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Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching to about fifty ordained Sangha during a visit to a giant shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in April 2016.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching to about fifty ordained Sangha during a visit to a giant shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in April 2016. Edited by Gordon McDougall.

Rinpoche was in Kuala Lumpur during a teaching tour of Southeast Asia in 2016. Video recordings from the tour are freely available on FPMT’s Rinpoche Available Now page.

Think of the five aggregates: [form, feeling, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness]. Be mindful of how you label the aggregates, how in the beginning they are just merely labeled. Watch that.

In the next second the “I” is supposed to appear back to you merely labeled by the mind. That is what happens in reality, but that doesn’t happen.

The “I” is merely labeled by mind but it only appears like that to a buddha because buddhas don’t have even the subtle negative imprints—the obscurations to knowledge (Tib: she-drip)—left by the ignorance holding the “I” as truly existent. Having totally purified these, these have ceased [in a buddha’s mindstream]. There is no dualistic view, no hallucination, no projection when the “I” and all phenomena appear as truly existing from their own side, as real. A buddha does not have this hallucination at all. You have to understand that. What appears to a buddha is what is merely labeled by the mind.

But for us ordinary sentient beings, in the next second [Rinpoche snaps his fingers], it appears back not merely labeled by the mind. It appears back as the total opposite of that. That, in the Prasangika view, is the gag-cha, the object to be refuted. According to the Prasangika Madhyamaka, the second [subschool] of the Madhyamaka, gag-cha, the object to be refuted, is the total opposite to that; it appears back to you as not merely labeled by the mind. The real “I” that appears to you is the subtle gag-cha.

The Svatantrika subschool’s view is grosser. For them it appears as not labeled by mind and existing from its own side. Before I said “not merely labeled” but here it is not even labeled by the mind. They see the “I” that appears to you as truly existing from its own side, as real. It is much grosser.

Also, there’s the Mind Only school. They say the real “I” exists without depending on the imprints left on the seventh consciousness, [the mind basis of all, Skt: alaya vijnana], from which both subject and object arise.

According to the lower schools, what is one hundred percent to be abandoned is believing that the “I” truly exists and is self-sufficient and independent, that is to say, independent of other things such as the aggregates. That’s the very gross wrong view to be refuted.

The “I” appears to us as permanent, existing alone [unitary] and independent. When the “I” appears to you, all this is there. This way that the “I” appears to you is extremely gross. It’s the grossest hallucination. This is what is believed in Hinduism and for them this is the right view. For us, however, the way the “I” appears is the wrong view.

So, you see how all the other schools’ views of what gag-cha is—how the “I” appears to us—are to be totally abandoned as they are all the wrong view.

Not only the subject, the “I”, but also the action, the object, all the sounds, smells, tastes and tangible objects—all the six sense objects—are all merely labeled by the mind, by your mind. However, in the next second they don’t appear as merely labeled by the mind. They appear as not merely labeled by the mind. Everything that appears back to you—all these wrong views, right up to Svatantrika—appear as permanent and existing alone [as unitary], and with their own freedom [as independent.]

When you walk, there’s one meditation you can do. Everything, even subtle things, should appear merely labeled by mind—the “I,” action, object, everything. But, that doesn’t happen for us sentient beings. They do not appear not merely labeled by mind, even when you go to the supermarket. Whatever you look at—all these forms, all these many thousands and millions of things: the sky, the road, the people—all appear to you according to the wrong views described by all those schools. Meditate on that.

If you can recognize even what’s asserted by the lower schools, gradually you can recognize the wrong views to be refuted by Madhyamaka schools, first the Svatantrika’s and then the Prasangika’s.

The main thing is to think that all these things are like an illusion. As I’ve said before, ignorance is like the magician. It leaves a negative imprint on the mind, like a magician who uses mantras to cause hallucinations. The audience’s senses are “hallucinated,” seeing lapis lazuli palaces and all kinds of things. The magician has hallucinated the audience. Their senses are “illusioned.”

You’re illusioned by your ignorance. The magician is ignorance; you are the audience. All this is an illusion. I’m sitting here, you’re sitting there. We’re here having tea, but all of this is illusioned as real – —real “I,” real restaurant, real tea, real snacks. All the rest is the same, appearing real.

Recognize all the wrong views, that in the end, all these are like hallucinations. You’re walking and you hallucinate the “I,” you hallucinate the action of walking, you hallucinate the road, you hallucinate the car, you hallucinate the building.

The other way to see it is as like a dream. Everything you look at is like a dream. You walk and you talk but [at the same time] the mind is practicing mindfulness, seeing it all as like a dream. You walk, talk, eat and so forth, but the most important thing is to recognize that this is all like a dream, like a hallucination, like an illusion, like a mirage.

When you do that, attachment doesn’t arise, anger doesn’t arise. There is no reason for anger or attachment to arise. That’s how it becomes the antidote to samsara, the antidote to ignorance.

Then, if it’s done with bodhicitta, thinking, “I must achieve enlightenment to benefit sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of samsara and bring them to enlightenment,” it becomes the cause of enlightenment.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at a refuge ceremony held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, on April 1, 1995.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at a refuge ceremony held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, on April 1, 1995. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

In this teaching, Rinpoche discusses the purpose of our life, how to make this precious human rebirth meaningful and how to actualize refuge in our own mind. The teaching also contains extensive advice on experiencing illness such as cancer for the benefit of others and how to establish a bodhicitta motivation in daily life. Rinpoche concludes with advice on the power of the objects of refuge.

Portrait of Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche taken in Portland, Oregon by John Berthold, 2006.

First I would like to say thank you very much, I’m very happy to meet you. From the heart, I would like to thank you for coming to Nepal, to Kopan, from very far away. You have come to learn meditation, the teachings of the Buddha, which is learning about your own life, your own mind, or to put it another way, to learn what is false. What is the truth and what is false; to learn these two things. Anyone who is learning or attempting to learn something, it is either to benefit others, to obtain happiness for others or to benefit oneself. So the goal is either to benefit the world, to bring happiness and peace to others or if that is not the goal then, at least to benefit oneself, to obtain happiness for oneself.

Now the obstacle, from where the obstacle arises to achieve happiness, either for oneself or for others, is by not knowing what is false and what is the truth. By not knowing this, then from this ignorance, not knowing this point, not having correct wisdom—knowing what is false and what is the truth. From ignorance the obstacle arises to obtain peace and happiness for oneself, and not only temporary, but ultimate happiness, everlasting happiness, which includes temporary happiness. In this way we can bring peace and happiness toward others.

This can be as much wisdom—knowing what is truth and what is false—as much wisdom as we can achieve and put into practice, put it into action. This is the solution to obtaining peace and happiness for oneself and to cause this for other sentient beings. Therefore, we must study the teachings of the Buddha. Another way of presenting this, another way of understanding this, another way of looking at it, is to discover what is false. Believing that reality is true causes problems for ourselves and others, including the fundamental problems, the suffering of rebirth, the suffering of death, and all the problems in between, death and rebirth, old age, sickness and so forth.

Then by learning what is the truth, what is the unmistaken path, what is the right method to achieve happiness, to find satisfaction in our life and to overcome the problems, the more we learn, the more we put into action, then we are able to overcome that and even to have control over the death. We are able to overcome even those heavy, unbearable problems of life, the suffering of rebirth and death and so forth. So we can overcome these. We can gradually overcome these, we can be free from these problems forever. We don’t have to experience this anymore. Not only are we able to achieve satisfaction in our day-to-day life, not only that, for ourselves alone to find some peace and happiness, some satisfaction in the heart, not just only that. Just to be happy, content, having peace in our own mind, not just that.

The Purpose of Our Life

One most important thing that we have to know—whether we are practicing meditation, whether we like to meditate or we don’t like to meditate—the most important thing to discover or to know, is the purpose of life, the purpose of why we are living, why it is so important to live the life, to live every day, why it is so important to survive, what is the purpose of living. Each day, each hour, each second, the purpose of our living. It is extremely important to have the correct understanding of that. That is the most important meditation, that understanding. Then living the life with that wisdom, with that thought to benefit others, with that thought to benefit other sentient beings. This is the best way to achieve happiness in the life, the best way to find peace and satisfaction in our own heart, by having the correct wisdom of the purpose of our life, the attitude to obtain benefit for other sentient beings.

So now, the purpose of our life is not just to solve our own problems and to obtain happiness only for ourselves, not just that. This attitude, just living the life only with this attitude doesn’t fulfill the purpose of why we have this precious human body. You might have already studied this meditation subject, the graduated path to enlightenment, which comes in three divisions. The graduated path of the lower capable being talks a lot about how this human body that we have now is so precious, how it is so important, all the qualities that it has, all the advantages, all the benefits, what we can achieve with this precious human body. The benefits that we can achieve from this for our own happiness and especially for other sentient beings who are numberless, who want happiness and do not want suffering. With this precious human body, we can offer infinite benefit to the numberless other sentient beings. We can cause all the happiness—any temporary happiness, any ultimate happiness—we are able to give that to everyone, every other sentient being, who are equaling the limitless sky.

The Nature of the Mind

Not only that, our mind also has buddha nature, the fully enlightened being’s nature, which is the clear light nature of the mind, which is pure, it doesn’t exist from its own side and is not oneness with mistakes. The nature of our mind is not oneness with the defilements.

That is not the only reason. It is not only because of this—that in our mental continuum there is buddha nature, which gives all the hopes, all the possibilities that we can be liberated, that we can free from any problems, from any sufferings of samsara and never have to experience all those unimaginable sufferings of the hell beings or hungry ghosts, those beings’ sufferings, animal sufferings, human beings’ suffering, all those different beings. We can be liberated, so we never have to experience those sufferings forever once we are liberated from that. We can be liberated completely from the cause, the reason. We can be completely liberated from the whole entire cause of these sufferings, karma and the disturbing thoughts—the karma, the action and the disturbing thoughts, all the defilements.

Because we have buddha nature in our mental continuum, this gives us all the hope, all the possibilities, that we can cease, we can be liberated from all the suffering and causes. This gives us hope, no matter how much we believe we have the heaviest problem, even if we are missing limbs or have TB, cancer or whatever; or that nobody is helping us, that nobody loves us; seeing, having these appearances in the life that nobody loves us or nothing is working in the life, everything got stuck, in business or whatever we try, that nothing is working, there are always constant problems or constant problems of health, disease coming or whatever. Whatever the heaviest problem we experience, because of our buddha nature, no matter how much we think that all these problems are so heavy, so unbearable, in reality they are all temporary, just as the sky is not oneness with the fog, with the fogginess.

The sky itself is not oneness with the fog, therefore due to wind and so forth, due to causes and conditions, the fog goes away. The clear sky is obscured by heavy fog that blocks seeing the stars, the moon or the sun; due to cause and conditions it is collected there. Due to causes and conditions it happened there, it arose, but due to other causes and conditions the heavy fogginess that makes everything very gloomy or very dark goes away. During that foggy time it looks as if it is impossible for it to go away. It is very heavy, very dark, however in the next hour, due to other causes and conditions, then the sky becomes clear. We can see the sun or the moon; it becomes very clear. So what is happening is not forever because the nature of the sky is not oneness with this heavy fogginess, like that.

It’s the same thing with our life experience, all our problems, whatever it is, even the suffering of death, AIDS and all these things, all these sufferings; so, you see, due to cause and conditions this happened, we experience these problems, we go through that, but because we have buddha nature, if we put together another cause and conditions then we can eliminate or we can cease all these unbearable, heavy problems of life. Our sufferings can be completely ceased and we can make it impossible to experience them again.

Buddha nature is clear light, the nature of the mind is clear light. This is the basic reason, the fundamental reason which gives us all the possibilities, all the opportunities for good things, all the hopes for good things.

This Precious Human Body

On top of that, this time we have this precious human body, qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, so that we can achieve happiness in future lives. The reason why we bring up the happiness in future lives is because that happiness is long-term happiness. It is not a question of one year’s peace and happiness, it is not a question of one month or one day of peace and happiness. It is long-term happiness, the happiness of future lives. I am talking about long-run happiness.

The happiness of this life, even if we did succeed in achieving this, is just a question of a few years at the longest, or a few months, a few weeks or some days, not sure. Anyway, it is very short; it’s a very short-time happiness. Any happiness of future lives, whatever we wish for, we can achieve with this precious human body. Even if we wish to receive the precious human body again, a human body or a deva body—those other beings who are living on the higher planets, who have much greater, much longer lives than human beings in this world and who have hundreds, thousands of times greater sense enjoyments than us human beings. Even if we wish to reincarnate in those realms after our death, to reincarnate in those deva realms, those worldly gods or devas, we can achieve that with this precious human body. Even if we wish to have perfect surroundings in our future life, so that all our wishes get fulfilled, so that we get a lot of support, so that people are harmonious with us, their mind is harmonious with our mind, they are happy with us and they support us; they don’t make us upset, they don’t become our enemy. If we wish to have perfect surroundings in the future, we can achieve that with this perfect human body, because we can create the cause for all these things.

To receive the body of the happy migratory being in the next life, we can achieve any of those things, because with this precious human body we can create the cause by practicing morality. We can practice morality. It doesn’t mean we have to become a monk or nun; it means that whatever we can do—morality, whatever vows we can take—we can practice. We can also practice charity, we can dedicate the merits to receive the result. Then to receive perfect surrounding people in the next life, with this human body, we can create the cause for that by practicing patience in this life. That is a cause. Then, if we wish to receive a perfect human body, a human body that is qualified in the eight freedoms and ten richnesses in the next life, again to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment, again to continue to develop the mind in the path to liberation, to enlightenment, we can create the cause. With this perfect human body that we have now, we can create the cause for that.

At the time of death, even if we wish to be born in the pure land of Buddha, where once we have reincarnated there we never have to reincarnate in samsara, where we don’t have the suffering of rebirth, sickness, such as AIDS and those things, all the problems. If we are reborn in those pure lands, we never have to reincarnate in samsara, to experience all the problems again. That’s it, that’s the end; we don’t have to reincarnate in samsara and experience all the problems again. If we wish to achieve that, to reincarnate in a pure land, and not only that, not only not having to reincarnate back in the suffering realm and experience all the problems again, not only that, in certain pure lands of Buddha, there we are able to complete the path and become enlightened, to free the numberless suffering sentient beings from all the obscurations, all the sufferings and lead them to full enlightenment. We can lead them to the peerless happiness, full enlightenment.

If we wish to achieve this, we can do it with this perfect human body that we have received, that we have now. We can create the cause to reincarnate in this pure land of the Buddha, those certain deities or buddhas’ pure land. Once we reincarnate there, we never have to reincarnate again in samsara and experience the problems of life, all those unimaginable sufferings. Not only that, but we are able to develop the mind in the path, complete the path and become enlightened there. Then we are able to do perfect work for numberless other sentient beings without the slightest mistake. Naturally, spontaneously manifesting out of compassion, with perfect power and with the omniscient mind, with complete wisdom. Even in each second, liberating many sentient beings from the sufferings, leading them, guiding them to happiness, from happiness to happiness, to full enlightenment, which is the cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and completion of all the realizations.

So we can create the cause for that. If we wish to achieve that, with this perfect human body we can create the cause, on the basis of practicing morality and the good heart, bodhicitta, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings. There are particular practices to create the cause to reincarnate in the pure land, meditations, things like that.

Also, the other thing is, without reincarnating in the pure land, then again being reborn as a human being, taking a human rebirth, but a human rebirth which is much more qualified, having the eight ripening qualities. Having a human body which has the eight ripened, not ripening, qualities. If we are able to achieve this, then it becomes very powerful to have quick success actualizing the path to enlightenment. It’s very powerful, very powerful in order to have the realizations of the path to enlightenment, it’s very powerful to benefit. Then we are able to offer extensive benefit toward other sentient beings.

As Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned in the lam-rim, in his teaching called Lines of Experience of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment. This was from his own experience, Lama Tsongkhapa’s own experience. In this lam-rim, Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned that, in order to have great success, to complete the realizations of the path to enlightenment, to have great success. Also to be able to offer extensive benefit toward others. Also if we wish, we can achieve the eight ripened qualities, such as a long life, and having control, having a powerful body and mind so that we can bear the hardships. Because the body and mind is very powerful we can overcome the problems, the obstacles to actualize the path, to meditate, to practice Dharma, We can overcome these easily, we can bear the hardships, not being small-minded, but with a brave heart. We can be like those many great yogis, like Milarepa.

We can achieve enlightenment within a number of years, in this life, within a brief lifetime of degenerated time. This means a very short time. With a brave heart, not a small mind, not a weak mind, but a brave heart, and also physically not weak, but powerful, strong. Therefore we are able to succeed, to overcome the obstacles and succeed in actualizing the path, to complete the realizations of the path and so forth. So there are eight qualities, like that. These are necessary qualities to be able to extensively benefit to others. We are able to extensively benefit others, and also to easily develop our mind in the path to enlightenment. These are the qualities that we need for that.

Also having a perfect body or precious body which has four Mahayana Dharma wheels. It means in the next life. We prepare in this life for the next rebirth, we prepare in this life, we make arrangements, we create the cause for the next life to be born in the place where there are Mahayana teachings existing. We are born in the right place, in a conducive environment, with parents, the family, those having the faith to follow the teachings, who have faith in these teachings. To be born where the Mahayana teachings exist, so where there are all these perfect conditions, again to meet Mahayana teachings; then to be able to continue to develop our mind in the path, which we haven’t developed in this life. So to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. We can create the cause, we can achieve this with this perfect human body because we have created the cause.

Then if we wish to achieve ultimate happiness, be free forever from the whole entire sufferings of samsara, which comes in the three: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change—those which are called pleasures but in reality they are suffering, which are labelled pleasures and we believe are pure happiness but in reality are only suffering. Those sufferings, those samsaric pleasures, are called the suffering of change. That is why those pleasures don’t last. The more we put effort, the pleasure decreases. Instead of continuing, increasing the pleasure, it doesn’t last, it decreases. Then pervasive, compounding suffering, which is the fundamental suffering of samsara. So you see, being free forever from the whole entire suffering and the cause, karma and delusions. If we wish to, we can achieve this, because with this precious human body we can actualize the path, we can create the cause.

The fundamental path to achieve this, the higher training of morality, on the basis of refuge, having refuge in the heart, relying upon the fully enlightened being and the Dharma, the path, the method which liberates ourselves and others from the whole entire suffering and its causes. In reality that which does this, which liberates, which eliminates the whole entire suffering and causes is Dharma. In reality, it is our own mind. It’s our own healthy mind, it is our own positive mind, it’s our own wisdom, it’s our own compassion.

Taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha

The basic path is this, the basic Dharma that we are taking refuge in is our own mind. We are trying to achieve happiness by transforming our own mind from the disturbing thoughts into peaceful thoughts which produce satisfaction, peace and happiness, both temporary and ultimate. By relying upon our positive thoughts, trying to achieve happiness, that is Dharma, that is taking refuge in the Dharma, and that is the only way to achieve happiness. By relying upon that, with this Dharma wisdom, understanding, the happiness has to come from our own mind. It doesn’t come from outside, it has to come from our own mind. And how? From the positive mind, by relying upon our positive mind, our healthy mind, the thought which brings satisfaction, peace and happiness in our own mental continuum.

By relying upon this and transforming our mind into this, then through this we achieve all the happiness up to enlightenment, the highest happiness, enlightenment. This includes day-to-day peace in our life, from there up to enlightenment. This comes from Dharma, which is our own mind. This is how we should realize what it means taking refuge in Dharma. It doesn’t mean surrendering to something that gives us no freedom, something which suffocates us or which doesn’t give freedom to us. It is not that. That is a misunderstanding of what taking refuge means. Thinking we surrender to something which doesn’t give us freedom. If the freedom that we want is for happiness, if it’s for peace and happiness, not suffering, then this way of taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha only gives us the freedom to achieve what we want. We can achieve the peace and happiness in our heart, including liberation, enlightenment, all those things, including day-to-day satisfaction and peace of mind. But if what we want is suffering, not happiness, the opposite to peace, then it is different. We don’t achieve suffering from this. We don’t achieve suffering by taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Taking refuge in our own Buddha, our own Dharma, our own Sangha, it is our own mind; it is that which is called result time Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. That is what we are looking for; what we are looking for is our own Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. That is the achievement. But in order for this to happen, in order to actualize our own Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the result refuge, in order for this to happen, then this has to be created, this has to be actualized with the support of others, with others’ help. We need the help of other beings, who are separate from oneself, by depending on others’ support. To be completely cured of a disease, we must rely upon a doctor, medicine and nurse. To completely recover successfully from this severe disease that we have, then we must rely upon doctor, medicine, nurse. With this support, this help, then we can become completely healthy. We can be completely cured of the disease.

To know all the treatment, to be able to diagnose  and recognize all the sicknesses, to diagnose that and to know all the treatment to cure the disease, we have to study by relying upon a wise doctor. We have to rely upon somebody, to see somebody outside, like a wise doctor who knows everything. By relying upon that, by studying, then we can become the wise doctor who can help ourselves and others. It’s the same as that. Not only to achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from the whole entire suffering and causes for ourselves, not only for that, but to be able to become a perfect guide, to liberate the numberless other suffering beings from all the suffering and its causes, to lead them to peerless happiness, full enlightenment. To do that, we have to become a buddha by actualizing the Dharma, the refuge Dharma, all the realizations of the path. Then we have to become Sangha to be able to do perfect work, service for other sentient beings, to guide other sentient beings.

We are practicing Dharma, practicing meditation and actualizing the path in order to become the result refuge, Buddha, the Sangha and to actualize the Dharma within our own mental continuum. This is the ultimate taking refuge. We are practicing meditation, practicing Dharma for this, so that we can become a perfect guide, able to do perfect work for all sentient beings.

As I gave those examples, then we need others’ help and support for this to happen. we need to rely upon other beings, the buddhas, and their realizations, the Dharma that they have, the scriptural understanding and the realizations, their experiences that are unmistaken. We need to trust and rely upon that. We also need the help of the Sangha. We need the support of the Sangha, the inspiration from the Sangha for practicing the path, we need inspiration from them. For example, all these things, we have to have examples; we have to follow their example. Therefore there is a need to rely upon Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Oour main goal is to become Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. It’s like becoming a professor, a doctor or professor, to be able to do that we have to learn from another professor; we have to get all the qualifications by relying upon somebody.

Now I think that is on the basis of the three higher trainings, the higher training of morality, concentration, and wisdom. “Higher” means on the basis of refuge, by having refuge in the mind, then morality, practicing morality and concentration, wisdom. These are the fundamental paths to achieve everlasting happiness and liberation forever, to be free from the whole entire suffering, the cycle of death and rebirth, all the sufferings and causes. With this perfect body we can practice this and we can achieve liberation from samsara if we wish to.

The Ultimate Goal

How do we achieve the highest goal, the full enlightenment? With this perfect human body we can practice bodhicitta and follow the bodhisattvas’ deeds, such as the six paramitas to ripen our own mind and there are four practices to draw others, which is to ripen the mind of others. However, with this perfect human body we can practice bodhicitta. In this human continent, this particular continent where we are, this is a suffering continent. There is the eastern continent, the human world, the northern continent, the western continent and the southern continent. There are different human worlds like this, and where we are now is the southern continent. In this southern continent, there are all kinds of lives, suffering and pleasure. We ourselves go through this, we see so much suffering and also, comfort, pleasures, all sorts of lives. However, because of this it is very easy to generate renunciation of samsara and because of this, it is very easy to generate compassion. For us, it is very easy, we who are born in this world, the southern continent, it is very easy to develop compassion toward others because it is easy to see the suffering of others.

It is very easy to generate compassion, to develop compassion, therefore it is very easy to generate bodhicitta. If there is no bodhicitta realization, there is no enlightenment, then we cannot perfectly guide all other living beings from happiness to ultimate happiness,  full enlightenment. We cannot perfectly guide others, we cannot do perfect service for others.

The ultimate goal of our life is to free all sentient beings from all the sufferings and to lead them to happiness, especially full enlightenment, the peerless happiness. That is the ultimate goal of our life. To be able to achieve this goal, to be able to do this perfect service for others, we need to achieve the omniscient mind, knowing all the past, present and future, being able to see everything directly. Being able to see directly and being able to read the numberless other sentient beings’ minds, all the different characters—being able to see the different wishes that they have, their intelligence, the different levels of karma, their potential and the various methods that can fit to them. We have to know everything; we need to know the numberless methods to benefit other sentient beings and we need to have perfect power to reveal the various methods. Not only that, we need to have completed the mind training in compassion toward all living beings. We should have all these qualities. These are the basic qualities and there are also many other qualities. We should have all these qualities to be able to do perfect work, service for all sentient beings.

Without bodhicitta realization all this is not possible. Without bodhicitta we cannot enter the Mahayana path and without entering the Mahayana path we cannot achieve all these qualities. In this particular human world where we are born now there is suffering, therefore we can easily generate very strong renunciation of samsara, renunciation of samsaric suffering. Then because of that we can generate very strong compassion easily and because of that, we are able to actualize bodhicitta very easily and strongly. Because of that very easy, very strong and very powerful bodhicitta, we are able to achieve enlightenment very quickly. The conclusion is that with this human body in this southern continent we can achieve enlightenment easily and quickly.

In the six realms—the sura, asura and human realms and the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms—the only realm which has the opportunity to become enlightened within one life is this human realm. Not even in other human worlds, but only in this one, our human world, this southern continent. This is the only one. Human beings in the southern continent are the only ones with the opportunity to achieve enlightenment within one life. In one lifetime we can achieve enlightenment, therefore, we are extremely fortunate that we are born as human beings and we are born in this southern continent where we receive this human body. This human body that we have received in this southern continent is regarded as very precious because it has so many qualities and so much opportunity.

With this human body we can achieve liberation from samsara and we can achieve full enlightenment for sentient beings. These two are ultimate happiness. Not only in each day, but even in each hour, each minute and each second, with this perfect human body we can achieve any of these happinesses, any happiness of future lives, the temporary happiness, such as reincarnating in a pure land and so forth. Also, we can achieve any of those ultimate happinesses. We can create the cause with this perfect human body, even in each second in our everyday life.

Therefore this precious human body, which is qualified with eight freedoms and ten richnesses, is extremely, highly meaningful. Even in each second it is very precious, even in each second in our everyday life. So like that. Maybe short break.


As I mentioned before, if the attitude is just seeking happiness for oneself, to resolve our own problems; if we live our life with this attitude it doesn’t transcend, it doesn’t make our life anything special. Our life is nothing special, it is nothing higher than ants, insects or worms, or those very vicious animals, tigers or poisonous snakes. It is nothing special from them, nothing special from their attitude. Even those tiny insects and even those very vicious animals live their life with this attitude, only seeking happiness for themselves. They are constantly looking for protection, constantly looking for food and constantly only looking for happiness for themselves. That’s it. There is no thought of obtaining happiness for others, to benefit for others.

Without bodhicitta we do nothing special from them. Externally we have the human body, which is something very precious, but internally we do nothing special. Just having that attitude doesn’t give meaning to this life. It doesn’t give the special purpose why we have taken this precious human body at this time and why we have not taken the body of a crocodile, a lobster, a frog, a spider, a scorpion, a jelly fish or an octopus.

Anyway, there has to be a special purpose for having this precious human body. That attitude doesn’t fulfill the purpose of why we have taken this precious human body. In other words that attitude only becomes an obstacle to making this life, this precious human body, beneficial even for oneself, leave aside making it beneficial for other sentient beings. This attitude becomes an obstacle blocking even that this precious human body could be beneficial to achieve happiness for oneself. This attitude becomes a blockage for making this human body useful to achieve happiness even for oneself. Like that, as I mentioned before.

The ultimate goal of our life or the real purpose of our life is to eliminate the sufferings of others, to obtain happiness for numberless other sentient beings. To free others who are numberless, to free each and every one of them from all the sufferings and to lead them especially to the peerless happiness, full enlightenment. That is the ultimate goal of our life. That is the purpose of our living.

Therefore, it is an extremely good practice for the twenty-four hours to keep the mind in this attitude, from when we wake up in the morning. Think, “My life is to benefit others, the numberless sentient beings without discrimination, without leaving even one exception, including the enemy who harms me, including that.”

Universal Responsibility

Think, “I am here to serve others, to cause happiness to others.” Live the life with this thought. Also feel the responsibility, the universal responsibility, that, “I have the responsibility to obtain happiness for all sentient beings. I am responsible for all sentient beings’ happiness.” Usually the reasoning is that if we have compassion toward other sentient beings, then they will not receive harm from us. They will receive peace and happiness from us and on top of that, by developing compassion, by having compassion, we benefit others. Not only do we stop giving harm, but also we benefit, we do something for others, we cause happiness to others.

All the peace and happiness that numberless other sentient beings receive from us, that is dependent on us and that is in our hands. Whether we want to offer this happiness and peace to others or not, it is in our hands. Why? Because it’s up to our mind, what we do with our mind, what kind of attitude we have toward others, whether we have compassion, the thought to benefit others; whether we have this attitude toward others or not. Whether all the numberless other sentient beings receive happiness, what they receive from us, depends on our having compassion toward them. Therefore, it’s very logical that each of us clearly has universal responsibility. We have responsibility for their happiness, to obtain happiness for every living being.

Bodhicitta Motivation in Daily Life

In twenty-four hours of our life, day and night, we should live the life with this thought, this purpose of life, the thought to benefit others, the thought to obtain happiness toward all sentient beings. This is the purpose of life, and the other thing is to feel the responsibility. When we get up in the morning, when we are waking up, getting up in the morning, if we get up with this thought, that means naturally the purpose of getting up is to serve others and to obtain happiness for other sentient beings. When we are dressing, if we are dressing with this thought, that naturally we are wearing our clothes in order to serve other sentient beings, in order to obtain happiness for other sentient beings, to benefit other sentient beings, then it naturally becomes that.

The same thing when we eat breakfast, if we practice mindfulness, if we eat breakfast with this attitude, then naturally eating breakfast doesn’t become just for ourselves, for our own happiness. Having breakfast becomes an action to benefit others; even eating breakfast becomes an action benefiting other sentient beings. Naturally it is dedicated for others, so our actions are benefiting other sentient beings. When we are washing every morning, if we wash with this attitude, then naturally all the washing does not become for our own happiness; it doesn’t become ego. Even washing becomes a beneficial action toward other living beings. It becomes for others. Even washing, cleaning the body, becomes a beneficial action toward numberless other sentient beings.

The same thing when we go from home to work, to our job, we should go with this thought, which is the purpose of life, the thought to benefit numberless other sentient beings, if possible. Not only to benefit the employer who employed us, not only to benefit those people who own the company; not only that we are causing happiness, not only to benefit the people who receive the goods, not only the thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands of people who receive the goods. Not only the thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands of people who receive the goods, the materials that are made in the company factory, including our own effort. Not only those people, the hundreds of thousands of people who receive those things and get comfort and pleasure from that. Not just this, but if we can think of the numberless other sentient beings, to benefit them. When we include these people—the employer, the owner of the company, and so many hundreds of people who receive the things that we are making, who we are sending letters to, or manufacturing, making things for—think that other people are receiving comfort, including them.

When we go from home to the job, if we go with this thought, and also while we are working, eight hours or six or seven hours, however many hours we are doing the job, then also remember that. Even if the mind gets distracted again by ego, working for self, for our own happiness, if our motivation becomes ego, the selfish mind; even if it becomes that, then again try to transform it into the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, which is the purpose of life. Also, try to feel the responsibility, thinking that “I am responsible for all sentient beings’ happiness, therefore this is what I am doing here.” So, with a good heart, the thought of benefiting others. Same thing, when we have lunch and dinner, or when we go to bed, the same.

When we go to bed, also do it with that thought of benefiting other sentient beings. Think, “In order to serve, to obtain happiness for all sentient beings, to do this service I need a long life, I need to be healthy, therefore I am going to sleep.” Same thing with food and all these things.

Also, when we make parties, when we are doing things, making parties, giving food and drink to others, the same thing. Do it with the thought of bodhicitta, to benefit others, to obtain happiness for other sentient beings. In this way, it blocks the attachment, there is no motivation of attachment, which makes the action become non-virtue, the cause of suffering. The mind which makes the action the cause of suffering, non-virtue—that non-virtuous motivation is the attachment to this life, clinging to this life’s happiness—so that is stopped.

Not only that, in this way all the activities that we do in our daily life—eating, walking, working, sitting, sleeping and so forth, all these activities—we don’t allow a nonvirtuous motivation to arise. We don’t allow the attitude for all these activities to become a nonvirtuous motivation, such as attachment clinging to this life, clinging to our own happiness, even just for this life. That is nonvirtue, that motivation is nonvirtue.

Why is this nonvirtue? Because the nature of this thought and the effect that we get by letting this arise and the effect that we get back, the effect that we receive from that to your mental continuum is disturbing. The nature of that thought is disturbing. It’s not a peaceful thought, the nature of that is not a peaceful thought. The nature of that thought is pain. By letting it arise, it affects what we get, it affects our mental continuum. It disturbs us, it’s not peaceful. That is one reason why this thought is nonvirtue.

The other reason is, because this is a nonvirtuous thought, the action motivated by this thought becomes nonvirtue. The effect of this action or the result of this action is only suffering. The result or the effect of this action is only suffering, therefore this motivation receives the label nonvirtue and the action motivated by this thought receives the label nonvirtue because the result, the conclusion, is only suffering. So, it’s like this.

A plant which causes life danger by smelling or by eating it—if it makes us get sick and endangers our life, it receives the label poison. And something which cures disease by taking it, which has the effect, the result of curing the disease, then that receives the label medicine. It is just like that. It is exactly the same thing with our attitude and action. This is similar. They receive these labels according to the nature of that and the effect, the kind of result which comes from that.

Therefore, try to live the life with this thought of benefiting others all the time. This is the purpose of our life, feeling responsibility for others. That does not allow our motivation of twenty-four hours’ life to become nonvirtue, thus we are protected in our everyday life, we are protected. We are saved, we are protected, because our mind is protected from these disturbing thoughts which are the cause of the sufferings. Therefore we are protected from the sufferings. In this way, by protecting the mind, we are protected from the sufferings of this life and the life after this; we are protected from the sufferings of samsara. We are always guided on the path to happiness by living the life with this special thought, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, of obtaining happiness for other sentient beings.

The other thing is ego. This thought of benefiting other sentient beings, the good heart, is completely against the ego. The motivation of our life is not stained by ego, the self-centered mind, therefore our motivation becomes very pure. Not only that, there are no nonvirtuous thoughts, no anger or attachment and so forth, not even ego, the self-cherishing thought. Our mind becomes very pure, very healthy, and this mind is the thought cherishing others, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings. This is a very content, very satisfied, very happy mind, and there is very deep peace, we are happy in our heart, it’s very enjoyable. With this thought our life becomes very enjoyable. With this thought even if we are in prison, we see meaning in our life. Even if we are living in prison, no matter wherever we are, no matter whether we are doing a retreat, doing meditation or in a place where we practice Dharma, meditation, or wherever we are.

If we live the life with this thought, with this attitude, bodhicitta, the good heart, the thought of benefiting others, then wherever we are, whomever we are with, whether we are healthy or whether we are unhealthy; whether we have AIDS or whether we don’t have AIDS; whether we have cancer or whether we don’t have cancer; whether we are dying or whether we are living; whatever life experience is happening, whether there is material receiving or whether there is no material receiving; whether there is criticism or whether there is praise; whether there is bad reputation or good reputation; whatever is happening, if we live the life with this thought of bodhicitta, cherishing others, the thought of benefiting others, with this thought, wherever we are, whomever we are with, whatever life we experience, healthy, unhealthy, even dying, living or dying, it always has meaning with this thought. This thought gives meaning to our life.

Somebody who is poor, by having these thoughts it makes their life very rich, it gives meaning to the life, they see there is meaning in the life. Even somebody who is very wealthy, somebody who is a millionaire, no matter how much the person has wealth, no matter how rich the person is, by having this thought it gives meaning having all this wealth, because everything is to benefit for others, all the wealth is to benefit others, with this thought. Therefore, it makes sense, it gives meaning to our whole entire life.

Without this attitude, then however much wealth the person has, their whole life has no meaning. The wealth doesn’t fulfill the purpose of life, that alone doesn’t fulfill the purpose of life. In other words, without this bodhicitta, this good heart, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, then how much wealth we have, with that alone, it becomes an empty life. It doesn’t give purpose, it doesn’t give meaning to the life. Our life becomes empty.

Without this thought or without this attitude in life, this special attitude or thought of benefiting other sentient beings, then however much education we have—even if we have all this intellectual understanding, even of the Buddha’s teachings of sutra, tantra, the whole entire teachings; even if we have the understanding of the whole entire teaching—without this special attitude, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, without this, then even with that much education, that alone doesn’t fulfill the purpose of our life. Even if we have that much intellectual understanding of Buddhadharma, the Buddha’s teachings, our life becomes empty.

No question about others, how much power we have, how much reputation we have in this world, how much power we have achieved in this world, then no question, without compassion, without the thought of benefiting others, no matter how much of those other things we have, our life becomes empty. Without this special attitude, this special way of thinking, which is the purpose of life, the  thought to benefit others, without this, even if we lived for thousands of years, if we had a long life and lived for thousands of years, it is nothing, it is empty. It becomes an empty life, even if we are able to live a healthy, long life for thousands of years.

Experiencing Cancer For All Sentient Beings

By having this special thought, this thought of benefiting other sentient beings, then whatever happens—whatever experience, whatever happiness or suffering, whatever circumstances we are experiencing, whatever is happening—everything becomes beneficial, everything becomes meaningful, beneficial for others. Even if we have cancer we can make that experience beneficial for all sentient beings. With this thought we can experience the cancer on behalf of all sentient beings who have cancer, who have the potential, who have the karma to experience cancer. With this thought we can experience the cancer on behalf of all sentient beings. This way of thinking about our experience of cancer becomes the most powerful healing and purification. It becomes the most powerful healing because in this way, by experiencing it for others, then it purifies the cause of the cancer which is the mind, our own mind, the disturbing thoughts, including the ego. The cause of the cancer is our own mind, those impure thoughts which are on the mind, the imprint of negative karma. By manifesting that, then the cancer happened, due to the imprint left by the past negative karma.

With this bodhicitta, with this thought of benefiting other sentient beings, by living the life with this, then we experience cancer on behalf of all sentient beings. That purifies the cause of the cancer. It becomes the most powerful purification and it becomes the best healing. Experiencing the cancer itself becomes the healing. That itself, with this thought experiencing the cancer itself becomes healing. We use the cancer to heal the cancer. How? By purifying the cause of the cancer. That becomes the most powerful purification, purifying the cause of the cancer. It affects the mind. So, like this.

Experiencing the cancer with this thought, with this bodhicitta mind, for the benefit of other sentient beings, experiencing cancer for the sake of all sentient beings, that itself accumulates infinite merit, because we experience the cancer for the sake of numberless other sentient beings who are experiencing cancer now and who have the potential, who have the karma, to experience cancer in the future. They are numberless. Because of that we are creating numberless merit, good karma, like skies of merit. Each second when we experience cancer on behalf of all sentient beings, we are accumulating merit like the limitless sky. We are collecting that many numberless merits. That means each time we are becoming closer to enlightenment. Each time we are becoming so much closer to enlightenment, the peerless happiness, the cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and the completion of all the realizations. We become closer to enlightenment each time.

This itself becomes the quick path to achieve enlightenment, like tantra, the quick path to achieve the enlightenment. Why? Because it is the most powerful purification, it purifies the defilements and it is the most powerful, it becomes the method to accumulate skies of merit, good karma. The more we finish the work, accumulating merit, and the more of this work we get done, that much quicker we achieve enlightenment. This is achieved when we have completed the work accumulating merit; when we have finished the work accumulating merit—the merit of wisdom and the merit of method, or the other way of saying it is the merit of fortune. There are two types of merit to achieve enlightenment, to achieve the completely pure holy body of rupakaya and the completely pure holy mind of dharmakaya. Achieving these two depends on how quickly we achieve this, and how quickly we achieve this depends on whether we accumulate these two types of merit, how quickly we finish the work accumulating these two types of merit.

With this thought of bodhicitta, we experience cancer, we do the meditations and experience the cancer on behalf of all sentient beings. So we collect limitless merit like the sky. Experiencing the cancer itself becomes the quickest path to achieve enlightenment. In other words, experiencing the cancer itself becomes the cause of happiness for all sentient beings. Because we are doing it with this thought, naturally it is dedicated for other sentient beings, we are experiencing this on behalf of numberless other sentient beings. How many hours, how many days, how many years, how many months, how many hours, minutes or seconds we are experiencing cancer with this thought, all this becomes the cause of happiness for numberless sentient beings. One reason is, after we have achieved enlightenment through this practice, through this bodhicitta practice, then we are able to do perfect work to guide sentient beings from happiness to happiness, to the highest enlightenment. That is how each second we are experiencing the cancer, how it becomes the cause of happiness, with this bodhicitta, experiencing the cancer in each second, it becomes the cause of all happiness for numberless other sentient beings. So, like that.

This is how we transform the suffering into happiness. It becomes the best method to cease, to purify the cause of cancer, to not experience cancer, to have the happiness of not having cancer. This way, there is no emotional mind, no fear or worry, these emotional minds. There is only a content mind, a joyful mind, a happy mind, a satisfied mind, because with this bodhicitta we experience cancer for the sake of all sentient beings. By having cancer, it is giving meaning, having the cancer is giving meaning to our own life. We see it this way. Having these sicknesses is giving meaning to the life, giving a purpose to life. It gives a special meaning, a special purpose of life, to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings.

To conclude, the ultimate goal of our own life is to obtain happiness and benefit for all sentient beings. There are different levels. The first is causing happiness of this life toward others, causing this life’s comfort and happiness toward others. A more important service than this is causing the happiness of future lives, because the comfort of this life, even if we should attempt to achieve that as much as we can in our everyday life, even causing others the happiness of this life, it is a very short period of happiness, as I mentioned before. Therefore, causing others to have happiness in future lives, the long-term happiness, that is a more important service to offer others from our own side, because it’s long-term happiness.

An even more important service than that is to cease, to end the sentient beings’ samsaric suffering, to bring that to an end, to cease all their suffering, including the cause, karma and delusion, and to bring them into ultimate liberation. This becomes a more important service to others, for us to offer or to cause, than the previous ones. The most important service is to bring sentient beings to the peerless happiness, full enlightenment, which is the cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and the completion of all the realizations. The cessation of all the mistakes of the mind, the disturbing thought obscurations, the gross mistakes of the mind. Then there are subtle obscurations which interfere with the sentient beings’ mind to be completely pure, to be omniscient mind, to become a fully knowing mind. To bring the sentient beings into the full enlightenment, which is the cessation of even the subtle mistakes of the mind, the defilements. To bring them to that state which is the completion of the happiness, the peerless happiness. There is nothing higher to achieve. To bring sentient beings into this peerless happiness, the full enlightenment, becomes the most important service. This is what is missing and this is what they really need to achieve.

Now to be able to do all this service perfectly without any mistakes, then first the method of that, first we must achieve the state of omniscient mind, full enlightenment. For that we must actualize the path, the graduated path of the higher capable being. That depends on actualizing the preliminary, the graduated path of the middle capable being in general. And actualizing that depends on actualizing the preliminary, the graduated path of the lower capable being in general.

Refuge Ceremony

I mentioned before the whole talk, that the purpose of life is to obtain happiness for all sentient beings, the best thing is to bring them to full enlightenment. To be able to do that is the purpose of life, the ultimate goal of our life. Now to be able to do that, we should be qualified, we should achieve full enlightenment. For that we need to actualize all these three levels of the path. To be able to do the job, to teach in the university, to become a doctor or a professor, to educate others, to teach others to become a doctor, all these things, then we ourselves have to become a doctor or professor. To do that we need to have all that education. First of all, we have to start with kindergarten, then primary school, then college, all those things. It’s the same thing here. In order to achieve full enlightenment, we have to actualize the graduated path of the higher capable being, the middle capable being and the lower capable being.

All this is based on refuge, having refuge in the mind, relying upon Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Whenever we see the benefit of learning Buddhadharma, the Buddha’s teaching, when we see the benefit of learning it and practicing it; from the time when we like to meditate on the path; from that time, wanting to meditate on the path, on the lam-rim, the path that, including Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the numberless buddhas who actualized and liberated themselves from all the sufferings of samsara, all the delusions and karma, the cause of the sufferings, all the mistakes of the mind, and then were able to do perfect work, to enlighten numberless sentient beings, to liberate numberless sentient beings, even in each second. So, the path which is experienced by them and taught by them. From the time that we generated the wish to meditate, from that time we wanted to learn, we wanted to meditate, we wanted to experience, from that time, refuge is taken already in Dharma. In our heart, refuge is already taken in Dharma. From that time we have already taken refuge in Dharma. And that means somebody has to reveal the path, so naturally we have taken refuge in Buddha, the enlightened being who reveals the path. Since we are relying on that path, somebody has to reveal the path and it is revealed by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the fully enlightened being. So naturally the refuge is taken in Buddha.

That needs support from the Sangha to actualize this. The actual refuge, Dharma, the path, which is our own mind, is like medicine. Therefore refuge in the Sangha is taken there. In this way, the refuge is already taken; in our heart the refuge is already taken.

But the refuge now here is taking refuge with a ceremony. This makes it more definite, there is more certainty and this involves the refuge precepts, certain practices. Even if we cannot take those five lay precepts or any of those five, even if we cannot take these, within the refuge there are certain practices, certain negative karmas, certain disrespect, certain actions which are harmful to stop, which become an obstacle to developing our own mind to achieve the path, which become obstacles for the happiness of this life and the happiness of future lives, including enlightenment. So, to stop those things.

Even the holy objects, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, like the statues, stupas, scriptures and so forth; even those symbolic holy objects, to respect them and things like that. By respecting holy objects, it creates much good karma, much merit and that helps us to develop our mind in the path to enlightenment. Even if we are not taking any of the five lay precepts, within the refuge there are certain actions which become harmful, which become dangerous to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment. Therefore we try to stop those things and offer respect and things like that. This creates, this helps our own mind, this creates the cause and conditions to develop on the Mahayana path. Taking refuge in a ceremony, this is what is contained in this ceremony. Like that, it makes it more certain.

I think maybe I will stop here. I think maybe refuge is going to be given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. [Rinpoche laughs] Maybe I will stop here and those who are taking refuge, you are not leaving tomorrow? Then it can be done tomorrow. Maybe we can do it tomorrow morning, or we can do it now.

At the time of death, just to not get reborn in the lower realms—the hell and hungry ghost, and animal realm. At the time of death, not to get reborn, for the consciousness to not migrate to those realms, to those suffering realms. Do you understand my words? Do you understand what I am saying? Do you understand my speech, what I’m saying now? What I’ve just said now, what I’ve just said before?, At the time of death, to not be reborn in the hell realm or in the hungry ghost or animal realm, just remembering Buddha is enough. Just by remembering Buddha we don’t get reborn, the consciousness cannot migrate to the lower realms.

At the time of death, even remembering the mantra, like Guru Shakaymuni Buddha’s mantra, TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA, or the Heart Sutra, the Essence of Wisdom, the short teaching which contains emptiness or some Dharma texts that we recite during our lifetime. If we remember that and if we die with that thought, we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. If we remember the mantra or even that Dharma text, even remembering the Dharma text. Even just remembering some Sangha, some ordained person whom we have faith in, whom we have devotion to. If we remember one ordained person, somebody whom we have faith in. When we are dying, if we die with that thought, we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. So just by taking refuge in one ordained person, it can protect us from reincarnating in the lower realms, from falling down into the lower realms.

Now here, I often used to tell like this. I was trying to compare, for example, all the knowledge, the scientific technology, all that knowledge, of course the development of that is very good; as long as it is used to benefit others, it is beneficial. I am comparing normally. You see at the time of death, all that knowledge, having all that knowledge, at the time of death that knowledge will protect the mind, as if there is no connection to the death, no benefit at the time of death, to make it impossible to reincarnate in the lower realms. All that knowledge when we die to stop the mind migrating to the lower realms. At the time of death, it’s like there is nothing that we can use, at the time of death there is nothing to apply to protect our mind, to protect ourselves from reincarnating in the lower realms.

Now, just remembering, not all Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, but remembering just one object of refuge, it protects definitely, one hundred percent, that we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. Just relying on even one object of refuge, then we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. Normally I compare the power of that much knowledge and the power of one object of refuge. We are able to protect ourselves from experiencing those unimaginable heaviest sufferings for an incredible time, for eons or for unimaginable time. So we are protected from that.

There are many stories of how someone was saved just by remembering the text. That person was immediately liberated, even if they didn’t have refuge. At the time of death that person is already born in the hell realm or something, but the person remembers all of a sudden the text that they have been reciting, whatever it is, the Diamond Sutra or a short text that they have been reciting, they remember it. As soon as that person remembers that Dharma text, immediately it changes the realm, it immediately changes. Immediately the consciousness is transferred from that realm, it left that realm, and then was reincarnated in the deva or human realm. The consciousness left that hell realm. Immediately everything changed, the appearance changed from that unimaginable suffering due to the power of the object of refuge. There are many stories.

Now here, why we have to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all three, is to not only be free from the lower realms, but from the whole entire samsara. To be free from all the sufferings: the suffering of pain, which includes heat and cold, hunger and thirst, all the sufferings that even the animals do not want to experience; and then the suffering of change, the samsaric temporary pleasure which in reality the feeling is only suffering but we label it pleasure and it appears as pleasure, which doesn’t last, which does not increase. To be free from the first suffering, the second suffering and the third suffering, the pervasive compounding suffering: these aggregates which are the contaminated seed of disturbing thoughts and create the future samsara again, which become the cause of future samsara, which continue to, which circle to the next life’s samsara. To be free from the third suffering, to be completely free from all these sufferings, to be liberated completely from all these three sufferings, then just taking refuge in Buddha alone is not enough. We should also take refuge in the Dharma. Even that alone is not enough; we also need to take refuge in the Sangha. So, all three. We are like very heavy, severely ill patients, so we need the doctor, the medicine, and the nurse. It’s the same here, taking refuge. To be completely free from the whole entire suffering and the cause, karma and delusions, it is necessary to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all three.

Please make three prostrations to Buddha, the Buddha statue, by thinking that is an actual living buddha. Make three prostrations. Then after that, make three prostrations to the lama who gives refuge.

[End of tape]

An introductory teaching on karma given by Lama Yeshe at Chenrezig Institute, Queensland, Australia, on 28 June 1976.
A teaching on karma given by Lama Yeshe at Chenrezig Institute, Queensland, Australia, on 28 June 1976. Edited by Dr. Nicholas Ribush.

Excerpts from this teaching have been published in Mandala magazine, issues February 2004 and April 2004.

Beginning to Understand Karma

There’s not just one, fixed, mathematical way of explaining karma; there are many different ways, including the subheading and numbered list approach. Sometimes it seems that people new to Buddhism find karma hard to understand, but actually, it’s easy to get a rough, initial understanding of it.

Of course, once you get into the details, karma can be extraordinarily complex, too, but when I introduce it to beginners, I try to keep it simple so that they can get at least a basic, intellectual understanding. In reality, the only way you can get a total understanding of karma is through your own experience, and that experience is beyond words.

Trying to get a total understanding of karma through the intellect alone is like trying to count every atom of earth, water, fire and air in the universe, which is impossible,

Fundamentally, what is karma? Karma is your body, speech and mind. That’s it. It’s very simple. If I were to try to compare the subject of karma to the kinds of thing you study in the West, I’d say that it parallels in some ways the theory of the evolution of everything that exists. Karma encompasses everything on Earth and beyond, every existent phenomenon in the universe, throughout infinite space—in Buddhist terms, every phenomenon in samsara and nirvana. Karma is the energy of all phenomena and has nothing to do with what your mind believes.

If karma encompasses all relative phenomena, are these phenomena interconnected? Well, even modern science understands that all the energy in the universe is interdependently related; it’s not just Buddhist dogma.

For example, where does all the green vegetation we see around us come from? It doesn’t arise without cause. First there has to be a cause; then, the effect—the relative appearance of the green—arises. Similarly, each of us also has a cause; we, too, are interdependent phenomena. We depend on other energies for our existence. Those energies, in turn, depend on yet other energies. In this way, all energy is linked.

You probably think your body comes from the supermarket: as long as the supermarket’s there, you can eat; as long as you can eat, you exist. Obviously, it goes much deeper than that. Therefore, your conception of what you are—“I am. I’m this; I’m that; I’m this—is like a dream. Intuitively, your ego has this notion that you’re independent, that you’re not a dependent phenomenon. That’s complete rubbish.

If you look, you can easily see how you’re interdependent. It looks complicated; it’s not complicated. It only becomes complicated if your mind thinks it’s complicated. Your mind makes things up; that’s karma, too—an interdependent phenomenon; it exists in relation to other energy. If you understand the basic simplicity of this, you’ll be more careful in the way you act because you’ll realize that every single action of your body, speech and mind produces a reaction.

We describe samsara as cyclic: it’s like a wheel, it goes round; one thing produces another, that produces another, and so it goes on, one thing pushing the other. And each karmic action is like the seed that produces a flower that in turn produces hundreds of seeds, which then result in hundreds more flowers that produce hundreds more seeds each. In this way, in a relatively short time, one seed produces thousands and thousands of results.

The actions of your body, speech and mind are the same. Each action, positive or negative, good or bad, produces an appropriate result.

