Let us consider a few things to help organize our spiritual path and future. The concepts of samsara and nirvana are introduced in the teaching of Buddhism, but of course they are also within Hinduism, and more subtly in Christianity and Taoism, and certainly in The Lotus teachings. The teachings that are given regarding samsara and nirvana, that is, the six realms of samsara, and nirvana as the state of emancipation, liberation, or perhaps a pure place where we can live ultimately, change as one ascends in spiritual level.
To simplify, there are three levels of spirituality that were taught by the Buddha. We could call the first level the Theravada, sometimes referred to as the Hinayana, small vehicle; the second level the Mahayana, the lower bodhisattva teachings; and the third level the esoteric teachings of Vajrayana and Zen, which are the heart of the teachings in The Lotus. There are really three different kinds of instructors and three different kinds of sanghas, one for each level. The terminologies change; also, sometimes the terminologies stay the same, but the meanings of the terminologies change depending on the three levels. Specifically, let us further investigate the terms ‘samsara’ and ‘nirvana.’
In the innermost teachings of the Vajrayana, the third level, the teacher is able to give empowerment, and the student is able to receive empowerment and experience that same level of being. As a preliminary, there is a practice called Rushen: separating samsara and nirvana. What does that mean? An intelligent person would know right away that means it is necessary to differentiate the two. For some reason it is not exactly clear what samsara is and what nirvana is. If you are one of those smart people, right now you are probably having that moment of realizing, “Yes, there is a big gray area. What samsara is and what nirvana is has to be completely separated."
A person at a beginning level of spirituality still has a tremendous amount of naive realism and may think their mind is discrete from the world. The terms samsara and nirvana take on an entirely different meaning in the second turning of the wheel, the Mahayana, and an even deeper understanding in the third turning of the wheel, when one approaches the vajra master and the sangha at the Vajrayana, Zen level. In this third level, one is completely eradicating the sense of division between one’s mind and the world, as one’s meditation practice.
Again, many new terms will be introduced, and other terms that are commonly used may be dropped or used less often for skillful purposes.
What is this practice of Rushen, and why is it so important? It takes incredible courage and wisdom to discriminate between samsara and nirvana. As one looks in, one will confirm again and again that the samsara and nirvana that one is experiencing are within oneself. At first samsara and nirvana may seem like something entirely external, then half internal and half external, and eventually, it is seen as all internal, we could say. In the lower Mahayana one practices tonglen and feels a sense of connection to other beings, perhaps somewhat superficially, but in the Vajrayana a practitioner truly feels at one with all beings. The sense that things are apart from one’s mind is generally what is meant by that funny term ‘duality.’
To realize one’s unenlightenment is also to realize how one attains enlightenment. That is why Rushen is a preliminary practice for Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, which is the essence of The Lotus teachings.
If one has the potential ability to practice Dzogchen, one would receive the instructions and empowerments for Rushen. One cannot practice Rushen without empowerment. A regular spiritual friend or someone who has merely read a lot about Buddhism and can recite the teachings from rote is not sufficient in this regard: one needs an authentic teacher who has received empowerments and can pass on that expression of connection to one’s higher self. The main purpose of empowerment is to reveal in that moment who one really is.
Some people can’t receive the empowerment properly, so unfortunately they don’t see who they really are: there is too much obscuration. Other people see who they really are, but then they feel prideful about it and throw it away. A few beings, very auspiciously, decide, “I will dedicate my life to this because this is my true, pure nature. I don’t know what is to be known about this, but I’m going to jump in and find out. I will spend the rest of my life pursuing this as best I can.”
There is a tremendous amount of organization set up for people to move through the different levels. It requires courage and ability to practice separating samsara and nirvana. How does one do it? One must have great compassion of the Mahayana; one must have practiced shamatha, the peaceful mind; one must have the desire to extend and perfect the empowerment of the higher self with which one has been blessed; one must stay in connection with the teachers, and that would include one’s own teacher, her teachers, and her teachers’ teachers, who are all exemplars of God’s own presence. They all hold the holy spirit energy of God, to use the Christian nomenclature.
I bow in my mind, to my teachers who gave me the Lovestream empowerments and empowered me. In the same way, I see who is sincere, and I give the empowerments to those people. And they have one of the three aforementioned responses. I pray that they have the third response and that through the empowerment, they can begin to gain more familiarity with their higher self. If one becomes better at discriminating between what the higher self is and what the higher self is not, that is Rushen practice.
