Breaking down the barriers between people- Talk by Ven. Namgyel Lhamo
Good morning/afternoon – My dharma sisters and brothers.
Today, in this memorable occasion of celebrating the 60th anniversary of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s momentous conversion to Buddhism, I am very honored to speak on “Breaking down the barriers between people“.
In the multicultural and multiracial country like India, barriers exist in many aspects. Some of the factual major barriers between people are race, caste, religion, language, social classes, and attitude and so on. These so called barriers are definitely not biological realities but are the creations of false assumption of cultural and social traits rooted deeply in lacking of compassion and wisdom. The accumulation of racial divisions and in-equalities that plague relations between the caste systems has created great barriers and disadvantages for low caste people forcing them to live in isolation and snatching them of their freedom. Such notion of caste system, which was a matter of vital importance to the Brahmins was strongly condemned and negated by the Lord Buddha who spoke of the equal recognition of all castes and unite, as do the rivers in the sea.
The Buddha says “Just as, O monks, the great rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Aciravati, Sarabhu, and Mahi, on reaching the ocean, lose their earlier name and identity and come to be reckoned as the great ocean. Similarly, O monks, people of the four castes (vannas)…who leave the household and become homeless recluses under the Doctrine and Discipline declared by the Tathagata, lose their previous names and identities and are reckoned as recluses who are sons of Shakya.”
And in one occasion a caste-ridden brahmin insulted the Buddha saying, “Stop, thou shavelling! Stop, thou outcaste!” The Buddha, without any feeling of indignation, gently replied:
Birth makes not a man an outcaste,
Birth makes not a man a brahmin;
Action makes a man an outcaste,
Action makes a man a brahmin.
Then, Buddha delivered the Vasala Sutta explaining about the characteristics of one who is really an outcaste, convinced the haughty brahmin and took refuge in the Buddha. Thus the Buddha broke down the barrier.
Likewise Dr. Ambedkar who was against social caste wrote in the section of the Abolition of Caste,
“You cannot build anything on the foundation of the caste. You cannot build up a nation. You cannot build up a morality. Anything that you will build on the foundation of caste will crack and never be whole”. And
“Caste is another name for control. Caste does not allow a person to transgress, caste limits in pursuit of his enjoyment”.
Thus, Dr. Ambedkar has earned great credit in coming out with excellent idea of breaking down the barriers and successfully followed the footsteps of the lord Buddha. I pray sincerely and fervently that his noble action of conversion continue successfully and prevail the whole world.
There are many ways in overcoming the samsaric tendencies towards barriers according to the practice of the Dhamma and different relevant dharmic practices which are applicable corresponding to the level of practices such as the four Brahma Viharas, Bodhicitta or the altruistic intention, vajrayana practice and the realization of Sunyata or the Satkayaditthi.
The four Brahma Viharas or appamanna are love (metta), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). Though it starts with love but when putting in practical meditation, it is wise to begin with equanimity (upekkha) first as it helps the remaining three; metta, karuna and mudita meditations to flow smoothly to immeasurable beings equally.
So, here I begin with Immeasurable Equanimity (upekkha), which is the wish that all sentient beings may be free from the attitude of attachment to some and aversion to others. When we put into actual practice, there are four steps:
Firstly, we begin by making a wish as, “How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were to abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger.”
That is, may we have an unbiased but caring attitude towards all. Secondly, we aspire, “May they abide in that way.” Thirdly, we resolve to act, “I shall cause them to abide in that way.” Then, Fourthly, we request one’s guru’s inspiration so that we will have the strength of mind and the courage to continuously work to help sentient beings be free of bias, attachment, and anger and to abide in equanimity.
The Second immeasurable love (metta) is the wish that living beings may have happiness and its causes. The Third is immeasurable compassion (karuna), which is the wish that living beings may be free from suffering and its causes. The Fourth immeasurable joy (mudita) is the wish that living beings may remain happy and their happiness may increase further.
In the actual meditation that we do, the same steps are applied with the following prayers;
May all sentient beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all sentient beings be never parted from the supreme happiness, which is free of suffering.
May all sentient beings remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.
The meditations are oriented towards breaking down the barriers between people as the practice focuses on freeing from misery/sufferings. These meditations on the four Brahma Viharas helps an individual develops Bodhicitta, an altruistic mind, which is the mind that strives towards the Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings. There are many types of Bodhicitta but here I chose three aspects of training of Bodhicitta, which are relevant to breaking down the barriers.
First training of Bodhicitta, considering others as equal to oneself: We should meditate firstly by considering others as equal to oneself in a following way; whatever good or useful things you want for yourself, others want them just as much. Just as you work hard at bringing about your own happiness and comfort, always work hard for others’ happiness and comfort, too. Just as you would try to avoid even the slightest suffering for yourself, strive to prevent others having to suffer even the slightest harm. In short, seeing no distinction between yourself and others, so, make it your sole effort in finding happiness for others for now and forever. The Master Shantideva says; A Buddha’s qualities are gained from the sentient beings and the Buddhas alike, So, why do I not respect them in the same way as I respect the Buddhas.