Also, karma doesn’t depend on your believing in it or not. The mere fact of your existence proves the existence of karma. Irrespective of whether you want to know about karma or not, whether you believe in it or not, it doesn’t matter: you are karma. Whether you accept karma or reject it, you can’t separate yourself from karma any more than you can separate yourself from energy. You are energy; you are karma. If you’re a human being, it doesn’t matter whether others think you’re a human being or not—you’re a human being. It doesn’t depend on what you think, either. The truth of all existence doesn’t depend on what people believe.

Sometimes you might think, “OK, Buddhists accept karma. They try to do good, avoid evil and perhaps enjoy positive results, but what about people who don’t believe in karma?”

But whether you believe or not, your suffering and problems have a cause. They don’t depend on what you believe. Do you think you suffer only because you think you suffer? No. Even if you say, “I’m not suffering,” you’re suffering. Suffering comes along with your very life.

Therefore, I often say that the Buddhist connotation of religion is a little different from the Western one. But when I say that, I’m not saying Buddhism is better; it’s just different. Its analytical approach is different.

Understanding Karma

When we teach karma, we often refer to its four characteristics, the first of which is that karma is definite.

Karma means action, your energy, and karma’s being definite means that once you have set in motion a powerful train of energy, it will continue running until it either is interrupted or reaches its conclusion. Karma’s being definite does not mean that once you have created a specific karma there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That’s a wrong view of karma.

Take, for example, the attitude of certain followers of the Hindu religion. You’ll find many people like this in India and Nepal: they believe in karma, but they believe it’s completely fixed. “I was born a carpenter. God gave me this life. I’ll always be a carpenter.” “My karma made me a cobbler; I’ll always be a cobbler.” They are very sincere in their belief, but very wrong in thinking that karma can’t be changed. When Westerners come across such people they can’t believe that they can think this way. Westerners know immediately from their own experience that if you really want to change your status in life you can do so.

But because these people’s misconceptions are so strong, they can’t change. It’s silly, isn’t it? That kind of super-belief is religious fanaticism. It’s ignorant; it closes your mind and prevents you from expanding and developing it.

I also sometimes see great misconceptions about karma in new Dharma students. They read and think about karma, accept its existence, but then become too sensitive about it. If they make a mistake in their actions, they get emotionally terrified and guilty. That’s wrong, too.

The karmic energy of your body, speech and mind comes from your consciousness. Some scientists say that there’s a totality of energy from which all other energy manifests. Be that as it may, in the same way, all of the energy of your body, speech and mind comes from your consciousness, your mind—from your mind; your consciousness.

If you put your energy into a certain environment and a certain channel, a different form of energy will manifest. It changes. If you direct your conscious energy one way, one kind of result will come; if you direct it another way, a different kind of result arises. It’s very simple. But what you have to know is from what source your actions come. Once you do, you’ll see that you are responsible for what you do; you can determine what you do and what happens to you. It’s more up to you than to your circumstances, friends, society or anything else outside you.

If, however, you don’t know that it’s possible to direct the energy of your body, speech and mind or how to do it, if you have no idea of how cause and effect operates in everyday life, then of course, you have no chance of putting your energy into positive channels instead of negative ones. It’s impossible because you don’t know.

Positive actions are those that bring positive reactions; negative actions are those that bring negative reactions, restlessness and confusion. Actions are termed positive or negative according to the nature of their effects.

In general, it’s our motivation that determines whether our actions are positive or negative; our mental attitude. Some actions start out negative but can become positive due to the arising of an opposing kind of energy. The Abhidharma philosophical teachings talk about absolute positives, such as the true cessation of suffering, but for us, it’s more important to understand positive and negative on the relative level. That’s what we’re dealing with in our everyday lives: relative positives and relative negatives.

However, we’re usually unconscious whenever we act. For example, when we hurt our loved ones, it’s mostly not deliberate but because we’re unconscious in our actions. If we were aware that every action of our body, speech and mind constantly reacts internally within us and externally with others, we’d be more sensitive and gentle in what we did, said and thought.

Sometimes our actions are not at all gentle but like those of a wild animal. Next time you’re acting like a wild animal, check up which channel your energy’s in at that time and understand that you can change it—you have the power, the wisdom and the potential to do so. You can redirect your energy from the negative into the positive channel.

Also, you have to accept that you’re going to make mistakes. Mistakes are possible. You’re not Buddha. When you do make an error, instead of freaking out, acknowledge it. Be happy: “Oh, I made a mistake. It’s good that I noticed.” Once you’ve recognized a mistake, you can investigate it intensively: what’s its background? What caused it? Mistakes don’t just pop up without reason. Check in which channel your mind was running when that mistake happened. When you discover this, you can change your attitude.

In particular, you have to understand that negative actions come from you, so it’s up to you to do something to prevent their negative reactions from manifesting. It’s your responsibility to act and not sit back, waiting for the inevitable suffering result to arise.

Therefore, instead of simply accepting what happens to you, believing “This is my karma” and never trying to work with and change your energy for the better, understand that you can control what happens to you and be as aware of your actions as you possibly can.

Karma, inner strength and life itself

To over-simplify, according to even normal society’s way of thinking, anything you do dedicated to the benefit of others is automatically positive, whereas anything you do just for your own benefit automatically brings a negative reaction. Whenever you act selfishly, your heart feels tight, but when you try to really help others, psychologically you experience openness and a release that brings calm and understanding into your mind. That is positive; that is good karma.

However, if you don’t actively check your motivation, you might think or say the words, “I’m working for the benefit of others,” but actually be doing the opposite. For example, some rich people give money with the idea that they’re helping others but what they really want to do is to enhance their own reputation. Such giving is not sincere and has nothing whatsoever to do with positive action or morality.

Giving with the expectation that others will admire you is giving for your own pleasure. The end result is that it makes you berserk, restless and confused. Check up. Look at the way normal people act; it’s so simple. Even if you give away huge amounts of money, if you do it with selfish motivation, expecting tremendous results for yourself, you end up with nothingness. It’s a psychological thing; there’s more to giving than just the physical action.

Take me, for example. I can sit cross-legged in the meditation posture and you’re going to think, “Oh, Lama’s meditating.” But if my mind is off on some incredible trip, although it looks as if I’m doing something positive, in fact I’m doing something completely neurotic and confused. You can never judge an action from its external appearance; its psychological component is much more important.

Therefore, be careful. In particular, acting out of loving kindness doesn’t always mean smiling, hugging and telling people, “Oh, I love you so much.” Of course, if that’s what somebody needs, then go ahead and stroke or hug that person; I’m not saying that you have to give up all physical contact. You just have to know what’s appropriate at any given time.

I have seen many students come to a meditation course, learn about love, compassion and bodhicitta for the first time, and at the end of the course be all fired up, wanting to help others: “Lama, I want to go to Calcutta and serve the sentient beings suffering there.”

I say, “You want to go? OK, go and try to help as best you can.” So they go, full of emotion, and, of course, see terrible suffering; poverty, starvation, disease and so forth. After a month, they have to leave, exhausted, because they find that simply going there, trying to help, isn’t really the solution.

A couple of my students, beautiful young women, went to Pakistan and Calcutta, hoping to express their loving kindness through serving where suffering was greatest. I told them to go, and return when the time was right. When they got there they discovered that what they were doing wasn’t really helping, and it wasn’t long before they were back.

Actually, expressing loving kindness through action is quite difficult. You have to be very skillful. It takes great wisdom. If you set out on a mission with no understanding, just a tight, emotional feeling of wanting to help, you’re in danger of losing yourself. For example, if you see somebody drowning and emotionally jump in without being able to swim, all that happens is that you both lose your lives.

Our physical energy is limited. Therefore, we’re limited in helping others in this way—we try to help others physically but come up empty; it’s beyond us. If you do want to help others out of loving kindness, act according to your ability and know your limits. Don’t overburden yourself because of emotion and incomplete understanding.

Mental energy, however, is practically unlimited. If we realize loving kindness, we’re like a ship. No matter how heavy the load, a ship can bear it. Similarly, with true loving kindness we can handle any situation that arises without freaking out. Furthermore, a ship does not discriminate; it carries whatever it’s given. Similarly, with loving kindness, we won’t favor one person over another: “You—come in; you—go away.”

When we practice Dharma and meditation, we build the inner strength necessary to be of greatest benefit to others and are able to face any difficulty that arises. Practitioners who are afraid to hear about suffering aren’t facing reality. The maha in Mahayana Buddhism means “great.” A Mahayana practitioner is supposed to be capacious and, like a ship, be able to take whatever comes along.

If we’re small-minded and hypersensitive, even tiny atoms can cause us to recoil: “I don’t want that atom.” That’s not the way of the Dharma practitioner.

Even the average, simple person who wants his or her life to be successful should be able to face whatever situation arises. If you freak out at the smallest thing, you’ll never make even this life successful. Everyday life is completely unpredictable; you can’t fix things to work out in a certain way. As things change, you have to change with them. You have to be flexible enough to deal with whatever happens.

If this is true for the ordinary person, how much more true must it be for the Dharma practitioner? You have to have the courage to face any difficulty that you encounter: “I can overcome any obstacle and reach perfect liberation.” Crossing the ocean of samsara is not easy, but it’s not samsara that’s difficult—it’s your own mind. What you actually have to cross is the ocean of your schizophrenic mind and you need to be confident that you can deal with that.

First you have to be able to think, “I can face whatever comes without running from it.” Life is not easy; forget about meditation—life itself is hard. Things change; the mind changes. You have to face each change as it comes.

Going into retreat doesn’t mean that you’re running away from society and life because you’re afraid of them. However, you need to develop confidence that you’ll be able to handle anything that life throws at you. What you really need to judge, though, is what the most advantageous thing to do at any particular time is: to stay in society or go into retreat. Whatever you undertake is in your own hands; what you need to know is why you are doing it.

Karma, Reality and Belief

We often talk about how we waste our lives following the eight worldly dharmas—attachment to temporal happiness, receiving material things, being praised and having a good reputation and aversion to their opposites: discomfort, not getting things, being criticized and notoriety. Each time we get involved with those, we create negative karma.

For example, when somebody praises you, you feel happy and puff up with pride, and when somebody criticizes you, you feel unhappy and depressed. Each time you go up and down like this, you create karma.

Why do you feel elated when praised and dejected when criticized? It’s because you don’t accept the way things truly are. You’re controlled by your hallucinating mind, which is totally divorced from reality. Whether you’re good or bad isn’t determined by what other people think but by your own actions. These are your own responsibility. If all your actions are positive, even if I say “You’re bad, you’re bad, you’re bad…” all day, it won’t affect your qualities. Therefore, you should understand what really makes an action positive or negative. It’s not defined by what other people think.

This is scientific fact, not religious dogma. If you go up and down because of what other people say, you’re hallucinating; you’re not seeing reality. You should have strong confidence in your own actions and take full responsibility for them. Then, even if all sentient beings turn against you, you’ll still be laughing. When you know what you are, you never get upset. If, on the other hand, your body and mind are weak, if you have no self-confidence and feel insecure, then of course you’re going to experience problems.

All your feelings, perceptions, discriminations and the rest, especially those mental factors that bring negative reactions, arise from the hallucinating mind. Therefore, quite early in their training, I teach my students to meditate on the nature of feeling.

We always think that whatever we feel—physically or mentally—must be right. Similarly, we think that whatever we see is real; we really do believe in what we see. I’m not talking about spiritual belief in the supernatural; I’m saying that we believe in the concrete reality of what we see around us every day. Do you think that’s right or wrong? It’s wrong.

For example, say that you’re tremendously attracted to a particular object. At that time you have a certain fixed idea of what that object is. But you’re fantasizing; it’s a hallucinated fantasy. If you check your mind of attraction closely, you’ll see that its view is totally polluted and that what you perceive is a fantasy—neither the reality of the object nor that of the subject. A kind of cloud has appeared between your mind and the object and that’s what you see. All delusions arise in that way.

So, in the end, who has more beliefs—a religious person or an atheist? It’s the atheist. Atheists are prone to say, “I don’t believe anything,” but that’s just their ego speaking. They believe what they see; they believe what they feel; they believe what they think. For example, atheists consider certain things beautiful—that’s belief. This is the scientific truth of the situation. It doesn’t matter whether or not they use the word “belief”—they believe; they’re completely captivated by belief.

I can make the definitive statement that if your mind is clouded by the dark shadow of ignorance, if attachment rather than free communication is driving your personal involvements, you’re a believer. This is simple and logical. That’s why I always say that Dharma is very simple. It reveals the reality of yourself, your life and the things around you…the reality of everything. That’s the meaning of Dharma.

When some people go into a supermarket, they see the incredible display of goods as a reflection in a mirror. It’s like when you look into a mirror, you see your reflection but at the same time you know it’s not really you. That’s how those whose view of the nature of the supermarket is closer to reality see it—like a reflection. Therefore, they can control any attachment that’s likely to arise. Those whose view of the world is that of a more concrete reality see the goods in a supermarket as fantastic and can’t stop their senses from vibrating.

That’s the nature of ordinary attraction. Objects to which you’re attached make you tremble with desire and things that you hate make you shake with anger. Either way, it’s because you don’t understand reality.

Actually, those who really understand the absolute nature of the supermarket don’t see anything at all. The whole thing disappears. That might be too much for you to comprehend, but there’s truth in what I’m saying.

In conclusion, then, no matter how negative the things you’ve done, if you have powerful understanding, you can purify them completely. There’s no such concrete negative action that can never be purified; there’s a solution for everything.

Some Christians speak of certain concrete sins that send you to a permanent, everlasting hell. I’m not criticizing; it’s a philosophical point of view. It’s good; it has a purpose. Any philosophy with a purpose is always good. But you should never think, “I have created such horrible negative actions that I’ll never be able to overcome them.” That’s an incredible devaluation of your human nature. Any kind of negativity, no matter how great, can be purified. That’s the power of the human mind.

That’s why the lam-rim starts out by teaching how great our human potential is. We have to understand the true value of our life. We always seek value externally. People even lose their lives in pursuit of material things or recreational pleasure. What a ridiculous waste of life!

Check within yourself very skillfully to see if you value material things more than your internal potential. That will show you how much you understand.


Lama Yeshe discusses the real meaning of Dharma and the nature of the mind in this discourse given at Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia, on September 8, 1979.
Lama Yeshe discusses the real meaning of Dharma and the nature of the mind in this discourse given at Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia, on September 8, 1979. Edited by Nicholas Ribush.

Now, supposedly all of you should be Dharma practitioners, including myself. But the question is to know what Dharma really is. Generally, the word Dharma has many meanings, many different connotations. We have philosophical explanations but we don't need to get involved in those. Practically, now, what we are involved in is practicing Dharma.

First of all, it is very difficult to understand what Dharma really means individually, for each of us. The reason is that, to some extent, we have to understand the relationship between Dharma and our mind or consciousness. So, in order to understand that, we should understand that the mind or consciousness has two characteristics. I am sure you have heard the philosophy of relative nature or character and absolute nature or character. And the relative character of the mind or consciousness is—and I am sure people who learned the mental factors from Geshe-la have some understanding, and for them this is easy—but, however, we explain that the relative characteristic of mind or psyche or consciousness is clarity and perception; the clear energy which has the ability to perceive reality, to allow the reflection of reality of all existence. That is what we call the mind. I want you to understand that our mind or consciousness is the clarity and clear perception which can take the reflection of the reality of existence, that is all. If you understand it in that way, the advantage is that when we talk about buddha potentiality then you can say, "Sure, we have buddha potential and we can reach the same level as the Buddha." We understand the relationship between the Buddha and ourselves.

Otherwise, most of the time, sentient beings, including Australians, have the tendency or dualistic attitude to think, "I am completely dirty and unclean, totally deluded and hopeless, and sinful, negative, wrong, worthless." Whether we are believers or non-believers, we human beings always have the tendency to identify ourselves in such a negative way; in other words limited, like a passport identity. Our ego gives each of us such a limited identity. The fact that we believe we are such narrow limited energy already begins to suffocate us. We are suffocating because we have a suffocating attitude.

You cannot make me limited; you cannot make me suffocate. My suffocation comes from my own limited neurotic thought. Do you think you can? You see, for that reason, each of us is responsible. I am responsible for my confusion; I am responsible for my happiness or liberation or whatever I think are good things. I am responsible. The Australian animal, the kangaroo, cannot make me satisfied.

Then maybe the question comes that if the mind is clean clear perception, why do we become confused, mixed up? And why do we become neurotic? Because our way of thinking is wrong, and we do not comprehend our own view of perception. So the perception of consciousness is here on your side, and reality is there on the other side, and the view is somewhere between the reality and the consciousness—the perception view is somewhere between here.

You see, we are too extreme. We are too obsessed with the object and grasp it in such a tight way, the conception is so tight. That is what we call confusion, not the perception itself; perception itself has the clarity to perceive garbage also. Its good side, its natural clarity, perceives the garbage view, but we don't look at that clarity perception, we can't see it. What we see is only unclear. So we do not even touch the relative nature or characteristic of the mind. Forget about the absolute!

Thinking that human beings are hopeless is wrong. My thinking that I am hopeless, always with problems is not true. From the Buddhist point of view that is not true. Thinking that my consciousness, my mind is absolutely hopeless is wrong. It is making a limitation which has nothing to do with my own reality.

Somehow, we think that we are clever. We think we are clever, but the true fact is that we make ourselves confused, we make ourselves dull by grasping at the hallucinated wrong view. That could also be Dharma, the philosophy of Dharma, the doctrine of Dharma. Let's say I ask each of you the question, what does Dharma mean, what are you doing, practicing. If I ask, for sure, if you answer what you feel in a really open way, all of you will answer differently. I bet you. That shows; actually, that shows. That signifies that each of you has a different view of what is Dharma and what isn't Dharma. Even just Dharma philosophy itself makes confusion, makes some kind of thinking, trying to say what is Dharma, what isn't Dharma: "This is not Dharma, this is not Dharma, this way yes, this way yes, this way is Dharma, you should not put this way because my Lama says or Buddha says." Before you contacted Dharma you were already so complicated, now when you take Dharma you become more complicated.

Of course, first, in the beginning you see good, fascinating, "Dharma, wow." It is kind of new, a new adventure, a new discovery in this Australian kangaroo land. But in fact, if you don't understand the relationship between your own mind and Dharma, Dharma also becomes the source of confusion. We do know, I have experienced with my students that many times they come crying, crying. Each place I go to—I am a tourist—they have the fantasy, the idea, "OK, Lama Yeshe's coming, now I will tell him all my problems," or "Oh, oh, I am so happy to see you," and they cry, cry, cry, cry. "I broke this, this makes me upset. I told you when I met you a couple of years ago that I will be a good meditator and now I am not meditating therefore I am completely upset." You see—what good is Dharma? Their meeting Dharma becomes the source of guilt and confusion, so what good is Dharma? I would like to know, what good is Dharma? Is that worthwhile or not worthwhile?

Actually, in truth, the Buddhist teaching is very simple, very simple. Mostly emphasized is knowing these two levels of truth of your own consciousness, and then making it more clear. Making it more clear sounds like it was first totally dirty. It is not necessary to think that way. Also it is not necessary to think that at first it was perfect. What we should understand clean clear is that our conceptualization, which daily interprets things as good or bad, is exaggerating and neurotic, and with it we build up a fantasy, some kind of house. This means we are never in touch with any reality—inner or outer—nor leave it as it is.

Good example, when you grow in Western society—we bring the child into life, into the world—when you are like fifteen or between fifteen and twenty, or twenty-five or thirty or something in that area, confusion starts; more confusion, more neurosis. I want you to understand why. You check it out. The Buddhist teachings show you what life is, your lifestyle. You check out each age, how you were confused; you check out for what reason you were confused. It was because you had the fantasy attitude of grasping a certain reality. You think that is real reality, solid, you have some kind of notion of indestructibility. You think, you believe that way, which is unrealistic.

Especially check out your up and down. Each day, how many times are you up and down, each day how many times do you say good or bad? It is like you believe that you can bring a piece of ice to Queensland, here, and sit on it saying, "Now I want to stay here for a whole year." How can you stay there? The temperature is too high, so the ice is going to melt. But still you believe, you hang on as if that can happen. Such a polluted ambition. That's the same thing that we have. I definitely say that Western life, the confused Western life, is unbelievably up and down, up and down; more than primitive country life like in Nepal and India. You can see why this up and down disturbs all your life, makes you unstable. Why? Because you hang on to the unrealistic idea that you hold in such a concrete way. There is no way you can hold, no way you can hold.

It's the same thing with relationships that human beings have with each other in the West. A good example, human relationships with each other. It is also like the fantasy with the ice. You put such a piece of ice here and say, "This is fantastic, I want it permanently." But the nature of ice is to melt, so disappointment is certain. That is why there is one time disappointment, broken heart, two times disappointment, broken heart. You know what broken heart means? I am not sure what broken heart means; I need an interpreter! Broken heart, broken heart, shaking your heart, crying. Each time you cry, cry, down, down, dissatisfaction each time. So you make it, build up, build up disappointment. And each time your heart is broken you get more insecure, more insecure, more insecure. That is the source of the confusion. And also we do not rely on each other. Each time you break with human beings, "He did this, she did this," you distrust this, you distrust that, you distrust this. Then you distrust everything.

Perhaps you people think, "Primitive country people hang on and have some satisfaction, but we change, we often change, so we become advanced." That is not true. That is garbage thinking. I am not saying only the relative point of view; the point is that in your mind, first you think that it is concrete, it is lasting, you determine that, and the next second it disappears. That one, that is the point of suffering. I am not saying you do this, this is wrong, this side. But the conception, always thinking this way, this way, this way; that is painful, that is really painful. That has nothing to do with advanced modern ways of thinking. That makes you more split rather than the complete modern man.

Now, the point is that, remember, the human consciousness, the human mind has a relative nature which is clean, clear energy and has the ability to reflect all existence. Therefore, if we contemplate on our own relative characteristic or consciousness, which is the clean clear energy, it automatically eliminates the concepts which make us irritated, trouble us. So, we say the human being is profound. I am sure that Lama Zopa explained the precious human rebirth. The reason it is precious is because it has profound potential, profound quality. Even you can say pure quality, pure quality. The sense of this is that the relative character of the human consciousness is not totally mixed up with negativity or sin. That's all I am saying, that relatively thinking that the human being is negative and sinful is wrong.

In one of Maitreya's texts is an example of how the potential of the human consciousness is clean clear; how it has never been of negative character and will never be of negative character either. It is like the nature of the sky—the sky nature is always clear, it hasn't got the character of clouds and will not have. This example is so clear. The cloud character and the space character are different. It's the same thing that our consciousness has clean clear nature. But when we are caught by the ego's wrong conception way of thinking, the concepts that identify that-this, that is what is wrong. But I am not saying that that is always wrong, the that-this thinking. But most of the time our thinking that-this has nothing to do with reality, it's only a superficial fantasy.

My point is, that any time, no matter how much you are confused or fearful or in a suffering situation, if you look into the clarity of your consciousness, your mind—it is always there, always there. This is the human beauty: the human being has the ability, the human consciousness has the ability to perceive things—good or bad, whatever it is—and also to use the wisdom which discriminates what is worthwhile and what is not worthwhile. Good or bad, impure or pure, we can discriminate—that is the human beauty. Don't think that human beings are hopeless; that's not true. You are not a good meditator therefore, "I am hopeless," that is also wrong. "I cannot sit like this for one hour, therefore I am not a meditator." Again, your limited judgment. We do. Who in Buddhism said that you can only sit this way to become enlightened, who said that? Where is that man? That's why the human beauty, human profundity, is always existent, always existent. Even though intellectually you make yourself too limited, it is always existent.

You should not think, "Buddhism makes me good or bad. But now I have many things to count by, this is good or this is bad." As long as the relative mind is moving, concepts moving, day and night, twenty-four hours, the karma, or good-bad is existent. It is like, if I ask you Western people when we produced television, "Is television a fantastic vehicle?" When it first came out everybody said, "Wow, yes, fantastic." But now maybe some hippies say television is horrible, because there are too many garbage reflections. Similarly with our consciousness; it is kind of like a clean clear screen: it has the ability to reflect phenomena. So you look at this one. Here you have real television; your consciousness is television, so we should look at it, we should contemplate on that clarity, and penetrate. So in that way we can discover tranquility and peace.

When we say “Dharma,” Dharma is our consciousness, part of our mind. Dharma book is not Dharma. Dharma teacher is not necessarily Dharma. Dharma philosophy is not Dharma. Dharma doctrine is not Dharma. Dharma is the action of part of our wisdom energy which has the power to eliminate one thing in particular, the concepts of delusion. In other words, it becomes the antidote or solution to particular delusions and dissatisfaction. Then it is worthwhile; that is the reason the Dharma is worthwhile. That's the reason that we say Dharma is holy, Dharma is worthwhile. Otherwise if you understand wrongly, Dharma is not worthwhile, Dharma becomes a problem. You know—we already talked before how Dharma becomes a problem. So developing comprehension of the relative mind or relative consciousness is the source of developing comprehension of the absolute character of the mind.

Also, that relative mind is an interdependent, composite gathering, interdependent gathering of energy; not one absolute thing. When we say, "I am deluded," you cannot blame this side, “The perception side is bad, I want to smash.” Also you cannot blame the object side, “That is bad, I want to smash.” Let's say, when you have some dirt on your face, you look in the mirror—"Wow! I am dirty, ugly. Oooh!" You cannot blame the mirror, nor can you blame your face, “I want to cut this off.” So what, what? The thing is that the gathering makes this phenomenon, isn't it?

So the same thing, no matter how much we think "I am bad" or "I am terrible," the conception thinking these things, if you check it out it is a composite gathering. Many factors gather, and then we say that, "That is this, that, this." If you know all of these things, each part gathers to make the relative phenomena, you can understand that there is no concrete relative phenomenon inherently existent. Then you can see. All relative phenomena are superficial, impermanent, momentary, set up in such a way; then we say that, this, that, this, that, this, including ourselves.

You see, actually, it has never occurred to our conception of ego, it has never dreamed, that the entire relative character of the I is composite energy, many parts of energy have gathered to become a bubble or some kind of cloud. As a matter of fact, our body is like a cloud—one bunch of clouds come, one bunch of energy comes—this is the body. Each day when you wash some part of the energy goes from the skin; each time you breathe some kind of energy goes out here with the breath. Then you eat and again some kind of energy goes inside. I think you know these kind of things better than I, maybe.

Therefore, the ego mind, the conception of ego, has never understood this relative notion of what I am, who I am, this relative way of constructing reality. It seems sort of indestructible. "I am, therefore you cannot say I am bad. I am always good." Actually, when you say "I am good," you try to prove "I am good," that means you believe you are bad. I tell you, psychologically, inside you believe you are bad. Superficially you try to prove it by saying, "I am good, I am good, I am good." That's wrong—your mind is psychologically sick. You don't accept the relative truth.

When you begin questioning that, the view and the concepts of your ego mind, then the possibility of opening, of understanding the absolute quality or characteristic of consciousness begins. If you just leave it, if you never question, in other words if you believe that your concepts and your concrete view are true, then there is no way for you to enter discovering the absolute quality of consciousness or mind.

Especially, I think that Western scientific education has developed that a great deal—that the whole thing, myself and the whole thing, object, is some kind of concrete existence. That is wrong. I want you to understand that the Western scientific way of thinking, philosophy, has basically built up the concrete dualistic entity. I want you to understand that, instead of being proud. Education gives us the tendency to hang on to this basic way of existence, to hold the world as concrete: concrete Australia, concrete Australian beings. So, we suffocate easily. Maybe you freak out now. "Now this man is making a revolution for us! Wait a minute!"

A teaching given prior to a ceremony for generating the mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta), May 7, 1998, Washington, New Jersey.
A teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama prior to a ceremony for generating the mind of enlightenment, Washington, New Jersey, May 7, 1998.

Lightly edited by Sandra Smith, February 2013.

I would like to extend my greeting to all of you.

Yesterday when I arrived here it was raining quite a lot, but today it is quite different and pleasant. Perhaps half of you have come here partly to have a good time, for a holiday, so if you wish to stay for the whole talk or if you wish to walk around and take it easy, please do so.

The teaching that is going to take place here today is preceding the ceremony for taking the generation of the mind of enlightenment and for that I will be doing some preliminary recitations including the recitation of the Heart Sutra.

In the context of giving the teachings, both on the part of the person who is giving the teaching and the people who are receiving the teachings, it is very important to ensure that you have the right motivation. Therefore, for a Buddhist teaching it is very important that you take refuge in the Three Jewels and commit to the ideals of bodhicitta.

So please recite the refuge formula.

[Refuge prayer in Tibetan.]

I have visited this place several times and also I have had the opportunity to give teachings at this place several times. When I look around here today, one thing that I notice is the change in the trees. Some of the trees have really grown; some of them have really spread their roots. So, this points out to us and reminds us of the basic principle of impermanence, the transient nature of life. This is also something that we can remember if we think about the founder of the center, the late Geshe Wangyal-la, who is no longer with us. All of these things point towards the nature of impermanence, the transient nature of life. This transient nature and the process of change that we go through, that everything goes through in time, is something that no-one and nothing can stop. This is a basic fact of reality; a basic fact of existence.

Now what we do, what control we have in our hands, is how we utilize this time, which is constantly going through change. If we utilize our time for a more beneficial and positive purpose, we give our existence some kind of purpose and meaning. If we use it for destructive purposes, we create harm for ourselves and others. If we just lead a life with no mindfulness, we just completely have no sense of direction. So, the only thing that we have in our hands is how we utilize the time. So, wouldn’t it be wonderful to utilize whatever remaining time that we have in our existence, in our life, towards something that is noble and meaningful; something that is purposeful?

However, leading our life in a purposeful and meaningful way does not necessarily mean we have to lead a religious life in the sense of a religious belief or with religious faith. The key or essence is to lead a life which is grounded in the principle of helping others, if possible. If not, at least refraining from harming others. So, that is the key.

If we wish to create a sense of purpose, we can make our existence meaningful on the basis of a religious faith. Of course, on this planet there are so many different major world religious traditions, so we can pursue these paths through different traditions. However, it is important for the followers of these religious traditions to utilize, to implement the essential teachings of whatever religious path we are following in daily life.

If we can integrate the essential teachings of the religious path that we subscribe to and follow into our day-to-day experience, then of course there will be tremendous benefit.

Today, in the context here, the religious teaching that is being given is a Buddhist teaching, because this is a Buddhist center. Although many of you may already be aware of this, the key message of the Buddhist teachings is to try to seek a path to happiness and joy through a method that involves primarily bringing about discipline of the mind. This discipline of mind really brings about a transformation of the mind, which is the key path to obtaining happiness according to the Buddhist approach.

From our own personal experience we know that the more conviction, the more convinced we are of the value of a particular goal that we are pursuing, the greater our commitment and the greater our desire to attain that. In some cases, the commitment to achieving that goal is so strong that even if we are tempted to be distracted or diverted, there is a check, so we can follow the path without distraction.

What becomes important in this context for us here is to ensure that our wish to obtain that goal is grounded in a firm conviction, not only in the value of that goal, but also that our conviction is grounded in some personal experience and some valid reasons. The stronger it’s grounded in such valid reasons and personal experience, the more firm our commitment to that goal will be. Therefore in the context of Buddhist spirituality, the Buddhist religious path, understanding the nature of reality becomes very crucial.

Given that understanding the nature of reality becomes crucial for a Buddhist religious path to achieving the goal of ultimate liberation, what becomes important for Buddhist practitioners is not to be deceived by whatever perception we have. We should not be deceived by the level of appearance. Even from our own personal experience in day-to-day living, we know that appearance does not necessarily always convey the right picture of reality. Often in our day-to-day interaction with life there is disparity or a gap between how things seem to us and how things really are. This is really the basis for the Buddhist emphasis on developing such deep understandings like the nature of the two truths. Understanding the nature of reality is crucial, and in order to arrive at such a proper understanding we need to appreciate that sometimes appearance is not the true picture of reality. Therefore, having the sensitivity to appreciate that there are different levels of reality becomes critical.

The whole purpose of trying to seek a deeper understanding of the nature of reality based on the concept of the two truths is to bring about our ultimate spiritual aspiration of attaining lasting happiness and overcoming suffering, therefore, the teachings of the two truths are directly related to the Buddhist teachings of the four noble truths.

Once we look at the Buddhist teachings from this kind of angle or perspective, then we really appreciate the principal significance of the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths at his first public ceremony. Through teaching the four noble truths, he lays down the whole foundation or framework of the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

In the second public ceremony, the Buddha’s key teaching was the two truths. Although the two truths as a philosophical concept is something that is found not just in Buddhist teachings but also in non-Buddhist schools, it is in the teachings of the second public ceremony that we find a presentation of the highest level of understanding of the two truths. This addresses the fundamental issue at the heart of our existence as individual human beings or as sentient beings.

Now that we realize that the teaching on the four noble truths presents two sets of causality—one set that deals with the causality of suffering and its origin, and the other set which deals with the causality of cessation, the cause of that cessation, which is the path—we can raise the question, “Why?”

What was the significance of the Buddha teaching the four noble truths to begin with? The significance of that is to address the fundamental issue of our existence as individual human beings or as sentient beings. At the heart of our existence is this instinctual or innate desire to seek happiness and to overcome suffering. So, sentient beings who possess these natural instincts exist.

This suggests that naturally there exist sentient beings who possess this instinctual desire to seek happiness and to overcome suffering, and that really is at the basis. So the question can be raised about the nature of those sentient beings. We find a reference in one of the tantras where Buddha speaks about the beginningless and endless continuum of mind, that is said to be the ever-good or eternally good. The reference to the beginningless and endless continuum of consciousness or mind is that from the Buddhist point of view, there is nothing that exists outside the bounds of causation. Every event and every thing must come into being as result of causes and conditions. This is also true of consciousness, as it is true of the external world. In the case of a material phenomenon, not only must the object have a cause, but also there must be some substance which maintains its continuum from one instance to another. Buddhists call this a substantial cause or material cause—a cause which maintains the continuum.

Similarly, in the case of consciousness—of mind or mental phenomena—there must be a continuum, and not only must there be a continuum, but also that continuum must be maintained on the basis of entities which share the same nature. A physical entity cannot become a continuum for a mental entity or mental phenomena. So it is on that basis, as far as the continuum of consciousness itself is concerned, there is nothing that can really destroy that continuum, therefore, it is also endless.

However, this is not to say that every instance of consciousness or mental event is beginningless or endless. Of course, when we talk about consciousness—mind or mental phenomena—we must appreciate that there are so many different levels of subtlety and coarseness. For example, many of the gross levels of consciousness, such as our sensory experiences and many of our thought processes, are time-bound; they are contingent on that. Many of these aspects of consciousness are contingent upon specific additions, specific organs and so on.

Within the continuum of consciousness, there must be something unique to consciousness, that makes the first instance and the second instance and so on possess that nature of being an experience, which is called the luminous nature. There must be something in the nature of mere experience or in the nature of mere awareness, and it is on that basis that we speak of the beginningless continuum and the endless continuum. That faculty, that quality of pure awareness or mere experience is not contingent upon any physical conditions and neither is it contingent upon any specific time, so it is from that point of view that consciousness or mind is said to be beginningless and endless.

In Buddhism, when we speak about the nature of self—the person or I—that self or I is something that is designated upon the basis of this continuum of consciousness. So, just as the continuum of consciousness is said to be beginningless and endless, therefore in Buddhism, the person—the self or I—that is designated upon that continuum of consciousness is also said to be beginningless and endless.

The method or means by which we can fulfill the aspirations of that self or that person which is designated upon the continuum of consciousness must come about on the basis of some transformation of that mind or consciousness.

This fact is very forcefully demonstrated in the Buddhist teachings on the twelve links in the chain of dependent origination. The teachings say very explicitly that it is our fundamental ignorance that creates the whole chain that eventually makes the cycle of the twelve links. Ignorance leads to volition, volition leads to karmic consciousness and so on and so forth, so it is the fundamental ignorance that creates the whole cycle of unenlightenment.

However, it is through the elimination of ignorance that we reverse the cycle and thus create a process towards enlightenment. When Buddha taught the twelve links of dependent origination, we were never given the impression that although fundamental ignorance lies at the root of the whole cycle, we can eliminate ignorance simply through a prayer or simply through adopting certain physical discipline or some form of physical behavior. We are taught that we can begin the process of reversing the cycle only through cultivating the right insight that sees through the delusion created by ignorance. So in brief, ignorance lead to unenlightenment and knowledge, the opposite of ignorance leads to...

[At this point, the Dalai Lama interrupts the interpreter, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, and speaks briefly with him.]

Geshe Thupten Jinpa: Sorry...Ignorance leads to suffering, unenlightenment. [The Dalai Lama laughs] The opposite of ignorance, which is knowledge, leads to happiness or enlightenment.

His Holiness is saying he realizes that it is not only him who sometimes uses the wrong word.

His Holiness: Using the wrong word, not only me alone, but some people also there.

Geshe Thupten Jinpa: If you look at some of the epistemological texts, these texts speak of different fruits of valid knowledge or valid cognition, and in these texts, attainment of liberation or enlightenment is identified as the long-term fruit of cultivating knowledge or valid cognition. So what seems to be true is that if we examine this carefully, much of our experience of suffering and confusion really comes from states of mind which are ultimately deluded, and much of our experience of joy and liberation and enlightenment really comes from stages of thought or states of mind which are not deluded, which have their roots in some kind of valid experience or valid knowledge.

What becomes evident through all of this discussion is the fact that even for our spiritual path, cultivating the right knowledge and insight seems to become really crucial and critical. In some sense, we are aware of this fact, because even conventionally speaking we all appreciate the value of education and knowledge. The higher the level of education of the person, the better informed that person will be to cope with the challenges of life. In some sense, we do appreciate this basic point.

So we can raise the question, how does cultivating the knowledge and the insight help us eliminate fundamental ignorance? Here, when we talk about opposing forces and how one expels the other, we can use the analogy of light and darkness—illumination and darkness. The moment the illumination, the light, is switched on, the darkness is dispelled, so here we have an analogy.

Similarly, when we think about the different forms of mutual exclusivity, for example, in the case of our thoughts, if we know that something is a tree or that something is not a tree. If we know that something is not a tree, then so far as our thoughts relate to that particular object of concern, we can at that very instant never have the possibility of thinking, “That is a tree.” One thought, by the simple fact of its occurrence, by definition excludes the possibility of other.

There is a similar kind of relationship between ignorance on the one hand and wisdom or insight on the other. Ignorance here is not a case of mere unknowing, but rather it is an active case of perceiving things in a way that they do not exist. So when we cultivate the opposing thought, which is true knowledge or insight, given that these two thoughts oppose each other, the only difference is that insight is grounded in valid cognition. Just as we have insight that things and events do not possess some kind of independent existence, this also corresponds to the actual reality, because things do not possess an independent existence.

On the other hand, fundamental ignorance misperceives things as possessing an independent existence, but this does not have any validity—it does not have any ground or any support. So, when we compare two opposing thoughts which are directly opposed to each other, whichever has the validity and whichever has the support grounded in our experience is going to be more powerful. So, it is in this way that ignorance will have to be eliminated.

These reasons make it very important in Buddhism to cultivate an understanding of emptiness, and this is why emptiness becomes important in the Buddhist path. Of course, depending upon different interpretations, there are different ways of understanding what emptiness really means according to the Buddhist teachings. We understand that the emptiness as taught by Nagarjuna—where in the final analysis, emptiness is understood in terms of dependent origination—that is the highest level of understanding of the teachings on emptiness.

[Missing text]

Dependent by nature suggests that things are devoid of independent reality, or intrinsic reality. They are devoid of inner existence and identity, and this is what is meant by the Buddhist teachings on emptiness. It doesn’t mean that things do not exist. It simply means that things do not exist with some kind of independent identity or existence. So the nature of dependent origination is used as the final proof that things are empty, in the final analysis.

The thought which believes in the independent, intrinsic reality of things and events is known in Buddhism as the self-grasping thought or attitude. This we know is one source of much of our confusion and much of our ignorance. We also know that there is another element which is also one of the major origins of much of our suffering and problems. We are not only grasping at some kind of true existence of things and events and also at oneself, but we also have an attachment to the self which the Buddhists call the self-cherishing thought. This is a thought which cherishes one’s own self-interest and is completely oblivious to the well-being of others.

However, this is not to say that any form of self-regard is a source of suffering, because we do need a sense of self and also we do need our thoughts to have an element of self-regard. It is on the basis of a strong sense of self that we can proceed with many of the methods for attaining liberation: salvation, helping others and so on.

Now there is a problem when this form of self-regard becomes extreme to the point where we are prepared to exploit others; we are prepared to totally sacrifice others’ well-being in pursuit of that self-interest. In that form of extreme self-regard, a sense of self is a powerful problem.

His Holiness is making the point that if you don’t have any experience of caring for yourself, how can you even begin to care for others, because there is no real basis from which you can engage with others.

How do we overcome this excessive form of self-cherishing, that is prepared to sacrifice and exploit others’ well-being? The effective way to overcome this is through cultivating thoughts that cherish the well-being of others.

We can say that these two forces—the certain grasping at the self-existence of things and the self on the one hand, and also this excessive form of self-cherishing attitude —these two are said to be like two poisons that pollute from within. We could almost say that these two are poisonous trees that are growing in us.

Through this we can appreciate that the essence of our spiritual path should be the practice of cultivating compassion and love, which counteracts the self-cherishing, and also the practice cultivating correct insight into emptiness—the knowledge of emptiness which counteracts the other force. These two should not only be the essence of the teaching, but the key elements of our individual practice.

The day before yesterday I participated in a symposium on neuro-science and Buddhist meditation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. One of the speakers made a presentation where he showed an empirical study that was done, which seems to suggest quite conclusively that those people who have a tendency to use more self-reference terms, such as “I”, “me” and “mine” in a much higher proportion than the average person, have a much higher degree of self-involvement. Those people tend to have more health problems and also have much more hyper- kind of personality, and they are more prone to aggression and so on, including a much higher possibility of an earlier death.

This seems to suggest that not only Buddhist meditation on selflessness and counteracting the self-cherishing thoughts through cultivation of thoughts cherishing others’ well-being; not only do these kinds of practices have the benefit of leading to Buddhist liberation, nirvana, but even within this lifetime, even in immediate terms, there seem to be visible, beneficial effects. Because of this, just before the teaching, I told one of my friends, that if this is true then maybe many of the ritual practices that are aimed toward longevity—visualizations and meditations which involves prolonging one’s life, through focusing on one’s life—perhaps these may be counterproductive because the focus is on oneself whereas the focus should be on the others.

If we think carefully, it seems that the more self-involved we are, the more self-absorbed we are, thinking, “Oh yes, me, my problem, my this and my that,” it seems to have an immediate effect of narrowing our focus down to some tiny spot and reducing everything to that. It’s almost as if our vision is blurred, even to the point of being burdened, being pressed down by some heavy load. If we shift our focus from ourselves to others and think more about others’ well-being and welfare, immediately it has a liberating effect, because of that shift of focus. It gives rise to some kind of strength and also it makes us feel more expansive. Even if we are facing problems and we are aware of our own problems, somehow that very shift in the focus provides the space so the problem that seemed enormous earlier, now seems to be much more manageable. It seems to be less significant than it was before. This is the truth.

Since the main actual teaching here is the generation of the mind for enlightenment you should cultivate the right attitude, which is to put the focus on others, not on oneself and spread it out, extending it to all sentient beings, if possible. For the benefit of all sentient beings, make a strong commitment that you will ensure that this altruistic mind never degenerates.

As usual, for the ceremony of generating the mind of enlightenment, you should visualize here in your presence, the Buddha, the teacher, and all the bodhisattvas of the past and also the great masters of India and Tibet, such as Nagarjuna, Asanga and so on, and focus on them. Cultivate strong faith and admiration in them and then imagine that you are surrounded by all sentient beings and then focus on them. You should reinforce within you a strong sense of empathy and compassion towards their suffering and their problems, and then cultivate the thought, “For the benefit of all these sentient beings, I shall generate the mind of enlightenment in the presence of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the great masters of the past. As a preliminary to that generation of the mind of enlightenment, I need to overcome all obstacles, therefore I shall engage in the preliminary practices, such as the purification of negativities, accumulation of merits and so on.”

This will be performed through the recitation of the preliminary practices, which will be done in Tibetan. When the recitation is being done, on your part, you should imagine that you are going through these practices of purification and accumulation of merits.

[His Holiness recites prayer in Tibetan.]

I believe that a small sheet has been distributed to all of you with three verses in English. The first verse deals with taking refuge and the second verse deals with the generation of the mind of enlightenment. I believe that they are citations from one of the tantras.

The first verse basically states that, motivated by the wish to free all beings, “I will go for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha, until I attain full enlightenment.”

The second verse states that this is reinforced with compassion and is grounded in true insight or wisdom, “I shall generate the mind for enlightenment in the presence of all the buddhas here today.”

The wisdom of emptiness, the insight of emptiness, reinforces compassion because through the cultivation of the right insight, the wisdom of emptiness, we will gain the awareness or the knowledge that grasping at true existence is a form of delusion. Because it is a form of delusion it is something that can be corrected—it is something that can be removed or eliminated. Once you gain the conviction of the possibility of eliminating that delusion from within, then your compassion toward sentient beings who continue to be deluded, who continue to be deceived by such forms of delusion will increase ever more, because you know that there is a way out. Sentient beings continue to be chained in the cycle, so of course this true insight into emptiness will reinforce your compassion towards other sentient beings.

The mind for enlightenment, or bodhicitta, is a state of mind that is altruistic and is derived on the basis of true aspirations. One aspiration is to fulfill the welfare of all other sentient beings, and the other aspiration is to seek full enlightenment for the sake of fulfilling the objective of helping others. So it is on the basis of these two wishes that we cultivate the mind that seeks full enlightenment. This is called bodhicitta or the mind of awakening.

The third verse is really a verse of dedication and also an aspirational prayer. This is from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Bodhicaryavatara.

When you recite these three verses, you should dwell on their meaning. In the first verse, you are taking refuge in the Three Jewels; in the second verse, you are cultivating generating the mind for enlightenment; and in the third verse, you should have a strong sense that, “Now that I have generated the mind of enlightenment, I shall follow in the footsteps of the great bodhisattvas, and share in the powerful sentiments expressed in this verse, as long as space remains.”

We will do the recitation in Tibetan and while the Tibetan recitation is being done, you should read it all together in English.

With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
Today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.

I think whenever you have spare time, it would be very effective and beneficial to recite these three verses and reflect on their meaning. In that way you can experience the benefit. There is a Tibetan expression which states that the mind follows familiarity. So it is through constant familiarization and constant practice that something becomes more natural, easier and more applicable. So with that, today’s teaching is over. I would like to ask all of you to be happy.

His Holiness [in English]: Of course I believe the ultimate source of happiness is within ourselves. I think it is very important that our mental state remains calm, peaceful, then the external disturbances will not much disturb our internal peace. So therefore while we are earning money or some other things, I think it is equally important to pay more attention to our inner values, to be somewhat balanced. We should not be a slave of money. So, I think a happy balance. Of course, money is very important, hmm? [Laughter.]

Geshe Thupten Jinpa: You may be interested to know that Tibetans have a nickname for money; it is called, “that which by which all the wishes are fulfilled.” [Laughter.] So, the Tibetan expression translates as, “that which makes everybody happy and that which makes all the wishes fulfilled”.

His Holiness [in English]: So, as I mentioned before in the beginning, I think it is very, very important to be a warm-hearted person, a good-natured person, with more sense of caring for others. Ultimately, you get more happiness.

So, as I think—our old friends, I think you often heard before, I’m always telling people—I myself feel that if you are going to be selfish, you should be wise-selfish rather than foolish-selfish. So I think that’s very important. If you take care more of others, ultimately you get the benefit. That’s all. Thank you very much.

[Recitation of dedication prayers in Tibetan.]

His Holiness explains the Buddhist concept of mind to the participants of a Mind Science symposium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, USA.
There is little agreement among Western scientists about the nature and function of mind, consciousness—or even about whether such a thing exists. Buddhism's extensive explanations, however, stand firm after twenty-five centuries of philosophical debate and experiential validation. Here His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains the Buddhist concept of mind to the participants of a Mind Science symposium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, USA.

From MindScience, edited by Daniel Goleman and Robert F. Thurman, first in 1991 by Wisdom Publications, Boston, USA. Reprinted with permission in the November/December 1995 issue of Mandala, the newsmagazine of FPMT.

One of the fundamental views in Buddhism is the principle of "dependent origination." This states that all phenomena, both subjective experiences and external objects, come into existence in dependence upon causes and conditions; nothing comes into existence uncaused. Given this principle, it becomes crucial to understand what causality is and what types of cause there are. In Buddhist literature, two main categories of causation are mentioned: (i) external causes in the form of physical objects and events, and (ii) internal causes such as cognitive and mental events.

The reason for an understanding of causality being so important in Buddhist thought and practice is that it relates directly to sentient beings' feelings of pain and pleasure and the other experiences that dominate their lives, which arise not only from internal mechanisms but also from external causes and conditions. Therefore it is crucial to understand not only the internal workings of mental and cognitive causation but also their relationship to the external material world.

The fact that our inner experiences of pleasure and pain are in the nature of subjective mental and cognitive states is very obvious to us. But how those inner subjective events relate to external circumstances and the material world poses a critical problem. The question of whether there is an external physical reality independent of sentient beings' consciousness and mind has been extensively discussed by Buddhist thinkers. Naturally, there are divergent views on this issue among the various philosophical schools of thought. One such school [Cittamatra] asserts that there is no external reality, not even external objects, and that the material world we perceive is in essence merely a projection of our minds. From many points of view, this conclusion is rather extreme. Philosophically, and for that matter conceptually, it seems more coherent to maintain a position that accepts the reality not only of the subjective world of the mind, but also of the external objects of the physical world.

Now, if we examine the origins of our inner experiences and of external matter, we find that there is a fundamental uniformity in the nature of their existence in that both are governed by the principle of causality. Just as in the inner world of mental and cognitive events, every moment of experience comes from its preceding continuum and so on ad infinitum. Similarly, in the physical world every object and event must have a preceding continuum that serves as its cause, from which the present moment of external matter comes into existence.

In some Buddhist literature, we find that in terms of the origin of its continuum, the macroscopic world of our physical reality can be traced back finally to an original state in which all material particles are condensed into what are known as "space particles." If all the physical matter of our macroscopic universe can be traced to such an original state, the question then arises as to how these particles later interact with each other and evolve into a macroscopic world that can have direct bearing on sentient beings' inner experiences of pleasure and pain. To answer this, Buddhists turn to the doctrine of karma, the invisible workings of actions and their effects, which provides an explanation as to how these inanimate space particles evolve into various manifestations.

The invisible workings of actions, or karmic force (karma means action), are intimately linked to the motivation in the human mind that gives rise to these actions. Therefore an understanding of the nature of mind and its role is crucial to an understanding of human experience and the relationship between mind and matter. We can see from our own experience that our state of mind plays a major role in our day-to-day experience and physical and mental well-being. If a person has a calm and stable mind, this influences his or her attitude and behavior in relation to others. In other words, if someone remains in a state of mind that is calm, tranquil and peaceful, external surroundings or conditions can cause them only a limited disturbance. But it is extremely difficult for someone whose mental state is restless to be calm or joyful even when they are surrounded by the best facilities and the best of friends. This indicates that our mental attitude is a critical factor in determining our experience of joy and happiness, and thus also our good health.

To sum up, there are two reasons why it is important to understand the nature of mind. One is because there is an intimate connection between mind and karma. The other is that our state of mind plays a crucial role in our experience of happiness and suffering. If understanding the mind is very important, what then is mind, and what is its nature?

Buddhist literature, both sutra and tantra, contains extensive discussions on mind and its nature. Tantra, in particular, discusses the various levels of subtlety of mind and consciousness. The sutras do not talk much about the relationship between the various states of mind and their corresponding physiological states. Tantric literature, on the other hand, is replete with references to the various subtleties of the levels of consciousness and their relationship to such physiological states as the vital energy centers within the body, the energy channels, the energies that flow within these and so on. The tantras also explain how, by manipulating the various physiological factors through specific meditative yogic practices, one can effect various states of consciousness.

According to tantra, the ultimate nature of mind is essentially pure. This pristine nature is technically called "clear light." The various afflictive emotions such as desire, hatred and jealousy are products of conditioning. They are not intrinsic qualities of the mind because the mind can be cleansed of them. When this clear light nature of mind is veiled or inhibited from expressing its true essence by the conditioning of the afflictive emotions and thoughts, the person is said to be caught in the cycle of existence, samsara. But when, by applying appropriate meditative techniques and practices, the individual is able to fully experience this clear light nature of mind free from the influence and conditioning of the afflictive states, he or she is on the way to true liberation and full enlightenment.

Hence, from the Buddhist point of view, both bondage and true freedom depend on the varying states of this clear light mind, and the resultant state that meditators try to attain through the application of various meditative techniques is one in which this ultimate nature of mind fully manifests all its positive potential, enlightenment, or Buddhahood. An understanding of the clear light mind therefore becomes crucial in the context of spiritual endeavor.

In general, the mind can be defined as an entity that has the nature of mere experience, that is, "clarity and knowing." It is the knowing nature, or agency, that is called mind, and this is non-material. But within the category of mind there are also gross levels, such as our sensory perceptions, which cannot function or even come into being without depending on physical organs like our senses. And within the category of the sixth consciousness, the mental consciousness, there are various divisions, or types of mental consciousness that are heavily dependent upon the physiological basis, our brain, for their arising. These types of mind cannot be understood in isolation from their physiological bases.

