Friday, April 24, 2015


What is our most powerful experience as human beings? I think it is our experience as emotion. Emotions create great joy and intense suffering for ourselves and others; they are a powerful source of energy and very difficult to tame. This teaching by The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche exemplifies the practical genius of the Tibetan Buddhist system.

Whatever our condition in life - whether we are young or old, wealthy or impoverished, educated or illiterate, we are all touched by the same emotions that bring happiness one moment and suffering the next. Though we all wish to be happy and pursue that state daily, instead of feeling content, we may feel that we have missed the boat once again; in fact, we can practically see it sailing off without us.

We might ask ourselves why, when we aim only for happiness, we often end up so far from our target. What is it that interferes with our aspirations and intentions?

The Buddha taught four profound truths about suffering. First, suffering in life is inevitable. Second, that suffering has specific causes; it is not random. Third, there can genuinely be an end to suffering; we can go beyond it. Fourth, the transcendence of suffering also has specific causes. Generating those causes is what we call "the path."

It is known as the path that leads beyond suffering, the path to liberation, the way to enlightenment, and so forth. In other words, just as suffering has causes, so too does transcendence; it is not random.

Being on this path means that we are willing to work with our minds, and we are willing to be uncomfortable at times in the process.

When we are looking for the causes of our suffering, the Buddha teaches us to look first at the mind as the source of our experience and the means for understanding it.

The first step, mindful gap, refers to the practice of distancing ourselves from whatever emotion may be rising. While remaining mindful and aware, we feel the emotion and hold still, without reacting.

We can then view the emotion and the experiencer of the emotion as being separate. We feel that there is a gap between the two. It is this gap, attended by mindfulness that provides the ground or psychological space for working with our emotions. When we are able to create a "safe" distance, we can see the emotion more clearly without becoming overwhelmed by it.

The second step, letting go, refers to the methods by which we physically and mentally release emotional energy. While there are several approaches to this, including physical exercise, working with the breath, and relaxation techniques, the primary method is letting go through awareness. The very fact of being aware is already a process of letting go. If we have properly applied the first method of mindful gap, then at this level, we begin to let go of our fixation or grasping onto the emotion itself.

As we learn these two steps, we develop our capacity to relinquish the emotions, to transform them, and finally to recognize their ultimate nature of wisdom.

Emotions do not arise haphazardly or randomly, without causes or conditions. They do NOT arise suddenly out of nowhere, as we often think. When we perceive an emotion as arising abruptly or unexpectedly, it is because we do not see its causes and conditions, which can evolve from subtle habitual tendencies, or karmic seeds, that have lain dormant in our minds like "sleeper cells." When they become activated, the emotion "suddenly" appears.

The Buddha, in the Abhidharma teachings, called these dormant tendencies "small growers" or "subtle expanders," which means that they start from very subtle causes and conditions and then grow into something very large. At the moment we perform any action, whether it is positive or negative; that action makes an imprint in our mindstream. That imprint is like a seed; it carries the potential to ripen and yield a result. - By Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

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