The Second, exchanging oneself and others: This is meditated by looking at a person actually suffering from sickness, hunger, thirst or some other affliction or by imagining that such a person is in front of you. As you breathe out, imagine that you are giving that person all your happiness and the best of everything you have, your body, your wealth and your merit. Then, as you breathe in, imagine that you are taking into yourself all the other person’s sufferings and that, as a result, he or she becomes happy and free from every affliction. Start this meditation on giving happiness and taking suffering with one individual, and then gradually extend it to include all living creatures.
The Third, considering others more important than oneself:
This is practiced by meditating, “I may be in Samsara, I may be reborn in hell, I may be ill, or suffering from any other misfortune, but I will bear it all. May the sufferings of others ripen in me! May other beings have all my happiness and all the effects of my good actions!” Arouse this thought in the depth of your being and actually put it into practice. So, when everything is given to others without concerning about one’s needs, how can it dare to create barrier.
There are four classifications of tantras according to vajrayana vehicle; kriya tantra, charya tantra, yoga and anuttara yoga tantra, which were taught according to the four varying propensities and abilities of the four students.
The first level of Tantra was taught to the priestly Brahmin, as they concentrate their attention on outer practices through ritual cleansing to purify their body and on recitation of mantras to purify their speech, which correspond to practising the Kriya tantra.
The second level of Tantra was taught to the warrior or royal Ksatrya, as they concentrate their attention on spreading the Dharma by speaking about it to others with their speech and concentrate on attaining inner tranquility in order to be able to roughly experience emptiness, which correspond to practising the Charya Tantra.
The third level of Tantra was taught to vaisya or tradesman, although lower in status according to the caste system, they are more advanced students who engage in yoga tantra practice focusing their attention single-pointedly on emptiness.
The fourth, the highest level of Tantra was taught to the sudra or the low caste, the lowest category in the caste system, as they are very advanced meditators of Anuttara yoga focusing their attention on merging Bodhicitta and primordial wisdom awareness until they become indivisibly united in their mind-stream.
Thus, Buddha has never created barriers in whatsoever between people rather selected the low caste people as the best vessel for the highest vajrayana teachings.
Even in highest Sadhana practice of Vajrayana, commonly known as four extraordinary foundations for purification such as accumulation of 100,000 times Refuge Prayer, Bodhicitta Prayer, Recitation of 100 syllables, Mandala Offering and Guru Yoga, indifferent sentient beings are visualized and meditated by sitting right in front and around the practitioner in the sole purpose of liberating them together.
We should practice that all appearances are the mere projection of one’s mind and that we shouldn’t consider separate entities from the practitioner in highest Mahamudra and Mahasandhi practice. In some practices, male or female figures are considered as figures of male and female deities. Therefore, there is no space or not even a fraction of gap possible for the barrier between beings.
The realization of emptiness “Sunyata”, or “Satkayaditthi” is like a burning fire that consumed the ignorance, which mistakenly creates barriers between people. And when someone is able to realize emptiness directly and non-conceptually, there is no appearance at all of subject and an object.
There are two kinds of emptiness, “Sunyata”; the emptiness of self, the lack of any self that is separate from the aggregates, and the emptiness of phenomena, the lack of intrinsic existence of the aggregates themselves Or the Selflessness of person, the absence of inherent existence of “self” or “I” and the selflessness of phenomena (dharmanairatmya) the absence of any intrinsic identity in Dharma i.e. things and events.
The subject, which is the mind that thinks “I am”, is therefore self-clinging towards its object what we call the “self”. Rather like mistaking a length of coloured rope for a snake, we simply project the idea of a self onto the aggregates, while the self in fact has no real existence. Understanding this is the view of selflessness. All conditioned and unconditioned things other than the “I” or the self are “phenomena” (Dharma). Through examining them using logical reasoning, we come to understand that no entity, whether coarse or subtle, can be said to be real. And that understanding of how things lack any basis or origin is what we call the realization of the ‘selflessness of phenomena’.
It is said in the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra that “no eye, no ear, no tongue, no body and no mind and so on”. Here it doesn’t mean that there is no eye, no ear and so on but it means that there is no inherently existed eye, inherently existed ear and so on which are labelled actively by the misconception of ignorance just like mistaking a length of coloured rope for a snake. Likewise, ignorance holds persons and phenomena to exist from their own side and with their own essence and due to beginning less latencies of ignorance, persons and phenomena appear inherently existent to us and actively grasps what appears as truly and inherently existent. Similarly, ignorance creates barriers between people through misapprehending of how things exist in reality.
I would proudly conclude that all these barriers between people occurred as a result of misconception of fundamental ignorance for things that in reality do not exist because when we generate the wisdom that understands reality, the ignorance that sees the opposite of reality ceases automatically.
Dr. Ambedkar understood this fundamental…..
Tashi Delek and Thank you Nagaloka for what you do towards realizing Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of a caste-free and discrimination-free society! May Buddha Dharma flourish around the world bringing peace!