|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. Practising 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
Why faith is crucial
All the different sutras and commentaries are the same in that they all point to faith as the very root of all virtuous activities.
It is extremely important to have this single-pointed faith in the presentation of the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels and in the law of cause and effect and so on because then mental transformation and improvement become possible.
Faith is important in all religious traditions. Look at our Christian friends. Because of their faith in God, their understanding of and conviction in God’s work, they engage in so many beneficial activities to help others. In essence, they become better people.
It is the same with Buddhists. Those who have the faith of conviction in the Buddha’s teachings also engage in virtuous activities such as practising generosity and so forth. Whatever religion we are talking about, it all boils down to faith.
When we have the single-pointed faith of conviction in the Three Jewels, we would naturally try to live our lives in accordance with Buddha’s advice. Similarly, when we have faith in the law of cause and effect, we would live our lives according to those principles, striving to abandon that which should be abandoned and cultivating that which should be cultivated.
With faith, the aspiration for the goal of liberation and enlightenment would naturally arise and joyous perseverance in putting in the effort to achieve our goal would also arise of its own accord. We would not need someone to coax, force or encourage us. Laziness, the state of mind disinterested in virtue, would stop.
In dependence on joyous perseverance, we can then investigate: What are the things we should abandon and cultivate? Based on this analysis, after having ascertained what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, the result is belief in that.
Leaving matters at the level of belief is not enough. Having ascertained this knowledge, we should remember and familiarise our minds with it. By using what we have ascertained as the object of our mindfulness, we can then develop single-pointed concentration.
The object of our single-pointed concentration becomes the basis for us to develop a special kind of exalted wisdom, which enables us to ascertain the nature of reality. This wisdom realising emptiness is the very tool we can use to cut the root of cyclic existence, i.e., the self-grasping conception, together with its seeds. This is the way to achieve liberation.
Before we can generate this exalted wisdom realising emptiness, we must first develop single-pointed concentration. In order to develop this concentration, we must first have the special kind of mindfulness that does not forget its object. What are we mindful of? We are basically mindful of an object that we have already ascertained.
To be mindful of an object, we have to first understand or realise that object. Before developing that kind of mindfulness, we need to have belief, i.e., the mind that comes about after the valid cognition that has ascertained its object.
Before we can develop that kind of belief, we must first have the aspiration that is the impetus for us to realise that object in the first place. Where does this aspiration come from? We need to have faith. Without faith, we cannot generate aspiration. We can see then how faith is the root of all good qualities.
There are many different kinds of faith. There is the faith in the minds of those with sharp faculties and those with dull faculties. There are those who have blind faith and those whose faith arises only after analysis and reasoning.
We must have faith in the Buddha’s teachings but before that can happen, we must first understand what those teachings are. We must study, listen, read, think and so forth and on the basis of such activities, we can generate irreversible faith. Irreversible faith can only be generated on the basis of investigating the teachings and understanding them using logic and reasoning.
We should then generate this motivation for listening to and studying the teachings: “Faith is the source of all the higher qualities, all virtuous actions. Since that is the case, in order to develop this irreversible faith in the teachings of the Buddha, I am listening to and studying the teachings.”
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Don’t be like a hopping rabbit!
Guntang Rinpoche said once we are able to generate stable faith, then joyous perseverance for virtue would naturally arise. But if our faith is unstable, like a hopping rabbit - sometimes strong, sometimes not there at all – then even our prostrations, for example, will merely serve to whip up dust from the ground.
It is also important that we have strong and stable faith in our spiritual masters or gurus.
We also need to develop a strong and stable faith of conviction in the need to analyse and study the teachings of the Buddha. Having such faith in the importance of studying the teachings will help us to complete our studies. Then, no matter how busy we may be, we will always set aside time for our studies.
We will not accomplish or complete our studies if our faith in its importance is like that of a hopping rabbit – sometimes studying, and at other times, slacking off.
Once we have decided, from the very depths of our hearts, that this is something that is very good for us and we must do it, then naturally we will put effort into pursuing our studies. This is because we see for ourselves the need for and the purpose of studying all these subjects. It all boils down to whether we are able to generate in our own minds this determination from the heart. This will then determine whether the effort will spontaneously arise from our side or not.
Our faith in our studies should not be like a hopping rabbit. At the beginning of each module, we feel, “I must study as this is very important.” As the course progresses, however, so does our boredom. When that happens, nothing will be accomplished. The point here is that effort must be applied continuously.
We must keep this in mind. This is not to say that we will not encounter any difficulties during the course of our studies. It is not easy. But when we have this determination from the depths of our hearts thinking, “This is something I must do in this life and I should not miss out on this opportunity,” we will put aside time and the effort will come.
Without this determination from our own side, from the depths of our hearts, no matter how perfectly all the most favourable conditions come together for one to study, everything will be very difficult.
Developing faith depends on us
It is very important that we begin with studying extensively and then reflecting on and analysing what we have learnt. Only then can we gain firm ascertainment of the teachings, which should be followed by constant meditation on them. In this way, realisations can come and extraordinary faith in our teachers and in the great composers of the treatises will arise.
Different levels of faith are generated in this process. When we first listen to and have some understanding of the teachings from our guru, we develop some faith in him. Our faith in our guru deepens when we reflect on and ascertain the teachings we have received from him. Then, when we meditate and develop some realisations based on his instructions, we will generate extraordinary faith in our guru. From there, we can generate irreversible faith in the lineage lamas going all the way back to the Buddha himself.
We can see from this that the power of our faith depends on whether we have done extensive studying, reflection and meditation. The greater the faith in our teachers, the greater will be our effort to put the teachings into practice. Then, we will definitely be able to pacify and remove our suffering.
The sutras say that faith is the foundation of all our virtue. A mind without faith cannot generate virtue just as a burnt seed is unable to produce a plant. When we strongly develop the correct kind of faith, our virtue will increase. For such faith to arise in our minds, we have to study, reflect and meditate on the teachings. We must understand the reasons for and the importance of studying in order to generate the determination to apply ourselves to our studies. We should aspire to be like Lama Tsongkhapa.
Our minds will not change or improve when our faith is weak and unstable and we do not practise properly. Faith comes when we taste and experience the teachings for ourselves and that experience can only come from reflection and meditation. Whether we develop faith or not depends on us.