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The Key to Enlightenment

A Heart Advice of His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa

Translated from Tibetan © 1994 Jangchub Dronme & © Drukpa Publications Pvt. Ltd.

The mere understanding of phenomena is simply an intellectual wisdom. Whether or not this type of wisdom can really help one proceed on the path to enlightenment is uncertain. To progressively develop a thorough intellectual knowledge before one gets onto the experiential path is practical, useful and important, but only as long as one remains sharp enough to not 'get off the track' and this, of course, depends on the strength of one's mind. By using this analogy of 'getting of the track' I am meaning to indicate that one can lose Great Understanding through the smaller intellectual understanding.

His Holiness and his guru, Yogi Gen Khyentse

Actually we all know a great deal about phenomena and this has not helped us find the right way to enlightenment. On the contrary, it has obstructed our true understanding and we therefore have deceived ourselves. Things that many of us do which we assume are highly meaningful, are in fact not meaningful at all, and we act rather stupidly all because we do not possess this key of Great Understanding.

There are two kinds of stupidity - spiritual and worldly. Spiritual stupidity is simply an attachment to life and especially an attachment to ritual without any real insight into its meaning. This kind of stupidity will dissolve when you develop a true and Great Understanding of what you are committing yourself to in the practice; with the deity, the ritual, meditation, prayer and so on.

This commitment can also be called devotion or faith however it has nothing to do with blind faith. As a practitioner on the true path one should have a true and logical understanding. Wouldn't it be astonishing if a person could step onto the true path with blind faith? Although nothing in this world is impossible, this is almost impossible.

With regard to devotion a practitioner must know how to differentiate between devotion and common desire or attachment. Common desire is practices by most beings spontaneously without any Great Understanding. If this is all that was required by those on the path of enlightenment then why are we not all enlightened by now? As already mentioned devotion is a deep and unconditional understanding. For example, if one has a thorough understanding of bamboo as always being hollow then no matter how much someone else tries to convince you that that particular piece of bamboo is solid, you will not be convinced.

One must therefore really understand the difference between devotion and attachment. To do this, as mentioned previously, one must acquire the appropriate wisdom. This wisdom is known in Tibetan as sherab and it literally means 'great understanding'. It excels all other understanding and is 'great' because it is beyond the knowledge of ordinary people, because it bestows births in higher realms and ultimately it bestows liberation. Furthermore it is 'great' because it temporarily grants all the possible goodness of samsara and nirvana.

If one practices the path gradually, either by using this excellent wisdom as the foundation, or by viewing it as the inseparable and intrinsic nature of devotion, one will cultivate the correct devotion which is based on firm conviction. Through the power of cultivating such devotion, one will naturally evoke both a yearning to be free of the machinations of cyclic existence and a desire to attain the excellent and sublime peace that transcends this cyclic existence. The boundless view of reality will dawn in one's mind by cultivating such devotion. One will clearly realize one's Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the law of cause and effect, the meaning of former and future rebirths as well as perceive all appearances as enlightened bodies. One will hear all audible sounds as the speech of the enlightened and know all thoughts as their mind. Inspired by a definite conviction that there is this hidden knowledge that any ordinary person can perceive, then one's desire to attain realization will be consolidated. This is called devotion of aspiration.

Attachment is the exact opposite of this devotion of aspiration. One should contemplate on the importance on not getting them confused.

One should also investigate one's purpose for embarking on the path. Striving on the path for the purpose of happiness in this life and for the attainment of a higher rebirth is referred to as inferior devotion. Some modern disciples however may consider this to be a good devotion as devotion within one's heart can appear idealistic and superficial.

If one embarks on the path with the intention of freeing oneself alone from samsara, it is called devotion of medium intelligence.

If one embarks on the path not for the sake of one's own liberation but with the sincere intention to free all sentient beings from samsara and to establish them into perfect liberation, this is called superior devotion. This must be practiced for it is mainly based on compassion. it is rather difficult to cultivate this superior faith without the assistance of loving-kindness and compassion, even if it may have had the foundation of the much emphasized wisdom.

When referring to devotion, I for one, strongly feel the inadequacy of 'raising of one's eye brows' and the shedding of emotional tears when one has been inspired by the teachings, for they are mere emotional reactions of superficial renunciation. This reaction is like flowers that wither at the end of the autumn season. Great Devotion rather refers to a noble intelligence which is comprised of devotion, diligence, wisdom and renunciation.

Especially in regard to the teacher-student relationship, unless it is inspired by the strong renunciation of this noble intelligence, I cannot see any purpose in it. People pursue it earnestly but it is really like the sand castles of a child's play. Such teachers or students make me laugh. Their relationship with one another is mainly held together by a powerful clinging disguised as devotion but it has no sense of renunciation.

A practitioner must at least have the inferior faith mentioned before. It seems that modern students who neither have cultivated the inferior faith or have any significant reasons for engaging in the teacher-student relationship other than to entangle themselves with strong clinging and craving are just like hungry dogs devouring a piece of liver, and they will only bring themselves personal misery and deceive the other.

Generally, a sense of clear joy is instantaneously generated when one has learnt the fundamental reasons for the path and then hears, sees and remembers the enlightened qualities. This is called devotion of clarity.

The difference between this and the joy obtained from attachment is a subtle matter and thus they can be difficult to distinguish. The excerpt below from one of the great Jetsun Milarepa's songs may help in this task:

You are like fish who have greater devotion
only the deeper water,
I, the yogi carry devotion in my heart.

The yogi's devotion will remain unshakable in the face of even the most adverse circumstances. It is not dependent on familiar or favorable surroundings. Thus I suppose one could distinguish this way.

Ha! Ha! Please examine whether this is relevant or not!
Hi! Hi! As the Buddha Shakyamuni said:
Just as gold is examined by burning,
cutting and rubbing,
One should examine the truth and
not accept it merely out of respect.

Thus one has the right to examine.

The teacher has to be at least someone who is enriched with the experience of practice, and who can emulate the complete and unmistaken qualities such as devotion and the rest which I have discussed as requirements for the students. it is certainly not the case that the teacher does not have to abide by the rules and the students made to experience difficulties. The function and the role of the teacher must be to emphasize the importance of adhering to the path of Dharma (not the personality of the teacher). While properly adhering to the path for the sake of others, the teacher should also look after the welfare of his students who have embarked on the path. Guiding students on the path and benefiting others is the main purpose of training on the path. if benefiting others is not carried out, the whole exercise has lot its purpose.

Jetsun Milarepa sang:

It is a contradiction for someone to lead others out of the ocean of samsara when they have not yet reached the dry land of liberation themselves. This is similar to a drowning person trying to save themselves by holding onto another drowning person.

In this way all efforts will undoubtedly go astray. The purpose of both this and future lives will be wasted and misery will be brought to oneself and others.

I, the Twelfth Drukpa, who is merely imputed and known as 'Padma' was unable to refuse the sincere request of others and wrote this with an insignificant motivation to benefit others.