Lama Yeshe Jinpa
January 29 2013- The Fourth Noble Truths: the Truth of the Path; Right Effort
Lama Jinpa: Good evening everyone. I’d like to dedicate tonight’s practice to Geshe Damchoe la, and to his mom, who has passed away.
He was able to get home in time to be with her when she died, and he’ll stay a while longer to do a forty-nine day practice. He actually probably already started the practice a couple of days ago, but he’ll be away at least another month. We all miss him very much, but it’s important for him to be there, helping his mom.
So I want to ask for prayers for Geshe la, and to dedicate our prayers to him. Baasan said that Geshe la’s mom did pretty well, and that Geshe la was able to be with her for many of her final days.
When it’s your time, it’s good to have your son with you and the rest of the family. It helps to have those people who love and care for you around you. It makes it easier.
We don’t always have that kind of time or opportunity, do we?
Once, when the Middleway Health office was on 19th street, I was walking to Safeway Supermarket and was crossing the street and I felt a wind blow right past me, right there (gestures just to his left).
It wasn’t a kamikaze – it was a truck! I never even saw it, just felt it because it was so close –really close. I don’t think they saw me either. You never know what might happen.
And of course, we only have one mom in this lifetime, right? So for Geshe la, this is a profound experience. We have just one mother, and now his is gone. He’s very sad, of course, that’s completely normal. So he’ll do forty-nine days of prayers for her.
Question: What prayers should we do?
Lama Jinpa: Just do your regular practice. That’s always the best thing to do.
It’s been a long process. The hospital people thought that she was slipping away so Geshe la went home, and then she perked up. This happened to my own mom for five years. I’m really glad Geshe la had the time to go home and stay there and be with her. So we’ll do Chenrezi practice tonight at the end, for both of them.
And tonight we’re still talking about the Four Noble Truths; after doing the Heart Sutra a few minutes ago, that should actually be enough – it says it all, it’s all in there. But we’ll talk about it.
And specifically now, tonight, we’re talking about the Fourth Noble Truth, the Truth of the Path, specifically the Eight- Fold Path.
The path is very simple right? We’re leaving here, we’re getting on I-80, and we’re going to San Francisco; if we don’t get distracted, eventually we’ll be paying a toll and going over the Bay Bridge and then we’ll be there. It’s simple.
But maybe along the way you may run out of gas or have to pee. Then you have to get off, and then you have to get back on. My favorite place to stop is the place with the view in Vallejo. It’s so weird to run into people that you know there, but you do! I often see someone I know. Or you could get off in Davis, check out the town and have a coffee. Different things can happen along the way.
The Dharma Path is like going on I-80. It’s straightforward but there is tons of stuff that can happen, tons of ways to break down or get off course. Generally, in teachings, the path is presented in a straightforward way; it goes from here to there. In the written teachings, it’s presented like, okay, you just get on I-80 and start going, and you’ll get there. Simple!
Now conventionally, we don’t need paper maps anymore because we have smartphones. We don’t even need a special GPS device any more either – we have our phones and they tell us where to go.
But that’s all they tell us, right? “Go from here to there.”
Generally, the written texts give meditation instruction, i.e. take the lotus posture, breathe, and visualize this. They’re very simple. The texts don’t talk about what can go wrong. The texts don’t talk about obstacles specifically because everyone’s individual thing is so different.
How far is it to San Francisco from here? About ninety miles? (Laughs)
It’s ninety miles if you don’t get lost.
Each little teaching you receive tells you a little more, and things begin to fill in. Overall the Heart Sutra text tells us how to get from here to there, very simple; with more elaborate teachings, the instructions- the directions- become more detailed.
Those written texts are generally talking how to get there, but not how to avoid getting lost, going wrong. They don’t tell you about the things that might happen, and how to avoid them. So maybe here at Lion’s Roar what you’re taking away from coming here is how not to get it wrong – that’s why we learn practices like the Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion and the Foundation of All Good Qualities from qualified teachers.
But we also know it’s difficult. First, to begin with, we actually we have to have cars that work, right? In the nineties I had two cars that died! One of my cars was a Chevy Beretta – I bought it for fifty dollars from a nurse friend. It didn’t take long to break down. (laughs)
And actually there’s lots of prep that we need to do, i.e. the path of accumulation, the path of preparation – you can’t just take off with nothing. Most of the time the texts like the Heart Sutra don’t say anything about preparation – that’s why you need a Teacher. Even though we have amazing texts like the Lam Rim, those kinds of teachings are mostly passed on by oral instruction.
With the Lam Rim, Lama Tsongkhapa’s text that describes the entire Path, in order to understand it at all you have to hear some dharma teachings. You still need to see and hear a teacher to be able to really begin to get it.
