Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:
Buddhism teaches that all dharmas arise conditionally. Everything in our world, whether worldly or supra-worldly dharma, arises when causes and conditions come together. All things rely on causes and their corresponding conditions to exist: a wholesome effect appears because its causes and conditions come together; an unwholesome effect appears for the same reason. Since all dharmas arise as aggregates of causes and conditions, they have no self-nature. The absence of self-nature is “no-self”, which is to be without an autonomous, independent self and empty of substantial existence.
All dharmas have no-self. Emptiness inheres in suffering and happiness.
The virtuous ancients have a poem about this truth:
“With the right causes and conditions, success comes easily;
With the right causes but not conditions, the fruit cannot appear.
If in doubt, just watch the willows by the winter river.
All grow new leaves when the spring breeze blows.
The spring breeze represents external conditions. If a tree is to sprout or bloom, it must depend on these conditions. When spring comes, the weather improves, and causes unite with their corresponding conditions. Thus, a tree can grow and flourish. The same is true in our studies, careers, and cultivation. Causes and conditions must come together if we are to succeed.
All the suffering and happiness we experience in this life are due to causes and conditions coming together. Causality includes the past as well as the present. If we planted wholesome causes and created wholesome karma in the past, then the effect that materializes in the present will be favorable. However, if we planted unwholesome causes and created unwholesome conditions and karma, then the effect that appears in this life will be undesirable instead. When a favorable effect appears, we experience joy; when an undesirable effect manifests, we experience suffering.
Over the course of our lives, we may receive favorable or wholesome results such as academic achievements, a successful career, or spiritual attainments… generally speaking, when we gain certain stature, honors, or acclaim, we typically feel delighted or even overjoyed. At this stage, if we do not understand the truth of no-self, our minds will attach to favorable circumstances or become deluded by joy, where we find “extreme joy begets sorrow.” But if we understand the truth of no-self, that “all dharmas arise conditionally,” that “all conditional arising is empty in nature,” and that all things are effects created by causes and conditions coming together, then we will absolutely not attach to favorable conditions. Moreover, we will know to share and dedicate the wholesome effects of our actions with all sentient beings.
Buddhism teaches us to “dedicate merits to the Three Jewels, attribute credit to other people, but accept and reflect on criticism by ourselves.” Why should we “dedicate merits to the Three Jewels?” If not for the Three Jewels, we would never know cultivation—all the merits we realize thusly are by virtue of the Three Jewels’ guidance and the kindness of sentient beings. Therefore, we must “dedicate merits to the Three Jewels.” When we succeed in performing wholesome deeds, it is never due to our personal efforts alone, so we must “attribute credit to other people.” If not for myriad causes and conditions coming together, our efforts would be fruitless. Therefore, when we gain some merits, do not become arrogant, overly-proud, or indulge in emotional highs. Know that it is because of wholesome causes we planted in the past, and wholesome conditions that manifested in the present. Causes and conditions came together, that is why a wholesome effect appeared. Even so, these causes and conditions will fall apart someday. Without them, the effect also disappears. What is there worth getting overjoyed about?
On the contrary, if things are not going smoothly, if we have many failures, do not be discouraged. Do not think that buddhas and bodhisattvas have forgotten us and blest us not, or that fellow practitioners are unsupportive. Our situation is the effect brought forth by unwholesome causes, conditions, and karma that we created in the past. Once these causes and conditions fall apart, their effects will also cease to exist. All things are effects of causes and conditions coming together. By understanding that all dharmas arise and cease on account of causal conditions, we will see the reality of all external circumstances and put down our attachments to them.
Unmoved by gain and loss, accord with conditions to enjoy intrinsic freedom.
The Essence of Mahayana Practice states, “Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind [experiences] neither gain nor loss.” When there is success, do not become self-satisfied; when there is failure, do not raise afflictions. Do not become elated in favorable situations, nor distressed in unfavorable ones. Remain unmoved in success and unmoved in failure. Act according to the conditions at hand, with “the mind experiencing neither gain nor loss.”
If we encounter favorable situations such as being praised by others, and thus experience an emotional high, then the mind experiences “gain.” If things are not going our way, like when others talk behind our backs, spreading rumors or disparaging us, and we thus hang our heads in dejection, feeling like everything is over, or that life is not worth living, then the mind experiences “loss.” With this attitude, it is not only difficult to succeed, but we may also turn back on the Way and regress from the bodhi mind.
The poet Su Dongpo claimed to be “unmoved by the eight winds,” which similarly refers to a state where “the mind [experiences] neither gain nor loss.” The eight winds represent eight types of experiential states that can blow our mindfulness away: praise, ridicule, defamation, honor, gain, loss, suffering, and happiness. If we habitually attach to outside circumstances, like behaving based on others’ opinions and giving rise to thought after thought driven by outside situations, then the mind experiences gain and loss—this is the state of sentient beings.
Now, we must learn to see through outside circumstances and relinquish our attachments to them: fame and profit, grasping and rejection, gain and loss—these external things have nothing to do with me anymore. When others praise me, I do not get happy; when others speak ill of me, I do not raise afflictions. If this very mind is not driven by external conditions, that is to “experience neither gain nor loss.”
When the mind experiences neither gain nor loss, then it is neither coming nor going; when the mind neither comes nor goes and is unmoving in suchness, then it is the tathagatha. This is to transcend the mundane and reach liberation in the here and now—where we obtain real and substantial benefits. Know that all things arise as aggregates of causes and conditions: they are illusory appearances. When the wind of external conditions blows our way, our minds abide in the wisdom of suchness, not carried away by these conditions. Then, this very mind present now has samadhi power and wisdom, and resonates with the Way of bodhi and with the Way of nirvana. Being in tune with the state of equality and non-duality, we realize the mind that is ultimate reality.
Our life experiences can be understood as favorable results and undesirable outcomes. Undesirable outcomes bring suffering, while favorable results bring happiness. When we can bring lasting peace to the mind in the midst of suffering and happiness, that is a state of sages. Otherwise, we are still ordinary beings. Cultivation is to practice on this very mind as the cause. When circumstances bring suffering, we must not be dejected or raise afflictions. When they bring happiness, we should not indulge in joy. Then, this very mind is liberation—it will enjoy intrinsic freedom. If we practice according to this teaching, then every aspect of our lives will be filled with Buddhadharma. This is the true Dharma.
Chung Tai Magazine #238