Now a crucial question arises: How is it that these various types of cognitive events—the sensory perceptions, mental states and so forth—can exist and possess this nature of knowing, luminosity and clarity? According to the Buddhist science of mind, these cognitive events possess the nature of knowing because of the fundamental nature of clarity that underlies all cognitive events. This is what I described earlier as the mind's fundamental nature, the clear light nature of mind. Therefore, when various mental states are described in Buddhist literature, you will find discussions of the different types of conditions that give rise to cognitive events. For example, in the case of sensory perceptions, external objects serve as the objective, or causal condition; the immediately preceding moment of consciousness is the immediate condition; and the sense organ is the physiological or dominant condition. It is on the basis of the aggregation of these three conditions—causal, immediate and physiological—that experiences such as sensory perceptions occur.

Another distinctive feature of mind is that it has the capacity to observe itself. The issue of mind's ability to observe and examine itself has long been an important philosophical question. In general, there are different ways in which mind can observe itself. For instance, in the case of examining a past experience, such as things that happened yesterday you recall that experience and examine your memory of it, so the problem does not arise. But we also have experiences during which the observing mind becomes aware of itself while still engaged in its observed experience. Here, because both observing mind and observed mental states are present at the same time, we cannot explain the phenomenon of the mind becoming self-aware, being subject and object simultaneously, through appealing to the factor of time lapse.

Thus it is important to understand that when we talk about mind, we are talking about a highly intricate network of different mental events and state. Through the introspective properties of mind we can observe, for example, what specific thoughts are in our mind at a given moment, what objects our minds are holding, what kinds of intentions we have and so on. In a meditative state, for example, when you are meditating and cultivating a single- pointedness of mind, you constantly apply the introspective faculty to analyze whether or nor your mental attention is single-pointedly focused on the object, whether there is any laxity involved, whether you are distracted and so forth. In this situation you are applying various mental factors and it is not as if a single mind were examining itself. Rather, you are applying various different types of mental factor to examine your mind.

As to the question of whether or not a single mental state can observe and examine itself, this has been a very important and difficult question in the Buddhist science of mind. Some Buddhist thinkers have maintained that there s a faculty of mind called "self- consciousness," or "self-awareness." It could be said that this is an apperceptive faculty of mind, one that can observe itself. But this contention has been disputed. Those who maintain that such an apperceptive faculty exists distinguish two aspects within the mental, or cognitive, event. One of these is external and object-oriented in the sense that there is a duality of subject and object, while the other is introspective in nature and it is this that enables the mind to observe itself. The existence of this apperceptive self-cognizing faculty of mind has been disputed, especially by the later Buddhist philosophical school of thought the Prasangika.

In our own day-to-day experiences we can observe that, especially on the gross level, our mind is interrelated with and dependent upon the physiological states off the body. Just as our state of mind, be it depressed or joyful, affects our physical health, so too does our physical state affect our mind.

As I mentioned earlier, Buddhist tantric literature mentions specific energy centers within the body that may, I think, have some connection with what some neurobiologists call the second brain, the immune system. These energy centers play a crucial role in increasing or decreasing the various emotional states within our mind. It is because of the intimate relationship between mind and body and the existence of these special physiological centers within our body that physical yoga exercises and the application of special meditative techniques aimed at training the mind can have positive effects on health. It has been shown, for example, that by applying appropriate meditative techniques, we can control our respiration and increase or decrease our body temperature.

Furthermore, just as we can apply various meditative techniques during the waking state so too, on the basis of understanding the subtle relationship between mind and body, can we practice various meditations while we are in dream states. The implication of the potential of such practices is that at a certain level it is possible to separate the gross levels of consciousness from gross physical states and arrive at a subtler level of mind and body. In other words, you can separate your mind from your coarse physical body. You could, for example, separate your mind from your body during sleep and do some extra work that you cannot do in your ordinary body. However, you might not get paid for it!

So you can see here the clear indication of a close link between body and mind: they can be complementary. In light of this, I am very glad to see that some scientists are undertaking significant research in the mind/body relationship and its implications for our understanding of the nature of mental and physical well-being. My old friend Dr. Benson [Herbert Benson, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School], for example, has been carrying out experiments on Tibetan Buddhist meditators for some years now. Similar research work is also being undertaken in Czechoslovakia. Judging by our findings so far, I feel confident that there is still a great deal to be done in the future.

As the insights we gain from such research grow, there is no doubt that our understanding of mind and body, and also of physical and mental health, will be greatly enriched. Some modern scholars describe Buddhism not as a religion but as a science of mind, and there seem to be some grounds for this claim.

A teaching given on how to gain happiness and the path to liberation from suffering during the Second Dharma Celebration, November 5th-8th 1982, New Delhi, India.
With kind permission of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala. From Second Dharma Celebration, November 5th-8th 1982, New Delhi, India. Translated by Alex Berzin, clarified by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, edited by Nicholas Ribush. First published by Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre, New Delhi, 1982

Many billions of years elapsed between the origin of this world and the first appearance of living beings upon its surface. Thereafter it took an immense time for living creatures to become mature in thought and —in the development and perfection of their intellectual faculties; and even from the time men attained maturity up to the present many thousands of years have passed. Through all these vast periods of time the world has undergone constant changes, for it is in a continual state of flux. Even now, many comparatively recent occurrences which appeared for a little while to remain static are seen to have been undergoing changes from moment to moment.

One may wonder what it is that remains immutable when every sort of material and mental phenomenon seems to be invariably subject to the process of change, of mutability. All of them are forever arising, developing and passing away. In the vortex of all these changes it is Truth alone which remains constant and unalterable—in other words, the truth of righteousness (Dharma) and its accompanying beneficial results, and the truth of evil action and its accompanying harmful results. A good cause produces a good result, a bad cause a bad result. Good or bad, beneficial or harmful, every result necessarily has a cause. This principle alone is abiding, immutable and constant. It was so before man entered the world, in the early period of his existence, in the present age, and it will be so in all ages to come.

All of us desire happiness and the avoidance of suffering and of everything else that is unpleasant. Pleasure and pain arise from a cause, as we all know. Whether certain consequences are due to a single cause or to a group of causes is determined by the nature of those consequences. In some cases, even if the cause factors are neither powerful nor numerous, it is still possible for the effect factors to occur. Whatever the quality of the result factors, whether they are good or bad, their magnitude and intensity directly correspond to the quantity and strength of the cause factors. Therefore, for success in avoiding unwished- for pains and in acquiring desired pleasures, which is in itself no small matter, the relinquishment of a great number of collective cause factors is required.

In analyzing the nature and state of happiness, it will he apparent that it has two aspects. One is immediate joy (temporary); the other is future joy (ultimate). Temporary pleasures comprise the comforts and enjoyments which people crave, such as good dwellings, lovely furniture, delicious food, good company, pleasant conversation and so on. In other words, temporary pleasures are what man enjoys in this life. The question as to whether the enjoyment of these pleasures and satisfactions derives purely from external factors needs to be examined in the light of clear logic. If external factors were alone responsible for giving rise to such pleasures a person would be happy when these were present and, conversely, unhappy in their absence.

However, this is not so. For, even in the absence of external conditions leading to pleasure, a man can still be happy and at peace. This demonstrates that external factors are not alone responsible for stimulating man's happiness. Were it true that external factors were solely responsible for, or that they wholly conditioned the arising of, pleasure and happiness, a person possessing an abundance of these factors would have illimitable joy, which is by no means always so. It is true that these external factors do make partial contribution to the creation of pleasure in a man's lifetime. However, to state that the external factors are all that is needed and therefore the exclusive cause of happiness in a man's span of life is an obtuse and illogical proposition. It is by no means sure that the presence of such external factors will beget joy. On the contrary, factual happenings such as the experiencing of inner beatitude and happiness despite the total absence of such pleasure-causing external factors, and the frequent absence of joy despite their presence, clearly show the cause of happiness to depend upon a different set of conditioning factors.

If one were to be misled by the argument that the above-mentioned conditioning factors constitute the sole cause of happiness to the preclusion of any other conditioning causes, that would imply that (resulting) happiness is inseparably bound to external causal factors, its presence or absence being exclusively determined by them. The fact that this is obviously not so is a sufficient proof that external causal factors are not necessarily or wholly responsible for the effect phenomena of happiness.

Now what is that other internal set of causes? How are they to be explained? As Buddhists, we all believe in the Law of Karma—- the natural law of cause and effect. Whatever external causal conditions someone comes across in subsequent lives result from the accumulation of that individual's actions in previous lives. When the karmic force of past deeds reaches maturity a person experiences pleasurable and unpleasurable mental states. They are but a natural sequence of his own previous actions. The most important thing to understand is that, when suitable (karmic) conditions resulting from the totality of past actions are there, one's external factors are bound to be favourable. The coming into contact of conditions due to (karmic) action and external causal factors will produce a pleasurable mental state. If the requisite causal conditions for experiencing interior joy are lacking there will be no opportunity for the occurrence of suitable external conditioning factors or, even if these external conditioning factors are present, it will not be possible for the person to experience the joy that would otherwise be his. This shows that inner causal conditions are essential in that these are what principally determine the realization of happiness (and its opposite). Therefore, in order to achieve the desired results it is imperative for us to accumulate both the cause-creating external factors and the cause-creating internal (karmic) conditioning factors at the same time.

To state the matter in simple terms, for the accrual of good inner (karmic) conditioning factors, what are principally needed are such qualities as having few wants, contentment, humility, simplicity and other noble qualities. Practice of these inner causal conditions will even facilitate changes in the aforementioned external conditioning factors that will convert them into characteristics conducive to the arising of happiness. The absence of suitable inner causal conditions, such as having few wants contentment, patience, forgiveness and so on, will prevent one from enjoying pleasure even if all the right external conditioning factors are present. Besides this, one must have to one's credit the force of merits and virtues accumulated in past lives. Otherwise, the seeds of happiness will not bear fruit.

The matter can be put in another way. The pleasures and frustrations, the happiness and suffering experienced by each individual are the inevitable fruits of beneficial and evil actions he has perpetrated, thus adding to his store. If at a particular moment in this present life the fruits of a person's good actions ripen he will recognize, if he is a wise man, that they are the fruits of (past) meritorious deeds. This will gratify him and encourage him to achieve more merits. Similarly, when a person happens to experience pain and dissatisfaction, he will be able to bear them calmly if he maintains an unshakable conviction that, whether he wishes it or not, he must suffer and bear the consequences of his own (past) deeds, notwithstanding the fact that normally he will often find the intensity and extent of his frustration hard to bear. Besides, the realization that they are nothing but the fruits of unskilled action in the past will make him wise enough to desist from unskilled deeds henceforth. Likewise, the satisfying thought that, with the ripening of past (evil) karma, a certain part of the evil fruit accrued by former unskilled action has been worked off will be a source of immense relief to him.

A proper appreciation of this wisdom will contribute to grasping the essentials for achieving peace of mind and body. For instance, suppose a person is suddenly afflicted with critical physical suffering due to certain external factors. If, by the force of sheer will power (based on the conviction that he is himself responsible for his present misery and sufferings), he can neutralize the extent of his suffering then his mind will be much comforted and at peace.

Now let me explain this at a rather higher level. This concerns the strivings and efforts that can be made for the systematic destruction of dissatisfaction and its causes.

As stated before, pleasure and pain, happiness and dissatisfaction are the effects of one's own good and bad, skilled and unskilled actions. Skillful and unskillful (karmic) actions are not external phenomena. They belong essentially to the realm of mind. Making strenuous efforts to build up every possible kind of skillful karma and to put every vestige of unskillful karma away from us is the path to creating happiness and avoiding the creation of pain and suffering. For it is inevitable that a happy result follows a skillful cause and that the consequence of building up unskillful causes is suffering.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we strive by every possible means to increase the quality and quantity of skillful actions and to make a corresponding paring down of our unskillful actions.

How is this to be accomplished? Meritorious and unmeritorious causes which result in pleasure and pain do not resemble external objects. For instance, in the human bodily system different parts such as lungs, heart and other organs can be replaced with new ones. But this is not so in the case of karmic actions, which are purely of the mind. The earning of fresh merits and the eradicating of bad causes are purely mental processes. They cannot be achieved with outside help of any kind. The only way to accomplish them is by controlling and disciplining the hitherto untamed mind. For this, we require a fuller comprehension of the element called mind.

Through the gates of the five sense organs a being sees, hears, smells, tastes and comes into contact with a host of external forms, objects and impressions. Let the form, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental events which are the relations of the six senses be shut off. When this is done the recollection of past events on which the mind tends to dwell will be completely discontinued and the flow of memory cut off. Similarly, plans for the future and contemplation of future action must not be allowed to arise. It is necessary to create a space in place of all such processes of thought if one is to empty the mind of all such processes of thought. Freed from all these processes there will remain a pure, clean, distinct and quiescent mind. Now let us examine what sort of characteristics constitute the mind when it has attained this stage. We surely do possess some thing called mind, but how are we to recognize its existence? The real and essential mind is what is to be found when the entire load of gross obstructions and aberrations (i.e. sense impressions, memories, etc.) has been cleared away. Discerning this aspect of real mind, we shall discover that, unlike external objects, its true nature is devoid of form or color; nor can we find any basis of truth for such false and deceptive notions as that mind originated from this or that, or that it will move from here to there, or that it is located in such-and-such a place. When it comes into contact with no object mind is like a vast, boundless void, or like a serene, illimitable ocean. When it encounters an object it at once has cognizance of it, like a mirror instantly reflecting a person who stands in front of it. The true nature of mind consists not only in taking clear cognizance of the object but also in communicating a concrete experience of that object to the one experiencing it.* Normally, our forms of sense cognition, such as eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc., perform their functions on external phenomena in a manner involving gross distortion. Knowledge resulting from sense cognition, being based on gross external phenomena, is also of a gross nature. When this type of gross stimulation is shut out, and when concrete experiences and clear cognizance arise from within, mind assumes the characteristics of infinite void similar to the infinitude of space. But this void is not to be taken as the true nature of mind. We have become so habituated to consciousness of the form and color of gross objects that, when we make concentrated introspection into the nature of mind, it is, as I have said, found to be a vast, limitless void free from any gross obscurity or other hindrances. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we have discerned the subtle, true nature of the mind. What has been explained above concerns the state of mind in relation to the concrete experience and clear cognizance by the mind which are its function, but it describes only the relative nature of mind.

There are in addition several other aspects and states of mind. In other words, taking mind as the supreme basis, there are many attributes related to it. Just as an onion consists of layer upon layer that can be peeled away, so does every sort of object have a number of layers; and this is no less true of the nature of mind as explained here; it, too, has layer within layer, slate within state.

All compounded things are subject to disintegration. Since experience and knowledge are impermanent and subject to disintegration, the mind, of which they are functions (nature), is not something that remains constant and eternal. From moment to moment it undergoes change and disintegration. This transience of mind is one aspect of its nature. However, as we have observed, its true nature has many aspects, including consciousness of concrete experience and cognizance of objects. Now let us make a further examination in order to grasp the meaning of the subtle essence of such a mind. Mind came into existence because of its own cause. To deny that the origination of mind is dependent on a cause, or to say that it is a designation given as a means of recognizing the nature of mind aggregates, is not correct. With our superficial observance, mind, which has concrete experience and clear cognizance as its nature, appears to be a powerful, independent, subjective, completely ruling entity. However, deeper analysis will reveal that this mind, possessing as it does the function of experience and cognizance, is not a self-created entity but Is dependent on other factors for its existence. Hence it depends on something other than itself. This non-independent quality of the mind substance is its true nature which in turn is the ultimate reality of the self.

Of these two aspects, viz. the ultimate true nature of mind and a knowledge of that ultimate true nature, the former is the base, the latter an attribute. Mind (self) is the basis and all its different states are attributes. However, the basis and its attributes have from the first pertained to the same single essence. The non-self-created (depending on a cause other than itself) mind entity (basis) and its essence, shunyata, have unceasingly existed as the one, same, inseparable essence from beginningless beginning. The nature of shunyata pervades all elements. As we are now and since we cannot grasp or comprehend the indestructible, natural, ultimate reality (shunyata) of our own minds, we continue to commit errors and our defects persist.

Taking mind as the subject and mind's ultimate reality as its object, one will arrive at a proper comprehension of the true essence of mind, i.e. its ultimate reality. And when, after prolonged patient meditation, one comes to perceive and grasp at the knowledge of mind's ultimate reality which is devoid of dual characteristics, one will gradually be able to exhaust the delusions and defects of the central and secondary minds such as wrath, love of ostentation, jealousy, envy and so on.

Failure to identify the true nature of mind will be overcome through acquisition of the power to comprehend its ultimate reality. This will in turn eradicate lust and hatred and all other secondary delusions emanating from the basic ones. Consequently, there will be no occasion for accumulating demeritorious karma. By this means the creation of (evil) karma affecting future lives will be eliminated; one will be able to increase the quality and quantity of meritorious causal conditioning and to eradicate the creation of harmful causal conditioning affecting future lives—apart from the bad karma accumulated earlier.

In the practice of gaining a perfect knowledge of the true nature of mind, strenuous and concentrated mental efforts are required for comprehending the object. In our normal condition as it is at present, when our mind comes into contact with something it is immediately drawn to it. This makes comprehension impossible. Therefore. in order to acquire great dynamic mental power, the very maximum exertion is the first imperative. For example, a big river flowing over a wide expanse of shallows will have very little force, but when it passes through a steep gorge all the water is concentrated in a narrow space and therefore flows with great force. For a similar reason all the mental distractions which draw the mind away from the object of contemplation are to be avoided and the mind kept steadily fixed upon it. Unless this is done, the practice for gaining a proper understanding of the true nature of mind will be a total failure.

To make the mind docile, it is essential for us to discipline and control it well. Speech and bodily activities which accompany mental processes, must not be allowed to run on in an indiscreet, unbridled, random way. Just as a trainer disciplines and calms a wild and willful steed by subjecting it to skillful and prolonged training, so must the wild, wandering, random activities of body and speech be tamed to make them docile, righteous and skillful. Therefore the Teachings of the Lord Buddha comprise three graded categories, that is sila (training in higher conduct), samadhi (training in higher meditation) and prajna (training in higher wisdom), all of them for disciplining the mind.

By studying, meditating and practising the three grades of trisiksa in this way, one accomplishes progressive realization. A person so trained will be endowed with the wonderful quality of being able to bear patiently the miseries and suffering which are the fruit of his past karma. He will regard his misfortunes as blessings in disguise, for they will enlighten him as to the meaning of nemesis (karma) and convince him of the need to concentrate on performing only meritorious deeds. If his past (evil) karma has not as yet borne fruit, it will still be possible for him to obliterate this unripe karma by utilizing the strength of the four powers, namely: determination to attain the status of Buddhahood; determination to eschew demeritorious deeds, even at the cost of one's life; the performance of meritorious deeds; repentance.

Such is the way to attain immediate happiness, to pave the way for attaining liberation in future and to help avoid the accumulation of further demerits.


* These two aspects, 'taking cognition' and 'communicating experience' refer to knowing what the object is and how it feels, tastes, looks, etc.

A talk given on the need for a greater sense of human community in order to bring about peace in our world.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, we find that the world has grown smaller and the world's people have become almost one community. Political and military alliances have created large multinational groups, industry and international trade have produced a global economy, and worldwide communications are eliminating ancient barriers of distance, language and race. We are also being drawn together by the grave problems we face: overpopulation, dwindling natural resources, and an environmental crisis that threatens our air, water, and trees, along with the vast number of beautiful life forms that are the very foundation of existence on this small planet we share.

I believe that to meet the challenge of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for his or her own self, family or nation, but for the benefit of all mankind. Universal responsibility is the real key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace, the equitable use of natural resources, and through concern for future generations, the proper care of the environment.

For some time, I have been thinking about how to increase our sense of mutual responsibility and the altruistic motive from which it derives. Briefly, I would like to offer my thoughts.

One human family

Whether we like it or not, we have all been born on this earth as part of one great human family. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else: we all desire happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, each of us has an equal right to pursue these goals. Today's world requires that we accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate and even existed in total isolation. Nowadays, however, events in one part of the world eventually affect the entire planet. Therefore we have to treat each major local problem as a global concern from the moment it begins. We can no longer invoke the national, racial or ideological barriers that separate us without destructive repercussions. In the context of our new interdependence, considering the interests of others is clearly the best form of self-interest.

I view this fact as a source of hope The necessity for cooperation can only strengthen mankind, because it helps us recognize that the most secure foundation for the new world order is not simply broader political and economic alliances, but rather each individual's genuine practice of love and compassion. For a better, happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brother- and sisterhood.

The medicine of altruism

In Tibet we say that many illnesses can be cured by the one medicine of love and compassion. These qualities are the ultimate source of human happiness, and our need for them lies at the very core of our being. Unfortunately, love and compassion have been omitted from too many spheres of social interaction for too long. Usually confined to family and home, their practice in public life is considered impractical, even naive. This is tragic. In my view, the practice of compassion is not just a symptom of unrealistic idealism but the most effective way to pursue the best interests of others as well our own. The more we— as a nation, a group or as individuals—depend upon others, the more it is in our own best interests to ensure their well-being.

Practicing altruism is the real source of compromise and cooperation; merely recognizing our need for harmony is not enough. A mind committed to compassion is like an overflowing reservoir—a constant source of energy, determination and kindness. This mind is like a seed; when cultivated, it gives rise to many other good qualities, such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity. The compassionate mind is like an elixir; it is capable of transforming bad situations into beneficial ones. Therefore we should not limit our expressions of love and compassion to our family and friends. Nor is compassion only the responsibility of clergy, health care and social workers. It is the necessary business of every part of the human community.

Whether a conflict lies in the field of politics, business or religion, an altruistic approach is frequently the sole means of resolving it. Sometimes the very concepts we use to mediate a dispute are themselves the cause of the problem. At such times, when a resolution seems impossible, both sides should recall the basic human nature that unites them. This will help break the impasse and, in the long run, make it easier for everyone to attain their goal. Although neither side may be fully satisfied, if both make concessions, at the very least, the danger of further conflict will be averted. We all know that this form of compromise is the most effective way of solving problems—why, then, do we not use it more often?

When I consider the lack of cooperation in human society, I can only conclude that it stems from ignorance of our interdependent nature. I am often moved by the example of small insects, such as bees. The laws of nature dictate that bees work together in order to survive. As a result, they possess an instinctive sense of social responsibility. They have no constitution, laws, police, religion or moral training, but because of their nature they labor faithfully together. Occasionally they may fight, but in general the whole colony survives on the basis of cooperation. Human beings, on the other hand, have constitutions, vast legal systems and police forces; we have religion, remarkable intelligence and a heart with a great capacity to love. But despite our many extraordinary qualities, in actual practice we lag behind those small insects; in some ways, I feel we are poorer than the bees.

For instance, millions of people live together in large cities all over the world, but despite this proximity, many are lonely. Some do not have even one human being with whom to share their deepest feelings, and live in a state of perpetual agitation. This is very sad. We are not solitary animals that associate only in order to mate. If we were, why would we build large cities and towns? But even though we are social animals compelled to live together, unfortunately, we lack a sense of responsibility towards our fellow humans. Does the fault lie in our social architecture - the basic structures of family and community that support our society? Is it in our external facilities—our machines, science and technology? I do not think so.

I believe that despite the rapid advances made by civilization in this century, the most immediate cause of our present dilemma is our undue emphasis on material development alone. We have become so engrossed in its pursuit that, without even knowing it, we have neglected to foster the most basic human needs of love, kindness, cooperation and caring. If we do not know someone or find another reason for not feeling connected with a particular individual or group, we simply ignore them. But the development of human society is based entirely on people helping each other. Once we have lost the essential humanity that is our foundation, what is the point of pursuing only material improvement?

To me, it is clear: a genuine sense of responsibility can result only if we develop compassion. Only a spontaneous feeling of empathy for others can really motivate us to act on their behalf. I have explained how to cultivate compassion elsewhere. For the remainder of this short piece, I would like to discuss how our present global situation can be improved by greater reliance on universal responsibility.

Universal responsibility

First, I should mention that I do not believe in creating movements or espousing ideologies. Nor do I like the practice of establishing an organization to promote a particular idea, which implies that one group of people alone is responsible for the attainment of that goal, while everybody else is exempt. In our present circumstances, none of us can afford to assume that somebody else will solve our problems; each of us must take his or her own share of universal responsibility. In this way, as the number of concerned, responsible individuals grows, tens, hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of such people will greatly improve the general atmosphere. Positive change does not come quickly and demands ongoing effort. If we become discouraged we may not attain even the simplest goals. With constant, determined application, we can accomplish even the most difficult objectives.

Adopting an attitude of universal responsibility is essentially a personal matter. The real test of compassion is not what we say in abstract discussions but how we conduct ourselves in daily life. Still, certain fundamental views are basic to the practice of altruism.

Though no system of government is perfect, democracy is that which is closest to humanity's essential nature. Hence those of us who enjoy it must continue to fight for all people's right to do so. Furthermore, democracy is the only stable foundation upon which a global political structure can be built. To work as one, we must respect the right of all peoples and nations to maintain their own distinctive character and values.

In particular, a tremendous effort will be required to bring compassion into the realm of international business. Economic inequality, especially that between developed and developing nations, remains the greatest source of suffering on this planet. Even though they will lose money in the short term, large multinational corporations must curtail their exploitation of poor nations. Tapping the few precious resources such countries possess simply to fuel consumerism in the developed world is disastrous; if it continues unchecked, eventually we shall all suffer. Strengthening weak, undiversified economies is a far wiser policy for promoting both political and economic stability. As idealistic as it may sound, altruism, not just competition and the desire for wealth, should be a driving force in business.

We also need to renew our commitment to human values in the field of modern science. Though the main purpose of science is to learn more about reality, another of its goals is to improve the quality of life. Without altruistic motivation, scientists cannot distinguish between beneficial technologies and the merely expedient. The environmental damage surrounding us is the most obvious example of the result of this confusion, but proper motivation may be even more relevant in governing how we handle the extraordinary new array of biological techniques with which we can now manipulate the subtle structures of life itself. If we do not base our every action on an ethical foundation, we run the risk of inflicting terrible harm on the delicate matrix of life.

Nor are the religions of the world exempt from this responsibility The purpose of religion is not to build beautiful churches or temples, but to cultivate positive human qualities such as tolerance generosity and love. Every world religion, no matter what its philosophical view, is founded first and foremost on the precept that we must reduce our selfishness and serve others. Unfortunately, sometimes religion itself causes more quarrels than it solves. Practitioners of different faiths should realize that each religious tradition has immense intrinsic value and the means for providing mental and spiritual health. One religion, like a single type of food, cannot satisfy everybody. According to their varying mental dispositions, some people benefit from one kind of teaching, others from another. Each faith has the ability to produce fine, warmhearted people and despite their espousal of often contradictory philosophies, all religions have succeeded in doing so. Thus there is no reason to engage in divisive religious bigotry and intolerance, and every reason to cherish and respect all forms of spiritual practice.

Certainly, the most important field in which to sow the seeds of greater altruism is international relations. In the past few years the world has changed dramatically. I think we would all agree that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have ushered in a new historical era. As we move through the 1990s it would seem that human experience in the twentieth century has come full circle.

This has been the most painful period in human history, a time when, because of the vast increase in the destructive power of weapons, more people have suffered from and died by violence than ever before. Furthermore, we have also witnessed an almost terminal competition between the fundamental ideologies that have always torn the human community: force and raw power on the one hand, and freedom, pluralism, individual rights and democracy on the other. I believe that the results of this great competition are now clear. Though the good human spirit of peace, freedom and democracy still faces many forms of tyranny and evil, it is nevertheless an unmistakable fact that the vast majority of people everywhere want it to triumph. Thus the tragedies of our time have not been entirely without benefit, and have in many cases been the very means by which the human mind has been opened. The collapse of communism demonstrates this.

Although communism espoused many noble ideals, including altruism, the attempt by its governing elites to dictate their views has proved disastrous. These governments went to tremendous lengths to control the entire flow of information through their societies and to structure their education systems so that their citizens would work for the common good. Although rigid organization may have been necessary in the beginning to destroy previously oppressive regimes, once that goal was fulfilled, the organization had very little to contribute towards building a useful human community. Communism failed utterly because it relied on force to promote its beliefs. Ultimately, human nature was unable to sustain the suffering it produced.

Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom. The hundreds of thousands of people who marched in the cities of Eastern Europe proved this. They simply expressed the human need for freedom and democracy. It was very moving. Their demands had nothing whatsoever to do with some new ideology; these people simply spoke from their hearts, sharing their desire for freedom, demonstrating that it stems from the core of human nature. Freedom, in fact, is the very source of creativity for both individuals and society. It is not enough, as communist systems have assumed, merely to provide people with food, shelter and clothing. If we have all these things but lack the precious air of liberty to sustain our deeper nature, we are only half human; we are like animals who are content just to satisfy their physical needs.

I feel that the peaceful revolutions in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have taught us many great lessons. One is the value of truth. People do not like to be bullied, cheated or lied to by either an individual or a system. Such acts are contrary to the essential human spirit. Therefore, even though those who practice deception and use force may achieve considerable short-term success, eventually they will be overthrown.

On the other hand, everyone appreciates truth, and respect for it is really in our blood. Truth is the best guarantor and the real foundation of freedom and democracy. It does not matter whether you are weak or strong or whether your cause has many or few adherents, truth will still prevail. The fact that the successful freedom movements of 1989 and after have been based on the true expression of people's most basic feelings is a valuable reminder that truth itself is still seriously lacking in much of our political life. Especially in the conduct of international relations we pay very little respect to truth. Inevitably, weaker nations are manipulated and oppressed by stronger ones, just as the weaker sections of most societies suffer at the hands of the more affluent and powerful. Though in the past, the simple expression of truth has usually been dismissed as unrealistic, these last few years have proved that it is an immense force in the human mind and, as a result, in the shaping of history.

A second great lesson from Eastern Europe has been that of peaceful change. In the past, enslaved peoples often resorted to violence in their struggle to be free. Now, following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., these peaceful revolutions offer future generations a wonderful example of successful, nonviolent change. When in the future major changes in society again become necessary, our descendants will be able to look back on the present time as a paradigm of peaceful struggle, a real success story of unprecedented scale, involving more than a dozen nations and hundreds of millions of people. Moreover, recent events have shown that the desire for both peace and freedom lies at the most fundamental level of human nature and that violence is its complete antithesis.

Before considering what kind of global order would serve us best in the post-Cold War period, I think it is vital to address the question of violence, whose elimination at every level is the necessary foundation for world peace and the ultimate goal of any international order.

Nonviolence and international order

Every day the media reports incidents of terrorism, crime and aggression. I have never been to a country where tragic stories of death and bloodshed did not fill the newspapers and airwaves. Such reporting has become almost an addiction for journalists and their audiences alike. But the overwhelming majority of the human race does not behave destructively; very few of the five billion people on this planet actually commit acts of violence. Most of us prefer to be as peaceful as possible.

Basically, we all cherish tranquility, even those of us given to violence. For instance, when spring comes, the days grow longer, there is more sunshine, the grass and trees come alive and everything is very fresh. People feel happy. In autumn, one leaf falls, then another, then all the beautiful flowers die until we are surrounded by bare, naked plants. We do not feel so joyful. Why is this? Because deep down, we desire constructive, fruitful growth and dislike things collapsing, dying or being destroyed. Every destructive action goes against our basic nature; building, being constructive is the human way.

I am sure everybody agrees that we need to overcome violence, but if we are to eliminate it completely, we should first analyze whether or not it has any value.

If we address this question from a strictly practical perspective, we find that on certain occasions violence indeed appears useful. One can solve a problem quickly with force. At the same time, however, such success is often at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. As a result, even though one problem has been solved, the seed of another has been planted.

On the other hand, if one's cause is supported by sound reasoning, there is no point in using violence. It is those who have no motive other than selfish desire and who cannot achieve their goal through logical reasoning who rely on force. Even when family and friends disagree, those with valid reasons can cite them one after the other and argue their case point by point, whereas those with little rational support soon fall prey to anger: Thus anger is not a sign of strength but one of weakness.

Ultimately, it is important to examine one's own motivation and that of one's opponent. There are many kinds of violence and nonviolence, but one cannot distinguish them from external factors alone. If one's motivation is negative, the action it produces is, in the deepest sense, violent, even though it may appear to be smooth and gentle. Conversely, if one's motivation is sincere and positive but the circumstances require harsh behavior, essentially one is practicing nonviolence. No matter what the case may be, I feel that a compassionate concern for the benefit of others—not simply for oneself—is the sole justification for the use of force.

The genuine practice of nonviolence is still somewhat experimental on our planet, but its pursuit, based on love and understanding, is sacred. If this experiment succeeds, it can open the way to a far more peaceful world in the next century.

I have heard the occasional Westerner maintain that long-term Gandhian struggles employing nonviolent passive resistance do not suit everybody and that such courses of action are more natural in the East. Because Westerners are active, they tend to seek immediate results in all situations, even at the cost of their lives. This approach, I believe, is not always beneficial. But surely the practice of nonviolence suits us all. It simply calls for determination. Even though the freedom movements of Eastern Europe reached their goals quickly, nonviolent protest by its very nature usually requires patience.

In this regard, I pray that despite the brutality of their suppression and the difficulty of the struggle they face, those involved in China's democracy movement will always remain peaceful. I am confident they will. Although the majority of the young Chinese students involved were born and raised under an especially harsh form of communism, during the spring of 1989 they spontaneously practiced Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of passive resistance. This is remarkable and clearly shows that ultimately all human beings want to pursue the path of peace, no matter how much they have been indoctrinated.

The reality of war

Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous—an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is a criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.

War is like a fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living beings. I find this analogy especially appropriate and useful. Modem warfare is waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people. War also strongly resembles a fire in the way it spreads. If one area gets weak, the commanding officer sends in reinforcements. This is like throwing live people onto a fire. But because we have been brainwashed to think this way, we do not consider the suffering of individual soldiers. No soldier wants to be wounded or die; none of his loved ones wants any harm to come to him. If one soldier is killed, or maimed for life, at least another five or ten people—his relatives and friends suffer as well. We should all be horrified by the extent of this tragedy, but we are too confused.

Frankly, as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniforms looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them into trouble. There are plenty of exciting games to play and costumes to wear other than those based on the killing of human beings. Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.

It is not only during times of war that military establishments are destructive By their very design, they are the single greatest violators of human rights, and it is the soldiers themselves who suffer most consistently from their abuse. After the officers in charge have given beautiful explanations about the importance of the army, its discipline and the need to conquer the enemy, the rights of the great mass of soldiers are almost entirely taken away. They are then compelled to forfeit their individual will, and, in the end, to sacrifice their lives. Moreover, once an army has become a powerful force, there is every risk that it will destroy the happiness of its own country.

There are people with destructive intentions in every society, and the temptation to gain command over an organization capable of fulfilling their desires can become overwhelming. But no matter how malevolent or evil are the many murderous dictators who currently oppress their nations and cause international problems, it is obvious that they cannot harm others or destroy countless human lives if they don't have a military organization accepted and condoned by society. As long as there are powerful armies there will always be the danger of dictatorship. If we really believe dictatorship to be a despicable and destructive form of government, then we must recognize that the existence of a powerful military establishment is one of its main causes.

Militarism is also very expensive. Pursuing peace through military strength places a tremendously wasteful burden on society. Governments spend vast sums on increasingly intricate weapons when, in fact, nobody really wants to use them. Not only money but also valuable energy and human intelligence are squandered, while all that increases is fear.

I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression. For instance, it is plain to all of us that the Second World War was entirely justified. It "saved civilization" from the tyranny of Nazi Germany, as Winston Churchill so aptly put it. In my view, the Korean War was also just, since it gave South Korea the chance of gradually developing a democracy. But we can only judge whether or not a conflict was vindicated on moral grounds with hindsight. For example, we can now see that during the Cold War, the principle of nuclear deterrence had a certain value. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to assess all such matters with any degree of accuracy. War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is far better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not.

For instance, in the case of the Cold War, though deterrence may have helped promote stability, it did not create genuine peace. The last forty years in Europe have seen merely the absence of war, which has not been real peace but a facsimile founded on fear. At best, building arms to maintain peace serves only as a temporary measure. As long as adversaries do not trust each other, any number of factors can upset the balance of power. Lasting peace can be secured only on the basis of genuine trust.

Disarmament for world peace

Throughout history, mankind has pursued peace one way or another. Is it too optimistic to imagine that world peace may finally be within our grasp? I do not believe that there has been an increase in the amount of people's hatred, only in their ability to manifest it in vastly destructive weapons. On the other hand, bearing witness to the tragic evidence of the mass slaughter caused by such weapons in our century has given us the opportunity to control war. To do so, it is clear we must disarm.

Disarmament can occur only within the context of new political and economic relationships. Before we consider this issue in detail, it is worth imagining the kind of peace process from which we would benefit most. This is fairly self-evident. First we should work on eliminating nuclear weapons, next, biological and chemical ones, then offensive arms, and, finally, defensive ones. At the same time, to safeguard the peace, we should start developing in one or more global regions an international police force made up of an equal number of members from each nation under a collective command. Eventually this force would cover the whole world.

Because the dual process of disarmament and development of a joint force would be both multilateral and democratic, the right of the majority to criticize or even intervene in the event of one nation violating the basic rules would be ensured. Moreover, with all large armies eliminated and all conflicts such as border disputes subject to the control of the joint international force, large and small nations would be truly equal. Such reforms would result in a stable international environment.

Of course, the immense financial dividend reaped from the cessation of arms production would also provide a fantastic windfall for global development. Today the nations of the world spend trillions of dollars annually on upkeep of the military. Can you imagine how many hospital beds, schools and homes this money could fund? In addition, as I mentioned above, the awesome proportion of scarce resources squandered on military development not only prevents the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and disease, but also requires the sacrifice of precious human intelligence. Our scientists are extremely bright. Why should their brilliance be wasted on such dreadful endeavors when it could be used for positive global development?

The great deserts of the world such as the Sahara and the Gobi could be cultivated to increase food production and ease overcrowding. Many countries now face years of severe drought. New, less expensive methods of desalinization could be developed to render sea water suitable for human consumption and other uses. There are many pressing issues in the fields of energy and health to which our scientists could more usefully address themselves. Since the world economy would grow more rapidly as a result of their efforts, they could even be paid more! Our planet is blessed with vast natural treasures. If we use them properly, beginning with the elimination of militarism and war, truly every human being will be able to live a wealthy well-cared for life.

Naturally global peace cannot occur all at once. Since conditions around the world are so varied, its spread will have to be incremental. But there is no reason why it cannot begin in one region and then spread gradually from one continent to another.

I would like to propose that regional communities like the European Community be established as an integral part of the more peaceful world we are trying to create. Looking at the post-Cold War environment objectively, such communities are plainly the most natural and desirable components of a new world order. As we can see, the almost gravitational pull of our growing interdependence necessitates new, more cooperative structures. The European Community is pioneering the way in this endeavor, negotiating the delicate balance between economic, military and political collectivity on the one hand and the sovereign rights of member states on the other. I am greatly inspired by this work. I also believe that the new Commonwealth of Independent States is grappling with similar issues and that the seeds of such a community are already present in the minds of many of its constituent republics. In this context, I would briefly like to talk about the future of both my own country, Tibet, and China.

Like the former Soviet Union, Communist China is a multinational state, artificially constructed under the impetus of an expansionist ideology and up to now administered by force in colonial fashion. A peaceful, prosperous and above all politically stable future for China lies in its successfully fulfilling not only its own people's wishes for a more open, democratic system, but also those of its eighty million so-called "national minorities" who want to regain their freedom. For real happiness to return to the heart of Asia— home to one-fifth of the human race—a pluralistic, democratic, mutually cooperative community of sovereign states must replace what is currently called the People's Republic of China. Of course, such a community need not be limited to those presently under Chinese Communist domination, such as Tibetans, Mongols and Urghurs. The people of Hong Kong, those seeking an independent Taiwan, and even those suffering under other communist governments in North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia might also be interested in building an Asian Community. However, it is especially urgent that those ruled by the Chinese Communists consider doing so. Properly pursued, it could help save China from violent dissolution, regionalism and a return to the chaotic turmoil that has so afflicted this great nation throughout the twentieth century. Currently China's political life is so polarized that there is every reason to fear an early recurrence of bloodshed and tragedy. Each of us—every member of the world community—has a moral responsibility to help avert the immense suffering that civil strife would bring to China's vast population.

I believe that the very process of dialogue, moderation and compromise involved in building a community of Asian states would itself give real hope of peaceful evolution to a new order in China. From the very start, the member states of such a community might agree to decide its defense and international relations policies together. There would be many opportunities for cooperation. The critical point is that we find a peaceful, nonviolent way for the forces of freedom, democracy and moderation to emerge successfully from the current atmosphere of unjust repression.

Zones of peace

I see Tibet's role in such an Asian Community as what I have previously called a "Zone of Peace": a neutral, demilitarized sanctuary where weapons are forbidden and the people live in harmony with nature. This is not merely a dream—it is precisely the way Tibetans tried to live for over a thousand years before our country was invaded. As everybody knows, in Tibet all forms of wildlife were strictly protected in accordance with Buddhist principles. Also, for at least the last three hundred years, we had no proper army. Tibet gave up the waging of war as an instrument of national policy in the sixth and seventh centuries, after the reign of our three great religious kings.

Returning to the relationship between developing regional communities and the task of disarmament, I would like to suggest that the "heart" of each community could be one or more nations that have decided to become zones of peace, areas from which military forces are prohibited. This, again, is not just a dream. Four decades ago, in December 1948, Costa Rica disbanded its army. Recently, 37 percent of the Swiss population voted to disband their military. The new government of Czechoslovakia has decided to stop the manufacture and export of all weapons. If its people so choose, a nation can take radical steps to change its very nature.

Zones of peace within regional communities would serve as oases of stability. While paying their fair share of the costs of any collective force created by the community as a whole, these zones of peace would be the forerunners and beacons of an entirely peaceful world and would be exempt from engaging in any conflict. If regional communities do develop in Asia, South America and Africa and disarmament progresses so that an international force from all regions is created, these zones of peace will be able to expand, spreading tranquillity as they grow.

We do not need to think that we are planning for the far distant future when we consider this or any other proposal for a new, more politically, economically and militarily cooperative world. For instance, the newly invigorated forty-eight member Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe has already laid the foundation for an alliance between not only the nations of Eastern and Western Europe but also between the nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United States. These remarkable events have virtually eliminated the danger of a major war between these two superpowers.

I have not included the United Nations in this discussion of the present era because both its critical role in helping create a better world and its great potential for doing so are so well known. By definition, the United Nations must be in the very middle of whatever major changes occur. However, it may need to amend its structure for the future. I have always had the greatest hopes for the United Nations, and with no criticism intended, I would like simply to point out that the post-World War II climate under which its charter was conceived has changed. With that change has come the opportunity to further democratize the UN, especially the somewhat exclusive Security Council with its five permanent members, which should be made more representative.

In conclusion

I would like to conclude by stating that, in general, I feel optimistic about the future. Some recent trends portend our great potential for a better world. As late as the fifties and sixties, people believed that war was an inevitable condition of mankind. The Cold War, in particular, reinforced the notion that opposing political systems could only clash, not compete or even collaborate. Few now hold this view. Today, people all over the planet are genuinely concerned about world peace. They are far less interested in propounding ideology and far more committed to coexistence. These are very positive developments.

Also, for thousands of years people believed that only an authoritarian organization employing rigid disciplinary methods could govern human society. However, people have an innate desire for freedom and democracy, and these two forces have been in conflict. Today, it is clear which has won. The emergence of non violent "people's power" movements have shown indisputably that the human race can neither tolerate nor function properly under the rule of tyranny. This recognition represents remarkable progress.

Another hopeful development is the growing compatibility between science and religion. Throughout the nineteenth century and for much of our own, people have been profoundly confused by the conflict between these apparently contradictory world views. Today, physics, biology and psychology have reached such sophisticated levels that many researchers are starting to ask the most profound questions about the ultimate nature of the universe and life, the same questions that are of prime interest to religions. Thus there is real potential for a more unified view. In particular, it seems that a new concept of mind and matter is emerging. The East has been more concerned with understanding the mind, the West with understanding matter. Now that the two have met, these spiritual and material views of life may become more harmonized.

The rapid changes in our attitude towards the earth are also a source of hope. As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, we thoughtlessly consumed its resources, as if there was no end to them. Now, not only individuals but governments as well are seeking a new ecological order. I often joke that the moon and stars look beautiful, but if any of us tried to live on them, we would be miserable. This blue planet of ours is the most delightful habitat we know. Its life is our life; its future, our future. And though I do not believe that the Earth itself is a sentient being, it does indeed act as our mother, and, like children, we are dependent upon her. Now mother nature is telling us to cooperate. In the face of such global problems as the greenhouse effect and the deterioration of the ozone layer, individual organizations and single nations are helpless. Unless we all work together, no solution will be found. Our mother is teaching us a lesson in universal responsibility.

I think we can say that, because of the lessons we have begun to learn, the next century will be friendlier, more harmonious, and less harmful. Compassion, the seed of peace, will be able to flourish. I am very hopeful. At the same time, I believe that every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes alone are not enough; we have to assume responsibility. Large human movements spring from individual human initiatives. If you feel that you cannot have much of an effect, the next person may also become discouraged and a great opportunity will have been lost. On the other hand, each of us can inspire others simply by working to develop our own altruistic motivation.

I am sure that many honest, sincere people all over the world already hold the views that I have mentioned here. Unfortunately, nobody listens to them. Although my voice may go unheeded as well, I thought that I should try to speak on their behalf. Of course, some people may feel that it is very presumptuous for the Dalai Lama to write in this way. But, since I received the Nobel Peace Prize, I feel I have a responsibility to do so. If I just took the Nobel money and spent it however I liked, it would look as if the only reason I had spoken all those nice words in the past was to get this prize! However, now that I have received it, I must repay the honor by continuing to advocate the views that I have always expressed.

I, for one, truly believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of great change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world.

The publishers would like to thank the many kind people who sent donations towards the printing of this booklet.

First printed in India 1990
Revised version edited to reflect current political realities published 1992
Reprinted August 1992

199 Elm Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
United States of America

© Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama 1990

ISBN 0 86171 061 4

A short prayer that helps us develop the correct attitude towards the virtuous friend
This prayer was composed by the highly attained lama, Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol. Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Aptos, California, in February 1999. Edited by Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive Editing Group at Land of Medicine Buddha, March 1999. Revised February 2005, December 2005.

I am requesting the kind lord root Guru,
Who is more extraordinary than all the buddhas:
Please bless me to be able to devote myself to the qualified lord Guru
With great respect in all my future lifetimes.

By realizing that correctly devoting myself to the kind lord Guru—
Who is the foundation of all good qualities—
Is the root of happiness and goodness,
I shall devote myself to him with greatrespect,
Not forsaking him even at the cost of my life.

Thinking of the importance of the qualified Guru,
May I allow myself to enter under his control.

1. May I be like an obedient son, 1
Acting exactly in accordance with the Guru’s advice.

2. Even when maras, evil friends and the like
Try to split me from the Guru,
May I be like a vajra, inseparable forever.

3. When the Guru gives me work, whatever the burden,
May I be like the earth, carrying all.

4. When I devote myself to the Guru,
Whatever suffering occurs (hardship or problems),
May I be like a mountain, immovable.
(The mind should not be upset or discouraged.)

5. Even if I have to perform all the unpleasant tasks,
May I be like a servant of the king, with a mind undisturbed.

6. May I abandon pride, holding myself lower than the Guru.
May I be like a sweeper.

7. May I be like a rope, joyfully holding the Guru’s work,
No matter how difficult or heavy a burden.

8. Even when the Guru criticizes, provokes or ignores me,
May I be like a dog without anger, never responding with anger.

9. May I be like a ferry boat,
Never upset at any time to come or go for the Guru.

O glorious and precious root Guru,
Please bless me to be able to practice in this way.
From now on, in all my future lifetimes,
May I be able to devote myself to the Guru in this way.

By reciting these words aloud and reflecting on their meaning in your mind, you will have the good fortune to be able to devote yourself correctly to the precious Guru, from life to life in all your future lifetimes.

If you offer service and respect and make offerings to the precious Guru with these nine attitudes, even if you do not practice intentionally, you will develop many good qualities, collect extensive merit and quickly achieve full enlightenment.

Note: the words in parentheses (above) are not to be read aloud; they have been added to clarify the text and should be kept in mind but not recited.


1 It has been suggested to change “son” to “child,” however, according to Lama Zopa Rinpoche: “The term ‘son’ is not used in dependence upon the characteristics of the body but of the mind. The term is used because it is normally the son who becomes king. The daughter becomes the queen but not king. Because this example is applied here, the disciple is called the ‘son of the vajra master,’ but it has nothing to do with the body.” [Return to text]

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

The two wings of the bird 

Lama Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path:

Although you practise renunciation and bodhi-mind,
Without wisdom, the realisation of voidness,
You cannot cut the root of samsara.
Therefore, strive to understand dependent origination.

Although there are many inconceivable benefits and advantages to developing the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings, if we do not develop the wisdom that realises selflessness or emptiness, there is no way we can free ourselves or others from samsara (or cyclic existence), to achieve the state of enlightenment. Therefore, developing bodhicitta alone is not enough. We must also develop the wisdom that realises emptiness, because of the reason given by Lama Tsongkhapa in the above verse.

The very root of samsara is the self-grasping ignorance: our grasping at the self of the person, conceiving the person as existing by way of its own character and our grasping at the self of phenomena, conceiving phenomena as existing by way of their own character.

In order to destroy these self-graspings, we must develop a mind that can counter such ignorance, realising how its mode of apprehension is mistaken and wrong. This is the only way to cut the root of samsara.

These two are called the method and wisdom aspects of the path. In order to fly, a bird needs a pair of wings. Having one wing alone is insufficient. In the same way, in order to achieve the state of full enlightenment, we need method and wisdom.

Dependent arising & lack of inherent existence

Lama Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path:

One who sees the infallible cause and effect
Of all phenomena in samsara and nirvana
And destroys all false perceptions
Has entered the path that pleases the Buddha.

First, we need to understand how all phenomena including samsara and nirvana arise dependently, i.e. they came about through depending on something else. Understanding that, we then understand that things do not exist in the way they appear to our minds. When we look at phenomena, we grasp at them as being truly existent. We have to understand that phenomena do not exist in this way. With this understanding, we would have entered the path that pleases the Buddha.

A good understanding of dependent arising enhances our ascertainment of the law of cause and effect - the better our understanding, the greater will be our ascertainment of the law of cause and effect, that when we engage in positive actions, we will experience happiness; when we engage in negative actions, it will lead to suffering.

Through understanding how all things do not exist inherently, we will see how the law of cause and effect work and exist conventionally. It will also help our understanding of dependent arising, that conventionally there is such a thing as dependent origination.

“Not existing inherently,” means that all phenomena exist by depending on something else and on that basis are given labels. This understanding of dependent arising would enhance our understanding of the working of the law of cause and effect. Believing things exist truly contradicts this law, that causes lead to effects.

It is very problematic when we believe phenomena exist inherently from their own side. For example, if the seed exists inherently, then it is very difficult to explain how it can transform into a plant. When we assert that lower realms or good rebirths exist inherently, it is difficult to explain how we can move from one realm to another. When we say sentient beings exist inherently, it becomes difficult to explain how sentient beings can become buddhas. In the same way, if a baby or young person exists inherently, then it is very difficult to explain how that person will age.

We must not leave things at that but really try to figure them out in our minds. For example, when we assert that a youngster inherently exists, it is tantamount to saying that that he will never get old. We have to understand why there is a problem with such assertions and how that problem comes about.


Through the merit created by preparing, reading, thinking about and sharing this book with others, may all teachers of the Dharma live long and healthy lives, may the Dharma spread throughout the infinite reaches of space, and may all sentient beings quickly attain enlightenment.

In whichever realm, country, area or place this book may be, may there be no war, drought, famine, disease, injury, disharmony or unhappiness, may there be only great prosperity, may everything needed be easily obtained, and may all be guided by only perfectly qualified Dharma teachers, enjoy the happiness of Dharma, have love and compassion for all sentient beings, and only benefit and never harm each other.


A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Bodhicitta is the most powerful of virtuous minds

Where is there a comparable virtue?
Where is there even such a friend?
Where is there merit similar to this?
(Verse 30, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

The bodhicitta mind is the most powerful amongst all virtuous states of mind. Nothing is comparable to its strength and power. It can remove all the sufferings of all sentient beings and establish them in the state of bliss. It is able to provide sentient beings joy and happiness and remove the darkness of ignorance from their minds.

When we praise bodhicitta as being the most powerful mind, capable of removing the ignorance that obscures the minds of sentient beings, how does this work?

We should understand that the bodhisattva, with his strong bodhicitta mind, considers our condition. Since we sentient beings are ignorant with regard to what should be abandoned and how to abandon that and what should be cultivated and how to cultivate that, the bodhisattva teaches us these points without mistake. This is how the bodhisattva removes our mental ignorance.

Bodhicitta is also praised as an unequalled virtuous friend. Here, one can understand a virtuous friend to mean a good friend. The bodhicitta mind is praised as the most supreme amongst our virtuous friends because it is able to protect us from all harms and enable us to accomplish benefits, not only for ourselves but for others.

