|Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.
Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practicing Pure Perception
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness
Pure perception and the importance of respect for the Sangha
It is difficult to say who is or is not a buddha or bodhisattva. The supreme method to avoid the pitfall of generating negative thoughts and actions towards them is to cultivate pure perception of all sentient beings, seeing everyone as pure. The best advice is to cultivate the attitude that all sentient beings are buddhas and to regard them as buddhas, to show respect with our bodies, speech and minds.
Even when we see faults in others, we should remind ourselves that these faults are conditioned phenomena and can be eradicated upon the application of the correct antidotes.
When practicing pure perception, we pay respect with our bodies, speech and minds, first, to our spiritual master followed by the Sangha community and then to all sentient beings.
There are many reasons why we should practice such pure perception:
- We are from the same centre and should have mutual love and respect for one another.
- We are all followers of the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa.
- We are all followers of the Buddha’s teachings.
- We are all human beings and part of humanity.
- We all have consciousnesses and are sentient beings.
When we practise pure perception by reflecting on these different levels of commonality, our ability to interact with others will be enhanced and we can make more friends. Our anger towards others will also be reduced.
In Singapore, the Chinese Mahayana community is extremely respectful to ordained people, often spontaneously bowing down at the feet of the monk or nun.
As long as someone bears the signs of ordination, that person is an object of homage and showing respect with our bodies, speech and minds is important, beneficial and necessary. When I mention this, people may misunderstand that I am asking them to show me more respect. That is not the point.
At this centre, we have had the opportunity to study the Buddha’s teachings and practices in some depth and we have some ability to explain those teachings using logic and reasoning. Our external behaviour therefore should reflect whatever knowledge we may have. When we fail to show respect in the proper way, then there is a disparity between our knowledge and behaviour, isn’t it? We need to close that gap.
We will accumulate negative karma when we criticize the Sangha but we will create positive karma and generate merit for ourselves when we are respectful and relate to them in the proper way.
Sangha members are not perfect. But what makes them special is the vows they hold. It is not because they are free of faults.
When we say we should not criticize an ordained person, it does not mean that even when they engage in inappropriate activities, we are not allowed to comment. One can respectfully approach the ordained person and ask, “I don’t understand why you are doing this. What is your reason for doing this?” One can discuss the matter and seek a solution. That is the meaning of not criticizing and belittling an ordained person.
Having mutual respect applies to everyone. All the students and members within the centre should have mutual respect for one another. When that is absent, we would go on to show disrespect to the Sangha and once that happened, one would carry on to show disrespect to the gurus. If that were to happen, then we would be the ones to suffer the loss seriously.
Advice from the Kadampa masters: Never seek out faults of others but always look at one’s own mistakes
The Kadampa masters advise that we should always look at our own faults, treating them as our enemies and never seek out the faults of others. Before we can positively influence and change others, we first have to change ourselves. Without improving our own minds, it is very difficult to change other people in a positive way.
“The faults” refers to our three mental poisons and our physical and verbal negativities. When we find ourselves doing inappropriate things that are not beneficial, we should correct ourselves by remembering, “This is not good and is unproductive. I should not do this.”
We cannot change other people by looking at their faults and we cannot influence them in a positive way until we have improved ourselves. Looking at other people’s mistakes only causes our anger and negative mind to increase. Even if we have been in a positive state of mind, once we start finding fault, we feel agitated and unhappy, harming ourselves and subsequently others in the process.
When we point out their faults, people become irritated and angry. Their response may be, “Who are you to correct me? I can do whatever I want.” We hurt them by instigating their anger and there is no benefit.
The masters also advised that we should hide whatever good qualities we may have, praising the good qualities of others instead. This means we should not be boastful, e.g. telling others, “I have studied for so many years; I am good-hearted; I have clairvoyance, you know.” Why should we hide our qualities? Because boastfulness only increases our arrogance, conceit, pride and attachment. These are all negative emotions which will only hurt us in the end.
We should praise and concentrate on the good qualities of others instead of looking at their faults. When a person has a good heart, we should say so, “That is a good-hearted person.” We should also proclaim those qualities, for by doing so, we will be able to see and recognise those good qualities more clearly ourselves. This benefits us in our development of bodhicitta and the good heart. There is a connection; the more we are able to see the good qualities of others, the easier it will be for us to respect them and develop the mind that cherishes them. These are the benefits.
When we consider the advice of the great Kadampa masters, we find it is really wonderful and beneficial. We are supposed to check our minds continuously day and night, but we do the exact opposite. Day and night, we appear to be practising virtue and physically doing recitations but we do not check our minds. This is a mistake that must be changed.
Instead of seeing our own faults as our enemies, again we do the exact opposite; we always think we are in the right and we pick at the faults of others. In the same way, instead of hiding our qualities and praising others, we are boastful and we forget to praise the qualities of others, only seeing their faults instead.