Just reading about bicycle riding isn’t enough to prepare you to get on a bike and go on a bike ride on the American River Parkway. No one ever read a book about bikes and then just hopped on their bike and took off – you need someone to show you what to do, how to stay balanced, how to pedal, how to stop, you need a helmet, all of that. With these dharma texts, many things are just assumed – like that you have a qualified Teacher.
The Path is like riding a bicycle. So much of it you have to do hands on, and you need someone to show you how all the parts work together so you can operate it safely. You need to learn how to not fall off, and how to not get lost while you’re riding, how to pedal and navigate and pay attention all at the same time. So the path of preparation and the path of accumulation are important.
When you get a vehicle, you should know what to do when you break down, right? My first car was from my mother; before I took off and started driving my mom wanted to make sure I knew how to change a tire, jump the battery, what to do if I broke down. This is all part of the path. You need to learn how to change a tire. You need to learn how to change the oil. You need to know when things are wrong, and what to do.
Driving I-80 from here to San Francisco is fairly easy – it’s a pretty straight shot. One time though, twenty years ago, my teacher Geshe Losang la told me to go do a Yamantaka initiation in San Jose. Back then there was no internet, no smartphone maps. So I worked all day until 5:00pm, and then drove all the way down to San Jose, like two and a half, three hours, at rush hour.
It was a full empowerment ceremony in just one night; usually it’s done over a couple of days, so it went really late, until 2:00 a.m. When I got back in the car, after five or six hours of teachings, I was really, really tired; I had already worked all day, and then driven for hours.
So I got completely lost in San Jose – it’s a big, sprawling city. I thought, this is it, I have no idea where I am, where I’m going, nothing looked familiar. Where’s highway 680, or 280? What road am I on? Somehow I was heading to Fremont, the opposite of where I needed to go. I pulled over to the side of the freeway at 3:00am and cried.
Our Dharma path is a lot like that.
This happens in our practice, in our daily lives – we get lost and we go to Fremont. What’s usually happening is that in our minds, we’re stuck. For many students, when they’re coming to darshan and talking to me we often talk a lot about discouragement; “I’ll never make it to San Jose. I have no idea where I am.”
We get a little tired. We get confused. We lose sight of the Path. We pull over. After 4-5 years, maybe we’ve made it to Dixon, like fifteen, twenty miles. (laughs)
At Lion’s Roar, we’re trying to take that next step, and sometimes it feels like San Jose at 3:00am.
There’s a book that I heard about I’d like to read, ‘Thank you and Okay! An American Zen Failure in Japan.’ by David Chadwick. It’s about his experience in a monastery for several years, and the title made me interested. Actually, I’ve sat in a Zen monastery and they don’t want you to move, at all, so even after just forty-five minutes, it’s pretty easy to feel like a failure, much less four years.
Real life is this: parts of the Path are difficult, and you feel like a failure and you cry.
So, I always have a basic question for people who are sort of lost in San Jose. What gets you going again? What gets you back on track?
How come some people buckle, just completely quit school, and how do other people keep going? It’s interesting.
One of my first jobs as a counselor was in Fresno, counseling Cambodian refugees who had escaped from the killing fields. Within about six months, these refugees had functioning temples with monks and a community – they were chased out of their country, lost everything, came to a completely foreign land and then immediately came together and turned to the Dharma. I absolutely am in awe of that still.
That’s always the question on the path – what do we do when we’re stuck, when we’re lost? We in Vajrayana are stretching ourselves for the benefit of sentient beings – and we’re willing to get to place where we feel overwhelmed. We’re actually willing to go a bit extra, a little further; not to where we go crazy, but we do know we’ll always have to stretch ourselves, go a little bit further.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a very interesting person. If you’re curious, there’s a lot published about him, there have been several biographies by his wife and others. One story is about how his house was set up. He named it Kalapa Court; it was named after Kalapa Palace in Shambhala.
Back then I was a lousy practitioner, but I had a lot of money and liked things a certain way. That was in the Seventies (laughs). At Rinpoche’s house when you visited there would be tea and coffee, and when you sat in the living room the coffee table would always be way over here (gestures) where you would have to really reach, you almost had to get up. I remember thinking back then, “What’s with these people?” (laughter)
The thing is, Rinpoche purposefully set up the coffee table far away so you had to reach; you had to be a little uncomfortable. This is Vajrayana style – there’s a point to it. Usually with dharma things, we think we want it to be easy. Really, what we want is to build some muscle. But sometimes we’re trying and it’s too much, or it feels like too much.
Questions and Answers:
Question: You said that it helps to build muscle?