This verse also says that there is no merit comparable to bodhicitta. This means that, by relying upon bodhicitta, one can easily accumulate extensive amounts of merit and will continue to do so, from moment to moment. Having the bodhicitta mind naturally causes us to engage in virtue and to pacify all negativities. It is mentioned that as long as we have the bodhicitta mind, we will continuously generate merit even when we go about doing our usual activities such as sleeping, walking, sitting and so on. Therein lies the power of the bodhicitta mind. Since we aspire to attain buddhahood, we need to accumulate merit and the supreme method for doing this is through the practice of bodhicitta.

Therefore, we should contemplate over and over the inconceivable benefits of bodhicitta, till the aspiration to generate bodhicitta arises in our minds. Realising the need to cultivate bodhicitta, we will be inspired to put in every effort to do so. We should pray continuously to generate bodhicitta within this lifetime and also to rely constantly on effortful and sustained practice.

By remembering that the bodhicitta mind is the most powerful virtue, the most powerful friend and the most powerful merit, we engage in listening to the Buddha’s teachings with the intention to practise and cultivate it. Due to the force of this motivation, we receive infinite benefits from listening to the teachings and are also able to do so with a joyful mind.

Fulfilling the wishes of others

It is like the supreme gold-making elixir,
For it transforms the unclean body we have taken
Into the priceless jewel of a Buddha-Form.
(Verse 10, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

When we achieve the state of full enlightenment, we will be in a position to fulfil all the hopes and wishes of sentient beings and help eliminate all their sufferings. What would enable us to achieve this state? It is generating bodhicitta in our minds.

The bodhisattvas take rebirth in samsara, using their unclean, impure bodies to benefit others, unlike the hearers and solitary realisers, who abandon their bodies to get out of samsara, in pursuit of their personal liberation.

The bodhisattvas are able to take on such samsaric rebirths for the benefit of others due to their great compassion and complete abandonment of self-cherishing. The hearers and solitary realisers are unable to do so because they are not free from their self-cherishing attitude.

When self-cherishing is absent, one is able to work solely for the benefit of others, so the weaker one’s self-cherishing is, the greater will be one’s ability to benefit others. The stronger one’s self-cherishing, the more difficult it will be for one to work for others. Basically, it all boils down to whether one has bodhicitta or not. So, we should try to develop bodhicitta and once it is generated, strive to ensure that it does not decline but work to strengthen that virtuous mind.

Bodhicitta and the practice of the perfections

Should even the myriad beings of the three realms without exception
Become angry at me, humiliate, criticise, threaten or even kill me,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience not to be distraught,
But to work for their benefit in response to their harm.

Even if I must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells of Avici
For the sake of even just one sentient being,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort,
To strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment and not be discouraged.
(Verses 103 – 104, Guru Puja)

These verses from the Guru Puja show that even when all sentient beings turn against us, instead of returning harm for harm, it is actually possible to develop patience when there is bodhicitta in our mental continua. When we train our minds in the method of exchanging ourselves for others, we develop loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, which then enables us to behave in the manner mentioned in these verses.

When we look at such verses, we find it very difficult to comprehend that such a thing is possible; it is just beyond our mental capacity. We think in this way because we have yet to develop bodhicitta in our mental continua. Once we have generated bodhicitta, instead of being disturbed, our minds will remain very calm and we can work for the benefit even of those who harm us.

With bodhicitta, we will also be able to develop the kind of joyous perseverance that is mentioned in the Guru Puja. We will have the courage, determination and the joyous perseverance needed to benefit other sentient beings.

Whether the practice of the perfection of patience and joyous perseverance can be cultivated in our minds depends on whether we can develop the altruistic intention, bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a mind that cherishes others more than oneself, forsaking one’s own purposes and placing others’ welfare before one’s own.

Because the bodhisattvas have such unbearable compassion for sentient beings, they have tremendous determination and are able to work with a happy mind for countless oceans of eons to help just one sentient being. We find it difficult now to work for the benefit of even one sentient being because we do not have such a mind and we become easily discouraged. The opposite happens when we have bodhicitta. Then, even if we had to spend an eon to benefit a single sentient being, we would happily do so.

There are six perfections:

  1. The perfection of generosity
  2. The perfection of ethics
  3. The perfection of patience
  4. The perfection of joyous perseverance
  5. The perfection of concentration
  6. The perfection of wisdom

Whether we are able to develop these perfections depends on whether we are able to develop bodhicitta in our minds. Until that time, even when we do practise generosity, it will not become the perfection of generosity.

Bodhicitta as medicine and wish-fulfilling jewel 

The panacea that relieves the world of pain
And is the source of all its joy
(Verse 26, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

Shantideva said that bodhicitta is the cause of happiness and joy and is like the great medicine for all sentient beings of the six realms. When we are able to develop bodhicitta in our own mental continuum, we can obtain the higher rebirths of humans and gods and progress from there towards liberation and full enlightenment.

Bodhicitta is also like the medicine that eliminates all our sufferings. Once bodhicitta is generated in our minds, our mental sufferings will definitely be reduced. In the same way, when bodhicitta arises in the minds of other sentient beings, they will also be able to reap the benefits of gaining higher rebirths of humans and gods, and the opportunity to achieve liberation and enlightenment as well.

You may wonder, “What are the benefits of developing bodhicitta?” The benefits of bodhicitta are inexpressible. In short, bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling jewel. It is stated in one sutra that if the benefits of bodhicitta were to take a physical form, the entire space of the three thousand great world systems would not be able to contain it.

Bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling jewel because it is able to eradicate the poverty of all sentient beings. Our own sufferings will be reduced as we will no longer become the causes for others to generate negative karma and by our causing others to develop bodhicitta, they too can be freed from their sufferings.

More qualities of bodhicitta 

The bodhisattvas constantly train in the practice of bodhicitta and are not discouraged when they encounter hardships, such as famines, financial difficulties or sickness. Instead, they use these conditions to remind themselves to refrain from engaging in negativities and creating negative karma. They are able to transform whatever negative conditions they meet with into the path of reinforcing and strengthening their practice of bodhicitta. Regardless of the level of hardship, the bodhisattvas will not resort to negative actions or creating negative karma to make things easier for themselves, eg. they will  not lose their temper just to get some temporary relief from their suffering.

The bodhicitta mind of the bodhisattva is therefore called an extremely precious holy mind. In general, there are different kinds of virtuous minds that we can cultivate or practise. However, this bodhicitta mind is praised as being like a wish-fulfilling jewel that can remove the poverty of impoverished sentient beings. Samsara and the lower nirvana of the arhats are extremes that the bodhisattva tries to avoid.

Bodhisattvas are praised as worthy objects of refuge because they are, “that source of joy/Who brings happiness even to those who bring harm.” The true bodhisattva does not retaliate or take revenge against those who harm them. Instead, the bodhisattva makes every effort to establish that person on the path to liberation and omniscient buddhahood. Therefore, the bodhisattva possessing the mind of bodhicitta is praised as the “source of joy” and all happiness.

By understanding how bodhisattvas transform all negative circumstances into the path, how they never return harm for harm and how they only strive to place beings in the state of buddhahood, we can see the qualities of the bodhicitta mind. When we are able to generate the bodhicitta mind, we will be able to receive the same benefits as those associated with bodhisattvas.  Our bodhicitta becomes the supreme basis for naturally restraining ourselves from creating negative karma. Because we have yet to generate such a mind, presently, we find ourselves creating negative karma all the time.

The enemy, our self-cherishing attitude 

The moment an Awakening Mind arises
In those fettered and weak in the jail of cyclic existence,
They will be named a ‘Child of the Sugata,’
And will be revered by both humans and gods of the world.
(Verse 9, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

As soon as bodhicitta is generated in one’s mind, one’s status becomes exalted, regardless of whether one is young or old, male or female. As a bodhisattva, one acquires a different name (a child of the Sugatas) and becomes an object worthy of homage, prostrations and respect by all humans and worldly gods.  This happens because of the generation of bodhicitta and not because one had a better rebirth, lineage or gender or was born wealthier than others. One becomes a bodhisattva primarily because of one’s state of mind.

The whole purpose of engaging in mind training is to develop bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings. There are two ways of doing this; one is by following the seven-fold cause and effect instructions, and the other is by following the instructions on exchanging oneself for others. The Wheel-Weapon text presents the latter system and gives instructions on developing love and compassion through the practice of tong-len, the practice of giving and taking.

The main obstacle that prevents us from developing bodhicitta is our self-cherishing attitude. Until that is abandoned, there is no way we can develop bodhicitta. What we are trying to do here is to learn these instructions for developing bodhicitta because when we achieve this, we can overcome our self-cherishing attitude that is the source of all our problems and sufferings.

We should pray, “May I and all sentient beings develop bodhicitta. I will cause this to happen by myself alone. Please, guru deity, bless me to be able to do this.” We are adapting the prayer of the four immeasurables and substituting the words for developing bodhicitta.

When we pray, “May I and all sentient beings develop bodhicitta,” that is only at the level of prayer. Although it is important to pray for this, we will never get anywhere by leaving it at this level. It is impossible to develop bodhicitta in this way.

So, then, we have to go on to the next line that says, “I will cause this to happen by myself alone.” Here, not only are we generating the aspiration to develop bodhicitta, we are actually saying, “I am going to do something about it. I am going to develop bodhicitta.”

But even that is still not enough because when we try to develop bodhicitta, we will meet with all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. Therefore, we have to seek the blessings of the guru; we recite the last line of the prayer, “Please, guru deity, bless me to be able to do this.”

We should remember this motivation and aspiration when listening to the teachings on the instructions for developing bodhicitta. When we do this, it will be of great benefit.

When you finish your work or as soon as you are about to set off for class to listen to the teachings, you should immediately generate this motivation. Quickly generate the thought, “I am going to class to learn about the instructions to develop bodhicitta.” With this motivation, each and every single step we take towards the centre causes us to accumulate an immeasurable amount of merit.

When you are in class, you should again generate this motivation, “I am listening to these teachings because I want to learn how to develop bodhicitta.” As you listen to the teachings, pay attention and keep this motivation very close to your heart. As mentioned in the first chapter of Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, when it comes to purifying any kind of negative karma, even the heaviest karma, there is nothing more powerful than developing the mind of bodhicitta.

Most of the verses in The Wheel-Weapon state that the real problem is our self-cherishing attitude. Whatever problems we experience are the results of the karma we have created in the past under the influence of our self-cherishing attitude. If you are looking for someone to blame, blame the self-cherishing attitude. The instructions say that other people are actually very precious and kind. If there is a problem, then it is our own self-cherishing attitude.

Most of the verses also point out how the different kinds of sufferings are the results of our own karma, “It is the weapon of my own evil deeds turned upon me.” We try to take all these unfavourable conditions into the path and throw them at our self-cherishing attitude to try to reduce the strength of this self-cherishing attitude.

The mistake of not having a bodhicitta mind 

When we read the text, The Wheel Weapon, we may feel that everything we have been doing had been inappropriate or wrong. It is natural to feel this way because the purpose of this text is to point out our faults, the mistake of not having a bodhicitta mind.

We should understand that what this text is trying to tell us is that, without the mind of bodhicitta, naturally we would always remain sentient beings with faults. Therefore, when we read mind-training texts that seem harsh in this way, we should not feel discouraged or depressed. We should understand that it is natural for us sentient beings to have faults. However, we should move beyond just seeing our faults to understand the true purpose of having our faults exposed in this way. We should strive to generate bodhicitta because, as long as the bodhicitta mind is not present, our faults will remain.

This text explains the practice of bodhicitta. Since we are not bodhisattvas yet, it is only natural that, at our level, the practice seems to be very difficult. The main purpose of this text is to inspire us to work for the generation of bodhicitta. This text tells us over and over again that the more powerful our egoistic mind, the more faults we incur. Therefore, it advises us to be inspired to reduce the intensity of that egoistic mind and, instead, to nurture the mind that cherishes others.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Main obstacle to generating a good heart

The main obstacle to becoming a good-hearted person is anger. Anger is the opposite of the good heart and is very harmful. It has harmed us in the past, it is harming us now and it will harm us in the future.

We can see how anger harms us in this life, disturbing our mental peace, making our relationships difficult. But it does not stop there. The results of anger will also harm us in the future as we accumulate very powerful negative karma, which will propel us into lower rebirths in our future lives. Anger harms in the past because all the roots of virtue accumulated in the past are destroyed when we get angry.

Mental unhappiness causes anger to arise in our minds and it arises when:

  1. others create problems for our loved ones and ourselves, or
  2. we and our loved ones are prevented  from getting what we want, or
  3. we see that everything is going well for people whom we dislike.

Is there any point in becoming unhappy with these conditions? It is not going to make our problem disappear. On top of that, it makes us miserable. If matters can be changed for the better, there is no reason to feel unhappy. If we cannot do anything about the situation, again, we have to stop our minds from becoming unhappy since that serves no purpose at all but only generates additional suffering for ourselves. The point here is to keep the mind happy.

For the other party who is creating difficulties for us, our unhappiness does not rid us of this person or make him change his mind towards us. It is even possible that our unhappiness will make him happier.

Some of the reasons we have mentioned can be reflected upon in meditation, which helps us to familiarise ourselves with these lines of reasoning. There is no better meditation than familiarising ourselves with the antidotes to anger. Then, when anger arises in our minds, we can recall them and apply them immediately. Of course, we may not be successful in the beginning, but if we persevere, and with greater familiarity with such thoughts, we will improve.

You should do this on your own by spending some time – maybe 15-20 minutes – thinking about these points in stages, sorting them out in your own mind while reflecting on your own experiences.

Meditation exercise (I)1

First, recall a time when anger or hatred arose in your mind. Did you feel happy or was the feeling unpleasant? When you encounter some problems and you are feeling upset and angry, or there is a lot of hatred in your mind, examine that feeling and experience. Is it good or bad?

It is very obvious when we look at our own experiences. We can conclude that when we are angry, there is a lot of unhappiness in our minds which we neither want nor need. That being the case, we have to think of ways and means to get rid of such mental unhappiness.

It is very beneficial when we have faith in the Buddha’s teachings and the workings of karma. It is obvious that anger disturbs and makes us unhappy. Worse still, anger destroys a thousand eons of virtue that we have accumulated in the past.  It is also obvious that as soon as we are angry, or when the anger has been festering in our minds for a long time, it blocks the generation of a virtuous state of mind, making it very difficult for the mind to be positive and virtuous. Anger also harms us in the future, by causing us to take rebirth in the lower realms. We should reflect deeply on how anger harms us in these different ways.

Next, we examine the causes of anger. What makes us upset – a person, an incident or a situation? As mentioned in the text,2 the cause of anger or hatred is mental unhappiness. Do our experiences accord with what is said in the text?  Is it true that anger is experienced when the mind is unhappy in some way? It becomes clear that first we feel unhappy, then that mental unhappiness leads to anger or hatred.

We then have to examine what is causing our unhappiness. The text points out that the main cause of mental unhappiness is attachment to the eight worldly dharmas. For example, we feel unhappy when someone behaves in an unfriendly or abusive way towards us. Because the “I” or “me” is harmed, we get angry and unhappy.

Let us take as an example the experience of being verbally insulted by someone. We first become unhappy, then anger and hatred follows.  The condition for that mental unhappiness and anger is hearing those unpleasant words.

At that point we should reflect: “The words have already been said. Can my anger change what has already occurred? Sooner or later, my critic will finish what he has to say.” So think: “Are we able to change the situation by remaining angry? Can the insults be retracted if we continue to be angry?” Thinking in this way, it becomes clear that getting angry serves no purpose at all. The insults have been uttered. The words cannot be taken back. Our anger is useless as we are unable to change the situation. Furthermore, our anger only disturbs and makes our minds unhappy.

There would be some purpose to our anger if it could eliminate the situation that is upsetting us. But we can see that is not so. Our anger also has no effect on the other party who is insulting us. Instead, we are the ones experiencing the mental unhappiness and disturbance.

After examining this from every possible angle, the conclusion has to be that anger does not serve any beneficial purpose whatsoever. It only harms and makes us unhappy. Based on this conclusion, we should be convinced that anger is bad for us and be determined not to give in to it in the future: “I must try to stop my anger from arising.” We must remember, “I have to be very careful to take care of my mind, especially when anger is about to arise.”

We should not think like this only occasionally but we should rely on our mindfulness and vigilance all the time. When we become habituated to this way of thinking, together with our application of mindfulness and vigilance, it will become easier to stop anger from arising.

Everything we see or experience seems to exist very solidly from its own side.  Anger arises based on that appearance. At the present moment, we may think there is no way we can curb our anger. It is very difficult to subdue anger completely, but even then we can familiarise our minds with the antidotes, by meditating on some of the points I have mentioned. With greater familiarity, we will definitely be able to stop anger from remaining in the mind for long and even when it arises we will be able to stop it quickly. This is definitely achievable.

If we do not train our minds in this way, we will continue to live with our anger, becoming angrier with each passing day. The days become months, the months become years. When we do nothing about our anger, we spend our whole lives like that.

It will not take you longer than 10 minutes a day to reflect on these points. You should reflect on them daily for at least a week. This is not optional. This is something you must do. After a week, if you find it beneficial, then, of course, you can continue with the reflection. But you must try this out for at least a week. 10 minutes is not a long time. It is your responsibility to put aside those 10 minutes. When you see its usefulness, you will be motivated to do it and you will be able to make the time. But if you do not want to do it, you will not be able to find any time, even if you are not working, and free the whole day.

Some students wonder what our studies have to do with their lives. They do not see its usefulness or benefit. That is understandable. We can study and listen to many teachings, but when we do not reflect on them and try to apply them to our daily lives, we always remain the same. Therefore, we have to critically analyse how our studies can be integrated into our lives. When we do not meditate in this way, the teachings will never benefit the mind. This is my way of persuading you to do this homework.

You may have a lot of daily commitments but it remains to be seen whether the mind changes as a result of merely reciting prayers and doing sadhanas alone. I think it is very difficult for the mind to improve when you simply spend all your time doing prayers without doing any reflection. But when you spend just 10 minutes every day, continuously for, say, a month, thinking about how to stop anger, you will be able to assess its usefulness at the end of the month.

Whether this happens or not depends on you experiencing it for yourself. Please do not misunderstand; I am not saying that you should discard your commitments and stop your daily prayers. Since you have made the promise to do so, you have to continue with your prayers, but do them happily.

Meditation exercise (2)

This is another piece of meditation homework for you to reflect on for the next couple of weeks. Put aside 10 to 15 minutes every day and reflect on the following points. If you can, reflect on all of them in the sequence given. If you do not have the time, then choose and meditate on the points you find most useful.

1. Visualise on the crown of your head your meditational deity and root guru. Remember that your meditational deity is inseparable in nature from your root guru.

2. Next, generate the motivation for doing this practice: “In order to achieve the enlightened state of my guru deity, I must perfect my practice of patience.”

3. Visualise that you are surrounded by all sentient beings, including your enemies who are in front of you, and make a mental pledge: “Even if all sentient beings were to rise up as my enemies, I will not be angry with them.” Making this kind of mental promise is particularly beneficial and helpful if you can sustain this mental commitment for the duration of your meditation session. You can promise to keep this commitment for 10 minutes, a longer period of time or even for a whole day, like the way you observe the eight Mahayana precepts.

4. In dealing with anger, it is imperative to reflect on the faults and disadvantages of anger. It is mentioned in the text, “There is no transgression like hatred.”

Anger not only destroys merits accumulated in the past, present and future but when anger is present in the mind, there is no room for virtuous states of mind to arise. For instance, when we dislike and are angry with someone, we are unable to rejoice even when that person is doing a virtuous action. Due to the presence of anger in our minds, we are unable to see the good qualities of that person. It also becomes difficult to generate positive thoughts towards the people who are close to our object of anger, such as their friends and relatives. It is also said that anger prevents the generation of higher spiritual qualities.

The opposite of anger is the practice of patience. As mentioned in the text, there is “no fortitude like patience.” With patience, we have the mental space to generate positive thoughts even towards our enemies.

5. Anger arises when we are harmed in some way, be it our bodies, possessions or reputation. Focusing on our enemy, we should check (1) whether it is the nature of that person to harm us, or (2) whether that tendency to harm us is adventitious (i.e., not inherent)?

If it is the nature of that person to cause problems for us, then there is no reason to be angry with him. Such anger would be like begrudging fire for having the nature to burn. When you put your hand in the fire, your hand is burnt. It would be foolish to be angry at the fire.

Different people have different natures. If the object of our anger is a troublesome person who usually speaks harshly, understanding that that is his nature, we will be less likely to become angry when he behaves badly. Even if anger arises, we would be able to stop it quickly and not be so bothered. We can see this from our own experience.

We may know that person to be good-hearted but due to certain causes and conditions coming together, he/she gets angry and harms us. This would be an adventitious fault on the part of the person. It would be good to find out why that person is behaving in such a way and not be angry or upset with him.

6. Now focus on ourselves. We want happiness and do not want suffering yet we allow ourselves to get angry with other people. Our behaviour contradicts our wishes and is completely inappropriate.

We are unable to bear being harmed in little ways and become angry, but our negative response means that we are accumulating the propelling /throwing karma for ourselves to be reborn in the lower realms. We destroy our own roots of virtue. We should realise how extremely foolish we are. Why? Because we are choosing to not sacrifice small sufferings to ward off the greater suffering of rebirth in the lower realms. When we endure small sufferings (by not becoming angry), then we do not have to experience the greater suffering of rebirth in the hells. So we need to correct our foolish behaviour.

7. Next, let us focus on our bodies, which are the bases for experiencing the pain of being harmed by weapons and so forth.

Our bodies are as fragile as a water bubble, unable to bear even the prick of a thorn. When attacked, besides the attacker and the weapon he uses, our bodies also contribute to the experience of pain. The very existence of this body lends itself to suffering. If we did not have such a body in the first place, we would not be harmed when attacked. Therefore, both the external conditions and our bodies are equal in contributing to our experience of pain when we are attacked. Since that is so, there is no reason for us to be angry only at the attacker or his weapon.

We tend to place the blame entirely on the attacker and never blame our own bodies. We need to stop thinking like this by understanding that the mere existence of our bodies plays a part in our experience of suffering and pain.

We have looked at some of the ways to weaken anger by focusing on :

  1. our enemies,
  2. ourselves, and
  3. our bodies.

Many reasons are given in the text, but they can be condensed into these three points above.

8. In addition, if you can, reflect on how the enemy has no freedom but is controlled by other factors. He gets angry and engages in harmful activities because he has no choice. But this is not how the enemy appears to us. We see him as being very solid, existing inherently without depending on causes and conditions, and we react by getting angry with him. We can stop this by reflecting on how he does not exist independently but is also subject to causes and conditions. We should see the enemy as an apparition or a dream. As long as the causes and conditions come together for the production of an event, that event will happen.


1  This meditation was set as a piece of homework to be done by the students.  [Return to text]

2  Chapter 6 of Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds by Shantideva. [Return to text]

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Generating joyous effort

In The Placement of Mindfulness, Buddha said that laziness is one of the bases for the generation of all our mental afflictions. Anyone who has laziness in their mental continua will find it difficult to engage in virtue. In order to overcome laziness, we have to rely on joyous effort.

To develop joyous effort in our minds, we have to eliminate its obstructing factors by relying on the favourable conditions for generating this quality. We also need to generate the four powers that are conducive conditions for its development.

What are some of the obstacles that prevent us from developing joyous effort?

We understand the need to practise Dharma and we know that we can practise but nothing gets done at the end of the day. Why does this happen?

  1. We procrastinate and postpone the practice to some time in the future, thinking, “I still have time and I will do it later.”
  2. We are completely overwhelmed by our attachment to worldly activities.
  3. Due to our low self-esteem, we think, “I can’t do this” and become discouraged.

To overcome the laziness of procrastination, we should reflect on how our bodies are disintegrating quickly as we move towards death. When death occurs, due to our failure to engage in any positive actions, we will fall into the lower realms. We should also remember how difficult it is to obtain this human life of leisure and opportunities.

To overcome the laziness of attachment to worldly activities, we should reflect on how Dharma practice is the source of happiness in both this and our future lives. The meaningless pursuit of reputation and worldly goals will only cause our virtue to degenerate and generate more suffering for us.

The other obstacle that prevents us from developing joyous effort is the thought, “I can’t do this. It is beyond me.” To overcome this, there are three different antidotes.

Some people become discouraged, thinking, “The Buddha was an exceptionally capable person. How can I ever hope to achieve his limitless qualities?” In this instance, we should reflect on how the Buddha attained buddhahood. In the beginning, the Buddha was like us. But he worked very hard and improved himself from life to life till he finally attained enlightenment. All the past buddhas were once ordinary beings like us. Buddha points out that if inferior beings such as animals and insects can achieve enlightenment, then obviously we can achieve enlightenment if we exert ourselves.

Others are discouraged at the thought of the extensive practices of the bodhisattvas such as the sacrifice of one’s limbs, in order to achieve enlightenment.  But the Buddha never expects us to make such sacrifices. In fact, he stipulates we should not do so until we have perfected our practice of giving - when giving away our bodies would mean no more to us than giving away a plate of food. We will not experience any difficulties then. By reflecting like this, we will be able to overcome this form of discouragement.

Yet, there are still others who are discouraged by the thought of how the bodhisattvas have to take rebirth repeatedly in cyclic existence and suffer there in order to benefit sentient beings. But when the superior bodhisattvas (who have achieved the direct realisation of emptiness and have abandoned all their afflictions) take rebirth in cyclic existence, they do not experience any physical suffering. Because of their direct perception of emptiness, all samsaric sufferings appear illusory to them and they do not experience any mental unhappiness. These superior bodhisattvas are, therefore, both physically and mentally happy when they are abiding in cyclic existence. Again, there are no grounds for this form of discouragement.

By depending on the various antidotes, we can overcome all the different forms of discouragement.

We also have to cultivate the four powers conducive to the development of joyous effort. We rely on the power of aspiration to generate joyous effort for the first time. Then, we rely on the power of stability (or steadfastness) to prevent this joyous effort from degenerating, rendering it irreversible. When engaging in virtuous work, we should do so with great delight and enthusiasm by cultivating the power of joy, which is like the joy of a child completely engrossed in play.

Having developed joyous effort, we also have to be skilful in its application. In the process of cultivating virtue, we may overtax ourselves and our health may deteriorate. We then need to cultivate the power of relinquishment and suspend our activities, either temporarily or completely.

Some texts mention two additional powers that are also included in the root text though they are not explicitly named. These are the power of earnest application and the power of mastery. We need to generate very powerful antidotes to overcome our negative emotions. In order to do this, we have to generate the power of earnest application where we apply ourselves to the cultivation of mindfulness and vigilance. Through such application, we gain mastery over our bodies and minds, which can then be employed for virtue as and when we wish. Negative emotions are easily subdued. This is the power of mastery.

Developing joyous effort makes it easier to accomplish calm abiding. On the basis of calm abiding, we can then cultivate special insight focusing on emptiness. This becomes the direct antidote to our negative emotions, which can be removed from the root.

Why joyous effort does not come easy

Gyalsab Je said that those of us interested in seeking liberation need to develop joyous effort in order to enter into and bring the path to completion. Entering the path alone is not enough. Once we embark on the path, we need to apply joyous effort to bring the path to completion. In order to develop joyous effort, we need to rely on the four powers:­

  1. the power of aspiration
  2. the power of stability (or steadfastness)
  3. the power of joy, and
  4. the power of relinquishment

The reason why joyous effort does not come easily for us and we are unable to develop the four powers is due to our lack of clarity with regard to what we really want. We are not clear about our own goals and what we are looking for. We are stuck in this confusing situation. Therefore, joyous effort does not arise in us. In order to develop joyous effort, first, we need to have the stable faith of conviction in karma. This is what the first power, the power of aspiration, means. This power is developed on the basis of having this stable faith of conviction in karma. We have to reflect on karma: its nature, its causes and its effects and generate a stable faith in its workings. Only then will we have the basis for developing joyous effort.

Advice from the Kadampa masters

The great Kadampa masters said: All sentient beings possess buddha nature, but when they do not make the effort to awaken it, there is no way they can obtain a higher rebirth, liberation or enlightenment.”

Butter comes from milk but simply staring at the pot of milk will not turn it into butter. The milk must be churned. The same applies to our aspiration to higher rebirth, liberation and enlightenment for the sake of sentient beings. Although we have the potential to achieve all these, we must put in the effort to awaken that potential by practising the Buddhadharma. Otherwise, nothing happens.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness
Only as supports for practicing virtue 

The Buddha said that the body is, by nature, unclean and arises from impure causes. Our bodies are appropriated, contaminated physical aggregates which have to experience the sufferings of old age and death. At the very end, they only become food for vultures and worms.

We foolishly see our bodies as pleasant, as objects of attachment and we accumulate so much negative karma in order to sustain them, using them for meaningless activities. But, when the time of death comes, the Lord of Death will take them away from us against our wishes. When the great practitioners examine the body, they see no reason to be attached to it.

How should we sustain our bodies then? Remember the analogies of giving the servants wages when the servants work, or seeing the body as a boat for coming and going? We should sustain our bodies with the motivation of using them to engage in virtue.

Guntang Rinpoche said the same thing in his collection of advice. He described the body as like an autumn flower which deteriorates a little with each passing day. Therefore, there is no point in being attached to it and it is a mistake to sustain it out of attachment, as we will only accumulate negative karma by doing so.

No one is saying we should not take care of or sustain our bodies but we should not do so out of attachment. We need to sustain the body and we should know how to sustain the body. We should ensure that our bodies become supporting conditions for us to engage in virtue. That is how we should care for our bodies.

Grasping at unclean phenomena as clean

An example of our attachment to unclean phenomena is sexual desire. Our strong desire for the bodies of others is due to our erroneous conception grasping at them as clean when, in reality, they are unclean. Once we understand the filthy nature of the body, there is no basis for the arising of attachment.

The Buddha mentions in the sutras that our bodies are filth-making machines. We know this is true when we analyse this further. Our whole body is filled with so many unclean, unpleasant substances that it seems to be no more than a filth-producing factory. Yet, we have strong attachment to our own bodies. We need to meditate on this and when done well, it can definitely reduce our attachment to our bodies.

The sutras mention that the childish, grasping at unclean things to be clean, will even eat snot and pus, just like maggots who consume pus produced by the body due to their attachment. The sutras also mention that, when we leave our bodies alone – if we didn’t wash our bodies – they would stink. Yet we remain attached to our bodies as bees to honey.

One of the commentaries says that it is one of the greatest signs of our confusion and ignorance that we are attached to the bodies of others. This attachment is like someone taking refuge at the foot of a tree at night. In the darkness, he cannot see that the tree is surrounded by piles of dirty things and he may even sleep on top of this filth. At sunrise, when he can see clearly what he had slept on, he will be disgusted at the sight. In the same way, when we reflect and meditate on and realise the unclean nature of our bodies and the bodies of others, we will also be repelled and disgusted. Our attachment will then be reduced.

Our bodies are like hotel rooms

Gungtang Rinpoche reminds us that our bodies are like hotel rooms which we stay in for a limited period of time. Yet, for the sake of this “borrowed” body, we do many things to protect, improve and make it happy. At the end of the day, what does this “I,” the guest of this hotel room that we cherish so much, get in return? How much real happiness has this guest experienced? What about the suffering and the problems encountered by this “I”? We need to think about this.

We grasp at the body as being the “self” or belonging to the “self.” Based on these conceptions, we engage in many activities to ensure its happiness and freedom from suffering. But the suffering and problems persist and we never experience any everlasting happiness. Therefore, by understanding that our bodies are like hotel rooms, we should overcome our attachment to them.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche 

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “We can see with our own eyes that, at the time of death, there is no difference between the young and old. One has to go on to the next life.

"When people die suddenly, even though we may witness this with our own eyes, our minds remain unmoved. We continue to believe that we will live forever and that we will not die soon.  We have to overcome this mistaken conception.

" Until we are convinced, 'I will definitely die one day,' there is no way we can generate the path or any realisations in our minds. If we are unable to generate deeply from our hearts the realisation that death is certain and the time of death is most uncertain, our Dharma practice will remain only at the level of words.”

In other words, it is only when we have generated the realisation of our impending death and the uncertainty as to when it will happen will we be motivated to engage in wholesome activities and direct our minds towards virtue. Whatever practices we are doing – be it cultivating conscientiousness or trying to defeat our negative emotions – when we meditate on death and impermanence, we will definitely be able to do those practices.

We may be interested in the profound teachings on emptiness and the generation and completion stages of tantra. However, when we do not train our minds gradually in the proper way, when we do not put effort into the preliminary practices, such as this essential meditation on death and impermanence, then we will remain in a rut and never progress in our Dharma practice. Without this realisation of death and impermanence, we can forget about the subsequent realisations of the path, as they will not happen.

Reflecting on death and impermanence does not mean seeing how people are dying but using these experiences as examples for ourselves. The main thing is to reflect on how we will definitely die one day and how this is the very nature of our existence.

Without meditating on death and impermanence, even when we engage in virtue, that virtue will be imperfect and impure, as it will be mixed with the negative emotions. Our virtue will not become Dharma and, instead, become one of the eight worldly dharmas.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Advice that is to be hammered like a nail into the mind 

A faithful student went to his guru, a high lama, for advice that would be “hammered like a nail into the mind” i.e., advice which goes directly to one’s heart and brings about some real transformation. This is what his guru said:

First, we pay homage, “I prostrate to the venerable lamas.” If you have the desire to practise the Dharma, listen to these words.

This precious human rebirth that can fulfil great purposes is difficult to obtain and can easily be lost as the time of death is uncertain. Nothing else except the Dharma can benefit us in our future lives.

There is no point in just listening to the words – you must put them into practice. Don’t you regret all the precious time that you have already wasted in this life?  Having accumulated so many negativities, you will be reborn in the lower realms. Once born there, it will be difficult for you to endure the inexpressible sufferings there.

If you want to practise the Dharma, you have to do it now. You are now sitting on the border between happiness and suffering. If you only accumulate negativities, you are opening the door to the lower realms. If that happens, it is not due to the fault of external demons or spirits.

When you live your life according to and not against the law of cause and effect, then taking refuge in the Three Jewels will be an infallible source of protection. From now on, go for refuge from your heart to the Three Jewels. From now on, whatever you do, let karma be your witness. If you knowingly jump over the cliff and expect someone to pull you up again, that is a vain hope. Renunciation, bodhicitta and the correct view are the essence of all the scriptures of the Conqueror.

The essence of the above advice is that if one knowingly accumulates negativities, that can only result in rebirth in the lower realms. Once there, we will find the suffering unbearable. Despite knowing this, we continue to hope that the Triple Gem will protect us by making prayers, “May I be reborn in Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Amitabha.” This is wishful thinking.

Having taken a human rebirth, all the favourable conditions are assembled now and it is important to place as many imprints as possible in our mental continua. From this very moment, we should try to make sure that virtuous imprints are placed in our minds. If we are unable to meditate and  unable to place many imprints in our mental continua, at the very least, we can make aspirational prayers. But, instead of moving our minds towards the Dharma, we expect the Dharma to come to us. This is a very arrogant way of thinking.

The guru is the source of all the excellent collections, morality or ethics is the foundation of all the qualities, and keeping pure vows and samaya is the source of all attainments. It is not sufficient to leave it at that. One must actually make these conditions come about for oneself. While we have all the favourable circumstances, we should practise right now. When the Lord of Death catches us, it would be too late.

At the time of death, we will have frightful visions of the messengers of death. By then, it will be too late to do anything. We talk about and listen to the Dharma but it is very rare for us to put the Dharma into practice. If we practise whatever we know, even if it is a single piece of advice or a single word, we benefit. But if we know a lot but do not practise, then it is useless.

The worst kind of self-deception 

Reflect on this: For most of our samsaric existences, we had been circling in the lower realms.  This time, however, we have achieved a human rebirth. Not only that, we have even met the Mahayana teachings and, on top of that, we have the opportunity now to study this very wonderful, perfect text by the bodhisattva Shantideva  that talks about the deeds of the bodhisattvas. Whether we understand everything in the text or not, we should rejoice at the mere fact that we have this opportunity to simply look at the text. So be happy and rejoice.

Listening to the teachings should be done joyfully and enthusiastically from your own side and not out of a mistaken sense of obligation, “Since other people are going for class, I should go too.” This is not beneficial at all. When we engage in virtue, we should be able to decide for ourselves as it would be meaningless for us to depend on others for this.

When we know how to think, we should be able to uplift our minds to make ourselves happy. Then, just listening to the teachings alone is, in itself, a joy. On top of that, if we can reflect or meditate on the teachings, then there is even more reason to be happy and to rejoice.

We should try not to waste our human rebirth. As mentioned in chapter 1, when we misuse and waste our human lives, there is nothing more foolish than this. It is the worst kind of self-deception.

Taking the essence 

Understanding that the precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once,
Is greatly meaningful, and is difficult to find again,
Please bless me to generate the mind that unceasingly,
Day and night, takes its essence.
(from The Foundation of all Good Qualities by Lama Tsongkhapa)

We should reflect on this regularly and, day and night, strive to take the essence of this meaningful opportunity that we have. Not only have we obtained a human body but our faculties and senses are all complete. We have the opportunity to listen to and study Dharma teachings. When we reflect deeply on this, we will be amazed at and rejoice in our good fortune.

While all the conditions for us to study and practise exist, it remains up to us to study or practise the teachings.

It is questionable whether we will obtain such a rebirth again in our next lives. As the prayer says, “The precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once, is greatly meaningful and is difficult to find again.”  Since we have obtained such a rebirth, it is important that we do something meaningful with it. We already find it difficult to practise with all the conducive conditions we have. There is no guarantee that our faculties or senses will be complete or perfect even if we were to obtain another human rebirth.

Practice will become even more difficult then. So, we need to study and practise right now.

I know many of you recite this prayer, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, on a daily basis but you should not leave it simply at that level. You should reflect on the meaning of the verses, especially the one dealing with the precious human rebirth. By doing so, it encourages you to practise the Dharma.

Every day, we can see for ourselves the instability of this human life. We are not immune to sickness. Many people are well one day and sick the next and within a short time, they die and move on to the next life. While we are still healthy, we should not postpone our Dharma studies and practice, as it will be too late to do so when we suddenly fall ill. We may wish to practise the Dharma then but our bodies will not allow us to do so.  The same applies to our studies. They should not be postponed. When we have the time, it is good to continue to come to class to listen to the teachings and to apply and put into practice, as much as we can, whatever we have learnt.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

The purpose of Dharma practice 

The purpose of engaging in Dharma practice is to remove suffering and to improve our minds. When our Dharma practice leads to suffering, then I do not see the point in doing it. Dharma practice is essentially performed with our minds and should be done willingly from one’s own side and should contribute to the removal of suffering.

When one understands the purpose, one would not feel forced to practise. Instead, the practice will be done with great enthusiasm.

Creating obstacles for ourselves 

We should not be lazy when it comes to our Dharma practice or studies. Sometimes we think, “I am getting old, I am not intelligent enough to understand this, I do not have enough time” and so forth and we put ourselves down. Thinking in this way, we are hindering ourselves from taking advantage of the opportunity for Dharma studies and practice. Because of this way of thinking, we do not study and practise and become lazy.

We should not stop ourselves from our fair share of Dharma practice and studying. All of us are different. Some are predisposed towards anger, others towards mental distractions. The angry ones may think, “I am the angry type. There is no hope for me. It is impossible for me to meditate on compassion. Forget about it.” Thinking in this way, they do not give themselves the opportunity to improve. Others may think, “My mind is so distracted. There is no way I can meditate and develop concentration.” Again, thinking like this, they stop themselves from being able to change.

The point here is not to create obstacles for our own Dharma practice. Instead, we should open the door to our Dharma practice and studies. We have already discussed the human life of leisure and opportunity. We should reflect on this. All the good conditions are gathered together to enable us to study and practise and we also have the ability to do so. Remembering this, we should encourage and persuade ourselves to study and practise Dharma.

Time management

It is your responsibility to manage your time and to adjust your lifestyle in such a way that Dharma practice and studies can fit into your life in a comfortable and nice way without your feeling stressed. It is pointless to force and push yourself too hard. Then you become depressed and end up feeling that your Dharma practice and studies are making you suffer even more. It is pointless if you end up like that.

One has to expect some difficulties when it comes to practising and studying the Buddhadharma. Everything is difficult. The moment you move your body to start doing anything, the difficulties begin.

Ours is a materially advanced and progressive society.  But there are also many instances of mental frustration, stress, anxiety and mental suffering. These sufferings already exist. So we should not create more suffering with our Dharma practice and studies. That is never the point. The point here is to do things at a comfortable pace.

Our motivation 

Whether the outcome of a course of action is positive or negative depends on the originating intention or motivation. A virtuous intention produces positive results and a negative intention produces bad results. Therefore, we should always rely on mindfulness and vigilance to keep our minds in a virtuous state. We assert that attending teachings is a virtuous act. However, if the motivation for listening to the teachings is not virtuous, then being present and listening to the teachings is not necessarily virtuous.

A beneficial motivation would be to think, “Whatever knowledge I get in class, I am going to blend it with my mind and try to practise it as much as possible.” When we make the effort to practise, we can have positive experiences that will give us the understanding and confidence that the Dharma we are studying and practising really works. What is the result of such positive experiences? Faith in the Dharma will naturally arise and faith in our virtuous friend and guru will be generated from the depths of our hearts.

The problem is that people attend but do not apply the teachings in their daily lives. When the teachings we hear remain simply at an intellectual level for us, without our practising them, it is very difficult for us to generate faith in the Dharma. We do not taste the Dharma. Without such faith, it becomes very difficult to talk about generating faith in our guru who gives us the teachings. But when we blend the teachings with our minds and try to practise them, then over time, the quality of our minds will improve; we become more good-hearted and so forth. Our faith in the Dharma and our guru also increase.

Therefore, it is important that before engaging in any action, we should ask ourselves, “Am I motivated by a positive or negative state of mind?”

The practice of offerings 

When making unsurpassable offerings, we should think, “Just as the great bodhisattva Samantabhadra emanated countless replicas of himself, making offerings filling the entire space, to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, I shall make offerings in the same way.”

Samantabhadra is not only a bodhisattva but an arya bodhisattva abiding in the grounds. Bodhisattvas like Samantabhadra made such extensive offerings in order to complete the accumulation of merit. Relying on the factor of wisdom is not enough to enable them to achieve the final goal of enlightenment, because they still have the obstructions to omniscience, and removing these obstructions require vast stores of merit.

If such a bodhisattva makes such extensive offerings to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, it goes without saying that we ordinary beings, who are bound by our afflictions, must do likewise.

We need to make extensive offerings “in order to seize that precious mind” of bodhicitta. It is very difficult to generate bodhicitta especially when our minds are not purified of their obscurations and negativities. We need to accumulate the collection of merit so that the favourable conditions for generating bodhicitta can arise.


Prostrating with our speech means we offer praises to the buddhas with a melodious voice. Prostrating with our minds means reflecting on the qualities of the Buddha and generating faith towards him.  Prostrating with our bodies involves touching the five points of one’s body to the ground or performing the full length prostration.

Our prostrations should always be preceded by reciting the prostration mantra, Om Namo Manjushriye Namo Sushriye Namo Uttama Shriye Soha. There are inconceivable benefits to doing this. By reciting this mantra, every prostration performed is equivalent to one thousand prostrations and the benefit is comparable to hearing and reflecting on the meanings of the three scriptural collections. It is said that when we prostrate continuously after reciting this mantra, we can achieve the path of seeing in this very life itself.

Whether we benefit from our prostrations depends on how well we perform them, our ability to sustain our visualisation and keep our minds focussed on what we need to do with our bodies, speech and mind throughout the prostration. The quality of the prostration is most important, the quantity less so.

There is much to contemplate as we perform each stage of the prostration, placing our palms on our crowns, throats and hearts. We are also advised to visualise countless replicas of ourselves when prostrating. The main thing is to generate faith in the Three Jewels. We will reap the benefits if we reflect properly during the prostration.

Usually, our bodies are prostrating but our minds are distracted. Although we can still accumulate merit from performing such physical prostrations, obviously the merit we accumulate is far greater when our speech and minds are also engaged in the practice.

We are performing prostrations everyday and even if we cannot do many of them at the moment, we can, at least, make a commitment to make three prostrations in the morning and at night as a daily minimum. In this way, we accumulate six prostrations every day.

We should not feel this is a burdensome chore but, instead, we should contemplate and understand the benefits and prostrate voluntarily from our own side to the Three Jewels. Even with six prostrations a day, multiplied by whatever number of days we have left in this life, by the end of this life, we will have accumulated thousands of prostrations.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field 

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “In these degenerate times, when sentient beings have very little merit and our minds are so weak and degenerate, it is very important to make strong requests to our personal deities for blessings. We should work very hard at accumulating merit and purifying our minds of obscurations. It is important to make offerings, prostrations and engage in the practices of the seven limbs.”

Generally speaking, our motivation determines whether our actions are virtuous or not. When our motivation is virtuous, then our actions are also virtuous. But all actions performed in relation to the merit field or to the holy objects are exceptions to this rule. Even when we make offerings or prostrations to the merit field or holy objects with an incorrect motivation, we still accumulate a great deal of merit. This is due to the power of the merit field and the holy objects.

You should therefore grasp the opportunity to rely on holy objects and the merit field to accumulate merit and purify your karma, especially those of you who really want to study the Buddha’s teachings and complete your studies.

It is very difficult to complete your studies, no matter how hard you study, if you do not strive to do this.  This is my own experience from my life in the monastery. There is no guarantee that those who are naturally more intelligent or who do well in their studies can complete them. Generally, those who work at accumulating merit, purifying their negative karma, and making whole-hearted requests to their gurus and special deities are the ones who make it in the end and successfully complete their studies. Those who are more intelligent tend to take things easy and do not work as hard, whereas those who are not so intelligent realise that they have to work harder.

Supplication to the guru-deity 

When we look at the example set by Lama Tsongkhapa in his life story, we see how extremely important it is to make requests continuously to one’s deity and  to strive in accumulating merits and purifying obscurations in order to have some success in our practice, especially if we aspire to realise emptiness. Therefore, when we recite the Heart Sutra, the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa, the prayer, Dependent Arising - A Praise of the Buddha and so on, we should recite them with the motivation of creating the causes for us to complete our studies and to accumulate merit.

When we make requests to our personal deity, we should do so by seeing the deity as inseparable from our root guru. This supplication should be made with single-pointed devotion as shown in the Guru Puja:

You are my guru, you are my yidam,
You are the dakinis and Dharma protectors.
From now until enlightenment I shall seek no other refuge than you,
In this life, the bardo and all future lives,
Hold me with your hook of compassion;
Free me from samsara and nirvana’s fears,
Grant all attainments,
Be my constant friend and guard me from interferences.
(Verse 53)

We see here that the supplication to the guru-deity is not only to be cared for in this life but also in the intermediate state and all future lives to come.

In the monasteries we recite many prayers, sometimes doing so for one to two hours. The purpose of doing so many prayers is to accumulate merit for success in our debating and studies. Sometimes, we even recite the Praises to Twenty-one Taras 70 to 80 times. By comparison, therefore, what we recite in class is nothing as the duration is very short. I thought it is good to give you some perspective. There are some students who may wonder why we are reciting so many prayers and they may feel bored. There are others who think reciting mantras is more beneficial than reciting prayers. Reciting prayers is definitely beneficial. There are only two possibilities: Recite mantras or prayers or do both. When you hold the position that one does not benefit, then you have to say that the other is also useless. This is my own view on this matter. I think that reciting mantras or reciting prayers brings the same benefit.

Focussing on three things 

When we study the Great Treatises in our quest to understand and realise dependent origination, we have to focus on three things:

  1. Making whole-hearted requests to our  guru-deity
  2. Continuously studying and analysing the treatises and
  3. Accumulating merit and purifying obscurations

Some intelligent students may think, “I have sharp faculties. I will be able to study these Great Treatises without accumulating merit.” Such students, who focus only on studying and do not perform any purification practices or work at accumulating merit, may learn something but they will never be able to complete their studies. Instead, they will encounter many obstacles and find it difficult to understand the treatises, especially the teachings on emptiness.

Then there are those who do not study at all thinking, “Studying is not important. I will concentrate on accumulating merit and purifying my negative karma. That is enough.” There is no way such people can realise emptiness without Listening to, studying and reflecting on the great treatises, especially the presentations on dependent origination.

Can we realise emptiness and the meaning of dependent origination simply by making requests to the guru-deities? This is also impossible. We may supplicate our guru-deities with single-pointed faith, “Please grant me blessings to realise emptiness.” But that alone will not bring the realisation we seek.

So, the three things must go together hand-in-hand: supplicating our guru-deities, studying and analysing the great treatises, accumulating merit and purifying negativities. This is what Lama Tsongkhapa did and we should follow his example.

Doing our own Dharma practice 

Whether we are prostrating or reciting OM MANI PADME HUM it is our responsibility to make this beneficial for our minds by doing this happily and willingly from our hearts. It is a mistake to think that studying or listening to the teachings is purely to accumulate information and knowledge, leaving our hearts and minds untouched.

We have to do our own Dharma practice. We should mind our own instead of other people’s business, focus on our practice and check our progress to see how far we have been able to apply what we have learnt. Dharma should be used to check up on ourselves, not others. It is not hard to find examples of good practitioners. When we look at the examples set by the holy beings, we should be inspired to strive and pray to be like them one day.

Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga 

And please remain stable, without separation from my body, speech,
And mind, until I attain enlightenment.

This is an important prayer from the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice we have just recited. It is important for us to think and pray that Lama Tsongkhapa is in our hearts all the time. It makes a definite difference to our sense of being taken care of by him in all our future lives by being able to meet his teachings again. Meditating on the inseparability of the great Lama Tsongkhapa at our hearts is also one of the best ways of doing the protection wheel meditation to protect ourselves from spirit harms and the different kinds of obstacles.

We benefit from visualising with faith, Lama Tsongkhapa abiding in our hearts, as he embodies the protectors of the three lineages, Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani. This visualisation helps in developing a good heart since Lama Tsongkhapa is inseparable from Chenrezig. We also develop our wisdom because Lama Tsongkhapa is the manifestation of Manjushri and since he also embodies Vajrapani, it helps us to overcome our problems and obstacles. So if we do this practice with faith, we enjoy all these benefits. Furthermore, it will help us to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings again in all our future lives.

There is also a great difference when we meditate on guru devotion conjoined with entrusting ourselves to Lama Tsongkhapa abiding in our hearts. This is because Lama Tsongkhapa, embodying the protectors of the three lineages, is the definitive spiritual master. Relying on him as our protector, with strong faith and with the determination to accomplish all his wishes and advice, he becomes our ultimate object of refuge.

There are many different kinds of prayers we can do on top of the many commitments we may have. But it will be very beneficial if we can do this visualisation with this short practice of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga.

Increasing our happy thoughts 

Gungtang Rinpoche advises, “Even if you owned mountain-high piles of gold, enough to cover the entire country, at the time of death, you will not be able to bring along a single atom of it with you. On the other hand, by reciting a mantra like OM MANI PADME HUM just once, that can open the door to a good rebirth in your future life. Simply reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is very beneficial.”

Analysing our situation more deeply, we can understand that material wealth cannot really benefit us, even in future lives. In fact, the more we own, the more we grasp at these things, increasing our self-cherishing and attachment which only create more negative karma that will not benefit us in our future lives.

Sometimes, we think, “I will definitely achieve something and I will be happier and more satisfied if I am rich in this life.” But if we profess to attach greater importance to the happiness of our future lives, then having this kind of worldly goal is incorrect. If we are concerned with this life alone, then that is a different matter. Otherwise, our goal should not be like that.

Reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is just an example. We should engage in our meditation practice and daily prayers or a single recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM with the conviction and single-pointed faith that we will definitely achieve happiness in our future lives. We need to generate that faith of conviction and be happy with whatever we are doing. Rejoice that we are doing this wonderful practice. It would be very good if we can do this.

The whole point of practising the Dharma is to remove suffering and misery. Some people think like this: “I am just a nobody in this life. I am poor and will probably stay that way. I will never amount to anything.” Thinking like that only brings unhappiness.

Practising the Dharma is to increase whatever happy thoughts we may have. We need to know how to be happy. We should think: “Even if I do not become rich, at least now I have the opportunity to study and practise the teachings and I am creating the causes for happiness in my future lives.” We need to generate this belief, to have this faith of conviction and to feel happy doing our practices by seeing the purpose in what we are doing. In his advice, Gungtang Rinpoche is telling us to practise the Dharma because it creates the cause for our happiness. As the lam-rim says, at the time of death, only the Dharma helps.

Practice of nyung-nä  

I have been requested to talk a little about the nyung-nä practice, especially on how to mix it with what we have learnt so far about generating the altruistic intention. Gungtang Rinpoche says that if someone were to ask this question: “If there is a very evil person who has accumulated a great deal of negative karma, what is the best and fastest way for him to create the cause for and to achieve enlightenment?” His reply would be, “The best practice for such a person would be the nyung-nä.”

It was mentioned in the previous lesson that a single recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM definitely becomes a cause for us to experience happiness in our future lives.

Gungtang Rinpoche says that amongst all the mantras, the best one is OM MANI PADME HUM and reciting it with the nyung-nä practice has skies of inconceivable benefits.

His Holiness often says that reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is a very good practice. He points out that when we recite the mantras of Medicine Buddha, White Tara or Dzambala, our motivation for doing so is somehow connected to the affairs of this life. We recite the Medicine Buddha mantra for good health or to get rid of sicknesses. We recite the White Tara mantra to clear life obstacles and for longevity and we recite the Dzambala mantra for wealth.

