Why So Many Methods?
We need methods that suit our predisposition
In Tibetan Buddhism, there are said to be 84,000 afflictive emotions, stemming from ignorance, desire and fear. That’s how precise karma is! A ‘predisposition’ is a liability or tendency to suffer from a particular condition, hold a particular attitude, or act in a particular way. The great thing about Tibetan Buddhism is that there are methods to suit every temperament.
We have to be honest with ourselves about what the mind is doing at any one particular moment. Sometimes the mind is dull and sometimes it is wild, so we need to know how to adjust in order to bring a situation back to balance with clarity. It’s important to know how to apply antidotes in troubled times – to know how to cut through our obsessions. Antidotes are necessary, but they are also temporary, because the affliction will come back.
There is one sovereign-sufficient method, and that is Maha Ati – Dzogchen. Direct recognition of pure conscious awareness whenever anything occurs. All we have to do is remember. The length of time it takes to recognise and sustain recognition will depend on our ability, which in turn depends on previous practice. We may know Dzogchen, but there are times when Shamata breath meditation can ease intense emotions … “Take a breather!” … some need a short breather, while others require a longer one.
It’s important to think and study, and to investigate questions, step-by-step, without getting attached to the conclusions as they can become an imprisonment. The following shows why some ‘get it’ immediately, while for some of us, it takes a little longer.
From ‘Essentials of Mahamudra’ by Thrangu Rinpoche
The Three Levels of Practice
“There are three families of practitioners; which family we find ourselves in depends on how much and how well we trained in former life times. The first family of practitioners consists of those who have extremely sharp faculties and for whom the levels of realisation dawn all at once. The second group consists of those who ‘bypass stages’. Although these practitioners may practise a lower level, they realise a higher level. This higher realisation however, is not stable; sometimes it’s clear and sometimes it is vague, sometimes it is present and sometimes it is absent. The third group consists of those who proceed gradually step-by-step, stage-by-stage.
“There are also three levels of knowing the nature of dharmata: these are called understanding, experiencing, and realisation. The first level – understanding dharmata – uses the mental consciousness to investigate, study, and think about how phenomena are empty and how mind has the nature of clarity. Through valid cognition, the meaning of emptiness or the nature of dharmata is known by way of words.
“As our understanding of dharmata becomes clearer, we arrive at the second level, which is experiencing dharmata. At this level we do not just put words together but actually experience the concept in our meditation. Events arise and we experience the deep nature of mind. We do not yet have great familiarity with the nature of mind, and so sometimes it appears clearly and other times not very clearly.
“At the third level – direct realisation – we experience the deep nature of mind clearly and directly. We know the meaning of all dharmatas, or phenomena, without any intermediary, and as a result, out knowledge of dharmata is decisive and does not waver.
“When looking into the nature of mind, it is possible to mistake one level of knowing dharmata for another. For example, we might think that mere understanding is realisation, or that realisation is mere understanding of dharmata. In fact, mere understanding can obstruct realisation. Therefore, we must recognise that understanding is not realisation and move further to the point of actual realisation. We realise the deep nature, not through mere understanding, but by seeing it nakedly and directly.
“The first way to comprehend dharmata is through reasoned understanding. The second way is through experience. Gampopa explained that to experience dharmata is still not to transcend mind.
Rather, it is like experiencing the sun on a day of occasional cloud – at times the sun is bright and clear, while at other times the sun is hazy and obscured by clouds. This is similar to the temporary experiences of bliss, clarity and non-thought, which are sometimes present and sometimes not. If we persist in these passing experiences without becoming attached to them, we can transcend all doubt about the way in which the mind exists and develop a definitive conviction. And that is realisation.”
Note. The Sanskrit word dharmatā, ཆོས་ཉིད་, chö nyi in Tibetan, means the intrinsic nature of everything, the essence of things as they are. Dharmata is the naked, unconditioned truth, the nature of reality, or the true nature of phenomenal existence