Lama Jinpa: You have to stretch; you have to build strength, and flexibility. It’s like you’re at the gym – you break it down, but not too much. But there has to be some challenge. It’s here where being skillful is important. In that way, I’m like a trainer. You have to develop a rhythm. And it isn’t like a marathon, it’s more like interval training, where the level of effort and difficulty changes. That’s more like the path.
Question: Interval training can be really fast, and then you cool down.
Lama Jinpa: It’s much more effective than just running flat out the whole time.
Most people feel really enthusiastic when they’re new to dharma, they feel lots of energy to run and run – and then they run right off a cliff. They aren’t being skillful yet, that’s why you need a Teacher, to show you how to pace yourself.
I know this sounds so obvious, right, but we have to experience this. We have to work up a sweat. Of course it’s always nice to sit and hear teachings, we need to hear about primordial awareness and emptiness – but you’ll find when you work with a teacher, of course we do that, but we want also want you engaged in the path.
It’s like learning Tai Chi – to learn it you actually have to be doing Tai Chi. You’re not just coming to hear a talk on Tai Chi and then you leave and that’s it.
And if a student stops listening to teachings, is running around out there with no training, there’s no strength, no stamina. The teacher sort of puts us in a helicopter and shows us the summit – and when we go to empowerments, energy is temporarily generated by teacher, and we feel great but it isn’t just our own energy. So you get a temporary glimpse of the top of the mountain, this incredible teaching, and then you go back down to base camp, your ordinary life, maybe it feels a little disappointing afterward. It’s hard.
An authentic teacher will actually tell you to get out of the helicopter! That can be discouraging – and also hard.
So what keeps us going? Who wins?
I always say, “Turtles win the race.” I don’t think that’s in the texts. (laughter)
Question: Lama la, you mentioned the Eight Fold Path. Is this connected?
Lama Jinpa: In my last few talks, I’ve been teaching about right effort. Many times this isn’t talked about as much as the other seven, for a reason – generally, effort can only be taught hands-on. We have to feel it in our bodies, in a way. We need a felt-sense of what happens when our body is coordinated and when it isn’t coordinated, when it’s strong and it isn’t strong, right? There’s so much to be understood about action and effort. Some of the dying words of my heart teacher broke down the eight- fold path to simply the three- fold path:
We need all three, but my teacher said that the one we need most is action.
As bodhisattvas, we have to use our body to manifest something. Sometimes I think of that Nike ad, “Just do it.” That’s why we’re here, and at some point, we’re required to take action, to engage.
Action and effort; lot times teachers don’t have a lot to say about them, but they’re really about working with energy, and that’s what we’re manifesting, we’re working with an energetic state.
Question: What’s the difference between effort and action?
Lama Jinpa: There’s sometimes lots of confusion about that when we’re starting the path. In the West, they’re often seen as the same, effort and action – you’re doing something.
But yoga style is like this: effort – mind training, concentration, understanding – ends with action.
Most of us start the Path from reading a book, that’s our first exposure to the Dharma. Very few of us meet a person. But then, as we begin engaging, we start reading lots of books, maybe we go online and listen to a lot of talks.
Eventually, we come to a place where we say, “I’m going to do it; I’m going to sit, and go to sangha, and find a Teacher. I am going to deal with myself.”
So, what keeps us going? What brought you here, tonight? Otherwise you could be at home instead, reading a book or watching YouTube. There is so much Dharma available now. Why come here?
Student: You are here.
Student: Because you’re here.
Lama Jinpa: It takes effort to come here. Energy is generated here. I appreciate that, I appreciate that effort, I understand what it takes.
When I’m talking about effort, actually, I’m talking about the energetic quality of dharma-
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha.
So many teachings talk about motivation – that is effort. It’s the energy we use in developing our Tantric view of emptiness. Sometimes we say in Vajrayana, it’s like a super charge. In our tradition we understand how to use energy. We’re not afraid to use energy – in fact, we’re going to use all available energy. But we need training. Vajrayana is like nuclear power, it needs to be handled properly.
Thanks for coming tonight and listening to me talk about the path, about right effort, it’s important.
There are a few different accounts of Buddha’s last words, but they’re essentially the same. His last words at his parinirvana were, “All composite phenomena are impermanent, work diligently on your liberation.” He was speaking about Right Effort.
If you’re with me when I’m dying, you don’t have to say, “Lama la, you’ll be all right.” Instead, say, “All composite phenomena are impermanent, work diligently on your liberation.” As practitioners you want to give the person who’s dying a kick off, a boost. It may sound uncompassionate, but it isn’t.
You should almost be saying, ”Are you goofing off?” It’s playful! When Buddha says “All composite things are impermanent, work diligently on you liberation,” he’s celebrating effort!
It’s like rowing a boat or canoe – sometimes rowing is fun, joyful effort. Keep it up! We’re doing it! Keep rowing!