But when we recite OM MANI PADME HUM we do so solely with the motivation to benefit others and to develop a good heart. His Holiness said that it is a very good thing to recite OM MANI PADME HUM because the motivation is very good. That is why we can say that OM MANI PADME HUM is probably the best of all the mantras.

Whatever we do, when it is mixed with the affairs of this life, it is difficult for these activities to be Dharma. For anything to be Dharma, it cannot be mixed with grasping at the happiness of this life. All the valid texts say the same thing.

In the nyung-nä sadhana, there is the practice of the self and front generation of the deity. If you have received the Great Chenrezig initiation, on the basis of holding divine pride, you generate yourself as Chenrizig with clear appearance and you proceed with the rest of the practice.

The most important things to do in a nyung-nä practice are:

  1. Generating divine pride of oneself as the deity with clear appearance.
  2. Seeing one’s fellow retreatants as the deity one has self-generated.

In this way, there is no basis for jealousy, competitiveness, pride, anger and so forth to arise. This is the ideal way of doing nyung-nä.

The motivation for doing nyung-nä should be to benefit others. The motivation should not be purely to purify sicknesses or spirit harm nor should it be to fulfil a commitment, so that one is only doing it out of obligation. Rather, the motivation for doing the nyung-nä should be to purify our minds of obscurations and negative karma in order to quickly achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others. We usually do not think in this big way but only consider limited worldly goals. But when we focus on the big picture, then all the small obstacles will be eliminated along the way, without our having to even think about them.

Since the nyung-nä is a Mahayana practice, it has to be done with the Mahayana motivation of benefiting others, without any self-interest. When we have the thought, “I am doing this to get rid of my obstacles,” that is a selfish motivation. When the nyung-nä is done with such a motivation, it is questionable whether the practice is Dharma. When the motivation is insincere and does not come from the heart, the whole practice is no longer Dharma. Not only is it not Dharma, you have to spend two or three days suffering with no food and water, feeling tired and, perhaps, even generating anger.

So it is very important to try, as far as possible, to have the correct motivation for doing the practice. Of course, that is not easy because our self-cherishing is very strong. But the point is to try to have a good motivation as far as possible.

Relating the nyung-nä to what we have studied so far, you should take the opportunity to reflect on the faults of the self-cherishing attitude. You should investigate from every angle how your self-cherishing attitude is the source of all your unwanted experiences, problems and suffering. You should also examine how cherishing others is the source of happiness.

During the nyung-nä, you can start by practising with the persons sitting on your left and right, thinking how you are all equal in the sense of wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Even if there had been some misunderstanding or conflict in the past with these people, think: “That person wants to be happy just like me. Like me, that person does not want to suffer.”  On that basis, try to remove those feelings of resentment and aversion and try to help one another.

When you engage in the nyung-nä practice, you do so with your body, speech and mind. Physically, you will probably be making many prostrations. You will be using your speech to recite the prayers and mantras. When you are reciting the mantras, it is not like ordinary speech. You should remember the power and the benefits of reciting the mantra of Chenrezig. Mentally, you guard against the arising of anger and attachment for the duration of the nyung-nä. The essential thing is to do the practice, as far as possible, always with the thought to benefit others and to try to minimise the thoughts of jealousy, competitiveness and so forth.

Generating oneself as the deity and also seeing the other participants as deities during the retreat means there would be no basis for anger to arise, since we should not be angry at a deity. Instead, you should cultivate mutual respect and consideration for one another. If you can do this, then the practical benefit will be that you can continue to be friends with that person even after finishing the nyung-nä.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Why faith is crucial 

All the different sutras and commentaries are the same in that they all point to faith as the very root of all virtuous activities.

It is extremely important to have this single-pointed faith in the presentation of the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels and in the law of cause and effect and so on because then mental transformation and improvement become possible.

Faith is important in all religious traditions. Look at our Christian friends. Because of their faith in God, their understanding of and conviction in God’s work, they engage in so many beneficial activities to help others. In essence, they become better people.

It is the same with Buddhists. Those who have the faith of conviction in the Buddha’s teachings also engage in virtuous activities such as practising generosity and so forth. Whatever religion we are talking about, it all boils down to faith.

When we have the single-pointed faith of conviction in the Three Jewels, we would naturally try to live our lives in accordance with Buddha’s advice. Similarly, when we have faith in the law of cause and effect, we would live our lives according to those principles, striving to abandon that which should be abandoned and cultivating that which should be cultivated.

With faith, the aspiration for the goal of liberation and enlightenment would naturally arise and joyous perseverance in putting in the effort to achieve our goal would also arise of its own accord. We would not need someone to coax, force or encourage us. Laziness, the state of mind disinterested in virtue, would stop.

In dependence on joyous perseverance, we can then investigate: What are the things we should abandon and cultivate? Based on this analysis, after having ascertained what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, the result is belief in that.

Leaving matters at the level of belief is not enough. Having ascertained this knowledge, we should remember and familiarise our minds with it. By using what we have ascertained as the object of our mindfulness, we can then develop single-pointed concentration.

The object of our single-pointed concentration becomes the basis for us to develop a special kind of exalted wisdom, which enables us to ascertain the nature of reality. This wisdom realising emptiness is the very tool we can use to cut the root of cyclic existence, i.e., the self-grasping conception, together with its seeds. This is the way to achieve liberation.

Before we can generate this exalted wisdom realising emptiness, we must first develop single-pointed concentration. In order to develop this concentration, we must first have the special kind of mindfulness that does not forget its object. What are we mindful of? We are basically mindful of an object that we have already ascertained.

To be mindful of an object, we have to first understand or realise that object. Before developing that kind of mindfulness, we need to have belief, i.e., the mind that comes about after the valid cognition that has ascertained its object.

Before we can develop that kind of belief, we must first have the aspiration that is the impetus for us to realise that object in the first place. Where does this aspiration come from? We need to have faith. Without faith, we cannot generate aspiration. We can see then how faith is the root of all good qualities.

There are many different kinds of faith. There is the faith in the minds of those with sharp faculties and those with dull faculties. There are those who have blind faith and those whose faith arises only after analysis and reasoning.

We must have faith in the Buddha’s teachings but before that can happen, we must first understand what those teachings are. We must study, listen, read, think and so forth and on the basis of such activities, we can generate irreversible faith. Irreversible faith can only be generated on the basis of investigating the teachings and understanding them using logic and reasoning.

We should then generate this motivation for listening to and studying the teachings: “Faith is the source of all the higher qualities, all virtuous actions. Since that is the case, in order to develop this irreversible faith in the teachings of the Buddha, I am listening to and studying the teachings.”

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Don’t be like a hopping rabbit! 

Guntang Rinpoche said once we are able to generate stable faith, then joyous perseverance for virtue would naturally arise. But if our faith is unstable, like a hopping rabbit - sometimes strong, sometimes not there at all – then even our prostrations, for example, will merely serve to whip up dust from the ground.

It is also important that we have strong and stable faith in our spiritual masters or gurus.

We also need to develop a strong and stable faith of conviction in the need to analyse and study the teachings of the Buddha. Having such faith in the importance of studying the teachings will help us to complete our studies. Then, no matter how busy we may be, we will always set aside time for our studies.

We will not accomplish or complete our studies if our faith in its importance is like that of a hopping rabbit – sometimes studying, and at other times, slacking off.

Once we have decided, from the very depths of our hearts, that this is something that is very good for us and we must do it, then naturally we will put effort into pursuing our studies. This is because we see for ourselves the need for and the purpose of studying all these subjects. It all boils down to whether we are able to generate in our own minds this determination from the heart. This will then determine whether the effort will spontaneously arise from our side or not.

Our faith in our studies should not be like a hopping rabbit. At the beginning of each module, we feel, “I must study as this is very important.” As the course progresses, however, so does our boredom. When that happens, nothing will be accomplished. The point here is that effort must be applied continuously.

We must keep this in mind. This is not to say that we will not encounter any difficulties during the course of our studies. It is not easy. But when we have this determination from the depths of our hearts thinking, “This is something I must do in this life and I should not miss out on this opportunity,” we will put aside time and the effort will come.

Without this determination from our own side, from the depths of our hearts, no matter how perfectly all the most favourable conditions come together for one to study, everything will be very difficult.

Developing faith depends on us 

It is very important that we begin with studying extensively and then reflecting on and analysing what we have learnt. Only then can we gain firm ascertainment of the teachings, which should be followed by constant meditation on them. In this way, realisations can come and extraordinary faith in our teachers and in the great composers of the treatises will arise.

Different levels of faith are generated in this process. When we first listen to and have some understanding of the teachings from our guru, we develop some faith in him. Our faith in our guru deepens when we reflect on and ascertain the teachings we have received from him. Then, when we meditate and develop some realisations based on his instructions, we will generate extraordinary faith in our guru. From there, we can generate irreversible faith in the lineage lamas going all the way back to the Buddha himself.

We can see from this that the power of our faith depends on whether we have done extensive studying, reflection and meditation. The greater the faith in our teachers, the greater will be our effort to put the teachings into practice. Then, we will definitely be able to pacify and remove our suffering.

The sutras say that faith is the foundation of all our virtue. A mind without faith cannot generate virtue just as a burnt seed is unable to produce a plant. When we strongly develop the correct kind of faith, our virtue will increase. For such faith to arise in our minds, we have to study, reflect and meditate on the teachings. We must understand the reasons for and the importance of studying in order to generate the determination to apply ourselves to our studies. We should aspire to be like Lama Tsongkhapa.

Our minds will not change or improve when our faith is weak and unstable and we do not practise properly. Faith comes when we taste and experience the teachings for ourselves and that experience can only come from reflection and meditation. Whether we develop faith or not depends on us.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Pure perception and the importance of respect for the Sangha 

It is difficult to say who is or is not a buddha or bodhisattva. The supreme method to avoid the pitfall of generating negative thoughts and actions towards them is to cultivate pure perception of all sentient beings, seeing everyone as pure. The best advice is to cultivate the attitude that all sentient beings are buddhas and to regard them as buddhas, to show respect with our bodies, speech and minds.

Even when we see faults in others, we should remind ourselves that these faults are conditioned phenomena and can be eradicated upon the application of the correct antidotes.

When practising pure perception, we pay respect with our bodies, speech and minds, first, to our spiritual master followed by the Sangha community and then to all sentient beings.

There are many reasons why we should practice such pure perception:

  1. We are from the same centre and should have mutual love and respect for  one another.
  2. We are all followers of the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa.
  3. We are all followers of the Buddha’s teachings.
  4. We are all human beings and part of humanity.
  5. We all have consciousnesses and are sentient beings.

When we practise pure perception by reflecting on these different levels of commonality, our ability to interact with others will be enhanced and we can make more friends. Our anger towards others will also be reduced.

In Singapore, the Chinese Mahayana community is extremely respectful to ordained people, often spontaneously bowing down at the feet of the monk or nun.

As long as someone bears the signs of ordination, that person is an object of homage and showing respect with our bodies, speech and minds is important, beneficial and necessary. When I mention this, people may misunderstand that I am asking them to show me more respect. That is not the point.

At this centre, we have had the opportunity to study the Buddha’s teachings and practices in some depth and we have some ability to explain those teachings using logic and reasoning. Our external behaviour therefore should reflect whatever knowledge we may have. When we fail to show respect in the proper way, then there is a disparity between our knowledge and behaviour, isn’t it? We need to close that gap.

We will accumulate negative karma when we criticise the Sangha but we will create positive karma and generate merit for ourselves when we are respectful and relate to them in the proper way.

Sangha members are not perfect. But what makes them special is the vows they hold. It is not because they are free of faults.

When we say we should not criticise an ordained person, it does not mean that even when they engage in inappropriate activities, we are not allowed to comment. One can respectfully approach the ordained person and ask, “I don’t understand why you are doing this. What is your reason for doing this?”  One can discuss the matter and seek a solution. That is the meaning of not criticising and belittling an ordained person.

Having mutual respect applies to everyone. All the students and members within the centre should have mutual respect for one another. When that is absent, we would go on to show disrespect to the Sangha and once that happened, one would carry on to show disrespect to the gurus. If that were to happen, then we would be the ones to suffer the loss seriously.

Advice from the Kadampa masters: Never seek out faults of others but always look at one’s own mistakes 

The Kadampa masters advise that we should always look at our own faults, treating them as our enemies and never seek out the faults of others. Before we can positively influence and change others, we first have to change ourselves. Without improving our own minds, it is very difficult to change other people in a positive way.

“The faults” refers to our three mental poisons and our physical and verbal negativities. When we find ourselves doing inappropriate things that are not beneficial, we should correct ourselves by remembering, “This is not good and is unproductive. I should not do this.”

We cannot change other people by looking at their faults and we cannot influence them in a positive way until we have improved ourselves. Looking at other people’s mistakes only causes our anger and negative mind to increase.  Even if we have been in a positive state of mind, once we start finding  fault, we feel agitated and unhappy, harming ourselves and subsequently others in the process.

When we point out their faults, people become irritated and angry. Their response may be, “Who are you to correct me? I can do whatever I want.” We hurt them by instigating their anger and there is no benefit.

The masters also advised that we should hide whatever good qualities we may have, praising the good qualities of others instead. This means we should not be boastful, e.g. telling others, “I have studied for so many years; I am good-hearted; I have clairvoyance, you know.” Why should we hide our qualities? Because boastfulness only increases our arrogance, conceit, pride and attachment. These are all negative emotions which will only hurt us in the end.

We should praise and concentrate on the good qualities of others instead of looking at their faults. When a person has a good heart, we should say so, “That is a good-hearted person.” We should also proclaim those qualities, for by doing so, we will be able to see and recognise those good qualities more clearly ourselves. This benefits us in our development of bodhicitta and the good heart. There is a connection; the more we are able to see the good qualities of others, the easier it will be for us to respect them and develop the mind that cherishes them. These are the benefits.

When we consider the advice of the great Kadampa masters, we find it is really wonderful and beneficial. We are supposed to check our minds continuously day and night, but we do the exact opposite. Day and night, we appear to be practising virtue and physically doing recitations but we do not check our minds. This is a mistake that must be changed.

Instead of seeing our own faults as our enemies, again we do the exact opposite; we always think we are in the right and we pick at the faults of others. In the same way, instead of hiding our qualities and praising others, we are boastful and we forget to praise the qualities of others, only seeing their faults instead.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

“There is nothing to fear other than my mind” 

The Mighty One has said that all such things
Are (the working of) an evil mind,
Hence within the three world spheres
There is nothing to fear other than my mind
(Verse 8, Chapter 5, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

All the fears of cyclic existence and the three realms, the suffering we wish to avoid and the happiness we are seeking arise from the mind. Likewise, all qualities depend on the mind.

When you check all the scriptures, this is also their main message – that there is a need to discipline our minds. We can understand this from our personal experience. When the afflictions – anger, attachment, ignorance, pride, jealousy and so forth – arise, suffering and unhappiness are always the result. The stronger the afflictions, the greater the suffering. On the other hand, when we have less discursive thoughts, when the three mental poisons arise infrequently, when the mind is concentrated or focussed on benefiting others, there is more mental peace and we tend to be happier with fewer problems.

By reflecting along these lines, we will understand why it is said that all fears and worries originate from the mind. Therefore, we should protect the mind against non-virtue and guide the mind towards virtue, with mindfulness and introspection. When we fail to do this, although we yearn for happiness, we run away from the causes of happiness. Although we wish to avoid suffering, we pursue the causes of suffering.

We are controlled by our minds that, in turn, are controlled by the negative emotions that disturb our mental peace and calm. That is why we feel unhappy and suffer. We need to immerse our minds in virtue instead, because when this happens, happiness is the result.

Realising the nature of our minds 

There is a saying by the great Kadampa masters: “The difference between cyclic existence and nirvana comes from whether we have realised the nature of our minds or not.”

Liberation may seem external, like a distant place. But it can be achieved on the basis of our minds. In the same way, cyclic existence is not an external phenomenon. It abides in our minds. As long as our minds are under the control and bondage of the afflictions, we remain in cyclic existence. We achieve liberation at that very moment when our minds are freed from the control of our afflictions. So liberation is not something far away or external, and once liberated, we will experience everlasting bliss and happiness.

With reference to the paths and grounds – from the path of accumulation through to the path of preparation, followed by the path of seeing, the ten bodhisattva grounds, the path of no more learning and, finally, enlightenment – the difference between each level and each ground is primarily based on the qualities of the mind and its development. We assert that someone has achieved and is abiding in a specific path on the basis of their mental development, not their physical transformation. How do we differentiate between a bodhisattva and a non-bodhisattva? The difference does not lie in their external appearances but on whether that person has developed bodhicitta or not.

Another way of looking at the quotation is this: As soon as we have realised the ultimate nature of the mind, its lack of true existence, we are liberated from our afflictions.

Engaging in physical and verbal virtues (or positive actions) contributes to our mental development and this helps us one day to realise the emptiness of our minds. When we achieve the wisdom realising emptiness, we destroy cyclic existence. This is one of the benefits of realising emptiness.

When our self-cherishing attitude is very strong, it is very difficult for our actions to be virtuous. Furthermore, during the course of engaging in virtue, other afflictions such as competitiveness, jealousy and pride arise.

For example, arrogance and conceit may arise when we are doing retreat, “I am in retreat and they are not.” Also, during the course of this five year Basic Program, we have acquired some knowledge and understanding of the Dharma. That knowledge can be the condition for us to feel superior to others, thinking, “I know more than you do.”

It is important that our actions do not become the conditions for the development of jealousy, competitiveness and pride. These afflictions are harmful and therefore, we must learn how to apply the antidotes to overcome them.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Check the state of your mind day and night

Guntang Rinpoche advises, “If we want to make our days and nights meaningful, we should always check the state of our minds.” No beneficial actions can result from a mind that is under the control of the three mental poisons (ignorance, anger and attachment). Therefore, we should always strive to keep our minds in a positive state, thinking constantly of how to benefit others. When our actions are motivated by a negative mind, it is questionable whether those actions can be beneficial.

It is important to set a proper motivation before we begin any virtuous activities, such as doing our daily commitments. We are advised in the teachings to begin always with the meditation on the breath to bring the mind to a state of equilibrium, especially when we find that our minds are agitated by anger or attachment. Otherwise, it is difficult to generate a positive state of mind while doing the practices.

When the mind is in a state of equilibrium, it is easier to prevent negative thoughts from arising, even though we may not yet be able to eliminate our attachment or anger from the root. It becomes possible for us to consider those we normally think of as enemies or objects of aversion as pleasant and as friends. When engaged in virtuous activities, we should pay heed to the objects of desire and the objects of aversion. We should sincerely dedicate the merit we accumulate from our practices to their welfare from the depths of our hearts. It is easy to habituate ourselves to dedicating our merit in this way compared to giving away material things such as our bodies.

When we dedicate all the roots of our virtue to our enemies, does that mean there is nothing left for us, that we are not going to experience the beneficial effects of those virtues? I don’t think so. So, don’t worry.

When we dedicate our roots of virtue sincerely in this way, it is difficult to say how much benefit will actually be received by the objects of our dedication but, without a doubt, we will benefit and see the improvement in our minds. We will definitely benefit because we can see that all our problems and sufferings arise from attachment and anger in our lives.

When we neglect checking the state of our minds, then no matter how profound or extensive our prayers may be, it is difficult for those practices to be beneficial even for ourselves. When we do not benefit from our practices, then it is difficult for us to benefit others.

Gungtang Rinpoche also said: “If you wish, however, to make your life meaningless and empty, then by all means, please continue to spend your whole life being conceited and arrogant and spend your time partying, gossiping and shopping.”

Developing the virtuous mind 

This is advice from the Kadampa masters: When our minds are virtuous and our motivation positive, then our physical and verbal actions will naturally be virtuous and positive. We will not harm but instead benefit others. Conversely, when our minds are in negative, non-virtuous states, it is very difficult to generate positive behaviour. We are most likely to give problems to others and be harmed by them in return. The Kadampa masters therefore advise us to generate a good heart and develop a positive mind and motivation.

We are now studying the practice of exchanging ourselves for others and developing bodhicitta,  the main point of which is to develop the virtuous, positive mind. A positive state of mind leads to positive and beneficial behaviour that helps us to become good-hearted, virtuous people. It is very difficult to change our minds overnight. We have to start reducing negative physical and verbal actions by reducing our negative states of mind. While we may not be able to completely remove such negativities, we can work towards reducing them.

What are the benefits of being good-hearted people? We will be protected by the worldly gods who delight in virtue and receive blessings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Temporal goals are easily achieved. When death comes, we will move on easily to the next life and achieve enlightenment very quickly.

The internal enemy 

Lama Atisha said, “When we can subdue our minds, then no external enemy can harm us. But if our minds waver, with the external enemy acting as the condition, our internal enemy will burn our minds. Therefore, defeat and destroy this internal enemy.”

We cannot be harmed by external enemies when our minds are loving and compassionate but if we succumb to the three mental poisons, our mental peace is destroyed. It is not the external enemy, who acts only as the condition, but our afflictions which are responsible for the destruction of our mental peace.

It is the very nature of our afflictions to do this, so our real enemies are the internal ones, our afflictions, which are the real trouble-makers. We should therefore put effort into destroying them.

We need both mindfulness and introspection to protect and guard the mind. Mindfulness protects our minds by not forgetting what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, and introspection is the part of our minds that checks to see whether our minds are up to virtue or non-virtue.

It is important to protect and guard our minds because only we know our own minds. No one else does. We are our own masters because only we know what is going on in our own minds. We need to check to see whether our minds are in a virtuous or non-virtuous state because only by protecting our minds will we be able to prevent ourselves from being stained by downfalls and faults and guard our three doors.

Need for constant and persistent effort (1)

The great Indian master, Chandragomin, said that when someone is very sick with a serious disease, e.g., leprosy, but does not take the proper medicine continuously over a period of time, then that patient will never recover from his illness.

This is analogous to the situation we are in. We have been controlled by the three mental poisons for a very long time. In order to free ourselves from this bondage, we have to familiarise ourselves with and meditate on the antidotes continuously for a very long time. Meditating occasionally when we feel like it will not work.

We also need to train in the complete path, not just doing the virtuous practices we enjoy and then hoping or expecting those afflictions to just weaken or disappear. It does not work like that. We have to meditate on the complete path.

We do engage in virtuous practices, but sometimes we feel that, despite doing all sorts of practices, we are not getting anywhere, we are not improving. This is how we may feel sometimes. Actually, things are getting better but we should not expect to see instant results. Sometimes, when we engage in certain practices, we expect to see results in a day, a month, a year or even a couple of years. It does not work like that. We may not be able to see very tangible results for quite a while.

Our afflictions are like the very heavy sicknesses of a patient. We have been harbouring these afflictions, the three mental poisons, in our minds for a very long time.  In order to heal ourselves of these afflictions, we need to meditate and rely on the antidotes continuously for a long period of time. If we rely on the antidotes every now and then, as and when we feel like it, then we are not going to reap much benefit from them.

Need for constant and persistent effort (2) 

The great Indian master, Chandragomin, said that the fruits of a fruit tree whose roots are always submerged in a pool of sour muddy water will be sour and not sweet. If we want the fruit tree to bear sweet fruits, fertilising it with just a few drops of sweetener will not work.

In the same way, we have been controlled by the three mental poisons since time without beginning. That being the case, hoping for a major mental transformation by doing a little daily practice and some small virtues, and expecting fantastic results and a huge reduction in our suffering is completely unrealistic.

In order for us to attain the fruit of the state beyond sorrow, the cessation of all our suffering, we need to remove our afflictions from the root. Hoping to achieve this by some small exertions on our part is like expecting a harvest of sweet fruit in the above analogy.

Removing our mental afflictions is extremely difficult and requires reliance on continuous effort for a long period of time. Sometimes, we may feel this  is an almost impossible task. It is natural for us to think in this way because it is true that the negative emotions have been with us since beginningless time, not just a few lifetimes.  We are thoroughly familiar with them. It is as if the afflictions have merged with the very nature of our minds, making it impossible to separate our minds from them.

Although this may be the way we feel and how things appear to us, if we critically analyse the situation, we will find that this is not the case, because if we apply the appropriate antidotes, we will definitely be able to free our minds from these negative emotions.

Look at our lives. What are we doing everyday? Are we actively doing something to weaken our afflictions or are we actually strengthening them? If we are honest with ourselves, we find that not only are we not doing anything to overcome our afflictions but in fact, we are allowing them to become stronger as we encounter the objects and conditions which cause them to arise.

In order to destroy our mental afflictions, the only way is to put effort continuously into weakening and destroying them.  If we do not do this, there is no hope of the negative emotions ever becoming weaker or being destroyed.

Reflection on impermanence 

The great Nagarjuna once said that someone who would put rubbish or vomit into a precious golden bejewelled container would be considered very foolish indeed. We should reflect on how this statement applies to ourselves.

Having achieved the precious human rebirth and met the teachings of the Buddha, we call ourselves Buddhists and take on the different levels of vows and commitments. Yet, instead of accumulating virtue, we spend our time committing negativities. That is both very unskilful and unwise and if that is our situation, we must do something to overcome it. Those negative activities arise due to the three mental poisons in our minds which we must work to subdue.

The stronger the negative emotions – our attachment to friends and loved ones and aversion and hatred towards our enemies - the more powerful will be the resultant negative actions generated by them. It is, therefore, very important that we work very hard to reduce the strength of the three mental poisons. We are not suggesting here that friends or enemies do not exist but we are trying to reduce the negative emotions we generate towards them.

One of the best ways of doing this is to reflect on impermanence. For example, to reduce our hatred towards an enemy, we should reflect on his impermanent nature, how he will definitely die one day and the uncertainty of that time of death. Our enemy will probably be very fearful both at the time of death and during the intermediate state. He may also be reborn in the lower realms because of his own negativities. Reflecting how our enemy is controlled by his own afflictions and negative karma, it becomes possible for us to generate compassion instead of hatred towards him.

We can reflect in the same way to reduce our attachment towards our loved ones. They will also die one day and it is uncertain when death will come. They will experience suffering and fear at the time of death and in the intermediate state and take rebirth in the lower realms.  Reflecting in this way, we substitute our attachment and desire for them with compassion.

We ourselves are also impermanent and we should reflect on the fear that we will encounter at the time of our own death. When we give in to our negative emotions, we create negativities that lead to great suffering and fear in the intermediate state, which will only throw us into the lower realms.

By reflecting on these different points, we develop renunciation. Of course, it will be very difficult for us to remove our afflictions from the root now, but by reflecting on these points, we can at least reduce the strength of those afflictions when they manifest. This is something we must do.

At this time, we have achieved this precious human body and the opportunity to listen to and discuss the Mahayana teachings. We understand that if we were to engage in negative actions, we would have to take rebirth in the lower realms. We accept the existence of the hells and the lower realms. We also accept the possibility of higher rebirths as humans and gods. Therefore, we are more knowledgeable than those who have no exposure to such teachings.

In spite of having such knowledge, when it comes to the actual practice of working to overcome our afflictions, instead of our reducing them, they actually become stronger. If this happens, we will be exactly as Nagarjuna said – very foolish and stupid. We must do something about this situation.

When we meet with difficulties, we should try to apply and reap some benefit from our Dharma knowledge.  It seems that, sometimes, we are unable to do this, so that when problems come, our suffering seems to be even more intense and the bad experiences seem much more difficult to handle. This should not be the case.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Overcoming the stubborn mind of self-cherishing 

Guntang Rinpoche points out how we always cherish ourselves. It is this evil mind of self-cherishing that is our downfall. Only when we are able to overcome this very stubborn self-cherishing mind, which is as hard as wood, then enlightenment will not be very far away.

In the same way, we are always controlled by our three mental poisons which only lead to misfortune and our downfall. We desperately want happiness but our afflictions bring only problems and suffering.

The essence of Rinpoche’s advice is that enlightenment can only be achieved when we are able to subdue our stubborn minds. Whatever virtues we do with our bodies and speech, they must ultimately lead to subduing our minds. If this does not happen, then there is no way we will achieve enlightenment.

There are students who say they have been practising for a long time – for 10, 20, 30 years – but they do not see any progress. This is the fault of not transforming their virtuous actions of body and speech into methods that will help them to subdue their negative minds. It boils down to this failure to transform their minds.

Our narrow-minded outlook 

Mental suffering can only be reduced through adopting the correct mental perspective. The more we are able to think from different perspectives, the better equipped we will be to deal with our mental difficulties. Our mental unhappiness can never be solved by wealth, possessions or medication.

The reason why we experience mental unhappiness is because of our narrow-minded outlook. We tend to fixate on some small aspect of the problem. When we think in such a way, the mind will always remain narrow, tight and stressed. We need to widen our minds, make them bigger, more expansive and relaxed, by considering the problem from multi-faceted angles. Although it is difficult to experience immediate benefits from the mind-training techniques given in the text we are now studying, when we continue to listen, critically analyse and familiarise ourselves with the teachings, we will definitely experience some benefits and be able to reduce our mental suffering over time.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Placing imprints in our mental continua

The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is summarised in the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta and the correct view.

Since we now enjoy the favourable conditions of having obtained this precious human rebirth and meeting the teachings, even if we cannot generate the realisation of the three principal aspects of the path in our minds, at the very least, we should put effort into placing stable imprints of these teachings in our mental continua.

Imprints can be placed in our mental continua through hearing, reflecting, meditating and familiarising ourselves with the teachings. How does this work? Imprints that come from hearing arise from the activity of listening to the teachings on the three principal aspects of the path. Without listening to these teachings, we would not receive any imprints through hearing. In the same way, this applies to reflection and meditation as well.

The strength of those imprints of the teachings would vary in power in dependence on the manner in which we engage in the activities of listening, reflection and meditation.

It is very arrogant of us to expect the teachings to come of their own accord into our minds, without our exerting any effort to familiarise ourselves with them. When we do not put in the effort from our own side to receive and familiarise ourselves with the teachings on the three principal aspects of the path, and to secure imprints of these teachings in our mindstreams, nothing will happen.

We need to remember that we have obtained this human rebirth now and we have some knowledge of what is to be abandoned and cultivated. Capitalising on this opportunity, we must place strong imprints of the teachings in our minds and keeping this in mind, we must then engage in the act of listening to the teachings.

Reaping benefit from the teachings depends on us

Whether the teachings will benefit us or not does not depend on the teachings. It depends on how we apply them, whether we reflect on them and mix the teachings with our minds.  We cannot expect the teachings, from their side, to change our minds if we do not do anything with them. There are some people who think, “What is the use of coming for teachings? The Dharma is not benefiting me.”  This is not the fault of the teachings but rather reflects their failure to relate the teachings to their minds.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often mentions that there is a noticeable difference between someone who accepts and practises the Dharma and someone who does not. Why? The person who practises the Dharma is a happier person who is more able to handle difficulties and problems when they arise, as compared to someone who has no faith or Dharma. Someone who accepts the teachings should have the ability to apply the teachings for a beneficial purpose and to use them to deal with problems and difficulties.

Taking the medicine 

The Buddha said in the King of Concentration Sutra:

I have explained this very good teaching.
Yet if you, having heard it, do not practise correctly,
Then just like a sick person holding on to a bag of medicine,
Your illness cannot be cured.

This verse applies to us because we may have listened to many teachings but we still find it difficult to reflect on their meaning and are unable to put them into practice. That is why we do not see any improvement in ourselves.

In fact, it sometimes seems that we are experiencing even more mental unhappiness and suffering than before. This is the fault of not having reflected properly on the meaning of the teachings that we have heard. We are just like the patient who carries around the bag of medicine without taking any. When we do not take the medicine, there is no way that we can recover from our sickness.

We need to reflect on the meaning of the teachings that we have heard, in order to remove our problems and the suffering which have been with us, and which we have endured for a very long time.

We need to understand that the Buddha is actually referring to us when he talks about the patient carrying the bag of medicine. We need to put down the bag of medicine, open it and start taking the medicine. It is not enough to just hear the teachings. We must start reflecting on them.

We are now studying the text, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, which contains many wonderful pieces of advice and teachings. It may be difficult to put the teachings into practise immediately but, at the very least, we should reflect on the meaning of the words found in the text. We should not simply leave it at the level of listening or looking at the words. We have to try to reflect on the meaning of the words themselves.

It is important to reflect on, as much as we can and to the best of our abilities, what we have learnt, and the meaning of whatever prayers we may be reciting.

Why is it that we remain as we are and do not seem to change and improve? It boils down to the fact that we did not reflect on what we had heard.

All of us have to try our very best to reflect on the meaning of the words of the teachings that we had heard and try to improve our own minds, because improving the state of our minds is an individual responsibility.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s holy wish for the centre is to produce good-hearted human beings, not simply students with some intellectual understanding of the teachings. That is his real wish. We should all try our very best to make this happen. It is not easy. It is difficult but we have to try our best.

Advice by Gungtang Rinpoche: Our sad situation

It is important to reflect daily on whatever you have heard and found beneficial from the teachings. Use whatever you have  heard and apply it in your daily life. If you do not  use the teachings in this way,  you  accomplish little by merely listening.

This is advice from the teachings of Gungtang Rinpoche called Songs of Expressing Sadness. In one of these songs, he laments that although, in reality, it is the guru who shows us the path and protects us in this life and all our future lives, in practice, we make our own decisions without relying on him.

We may think or even say that there is a need for us to rely on the instructions of our teachers  and recognise  that our guru is the embodiment of the three refuges. But, in our daily lives, we do not pay any heed to his advice or consider our teacher’s instructions to be important.

Gungtang Rinpoche points out now we have attained this precious human rebirth of leisure and opportunities that is very difficult to achieve and which gives us the opportunity to accomplish so much. We know this and can even explain it to others. Yet when we examine our lives carefully, most of the time we are spending them doing meaningless things. When we reflect in this way and realise this, it is a cause for regret and something to be very sad about.

Rinpoche’s advice is  very good and beneficial especially if we are able to remember it in our daily lives. For example, when we can explain to others the benefits of this perfect human rebirth, but do not put it to good use ourselves, then we are in fact wasting our own precious human rebirth.

In our daily lives we treasure our possessions and wealth and take great care to protect them  from thieves and robbers. But we are not very careful with our life span, which is being exhausted and stolen every moment by the Lord of Death. We should be very sad about this also.

We also pursue and hanker after teachings and instructions on hidden phenomena, which are not perceivable or manifest, such as emptiness, bodhicitta, tantra and so forth. But we do not pay any attention to those instructions that deal with subjects that are very obvious and accessible, such as death and impermanence. Again, this is a very sad situation.

I am quoting some extracts from this set of advice as they are short and would be most beneficial if you can remember them in your daily life.

Proper reliance on the words of the texts 

Just as an elderly person needs a walking stick to walk properly, we need to rely on and memorise the words of the texts in order to understand the meaning of the teachings. In order for us to really learn the teachings, first, we must have a really good grasp of the words of the text that we would have memorised.1

But memorising the words alone is not enough when we do not pay any attention to or reflect on the meaning of those words. For example, if we sit in a puja, reciting the prayers without reflecting on their meaning, we are no better than parrots. This is not the correct way to do pujas. If we teach a parrot to recite OM MANI PADME HUM it can recite that 108 times quite easily. But that is about it.

Without reflection on the meaning of the words of the teachings that we have received, we will be unable to correct any wrong or mistaken understanding on our part. The teachings should be investigated in depth.

In order to study the scriptures of the Buddha, first, we must rely on the words. We must know the words of the text. But that alone is not sufficient. We must also reflect on the meaning of those words.

That way of studying is not done here due to the lack of time. In the monasteries, we memorize all the root texts that we are studying and read the commentaries. But here, when the different verses are being explained, at the very least, we can check whether we are able to understand the meaning of each of those verses.

The quality of the meditation 

The difference between a Buddhist who has studied and reflected on the teachings extensively (hereinafter referred to as ‘A’) and a Buddhist who has done neither (hereinafter referred to as ‘B’) can be seen in the quality of their meditation. ‘A’ will be able to meditate in a very extensive way while ‘B’ will find difficulties in sustaining his meditation.

When reciting the refuge prayer, at the mere mention of “Sang gyä” (Buddha in Tibetan) ‘A’ will be able to reflect in the following way: “Who is the Buddha? He is in the entity of the four holy bodies2 and is someone who has eliminated all faults and perfected all his good qualities.” Being familiar with such reflections, ‘A’ is able to recall many different aspects of the refuge practice instantly and his faith in the Buddha increases.

When ‘B’ recites, “Sang gyä” however, he may only recall the Buddha as the historical figure who achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree over 2,500 years ago. It would be difficult for someone like ‘B’ to have any deep sense of faith. If this is so for a person like ‘B,’ then obviously there would be even less faith in someone who has not even heard of the historical Buddha.

When ‘A’ recites “chhö” (Dharma in Tibetan), he will immediately understand that there is conventional and ultimate Dharma, and the object of refuge here is not merely the physical scriptures themselves, but their  contents, which clarify the true path3 and true cessation.4

Understanding that the Dharma is the actual refuge and thinking that, “This is what protects me,” will definitely increase ‘A’s’ faith. He will then generate the faith of aspiration, which is the mind that aspires to actualise the Dharma.

When ‘B’ recites “chhö,” he may only recall the physical texts and he is unlikely to have the same level of faith as ‘A.’

When ‘A’ recites, “Tshog kyi chhog nam la” (I go for refuge to the Supreme Assembly), he understands immediately that the Sangha Jewel refers here to all the arya beings, including the hearer superior beings, the solitary realiser superior beings and the bodhisattva superior beings.

He knows the inconceivable qualities of these holy beings, and in particular, how the superior bodhisattvas practise at each level, actualising all the ten perfections and how they achieve the higher realisations on the path. Based on such understanding and knowledge, irreversible faith will arise in ‘A’s’ mind towards these arya beings and he will aspire to emulate their example. ‘A’ will never give up his faith in the Three Jewels regardless of whatever conditions he may encounter.

When ‘B’ recites, “Tshog kyi chhog nam la,” he will only remember that the Sangha refers to the ordained community and he is reminded to be respectful towards them.  With such limited understanding, it is very difficult to have real faith in the Sangha Jewel because it is difficult to see all ordained persons as pure and perfect and one may end up criticising them or questioning the benefit of ordination.

The difference between ‘A’ and ‘B’ is very clear from simply examining the quality of their refuge practice. The Buddhist who has studied will have stable and irreversible faith while the Buddhist who does not study will give up his faith easily when faced with the smallest obstacle.

We should put into practice, familiarise ourselves with and reflect upon whatever we have learnt. Even if we engage in extensive listening and reflection, it would not be beneficial without such mental familiarity.

Using the earlier example of refuge, we can apply it to other topics and see the difference between engaging in practice with understanding and with little or no understanding. When we realise the benefits of studying and reflection, the aspiration to do so will arise naturally from our own side. When this happens, no matter what difficulties we encounter, we will try our best to come to class and listen to the teachings.

Lama Tsongkhapa said, “At the outset, seek extensive teachings. In the middle, reflect on whatever you have learnt. In the end, day and night, put into practice the understanding of the teachings that you have ascertained. This is what I have done. You who want to follow after me should do likewise.”


1 This advice was intended for those studying in the monasteries.  [Return to text]

2 The four holy bodies of the Buddha are the Truth Body (made up of the Wisdom Truth Body and the Nature Body) and the Form Body (made up of the Enjoyment Body and Emanation Body).  [Return to text]

3 The antidotes to our afflictions.  [Return to text]

4 What we achieve once all our afflictions are abandoned.  [Return to text]

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Seize this precious opportunity

Leisure and endowment are very hard to find
And, since they accomplish what is meaningful for humanity,
If I do not take advantage of them now,
How will such a perfect opportunity come about again?

Just as a flash of lightning on a dark, cloudy night
For an instant brightly illuminates all,
Likewise in this world, through the might of Buddha,
A wholesome thought rarely and briefly appears.
(Verses 4 & 5, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)1

We should contemplate the meaning of these two verses over and over again. Verse 5 describes our situation. It is very rare and difficult for us to generate virtuous thoughts or engage in virtue. Our primary concern is with the affairs of and the happiness of this life.

On top of that, it is even rarer for us to generate any interest or aspiration to study the profound teachings of the Buddha. The fact that we do have some interest in studying happens, as said in verse 5, through the power of the blessings of the Buddha on our mental continua. Combined with these blessings is the karma and merit we have accumulated in our past lives which has resulted in our interest in Dharma practice and studies now. If we think deeply about this, it seems almost miraculous that we have the aspiration to study the great treatises and difficult texts of the Buddha’s teachings. Since it has happened, we should not leave it at that.

Our aspiration to study must be sustained over time. This is important as we may be discouraged when studying this text, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds becomes difficult, and the thought comes to give up our studies.

Practising the Dharma is difficult. Trying to study and reflect on the great treatises is even more so, but the main thing is not to give up, to waste this precious opportunity. Reflecting on verses 4 and 5, we should set ourselves a long-term goal and focus on achieving the happiness of our future lives.

There are many benefits of listening to the teachings. One well-known story is that of Vasubandhu and the pigeon. The pigeon used to sit on the roof of Vasubandhu’s house. Vasubandhu, who was a great scholar of the Abhidharma (Treasury of Knowledge), used to recite this text from memory. Simply by hearing Vasubandhu’s recitation, the pigeon was reborn as a human and later also became a great scholar.

We are definitely far better off than the pigeon as we can listen to the teachings as well as understand, at least, part of those teachings. Then, in our future lives, we will definitely have the opportunity to continue to study the great treatises. The fact we have the chance to study this great text on bodhicitta now is definitely due to the result of having accumulated virtuous karma in the past. We should rejoice.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Take the essence of your life 

“This advice is aimed at those who want to study the Great Treatises”: From the onset, Gungtang Rinpoche clarifies that his advice is not directed at Brahma, the worldly god with clairvoyance and the ability to know past and future lives, or the gods of the desire realm endowed with great wealth and many enjoyments. His advice is directed at those who have a clear mind and who aspire to study the teachings of the Buddha correctly.

“All of us are now enjoying all the favourable conditions for studying. We have obtained this precious human life of leisure and opportunities. Not only that, we have also met with the teachings of the Buddha. We have met with teachers who can show us the path. Furthermore, we are surrounded by Dharma friends who share the same interests and who are able to support us in our practice. So, all the necessary conditions are here now.

"It is difficult to meet with such a perfect assembly of conditions again. Therefore, stop procrastinating in your Dharma studies and practise. Now is the time to take the essence of your life.”

Perfect conditions do not last 

When we are in class, we should concentrate and not let our minds be distracted, or worse, fall asleep. Sometimes, we may be overcome by mental distraction or sleepiness due to fatigue but it is important that we do not allow this to happen all the time. If this happens regularly, then we would have slept our way through the five-year program!

At the end of the class, if you were asked, “What did you learn today?” your answer should not be, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.” Again, this may happen sometimes because you are tired.  But it should not happen all the time. At the end of each session, you should be able to say that you have learnt something.

We can say, presently, we have the ideal conditions for studying. For example, you have the company of your classmates, who attend class with you. While these conditions exist, we should try to make the most of this opportunity and pay attention, without being distracted. In the future, it is possible that there will be no teacher, translator or classmates. Then, even if you have the keen interest to study and learn, you cannot do so because the conditions are no longer there.

Benefits of studying the Buddhadharma 

The numerous benefits of studying the Buddhadharma can be summarised in a single sentence: From studying comes the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.

We understand the need to turn away from negative actions by studying the Buddha’s teachings and we begin to engage in positive, beneficial actions. Turning away from negativities is the practice of the ethics of restraint.

When we develop the higher training of concentration from hearing the teachings, we will be able to abandon all sorts of meaningless activities.

From listening to the Buddhadharma, we can achieve the sorrowless state of liberation through gradually developing the wisdom that realises selflessness. With that wisdom, we can abandon the self-grasping conception together with its seeds.

Advice from the Kadampa masters 

The sun of Dharma has now arisen and is shining on our heads, yet we continue to engage in negativities and inappropriate behaviour.  We should really be ashamed of ourselves.

Our appropriated contaminated aggregates are actually filled with unclean substances.  Yet we cherish them so much and put in so much effort to pamper them. This is also very shameful behaviour.

After having purportedly generated bodhicitta, the wish to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, it is very shameful that we continue to criticise and put down others.

We should also be ashamed of the fact that having accepted the Mahayana teachings, we remain separated from compassion and wisdom.

And, having entered the vajra vehicle, the Vajrayana, we should be ashamed of the fact that we do not keep our commitments and remain lazy.

At this time when the sun of the Dharma has arisen and is shining on our heads, it is very shameful that we remain unable to improve the actions of our bodies, speech and minds through the processes of listening, reflection and meditation.

I think the main advice here is to listen to the teachings and practise them with the goal of changing and transforming our minds for the better.

There are people who think it is more important not to suffer now, “I don’t care about the future suffering as long as I do not have to suffer now.” This way of thinking is extremely foolish because if we are unable to bear even a small suffering now, how would we be able to endure the suffering of the lower realms?

The teachings as a mirror 

When we look into the mirror and see dirt on our faces, we would remove the dirt. In the same way, the teachings are like the mirror reflecting who we are and the faults we possess, which we need to rectify. This is the attitude or motivation we should have towards our Dharma studies.

Just as we should try to clean up the dirty face we see reflected in the mirror, the Buddhadharma points out the kind of behaviour we need to change. Simply knowing our faults is not enough. Feeling depressed or discouraged when we discover our many faults is also not beneficial. We need to do something to change them.

Studying out of a sense of obligation 

Studying and listening to the teachings should not be undertaken grudgingly as if one had no choice, like an obligation or like paying taxes. The Buddhadharma will not be beneficial when one has such an attitude. I think this is the reason why, in the teachings, it is said that one should not teach unless one is requested to do so.

Respect for the teacher 

It is mentioned in the lam-rim that just as one should have respect for the teachings, one should also respect the teacher. Ideally, one should think of the teacher as a spiritual friend. If this is not possible, at the very least, one should have some feeling of affinity or closeness to the teacher.

Respect for the teacher is important, as the purpose of listening to the teachings is to benefit the mind. If one harbours negative feelings towards the teacher, it is very difficult for the teachings presented to be of any benefit to one’s mind. If it is not possible to generate some affinity for the teacher, at the very least, one should listen with a mind of equanimity, i.e., with an unbiased mind. Then the teachings may be of some benefit. That is why the Buddha had advised that one should not teach those who have resentment or anger towards oneself or those who hold wrong views.

Qualities of a proper student

What are the qualifications of a proper student? The great Indian master, Aryadeva said, in the 400 Verses, that a suitable vessel for Dharma teachings is someone who is non-partisan or unbiased, intelligent and diligent.

Being non-partisan means that the student should not be biased, for example, thinking that one’s views are superior to those of others or that others’ views are mistaken. Instead, one should investigate if the teachings given accord with reality or not, accepting them if they do and rejecting them if they do not.

The student should also be intelligent, which means, in this context, having the ability and wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong. Simply listening to the teachings is not enough.

In addition, the student should also be diligent in seeking out and listening to teachings.

Considering these qualities in the reverse order, they work like this: when we are diligent, we will have strong interest in Dharma study and practice. We will make the effort to practise and to listen to teachings. When we do that, our wisdom to discriminate between what is right and wrong will increase and as that wisdom increases, we will also become non-partisan. Without discriminating wisdom, one tends to become more partisan and such bias only becomes the basis for sectarianism as well as conflict among different faiths.

All major religions came about to serve humanity and to bring peace and happiness to the world. The religious and sectarian conflicts we see today are not the fault of the religions themselves, but originate from the so-called followers who practise in a mistaken way. Therefore, regardless of the religion that we practise, we must study first.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Need for consistent effort 

This is advice for those who are engaged in serious study of the Great Treatises and philosophical teachings of the Buddha. Gungtang Rinpoche advised that it is a mistake to expect, from the onset of our studies, to immediately become an expert in these topics. At the same time, it is a mistake to quickly forget what has been taught.

As these teachings are extremely profound, Rinpoche pointed out that we need to put effort into our studies. That effort should be constant like the flow of a river. We will not succeed in our studies if our exertions are erratic and irregular.

We need to constantly revise, review and recall what we have learnt. The topics in the earlier, present and future modules of this program are all interconnected. We will not succeed in our studies if we keep on forgetting the earlier teachings even as we listen to teachings on new subjects.

The best way to really learn is through discussion. When we are able to come to a firm conclusion on a certain subject, during the course of a discussion, by applying logic and reasoning, this will remain in the mind for a very long time. In terms of what we can get from our studies, 25% comes from listening to the teacher, another 25% comes from self-study and the remaining 50% comes from discussion.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: The thief of forgetfulness

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “We put in great effort to listen to and study many teachings but we lose whatever knowledge we had gained to forgetfulness. It is like working very hard to accumulate wealth and possessions and having them all stolen by thieves and robbers.

"Putting in so much effort in our studies and letting our knowledge be stolen by the thief of forgetfulness is like coming away empty-handed from an island filled with jewels.”

The only way to stop this situation from happening to us is to constantly familiarise ourselves with what we have learnt. Rinpoche’s advice is directed at serious students of the great philosophical treatises. One achieves nothing by constantly forgetting what one has learnt as one progresses from topic to topic.

Instead of simply relying on listening to the teachings, where everything can be easily forgotten within months, one should familiarise oneself with what is taught by constantly reflecting on what has been taught, thinking about the teachings and analysing the texts. The greater the familiarity, the less likely one will forget what one has learnt.

Advice from the Kadampa masters: Warding off procrastination 

The great Kadampa masters advise: “Don’t think that something is difficult. By thinking this way, then this thought follows: ‘I shall not do it now. I’ll do it later.’ Avoid this attitude which is like a blind man finding and then losing the wish-fulfilling jewel. He will never find another wish-fulfilling jewel again.”

This analogy can be applied to our Dharma studies and practice. Trying to study and practice the Dharma is not easy. But it is wrong to postpone doing so. Putting off studying a difficult text during the Basic Program essentially means that studying it will never happen.

Also, when we have all the conditions gathered here, we should apply ourselves to our studies because one never knows whether the opportunity will come again.

When we listen to such advice, it is not sufficient to say, “O.K. I will do it.” And still nothing gets done. That is pointless. The main thing here is to try our best to listen and study.

Everyone is different as all of us have accumulated different karma. When it comes to studies and practice, therefore, some will encounter more difficulties than others. When such obstacles arise, we have to think, “This is the weapon of my own evil deeds coming back to me.” Thinking in this way, it no longer matters whether we understand everything or not as long as we have tried our best.

There are some people who are prone to discouragement and disappointment. There is nothing to be said if you are discouraged from the start, without even having tried to put in some effort. But when you really try and you still don’t understand, something can be done to build up your self-confidence.

How do we know that it is a mistake to postpone our studies and practice?  We grow older with the passing of time, not younger. As we age, our intelligence, mental agility and clarity decline. If we cannot study and practise now, how is it possible for us to do better in the future?

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Make sure we do not waste our lives

Gungtang Rinpoche said that we spend 20 years of our lives not thinking about the Dharma and another 20 years, thinking, “Oh, I must practise the Dharma,” but never doing anything about it. Then we spend another 20 years not being able to practise the Dharma, at the end of which we think, “Oh, I didn’t get to practise the Dharma after all.” In this way, we waste our entire lives.

When we examine our own lives carefully, we can see this describes our situation exactly. In the beginning of this module, we did not think of studying. Then we decided we needed to study, yet we did nothing about it.

It is your responsibility to ensure that what Rinpoche said does not happen to you. You have to make sure that this opportunity does not go to waste. You must pay attention when listening to the teachings. Otherwise, even though physically, you spend five years attending classes, you end up knowing nothing. It is important that you try your best to pay attention when you are in class.

Dealing with difficult topics 

Whenever you deal with more challenging topics, you must pay attention right from the beginning of the class because the material is all inter-connected. The more you concentrate, the more you will learn.

When you have been attending teachings for some time, especially those who have attended many teachings, you may be present physically but the mind is distracted.  It is like that, isn’t it? When you listen to songs, the mind is always concentrated but when you listen to the teachings, the mind is easily distracted. Over time, your attitude towards listening to the teachings becomes more flippant and that is not good.

Sometimes, you console yourself by thinking: “It is all right. It doesn’t matter whether I understand or not. I will try to be better in the next lesson.” This may work, but I think most of the time, things do not really work out this way. Whenever you are at any teachings, you have to make a pledge to yourself: “I’ll try my best to listen and pay attention to what is being said.”

There are also students who have unrealistic expectations. They expect to understand everything they hear there and now. This is impossible.  What is needed here is perseverance. With those expectations, when they do not understand a few words, they get upset and uptight. This is pointless. If you really want to learn, then you must persevere.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Practising contentment 

Guntang Rinpoche advised that just as it is important to practise contentment in our daily lives, to be satisfied with who we are and what we have, practising contentment is also applicable to our Dharma studies.

We are all different - different parents, different genes, levels of intelligence and so forth. We should not expect to have the same results as others but should study according to our own level and be happy and content with what we achieve in our studies.

Some students may feel disappointed or discouraged when, at times, they do not understand the lesson. When that happens, one needs to reflect on contentment – to be happy with whatever one has understood.

It is the same with material wealth and possessions. Some people are wealthier than others. It is also important to think about contentment in that situation. These differences in levels of intelligence, wealth, etc. are the results of different karmas.

Some people put themselves down by thinking they are hopeless and incompetent, incapable of doing anything. This happens to a lot of people. It is completely pointless to do that. When one is already facing difficulties, there is no need to generate more problems for oneself, thinking, “I am so stupid” and so forth. How does that help to improve the situation one is in? We have to accept ourselves for who we are. Instead, we should think, “I have achieved what I wanted to do,” and be happy and satisfied with that.

