Filed in Vajrayana, Koans

Continuous Mind

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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"For those of you who want to attain enlightenment, do not study many teachings. Only study one. What is it? It is great compassion. Whoever has great compassion has all Buddha's qualities in his hand." —Lord Buddha

In the undeluded purity of self-appearance, there are no names for love and faith.... But since all sentient beings grasp at the uncatchable display of appearance, all our phenomena become heavy and substantial, and we create the duality of self and other, the conceptions of ordinary mind, and the karmic delusion of habit. Since all habit belongs to either the deluded panic of samsara or the noble path of enlightenment, it is best to develop the positive habit of the path of enlightenment that always creates the positive energy of love and faith, until we attain the selfless appearance of the buddhas.

Love and faith share the same essence of deep caring. The only difference is that love is aimed toward sentient beings, including those who are less fortunate than we are, while faith is aimed toward sublime beings, including all buddhas and enlightened guides. The nature of love is to give positive energy to others in order to benefit them and to release them from suffering. The nature of faith is to trust in sublime beings in order to receive the blessings of wisdom energy that benefit oneself and others. True faith creates the vast love of compassion that benefits countless beings.

If we rely on ordinary, dualistic mind, we cannot have deep and lasting love either for our equals or for less fortunate beings, because ordinary, dualistic mind depends on the uncertainty of temporary circumstances. This uncertainty easily causes disinterest, hatred, or betrayal. If we do not believe in the unending continuity of mind, we will only consider the immediate, tangible circumstances of our connections to others, rejecting or accepting them as these circumstances change according to what is the most expedient for us. Ordinary love that arises from the karmic results of habit can seem to have the qualities of being genuine, loyal, and stable, but these qualities only mask the potential for the opposite qualities of insincerity, disloyalty, and instability to arise if circumstances change. Because ordinary love has no depth, it is automatically limited. If it becomes unpleasant, we stop feeling it. When we only react to circumstances, we are really just considering ourselves and our own reactions without respecting or caring deeply about others. When we feel isolated and want to be loved, we show love to others in order to receive love from them in return, but when we are satisfied, we forget about others. This is not enduring and continuous love. It does not cause the impartial compassion of bodhisattvas because it depends on our personal, selfish desire.

If we do not believe in anything beyond what can be experienced directly with the obscured perception of dualistic mind, we will not recognize that our awareness is limited and we will only care about our immediate experiences. Our main interest will be in our own temporary benefit, even though this benefit is easily lost since it depends on unreliable, temporary circumstances

If we only react with self-interest to whatever circumstances appear, we will make choices based on trying to find temporary satisfaction. But this effort is always ultimately hopeless, since everything within samsara is uncertain because it is changing. Through the shortsightedness of our habit, we do not even notice that we are missing what is meaningful, like someone who eagerly chooses to eat a cow's red meat instead of continuously drinking its white milk.

If we believe that mind is continuous, our love for others becomes continuous. If we recognize this continuity, we do not trust temporary, tangible circumstances or take them too seriously. Since it is tiring to switch between changing uncertainties, which are inherently impermanent and unimportant, we become less easily influenced by any circumstance. This creates the habit of stability so that our minds are less erratic, our lives are less chaotic, and our feelings for others are less changeable, which causes love to become increasingly deep and loyal.

If we believe in the continuity of mind, then love inconspicuously connects us to the ones we love with continuous positive energy, so that even tangible separations between people who love each other do not reduce the intangible power of love. This love is automatically enduring since it is not easily affected by circumstances.

If we can keep from grasping at others with the selfish fear of losing them or the hope of possessing them through the unawareness of our ordinary, dualistic mind, then the energy of love increases and its quality of giving energy to others opens and expands. The positive habit of continuity is created by not depending on what occurs each moment as though it were the only moment. By believing in the continuity of mind, we acknowledge the continuity of all circumstances, including our experiences of love, which are not just for one moment or for one life. We can understand that it is useless to try to escape from momentary dissatisfaction or to pursue momentary benefit by abandoning old circumstances and chasing after new circumstances, since nothing really changes unless we are released from all circumstances to enlightenment.

Through our nihilist habit, we may superficially judge the relationships between parents and children, friends and companions, or teachers and students, deciding that they are inharmonious or unsuitable. If we do not believe in continuous mind and continuing karmic connections but only believe in coincidental circumstances, we may think that it is better to discard difficult relationships in order to rid ourselves of problems, and we may easily turn away from others.

But if we believe in continuous mind and karma, we know that momentary phenomena always change. Unless change is connected with practice leading to enlightenment, it is unnecessary to try to change our useless, worldly phenomena, which only take us from being miserable to being miserable again. We will not take temporary negativity so seriously if we know that all circumstances within gross and subtle substantial conceptualization are impermanent. We will also not want to hold on to negative feelings that increase negative habits, since we will recognize that there is no benefit in doing this. By believing that we can actually change our karmic circumstances, we can pray for others, purify negativity, and create positive karma with the intention of attaining enlightenment. Instead of trying to change our outer circumstances, we will understand that it is more meaningful to change our own phenomena.

Born in Tibet, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche is a Vajra Master in the Nyingmapa tradition. This excerpt is from White Sail which will be published in October by Shambhala Publications.

Image: Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra (Father-Mother). Collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Fransisco. Copyright John Bigelow Taylor, courtesy of Tibet House, NY.

