Teacher’s teaching on how to eliminate afflictions

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Guidance from Venerable Xing Zhe)

Discover the causes of why we still have afflictions when faced with situations

Venerable Xing Zhe led us in the study of Teacher’s teaching on “How to face afflictions”, which was delivered at the Entrepreneur Camp held in Toronto on 3 June 2015. The issue that was raised at the camp was : after learning the Dharma, why do we still have afflictions when faced with situations?  Teacher mentioned this was because for aeons, we have been so entrenched in our habits and afflictions that even without encouragement, our mind would be swiftly occupied by these.  On the contrary, we are not familiar with mindfulness of the Dharma teachings; it is similar to having a treasured sword but not knowing how to use it, and thus not knowing how to draw it out immediately.  Teacher would like us to examine what were the issues that had caused us to ‘topple’ (i.e. come under the control of afflictions), whenever we encountered them in various situations ? What were these issues that had puzzled and troubled us for years?  Teacher told us a very important principle : behind any fiery affliction lies a firm belief. This belief’s karmic stream would deceive and prevent us from having the right response and feeling. Therefore, we need to know this in order for us to have the opportunity to block it.

Teacher cited an example of a superior who repeatedly received wrong messages from an employee.  Obviously, when faced with such a situation, the usual response would be an outburst of anger against the other person; we would label him/her and might even think that the other person wasted our time.  Teacher pointed out that actually the right approach would be to speak to the other person to first find out what difficulties he had, any external and emotional issues and understand his situation.  If the relationship had become an impasse with no room for discussion, then if we were the supervisor, we could write down “my” reasoning and apply the principles in the Lamrim – such as the truth of cause and effect, mindfulness of death etc – to examine what we should do as Dharma practitioners in such a scenario; reflect on whether our anger at that moment was because our interest had been compromised orother people’s interest had been compromised.  In addition, examine where we would be led to after our “I” had flared up and caused us to create a huge amount of anger and hatred related karma.  After comparing every one of our reasoning with the principles of the Lamrim, analyse what was the root cause of our suffering – was it because of our own improper thinking that led us to suffer ? should we take ultimate responsibility for our sufferings?

Apply and practice the methods learnt to become proficient

Venerable said that we were not familiar on how to deal with / overcome our afflictions. When we are faced with the things that we have not learnt before, we do not know how to operate it.  Firstly, “learning to know” is important.  We feel that we understand and can relate to the principles stated in the Lamrim, but in reality, do we know how to operate these principles?  We must practice these again and again till we are familiar and proficient. Under normal circumstances, before situations arise, we have to do the analysis (mentioned by Teacher above) positively, and once the situations arise we will have the ability to withstand it.  Also, get connected with the limitless force in the morning – supplicate to our Master and all Virtuous Teachers for blessings and support to go through each day; we need not fight our afflictions alone.  Teacher said that when we learned and listened to the Dharma after having discarded our armor and thawed our austerity, each person’s face was like that of a seven or eight years old child receiving protection, purity and serenity.  Teacher hoped that everyone could reap the benefits of the Dharma and she was willing to deliver all the light into our hearts.  Teacher said that in order to put into practice Master’s teachings and instructions, the very first thing we would have to do was to change ourselves.  In doing so, we would surely gain the most benefits.  Before we could save others, we “ourselves would have to practice” thoroughly.  Teacher encouraged us to become Bodhisattvas! She said, “Masterwishes that we walk the Mahayana path using our human body, which is more precious than gold, to become Bodhisattvas.  Therefore do not let it down.”  In his summary, Venerableemphasized Teacher’s questions, “Who really am I?”, “What do I want to do?”, “Where is my goal?”, and “What am I here for in this life?”. He hoped that we would reflect on our roles in this life and to establish our life’s objective.  Once the objective has been established, then we must have the sincerity to follow through to achieve our objectives.

Summary on how to overcome afflictions

The Venerable summarized the key points and quoted from Master Tsong-kha-pa’s Lamrim, ‘with regard to keeping a pure ethical discipline in this way, Neu-sur-ba  said,” Right now, only this internal struggle with the afflictions is important. If you do not struggle with the afflictions, you will not achieve a pure ethical discipline, in which case, you will not attain the concentration and wisdom that, respectively, suppress and uproot the afflictions. Hence, as the Buddha says, you will have to wander continually through cyclic existence.”’ to conclude the learnings for that day. He hoped that everyone would properly learn/practice what had been learnt that day. Most important of all, strive to overcome afflictions. How do we do it? 

Firstly, we must observe the situations in which our failings lie and recognize what these situations are.

Secondly, find out the reason behind our outburst.  We must break free from the views we hold that lies behind the rise of our afflictions. The Venerable used his role as an attendant to illustrate how he spotted the afflictions of his unquiet mind. When he encountered constant admonishment, his initial thoughts were to humbly accept. However when the rebukes kept coming, he felt that the other party was intent on creating trouble with him. It was under such a situation that the Venerable detected his own afflictions. The Venerable quoted from the Lamrim, ‘An affliction is defined as a phenomenon that, when it arises, is disturbing in character and that, through arising, disturbs the mind-stream’. By looking inward into the afflictions of his own unquiet mind, the Venerable discovered the flaws that he needed to correct within. Thereafter, he became willing to find the correct method to eliminate the flaws.

Thirdly, when we come across one who is lost and disturbed, we should seek first to understand him. Have a good talk with him and help him find out the cause of his problem. It is through helping that enables us to spot the root of the problem. The Venerable stressed that we must practice the above methods before the situation and troubled mental states arise. He advised us to identify the situations and our mental states in writing, to identify what we should do in such situations, and observe what our self-centred views are. Very often, we feel that we do not have afflictions and that we are the victims instead. However when we repeatedly analyse our mind stream, you will discover that it is the grasping to the ‘self’ in action. At the moment when you become aware that you are giving the excuse that you do not have afflictions, you will witness the grasping to the ‘self’ at work while you also recognize the need to change for the better. 

Fourthly, we have to compare our mental states as we deal with our afflictions and see if we are progressing by the day. To be able to draw the sword of Dharma in the quickest time to overcome afflictions, we have to depend on our practice when situations have yet to arise,  along with supplication to our Teachers.

Venerable encouraged us to practice what Master wishes us to do – When we encounter situations and afflicted mental states arise, give it our greatest priority and put in our wholehearted effort to eradicate the afflictions; such is the practice of the Dharma.

Jan 2016 Spiritual Learning Camp Lesson Summary by:  He Ling Ling, Huang Ya Qi

Translation by: Nellie Lim, Chia Mui Eng, Tenzin Quek.