This is a city centre. Everyone is busy with their personal and work commitments. After a long day at work, we travel all the way here, twice a week, for classes. But it is only twice a week, for two hours per session, unlike in the monasteries where the monks can study full-time. That is their job. When we compare ourselves to these monks, obviously, we are far behind them. But we shouldn’t put ourselves down. Rather, we should praise ourselves, recognising and accepting the limitations that come with being a city centre. We should be content with what we have achieved.

Practising contentment in this way brings happiness, peace and bliss. It is particularly helpful when we are studying together and we find some classmates being able to understand what we cannot. This is from my own experience when I was studying. Sometimes, when I saw other fellow students understanding certain things that I did not understand, I felt discouraged. At that time, I reflected on how all of us have different karma and felt happy with what I did understand. Thinking in this way helped me a lot.

Importance of recitation and preliminary prayers

We have been reciting verses from the root text after reciting the Heart Sutra. I thought this recitation will be beneficial as (1) it helps us to familiarise ourselves with the verses over time and (2) since this is a special text composed by the great bodhisattva Shantideva himself, simply reading and reciting the text generates great merit for us.

In the monasteries in South India, it is customary for the monks to gather and recite prayers for a few hours before any debate session, making strong requests for success in their studies and debates. In the same way, we need to make extensive prayers for success in our studies.

In the great monasteries, there is a saying passed down from generation to generation that it is unnecessary for monks to perform special rituals or pujas to clear obstacles in their studies, as long as they apply themselves seriously to the  recitation of the preliminary prayers made before the debates or when they gather to do prayers together. The monks are advised to set a good motivation and reflect and contemplate carefully when they do such recitations. Doing that alone will clear all the obstacles that might arise during the course of their studies.

We should engage in the practice of recitation in the same way. We should make strong prayers during the recitation and think, “May this recitation remove all obstacles and unfavourable conditions that may arise during our studies and practice.”

We may wish to study and practise the teachings of the Buddha, but there are so many kinds of obstacles - outer, inner and even secret - that can occur. The best way to pacify these obstacles is to make very strong prayers combined with the very strong determination to continue one’s studies.

It is possible that, sometimes, when reciting these preliminary prayers, we may get bored or consider the prayers to be a chore, failing to see why we are doing them. You should understand now that these prayers and recitations are very beneficial for us. In fact, since this text is composed by the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, the benefit and merit that one accumulates simply by reciting this text is inexpressible. We should remind ourselves of this when we recite the text or prayers, and perform them enthusiastically.

From the time we start reciting the Heart Sutra till the end of the lesson, when we dedicate the merits, this can all be considered virtuous action. We should do whatever we can to make the lesson enjoyable for ourselves from our own side and to engage in our studies enthusiastically rather than thinking that we are doing this out of obligation and without a choice, like paying taxes.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field 

Guntang Rinpoche advises that during these degenerate times, when our minds are weak and we have so little merit, we need to rely on and make special requests to the deities and Dharma protectors, accumulate merit by doing practices such as prostrations, mandala offerings and so forth and purify our minds of obscurations by relying on the four opponent powers. These are the necessary supporting conditions for us to be able to continue and to have success in our study of the Great Treatises.

Intelligence alone or simply favourable conditions do not necessarily guarantee that one will complete one’s studies. We also need to rely on accumulating merit and purifying the mind from obscurations, as well as making fervent requests to the merit field.

During the course of one’s studies or practices, one will meet with all kinds of external and internal obstacles in the form of sicknesses and so forth. Therefore, it is important to make single-pointed requests to the merit field. However, the main thing that will see one through one’s studies is one’s determination and enthusiasm for studying. Without such enthusiasm and determination, one may continue to come to class but, over time, one’s interest will wane. Furthermore, without such enthusiasm and determination, making prayers may not necessarily be helpful.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Relying on valid texts 

Gungtang Rinpoche advised that when studying the teachings of the Buddha, we must study texts that are unmistaken and free of error, as the bases for our analysis and investigation of the teachings. We should check whether the contents of these texts accord with the great philosophical treatises.

Relying indiscriminately on texts that do not accord with what is found in the valid texts and Great Treatises will only cause our wisdom to decline. We are not saying here that one cannot read commentaries or texts that offer a more accessible explanation. But those texts must accord with what is found in the valid texts and treatises.

Sometimes, we may find certain texts easier to understand without first checking their validity. Whatever texts or commentaries we study, we should be able to trace them back to the teachings of the Buddha. Whatever we read should accord with the great commentaries composed by the great Indian and Tibetan masters of the past.


1 These verses are quoted from Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life translated by Stephen Batchelor (published: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, 1979). All subsequent references to this text will be from this edition. This text is also commonly known as Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds.  [Return to text]

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

What is more important - the happiness of this life or future lives?

“What am I looking for - the happiness of this life alone or the happiness of my future lives?” This is a very important question that we must ask ourselves every day. When we are more concerned with the happiness of this life, whatever Dharma practices we engage in become impure because the mind is controlled by the three mental poisons of anger, attachment and ignorance.

If we are more concerned about our future happiness, then we have to think: “What can I do now that will definitely benefit me in my future lives?”

If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that instinctively, we are looking for the happiness of this life alone. As this is our main motivation for everything we do - whether we are reciting our daily prayers, listening to teachings, receiving initiations or consulting our gurus -all our actions are motivated by the afflictions and are only expressions of our desire to achieve the happiness of this life.

Because of this attitude, the Dharma practices we engage in may look like Dharma but in reality do not become Dharma and they will not benefit us in our future lives.

We need to shift our emphasis from focussing on the happiness of this life alone to placing greater importance on the happiness of our future lives. As Buddhists, we should accept the law of karma. Consider our lifespan. Maybe we can live till we are 60 years old, but compared to the duration of our future lives, we have to take rebirths for many eons to come. Based on this comparison alone, the happiness of our future lives is clearly far more important.

Whether we end up with good or bad rebirths depends on what we do in this life. If we end up with bad rebirths in our future lives, we will have to suffer for eons. Compared to the suffering we will have to endure then, this life’s suffering no longer seems so unbearable. Happiness in our future lives is definite, provided we create the causes now.

When our goal is the happiness of our future lives, then our actions will all become Dharma. Once they become Dharma, these activities will definitely benefit us in our future lives. Therefore, it is very important that we consider this very carefully: “Am I doing this for this life or for my future lives?” Whatever our answer may be, we then have to ask, “Why am I doing this for this life/my future lives? Which is more important - this life or my future lives?”

We should have the confident attitude: “What I am looking for is the happiness of my future lives.” What is the benefit of having this attitude? Because we place more importance on our future happiness, the three mental poisons will naturally weaken and we will experience more mental peace and happiness. Otherwise, when our motivation is focussed on the happiness of this life alone, the afflictions only become stronger, leading to more unhappiness, problems and suffering.

From my side, it is my responsibility to tell you this. But whether this advice benefits you depends on you. Just listening to the advice does not help. You need to think about it, not just once but every day until you have some feeling or experience in your heart.

The purpose of the Buddhadharma  

There are only two goals for studying and practising the Buddhadharma - either the temporal goal of higher rebirth or the ultimate goal of liberation and full enlightenment.

There are no other reasons for studying and practising the Dharma. It is not for improving one’s business, removing health obstacles or solving other worldly problems. The main reason is either to achieve a good rebirth or ultimate happiness, since we want happiness and not suffering. Obviously we also want the best form of happiness, which is liberation and full enlightenment.

It is so important to remember this and to remind and ask ourselves all the time, “Why am I engaging in these studies and practices?” We should not be mistaken and confused about our goal. When people come to the Buddhadharma with the expectation that it will solve their worldly problems and things do not turn out according to their wishes, they become disappointed and lose faith in the Buddhadharma, abandoning and criticising the teachings. This happens because of the lack of clarity about what one is working for, and being too short-sighted with regards to what one wants to achieve.

Working for a good rebirth as a human being or a god is a bigger goal than just being concerned about this life.  When we work at cultivating the causes for such a rebirth, this means avoiding negative actions and engaging positive actions. Such behaviour will naturally bring us fewer problems in our daily lives.

What is Dharma practice?

This is very important - we must ensure that whatever practice we do becomes Dharma practice. Often, we seem to be practising Dharma, but most of the time, that practice does not actually become Dharma.

There is a historical account of a conversation between Dromtönpa - Lama Atisha’s heart disciple - and a practitioner. One day, Dromtönpa saw this practitioner circumambulating a stupa and he said to him, “It is good that you are circumambulating the stupa, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?”

Upon hearing this, this practitioner thought that he should do something else. So, the next time Dromtönpa saw him, he was reciting a sutra.  Dromtönpa said, “It is good that you are reciting this sutra, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?’

This practitioner then thought that maybe Dromtönpa was referring to meditation. He decided to go to his room and began to meditate. When Dromtönpa saw this, he said to him, “It is good that you are meditating, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?”

This practitioner was now thoroughly confused. He could not think of any other  Dharma practices to do, so he went to Dromtönpa and asked him, “What should I do? What is Dharma practice?” Dromtönpa replied, “You have to give up this life.”

What is the significance of Dromtönpa’s reply?

  1. It shows that Dharma practice is primarily done with the mind and not with the body or speech.
  2. It shows that, in order to practise the Dharma, we have to give up our preoccupation with the happiness of this life, i.e., giving up the eight worldly dharmas because failing to do so means that our actions may look like Dharma but are not Dharma.

How do we give up our preoccupation with the happiness of this life? We have to reflect on how this human life of leisure and opportunity that we have is finite and will not last forever. Death will come. By reflecting on this repeatedly, we will be able to reverse the attraction to the preoccupations of this life.

Lessons from Lama Yeshe 

I was twelve years old when I went to Kopan monastery. Lama Thubten Yeshe was still alive then and he taught us by making us memorise questions and answers he had written and pasted on the wall.

There were many questions but one I can still remember was, “Why do we need to practise the Dharma?” The questions were in Tibetan, and at that time, I was more familiar with my native dialect, Sherpa. Still, I memorised the question even though I did not understand its meaning. The answer was: “We all desire happiness and do not want suffering. The only way to abandon all suffering is the practice of the Dharma. Therefore, we have to practise the Dharma.”

Another question was, “Just beating the drum, ringing the bell and performing the rituals – are these actions Dharma?” The answer to that was, “Beating the drum, ringing the bell and reciting mantras alone are not necessarily Dharma. Why? Because you can also teach animals to do these things.”

At that age, the young monks were all preoccupied with games and playing, but since we had to pass our examinations and memorisation tests, we had to memorise the questions and their answers even though we did not fully understand their content.

I am telling you this story to emphasise that Dharma practice is performed primarily with our minds and not our bodies or speech. Reciting mantras, doing our daily commitments and prayers, knowing how to do some rituals - these things are not necessarily Dharma.

Practising the Dharma means improving our minds and weakening our afflictions, the nature of which is to disturb our minds, leading to suffering and unhappiness. Until the afflictions are eliminated, we will continue to experience problems and difficulties. The Dharma is the only way to eliminate afflictions.

The distinction between Dharma and non-Dharma

The way to make our practice Dharma is to reflect on lam-rim topics such as the difficulty of obtaining a precious human rebirth and the nine-point meditation on death. These contemplations will gradually weaken our attachment to this life and also help us set a larger, more far-sighted goal. Gradually, all our actions will become Dharma.

Dromtönpa was once asked, “What separates Dharma from non-Dharma?” His answer: “When the activity you are engaged in becomes an antidote to your negative emotions and afflictions, that activity is Dharma. When your activities are not an antidote to your afflictions, then it is not Dharma.”

We need to remember and reflect on these special instructions of the great Kadampa masters, especially the advice on the distinction between what is Dharma and what is non-Dharma. Whatever we do in our daily lives – our daily commitments, coming to class to listen to teachings and so forth – we must check to see whether these activities are Dharma or not.

If we find that we have been practising for years but are not getting anywhere, it is because our practice has not been Dharma. They have not been antidotes to our afflictions and the result is that we are stuck and unable to make any progress.

Beginning to overcome our afflictions 

The advice of the great Kadampa masters, especially the advice pertaining to the differentiation between what is real Dharma practice and what is not Dharma, is extremely important. In a nutshell, Dharma is any action that is an antidote to our negative emotions. You must keep this in mind.

From the moment you consider yourself to be a Dharma practitioner, you should always relate the teachings to the state of your mind and check if you are working to defeat your afflictions. Whatever you do – be it listening to the teachings, doing your daily commitments, practising generosity and so forth -you should check: “Will doing this help to weaken or even destroy my negative emotions?” and set the motivation, “I am doing this so that I can subdue my afflictions.” By sincerely setting such a motivation, the process of destroying our afflictions has already begun. Overcoming our negative emotions does not happen overnight. Although the realisation of emptiness is the direct antidote to them, we can start fighting them now with our determination and motivation.

When you listen to the teachings and find the advice useful or inspiring, try to put it into practice. Even if you are unable to apply the advice immediately, at the very least, think, “May I be able to do so in the very near future.”

Integrating the Dharma with our minds 

Gyalsab Je’s message is: “If you are someone who seeks liberation or enlightenment, you need to exert joyous effort especially when you have this human life of leisure and endowments; your faculties are complete; you are free of obstacles to your Dharma practice and you have the necessary conditions for your spiritual development. Having found this opportunity, you should not waste it but use it to engage in something beneficial for your future lives.”

Our problem is that we do not integrate the Dharma with our minds. For example, we have heard countless teachings on the precious human rebirth but our minds remain unmoved. Instead of reflecting on the topic, we feel bored, thinking “I have heard this so many times.” There is no feeling for and little interest in this subject. We should not allow ourselves to end up in this state.

It is important that we do not simply look like a practitioner from the outside – doing our commitments, prayers and practices – but feeling empty inside. If our minds don’t change, we will encounter many problems and much suffering at the time of death. It would be ridiculous if we finally ended up in the lower realms.

Therefore, whatever Dharma we engage in, make sure it becomes Dharma. Whatever virtuous actions we do, make sure they are virtue. We should check our minds all the time.

Transforming our minds for the better 

The Kadampa masters said: “The purpose of all the Buddha’s teachings, the great treatises and commentaries that clarify the meaning of those teachings is to help us transform our minds for the better. When the mind does not improve, then even if we strive for eons to accumulate virtue with our bodies and speech, it is very difficult for those practices to become causes for liberation.”

This advice reminds us of the purpose of attending class and listening to the teachings, that is, to improve the quality of our minds. Regardless of the nature of our virtuous activities, we should always ask ourselves, “How does doing this help to improve my mind?”

Relying on mindfulness and vigilance when we engage in our Dharma practice, we should check to see if the practice is beneficial for our minds. If the mind does not change, it is like immersing a stone in water. No matter how long it stays there, the stone doesn’t change.

It is important to generate a pure and correct motivation for attending these classes. We should always remind ourselves why we are here, that we are here to learn how to improve our minds. The purpose of studying the Dharma is not to use it to check the minds and actions of others. Using the Dharma against other people is a mistake. That is not why we study the Dharma.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness


The Basic Program is a five year study program launched at Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC), an affiliate of the FPMT1, in August 2003 at the request of its spiritual director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

This program, contrary to its name, was intended for serious students who were prepared to commit themselves to this demanding course. It is “basic” insofar as the syllabus has been conceived by Rinpoche to ensure that senior students, at the very least, have studied these essential texts he had personally selected.

ABC was able to launch this program because of the arrival on 25th October 1999 of its new resident teacher, Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi. Small in stature, humble in demeanour, Khen Rinpoche’s appearance gave very little sign of his formidable scholastic reputation at Sera Je Monastic University, where he studied from the age of 18, until he emerged as the first Lharampa Geshe from Kopan Monastery (FPMT’s mother monastery in Nepal). Rinpoche said Khen Rinpoche was reputed at Sera Je as being someone who “has known” the Dharma, is widely respected for his exemplary behaviour and conduct and whose knowledge is like the mountain.

It should be noted that, at the present moment, there are only 38 geshes serving as resident teachers in the family of over 150 FMPT centres around the world. Rinpoche recently commented on the good fortune of the FPMT to have such excellent teachers:

“...who are not just scholars in words, but beings who are actually living the practice. Sincere hearted, good hearted, this is an extremely important quality for teachers, a very good model for students, for their inspiration for their studies, inspiration to have deep, clear understanding of Dharma, and be inspired to practice...And that’s the most important thing, without a qualified teacher then nothing happens, nothing is able to be developed.”2

ABC is therefore very, very fortunate indeed to be under the care and guidance of an exceptionally well-qualified teacher. Over the years, Khen Rinpoche has become father and mother, counselor, confidante, mentor, coach and the most perfect of spiritual guides and virtuous friends to countless ABC students as well as to many other devotees who come to consult him.

This book then is a compilation of Khen Rinpoche’s opening remarks and motivations at the beginning of lessons offered in Modules 5 – 9 of the Basic Program3 to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Khen Rinpoche’s arrival in Singapore.

These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha’s teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others.

In Singapore, we all lead very busy and stressful lives, juggling personal, family and work commitments and it can be hard to make time to attend Dharma teachings. There is much food for thought contained in this compilation. So wherever you are - commuting on public transport, waiting for a friend at an appointment, between meetings – pull out this book and take a little sip of the Dharma.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ven. Tenzin Gyurme, who is our Basic Program translator, Cindy Cheng who first prompted her husband, Phuah Soon Ek, to transcribe the Basic Program teachings, Fiona O’Shaughnessy who spear-headed the editing of the transcripts, Yap Siew Kee, Tara Hasnain and Cecilia Tsong who helped with proof-reading and the team of transcribers led by Phuah – Vivien Ng, Angie Xiao, Tok Sock Ling, Cheng Tien Yit and Alison Wong. The transcripts were further prepared for this compilation by Cecilia Tsong. We would also like to thank Lim Cheng Cheng and Tara Hasnain for their invaluable input and editorial suggestions.

May whatever merit is generated by publishing this book be dedicated to the long life and good health of our precious teachers, especially His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi as well as to the immediate fulfilment of all their holy wishes. May the Buddha’s teachings, especially the stainless teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa, flourish in the ten directions, and may Amitabha Buddhist Centre be free of all obstacles in spreading the holy Buddhadharma in Singapore exactly according to the wishes of Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

The Editorial Team / Singapore
October 2007
Updated 2011


Biography of Khen Rinpoche Geshe Chonyi 

Khen Rinpoche Geshe Chonyi has been the resident teacher of Amitabha Buddhist Centre since October 1999. He was born in Nepal in 1962 and was ordained by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 1974 at the age of twelve.

Khen Rinpoche holds a Geshe Lharampa degree, which is the highest Tibetan Buddhist doctorate awarded to monks from Sera Je Monastic University. This degree requires at least 20 years of intensive study and debate and only the most outstanding students qualify to sit for the exams.

After graduating as a geshe in 1997, Khen Rinpoche joined the prestigious Gyurme Tantric College for a year to further his studies on tantric Buddhism. He was awarded first position in his group for the highest Tantric Ngarampa (Master of Tantra) degree. He then returned to Kopan Monastery where he taught Buddhist philosophy.

With the support of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the late Khensur Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup (then abbot of Kopan Monastery), Khen Rinpoche started teaching the five-year Basic Program at ABC in August 2003.

This first cycle of the Basic Program was completed in September 2009 with over 25 students graduating from this cohort.

Khen Rinpoche was then requested and kindly agreed to teach another cycle of the Basic Program for new students at ABC. The second cycle of the Basic Program began in June 2011.

In July 2011, Khen Rinpoche was appointed abbot of Kopan Monastery, in addition to his duties as the centre’s resident teacher.

Besides being perfectly qualified to teach such a study program, Khen Rinpoche is also renowned for his ability in developing the students’ analytical skills through discussions, debate and written assignments. Khen Rinpoche is held in great esteem for his illustrious conduct, vast learning and great kindness, wisdom and compassion.


1 FPMT stands for the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. To find out more, go to  [Return to text]

2 An excerpt from a talk given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche before and after Guru Puja at Tse Chen Ling, San Francisco, USA on 26th April 2007.  [Return to text]

3 Modules 5 - 9 were conducted from 12th August 2005 to 11th October 2007. Modules 5, 7, 8 and 9 covered Chapters 1-9 of Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds while Module 6 was a commentary on the lo-jong (mind transformation) text, The Wheel-Weapon.  The audio recordings and edited transcripts of these modules can be found on the ABC website.  [Return to text]

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi

Originally published in 2007 for free distribution by Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. Published as an ebook in 2014 in partnership with Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha’s teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others.

We all lead very busy and stressful lives, juggling personal, family and work commitments and it can be hard to make time to attend Dharma teachings. There is much food for thought contained in this compilation. So wherever you are--commuting on public transport, waiting for a friend at an appointment, between meetings--pull out this book and take a little sip of the Dharma.

Please see the links below to read this book online or you can download a pdf.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

A teaching by the Eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche on commencing the preliminary practices
By Khamtrul Rinpoche
Himachal Pradesh, India
This teaching by the Eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche was given at Tashi Jong Craft Community, Himachal Pradesh, India. Translated by Gerado Aboud; compiled and prepared by Brian Beresford.

When beginning the preliminary practices (sngon gro) of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, it is extremely important to have complete faith in your teacher and in the teaching that he expounds. You should have no doubt that he is a Fully Awakened Being, or Buddha. Especially in regards to the Truth, or Dharma, you should not disparage the teachings of other traditions, holding yours to be superior. Simply consider that the teaching you follow is best suited to yourself. The various spiritual traditions are in accordance with the diverse dispositions and inclinations of the individuals.

The different schools of Buddhism that developed in Tibet, Japan and elsewhere are all teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. Within the Tibetan traditions there are four main schools—Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug. Do not consider the teachings of a particular school to be more advanced, for all traditions teach tantric meditations that can lead to ultimate realization within one lifetime. However, when commencing the preliminary practices it should be clear which system of teaching is more beneficial to your mind, according to your past karmic connections. By following the tradition most suited to you, you should have faith in the Fully Awakened Being and his Truth without any discrimination, because sectarianism is not only detrimental to your practice but is also an unwholesome action leading to miserable results. If you avoid this error, your practice will flourish and will proceed rapidly through all stages of the path.

To arouse energy and enthusiasm in taking the teachings to heart (nyams. len) there are four contemplations that should precede and accompany all levels of meditation. These are the four topics that reverse the tendency of the mind (blo.ldog.rnam.bzhi) from being attracted to worldly occupations: (1) the freedoms and endowments1 of the precious human form, (2) death and impermanence, (3) actions, their cause and effect, and (4) the faults of cyclic existence, or samsara. If well contemplated these will ensure that your Dharma practice will proceed satisfactorily. Try to gain a thorough understanding of these topics as found in various texts and translations. However, merely to read and understand them intellectually is not sufficient. It is vital to keep them alive in your mind from now until the final attainment of the realization of the true nature of the mind and all phenomena. It is not enough merely to see a delicious banquet: you must eat and digest it before its pleasures are known! It is incorrect to assume that because these four topics have been contemplated initially they can later be disregarded.

Why then are these four contemplations so essential?

Firstly, they lead to sustained perseverance in the practice. Buddha Shakyamuni taught that cyclic existence is by nature suffering. In whichever realm of cyclic existence one takes birth, it is pervaded by suffering that arises because of unskillful actions committed out of ignorance, attachment or aversion to the objects that appear in the world. Through the principle of cause and effect of actions, or karma, skillful actions lead to happiness and unskillful actions lead to suffering. Diligence and enthusiasm for intensive meditation arise from the contemplation of suffering and its causes and the appreciation of the fragility of the precious human form: “precious” because it presents one with the most effective means for transforming sorrow. The Tibetan Kadampa masters of the past always emphasized that impermanence and the uncertainty of the time of death should always be remembered, as this alone will lead to buddhahood.

Secondly, the contemplation on these four topics leads to an understanding of refuge in the Three Supreme Jewels. If you realize that the nature of cyclic existence is suffering you will seek to overcome it. As a Fully Awakened Being has transcended the play of worldly sorrows, he has the understanding to lead you beyond misery. The Truth, or Dharma, that he teaches is not separate from him and its validity is confirmed by those intent on virtue, or Sangha, who have realized high levels on the path to the cessation of suffering. In such a way these four contemplations lead to faith in the Three Supreme Jewels.

Thus the essence of going for refuge is said to be fear and faith: fear of the pains of the round of existence and faith in the Three Jewels which give protection from them. This refuge is common to all vehicles of Buddhism, but in the Adamantine Vehicle (; Vajrayana) there are other reasons that can form the basis of refuge such as the Three Roots—of the lama, the yidam, and the dakinis. However, the fundamental refuge is the Three Supreme Jewels.

In the tantric traditions it is stressed that one’s lama, or spiritual master, is the embodiment of the Three Supreme Jewels and is the basis for all other aspects of refuge. All powerful attainments (dngos.grub; siddhis) and realizations arise from devotion to him. This stress on the spiritual master may lead some people to think that the teaching he expounds is his own and not that of the Buddha. However, his practice is consummated because of the means that derive from Buddha and when this fulfillment takes place the Buddha becomes embodied in him. This is because when the spiritual master has realization of the ultimate truth his mind-form is the same as all previous Fully Awakened Beings, and thus there is no difference between the Buddha and him.

The word Buddha, Sang-gyä (sangs.rgyas) in Tibetan, has two meanings. The first means a being who has “awakened” ( from the sleep of ignorance. This signifies all that is to be abandoned on the path, that is the abandonment of the two levels of obscurations: the obscuration of the afflictions (’; klesa-varana) and the obscuration preventing the realization of all that is knowable (shes.bya’; jneyavarana). The second meaning of the word is a being who has “spread” ( his intellect to all that is known. This refers to his insight and completion of what is to be attained on the path, the primordial awareness (ye.shes; jnana) of a Fully Awakened Being. Because a Lama has realized both these qualities he is no different from all buddhas.

Dharma, Chö (chos) in Tibetan, also generally has two meanings: written Dharma, as in texts and Dharma that is the realization. When a spiritual teacher has gained full realization, his thoughts arise from a mind that has fully awakened. Such a mind is known as the Dharma of realization.

The disciples of the Buddhadharma are known as the Sangha, Gen-dun (dge. ‘dun) in Tibetan dun, or those Intent on Virtue. In the Lesser Vehicle (theg.dman; Hinayana) they are the monastic community and in the Great Vehicle (theg.chen; Mahayana) they are the awakening warriors, or bodhisattvas.2 However, this difference is not so important as usually the Sangha means all who are disciples of Buddha and his teachings.

The spiritual master, in whom these Three Supreme Jewels are embodied, not only has the experience of what is to be attained and abandoned but also shows kindness in excess of even Buddha Shakyamuni. Since at present we are unable to perceive a universal Buddha such as Shakyamuni, the lama is here to teach from his own experience what must be practiced on the path to complete liberation from all confusion and dissatisfaction.

In Tibet, Buddhist practitioners take refuge in the doctrine of the Great Vehicle until the fully awakened state of being is attained. However, the practitioner himself must also be an awakening warrior because the Great Vehicle doctrine must be in the minds of those who practice it and not just in the texts of past great masters.

You should not seek refuge in the Great Vehicle simply because you dislike the suffering experienced in cyclic existence, which is the motivation of practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle. Nor should you follow the Great Vehicle in order to benefit your relatives and those close to you because, in fact, over beginningless lifetimes we have had similar relationships with all sentient beings. All living beings have been our parents at some time or other and it is for their sake that we endeavor to follow the Great Vehicle.

Embracing all sentient beings with this motivation of an awakening warrior has two aspects: loving kindness and compassion. Just as you do not want to be afflicted with suffering and wish to be happy, so do all living beings. Loving kindness is the wish that all beings may achieve the happiness they desire, while compassion is the wish that they may be separated from suffering and situations that create pain. The numerous methods for developing these two feelings depend upon overcoming the attitude of cherishing oneself more than others, and on developing the attitude that all other beings are more important than oneself. You should never think only of your personal benefit; your thoughts should embrace the needs of all others. This is the basis of the awakening mind, or bodhicitta, that aspires to and ventures into the practices of awakening the primordial awareness for the sake of all other beings.

In the path of an awakening warrior, the four preliminary contemplations, refuge, loving kindness and compassion, should always be maintained.

At present our mind abides in cyclic existence and dwells in ignorance and confusion, yet it is this same mind that proceeds on the path and awakens to the ultimate realization. Just as a man changes his clothes yet does not change his name, the mind that achieves enlightenment is not some other mind from the one we now have. When the man removes all his clothes and stands naked, people still know him as the same man; just so, our mind, bare of the clothes of conflicting emotions, such as passion, aggression, jealousy and their instincts, is the same mind we have now.

The main creator of all emotional afflictions is the ignorance that grasps at “I” and “mine”. From this fundamental defilement all other defilements arise. However, although you may intellectually understand that you do not have an ego it is not easy to eliminate the mental grasping at it. Because of the great strengths of prior tendencies and obscurations it is very difficult to purify this grasping, just as it is not possible to clean thoroughly at once an extremely dirty object.

The method to eliminate the confusion of believing in an ego identity is to avoid grasping at the “self” in your activities. Although the best method for this is meditation on emptiness, most people are unable to meditate on this from the outset. At present you should have faith and then mentally examine which of the five main defilements of passion, aggression, arrogance, jealousy or ignorance is the heaviest. Like cutting weeds in a garden, first you have to cut off the conflicting emotions that are the strongest. If at this initial stage of mental development you let whatever negative emotions arise in the mind and follow them, actions leaving a propensity for future unsatisfactory results are created.

So for a beginner the purpose of practice should be the subduing of mental afflictions. You must think of aggression, desire and so forth as your real enemies and destroy them. Furthermore, you must develop mindfulness so that you can be aware of hatred and other conflicting emotions whenever they arise within your mind. Because most people have poor mindfulness, defilements simply arise and develop, leading to conflict within and without. As your mindfulness increases the opportunity for conflicting emotions to develop decreases. This is how you should practice now.

However, conflicting emotions will not always have to be approached in this way. The approach to them depends on the individual’s level of mental development. At first you have to acknowledge conflicting emotions as your enemy and eliminate them. Later, with increased mindfulness, you may simply watch them arise without trying to destroy them yet not falling under their influence. When you gain realization of emptiness afflicting emotions may be taken in and crystallized into the five primordial wisdoms. Aggression, for instance, may be transmuted into the mirror-like wisdom.

When commencing the preliminary practices your mind can still be easily distracted so you must develop mindfulness and eliminate any mental wandering. If you attempt to deal with negative emotions without the force of concentration then there will be no certainty that your approach will be beneficial. Although there are many ways of dealing with mental afflictions, the main practices you must have throughout the whole path are mindfulness and lack of mental wandering. They both go together since without one the other will not arise, although generally lack of mental wandering is said to be the cause of mindfulness.

These two practices will give you the ability to watch the mind and how it proceeds. For both to develop it is important to meditate on the suffering of the round of existence and impermanence. I personally feel that these two topics are especially effective for integrating the mind and propelling you into practice. Even if you meditate intensely on them for several weeks and then proceed onto other practices, the awareness of these fundamental preliminaries as well as the precious human form and cause and effect should always be maintained.

The spiritual teacher who guides you through the practices speaks out of his own experience since he has achieved the states of being of which he is speaking. Traditionally a teacher would closely examine any disciple coming to him before consenting to give instructions. Only if he was satisfied with the disciple’s qualifications would he give teachings such as those on the extraordinary preliminaries (refuge and prostration, Vajrasattva purification and recitation of the hundred syllable mantra, offering the mandala of the whole universe, and union with the spiritual master) and on further meditations leading to the understanding of the nature of reality.

However, at this present time it is difficult for the teacher to make such an intimate investigation. Therefore you should examine your own inclinations towards the various lineages of teachings. The faith you feel in your spiritual master must grow into the highest devotion, so it is advisable to spend more time investigating different traditions in order that you have no doubt once the commitment has been made.

When Milarepa first went to a Nyingma Lama he had neither much devotion to him nor did he do much practice. Then when he went to Marpa, the holder of the Mahamudra teachings, he was so intent on receiving the teachings that even though he was always rejected, his devotion and enthusiasm never decreased. Eventually, because of his profound devotion to Marpa he was given the complete teachings and went on to achieve full realization. Similarly, you must investigate your own connection with a specific teacher and his teachings. If you have a strong connection with your teacher, then the instructions you receive will be of complete benefit to you. However, this should not lead you to think that your own teacher and teachings are superior to others. To make such a discrimination between the traditions, especially when beginning preliminary practices, will create many obstacles.

The schools of Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug are of the Great Vehicle and all lineages come from Buddha. With the visualization of the assembly tree in the Drukpa Kagyü’s extraordinary preliminary practices prostrations are made to Dorje Chang (Vajradhara) and the specific lineage masters, but they are visualized as being surrounded by the masters from all Indian and Tibetan traditions. Thus the practices must be followed without any trace of sectarian bias.

Think that the lineage you choose to follow is that which is best for you but do not think that it is actually superior to any other lineage. Once you have committed yourself to your teacher it is not advisable to forsake him for another. There is a risk then that apparent contradictions will arise sowing the seeds of doubt within you. This would mean that there would be no certainty of benefits accruing from your practice. The Buddha himself gave many teachings, all of which were meant to suit the different capacities and inclinations of the practitioners present at the time. In the same way the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are suited to the varying dispositions of students.

From beginningless time we have been under the power of confusion and ego-grasping. It is not a simple matter to purify oneself of these, but if you now have attained a precious human birth and have made contact with the Dharma and teachers it means that you must have had some connection from a previous life. Now you have the opportunity to free yourself from the net of emotional and psychological afflictions. However, it is not sufficient merely to collect many teachings and to read many books. You must actually put whatever you learn into practice and prepare yourself for death. Dharma instructions are only of value if practiced and applied to the activities of life itself. By taking the teachings to heart it gives them weight and significance.


1  Thogme Zangpo in his Commentary to Shantideva’s “Venturing into the Activities of the Bodhisattva” says, “Life in hell, as a ghost or animal, as a barbarian or long-living celestial being, holding perverted views, born when a fully awakened being has not appeared, or born as an idiot are the eight states that lack freedom for Dharma practice. By abandoning them the eight freedoms are gained. Being human, in a central (Buddhist) country, having complete senses, not having committed the five heinous actions, having faith in the Doctrine, living when a fully awakened being has appeared and taught the Truth, when the Doctrine is flourishing and when there are followers and benefactors. These are the ten endowments.” [Return to text]

2  Päl-trül Rinpoche in his Word Commentary to (Shantideva’s) “Venturing Into the Activities of the Bodhisattva” states that an awakening warrior (Byang.chub.sems.dpa’; bodhisattva) “is a warrior (sems.dpa’; sattva) since without any timidity in his mind he courageously practices that which is difficult, performing deeds such as giving his head and limbs to others in order to attain the fully awakened state of being (byang.chub; bodhi).” [Return to text]

General advice paraphrased by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

by Kadam Geshe Karag Gomchung

This teaching was paraphrased by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, written down by Ven. Lhundup Damchö and edited by Nicholas Ribush in August 2003. Geshe Karag Gomchung is quoted several times in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.

Even a small, present suffering causes previously created negative karma to finish and brings happiness in future lives. Don’t look at suffering as negative or an obstacle. Rejoice. Be happy to be suffering.

If somebody praises you, it’s bad; if somebody criticizes you, it’s good. Praise causes pride and arrogance to arise; criticism causes you change your bad qualities into good. Criticism is good—it makes you a better person and allows you to practice Dharma. In this way you can benefit others and bring peace and happiness to yourself, both now and in the future.

If you are wealthy, you have the great suffering of accumulating and protecting. If you are a beggar, you have freedom from desire for this life, which results in the inner wealth of peace and happiness.

Comfort and pleasure are no good; discomfort and suffering are better. Comfort and pleasure exhaust your merit; discomfort and suffering exhaust your negative karma.

Any suffering you experience, like illness, is a blessing from your guru. It purifies your defilements. It is also a manifestation of emptiness. Suffering is merely imputed by your mind and therefore devoid of a real self. There is no real suffering existing from its own side; no real illness existing from its own side; no real pain existing from its own side; no real problem existing from its own side. Problems that appear to be real are like problems in a dream. The experience of them is totally empty—they do not exist at all in the way they appear and you believe.

A classic mind training (lo-jong) text by Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa.
This mind training (lo-jong) root text was composed by Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa (1054–1123). The verses were translated by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche at Kopan Monastery, 1980, and lightly edited by Ven.Constance Miller, 1997.

See also The Everflowing Nectar of Bodhicitta, a practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche that combines the eight verses with the Thousand-arm Chenrezig practice, and his Commentary on The Everflowing Nectar of Bodhicitta,  taught at the Eighth Kopan Course in 1975.

Also refer to the Commentary on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

1. Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefit from all sentient beings, who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, I shall hold them most dear at all times.
2. When in the company of others, I shall always consider myself the lowest of all, and from the depths of my heart hold others dear and supreme.

3. Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears in my mind, endangering myself and others, I shall confront and avert it without delay.

4. Whenever I see beings who are wicked in nature and overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering, I shall hold such rare ones dear, as if I had found a precious treasure.

5. When, out of envy, others mistreat me with abuse, insults, or the like, I shall accept defeat and offer the victory to others.

6. When someone whom I have benefited and in whom I have great hopes gives me terrible harm, I shall regard that person as my holy guru.

7. In short, both directly and indirectly, do I offer every happiness and benefit to all my mothers. I shall secretly take upon myself all their harmful actions and suffering.

8. Undefiled by the stains of the superstitions of the eight worldly concerns, may I, by perceiving all phenomena as illusory, be released from the bondage of attachment.

Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors.

How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

The second method of generating bodhicitta is that of exchanging oneself with others. The practice of equalising and exchanging oneself with others combined with the practice of tong-len, or giving and taking, is known as "training the mind" (lo-jong). If we look at the lineage of these instructions, they began with Buddha Shakyamuni and Manjushri and were handed down from them in an uninterrupted lineage of great masters including Shantideva. The great master Atisha received the lineage from Lama Serlingpa. When Atisha went to Tibet, he taught the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction publicly, and gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to Dromtonpa, because he felt that his other disciples were not fit vessels for such instructions.

Dromtonpa himself kept this lineage very secret—among his many disciples, he gave it only to his spiritual disciple, the foremost Kadampa virtuous friend, Geshe Potowa. Geshe Potowa also kept this instruction very, very secret. Although he too had many disciples, he gave these instructions only to the great Langri Tangpa and Geshe Sharawa. Geshe Langri Tangpa, on the basis of having received and realised these instructions, composed the renowned text, Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. Because these instructions had been put into writing, they became more widespread and many people were able to learn and practise them. Later, the great master Chekawa came to know them. Geshe Chekawa was a scholar learned in all the five sciences but was not satisfied with his knowledge and wished to learn the Dharma. One day he heard two lines of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, which said,

Give to others all gain and fortunes,
And take on yourself all loss and defeat.

Geshe Chekawa was intrigued by these lines and wanted to understand how to actually practise giving to others whatever victory and goodness there is and taking upon oneself all loss and defeat. Thus he went in search of these instructions. He traveled to the region of Penbo in Tibet, where Geshe Langri Tangpa lived, but discovered that this great master had already passed away. Fortunately, he met a disciple of Geshe Langri Tangpa, the master Geshe Sharawa, who gave him the complete instructions on exchanging oneself with others. By practising these instructions, Geshe Chekawa gained the full realisation of bodhicitta in his mind. He taught these instructions to many lepers, who were able to cure themselves of leprosy by practising exchanging oneself with others and tong-len. These instructions thus came to be known as "the Dharma of lepers." Meditating extensively on tong-len, with clear and powerful visualisation, is actually the supreme treatment for leprosy.

Geshe Chekawa, thinking that it would be a great loss if these instructions were kept secret, began to teach more publicly the practices of exchanging oneself with others and giving and taking.

The practice of tong-len, giving and taking, is indeed an inconceivably wonderful practice. In the past, when someone was sick, or had a spell cast on him, or was experiencing obstacles of some kind, he would seek the help of a Kadampa lama. The Kadampa lama would do the tong-len practice, taking upon himself both the suffering of the one who was being harmed and the one who was causing the harm, meditating on compassion especially toward the harm-giver. The lama would take upon himself all these sufferings with great compassion, and with great love would give away all virtues and benefits. The Kadampa lamas considered this practice to be the best remedy against spells, obstacles, sickness and so forth.

The instructions on exchanging oneself with others consist of five main points:

1. Equalising oneself with others
2. The disadvantage of cherishing oneself
3. The advantages of cherishing others
4. The actual thought of exchanging oneself with others
5. The meditation on giving and taking (tong-len)

Equalising Oneself with Others

At what point should you begin to meditate on the first subject, equalising oneself with others? Prior to this meditation, you should meditate on the first five steps in the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction: equanimity, recognising all beings as your mother, remembering their kindness, wishing to repay their kindness, and the affectionate love which sees them as beautiful. Thus you begin to meditate on equalising yourself with others after having gone through these five steps, which I already explained.

How should you equalise yourself with others? First of all, you need to understand what you mean by "self", when you think in terms of yourself. When we think "myself and others", this "myself" has a sense of great importance, whereas "others" has a sense of much less importance.

So when you think in terms of "me" or "myself", there is a much greater sense of importance than when you think in terms of others. Whatever concerns you becomes extremely significant—whether you feel good or bad, whether you are cold or hot—it is always more important than how others feel. Also, everything related to you—"my body, my possessions, my friends, my family, my kids," everything which is part of your life, yourself—has a much greater sense of importance than the same things related to others—"their bodies, their families," and so forth.

Thinking in this way you can see how you do not regard self and others as equal—you esteem yourself much more than others. However, consider it from the point of view of numbers: you are just one, whereas others are countless. So there is a discrepancy in the way you regard yourself and others: although there are so many more others than yourself, you regard yourself as more important than others. this is completely wrong.

You should decide that your objective in this meditation is to correct this discrepancy and learn to equalize yourself and others. The way to do this is by thinking that you and all other beings are exactly the same in wanting to be happy and free from suffering. You need to think over and over again about the fact that there is not the slightest difference between yourself and others in terms of wanting to be happy and wanting to be free from suffering. In this regard, you and others are exactly the same.

If you compare the instructions of the seven points of cause-and-effect and exchanging oneself with others, the five points of recognising all beings as mothers, remembering their kindness, wishing to repay their kindness, the extraordinary intention and bodhicitta, are the same. However, there is a difference when we come to the two points of affectionate love and great compassion. The strength of these feelings is different in the two practices. How is that? It is because when you meditate on the kindness of sentient beings according to the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction, you recollect how kind they were when they were your mother, whereas when you meditate according to the instructions on exchanging oneself with others, you recollect their kindness not only when they were your mother but also at other times, when they were not your mother. This meditation is more extensive. Therefore, when you train your mind in the instructions of exchanging oneself with others, the strength of your affectionate love and great compassion will be greater than when training the mind in the seven-point technique of cause-and -effect.

The aim of these instructions is to train your mind in actually exchanging yourself with others, and the way to push the mind in that direction is by contemplating both the faults of cherishing oneself and the advantages of cherishing others. Therefore the next step in the meditation is contemplating the many faults or disadvantages of cherishing oneself.

The Disadvantages of Cherishing Oneself

The sources of these instructions on recognising the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought or egoism are texts such as Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life), and the Guru Puja. There is a verse in the Guru Puja which says:

This chronic disease of cherishing ourselves
Is the cause giving rise to our unsought suffering;
Perceiving this, we seek your blessings to blame, begrudge
And destroy the monstrous demon of selfishness.

A verse from the Bodhisattvacaryavatara says: "All the suffering in the world comes from the desire for one's own happiness" and so forth. In the root text of The Seven-Point Thought Transformation, it says: "Banish the one to blame for everything." This means that all suffering—whatever unwanted problems, obstacles, shortcomings, and sufferings that exist—should be blamed on the self-cherishing thought alone. "All suffering" includes not only the problems that you yourself experience in your life, but from a larger point of view, it also includes wars between countries, disagreements between the leaders of different countries, disagreements at work, arguments within a family such as husband and wife fighting or parents and children fighting, and so forth. All these unwanted experiences come from egoism, the thought of cherishing oneself, and thus they should be blamed on the self-cherishing thought.

As another example of the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought, let's say you eat too much and get indigestion, and maybe even die from indigestion. Although it may seem that the cause is some kind of digestive ailment, in fact the real cause of the problem is that your self-cherishing mind was not satisfied but wanted more and more food. So you died not from indigestion but due to the self-cherishing thought.

Even in situations where it seems you are not responsible—for example, you are falsely accused of having done something wrong, or you are robbed of your possessions or killed—even in these situations, the cause is the self-cherishing thought. These experiences are the result of your past evolutionary actions [karma] which were motivated by the self-cherishing thought. In past lives, due to egoism, wanting happiness just for yourself, you harmed others, robbed and killed. In this life you are experiencing the results of those actions, therefore those sufferings are to be blamed only on egoism, the self-cherishing thought.

In the past, you were born countless times in the three lower realms, and this too is due to self-cherishing. The self-cherishing thought motivated you to create the causes to experience the sufferings of rebirth as a preta [hungry ghost], as a hell being and as an animal. For example, being born as a preta is the result of miserliness, which in turn comes from egoism, cherishing yourself more than others. Also, if, out of self-cherishing, you point out the physical faults of someone, saying that his face resembles that of an animal, you create the cause to be born as an animal. Therefore, all the sufferings you experienced in countless rebirths in the three lower realms come from nothing other than the self-cherishing thought.

Even from an ordinary point of view, the egoistic self-cherishing thought causes us so much harm. For example, because of holding yourself in high esteem, feeling that you are so great, when you meet someone who seems better than you, you become miserable with envy. When you meet someone who is equal to you, you will want to compete with that person. For example, you could be a businessman who always wants to be on top—that competitive attitude leads to so many problems. Then, when you meet people who are lower than you, you bully them, put them down and point out their faults. All this comes from the self-cherishing thought, feeling that you are so important, so high, so good. Because of these actions you create a great deal of problems in the present as well as the causes for future suffering. Actually, if you really think about all the disadvantages of egoism, the self-cherishing thought, they are inconceivable.

In brief, all the sufferings and difficulties you have encountered from beginningless time until now, all the unwanted experiences in cyclic existence are caused by egoism, the self-cherishing thought. In fact, all the sufferings of cyclic existence are caused both by self-grasping ignorance and the self-cherishing thought. From the philosophical point of view these are two different things, but in the context of mind training they are considered to be the same. On the one hand there is self-grasping—grasping at a true identity, a true I—and on the other hand there is a mind that, instead of letting go of the I, cherishes it, thinking, "I want to be happy, I need this, I need that." That is the self-cherishing thought, and on that basis all suffering, all unwanted experiences and all negativities are generated. Therefore it is the one to blame for everything.

Those of us who practise the Dharma must think continuously over and over again, about the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought and the advantages of cherishing others—taking care of others rather than oneself. we also need to consider the disadvantages of taking care of this life and the advantages of preparing for the next life. These are things that we need to do.

The Advantages of Cherishing Others

The next point is contemplating the advantages or qualities of cherishing others, or altruism.

This point is clearly stated in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara by Shantideva, which says, "All the happiness of the world comes from altruism." Also, there is a verse in the Guru Puja which says,

I see that cherishing these beings, my mothers,
Is the thought that leads to happiness
And the door leading to infinite qualities.

The root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation says, "Meditate on the great kindness of all sentient beings."

On the basis of these quotations you should realise the advantage of cherishing others. For instance, all the happiness of the human rebirth and other fortunate rebirths—having perfect wealth, surroundings, relations and so forth—comes from altruism, cherishing others. Why? Due to cherishing others' lives you abandon killing, and the result of abandoning killing is a fortunate rebirth and also a long life. So having a long life and a fortunate rebirth come directly from having abandoned killing because of cherishing others' lives. Also, having perfect wealth and surroundings is the result of abandoning stealing and practising generosity, both of which are done on the basis of cherishing others.

In brief, as it says in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, "There is no need to elaborate more than this; just look at the childish beings who work for their own benefit, and the Buddhas who work for the benefit of others." And there is a verse in the Guru Puja which says, "In short, childish beings work only for their own welfare, while Buddha Shakyamuni acted solely for the benefit of others."

Childish beings act solely for themselves, thinking of their own happiness, in the same way that a child thinks only about himself. On the other hand, the Buddhas became enlightened by cherishing others. Without needing to go into detail, just by looking at the differences between these two types of beings and their actions, we can clearly recognise the differences between self-cherishing and cherishing others.

Consider Buddha Shakyamuni—in the past, since from beginningless time, Buddha Shakyamuni had been like us, trapped in cyclic existence. Then, at some point, He began to cherish others and on the basis of practising altruism, was able to fulfill the two purposes [of attaining enlightenment and leading others to enlightenment]. Now look at ourselves—because of continuously caring for ourselves alone, cherishing ourselves, we haven't been able to achieve even our own purpose but have been wandering in cyclic existence and the three lower realms again and again since beginningless time. We don't need to go into much detail, just compare the results of Buddha Shakyamuni's actions and our own—one comes from cherishing others and the other comes from egoism, cherishing ourselves. Therefore, by following the self-cherishing thought, no good will come about—only the three unfortunate rebirths.

At this point, Lama Dorje Chang Pabongka would tell stories from the life of Drukpa Kunley, a great meditator of the Drukpa Kagyü tradition who was famous for having an unusual way of speaking which made people laugh.

One day Drukpa Kunley went to Lhasa and paid a visit to the Jokhang, the main temple of Lhasa where you find the Jowo, a very famous statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Normally, you enter and pay homage to the Jowo, then you circumambulate and take blessings. Drukpa Kunley did this—he circumambulated the statue and took blessings—but then he stood directly in front of the Jowo and said, " In the past you and I were the same, but then you began to practise altruism and to take care of others, so you have become a perfect Buddha. I have been taking care only of myself and I'm still in samsara. Indeed I should now prostrate to you."

Drukpa Kunley was an unconventional yogi; he would express the Dharma truth in a very humorous way. It is said that he once visited the Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal, which has an unusual shape, unlike other stupas which are built in one of eight standard designs. When he arrived at the stupa, he prostrated and said "Although you look like a round heap and unlike one of the eight stupas gone to bliss, I still prostrate to you."

Another time he said, "I've lost three important, precious things." When asked what it was he had lost he said, "One precious thing which I lost is called ignorance, another one is called desire, and the third is called aversion. I have lost these three things which others regard as important and cherish so much." This shows his achievements, but it was expressed in an unusual, funny way. At any rate, Drukpa Kunley was a great adept, and I think that there is a translation of his biography containing all these stories.1

Therefore, we should consider what Buddha Shakyamuni achieved by cherishing others and compare this with the difficulties we are still experiencing because of cherishing ourselves alone. It is very useful to read the stories of Buddha Shakyamuni's previous lives when he was still practising on the path as related, for example, in the Jataka Tales. These stories show how he performed many incredible deeds in order to cherish others, and thus they can inspire us to practise thought transformation.

It is at this point in the meditation that you reflect on the kindness of sentient beings, both when they were your mothers and when they were not. This reflection becomes very helpful because you realise even more reasons to cherish others rather than to cherish yourself. To give an easy example of the kindness of others when they were not your mothers: the simple fact that we are able to gather in this room and enjoy listening to the Mahayana Dharma is completely due to the kindness of others. Many people put in a great deal of effort so that we can be here. First of all, there may have been another building here that had to be torn down, and that required a number of workers. Then other people worked to design the new building and buy the materials such as bricks, cement and so forth. Other people were needed to operate the machines, since machines don't work by themselves, and to do the actual construction work on the building. Then, when the building was finished, people worked on decorating the interior and collecting the representations of the Buddha's Body, Speech and Mind to place on the altar. Therefore, the fact that we can enjoy coming together here today and listening to the Mahayana Dharma is entirely due to the kindness of others, isn't it?

The same applies to your own home, your belongings, the things you enjoy—all of these are due to the kindness of others. You might say, "No, this is not true. I bought my house with my own money; I bought my clothes with my own money." Yes, that is true, but you earned your money on the basis of others. "Okay, I got the money from others but this is because I worked hard: I did something to receive this money in return." Yes, but the fact that you are able to work is because of others, isn't it? If you think about it carefully, you will see that whatever happiness you now enjoy comes exclusively from the kindness of others.

When you reflect on the advantages of cherishing others, it is very effective to incorporate all these different thoughts. You can also contemplate that all the benefits right up to the attainment of Buddha's state come about because of cherishing others. How is this? If you want to become a Buddha, you must generate the precious mind of bodhicitta, because without bodhicitta, there is no Buddha. The generation of bodhiciita comes about because of the wish to benefit others: "I must achieve the state of Enlightenment in order to benefit others." Also, the exceptional cause of bodhiciita is great compassion, and great compassion comes from cherishing others. Therefore, it is because of others that you generate great compassion.

Furthermore, the practice of the six perfections depends on others. For example, you practise morality in relation to others, and in order to practise generosity and patience you need an object, and these objects are others. It is so true what Shantideva taught in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, when he says,

Both the Victorious Ones and sentient beings are indispensable to achieving the supreme enlightenment, and since I pay homage to the victors, why don't I pay homage to sentient beings as well?

This is saying that the achievement of supreme enlightenment is half due to the kindness of the Buddhas and half due to the kindness of sentient beings. When we give so much importance to honouring the Buddhas, why don't we give the same importance to honouring the sentient beings who are equally indispensable to our achievement of enlightenment? As the great master Langri Tangpa says in his Eight Verses of Thought Transformation,

I can achieve the supreme state of enlightenment due to the kindness of sentient beings, therefore they are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel and I should cherish them to that extent.

