What isn’t basic goodness? Or, an expression of basic goodness? In The Supreme Thought, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche describes ultimate bodhichitta as the experience of threefold purity (seeing the basic goodness of self, other, and action) as being synonymous with Buddhahood. So, if one were embodying the quality of things as they are (basic goodness) they would act with profound kindness, compassion, wisdom, etc., but they would also experience others’ aggression, selfishness, and so on, as expressions of basic goodness. When one realizes ultimate bodhicitta the world is still the same. There are still drone strikes, austerity, the prison industrial complex, global warming, etc.; it’s only our perspective and experience of these things that changes. Or, as Acharya Rockwell said last month, “From buddha nature’s view everything is fine, from a confused view things are fucked up.” So, one might say next, “Yes, that’s fine. From an absolute reality point of view everything is perfect, but relatively there is suffering and we have to work to change that.” The question is how best to do it.
The experience of ultimate bodhicitta (the fruition of the path) is not an ‘everything goes’ attitude. Realizing threefold purity one acts in accord with The Supreme Thought, the bodhisattva and enlightened society vow, naturally. And by seeing the confusion and ignorance in the world as expressions of basic goodness and relating with it in such a way, this person is not perpetuating the dualistic dichotomies (of judgments of right and wrong, that people need to somehow change/improve or be something other than they are) that further suffering rather than healing it. If this a correct interpretation or Right View then our practice is the process of bringing our experience in accord with this view.
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
We must begin, it seems, with touching, however briefly, the experience of basic goodness. If through our practice we have an inkling of our own basic goodness, we can begin to work with this practice. Our conviction and trust in this experience will vary- from moment to moment, and from person to person. However, if we have developed any confidence in our own basic goodness, then the other two parts are just natural extensions. If we can see that when we (ego) get out of our own way and just relax in the present moment that there is a quality of innate completeness/wholeness/worthiness then it only stands to reason that all other people have this as their basic quality, as well. If this quality is the basis of existence then it follows that fundamentally the interaction between individuals has the quality of basic goodness too. However, this too is a conceptual conclusion.
To make this an actual experience and to really change our being in a real and beneficial way, we can begin to work with how we act when basic goodness manifests as confusion (passion, aggression, or ignorance). The practice I am aspiring to work with is to see, not rationalize, the underlying quality of things as they are in the face of this confused expression- whether it be anger, jealousy, pride, etc. This will hopefully help bring my experience in line with the view of threefold purity and also allow me to soften my judgments. Shastri Whetsell told a group of us last weekend that at the beginning of a three month long seminary that he did with Trungpa Rinpoche, that Rinpoche said that the one thing he hoped that people would get out of the three months of intensive practice is simply to be less opinionated.
The practice then would be to hold one’s seat in the face of aggression, for example, try to see the basic goodness underlying the confusion, and then act with kindness and skillfulness. This response helps by familiarizing oneself with the experience of seeing threefold purity, and also by not reciprocating confusion and thus creating further negative karma for the future. It also models a more skillful behavior for the other person and cuts the expected response of negativity. In my experience this can often change the whole dynamic of an interaction.
I’m thinking that since we use the six paramitas as a relative practice (meaning that we fake it till we make it, basically) that we could do the same with threefold purity (the basic goodness of self, other, and action). The Shambhala Sadhana is an excellent support for making this a daily practice. It seems to me that even when we’re not practicing the Shambhala Sadhana, we can carry this as an aspiration and contemplation with us throughout our day.
Working with the fruition as path would probably be described as a vajrayana approach, but it seems workable. I think it would be especially useful in working with how we relate with others, and not totally dissimilar to “tonglen on the spot”. It seems that a key point is that we don’t have to rationalize a hurtful comment as being basically good on some deeper level, but perhaps we can begin to see the basic goodness that is beyond the confusion. Perhaps any unskillful action or communication is merely a confused expression of basic goodness.
To illustrate, maybe we could contemplate the oft used analogy of the clouds and the sky (the clouds representing confusion and the clear sky representing basic goodness). When there is an over cast day we can think that the blue sky and sun are shining above the clouds. But, it’s a rather different experience to look at the cloudy sky and experience the fact that the sky is blue and the sun is shining behind the clouds. As Pema Chodron has said, “You are the sky, everything else- it’s just weather.” Maybe this isn’t the best example, but the point is that the difference is between rationalizing and seeing directly. The difference, perhaps, is being affected emotionally by a cloudy day rather than appreciating the beauty of the perfect blue sky that is more fundamental than the clouds covering it.
As Buddhists we, at a very basic level, have the intention to help others, and if we can’t help others we at least don’t want to harm them. So, what harms others? People are influenced by their environment, by what happens around, and to, them. It also seems that people often reciprocate like for like- or return aggression with aggression, kindness with kindness, etc. I see it all of the time. One person I know has a difficult personality. It’s very hard to resist the temptation to reciprocate this person’s attitude! I can be in a perfectly open and present mindset, maybe even just completing a practice session, and once an interaction with this person produces a snotty comment I can feel myself beginning to respond in kind. I want to respond in kind. However, responding in kind doesn’t help myself or this other person. It actually harms us both. Habituating myself further to negativity sets up for future instances of negativity. These acts strengthen that behavior and produce further negative karma. It also reinforces and strengthens the behavior in the other person. My response affects the other’s experience and subsequent actions. Part of taking the enlightened society or bodhisattva vow seems to be taking on the responsibility of recognizing how our actions effect ourselves and others. May this aspiration help us to be of benefit to all.