As we begin to develop an appreciation for the teachings of the Buddha we benefit from reflecting on the qualities of good human beings. In this video teaching, Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche begins by reminding us that we all have pure natures.
The Analogy of the Clean Cup
He illustrates his point by using the metaphor of a clean cup. When we pour pure liquids into a clean cup, we can enjoy a pure and clean drink. We might reflect on this example by thinking of Buddhadharma as a pure, refreshing liquid.
Rinpoche challenges us to examine our own practice and qualities. Do we focus on learning the Dharma as just as subject to study? Thus, we may try to learn the vocabulary and we may spend time learning how to do certain practices. But Rinpoche warns that there is a danger if we forget about the cup! What does he mean by this analogy? He means that we forget about ourselves. Our character is like the vessel, or the cup, for Dharma. Just as liquid served in a clean cup remains clean, we prepare ourselves to be clean vessels for the Dharma.
But often we forget to examine our own character. We don’t spend time reflecting on the qualities we wish to embody. So we might not transform our behavior even though we know a lot about Buddhist teachings and practices. Therefore, Rinpoche suggests that we spend some more time on developing qualities and cleaning our cups!
How do we do this? Perhaps we’ve heard teachings on the “Four Mind Changings,” and we’ve no doubt heard about the “Four Immeasurables” (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity). The great masters also taught on “Lojong” or “Mind-training.” It’s interesting to note, Rinpoche says, that the masters didn’t call this “Dharma training.” Instead, they called it “mind-training.” But, we can ask here, “whose mind?” Mind training means each of us changing our own character.
Rinpoche reminds us that when Buddhism first went to the West, the teachers did not always begin with Dharma teachings. Normally, great teachers start teaching simple, but very important, core points. Thus, they teach on the qualities required to be good human beings. Traditional texts describe 16 qualities of humans that detail ethical behavior. Samye Institute offers a series of reflections on these 16 societal values. We can benefit from learning these, taking up the practice, and engaging in self-reflection. Rinpoche says this is very important. When we wish to transform, we remember core ethics. Ethical behavior is fundamental for all human beings.
First, we should know that we are responsible for our own actions. Of course, we can try to blame someone else. And it is true that we may react based upon circumstances caused by others. If someone does something bad, then we might shout at them. But, we must accept that we still shouted. The act of shouting is our own responsibility. We come to accept that without looking for excuses. We’re generally very good at making excuses for our own behavior, right? Here, Rinpoche cautions us that we should not try to find past reasons for present actions. As we work to transform ourselves, we can focus on what we can control–our own reactions and our own minds.
Accepting responsibility means being aware of how we look, talk, and express ourselves physically. Body language can say a lot and we don’t have to open our mouths. For this reason, we learn to observe our own behavior and check ourselves. We each can acknowledge what kind of a person we are. And it is important to understand that our current actions create habits. Unfortunately, unchecked habits tend to make us worse instead of better. Reflecting on our own habits and observing our own actions is really crucial. Indeed, Rinpoche reminds us the “tasty part” of receiving teaching comes from reflecting on what we have heard and looking at our individual situation.
Seeing Our Own Emotions
We can see ourselves about to explode, for example, and then we can remember compassion. If we practice this repeatedly, we can catch ourselves right away, and our anger slowly recedes. Yet, we are not perfect, and instead, we look for excuses to justify our anger. Rinpoche gives an example of how anger can seem to burst out again. This is how our minds work, right? We think we have succeeded, but the anger returns in a different manifestation.
Believing in Karma
Because Rinpoche believes confidently in karma, he explains that when this situation arises, he has learned how to swallow the anger. However, if we don’t trust in karma, then we generally tend to lose control. We may allow the anger to emerge either by shouting or via our actions. If we have studied some Dharma and think we are clever, we may say it doesn’t matter. We claim that “It is all emptiness–who cares?” But Rinpoche teaches here that we should not find excuses in the Dharma.
This is an important point to contemplate. Instead, Dharma is something that allows us to see clearly. And Dharma can benefit us greatly if we use it to see our own minds and behavior.