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dcolohan's picture

"Changing,changing,changing What do you like?" These words have always comforted me during difficult times in relationships I have had. my experience has been if our needs are being met we stay ,if they are not being met we move on. "The world holds the thought of self, from this, false apprehension arises. The self is an error, an illusion, a dream. Open your eyes and awaken, see things as they truly are and you will be comforted." Buddha This is as clear as it gets. Sometimes best to just sit. Be well,Be happy, Be at peace

myers_lloyd's picture

Entering or leaving a marriage, friendship or long term relationship: to remain in suffering to be "present" or"good" or "faithful" -whatever tag is chosen- is reifying a condition, denying it fluency. How often am I tricked by words, believing a heap of associations attaching to them? Believing "ought"?
"Love, honour" are associations we have with marriage. Sticking it out "until death do us part" can be a recipe for extended dysfunction which when it involves children can mean their vulnerable suffering and set an odious example for them.
Are there shallow reasons for wedding, shallow reasons for separating? I think so. And the reverse.
I consider that I freed my husband to find a partner who can genuinely appreciate or understand his dreams, motives, values. And he's done that!

jackelope65's picture

I understand that sometimes when a relationship becomes persistently harmful to one or both partners, change must occur, but my wife & I have been together 48 years and there have been many times through causes and conditions that we may have easily separated, but the hard work of maintaining love has surely been worthwhile. As an MD, I saw many beautiful relationships dissolve through temporary conditions, but again persistent harm should never be easily accepted.

Pdesada's picture

I always need to be reminded that it's my inner response that will change my outer difficulties/circumstances or not. That's the path and what a fruitful path it is.

Wonderful reminder.

sds's picture

I think I "get it" that it is my own response to circumstances that creates my experience, yet for some situations I find that I am quite attached to my response as appropriate and justified. For instance, I am currently going through the process of divorce. I initiated the process because I find the relationship intolerable. I could "change my mind" and decide that it is me who needs work and indeed, I should be grateful to have such a difficult person in my daily life as interaction gives me the opportunity to grow and learn. But I am not willing to do that. I am disturbed by the idea that there is something wrong with discarding difficult relationships. While I would not want to argue that it is okay to discard a relationship at the first or even second or third sign of difficulty, I think that when difficulties have come to consume an inordinate amount of time and energy, then perhaps it is time to move on in order to grow and learn.

jennifer.wilson60's picture

sds, i am sorry for your painful relationship difficulties. Whether you stay married or not, this relationship and person is part of your path and to my thinking, what matters is that you engage and be present with one another in truth and compassion. I have been down the path of marital difficulties and what i personally found was that it took me a long time to see the truth of how my wanting things to be different than they were created pain for both of us. Even though the things I wanted were "good." Loving the truth so much that you seek to see it -- no matter how unflattering it may be to self, is the gift a difficult situation can potentially give us. One bit of dharma that helps me in my daily interactions with others is, "For in this moment, we are either adding to our own suffering or the suffering of others, or we are not." sometimes in our quest for what we think is good or right we unwittingly create suffering. No one can know that but you. Peace and love to you.

Dominic Gomez's picture

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi. Proactivity is the key.

awakening flower's picture

In my experience, living life as a mediation, is enlightment!

iamuami's picture

I sometimes feel that enlightenment is the path itself, and that the dharma practiced are like steps along the path. As we walk along this path we come to recognize the places we have been as well as the questions we have and those questions we have "answered" as well as the new questions we have that also have new "answers". An analogy might be the way we learn a language (enlightment) by accumulating words (dharma) such that the accumulated dharma become more and more familiar, and eventually become a way of being. A calm mind is helpful, but difficult to maintain. It reminds me that I am human that we are all bodhisattavas in training with different challenges and common aspirations. I also take comfort in the dharma quote ..that wich we are seeking is also seeking us. I also try to remember that our thoughts, fears, desires are not unlike snowflakes falling on hot rocks. My goal is to live my life as a meditation.

jillstagner's picture

So, how does one actually achieve continuous mind and love? As a novice, I wonder how I would do this.

justone's picture

Not something to achieve, but something just to realize that which is already. We don't achieve it, we ARE It.

So how do we realize this? A good koan! Start with studying, make sure you sit at least for a few minutes every day if you can. And keep asking questions!


jillstagner's picture

Thank you. I was surprised to get a comment. Incidentally, what is a koan? And what does Gassho-mean?

justone's picture

A koan is a sort of riddle or mystery we may ponder as part of practice. "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is a classic koan. I suggest looking the term up in wikipedia. Koans cannot be understood intellectually, but must be engaged with one's whole being. There are some good books out there on koan practice although I understand that working with a teacher is much more effective than self- study.

Gassho is a term meaning how one may bow in respect to another. Frequently, visitors to a meditation hall will gassho by holding palms together either chest high or at one's face, bowing at the waist when entering or leaving the room. I believe it is a Japanese zen term. But I could be wrong?

Where are you on your path that brought you here?

jillstagner's picture

My path right now is of the novice. Basically, I am learning by reading, by CD, by tricycle, by meditation, and yoga. Alot to know and ponder. I do have some problem calming down for meditaion, but I keep trying. Thank you for your responses and concern.

Kathie Corley's picture

Sometimes a concept which has been rolling around in the mind, been discussed or read about many times becomes crystal clear and the LIGHT dawns. I have just had such an experience reading this article about Continuous Mind. Now, I see clearly how to live it. And, now I will with great focus try and live it.