There are so many heart-warming instructions on the kindness of sentient beings.

This great master Tangri Langpa was so exceptional, he was truly a superior being. (By the way, he is in the line of the previous incarnations of the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.) It is said that Langri Tangpa was always very serious and smiled only three times in his whole life, so he was known as "Langri Tangpa of the black face" (in Tibetan the term "black face" means "serious"). He spent all of his time meditating on the disadvantages of cyclic existence and bodhicitta, and that is why he didn't find many occasions to laugh.

I'll tell you the story of one of the three occasions when Langri Tangpa laughed and what made him laugh. This story is about his mandala set. In the Kadampa tradition and in the tradition of Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, the practice of offering the mandala is very much emphasized. When I was young in Tibet, most of us would bring our mandala sets to teachings, so that at the point of offering the mandala very few would be without one. In the row of the tulkus [reincarnated lamas], each tulku would have his own beautiful mandala set—some made of gold, some of silver—but the top would always be of gold. It was quite scene when all the tulkus offered their mandalas! But that was in the past, and then at a certain point everything was taken away. My own mandala set was taken away. There is also a particular implement used to offer the hundred tormas, which is a kind of flat container decorated with symbols. I had one of these because the Kadampa tradition places so much emphasis on the practice of offering tormas, but that was taken away as well. By "taken away" I mean confiscated by the Communists. Nowadays, I use something very simple.

Anyway, one day Langri Tangpa was meditating, and he had his mandala set on the table next to him. It was probably a simple mandala set, not a beautiful or elaborate one. As he was meditating, he noticed that a mouse had come and was eating some of the grains of his mandala. Among the grains was a big turquoise and for some reason, the mouse was attracted to the turquoise and started to pick at it, trying to get hold of it, but it was too big for him. Then another mouse came and began helping the first one, so both of them were trying to get hold of it. Pretty soon there were five mice and they devised a way to get the turquoise: one mouse laid on his back and held the turquoise on his stomach, and the other four mice held his head and legs and were pulling him along. Langri Tangpa had been watching the mice and when he saw this he broke into a slight laugh. Why did he laugh? Because he thought that in cyclic existence when it comes to fulfilling one's needs, animals are more clever than human beings. It's true, sometimes animals can be smarter than human beings in taking care of the needs and happiness of this life.

The Actual Thought of Exchanging Oneself with Others

So now we come to the fourth step in the meditation, which is the actual thought of exchanging oneself with others. What is meant by exchanging oneself with others? Prior to this, we contemplated deeply the disadvantages of cherishing oneself, realising that all unwanted experiences and bad things come from egoism. Like a chronic disease which slowly, gradually destroys your health and physical form, the self-cherishing thought has, from beginningless time, been the source of all your suffering and problems. On the other hand, all the good things—good qualities, happiness, advantages and so forth—derive from cherishing others, from altruism. Realising this, you now begin to train your mind in exchanging the thought which cherishes oneself and disregards others for the thought which cherishes others and disregards yourself.

Until now we have been disregarding others and taking care of ourselves, but from now on, we have to take care of others and disregard ourselves. Exchanging oneself with others doesn't mean that you take others in your place and put yourself in others' place. Instead it means that you exchange the mind which cherishes oneself and ignores others with the mind which cherishes others and ignores oneself. You need to meditate on this again and again, continuously, and in this way train your mind in exchanging yourself with others.

The Meditation on Giving and Taking (Tong-Len)

On the basis of the thought of exchanging oneself with others, you practise the meditation on giving and taking. What is giving and taking? With the mind of compassion you take on the suffering of others and with the mind of love you give them happiness. The root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation says, "giving and taking should be practised alternately." In the Tibetan term, tong-len, giving comes first—tong means "giving" and len means "taking"—but in actual practice, you first train your mind in taking—taking upon yourself the suffering of others—and leave aside the practice of giving.


You begin the practice of taking by contemplating the sufferings of the precious mother sentient beings until an unbearable sense of compassion arises within you. Then you visualise that suffering in the aspect of black light, which separates from the sentient beings in the same way that hairs separate from your skin when you shave. You visualise that this suffering in the aspect of black light comes and absorbs into the self-cherishing thought which is at the centre of your heart.

You can do the meditation in an elaborate way, going one by one through all the different realms of the sentient beings, starting from the hells. For example, you can think about the sufferings of sentient beings in the hot hells—sufferings due to the intense heat, fire and so forth—and then take upon yourself this suffering in the form of hot fire, visualising that it absorbs straight into the centre of your heart, into the egoistic, self-cherishing thought.

You continue to meditate in this way, gradually progressing through all the different levels and kinds of sentient beings all the way up the bodhisattvas of the tenth bhumi, taking all their suffering into the centre of the self-cherishing thought in your heart. You take on not only their sufferings but all the obscurations and negativities as well, wishing that they actually ripen upon you, and feel that in this way, all these negativities are completely purified.

For some individuals, it may be difficult immediately to visualise taking the sufferings of others, such as those of the hell beings, pretas and so forth—upon yourself. If that is the case, you need to first train your mind in taking on your own suffering. As mentioned in the root text, "You should begin by taking from yourself." The way to do this is to consider the sufferings that you will experience tomorrow, and take these sufferings upon yourself in the aspect of black light as I explained before. Then take on the sufferings you will experience the day after tomorrow, and so forth—contemplating and taking on all the sufferings of the coming month, the coming year, the rest of your life, the next life, and all the future rebirths—you gradually take on all these sufferings in the aspect of black light, and they absorb into the self-cherishing thought in your heart.

Once you have trained your mind in this meditation and become familiar with taking upon yourself all the sufferings you will experience in the future, from tomorrow through your future lives, then you train in taking on the sufferings of loved ones: your parents, relatives, friends and those who are close to you. Then, when you are familiar with this, train in taking on the sufferings of strangers, those for whom you feel neither attachment nor aversion. Then you switch to your enemies. In this way, meditating with the thought of compassion, you gradually widen your scope to include all sentient beings, taking upon yourself their sufferings in the aspect of black light that ripens in the centre of your heart, the self-cherishing thought.


Taking is practised on the basis of intense compassion, and giving is practised on the basis of love. The way in which you meditate on giving is as explained in the verse, "In order to benefit sentient beings, may my body turn into whatever they wish for." You emanate replicas of your body and visualise that these bodies transform the environment and sentient beings. Let's say you start with the hot hells: you first send out countless bodies which become a cooling rain that completely extinguishes the fires of the hells. Due to the soothing rain, the bodies of the hell-beings transform and they achieve precious human rebirths, with the freedoms and endowments. The bodies you send out also transform into pleasant, enjoyable things such as the objects of the six senses, and in this way you completely fulfil their wishes. Then you again emanate countless bodies which take the aspect of spiritual masters teaching Dharma to those beings who then practise Dharma and gradually achieve enlightenment.

Next, you move on to the sentient beings in the cold hells. This time the bodies you emanate become bright sunlight which completely warms up the freezing environment, and you provide the sentient beings with warm clothes. Again, the beings of the cold hells transform and achieve precious human rebirths, and by emanating countless bodies in the aspect of spiritual guides, you teach them the Dharma and they all reach enlightenment.

You progress through the meditation on each type of sentient being in the same way. For the pretas, the bodies you emanate become food and drink; for the animals, they become wisdom that clears away their ignorance; for the titans, they become armour to protect their bodies; for the devas, they become enjoyments of the five senses; and for human beings, who have such strong desire, they become whatever people need or desire. For the Buddhas and spiritual masters, when you train in giving, you emanate inconceivable clouds of offerings and make prayers for their long lives.

While you are training your mind in the practice of taking and giving, you should also practise the following advice given in the root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation: "The instruction to be followed, in brief, is to take these words to heart in all activities." This means that in your meditation and in all your activities, you should use the special words of the tong-len practice as a way to recollect and empower your meditation. For example, you can use the verse from the Guru Puja which says:

O venerable, compassionate Guru, bless me.
May all the sufferings, negative actions and obscurations
Of all beings, who were once my mothers,
Ripen on me now, without exception.
May I give all my happiness and virtue to others
And may all beings have happiness.

So while you are training, in your actual meditation and throughout all your daily activities, you should continuously recite this verse. These words from the Guru Puja are so powerful, so full of blessings, that it is indeed very important to recite them all the time. There is even a practice of accumulating one hundred thousand repetitions of this verse while meditating, and this would be an excellent practice to do.

In the prayer, you first entreat the lama by saying, "O venerable, compassionate Guru," and then you say, "bless me—may all the sufferings and negativities of all the precious mother sentient beings ripen on me right now, without exception. And bless me to give all my roots of virtue and goodness to others, so that these may ripen upon them." The verse concludes with the prayer: "may all sentient beings have happiness." This is really an exceptional, powerful prayer.

It has become a tradition that when the Guru Puja is recited, this verse is repeated three times. This tradition was initiated by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang. Before his time, the Guru Puja would be recited straight from the beginning to the end, but because he placed so much importance on this verse, he began the practice of reciting it three times. So the fact that this tradition has continued up to now is due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang.

Practising Giving and Taking with the Breath

The next verse in the root text says, "These two, taking and giving, should be made to ride on the breath." This means that after you have become familiar and proficient with the meditation as explained, then you should combine the meditation with your breathing. The way to do this is as follows: while you are breathing out, think that you breathe out all your goodness, and this transforms into whatever is needed for the benefit of sentient beings. You breathe whatever goodness there is within you—your body, virtues, richness, and so forth—and this transforms into whatever benefits all sentient beings.

Then, when you breathe in, think that along with the flow of your breath come all the sufferings of all sentient beings in the form of black light. These sufferings in the aspect of black light enter you and go straight to the source of all the negativities and sufferings you have experienced since beginningless time—your egoistic, self-cherishing thought—and they ripen right there, in your heart. Your see, the mind and the breath are inseparable. The mind rides on the breath, so this visualisation that combines giving and taking with the breathing becomes a powerful cause for generating bodhicitta. It's also similar to the vajra recitation which is found in the practice of highest yoga tantra.

It is very beneficial to do this practice as you are going to sleep. Before you go to sleep, generate the thought of love and do the visualisation of giving while breathing out; then with the thought of compassion do the visualisation of taking while breathing in. If you go to sleep doing this practice, then the whole time you are asleep, especially if you like to sleep a lot—until eight or nine in the morning!

As for myself, the more i progress in years, the more I need to sleep, and also my sleep gets deeper. But when I was young and studying at Sera Monastery, I had the habit of staying up all night. The night is very long and you can do so many things—you can do prayers, read texts, whatever you want to do. In the early morning, at dawn, I would feel so happy. My mind would feel very fresh and I would rejoice from the depths of my heart, thinking, "How lucky I am! I was up all night and was able to do these things while the majority of the people around me were asleep." I would consider myself so fortunate to be able to stay up all night and practise. This is something Venerable Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche does. But now, as I grow older, I need more sleep, so I am unable to stay awake all night even if I want to.

I really want to stress the importance of transforming sleep into virtuous practice because if you calculate the way you spend your life, almost half of it is spent sleeping. Therefore it becomes very crucial that the time you spend sleeping becomes virtuous practice, doesn't it?

In his Songs of Experience, Milarepa said, "At night, sometimes I sleep, and when I sleep I practise merging sleep with the clear light, because I have received instructions on the clear light of sleep. Other people do not have these instructions—how lucky I am!" There are very few people who are actually able to merge sleep with the clear light practice, so for the majority of us who are beginners, it is extremely practical and useful to go to sleep while meditating on giving and taking. In this way, the entire time you spend sleeping becomes the actual practice of tong-len, and thus becomes virtuous.

Practising in Daily Life

Actually it is extremely important that all the actions we do—sitting, walking, going, coming and so forth—become Dharma. If you divide twenty-four hours into two parts, almost the whole of one part is spent sleeping, and if your sleep is not transformed into virtuous practice, then it becomes empty and even non-virtuous. That means that half the day has disappeared in non-virtue. Then you wake up and, even if you generate a very strong motivation to practise virtue during the day, it is extremely difficult to maintain it. When you sit down to do your prayers, sometimes your mind is so distracted and goes in so many different directions that you're not even sure whether or not you have done all the prayers up to the point you've reached in your recitation. So you have to go back and recite those prayers all over again to make sure that you have at least completed all your commitments.

If it is difficult to generate a pure, virtuous state of mind when reciting prayers, how much harder it is to do so during the day when we are engaged in social activities, especially when most of our time is spent gossiping. Whenever we have the chance to talk, right away we start talking and then we spend so much time gossiping, which is a non-virtuous action, isn't it? Therefore it is extremely crucial that we transform as many of our actions during the day and night as we possibly can into virtue, into Dharma practice.

If we transform our actions into Dharma then we will make our life meaningful. The most important thing is to begin in the morning, as soon as we open our eyes, by generating a very strong motivation. We should think, "I'm still alive this morning, so I'm very fortunate. Due to the kindness of the Three Jewels, I didn't die last night. Therefore I must make this coming day as meaningful as possible by practising Dharma."

After generating a strong motivation in the morning, you should carry it through the day, reminding yourself of it again and again, in all your activities. Normally, the first thing you do after getting up is to jump into the shower, so while taking a shower you can practise the yoga of washing together with the ablution mantras, or do a purification practice. Following that, if you don't have to go to work, you can sit down and begin your daily meditation commitments. Otherwise, if you have to go to work, you can use your time at work to create virtue. If your job mainly involves physical activity, then you can turn your speech and mind to virtue—the mind especially can be made virtuous by recollecting again and again the motivation you generated in the morning.

Then you come to lunchtime. We normally eat at least three times a day, and when eating we can practise the yoga of taking food, which is part of deity yoga. There is a quotation from the great yogi Drogchen Lingrepa which says, "All the holy places are in your body—in your chakras. You don't have to go away. If you want to make pilgrimage, visit there. If you want to do the practice of purification and collecting merit, do it there, in your chakras, in your holy places." According to the practice of deity yoga, the assembly of deities resides in the subtle body of the psychic channels and chakras. Therefore, when you practise the yoga of eating, you visualise the deity's holy body or the body mandala and use the food to make tsog offering. Lama Dorje Chang used to quote this verse—it's very nice.

As you continue with your usual daily activities, remind yourself again and again of the motivation you generated in the morning. Then at night, before going to sleep, think over what you did during the day and check whether or not you have acted in accordance with your motivation. If you realise that you did any negative actions, confess and purify them, but if you realise that your actions were completely compatible with your motivation, then rejoice in all the virtues you created throughout the day.

The Kadampa lamas of the past used to keep count of their virtuous and non-virtuous actions. They kept two piles of stones, one black and one white. Whenever they noticed a delusion or a disturbing thought in their mind, they would add a black stone, and whenever a virtuous thought rose, they would add a white stone. At the end of the day they would count the black and white stones. They would confess and purify the delusions and negativities they had created, and generate the strong intention to keep their mind free from those negativities the following day. They would rejoice in whatever virtues they created and resolve to create even more the next day. Then they would go to sleep doing the practice of merging sleep with the clear light. This may be very difficult for us to practise, so it is important for us to go to sleep merging our sleep with the practice of tong-len.

The Eleven-Point Meditation of Developing Bodhicitta

As I mentioned earlier, when you actually undertake the practice of training the mind in bodhicitta, there is a way of combining the two sets of instructions—the seven-point technique of cause and effect and exchanging oneself with others—into eleven steps. This is according to the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa. By meditating on either of the two techniques alone, you will definitely generate bodhicitta. However, this uncommon way of merging the two and meditating on the eleven points enables you to generate bodhicitta more quickly and with less hardship.

How do we merge the two techniques into eleven steps?

(1) First of all you meditate on equanimity, visualising a friend, enemy and stranger.

(2) The second point is to recognise all sentient beings as your mother, by using the reasoning of the beginningless nature of the mind and by reflecting on different quotations.

(3) Third is recognising the kindness of sentient beings when they were your mother, just as your mother of this life is kind to you in the beginning, middle and end.

(4) Next is the uncommon point of recollecting the special kindness of sentient beings when they were not your mother.

Then you meditate on:

(5) the equality of self and others,

(6) the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought; and

(7) the advantages of cherishing others.

(8) Following that, with a mind filled with compassion, you do the meditation of taking upon yourself all the sufferings of sentient beings, and later incorporate this meditation with the breath.

(9) Then with a mind of incredible love, you give all sentient beings all your goodness and roots of virtue, sending these out with the breath as you exhale.

10) At this point you generate the extraordinary intention by thinking, "I have been meditating on taking upon myself the suffering of all sentient beings and giving them all my goodness and roots of virtue, but this has been only on the level of visualisation—it hasn't actually happened, but I am definitely going to make it happen in reality. I myself will definitely take on the suffering of all sentient beings and give them all the roots of virtue and happiness that they wish for." Thinking this way you generate a very special sense of responsibility.

11) In order to fulfill this responsibility, you generate bodhicitta: "I am going to become a Buddha in order to help all sentient beings."

At this point you take the result of bodhicitta into the path by visualising that you transform into the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni, emanating countless rays of light which purify all sentient beings and lead them to the state of the Buddha. Visualise that they all transform into Buddhas, and stabilise your meditation on this. Conclude the meditation session by rejoicing that you have actually been able to bring all sentient beings to the state of enlightenment.

Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path to Enlightenment

The next section of the root text, the Seven-Point Thought Transformation, deals with transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment. This practice is absolutely crucial, especially for the present degenerate time in which we live. In this degenerate age there are so many obstacles, especially for Dharma practitioners. This practice enables the practitioner to take all the obstacles, all the adverse circumstances, and transform them into conducive circumstances and even into the actual path to enlightenment. In fact, it enables the practitioner to not have any obstacles at all.

This section is divided into two points: transforming adverse circumstances by way of thought and by way of action. The first, transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment by way of thought is further divided into two: by using reasoning and by using the view.

With regard to the first, using reasoning, the root text says, "When the environment and its inhabitants overflow with unwholesomeness, transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment." And the commentary quotes from the Guru Puja:

Should even the environment and the beings therein be filled
With the fruits of their karmic debts
And unwished-for sufferings pour down like rain,
We seek your blessings to take these miserable conditions as a path
By seeing them as causes to exhaust the results of our negative karma.

For example, when we get sick we tend to think that it is because of the food we ate, or because of spirits or obstacles, or because someone had cast a spell on us. These are the reasons that come to our mind. This is a clear indication that we are not able to recognise the real root of the sickness and to understand why we are experiencing that particular problem. We need to go back and look at [the section in the lam-rim on] the training for the individual of the small scope, which explains the teachings on evolutionary actions and results. Here it clearly explains that results are experienced due to karma, due to actions which we created in the past. It does not explain that a result such as sickness comes from eating a particular kind of food, or because someone has cast a spell on us, or because we are possessed by spirits. It explains that the results we experience are due to evolutionary actions created in the past. Therefore it really is indispensable to know how to transform adverse circumstances such as sickness into circumstances conducive to the attainment of enlightenment.

If you pay very careful attention to the advice of the old Kadampa lamas, it is so beneficial for the mind. They said, "Sickness and pain are the broom which sweeps away negativities." If you think about this advice, it is really powerful. It means that what bring the results of sickness, pain and suffering are the negative evolutionary actions which you accumulated in the past. By experiencing the result, that particular negative karma is cleared away, swept away by the broom of suffering. The advice of the old Kadampa lamas is so powerful.

This advice must be practised continuously. We should think in this way whenever we experience physical or mental suffering. In particular, we should think that up to now we have meditated so much on tong-len, giving and taking, and have made many prayers that all the suffering of all sentient beings without exception may ripen upon us. Now our prayers are bringing some result—we are getting what we wished for—therefore we should rejoice. We should even wish for more suffering to come—the more suffering, the better. Why? Because the more suffering we experience, the more accumulated negativities are cleansed. We can actually get to the point where we wish for more suffering to ripen upon ourselves because we understand that that is what cleanses the negativities.

There is nothing more beneficial that the practice of lam-rim and thought transformation at times of experiencing physical and mental suffering. This is something I have experienced myself. For instance, there were times when I experienced incredible hardships, incredible sufferings of body and mind. At those times, I was able to think that all these sufferings and hardships were the result of past evolutionary actions and that by experiencing them, the negativities will be completely purified. Then in my mind came the thought that the more suffering that comes, the better it is, because in that way more negativities will be purified. It is due to the kindness of my gurus—having received the teachings of thought transformation from Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang and also many times from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche—that when I went through incredible pain, suffering and hardships of body and mind, I experienced the thought of not wishing the suffering to end. When difficulties come, I don't need to be afraid. In Tibetan the word for "existence" is sipa, which also means "possible". In existence, anything is possible, anything can happen. However, on the basis of practising the teachings of lam-rim and thought transformation, you can reach a point where no matter what hardships or difficulties occur, your mind is unshakeable. Your mind cannot be shaken by suffering, hardship or adverse circumstances.

The sayings of the Kadampa lamas are so true. For example, they say, "Adverse circumstances are an incentive for practice," and "Sprits and possession are manifestations of buddhas, and suffering is the manifestation of emptiness." Another saying goes, "I don't like happiness, but I like suffering." Why did they say this? When we experience happiness, we consume the merits accumulated in the past; when we experience suffering, we purify negativities accumulated in the past. Therefore it is much better to experience suffering that happiness. As for ourselves, we like happiness and don't like suffering, but the advice of the Kadampa lamas is completely opposite: "I don't like happiness because in that way I consume merits, but I like suffering because in that way I purify negativities."

Another advice of the Kadampa lamas is, "I don't like a high position, I like a lower position." For us it is completely the opposite: we always like to be on top and don't like to be down below. However, the lower position is the position of the Victorious Ones, which allows one to proceed to become a Buddha. The Kadampa lamas also said, "I don't like praise, but I like criticism." Why is this so? Although we feel uneasy when we receive it, criticism is actually very beneficial because it allows us to see our faults and to change on the basis of that. If we receive nothing but praise, the only thing that increases is our pride. Praise is therefore not beneficial, and it is even damaging because it increases our delusions. Criticism on the other hand allows us to identify our faults and work on them.

Transforming Adverse Circumstances by Way of the View

So now we come to the thought transformation practice of transforming adverse circumstances into the path by way of the view. This is done by reflecting again and again on the fact that if you search for the actual entity of what an adverse circumstance appears to be, if you search in depth, you cannot find a single atom which exists on its own, by its own nature. Instead, what you find is just what is merely labeled. It is completely unfindable in nature; ultimately it is not there. You have to bring this thought into your mind again and again.

However, if you are not proficient in analysing the nature of phenomena with the view, then you should think in this way, "Whatever happens to me in this very short life, whether it is happiness or suffering, at the end of this life all those experiences will be just memories. They are like dreams, completely insubstantial, so there is absolutely no reason to grasp at them with attachment or aversion. There is not even a single atom of them that I can grasp with attachment or aversion."2

The Importance of Bodhicitta

In conclusion, the most important thing is to apply one's energy as much as possible towards the development of bodhicitta in this life. The significance of bodhicitta was shown by the way Lama Atisha greeted people. When we meet people we usually say, "How are you?" or Ni how ma? Lama Atisha, however, would greet people by asking, "Do you have a good heart?" or "Has the good heart arisen within you yet?" This showed the importance he gave to the practice of bodhicitta.

As I mentioned earlier, the great master Shantideva said that just as we churn milk to extract its essence, butter, we should extract the essence of the 84,000 heaps of teachings given by Buddha Shakyamuni—this essence is bodhicitta. Therefore, as bodhicitta is the essence of the entirety of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings, we must definitely make an effort to develop bodhicitta in our mind in this very life.


1. See Keith Dowman & Sonam Paljor, The Divine Madman—The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley. London, 1980. [Return to text]

2. Earlier Ribur Rinpoche mentioned that one can also transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment by way of action, but he did not elaborate on the point. As found in Advice from a Spiritual Friend (Geshe Rabten and Geshe Ngawang Dargyey; wisdom Publications, London, 1986, pgs. 68-69), this includes the practice of accumulating merit, purifying negative karma, and making offerings to harmful spirits and dharma protectors. [Return to text]

Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors.

How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

Bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, is something that is truly inconceivable, truly splendid and marvellous. One of the great gurus of Lama Atisha told him that an attainment such as clairvoyance, or a vision of a deity, or concentration as stable as a mountain is nothing compared to bodhicitta. For us, these attainments seem amazing. If we ourselves, or if someone we heard of, had a visioon of a deity, achieved clairvoyance, or through practising meditation attained concentration as stable as a mountain, we would think this to be unbelievably wonderful. However. Atisha's guru said to him: "These are nothing compared to bodhicitta. Therefore, practise bodhicitta."

Even if you practised mahamudra or dzogchen or the two stages of highest yoga tantra [generation stage and completion stage] and even if you achieved the vision of many deities, these are not beneficial if you do not have bodhicitta.

As the great Bodhisattva Shantideva said, "If you churn the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their essence is bodhicitta." By churning milk we get butter, which is the very essence of milk. In the same way, if we examine and churn all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their very essence is the practice of bodhicitta. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to strive to achieve the uncontrived, effortless experience of bodhicitta. At the very least, we should try our best to generate the contrived experience of bodhicitta, the bodhicitta that arises through effort.

There are two main lineages of instructions on the basis of which you can practise and generate bodhicitta. The first is the seven-point cause and effect instruction and the second is the instruction on exchanging oneself and others.

The first, the seven-point cause and effect instruction by which you generate bodhicitta on the basis of developing affectionate love towards all sentient beings, is a practice which was used by such great Indian pandits as Chadrakirti, Chandragomin, Shantarakshita and so forth. The second, the instruction on exchanging oneself with others, comes mainly from Shantideva. Whether you choose to train your miind in the seven-point cause and effect instruction or in exchanging oneself with others, the result is that you will generate bodhicitta in your mind.

The great saint Atisha showed extraordinary interest in bodhicitta. In order to obtain the complete instructions on the practice of bodhiciita, he embarked on a long journey to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to study with the great master Serlingpa, not caring about the many hardships he endured on the way. Today we can travel to Indonesia by a very fast ship or by airplane, but at that time it took Atisha thirteen months to reach Indonesia. Once he arrived, he received the complete expereintial instruction on both the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others from the master Serlingpa. He then practised for twelve years at his master's feet, until he fully developed bodhicitta. Thus Lama Atisha came to possess both instruction lineages: the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others.

Although he held both lineages, Atisha would teach only the seven-point technique in public, to large assemblies of disciples, and would teach instructions on exchanging oneself with others secretly to a select group of qualified disciples. When Atisha went to Tibet, he gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to his principal disciple, Dromtonpa.

Later, the great Lama Tsongkhapa, the Protecor of all beings, incorporated the two sets of instructions into a single practice consisting of eleven points. When you are receiving teachings on bodhicitta, you receive the two sets of instructions separately, but when you are actually meditating on bodhicitta—training your mind—then you combine both instructions and meditate on the eleven points. Combining the two instructions into a single practice for the purpose of training the mind in meditation is said to be a particular greatness of the Gelugpa tradition.

In a prayer composed by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang requesting to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa, he wrote: "By merging the practices of the seven-point mind technique and exchanging oneself with others of the precious mind, this greatness which is not shared by others, may I thus be able to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa." "Not shared by others" means that this merging of the two practices devised by Je Rinpoche is a unique approach which is not found in other traditions.

I first received these teachings from the holy mouth of the incredibly kind Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, when he taught the eight great lam-rim texts over a period of four months at Sera Monastery in Tibet. At that time I was very young. When he reached the point of explaining exchanging oneslef with others, he gave teachings on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation. Later I received these teachings twice from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.

The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction

As for the seven points of the cause and effect instruction, one begins by meditating on equanimity and then proceeds through the following steps:

1. Recognising all sentient beings as one's mother
2. Recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings
3. Repaying their kindness
4. Affectionate love
5. Great compassion
6. The extraordinary intention
7. Bodhicitta

The first six points, recognising all sentient beings as one's mother and so forth, are the casues which give birth to the result, bodhicitta.

The way in which these realisations come about, step by step, is that bodhicitta, the thought of attaining enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, arises from and must be preceded by a sense of responsibility. In Tibetan the term is lhagsam, which is sometimes called "extraordinary intention", or "exceptional attitude, or "universal responsibility"—it is a feeling of responsibility to benefit all sentient beings. For this intention to come about you must have a powerful wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering—that is great compassion. For that to arise you must have developed affectionate love towards all sentient beings. At the moment we have affectionate love for our dear ones, but we don't have affectionate love for those who are not dear to us. In order to generate this affectionate love for everyone, you must develop a deep sense of closeness toward sentient beings, and the way to do that is by recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and generatiing the wish to repay their kindness. This instruction is called the cause and effect technique because the later points arise after genterating the preceding points.

You should not approach this practice with a short-sighted mind, thinking, "Oh, this practice is too advanced for me. It will require so much time and energy. I will not be able to develop such a precious mind." This is not the right attitude. You should not have such fears because these instrtuctions are very profound and powerful. If you continuously train your mind, step by step, with persistence, there is no doubt that you will succeed. Generally speaking, all the instructions from the old Kadampa tradition are very powerful and effective. On top of that, there are the instructions combined by the great Lama Tsongkhapa, whose experience was based on his special relationship with Manjushri, with whom he had direct communication. These instructions are extremely powerful and effective, so you should not think they are too advanced for you and that you will not be able to develop bodhicitta.


Before beginning to train your mind in the first step, recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you should develop the thought of equanimity. It is similar to painting a picture: if you want to paint a picture on a surface, you must first make sure that the surface is smooth and even and has no rough or uneven spots on it. In the same way, before you can train your mind in the meditation on recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you must make your mind even with equanimity towards everyone. In other words, you must learn to stop discriminating among sentient beings, feeling close to some and distant from others, and the way to do this is by developing equanimity.

Now I will explain the way to meditate in order to develop equanimity. Those who are familiar with these instructions, please meditate while I am explaining. Those who are new, please pay special attention and try to retain the instructions in your mind. All of you please try to have the intention to develop bodhicitta, thinking that you must generate this realisation in your mind. As I mentioned before, these instructions of the Kadampa lamas are so powerful and effective, especially the instructions on merging the seven-point cause and effect technique and exchanging oneself with others as taught by Lama Tsongkhapa. So please be attentive and generate this strong intention: "I am definitely going to practise and develop bodhicitta in my mind."

Visualise in front of you three people: first, someone who upsets you—just by seeing or thinking about him or her, your mind becomes unhappy. Next to him or her, visualise someone you love and are close to—just by seeing this person your mind becomes happy. And next to that person, visualise a stranger, someone who is neither beneficial nor non-beneficial. When you think about these people, you feel aversion towards the person you dislike, attachment towards the person who is close to you, and indifference towards the stranger.

Now, thinking about the person you dislike, ask yourself, "Why do I dislike this person? What is the reason I get so upset? What has he done to me?" You will realise that this is because he has harmed you a little bit in this life. At this point you should think about the uncertainty of friends and enemies as explained in the lam-rim, in the section for the person of intermediate scope. This is one of the disadvantages of cyclic existence: you cannot be sure of friends and enemies; sometimes a friend becomes and enemy and sometimes an enemy becomes a friend. Think in this way: "Although this person has given me a small amount of harm in this life for a very short time, in many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, this person has shown me great affection and has been very close to me for a very long time. The harm he has given me in this life is so small compared to the closeness and affection we have had since beginningless time, yet I treat him like my ultimate enemy, the ultimate object to be avoided. This is completely wrong!" You need to think in this way again in order to subdue your feelings of aversion for this person.

Next to him is the person you feel close to, who makes you feel so happy as soon as you see him or her. You regard this person as your ultimate friend, the person who is closer to you than anyone else. You have so much attachment for this person you may feel that you don't want to be separated from him or her for even a moment. If you examine the reasons why this is so, it is because in this life he has benefited you in some way such as with resources and so forth. On the basis of some very small benefits and for very limited reasons, your mind becomes so happy and excited. However, you should think, "Although in this life he has benefited me a little, he has not always been my friend. In many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, he has been my enemy. He harmed me so much that just by seeing him I felt very strong aversion. It is not reasonable for me to have so much attachment and desire for this person just because he has benefited me, is beneficial to me and will benefit me, because he has also been the opposite." By thinking in this way over and over again, you can subdue your feelings of attachment.

Now turn to the stranger. The attitude you have toward this person is: "I don't know this person and I don't care about him. He hasn't connected with me in the past, he is not connecting with me now and he will not connect with me in the future, so who cares." This attitude is also completely wrong, so you should think, "In this life, this person is neither an enemy nor a friend, but in previous lives he was my enemy many times, and also many times he was my dearest friend, someone I was very close to. Therefore, it is completely unreasonable to be indifferent to this person." Just as you equalised your feelings towards the friend and the enemy, you should equalise your feelings towards the stranger by thinking this way again and again.

Therefore when you meditate, you first think that there is absolutely no reason to be so upset and feel so much aversion towards the enemy who has been your dearest friend so many times. You need to think about this again and again in order to subdue your aversion and equalise your mind towards this person. Likewise, think that there is no reason to be so attached to the person you are close to, your friend, because he has been your enemy so many times. Think about this again and again to subdue your attachment and equalise your mind towards this person.

When we perceive these three different people, we perceive them in terms of these three categories: friends, enemies and strangers. However, none of them exists in this way forever—no one is a friend, enemy or stranger for all time. Therefore, they are all the same. There is absolutely no reason to feel attachment towards one person, to feel aversion towards another, and to feel detached and indifferent towards yet another.

If we examine what they actually are, from their side, they are sentient beings. And they are all exactly the same in that they all wish to be happy and free from suffering. Thus there is not the slightest reason to discriminate between them with attachment, aversion and indifference. They are all exactly the same. You must come to this conclusion and meditate on it again and again. By meditating on this over and over again, you will reach the point where you actuall develop equanimity towards all sentient beings. You will feel that they are all the same to you; your feelings towards them will be equal. This is the result that should come about.

Although you might recite every day the prayer of the Four Immeasurable Thoughts "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes" and so forth—until you have actually developed equanimity, in reality it will be as though you are saying, "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes—but only those I like and not those I dislike." No matter how frequently and fervently you recite the Four Immeasurable Thoughts, until you have developed equanimity, they are only words. They don't become the actual Four Immeasurable Thoughts. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop equanimity, and even if you spent months and years meditating solely on equanimity in order to develop this realisation, it would be an extremely worthwhile method of practising meditation. If you can pacify your feelings of attachment and aversion towards friends and enemies, it will be very beneficial to your mind.

Recognising All Sentient Beings as One's Mother

The next point, recognising all sentient beings as one's mother, is actually the first step in developing bodhicitta. Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang said that this point is not easy and takes quite a long time to develop. However, it is crucial and indispensable, because only on the basis of this recognition can you develop the following steps. We cannot progress without it, so it is very important to give it a lot of attention.

In general, when you meditate you use perfect reasoning as well as quotations. Here, with this point of recognising all beings as your mother, it is very important to use reasoning. Although you can also develop the same understanding on the basis of quotations, there is a difference in the way the mind is activated on the basis of quotations and on the basis of reasoning—it is more powerful on the basis of reasoning. The specific reasoning to be relied upon here is the beginningless continuity of mind.

First you have to establish that the continuity of the mind is beginningless. Start by thinking that your mind of today is the result of the mind of yesterday. And yesterday's mind came from the mind of the day before yesterday. In that way, you go back, day by day. Each day's mind is the result of the mind of the preceding day. Also, the mind of each moment is the result of the preceding moment.

Continue to go back, all the way to the moment of conception, and think about how the mind of the newborn baby is also a continuity which needs a preceding moment of mind in order to be generated. The mind of the newborn baby is the continuation of the mind of the fetus which was in the womb of the mother. And if you go back in this way, you will not be able to find a beginning.1 You cannot find a moment which you can point to as the beginning of the mind and say, "The mind began there." this is because any moment of mind would need a preceding moment in order to be generated. In this way you can establish that the continuum of the mind is beginningless. There is no single moment of mind which you can point to as being the first.

Following these reasons, you conclude that the number of times you have taken rebirth is countless. Not only that, but in all those rebirths, just as in this life, you needed a mother. For one hundred rebirths, you would need one hundred mothers; for one thousand rebirths. you would need one thousand mothers, and so forth. Sinceyou have had countless rebirths, you have had countless mothers.

So if you think very carefully about these points, you will realise that not only have you had countless rebirths, you have also had countless mothers. Furthermore, although sentient beings are also countless, the number of sentient beings that exist is fewer than the number of mothers you have had. You have taken rebirth countless times in all different types of bodies, and the number of sentient beings you need to have been your mother is greater than the number of sentient beings in existence. Therefore, since the number of times you have taken rebirth and the number of mothers you have had is greater than the number of sentient beings, it means that every single sentient being has been your mother not just once, but countless times.

Start with your own mother, thinking that you mother of this life was your mother countless times in previous rebirths. When you have gained some expereince of this idea such that your mind is transformed towards your mother, then think about it in relation to your father—that your father has been your mother countless times. Following that, think about how your friends have been your mother countless times. Then think about your enemies—even your enemies have been your mother so many times. Finally, widen your scope to include all sentient beings—meditate on how all sentient beings have been your mother.

You have to meditate on this subject again and again over a long period of time. While you are training your mind in this subject, you should rely on different lam-rim scriptures which explain various points and ways of meditating and can give you a lot of inspiration. You should request your spiritual teacher to give you explanations to help clarify your mind, and you should also discuss the subject with your Dharma friends. By thinking in this way again and again, you will reach the point where you realise that all sentient beings have been your mother, even down to a tiny insect like and ant. Even when you see a tiny insect you will feel certain that many times this being has been your kind mother, who took the greatest care of you and in whom you placed your trust. It is said that the great Atisha—who completely realised this point —would be immediately filled with a deep sense of respect whenever he met any sentient being. He would fold his hands and say, "Precious sentient being, so kind."

Recognising the Kindness of Mother Sentient Beings

The next step in the meditation is recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings. It is not enough just to recognise that all sentient ebings have been your mother, you must also recognise the depth of their kindness. For example, your mother of this life was so kind, carrying you within her for nine long months from the time of conception, always being very careful about what she ate and drank, and doing everything with the sole thought of taking care of you. Even the fact that you are alive and are able to learn and practise the Dharma is completely due to the kindness of your mother, who caried you in her womb and took such good care of you since the time of conception.

She took care of you while you were in her womb, and also after you were born. When you were born you were completely helpless, like a little bug, unable to do anything. Nevertheless, your mother treated you as if you were a priceless jewel—continuously taking the greatest care of you, day and night, with no other thought in her mind than concern for your welfare. She fed you, bathed you, dressed you in soft clothing, took you here and there to make you happy, and even made funny faces or gestures to make you smile. Becasue of her constant feeling of love and concern for you, her mind was always full of worry that you might get sick or hurt—so much so that she would have difficulty sleeping at night.

You learned how to walk because of the kindness of your mother—she would help you stand up and take your first step, then the second step, and so forth. You also learned how to pronounce your first words because of the kindness of your mother and also your father. As time went on, you were able to study and learn many other things, but only on the basis of knowing how to walk and speak, which you learned because of the kindness of your mother.

In the preceding step you realised that all sentient beings have been your mother, and with this meditation you realise that not only has your mother of this present life been incredibly kind to you, but all the countless sentient beings have been just as kind.

Repaying Their Kindness

The next step is generating the wish to repay the kindness of all mother sentient beings. Ask yourself, "Am I able to repay their kindness?" Then think, "I should be able to repay their kindness because I'm in such fortunate circumstances: I have met the Dharma, I have met perfect teachers, I have met the path, and I have all the right circumstances to practise. Therefore I must do as much as I possibly can to liberate them from their suffering and to bring them the happiness that they wish for. I must do this in order to repay their kindness."

Of course, repaying the kindness of sentient beings includes helping them on a conventional level, by doing as much as you can to give food to those who are hungry, drink to those who are thirsty, clothing and other material things. But the most important way of helping is by completely relieving all sentient beings of all their sufferings and giving them all the happiness that they could wish for. You should bring this thought to your mind again and again.

Affectionate Love

The next step, affectionate love, is the kind of love that a mother feels when looking at her only child. When a mother looks at her child, he appears to her in a very beautiful way, and she feels great love for him. Here, you generate this same kind of affectionate love towards all sentient beings, perceiving all beings in a beautiful, glowing way.

Actually, if you generated to previous step of recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and wishing to repay their kindness, then you won't need extra effort or extra thought in order to develop affectionate love. It will arise spontaneously, due to the force of the preceding realisations.

When you meditate on affectionate love, you also need to reflect on the fact that all sentient beings, although wishing to be happy, are completely devoid of happiness, especially pure, uncontaminated happiness. By meditating in this way, you generate the strong wish that all sentient beings posess happiness and its causes, and that they actually abide in happiness. On top of that, you should also generate the wish that you yourself will make that happen. From the depths of your heart, request your lama to grant you blessings to be able to do this.

Great Compassion

The next step is great compassion. This is one of the special characteristics of the Buddha's teachings, and Lama Tsongkhapa in particular placed a great deal of emphasis on it as a very special cause that gives rise to very special effects. Also, the great Chandrakirti, in the introduction to his Entering the Middle Way, pays homage to great compassion, saying that it is extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. At the beginning, it is the seed which enables you to enter the Mahayana path. In the middle, while you are engaging in the bodhisattva's practice of the six perfections, it is the very soul of your practice. At the end it causes the result, Buddhahood, to ripen and makes possible all the Buddha's wonderful deeds for the benefit of sentient beings. Therefore, great compassion is praised as being extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.

It is said that in the beginning, in order to develop great compassion, it is very beneficial to observe and reflect on the way a butcher slaughters an animal—cutting the throat, ripping out its insides, pulling off its skin. Using this as an example is an easy and powerful way to meditate on great compassion. Here in Singapore,there is a market where we go to buy animals to liberate. It would be extremely beneficial to go there and observe the situation, reflecting both on the animals which are being slaughtered and those who are slaughtering them.

Once you have started to generate great compassion, then you reflect on the same meditations that you used while training your mind in the small scope section of the lam-rim, by thinking in detail about the sufferings of the three lower realms, the hells and so forth.2 However, this time you generate compassion by thinking of the sufferings of the specific sentient beings: the sufferings of extreme heat and extreme cold of the hell-beings, the sufferings of extreme hunger and thirst of the pretas, and the sufferings of the animals.

What is the measure or sign of having generated great compassion in your mind? It is that you feel towards all sentient beings the same wish for them to be free of suffering that a mother would feel for her only child. When a mother sees her child going through intense suffering, she feels an unbearable wish for the child to be completely free from this suffering. Feeling this same strong wish towards each and every sentient beings is the sign that you have generated great cmpassion.

The Extraordinary Intention

The next step is the extraordinary intention. This is when you have the feeling that you yourself, alone, have the responsibility of eliminating all the sufferings of all sentient beings. and bringing to them all the happiness that they wish for. It is the same sense of responsibility that a child would feel towards his or her mother—feeling responsible to make her happy and free from suffering. So when you feel that way towards all sentient beings and feel that you yourself alone will achieve this goal, then you have generated the extraordinary intention. It is "extraordinary" because it is more exceptional or supreme than the intention of the Hearers and Solitary Realisers, those who practise the individual vehicle.

The extraordinary intention is similar to being in the position of saving someone from falling off a cliff, where you feel responsible to save the person. In the same way, when you feel a deep sense of responsibility for eliminating the suffering of all sentient beings and for giving them all the happiness they wish for, that is the extraordinry intention. It can also be called the "exceptional attitude" or "universal responsibility".


The next step is the actual generation of bodhicitta, also called "the generation of the mind". This comes by reflecting, "Do I really have the capacity to accomplish this goal of eliminating all the suffering of sentient beings and bringing them to happiness? Actually, at this point I can't accomplish that even for one sentient being. And if I check who does have the complete capacity to accomplish this goal, it is only the Buddha. Only the Buddha has the right qualities, because of his power, his knowledge, and his capacity to accomplish spontaneously the benefit of all sentient beings." At this point you have to reflect on the qualities of Buddha as a worthy object of refuge, as you did in the lam-rim meditation of the individual of the small scope.

Following this, you generate the thought that you will accomplish the benefit of all sentient beings by achieving the qualities of the Buddha yourself. This means that you generate the mind of bodhicitta, thinking, "I must achieve the supreme enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings." This wish to become a Buddha is not just to abandon whatever has to be abandoned in order to achieve the complete purpose for yourself. Previously you generated great love and great compassion in order to achieve the benefit of all sentient beings, therefore it is for that purpose that you now generate the wish to become a Buddha.

You must also check: "Am I actually able to do it?" Yes, you are definitely in a position where you can become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, there is no better situation than the one you are in now. You have a precious human rebirth, and you have met perfect teachers and the Mahayana path. This means you are actually in the best situation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Furthermore, you have met the perfect teachings of the great Lama Tsongkhapa. By relying on these incredible teachings, many practitioners of the past, on the basis of having achieved a precious human rebirth, were able to achieve the supreme realisation in that very lifetime. Some individuals, such as the omniscient Gyalwa Ensapa, were able to achieve this realisation in an even shorter period of time—twelve years or even three years. These practitioners had the same basis—the precious human body and other conditions— that you now have. Therefore you should feel a sense of confidence in having the basis that enables you to become a Buddha.

The contrived form of bodhicitta—the experience of bodhicitta which arises through effort—is known in Tibetan as "the bodhicitta which is like the outer layer of the sugarcane". The uncontrived form of bodhicitta is when the thought of wanting to achieve supreme enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings arises spontaneously in your mind as soon as you meet any sentient being, no matter who he or she is. Having the uncontrived, effortless experience is the sign that you have achieved the actual realisation of bodhicitta. And once you have generated the realisation of bodhicitta, you earn the name "Child of the Victorious Ones".

This concludes the explanation on how to generate bodhicitta by way of the seven-point cause and effect instruction.


1. The implication here is that the mind of the newly-conceived child is the continuation of the mind of a previous life, which in turn came from another life, and so on without beginning.  [Return to text]

2. In the small scope section of the lam-rim, one imagines being reborn in the lower realms so as to generate a healthy fear and the determination to avoid such rebirths by taking refuge and living in accordance with the law of karma.  [Return to text]

Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors.

How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others


In 1997 the students of Amitabha Buddhist Centre were blessed to receive teachings from the great master Ribur Rinpoche. Rinpoche visited us twice and stayed for a total of three and a half months, during which time he taught lam-rim and lo-jong (thought transformation). This small booklet is extracted from Rinpoche's teachings.

A Brief Biography

Ribur Rinpoche was born in Kham, Eastern Tibet, in 1923. He was recognized at the age of five as the sixth incarnation of Lama Kunga Osel, a great scholar and teacher who spent the last twelve years of his life in strict solitary retreat. All five of the previous incarnations were principal teachers at Ribur Monastery in Kham.

When Ribur Rinpoche was fourteen he entered Sera monastery, one of the great Gelug monastic-universities in Lhasa, to begin intensive studies in Buddhist philosophy, which culminated in his receiving the Geshe degree at the age of 25. During his stay at Sera Monastery Rinpoche also attended many teachings and initiations given by his root guru, Pabonka Rinpoche, the greatest Gelug lama of the time. After receiving his geshe degree, Rinpoche returned to Kham where he spent many years doing retreat in a small hut he had built in the forest. But after the Chinese Communist invasion in 1950, the situation in Kham became increasingly dangerous, and in 1955 he was advised by one of his gurus, Trijang Rinpoche, to return to Lhasa, where he continued to take teachings and do retreats.

But Lhasa itself soon became unsafe. From 1959 (the year of the Tibetan people's uprising) to 1976, Rinpoche experienced numerous hardships and difficulties such as imprisonment and physical abuse, and being a helpless observer of the terrible destruction of the Cultural Revolution. However, during this time he was able to keep his mind peaceful and even happy by practising the teachings he had learned. As Rinpoche described his experiences, "I didn't really experience the slightest difficulty during those adverse conditions. This was due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang [Pabongka Rinpoche]. From him I had somehow learned some mental training, and in those difficult times, my mind was immediately able to recognise the nature of cyclic existence, the nature of afflictive emotions, and the nature of karma and so forth. So my mind was really at ease."

Following the Cultural Revolution Rinpoche worked with the Panchen Lama to restore many of the lost spiritual treasures of Tibet as they could. His main accomplishment was recovering the two most precious statues of Shakyamuni Buddha: the Jowo Chenpo and the Ramo Chenpo. These two statues, originally brought to Tibet by the Chinese and Nepalese wives of King Songsten Gampo (ca 617-698), were taken to Beijing during the Cultural Revolution and kept in various warehouses along with thousands of other statues for 17 years, until Rinpoche found them and returned them to their respective temples in Lhasa.

In 1987 Rinpoche left Tibet and travelled to Dharamsala, India, to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then he has lived at Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, where, at the request of His Holiness, he wrote a number of biographies of great lamas and an extensive religious history of Tibet. Rinpoche has also visted and taught in several foreign countries - Australia, New Zealand. America, and around Europe. His warmth, humour, profound wisdom and practical, down-to-earth teachings have endeared him to many students around the world.

Background of the Teachings

More that 2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and then proceeded to teach the path to enlightenment so that others could follow. His teachings have been kept alive to the present day through the great kindness and efforts of an unbroken lineage of practitioners who learned them from their masters, put them into practice, then passed them onto followers. In Tibet, the essential points of Buddha's teachings were formulated into a system known as the lam-rim, or stages on the path to enlightenment, which explaiins all the steps or practices one needs to follow in order to attain enlightenment.

The lam-rim consists of three main stages or levels, according to three different reasons or motivations for practising Dharma. The first level, known as the "small scope," starts from taking an interest in one's future lives. This comes about when we realise that this present life could end at any time, and that after death, we will be reborn in an unfortunate state (as an animal, hungry ghost or hell being), and to achieve a fortunate state (as a deva, titan or human being), by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and by living our lives in accordance with karma, the law of evolutionary actions and their results.

The second or "intermediate scope" involves developing the aspiration to become free once and for all from the cycle of death and rebirth. Within this scope, one focuses on the Four Noble Truths: the sufferings of cyclic existence, the causes of suffering (delusions and karma), the state of freedom from all suffering (nirvana), and the means to achieve it by practising the three higher trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom.

The third level, the "great scope," involves opening one's heart to consider the situation of all beings. Realising that all beings experience suffering that they don't want and they fail to find the peace and happiness that they wish for, one develops the aspiration to attain full enlightenment in order to help everyone reach that perfect state as well. That altruistic aspiration is bodhicitta.

This booklet contains extracts of ribur Rinpoche's precious teachings on how to develop bodhicitta, and how to practise thought transformation through which we become less self-centred and more concerned for others.

Numerous people contributed to this work. Rinpoche's teachings were beautifully translated into English by Fabrizio Pallotti. Several ABC students kindly transcribed the tapes, and I edited the transcript with assistance from Doris Low and Rise Koben.

Any errors in the text are entirely the fault of the editor.

Sangye Khadro
October 1998

On two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment.
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors.

How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

Published in 2012 for free distribution by Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. Published as an ebook in 2014 in partnership with Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate bodhicitta: the awakening mind aspiring towards enlightenment so as to have perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. Using scriptural understanding and his personal experience, Rinpoche also gave teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation) which enables us to transform the inevitable problems of life into the causes for enlightenment.

Ribur Rinpoche was born in Tibet in 1923 and spent many years teaching all over the world before returning to India where he passed away in 2006. His warmth, humour and profound wisdom have endeared him to many students around the world.

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

Namo Maha Karunikaya

I bow to Great Compassion, the seed, the refuge which eliminates all suffering of the six kinds of beings and whence all happiness and benefit springs. For those who take joy in the exercise of compassion I shall express a few thoughts on eating meat.

Does eating meat go against the practice of compassion? If one eats the meat of a creature that has died a natural death—for health reasons and without any desire—this is not a harmful action. On the other hand, if someone kills living beings for the sake of money or purchases and eats the meat out of a desire to indulge, this goes against the practice of compassion. Both these actions are harmful.

In the Kalachakra tantra and its elaborate commentary it says that if we consider the harmful actions committed by the butcher and the meat eater, those committed by the meat eater are worse. Some people hold that while the butcher acts harmfully, the meat eater does not. However, in the Lankavatara Sutra it says:

He who murders beings for money's sake and he who buys their meat for money—both have the genuine link between doer and deed.

If the buyer were without vice, then no merit would be accrued by the sponsor of stupas, scriptures or holy images either, as they are also produced by someone else.

A sponsor of stupas accumulates great merit, although he does not actually build them with his own hands. Likewise, a meat eater accumulates great negativity, although he does not normally slaughter the animals he eats. In fact, there are hardly any snuff sellers left in Europe, because hardly anyone takes snuff these days. Similarly, there would be no meat trade if there were no meat eaters.

With regard to Buddhist teachings, three principles are of utmost importance: 1) exploring reasons and reaching valid conclusions through correct logical analysis, 2) establishing the true nature of reality, and 3) making sure not to go against the practice of great compassion. These three principles are the corner stones of Buddhist theory and practice.

Now, what are the characteristics of so-called great compassion? It views its object—all the living beings of the six types, humans, gods, demigods, animals, ghosts and hell beings—without classifying them as friends, enemies or those to whom one is indifferent. Its particularity consists in seeing how they all suffer and wishing to eliminate this suffering or protect them from it. This special attitude, the persistent urge to eliminate suffering and protect others from it is called "great compassion". The suffering to be eliminated is manifest suffering, the suffering of change as well as the suffering pervading all cyclic existence. Great compassion is what wishes to protect beings from these three kinds of suffering. It is very important to be clear about those three kinds of suffering. Rather than repeating their names in a superficial manner, we should try and come to a thorough understanding of what they signify.