One who is within the energetic field of empowerment and blessings, committed to the lineage, and within the higher sangha, is able to do the impossible and move the mountain to which Jesus Christ referred. The mountain is the mountain of one’s own karmic residues, the skandhas, the five heaps, one’s habitual tendencies.
The Theravada is a very slow system, wherein those things are gradually worn away like a rock in a stream over thousands of years. The Mahayana is a faster system, in which one could attain enlightenment in so many hundreds of lifetimes. In the Vajrayana, however, that can be narrowed down perhaps to between one and ten lifetimes. That is why it is called the ‘fast path’ because one can attain enlightenment in a few lifetimes, two lifetimes, possibly this lifetime, even this year, or maybe even this very week, and in some cases, today.
We practice Rushen, separating samsara and nirvana, and we also practice traversing the realms of samsara. Those two comprise the preliminary practices, along with the requesting and receiving of the empowerments. Put those together, and one has the magical power to move out what a psychologist can’t move out, to clear what a psychiatric drug can’t clear. Included is the power to transform that which cannot be pushed out of one’s way merely by using willpower. Then beings, instead of arising as an “other,” arise as one’s own mind, and those beings—who aren’t really beings, yet they still affect us—are liberated. How? By our teaching them. Through the master giving empowerment we can ‘receive the holy spirit.’ There is nothing higher. We become at one with God, and as such we know intuitively what is ultimate truth. We stop manipulating these beings, who aren’t really beings. In our own mind they are liberated, and they move up into a state of nirvana, actual enlightenment.
On the first and second levels, we might have hints of enlightenment, but the discussion about samsara and nirvana is more general, and we haven’t clearly defined them. I suggest if you think you can handle level three to go ahead and do it. Pay respect to the lineage and learn who the spiritual teachers are. Ask questions to purify your misunderstandings about the small vehicle, Hinayana, and also the large vehicle, Mahayana, Great Vehicle. Receive the empowerments of Lovestream; receive the higher self empowerment and perfect it. Then request teachings in the inner tantric vehicles, and decide to prepare yourself in the preliminary practices of Rushen, discerning samsara from nirvana, as well as traversing the realms of samsara, going back and forth between the realms.
Regarding the practice of distinguishing between samsara and nirvana, one might wonder, “Isn’t that dualistic?” No, again, it’s a preparatory practice. One has to try, and then one will receive more. Those who have will be given more; those who aren’t trying aren’t going to make any headway. One cannot learn how to swim simply by dipping one’s toe into the pool. One has to jump in, and jump in every day. This is not something that can be done as a part-time hobby. It is very auspicious when someone practices, especially in a spiritual dark age like today.
In this time of Kali Yuga is the promotion of a sense that we are in a golden age, and the world is becoming spiritualized, and we’re going to feed the world, and all the problems of the world are going to go away. This kind of naivete needs to be put to the side. One has to seek first the kingdom of heaven, and then everything will be handled.
Ultimately we are going to handle all beings, but there is no point in trying to rush and being unsuccessful in the venture. Of course we need to feed beings and assist and liberate every being. We will never to be able to accomplish this if we are hateful and political. We can only do it if we can liberate ourselves. Then we will have the flexibility of what we would call “magic.” We will know how to do it beyond this lifetime. We will be able to come back and benefit.
Everything we talk about is based in compassion, the heart of the Mahayana. Only through the path of complete enlightenment can we truly benefit all beings. In level one, we are trying to help beings. In level two, we are trying more intelligently to help beings, but in level three, we actually have the capability to liberate ourselves and liberate beings.
All beings will attain the level of realization of buddhahood, of Dzogchen. This is not just wishful thinking. They will not be divided into heaven and hell forever. They are to some degree separated into samsara and nirvana superficially, but their nature is to be nirvana. All beings will ultimately be in nirvana, and samsara will be closed, done with and out of business. We can say the prayer that this occurs and that we can be a part of that.
Nothing is more fun than the simple magic of Vajrayana and Dzogchen. The people who are ready for that will be taught. May the people who aren’t yet ready for that find a path that is optimum for them, in whatever church and sangha would be in the highest good for them at this time, whatever they can best handle.
May we feel a camaraderie and connection with beings at every level of spirituality. May all of them be successful, and may they start to recognize that they are at a certain level, and there is a time to move up to the next level.