The Times of India
Know your own nature
SONAL SRIVASTAVASONAL SRIVASTAVA | Sep 26, 2011, 12.52PM IST
The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje talks to Sonal Srivastava about the Vajrayana school of Buddhism, the importance of rituals and the practical application of shunayata.
What are the main tenets of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism?
Vajrayana is like the cherry on the ice cream. If you eat only the cherry on top of your ice cream, then it is boring. The Theravada and the Mahayana streams of thought in Buddhism are like the delicious scoop of an ice cream. You get the real flavour only if you have the whole ice cream and not just the cherry. Tibetans have practised Vajrayana for a long time and now we have brought it back to its homeland in India. For us, it's like plain cherry, which doesn't even satisfy hunger. To understand Vajrayana, we need to understand all other schools of thought in Buddhism. Vajrayana, at the moment is hyped and people often look at it as exotic. When you start this practice, you are asked to practise many rituals, but when you come to the end of the practice, you are told that you don't have to do anything. This shocks many practitioners. That's a challenge for you to understand, and it all depends on how you take it. Those who cannot understand it are at a loss. Those who can, are able to look at the complete picture.
What does Goddess Tara symbolise?
She is like the Mona Lisa. She is the personification of wisdom. But wisdom alone does not help; you also need compassion with it. Buddha is the means; He is compassion. If you have wisdom without compassion, then it can become dangerous, as wisdom can be used in a wrong way. If you have compassion without wisdom, then it's wasted. If you have both, then there is a balance. For us, it doesn't matter whether Tara is beautifully drawn or not, for when we see Tara, we see wisdom. How you get that wisdom depends on you. When you hear the word 'wisdom' and you realise that the potential of wisdom is within you, then you understand what Tara is about.
Once a monk told me that he talks to Buddha. Is it the mind playing tricks?
In Vajrayana, we practise respect. We need some sort of imagery to help us focus. The grander the temple, the better it is. We build huge statues of Buddha, and we look at him as the real Buddha; when the mind matures, it gains many things. We use these images as reference; we need a certain direction to stay focused. Later on, you realise you don't need any of these. If you know how to talk to yourself, then it is very useful. But if you don't know how to talk to yourself, then you go crazy.
How can we apply shunayata to our daily lives?
Whoever has consciousness has the potential to fully realise shunayata. It's like consciousness realising its own nature. Often we try to look for shunayata somewhere else. We try to look for peace and happiness in material things and what we find is only temporary happiness.
We somehow relate that to shunayata. We are disappointed when we realise that in the end we don't have enough time to understand things. Therefore, Buddhist teachings suggest that the best way of looking at shunayata is like looking at yourself in the mirror. If you start thinking that your own nature is shunayata, then the philosophy becomes even more practical. We have to realise our own true nature. Even though we may have a clean mirror, our vision is restricted due to lack of knowledge and negative emotions. They cloud our view and even though the answer is right there, we may not comprehend it.
Based on this philosophy, can we improve our own actions?
Seeing the truth can be sometimes, frightening; it can be difficult to accept. Only a veteran can see and accept the reality of shunayata. Beginners like us can only imagine and come up with ideas about what it could be like. Shunayata is sometimes also interpreted as lack of karma, as no rebirth. Often, this leads to frustration because then the purpose of our present life becomes meaningless. These are the challenges in fully comprehending shunayata. If we understand these, we can feel the peace and over a period of time, we can experience lasting peace. Blissful experience comes from knowing that there is no beginning and no end. It's just like compassion that has no beginning and no end. You don't say that 'from that moment, I became compassionate'. Shunayata helps us understand that compassion doesn't take birth. Whatever is born has to decay. Are natural disasters associated with karma?
All natural disasters happen because we don't know how things work. We try to bring comfort to our consciousness with material things and this gives rise to a greater desire. If you lack contentment, then material things are like salted water; the more you drink, the more you feel thirsty. You are satisfied when you know what you really need for your consciousness.
We need material things to nourish our body, to maintain a lifestyle but beyond that, they are not necessary. People often have bad habits and they lead to endless hunger. Hunger often leads to many other problems like financial breakdown, illness and war; the whole population of a planet then suffers discomfort. We are living and breathing because we have consciousness, but very often, we forget that. We forget that it's not just the body but also the mind that needs food, but we don't give it the right type of food and that makes the mind lazy. The body is growing; the mind also needs to move forward because that's its nature. But somehow the mind doesn't grow at the same rate as the body does. When the mind doesn't grow, everyday life becomes a challenge and when difficult situations come, the mind explodes like a missile. As Dharma practitioners, we say that the mind needs proper food in the form of meditation. Just like we spend three hours a day to nurture the body, we can set aside time for meditation in our daily routine. The consciousness never stops; it continues to move forward.