(editor’s note: This is excerpted from talk 5 of the ‘Entering the Vajrayana’ section of Khandro Rinpoche’s 2007 Annual Retreat at Lotus Garden. The topic was “Bringing to the path what should be done: the conduct of a meditator with the view of the god and human realms (also known as “Yana Zero”).” I found her instructions to be one of the clearest explanations of what some call ‘the Buddhist 10 Commandments’, so I am sharing them now. – JTR/LWD)
1. Saving as many lives of sentient beings as possible. As soon as you take refuge, you have taken on this commitment.
2. Actions of generosity. Help the poor, the needy, and give service of body, speech and mind to others. Also being kind with material wealth. For many modern practitioners, it is actually cutting down on the money you spend shopping, feeding other animals. Even if it is giving to fish, don’t take bread to the pond. It is NOT being kind if it is at the cost of others. Giving at Dharma centers is one thing. But then, on your own, there is having to give something. Generosity is something that pinches you; it forces you to look inside and attack miserliness, stinginess, self-absorption, etc. We have a project with old people in India. These are all people above 70 years old, all abandoned by families, handicapped, can’t see, can’t recollect, afflicted with diseases. Two of the nuns went and saw them. One was in a 6 by 6 shack with a dirt floor. He tries to make a living selling a pot of tea. He makes at most 5 rupees. If he sells that kettle of tea, he can buy a bun for the day, if not, he doesn’t eat. We monks and nuns are renunciants, but we have our own room, own bed. Compared to this one, we live in luxury. In this existence, people like this live around us. You have to open your mind and be kind to them. Their patron gives 2000 rupees a month, which is about 20 dollars. This old man doesn’t believe that someone would give that much, and was ecstatic. If I get 20 dollars, I usually forget it. (laughter) It becomes a bookmark or something,
Giving to other sentient beings is something that makes you think about others, rather than the intellectual approach. How many of you actually practice it? My teachers say, everyday, make sure there are at least 3 actions of generosity a day that make you sweat.
3. Ethics. All the 10 unvirtuous actions must be abandoned. We need to practice these all the time. (ed. note: Number 3 is usually primarily focused on avoiding sexual misconduct by only performing sexual acts that won’t cause suffering to yourself or others. If one is a monastic, this would include avoiding the fetters of sexual activity altogether. Khandro Rinpoche spoke about this elsewhere during this talk, which is why sexual conduct was not explicitly mentioned at this point. – LWD/JTR)
4. Always speak the truth. Always speak honest, but above that, don’t speak indirectly. More than lying, you all do this.
5. Don’t say things that are hurtful. Remember the lojong slogan “don’t talk about injured limbs.” – This would be telling a fat person, “You are fat.” You don’t say to a short person, “you are short.” Even if this is true, what does it matter? Don’t say, “You are fat.” You can say, “you are big boned,” “pleasantly plump,” or –how do you say it? – “Well-endowed.” (Laughter) In that way, you don’t have to say whatever is most painful. It is not being “true to yourself” at the cost of happiness of the other person. If it is helpful, then of course say it. If someone has an eating disorder, of course say something to help them. That is good motivation. But otherwise, don’t. Also, there is slander, (especially) indirect slander. Our weakness is such that we usually say something about that person when they aren’t there. Don’t be bringing down another person, even if they are not there. It is not done with good intention. It is about fulfillment of own agenda.
6. Speaking peacefully. This is the main practice of our teachers. HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, “so much of the mundane speech of a meditator should instill peacefulness in others.” Instead, we reserve polite speech for teachers, and then are very cutting when speaking to others. The tone is very brusk, barbaric, and ingrained with “who can get the upper hand?” in a simple conversation. The younger people in Asia learn how to have disagreement or argument while still respecting each other. The tone and words don’t have to be harsh and hurtful. This applies even when speaking to teachers. You always will find there are times I am ignoring you when you are talking to me. If so, look back, and ask, “what did you say?” It was (probably) a demonstration of arrogance, ignorance. “Yes” ends with “yes.” “Yes, but” or “no, but” makes it change the meaning entirely.
7. Must always speak well of others, think good things about others, and say good things about them to other people. This is especially when speaking of other sangha. Find the qualities and praise the qualities that are there. CONDUCT IS A METHOD OF TRAINING YOUR MIND. You will get your answer when you are in uncomfortable position of having to watch your mind all the time.
8. Contentment. Be content. Be happy with your life, your achievements, who you are. Be content with your abilities, learning, food, shelter, sangha, friends, this moment you are facing, this is what you have worked hard for. Have a deepened sense of contentment. Look at our teachers. See His Holiness the Dalai Lama. If we are presumptuous to think, “what if we were in that position?” What kind of an erratic person would we be, with so much anger, so much pain, and so on? Or we would be pompous and arrogant, a total dictator. But if you look at how he is with everything he has to deal with – the world, Tibet, the dharma, etc. Notice the calmness, how he is always gracefully accepting everything and transforming it into something of benefit of others. All the teachers are like that. We must be like Mount Andre. (Note: this is the unofficial Lotus Garden name for a mountain that is on the property) We must be like a mountain – stable in our own mind, with a deep dense of gratitude for the blessings, for having met with dharma, for having a precious human birth, for understanding the teachings, for having the circumstances to practice, for being here right now. Feel there is nothing to feel but this. The Christian phrase “count your blessings one by one” is similar. Where gratitude is not there, there is no contentment. Where there is no contentment, there is no joyfulness.
9. Loving-kindness. This is love that is truly extended to others. I still have much work to do here myself. In my own life, the struggle to work with loving others, you always think you love others. When I went back to India a few years ago, I went and visited His Holiness Mindrolling Trinchen Rinpoche. The first thing after you come back, you visit him. Before I said anything, he said, “Do you really love the people you met with?” And when I left, he said, “love everyone you meet.” He said that to me often. I really thought about that. It’s my main practice. There is no expectation, no demand. As you are is very nice, very good. Don’t get too complacent here listening. (laughter) So much of the pressure of dharma dissipates. Practices even get easier if you have more respect of others, allowing them to be what they are without your expectations or demands. It not only improves your happiness, your health even improves if you extend love to others.
A. Applying loving-kindness. If you have fewer demands on others, your ethics, speaking the truth and so on will fall into line, this is not just sympathy, but really it is hoping the best for others.
B. Don’t leave anyone out. As Buddhists, you must love every sentient being, starting with the person sitting next to you. If you shake hands with one person, must shake with everyone in the room. Be impartial. If you are going to say something nice to one person in a room, then say something nice to everyone, even if it is forced, pretentious, or embarrassing, Do it enough so your nature becomes kind and loving to others. It is the only moment when the teachings really come to fruition. Especially In the sangha, most of the Buddhist sangha are people with nowhere else to go to, so you have to have sympathy for everyone here, even if they irritate you. They are not there because of you. Who they are, and what makes them the person they are is not about you. It’s their circumstances people in life, job, and mental instability. It is instability that often brings people into sangha. Be loving to the other person, especially when it irritates you the most. At this moment, every positive karma is what you need to be happy.
10. Strong certainty of cause and effect. Everything you do must be driven by knowing cause and effect, should be main mindfulness practice.
In summary, the 10 Virtuous actions are: Saving lives, generosity, ethics, honesty, don’t be critical of others, peaceful speech, praising others, contentment, loving-kindness, belief in cause and effect.