The True Buddhist
By Venerable Shangpa Rinpoche
When we call ourselves Buddhists, we mean we are the followers of Buddha. The most important aspect of being a Buddhist is that we should follow the path of Buddha and always reflect as Buddhists. Buddha is a Sanskrit word. It refers to one who has awakened from the ignorant mind and who has accomplished knowledge and wisdom. The Tibetan word for this is 'Sangye'.
Every Buddhist has ambitions and goals to attain the state of Buddhahood. The attainment of Buddhahood is the achievement and development of one's potential to liberate all sentient beings from suffering.
Those who have not yet achieved Buddhahood, have conflicting emotions such as desire, hatred, jealousy, ignorance and countless types of defilements. All these defilements come from ignorance; that is, being without wisdom and not knowing the true nature of mind. This ignorance causes all kinds of complications and confusion in the samsara. But ignorance is not permanent. It can be removed by applying wisdom. By turning ignorance to wisdom, one will be able to understand the truth. This will gradually lead one to the state of the enlightenment. Therefore, as a Buddhist, the most important goal is to develop wisdom and understand the basic teachings of Buddha dharma, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Fold Paths; and then the practice of Bodhisattva paths and Vajrayana methods. An understanding of these will help us to develop wisdom.
Besides absorbing the knowledge of dharma,application of the teachings is also important. Whatever knowledge of the dharma we have absorbed into our mind streams, we must apply. For example, we all know that we should be generous. The knowledge of this is insufficient. We must implement that knowledge and practise generosity at all times.
Similarly, morality is equally important and we should implement and practise it. It is only through applying the teachings that we will reach the stage of enlightenment.
The more we understand the dharma, the more we will know when and where to apply it. Every moment in any situation of our daily lives is an opportunity for us to practise in order to develop ourselves spiritually. The more unfavourable circumstances we experience, the greater our chances of success in our dharma practice.
For example, you may have an enemy who causes you alot of discomfort through hatred and curses. Generally, this is perceived as a bad situation as nobody wants to be hated or cursed as it causes discomfort and misery to oneself. However, from a spiritual-practice point of view, it is a good moment of challenge as it gives us the opportunity to develop and strengthen the positive attitude towards dharma. Patience is the important teaching in dharma and we can apply it in all circumstances. Especially when facing our enemies, we have to be tolerant and patient. If we can apply these principles, we will succeed in our practice.
Suffering is the path to happiness. Basically, the more difficulties we experience, the better are the results we gain; just as we must work hard in order to achieve good results. Though we may experience alot of difficulties, obstacles and hindrances, this is the passage to success. Dharma is very precious, as it helps us to overcome all kinds of difficulties, regardless of whether they are emotional or physical in nature. Dharma is actually the only treasure that leads us to success in our practice.
Thus, being a good Buddhist does not mean always appearing in the temple. In fact, a good Buddhist can be in anywhere, such as a business place, the street or a restaurant. In other words, as long as one can apply and practise dharma at all times, one is considered a good Buddhist. To use every moment of our experiences to develop one's practice is to be a pure Buddhist. One who does not apply dharma effectively but who always appears in the temple is called a physical Buddhist or an outlook Buddhist. One who practices and applies dharma regularly and correctly and, at the same time, always visit the temple is a very good Buddhist and a practitioner.
When any defilement arises, the practitioner can recognise it instantly. After recognising that the defilement, one should implement mindfulness and awareness to apply the antidote and be free from that particular defilement. Hence, whatever emotion and defilement arises, one must take it as a challenge and overcome it and that is the correct method for us to follow.
However, application is not as easy as we may think.It can be very tough and difficult to recognise our defilement. Even we recognise it, it may be difficult to recall or apply the antidote effectively. As the force of defilement is very strong in comparison to the weakness of an antidote, we may not be able to remove the defilement so quickly. Actually, we all want to purify our numerous defilements but the defilements are too much to be overcome all at once.Constant effort and hard work will help us to succeed in overcoming our defilements. Eventually, our effort will become positive habits and we will be able to succeed one day.
Once there was a Tibetan merchant named Norbu Zangpo, who lost all his money in his business. Due to his failure in the business, he felt very upset and disappointed and wanted to quit. Feeling so depressed, he lay down on the ground and he noticed that an ant was trying to climb a blade of grass. Halfway up, it fell down. It tried again and again many times and the merchant counted 79 times of the ant falling. At last on the 80th time, it managed to climb on to the tip of the grass. Suddenly, the merchant realised that without constant effort, one cannot succeed in anything. From then on, he put a lot of effort and hard work into his business and he succeeded. He became the richest and most successful businessman in Tibet. The tiny insect Ant gave that inspiration to him.
The story reminds us to exert effort constantly and not to be afraid of failure. In the process, even one does not succeed initially, one needs to practice until one succeeds. We all lack mindfulness and constant effort. We expect immediate results without exerting much effort. This is not possible. Dharma is mental training and cannot be bought or transferred. It is very simple if we know how to apply dharma to act as an antidote to purify defilement. If dharma becomes supplementary to one's pride or defilement, that will develop a negative effect against oneself. If dharma is practised through proper application, it will become the antidote to defilement. That is to say, with right implementation, one can reduce one's defilements like hatred, ignorance, desire, and all other kinds of confusions.
Basically, through all these processes we are able to distinguish whether a person is a true Buddhist or not. A true Buddhist is one who does not only just understand the teachings of dharma, but who implements them and experiences the results. Not being a true Buddhist means that we do not implement the teachings of dharma and never change our attitude towards the spiritual path. Instead, we show off our pride of knowing dharma and look down on others and this increases further our negative thoughts.
Listening to dharma teachings with contemplation and meditation covers the whole practice. We must try to understand the meaning of Buddha's teachings, then contemplate and investigate the dharma. After investigating the logic of truth, then we must implement and apply whatever we have learnt and meditate on it. With these methods, our practice of dharma can be effective and we will be able to achieve enlightenment.
Meditation does not mean only sitting down and placing our palms together. Meditation can be practised in many different ways such as development of generosity, patience, and morality. In fact, all these practices are related to meditation, which requires awareness and mindfulness. For instance, if a person is cooking and he says that he is meditating, you will not believe him because you do not expect meditation to be like this. How can he be meditating while he is cooking? However, if he applies the qualities of mindfulness and awareness to the process of cooking, then he is indeed meditating.
In Vajrayana, we have lots of chanting, musical instruments playing and many different hand mudras etc. All these are also part of the meditation. Through these meditation and actions we are able to realise the nature of mind more effectively.
Finally, a true Buddhist is one who applies the teachings of Buddha to his mind-steam and every day life. By doing that, one is mindful towards every thought and action. Once you have that quality, you will not make any mistake and you will continue increasing your positive thoughts as well as merits or wisdom. When you have those qualities, the inner bliss will arise and then you will be fully satisfied and find the purpose of life.
This teaching was given at the Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre, Singapore on 3rd May 1995 before Vesak Day.