it will drink the milk and leave the water. That’slike the meditation session and post-meditative session, the Arhatsdifferentiate between samsara and nirvana, when they are inmeditation session they only see nirvana. For the Buddha there isno post-meditation, a Buddha is always in the meditation session, itsees the combination, the indescribable combination, you don’tneed to have a break. The Arhats need a break.However first we have to generate compassion and enlightenmentthought. The successful attainment from the practice ofcompassion and enlightenment thought is that one will reduceattachment towards one’s life and the welfare of one’s own being.Compassion and enlightenment thought is one of the main causesof Buddhahood. However no matter how much compassion wehave or how wide the enlightenment thought is, if we don’t havethe view, if these conditions are not associated with the view of theinseparability of samsara and nirvana, the relative and ultimatereality, one will not be able to attain ultimate enlightenment. Notjust compassion and enlightenment thought, we also need the viewto accompany it as well. This is a good example ofinterdependence, not the interdependent origination that we wantto stop – this shows good interdependence. We nee these alltogether to work, to be successful. First we have to see what is ourweakness and then we have to work more on that.So many weaknesses. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed.
Then just choose one.Rinpoche, when you were talking about changing something, youcan change your mind, how then do you use the emotions that areattached to that? How do you change your emotions that come aswell? Your mind may see something different but then there are theemotions that are responses.These emotions come from mind. If we can stabilise our mind,rather than thinking upon this emotion we go to the cause of thisemotion. The cause of the emotion is the way of thinking that isdone by our mind, this is why we are talking to our mind not to dothis again. Rather than dealing with the result, we’d rather dealfrom the cause. Once it is there it is there, you can’t reverse back.What’s the cause now, because I want to stop. It is like losing ourtemper, the temper is there - what can you do? The best you can dois think I’m not going to do that again and think upon how it cameand then find out from where it came. Find out what you have towork on and what you’ve been doing.