A Tibetan teacher shares his advice for achieving mental strength in the 21st century.
Whatever the circumstance may be, there is a difference between people who gather merit (or positivity) and those who do not. What do I mean by gathering merit? First, it is to be able to cultivate compassion; to have an altruistic motivation and to do things to benefit others. It is to help people in an appropriate way, such as giving advice, and likewise to be generous and disciplined and to develop patience—to develop these kinds of qualities and do things with a pure, sincere wish to help.
Moreover, someone who regards themselves as a Buddhist should “make offerings upward” and “practice generosity downward,” meaning that one should make offerings “upwardly”—to our objects of refuge, the buddhas, our spiritual teachers; and to the sangha, the community of practitioners—and give “downwardly” to sentient beings. Make offerings and practice generosity like this on a regular basis.
It is through these kinds of actions, done with a pure motivation, that you gather merit, and the result of this is that you will encounter fewer obstacles and hindrances in this life, your aims will be fulfilled, and things will go smoothly for you.
2. Seek Out Good Role Models
In addition to gathering merit, we also need good role models to follow. It has been more than 2,500 years since Buddha Shakyamuni passed into parinirvana,yet the transmission of his teachings remains embodied and upheld in today’s genuine and qualified dharma teachers. These teachers are excellent role models for us, and to follow their example and teachings is excellent too.
In my case, my role models are my meditation teachers, Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Kyabje Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. Both of these teachers were extraordinarily kindhearted, generous, caring, and patient, and both were outstanding meditators. They were amazing people. So you likewise need to find this kind of role model, someone with truly excellent qualities to look up to and try to emulate. For us Buddhists, our shared role model is of course Buddha Shakyamuni himself.
By relying on such role models, we will be able to mold and transform our character and behavior into something much more positive, and as a result we will encounter fewer difficulties.
This is particularly important for dharma practitioners, since as practitioners we need to unravel the true intent and meaning of Buddha’s teaching: the innate, natural state. We need to understand this and know how to train in it. Taking a genuine dharma teacher as your example and following their teachings will boost and enhance your understanding and practice of the natural state.
3. Approach All Endeavors with Intelligence
Whatever activities you are involved in, whether they are mundane or spiritual, you need to approach them with intelligence. You need to ask yourself, “OK, what qualities are needed to fulfill this role? How should this job be done? What information is needed?” You need to acquire the necessary skills and qualities, to listen to and learn from others, and to change yourself. As for learning, you all know how to do this. It can sometimes be difficult to listen to and learn from others, but we need to do it. And finally, we need to change ourselves: if you are lacking certain needed qualities, then learn to develop them. If you see you have some faults, then slowly work on transforming these faults; don’t just leave them as they are. Otherwise you will never improve.
In terms of the dharma, we need the intelligence of knowing the natural state and of never parting from the motivation of bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment. These days many practitioners are losing bodhicitta. Sometimes I also find myself thinking, “Can I really reach enlightenment? Is it really possible? And in any case, will it really be of benefit to others and to myself?” The state of enlightenment, buddhahood, is the ultimate benefit, the ultimate bliss, the ultimate peace, and the ultimate, unsurpassable method to benefit oneself and others. That being so, we need to develop the wish and determination to attain enlightenment. This is bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment. So as practitioners, we should (with intelligence) receive genuine dharma teachings from genuine teachers, reflect upon them genuinely, and put them into practice genuinely.
4. Nurture Dignity and Confidence
Sometimes we encounter problems and challenges in our mundane lives, or we experience failure. At such times, we shouldn’t let the setback rob us of our dignity and confidence. Instead, we should approach the situation in a constructive way. Think, “OK, I didn’t succeed here. Why not? What was I missing? What did I do wrong?” And take it all as experience. Then set out to remove the faults and flaws that caused the problem so you’ll be able to succeed in the future. You should feel confident: Yes, I can attain enlightenment, I can benefit beings. Here in samsara I can help my family, I can support the sangha and benefit sentient beings. I can do it. I can achieve things, and I can live a joyful, meaningful life. In this way, we need to nurture inner dignity and confidence, even in the face of challenges.
This kind of dignity is such an important quality, and for practitioners it is simply indispensable. Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche would say that without dignity you cannot succeed in dharma practice, particularly meditation. This dignity is a kind of courage, a decisive, unwavering certainty. It is not a shaky or hesitant state of mind, a thought like “Oh, I am not sure if meditation will really be beneficial or not. . . . I wonder if my meditation is okay or not. . . .” Nothing like that.
Some people know the dharma, they understand it, but they still ask questions. This is a clear sign of lack of confidence and doubt. Of course, if you don’t understand something or don’t know something, then you need to ask and should ask; but when you find yourself asking questions and feeling doubt about things you already know, that is a sign of lack of dignity.
What is the remedy for this? How can practitioners develop this dignity? Supplicate the buddhas and supreme ones (buddha, dharma, and sangha). This is the general approach that is common to all Buddhists. If you are a Vajrayana practitioner, also supplicate your gurus and supreme yidam deity, and train in developing divine dignity. Whichever approach you follow, make supplications to be blessed with inner dignity.