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Advice from Great Masters for Living in Uncertain Times

Dharma Talk Online Via Zoom on August 1, 2020 by Rebecca Li

It was a great pleasure to listen to Professor Rebecca Li's lecture “Advice from Great Masters for Living in Uncertain Times” on August 1st via Zoom.  The talk was an examination of The Sutra on The Eight Realizations of The Great Beings.  Rebecca began by pointing out that the “Great Masters” in the title of her talk, refers to Great Beings, Mahasattvas, who are great practitioners of the Dharma. There are eight things that these Great Masters realized, and we must remember them all the time as practitioners. Rebecca thought, although this is a time of great uncertainty, this is also a great time for practitioners to practice.  This is a brief summary of her talk.

“The First Realization is the awareness that the world is impermanent. All political regimes are subject to fall; all things composed of the four elements are empty and contain the seeds of suffering.” This realization begins with the understanding that the world is impermanent. Everything is empty of self. The later, as this realization deepens, one sees the mind is the source of all confusion, and the body is the forest of all impure actions. Confusion of the mind refers to our strong tendency to confusion about the true nature of all phenomena. Even though we may understand impermanence conceptually, we do not accept it in the depths of our hearts. Instead, we have our ideas about how the world, the mind, the body, and people are supposed to be and act. In this subtle way we attribute permanence to impermanence. Without the practice of looking into the subtle actions of our mind we are blind to what we are doing. We get frustrated when things change. When causes and conditions change, our impulse is to do everything we can to cling to this illusionary permanence. As a result, we engage in all kinds of actions that cause suffering to ourselves and others.
“If we mediate on these facts, we can gradually be released from samsara, the round of birth and death.” “Meditate on these facts” refers to cultivating awareness of the impermanence of all things; regardless of what we are doing, and regardless of what situation we are in. We must learn to observe the truth of impermanence. If we pay attention, it is crystal clear. In this process of paying attention to impermanence, our deeply ingrained assumptions about the nature of reality become apparent, as does our habitual tendency of desire for things.

This brings us to, “The Second Realization is the awareness that more desire brings more suffering. All hardships in daily life arise from greed and desire. Those with little desire and ambition are able to relax their bodies and minds, free from entanglement.” The second piece of advice is to be aware of the destructiveness of desire and to cultivate contentment.

“The Third Realization is that the human mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This causes impure actions to ever increase. Bodhisattvas, however, always remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in peace in order to practice the Way and consider the realization of perfect understanding as their only career.” The third piece of advice is to have fewer desires. “More desires bring more suffering” is opposite to what we generally believe.  We believe that fulfilling desires brings us happiness. Some of us may think that we live a quite simple life. We may not desire a bigger house or a nicer car, but consider the desire for greater and deeper meditative experiences, or the desire for more blissful experiences. These are also desires, and also bring suffering.


So, we should have few desires and live a simple life. This does not mean that we should quit our job, give everything away, and live in poverty. The key is to see whether our mind is filled the entrenched habit of feeling that the present moment is not enough. Cultivating a mind of contentment is the key to happiness. We should let go of attachments and adapt to new situations.  This brings ease and less suffering. This Third Realization also speaks to cultivating wisdom as a priority. Whatever our profession or role in society, we should fulfill our responsibilities and use them as opportunities to cultivate wisdom and compassion.
“The Fourth Realization is the awareness of the extent to which laziness is an obstacle to practice.”

“The Fifth Realization is the awareness that ignorance is the cause of the endless round of birth and death. Therefore, Bodhisattvas always remember to listen and learn in order to develop their understanding and eloquence. This enables them to educate living beings and bring them to the realm of great joy.” We must remember to practice throughout the day. Whatever we are doing is our practice. Everything in our life is an opportunity to cultivate wisdom, and a habit of treating everyone with kindness and compassion.
 “The Sixth Realization is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and activity. When practicing generosity, Bodhisattvas consider everyone, friends, and enemies alike, as equal. They do not condemn anyone's past wrongdoing, nor do they hate those who are presently causing harm.” This realization is a great aid for making sense of, enduring and easing the turmoil of the current global political and social situations. We must remember that being marginalized and being treated unfairly creates anger and hatred. We should not tolerate policies that perpetuate inequality and unfair treatment of any part of the society. The practice of generosity is an antidote to the politics of meanness that our society has developed over the last few decades. We should also remember to practice not to condemning people's past wrong doings.
Rebecca hoped that this advice from Great Beings will be helpful in navigating this time of pandemic, political turmoil and general uncertainty in the world.

Written by Wen-Yi Lu

Relevent resources: 
Everlasting Master-Disciple affinities (about the speaker)