From the Buddhist point of view we ourselves desire happiness and we do not want the least suffering. Incapable of patience in the face of adversity like pain, we accept as fact that others, whether human or animal are the same in that respect. Our own sensations of happiness and suffering are what we can understand directly. The happiness and suffering of other humans and animals may be known from signs. For example when other beings, humans or animals, undergo terrible suffering they squeal with pain, tremble and moan. From signs like these we can clearly know that they undergo unbearable suffering.

As Buddhists we say: “this is the reality of the situation.” That is something we can know from an analysis based on signs. For that reason we meditate on the fact that the wish for happiness is the same in ourselves and others, whoever they may be. We also need to recognize and meditate on the fact that we ourselves and others, whoever they may be, are the same in not wanting the least suffering. We must realize that it is necessary and equally important to eliminate suffering, regardless of whose it may be, our own or that of others.

This way of looking at things is fundamental for the development of great compassion. It is the perspective of a truthful path, an honest path. Nobody, be they gods or scholars or other humans will be able to demonstrate that this perspective is untrue or dishonest. It is necessary to develop great compassion by training the mind in this perspective.

However, it is not enough simply to meditate on great compassion. It is also necessary to put it into practice by actually applying it. It is of utmost benefit to see, hear and consider how cows, buffalos, goats, sheep, chicken, fish, yaks, horses and other animals undergo unbearable suffering while being slaughtered for human consumption and thereupon to avoid eating slaughtered meat out of compassion. As compassion is actually being applied, this application is of the greatest benefit for the purification of negativities accumulated previously. This can be understood from the story of Noble Asanga and other reports.

Compassion may also be put into practice directly by purchasing animals meant for slaughter and saving their lives. The effect of this action will help extend one's own life span and increasingly bring about happiness as well as purify negativities. It is also taught that nursing the sick, giving medicine and the like, too, are actions resulting in a long life span.

Beautiful animals such as parrots and other birds are not killed but locked up in cages. You can observe that some will kill themselves trying to get out of their prisons. Therefore it is also an act of compassion to buy them and release them. Such an action will result in the attainment of lasting freedom and a happy life. Even as a human you thus accumulate the karma for miraculous powers such as flying and so forth. There are even reports of cases where miraculous powers were achieved in this very life.

Incidentally, castrating horses, cattle, goats, sheep, dogs or cats—cutting their male or female energy channels is also clearly presented as a negative action in Buddhist scriptures. If you save the animals out of compassion, the effect of that wholesome action may ripen in this life. In this regard the commentary on chapter four of the Treasury of Knowledge relates the following story from a sutra concerning a eunuch, the body guard of some King Kanika's spouse. At the time it was customary to pay eunuchs a big salary for guarding the queen while the king was away at war. This eunuch had thus grown rich guarding the queen over many years. At some point his eye-sight deteriorated, he turned blind, could not guard the queen anymore and returned to his native town, a rich man. One day, when out walking he heard the loud lowing of a buffalo. "What are they doing to the buffalo?" he asked. His assistant told him that they were castrating it. The blind man felt such strong compassion imagining how the buffalo was now to undergo the same suffering he had undergone—for he obviously knew it from experience—that he bought some 500 buffalos to save them from this misfortune. This action undid his castration and also had the effect that he could see again with both eyes as before. This story is quoted in the commentary on the Treasury of Knowledge to illustrate the accumulation of karma ripening in the same life. The action described in it is also a way of applying compassion.

To deprive beings of their male or female organs is a cruel negative action. Its effect ripens in the form of healthy energy channels, energies and body essences lacking in this life or a future one. In one of the tantras, Buddha says:

As you yourself do not want to be harmed, likewise, others do not want to suffer harm. Therefore, don't harm others.

All sentient beings cherish life more than anything. They all consider their own limbs, vital organs, sense organs and, last not least, sexual organs most important. I am well aware of Western arguments to the effect that animal populations need to be controlled, that there may be a shortage of food or space and that, therefore, it may be necessary to castrate animals. However, from a Buddhist point of view castrating animals is not good at all. I think this position also makes sense in the context of religions that hinge on a creator god and condemn as sins acts going against His creation. After all, the sexual organs would also be seen as God's creation allowing His creatures to multiply. In the context of religions teaching the law of karma castration is definitely not considered good.

Some people think that attachment and desire may be eliminated by removing the sexual organs. However, this is a misconception. Attachment cannot be overcome by destroying the objects of attachment or the organs associated with it. It takes practice in wisdom and concentration rather than a surgical intervention to overcome it. Attachment and desire, which are deluded states of mind, need to be eliminated by wisdom and concentration.

Apart from that, in Buddhist monasticism it is a requirement for obtaining monk's or nun's vows that one’s male or female organs are healthy and intact. It is taught in the Vinaya that otherwise the vows cannot be effective. For the attainment of the concentration of calm abiding and special insight it is also necessary that the organs, energies and channels are fully functional. The reason for this is that the achievement of stability and clarity of mind is intimately linked with the energies, channels and (reproductive) organs.

In the two texts Treasury of Knowledge and Compendium of Abhidharma it is set out that if someone has committed extremely negative actions such as killing his own mother and the like they will be unable to achieve meditative stability until the karmic obscuration is purified and that no meditative concentration arises in hermaphrodites and eunuchs due to their unstable minds and dominant mental afflictions. It is clear that healthy channels, energies and body essences are all the more indispensable for attainment of the completion stage in highest yoga tantra.

After the loss of one's male or female organs it is impossible to overcome desirous attachment. In Buddhist texts it is explained clearly that for giving up desirous attachment it is necessary to develop the union of wisdom and meditative concentration as an antidote. Does that mean beings whose male or female organs have been removed, eunuchs and hermaphrodites cannot apply the teachings? Nobody should lose courage—there are lots of things one can do, e.g. train in love and compassion, generosity, patience and wisdom, observe the ten types of religious activity46 as well as carrying out fasting meditations (nyung-nä). The question of whether or not those whose male or female organs have been damaged can practice the completion stage is hard to settle. The teachings say: "For a human being to be definitely able to reach buddhahood within one life through the application of the paths of highest yoga tantra, he or she has to be endowed with the so-called six constituent elements of a being born from a womb. These six elements comprise the components of bone, marrow and reproductive substances obtained from the father and flesh, skin and blood obtained from the mother.

According to the presentation in the Treasury of Knowledge, the human beings of the first eon who descended from some kind of light gods, arose through supernatural birth like gods and are referred to as children of Manusha—i.e. the mind. Therefore they were not meat eaters by origin47. The texts explain how their behaviour degenerated gradually. According to the scientific manner of explanation, humans have evolved gradually from apes. I believe that those early humans may not have been meat eaters. Anyway, there are many accounts of the origin of humans, that of the Treasury, that of scientists, that of Bön shamans etc.

However, what indications are there to suggest that it is not the inborn nature of humans to eat meat? The human body has neither teeth nor claws like lions or tigers. Just like monkeys it can be sustained on a diet of fruit and grains, which is well suited to its physical requirements. I think this is easy to see, however, still we should examine it.

In Western countries there are hundreds of thousands of people with a natural aversion to eating meat. There are numerous advantages resulting from not eating meat: it is beneficial for one's health and prevents negative actions. From the Buddhist point of view, however, the wholesome effect is stronger if eating meat is abandoned with the motivation that compassion for the painful experiences of the slaughtered animals has arisen.

In India there are millions of vegetarians such as Mahatma Gandhi and meals without meat may be found everywhere—in thousands of vegetarian restaurants. This is one of the best signs for the fact that the Dharma exists in India. All these vegetarian restaurants are run by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. All the Tibetan restaurants serve meat. All the Tibetans say: we are Buddhists. These restaurants with their meat cuisine go against the Buddhist teachings. They disregard the teachings on the link between actions and their effects and are in stark opposition to taking refuge,48 compassion, equanimity, and non-violence, the Mahayana and Hinayana sutras as well as the four classes of tantra. Apparently, some of those restaurants are run by monasteries. They do damage to the Buddhist teachings.

Obviously, this is not nice to look at and undermines the devotion others have to Buddhism. In fact one may well ask why such restaurants serving meat exist in monasteries. Their existence is being justified by saying that it generates a lot of money. "This so-called money sucks the blood from our bodies", said Mahatma Gandhi. To be bitten by money is worse than to be bitten by a snake, he goes on to say in his advice. This statement is certainly especially meaningful. To be sure your own life becomes a money making machine, if you are overcome by the disease of discontentment with regard to money. It is as though you had sold your human life for money. Examine that for yourself!

In the English language it is called "money". In Tibetan one word used is gyu nor—an ambiguous word, gyu meaning "cause" and nor signifying "wealth" but also "error". So you could also understand it in terms of causing rebirth in lower realms—those of hungry ghosts, animals and hell beings—rather than becoming a cause for higher existences such as birth in the human or divine realms and therefore it could be considered an "erroneous cause".

If the love of money is too strong, a country will be lost, cultural and religious values deteriorate and individual human values and abilities degenerate. For instance when the Chinese communists first came to Tibet they distributed a lot of money among Tibetans and those Tibetans with a predilection for money sang songs with lyrics like: "Chinese communists are like benevolent parents, they cause a rain of coins to fall". The Tibetans were cheated at the time, in any case they ended up losing their country to the Chinese and wholesome values, the precious Buddhist religion and culture deteriorated—an experience that Tibetans of future generations will not forget.

If the desire for money is excessive, disadvantages will ensue. Even today a lot of people do not finish their education but rather chase after money. For the sake of earning money some do not even care whether they act harmfully. As a means to an end meals with the meat of countless chicken, cattle and sheep are sold every day in restaurants. When the people responsible for this die, in particular, they will have caused themselves serious problems: Someone with lots of money will be attached to it even on the threshold of death and die in a corresponding state of mind.

Nowadays most people consider money to be the source of happiness and well-being. That is a misconception. One's well-being, a pleasant physique, a long life, health and a happy mind are the results of wholesome actions born from compassion and the desire to help in former lives. There is evidently no guarantee for people with lots of money to be happier. If we go on analyzing we can see that people with a lot of money often suffer all the more and that the situation in rich countries is often more difficult.

As regards the root of happiness and well-being it is therefore taught in the sutras that the various types of wholesome actions as causes give rise to the various types of happiness as effects. For example the act of saving animals meant for slaughter out of a compassionate motivation is a cause for living a long life, nursing the sick and giving them medicine for having a healthy body and mind, the development of patience for having a pleasant physique and being well liked by everyone, trying to save humans and animals from imprisonment for always enjoying freedom, giving up castrating animals for not being born as a hermaphrodite or becoming a eunuch, and compassion along with wholesome actions the root of happiness and well-being in general. The root of suffering is harmful action. In highest yoga tantra it is set out that the most harmful thing is to give up compassion for all beings.

From the Buddhist perspective India is a blessed country where many buddhas, bodhisattvas and arhats have wandered and which the Buddha himself prophesied to be an important place where the Buddha Maitreya and some thousand other future buddhas as well as many bodhisattvas and arhats would wander. Unfortunately, in some old religious rites it is still customary to make blood sacrifices on special Indian and Nepalese holidays. That goes against the practice of compassion and non-violence. Those offering ceremonies do more harm than good. Great gods such as Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Sarasvati—by virtue of being gods—do not accept blood sacrifices. Gods are not beings feeding on impure substances like meat and blood, but rather care for utmost purity. Foreigners also find these blood sacrifices repulsive and Buddhists do not take pleasure in them at all.

Sakya Pandita gives an account of the earlier Hindu sage Eta who rejected blood sacrifices. There are also stories about the Buddhist siddha Birvapa visiting many temples were these customs were practiced and putting and end to them. He did this by manifesting signs of his attainments and encouraging the devotees to sacrifice so-called white offerings.

The Dalai Lama put an end to meat offerings in 1973 on the occasion of the Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya telling his disciples from the Himalayas: "From now on abandon the custom of making red offerings. If the spirits accustomed to it cause you trouble tell them: the Dalai Lama has told us to stop it and if you want to cause problems because of this you should turn to the Dalai Lama."

The great texts of the Buddhist tenet systems explain that in the Hindu system, Buddha Shakyamuni is revered as the ninth emanation of Vishnu. It is taught quite clearly that the development and attainment of calm abiding, special insight, the four levels of worldly meditative stabilization and the worldly concentrations of form and formless realms are practices shared by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

Specifically, Buddhist practices are associated with the four noble truths, the two truths, renunciation, great compassion, the attitude of conventional and ultimate bodhicitta and the practice of the ten perfections. The attainment of the five paths and the ten levels as well as the ability to achieve arhatship and buddhahood are their special effects. All of this is made clear in the great Buddhist texts.

The eight great powers common to Hindu and Buddhist tantra such as the ability to fly, to move about at supernatural speed, to cause a rain of grain to fall, to be able to tell the future through prophecies, to display various miraculous powers and similar abilities are taught as worldly attainments.

Special attainments in Buddhism concern healing, extending life spans up to a thousand years, increasing wisdom and purifying negativities and many other achievements brought about by the power of mantra recitation combined with Buddhist deity yoga—kriya, charya and yoga tantra—as well as the attainment of buddhahood in the same body within a single lifetime through developing the generation and completion stages of highest yoga tantra.

The root of all those methods is great compassion. All wholesome actions performed with the motivation of compassion can ripen as wholesome effects. If the motivation of compassion is lacking, even the highest practices will come under the influence of selfishness and thus their wholesome effect cannot ripen. The spiritual master Padmasambhava said:

With kleshas49 exhausted - no reason for Dharma practice.
Without compassion the root of Dharma rots.
Consider samsara's sufferings again and again!
Lord and subjects, do not postpone the Dharma!

The protector Nagarjuna taught:

The fact that nothing is ever born—
if it is deeply known by the mind,
compassion arises easily
towards those sunk in the bog of samsara.

The siddha Saraha said:

Whoever engages in emptiness lacking compassion
will never discover the highest most excellent path.

However, the root of Buddhist teachings is unbiased great compassion. Thus the main rule of vows for laypeople, novices, monks and nuns in the vehicle of hearers consists in giving up harming anyone. This giving up of harmful action occurs motivated by compassion. If compassion is lacking, the ethical discipline of giving up harmful actions towards others does not come about. For those belonging to the Mahayana path compassion is even more important. In the Mahayana the main thing being taught is that over and above giving up harmful actions it is necessary to benefit others–"perfect enlightenment is born from the attitude of benefiting others", as it says in the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva.50 In the Commentary on Valid Cognition it says: "That which enables it51 is to develop compassion."

When applying the Buddhist teachings, from among faith and compassion, the latter is more important. Engaging in Bodhisattva Behaviour gives the reason:

Between the Jinas52 and sentient beings
if you respect the Jinas, but not
sentient beings–how would you
accomplish something like Buddha Dharma?

In his Explanation of Bodhicitta Nagarjuna also describes the connection: From benefiting beings happiness arises as a result. From causing harm to beings, suffering arises as a result. The state of buddhahood can also be attained only in dependence on living beings.

Geshe Chengawa, a scholar of the Kadam tradition, said: "In order to attain the state of buddhahood, one has to learn something that is unusual in the world. Among their own interests and the interests of others worldly beings put their own first and consider it more important to honour buddhas than living beings. We have to do it the other way round."

Buddha Shakyamuni states in the Stream of Mineral Nutriments Sutra:

To benefit sentient beings is the highest offering you can make me,
to harm sentient beings is the greatest harm you cause me.

In his Essence of Good Explanations on the Interpretable and Ultimate Meaning the great spiritual master Tsongkhapa describes how the three types of striving–regarding compassion for beings, faith in the Buddha and the wish that his teachings may last for a long time–reinforce each other.

Dromtonpa said: "Compassion is the root of a helpful attitude. All the characteristics of bodhicitta come about in dependence on compassion."

And the spiritual master Atisha: "If you feel unbearable compassion for living beings, you'll abandon everything and undertake anything that is of benefit to beings."

In the Sutra Requested by Sagaramati it says: "The one teaching for bodhisattvas is this: great compassion that does not crave for one's own happiness."

The Sakya master Jetsun Dragyen said:

Abandon alcohol because, if you drink alcohol, your presence of mind will deteriorate.
Meat should be abandoned because, if you eat meat, your compassion will deteriorate.

In his Explanation on the Three Types of Vows Kedrub Je, a great pundit of the Gelug tradition, writes: "We certainly do not say that the rules of ordination permit eating meat under the power of attachment to the taste of meat. We would not even dream of saying that something like that isn't a fault."

Chankya Rimpoche, a great Gelug master, also said:

Into piles of flesh, blood, bones of beings
you dig your knives and drool in a rush to devour them—
as if about to subdue hostile troops and foes
compassionate beings behold this sham of a Sangha!53

I should like to turn to the members of the Sangha, persons training in the asceticism of pure conduct, with a little remark. How come people capable of resisting the temptation of what seems like the greatest happiness to the conventional worldly mistaken consciousness—the happiness of being with a woman—are incapable of resisting the enjoyment of eating meat from murdered animals? I wonder. But how could I possibly capture everyone's interest making statements about the harmful effects of eating meat ? Even if one said that meat is poison—the persistent habit of indifference would continue to exist and they would go on eating meat.

The teaching that it is harmful to eat meat does not apply to monks only. It was given to laypeople and monks equally. The ten negative actions like killing, stealing, sexual misconduct etc. as well as negative actions relevant here—eating meat and the like—are not harmful for monks only, but for all the beings of the six realms as well. The rules that apply specifically to monks are those they have vowed to abide by before the Sangha represented by their abbot and master: not to enter into intimate relations with women, not to drink alcohol, not to eat in the evenings, not to hoard possessions and many other particularities. If they transgress any of those rules, this constitutes a negative action in the sense of a breach of the promise they have made as monks. These kind of negative actions do not exist for laypeople.

In the edicts of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen it says:

In line with the rules of the ordination masters
act as explained in the three collections of teachings:
Drink tea and what is proper for Sangha members,
for food take grains, molasses and creamy cheese,
for clothing wear plain saffron-coloured robes,
for lodging live together in a temple.
Do not indulge in drink, meat, rotten food.

People wishing to make offerings are not allowed to offer the ordained meat nor alcohol—such offerings are also mentioned explicitly in the sutras among the 32 impure offerings. Venerable Milarepa said:

This way of eating meat food—famished, without thinking of future lives for even a second... When I see these people I get frightened. Rechungpa, are you mindful of the holy Dharma?54

If you do not just pay lip service to the existence of future lives and karmic causes and effects but rather consider, from the bottom of your heart, how these hold together, you may develop enthusiasm about giving up meat. If you are not convinced that future lives exist, it will be even more difficult to gain conviction about the karmic effects of actions. However, if you examine whether or not there are former and future lives the reasons in favour weigh more heavily and there is only little negative evidence. Not only Buddhists accept the reality of former and future lives. Hindu yogis who have attained the concentration of calm abiding and thereby achieved supernormal cognitive powers also accept them.

In addition to that the Hindu tenet systems posit a permanent self, holding that this self exists in all former and future lives. They also accept cyclic existence and liberation as well as wholesome and unwholesome actions. We must not disparage the Hindu religion saying: this is a non-Buddhist system. In the tantra Vairocana's Perfect Enlightenment it says:

Do not disparage the tirthikas.55
If you disparage the tirthikas,
you'll distance yourself from Vairocana.56

With this in mind a famous scholar from Arig57 said: "I have faith in non-Buddhists58, too."

However, Buddhists do not accept a permanent self but rather an uninterrupted impermanent continuum of self. Although the self accepted by Buddhists is an uninterrupted impermanent continuum, there is no true self such as it is conceived by our inborn grasping for an "I": the Buddhist view is that it does not exist by its own nature.

Among those who are convinced that there are former and future lives, again, there are various attitudes. For example some feel undivided compassion for all living beings. They may be fully committed to finding ways and means to eliminate their own and others' difficulties in this life.

Others who do not accept former and previous lives have a biased kind of love and compassion. They may benefit a lot of beings while also harming many. One example for this would be a person taking pity on a hungry dog and feeding it a fish killed for that purpose. The action may be motivated by compassion for one animal, but it causes great harm to another one.

Yet others are not convinced about former and future lives nor about the fact that happiness is the result of wholesome actions and that suffering is the effect of harmful actions. These kind of people who are very self-centred and unfamiliar with love and compassion may well be endowed with worldly knowledge and skills. If they obtain power and high positions they can do great damage to world peace—please check for yourselves!

The Buddhist teachings explain rebirth, i.e. the reality of former and future lives and the fact that wholesome actions bring about happiness and harmful actions bring about suffering. As all beings are the same in wanting happiness rather than suffering, there are the teachings on great compassion—the desire to protect all the beings of the six realms from the temporary suffering of this life and ultimately from all the suffering of cyclic existence—as well as the teachings on the six perfections, patience etc., and the view of emptiness as an antidote to ignorance, attachment, anger, wrong views, concepts and misconceptions. Through study involving listening and contemplating as well as the development of this wisdom realizing the view of emptiness combined with great compassion, through combining the concentration of calm abiding and special insight into one union, through recognizing the ignorance associated with mental afflictions, concepts and misconceptions will decrease more and more, and the nature of mind will gradually become clearer and clearer. The mind will achieve liberation and the state of buddhahood. The profound and vast path leading there is taught in authentic scriptures.

Author of this text is the ordained Geshe Thubten Soepa of Sera monastery. He composed this advocacy of animal rights in Germany after about 2550 years had passed since the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni and about 648 years after the birth of Lama Tsongkhapa in the year 2005 according to the Western calendar. May this text be like a cloud of offerings gladdening the buddhas, bodhisattvas and all those possessed of compassion. May it also further the wishes for health and a long life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso so that his wholesome activities for the benefit of living beings may continue for hundreds of eons. Also, may all masters of the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana have a long life. May all their wishes come true. May the holy masters of religions believing in a creator god and religions with faith in the law of karma interact in harmony and continue to develop mutually beneficial relations now that this is of vital importance. May all their shared practices of non-violence, compassion and love be allowed to increase and deepen more and more.

Sarva mangalam

Scriptural References

Arya-Lankavatara-Sutra Q775 ngu 165a7-ngu 172b6
Arya-Angulimala-Sutra Q879 tsu 133b2-tsu 214b8
Vinaya-Vastu Q 1030 khe 260a4-nge 47b6


The Tibetan original of this book was initially translated into German by Conni Krause. The first English version by Philip Quarcoo was based on her German text. For a second English version Philip retranslated—from Tibetan—my poems as well as the versified quotations I had used, and made various changes that proof-readers had suggested.
I discussed this second version with my current interpreter, Karina Reitbauer, who made numerous insightful comments causing me to add various explanations, clarifications and notes. They have now resulted in this third version by Philip and Karina.

I dedicate all the merit accumulated through the publication of these two texts to the liberation of living beings. May all living beings be free from the suffering of being killed.


46. Writing down the teachings, making offerings, practising generosity, hearing the teachings, retaining and understanding them, teaching others, reciting sacred texts, contemplating and meditating. [Return to text]

47. The point being made here is that early humans were very much like the gods they descended from who only subsist on mental activity rather than impure physical food. [Return to text]

48. As you take refuge to the Three Jewels, one of the practice instructions you commit yourself to is to give up causing harm to any living beings. That is why it would go against the practice of refuge to harm living beings. [Return to text]

49. Delusions, afflictions. [Return to text]

50. By Togme Sangpo. [Return to text]

51. I.e. the attainment of Buddhahood. [Return to text]

52. "Victors"–designation of the buddhas. [Return to text]

53. In other words: "Monks, rather than taking delight in killing and eating animals, please think about what you are doing and develop compassion!" [Return to text]

54. The question might be paraphrased in these terms: "Rechungpa, do you keep thinking of death, impermanence and your future lives while others fail to do so?" [Return to text]

55. Tirthika (Tib. mu stegs can) literally means "one belonging to a tirtha or holy place", i.e. a worthy and holy man, a Brahmana. However, the word came to take on a pejorative meaning and was used by Buddhists, Jainas etc. to signify a "heretical" adherent of a religion or philosophy other than one's own. [Return to text]

56. I.e. along the path, you will find yourself further removed from the goal of becoming Vairocana. [Return to text]

57. Area in North-Eastern Tibet. [Return to text]

58. The Tibetan reads phyi rol pa–apparently, what he meant are followers of other religions who nevertheless share certain essential tenets with Buddhists. [Return to text]

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

The above booklet about eating meat was read through, cover to cover, by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He told me: "It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read". I cannot express how pleased I was at these words. I would like to complement my composition by a few questions and answers concerning the topic.

Question: Don't you need some meat for the sacrificial tsog ceremony? What do you do about that?

Answer: In Dza Patrul Rimpoche's lam-rim text it says: To that end it is appropriate to use meat from an animal that has not been slaughtered for eating. However, if you introduce meat that does not conform to this requirement into the mandala of offerings, all the deities and wisdom beings will vanish, that is what Gampopa said.

In the autobiography of the siddha Kunleg you will find the statement: "Now, when you make offerings, you should bear in mind the following points concerning the recipient of the offerings, the offerings themselves and your motivation: Each of the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) is fit as a recipient for the offering. The object to be offered should not be associated with theft, violent appropriation or killing and the motivation should consist in the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Offerings made in a different manner with masses of meat and alcohol are found among the earlier non-Buddhist religions, but not among Buddhists."

The Dalai Lama's statements regarding this point have already been presented above.

Question: What is the right approach to the so-called meat and blood tormas in protector rituals?

Answer: That is evident from Patrul Rimpoche's lam-rim text. It describes the protest of Guru Rimpoche, Shantarakshita and all the pundits contemporary with the Dharma King Trisong Detsen, at the Tibetan practice of sacrificing meat and blood according to the Bonpo custom: 'If you continue this custom we shall go back to India', they said. They stopped partaking of food and refused to give any more teachings.

It follows that these so-called meat and blood tormas should not be made up of real meat and blood. If you really make offerings of meat and blood, no deities and wisdom beings will come. You will only attract ghosts. As they feast on such offerings, they may become friendly and bring you short term benefits. If you then fail to continue giving them meat and blood, they will harm you. However, if you go on making offerings of meat and blood, you will be reborn among such ghosts or you will find yourself among wolves and birds of prey. That is what Patrul Rimpoche said about this topic.

These so-called meat and blood tormas symbolize the ignorance, harmful intent, selfishness and self interest in one's own mind and that of others. These characteristics are meant to be visualised as tormas and offered in this form—not as external substances made up of real meat. The meaning of the secret mantra is not to be taken literally. It only opens up through an understanding of the six alternatives and four modes of explaining vajra expressions.

Question: How about offerings of the five kinds of meat and nectar mentioned in the texts of highest yoga tantra?

Answer: A yogi practising highest yoga tantra needs some kind of realisation substance for giving up dualistic concepts of pure and impure. As Patrul Rimpoche makes clear in his lam-rim, this also requires meat from an animal that has died a natural death and rather than having been slaughtered. As a matter of fact this is not meant for people who carelessly indulge their craving for meat, but exclusively for yogis who can transform the five kinds of meat such as dog meat and human flesh as well as the five substances like feces and urine into nectar through the power of concentration. It is not meant for people like you and me.

Question: Are you suggesting that someone who has received empowerments for Highest Yoga Tantra should not offer meat and alcohol as part of a tsog offering practice?

Answer: Many lamas do not really care and offer meat. However, some more considerate ones only offer meat of animals that have died from natural causes. During a teaching he gave in Bodhgaya, His Holiness stated that it is not nice if thousands of monks come together for tsog practice offering huge amounts of meat. Instead they should offer tea, water, fruit juice, coca cola and the like. Furthermore, Lama Atisha, during his stay in Tibet, used to offer molasses or honey instead of meat and milk or yoghurt instead of alcohol. Apart from that I found a quotation to the effect that Go Lotsawa was extremely pleased that many other masters i.e. Drigung Jigten Gonpo, Drigung Chenga Rimpoche, Taglung Tangpa, Pagmo Tugpa, Togme Sangpo41 used to substitute molasses or honey for meat and milk or molasses for alcohol.

Question: Is it true that offering meat to a monk results in merit being accumulated and that there is a benefit for the dead animal?

Answer: Gelug Shamar Pandita, tutor of the 13th Dalai Lama, said in his lam-rim text: "some people of blind faith think it is beneficial to slaughter sheep and goats for the soup of monks or the food of gurus, however, in fact it is a grave harmful act due to confusion and wrong views and it is important to be clear about this." He goes on to say in his lam-rim: "To buddhas each and every living being is as valuable as if it were their own child and to all beings, life is the most important thing. You, who dare inflict unbearable pain on such beings out of greed for a mouthful of meat, you think of yourselves as followers of the Buddha and call yourselves lamas and monks! Shame on you! You should judge yourselves harshly."

Question: Monks and nuns have to accept meat that benefactors give them, don't they? After all it says that you should eat whatever you are given when going on your alms round.

Answer: In Panchen Deleg Nyima's commentary on the Vinaya it says: If a monk is offered meat dishes by a donor on his alms-round, he should ask whether or not the meat has been obtained through killing. And in the commentary on the Vinaya called Rays of the Sun: "You have to ask whether or not the offering has been obtained through an action against the rules." Numerous Vinaya scriptures point out that you should make sure the gift that is being offered does not contradict the rules of monastic discipline. They also mention 20 types of meat and other foods that must not be eaten at all, even though the creature may have died a natural death, for instance human flesh, the meat of monkeys or that of vultures.

Therefore, if in doubt about the origin of meat, you should definitely ask and decline anything inappropriate. Even if the gift is appropriate, it is important to ask whether eating or drinking it may have any drawbacks or deleterious effects on one's health, for instance, if you are diabetic, whether it contains any sugar etc.

Apart from that, offering food containing meat constitutes impure giving: In the Sutra to Rishi Gyepa Buddha Shakyamuni taught about how the 32 types of impure giving should be abandoned and how to perform correct giving. Impure giving is divided into four categories: impure with regard to the motivation, the object given, the recipient of the gift and the manner in which it is given. In this sutra, giving meat originating from killed animals, alcohol offered to the careless, as well as weapons, poison and the like are enumerated as cases of impure giving with regard to the object.

Question: In Buddhism eating meat is allowed as the Buddha himself ate meat: The cause of his death was eating poisoned pork that an evil-doer had given him.

Answer: This story circulates, however, looking at statements contained in the authentic scriptures it does not seem very plausible. As far as I know there is no reliable source for it. On the other hand indications that the Buddha rejected meat can clearly be substantiated with the above passages from the Lankavatara Sutra, the sutra Vinaya Foundations of Medicine and the Angulimala Sutra.

The reason why the Buddha could not easily be harmed by poison is that he did not manifest himself in an ordinary aspect. He appeared in the aspect of a buddha, both in essence and in his individual characteristics, which is why poison could not have harmed him. In the Kangyur we find a story where the householder Pelbe, belonging to a different religious group, offered poisoned meat to the Buddha, thinking he was not clairvoyant as he ate it. However, as the poison did not have any effect on the Buddha he deeply regretted his deed and confessed it. Afterwards he became a monk and attained arhatship.

There are also accounts in the sutras about how Devadatta set a wild, maddened elephant on the Buddha in order to kill him, but did not manage to do so, about how he shot at him with a sling-shot, but could not do him any harm. If the Buddha had indeed been as easy to kill as a normal being, dying from swallowing poison, I think he would have hardly been able to manifest one of his 12 deeds, such as the taming of Mara.

Apart from that the Hinayana presentation of the Vaibhashika abhidharma also deals with the 18 extraordinary qualities—exclusive features of a buddha's body, speech and mind—and the 43 additional ones shared with arhats and pratyekabuddhas which include the 10 powers as qualities of the mind. In this context, the term "power" implies that whoever possesses it cannot be harmed by anything and that, on the contrary, such a person will overcome everything. The Buddha could not be harmed by either mental afflictions or the four Maras and the like.

As for his ability to overcome adversity, Vasubandhu makes clear in the seventh chapter of his Treasury of Knowledge that the Buddha's powers over the physical realm arise from his mental powers and correspond to them. Consequently, poison cannot do any harm to the body of a buddha. Furthermore, in the Mahayana texts we find presentations regarding the attainment of the vajra body42 from the eighth bodhisattva ground and descriptions of the vajra body itself in the mantra system. The story about harm through poison does not take all these qualities of a buddha into account. In the Buddhist scriptures of sutra and tantra, eating meat of animals that have been killed especially is rejected. If you have eaten such meat, you should try to purify the harmful effect.

Question: Is food that contains meat suitable for offerings or not?

Answer: If it is the meat of slaughtered animals it is not. If you offer meat that has been obtained through killing, you will be hard put to give a reason for not calling this a "red sacrifice".43 As we learn from both sutras44 and commentaries, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all those whose nature is compassion are filled with sorrow rather than joy at such sacrifices. Therefore, instead of reciting the offering prayer before eating food containing slaughtered meat, it would be better to recite the Akshobhya mantra or other mantras such as OM MANI PADME HUM and blow on the meat, as this might bring about a little bit of benefit.

And try to find methods for redressing the harm caused by eating meat. The best means of purifying it is to save the life of animals. We should strive to employ any available means to benefit beings, we should pray for that intention and do anything else we possibly can.

Two points should be considered over and over again: 1) the difficulty of redressing the negative action of taking the life and meat of others and 2) the fact that this is not a law that has been decreed by anyone, but a natural process of cause and effect. It really is of great benefit to realise this and reach a point where, moved by compassion, one gives up eating meat, liberates beings and saves their lives.45

May the life of His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, be long. May this cause peace to spread on earth, the harmonious practice of all religions to be strengthened, the difficulties between Tibet and China to be resolved peacefully and the Buddhist teachings to bring universal benefit. May love and compassion grow. May all masters and holy beings of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana have a long life and see the fruition of all their endeavours. In particular, may Lama Zopa Rimpoche, spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, live long and achieve all his goals, such as the successful completion of the Maitreya Project. May all sentient beings be freed from the suffering of being killed.


41. 'bri gung 'jig rten mgon po, 'bri gung spyan snga rin po che, stag lung thang pa, phag mo gru pa and thogs med bzang po. [Return to text]

42. The term "vajra body" is used both in the general Mahayana and in the Vajrayana, but with different meaning: In the Vajrayana it signifies the inseparability of body, speech and mind, a meaning that is not implied by the general Mahayana (sutra system). [Return to text]

43. Blood sacrifice which involves the killing of animals—not accepted in Buddhism. [Return to text]

44. I.e. the Lankavatara and Angulimala sutras. [Return to text]

45. Liberating beings is of the greatest benefit because it results in the purification of negativities due to eating meat and the accumulation of karma for a long life in good health. [Return to text]

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat

In Honour of Guru Shakyamuni

With faith in the teacher, the conqueror, who truly appeared,
directly perceived the ultimate mode of existence,
through meditation, exhausted the two obscurations
and turned the wheel of Dharma truthfully:

who am I to fathom or describe
your qualities of wisdom, love and power.

Yet if I were to express them in only four lines
it would be these:

Possessor of skilful means
who led even those full of hate like Angulimala,
those overcome by desire – the likes of Nanda,
and ignorant beings like Lamchung to arhatship.

Praise to His Holiness

Praise also to His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso,
who in our times, just like a second Buddha,
performs enormous deeds of love and peace1
to further your teachings and foster the roots of virtue2
of all the world's beings—a life-protecting lord.

I have written down here, with reference to my sources, what the Buddha said about eating meat. It will surely raise the interest of those who have trust in valid teachings and their teacher. I intend to give some explanations of how eating meat is presented in the lesser and greater vehicles including tantra.

The great Indian scholar Shantideva wrote:

Even though they intend to give up suffering
they run into the arms of the causes of suffering.
Although they wish for happiness, out of ignorance,
they ruin their own happiness like a foe.

In full accordance with what is being expressed here, we clearly realise in our daily lives that all sentient beings from humans down to ants wish for happiness and try to avoid suffering. As this attitude, the desire to seek happiness and avoid suffering, is a quality of mind, it would seem evident that there are minds at work here. The continuum of all sentient beings is in fact endowed with a mind characterised by certain qualities. This mind constitutes the true basis for transformation into the omniscient truth dharmakaya and the cessation of the two types of obscuration, including their imprints left on the consciousness. However, as we ourselves and other sentient beings are under the influence of obscurations due to confusion and ignorance, we do not know how to create the correct causes for the happiness we all desire. Likewise, we do not know how to get rid of the causes of the suffering we wish to avoid. We can even recognise the truth of this at the manifest level of our experience. Therefore, it is imperative to look for correct methods that will bring about happiness, as well as correct methods for giving up suffering. In fact those methods consist in 1) learning about the two truths, 2) meditating on ultimate truth, thereby giving up the two obscurations, and, ultimately, 3) reaching buddhahood.

However, this is not the place to discuss the possibility of finding and applying such faultless methods by examining the words of the Buddha through listening, thinking, and meditating and developing the corresponding three types of wisdom. The words the Buddha addressed to the three types of disciples3 due to his limitless capacity of love and compassion and which were laid down in 84,000 heaps of teachings are vast and profound. They are the words of an authentic person who realized the ultimate nature of phenomena as they are, meditated on the path according to that ultimate nature and managed to completely give up the two kinds of obscurations. All I can hope to achieve here is a clarification of one important aspect of those teachings: Shakyamuni Buddha rejected the consumption of meat both in the words of the lesser and the great vehicles - both in sutra and tantra. In each case he presented different reasons and types of rejection laying particular emphasis on the object of rejection i.e. meat. However, the rejection of meat procured by means of killing innocent creatures with the specific intention of eating them is stated equally clearly in the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras as well as in the scriptures of tantra. I will present the reasons and sources systematically.

In the seventh chapter of the Angulimala Sutra, a Mahayana sutra as rare as the Udamwara flower4, Manjushri asks:

"Is it true that the buddhas do not eat meat due to Buddha nature?"5 The Buddha said: "It is exactly like that, Manjushri. In the sequence of lives during our beginningless and endless coming and going in samsara there is no being that has not been our mother, that has not been our sister. Even dogs have been our fathers before. The world of those lives is like a play6. Therefore, since our own flesh and that of others is the same flesh, the buddhas do not eat meat7. Furthermore, Manjushri, the sphere of all beings is the dharmadhatu. As this would constitute eating flesh of the same sphere, the buddhas do not eat meat."

I should like to give a brief explanation of this sutra passage. We find three reasons here why buddhas do not eat meat. The first reason is expressed in terms of the Buddha's affirmative answer to Manjushri's questions as to whether this has to do with the fact that the Buddha nature8, characterised by the three natural features9, is present in the mental continuum of all beings. "It is exactly like that." The second reason is this: As there is no single being that has not been our mother or father in this process of beginningless and endless coming and going in samsara, and as we ourselves and others are of the same flesh, the buddhas do not eat meat10. And the third reason: the sphere of all beings is the dharmadhatu11 and eating flesh of the same sphere is inappropriate. In this sutra eating meat is thus being rejected through reasoning.

However, eating meat is also rejected with reference to its disadvantages. Again in the Angulimala Sutra the Buddha says:

Purna12, beings that have previously been cats, constantly attached to eating meat, and beings that reject Buddha nature will all become rakshas13 resembling cats. In the future, too, beings that have taken the form of cat-like rakshas and find killing others and eating their meat irresistible, will be the same as beings that have turned away from Buddha nature.

Here eating meat is rejected with reference to disadvantages resulting from it. Some humans, just like cats, love killing for food and eating meat. How does this desire come about? It is the result of karmic imprints from previous lives where they did not acknowledge Buddha nature and act upon it. The karmic imprints bring about the desire to kill animals and eat their flesh in this life. If they fail to acknowledge Buddha nature yet again in the present life, they will accumulate more negative karma and thereby take unfortunate rebirths under conditions where they will experience more suffering. If you acknowledge Buddha nature, you will also respect the beings of all six realms and you will be incapable of eating their flesh. Otherwise you may kill and eat them and turn into a raksha in the future.

As regards the rejection of meat based on advantages, it says in the Angulimala Sutra:

The Buddha said: "Angulimala, in countless lives, out of respect for the millions of living beings, I have given up fish, meat, fat, in fact any food associated with killing and have also caused beings to do the same. Due to this my body has become the excellent body of a buddha, characterised by the special marks. Angulimala, in countless lives I have caused millions of beings, gods and humans, to purify all the million mental afflictions. Due to that my body has become a body free from elaborations."14

In this sutra, eating meat is thus rejected with reference to the corresponding benefits.

Moreover, in the Mahamegha Sutra (Great Cloud Sutra) the rejection of meat and alcohol is presented in the context of qualities characterising the meditative concentration of bodhisattvas on the tenth level:

The Bodhisattva Mahasattva Mahamegha (Essence of the Great Cloud) asked the Buddha: "Lord, I ask for the 400 gates of meditative concentration to be explained in detail by the exalted Tathagata." The Buddha replied: "...Mahamegha, a bodhisattva mahasattva who has attained the concentration of the deep, calm ocean15 demonstrates the signs of obstacles in order for beings to renounce killing animals and eating their meat by appearing as a meat seller in places where pigs are sold. In order to bring beings to spiritual maturity he also appears as a beer drinker among beer sellers and in order to clearly show the disadvantages of drinking beer, he will even become chief among them and serve beer to beings without being attached to that activity."

This sutra rejects meat and alcohol noting the qualities that a bodhisattva attains in the context of the 400 gates of concentration, achieving the meditation of the deep, calm ocean.

In the Hinayana sutras we also find quotations relating to our subject like the following passage from the latter part of Foundations of Medicine, a text contained in the Vinaya section of the Kangyur:

The Buddha was dwelling in a multi-storey building by the monkey pond at Vaisali. In Vaisali there lived a captain called Sengge and whenever the people living nearby brought him meat, he ate it. One day he learnt from the Buddha what is true, and he did not eat meat any more. Nevertheless meat was still brought to him but it was given to the bhikshus, and in fact the bhikshus did eat it. Now the tirthikas16 made remarks about this, made fun and clapped their hands: "Knowledgeable ones, captain Sengge does not eat the meat that has been prepared for him, so it is given to the bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas. And the bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas eat the meat that was meant for captain Sengge." When they heard this loose talk the bhikshus asked the Buddha and the Buddha replied: "I have stated that meat which is not appropriate from the three points of view17 should not be eaten."

Thus the Hinayana sutra containing the Vinaya text Foundations of Medicine also rejects meat, i.e. meat that is not appropriate for eating on three counts. Nowadays, unfortunately, some intelligent and not so intelligent commentators have made the presentation of purity according to the three aspects18, namely "not having seen, not having heard and not suspecting that a being has been killed for ones own consumption" into a rule which is as well-known as a famous quotations. As far as the presentation in the Vinaya sutra Foundations of Medicine is concerned, there can be no doubt that it is inappropriate to eat meat that has been killed for oneself. However, the fact that the Buddha, referring to meat meant for someone (i.e. captain Sengge) other than those who actually eat it (i.e. the "bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas"), states "that meat which is not appropriate from three points of view should not be eaten" shows very clearly that eating meat which has been killed for others is also not pure according to the three aspects or inappropriate for eating on the three counts. To good logicians this is clearly evident at closer examination.

The fact that the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for oneself and the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for others is equally impure according to the three aspects or equally inappropriate for eating on the three counts is thus made clear by the Vinaya sutra Foundations of Medicine. Relying on this sutra we can therefore see that it is unnecessary and pointless to take the statement from the extensive commentary on the Vinaya, "not having seen, not having heard and not suspecting" that a being "has been killed for ones own consumption" and make it suit our own interests in a narrow-minded fashion by drawing clever conclusions from it.

Similarly, the threefold rejection of meat as impure set out in the 14 major infractions and 25 rules of conduct of the Kalachakra system has to be applied to meat of animals that have been slaughtered for either oneself or others as impure according to those three aspects. The Kalachakra is a Dharma system comprising all the points of sutra and tantra in their entirety and is therefore in agreement with statements from the Vinaya.

Now, some sceptics may still be concerned about karmic consequences from eating any kind of meat, even for health reasons—for instance the meat of water buffaloes, sheep or goats that have died in accordance with the Dharma19. They may suggest that such meat should also be abandoned. The response to that would be that, from a Buddhist point of view, this position resembles Devadatta’s understanding of what constitutes renouncing meat as presented in his Five Instructions20.

According to the Vinaya Sutra fully ordained monks are allowed to eat meat as medicine when ill. This meat has to originate from an animal that has died from natural causes. In autumn, many monks used to get ill, so Ananda asked the Buddha what to do about it. The Buddha replied that four substances, including meat and alcohol, were permissible as medicine. The monks had to find meat that was pure in the three above respects and feed it to their ill companions. In case they were not able to eat it, they were blindfolded and spices were used to cover up the unpleasant taste. This tradition strongly suggests that at the time of the Buddha, fully-ordained monks did not normally eat meat, for otherwise such special measures would not have been necessary.

Furthermore, in the context of shramana21 Dharma practice exemplified by one of the main disciples of the Buddha, the Sthavira Mahakaskyapa, who did not eat meat and did not accumulate even the tiniest bit of wordly wealth, it says in the Angulimala Sutra:

Angulimala said: "Indra, you have strayed away from the teachings. In fact it is like this: he who abandoned jewels, pearls, lapis lazuli, gold, kunda stones and the like, 80,000 vases filled with jewels, grains of gold and other precious things, cast away priceless clothes as if they were drops of spittle, renunciate of the shramana Dharma, Sthavira Mahakasyapa, main follower of the Tathagata who took up residence in the forest and also upheld the conduct of physical restraint in accordance with the twelve qualities of ascetic practice—why did the great Sthavira (Maha)Kasyapa not wear precious clothing, why did he renounce his households and uphold the conduct of physical restraint purely, giving up foods like nectar and meat dishes?

He went from house to house and whenever the householders feigned stupidity and said: 'We have nothing at all to spare, neither in front nor at the back nor on either side' or berated him, he answered 'May you be happy' and returned with an easy mind. Likewise whenever they said 'we have something for you', the Sthavira answered without attachment 'May you be happy' and returned with an easy mind.

Now if through each of (Maha)Kasyapa's own treasure vases future shramanas could have enjoyed food, drink and delicacies till the end of their lives, why did he not bequeath such enormous wealth to the Sangha? Giving up the sense of 'mine' and letting it go, making it the inexhaustible treasure of hungry ghosts, of those in need, of miserable ones and of beggars that is the Dharma of shramanas, Indra. Accumulating wealth if only the size of a sesame seed is not the Dharma of shramanas.

Who would deny—with this sutra in mind—that it would be appropriate for us who have renounced household life and taken vows of ordination, to look up to Sthavira Mahakasyapa as an unequalled model to be emulated? Although he owned the full gamut of worldly possessions, he gave up everything, realising that even the tiniest possession viewed as 'one’s own' is no Dharma of shramanas and renounced food from dead animals, thereby upholding the pure conduct of vegetarian discipline in accordance with the twelve qualities of ascetic practice! According to tradition, Kasyapa's body is still hidden in a mountain recess in India. In the future, Buddha Maitreya will reveal the exact location and point him out as a model bhikshu. May we then have the good fortune to be reborn in India and come face to face with the great Kasyapa.

As far as the use of honey22, leather shoes, white conch shells (employed as ritual implements) and silk worms is concerned, we also have the telling response to a question by Manjushri. Since what matters within worldly things is a 'reality of methods', wearing leather shoes is appropriate if the buffalo whose skin was used to make them died in accordance with the Dharma23 and inappropriate if the leather has come from an animal that was killed. The use of honey, conch shells and silk is also said to be appropriate if the material was derived from animals that died in accordance with the Dharma i.e. that were not killed especially. In the Angulimala Sutra it says with regard to this point:

Manjushri asked: "Are not honey and conch shells and shoes and silk worms like the meat of the same sphere?" The Buddha answered: "Do not speak thus, Manjushri. Having given up all worldly bodies the buddhas are not dependent on material things and therefore do not need any substances of attachment. The reality of the world is the use of material things. Materials pass from one to the other as they are used—you should not use whatever materials are at hand indiscriminately. That which has been passed on but did not originate from a killing hand is fit for use."

Manjushri asked: "If a shoemaker in the market has made leather shoes and offers them to the Tathagata, Arhat, perfectly enlightened Buddha, will he accept that which has passed through several hands?" Manjushri went on to ask: "If a buffalo has died in accordance with the Dharma and the owner has it skinned by a slaughterer, visits a shoemaker to have the leather fashioned into shoes and then gives them to someone following the rules of discipline would that be 'something passed from one to the other'?" Thus he asked and the Buddha said: "If the buffalo died in accordance with the Dharma, and the owner has shoes made and gives them to someone following the rules of discipline, then they should be accepted. Would it be fitting for a monk not to accept them? This would show a lack of compassion and the rules of discipline would be harmed."

On this occasion, in the sutra, Manjushri asks the Buddha three questions: one about honey, conch shells, shoes and silk worms, one about a shoemaker offering shoes to the Buddha whose leather has passed through several hands so that the origin is not clear, and one about another person offering shoes made from the hide of a buffalo that died naturally. The first and the last questions are being answered, but not the middle one. There is no need for that, as the answer to the last question implies that it is inappropriate to accept the gift referred to in the middle question.

Some people who fail to distinguish between intentional and unintentional actions put forward the argument that if it is inappropriate to eat meat, it would be equally inappropriate to eat rice. However, this is not the same because to give up eating meat and reduce the number of animals being killed is an act that is well within the bounds of possibility. During the cultivation of rice and vegetables there is no intention to kill beings while planting the seedlings, irrigating the fields etc. However, since there is no way of preventing insects being killed unintentionally - as this is not currently within the bounds of possibility - it is still not the same as killing on purpose. The answer to a question posed by Manjushri may serve to clear up any doubts on the part of those critics who, based on this kind of comparison, conclude that one would consequently have to do the impossible. In the Arya Angulimala Sutra Manjushri asks whether or not it is appropriate to dig up the soil and sand, till fields and cook one’s food because of unclean water. The answer is as follows: Manjushri says:

"Digging and tilling is not appropriate. Food that has been cooked because the water was contaminated should not be accepted24–in this situation, monks have to act accordingly." Thereupon the Buddha said: "That is what is called the worldly view. If there are upasakas25, stick to clean water and food. Wherever there are upasakas, there should be no digging and tilling. Where there are no upasakas, what should even buddhas do there? There are also creatures in the grass, as well as in the water and in the air. If it were like this, would there not be negative karmic effects from altogether pure actions? The question as to how you purify something that cannot be completely pure while living in the world and without giving up the samsaric body is a futile question."

The main significance of this sutra passage is that if there is a chance of giving up harming other beings, you should always make use of it. On the other hand, actions committed where there is no such possibility are not altogether free from negative karmic consequences, but, due to the absence of harmful intent, those consequences are far weaker.

To further clarify this point: one may well wonder whether predators such as tigers, lions or crocodiles live on something free of negativity. In the above quotation the Buddha suggests that this question is purely speculative. As long as those animals have their predator bodies they cannot but eat meat. With such bodies it is impossible to avoid killing. As they cannot help eating meat, the question arises whether, in this context, eating meat is indeed a negative action. The answer is: yes. Whoever kills or harms other living beings commits a negative action.

However, there are varying degrees of negativity. The force of a negative action is determined by the motivation or intention and the awareness of the one committing it–whether that agent knows the action is bad. Lions and tigers are not aware that killing prey and eating meat is bad, so the degree of negativity is less.

As they have a strong habit of killing and eating meat they cannot possibly rid themselves of negativities in their present lives. Due to their bodies, there is no way for them to overcome negativities in their present lives, however, they may overcome them in future lives. Likewise, we find it very difficult, at present, to perform any pure actions because of our bodies which are the result of karma and afflictions. So it becomes all the more evident that we need to strive for methods to attain the eighth bodhisattva level–to achieve the vajra body which exists uncontaminated by any harmful action.

In the Lankavatara Sutra meat is rejected from three points of view, i.e. 1) impurity, 2) the fact that the animals from whom the meat has been procured used to be our fathers and mothers in earlier lives, and 3) the fear that all living beings share of being killed:

Since it used to be our dear ones
since it is mixed with what's base and impure–
a mess that has evolved from blood–
as everyone is scared by killing
yogis always give up meat […26]
and drinks27 inducing inattention...

The Lankavatara Sutra also denounces the disadvantages of excess and overstatement of the advantages of eating. It says:

From eating inattention is born,
from inattention concepts are born,
from concepts desirous attachment is born,
desirous attachment dulls the mind,
Through dullness attachment to being is born–
and you will not break free from samsara.

In the same sutra, eating meat is also rejected with reference to unpleasant effects on future lives:

Killing beings for profit's sake,
trading possessions to purchase meat–
those with the karma of these two evils
wail and lament as they fall after death.

There may be no sense of causing to kill–
still the meat is not pure in three ways,
as there's no action without a cause–28
that is why yogis give it up.

All the Buddha Bhagavans,
denounce it in all ten directions:
One devours the other, falling
among the predators after death,
always born among the lowly,
smelly ones and idiots,
frequently among the outlaws:
hunters, butchers, cannibals
and among ghosts in human form,
among the various eaters of meat: as
in the wombs of cat rakshasas.

In the Elephant and the Great Cloud,
in the Angulimala Sutra,
in the Lankavatara Sutra,
I've strongly rejected eating meat.29
buddhas, bodhisattvas and the
shravakas revile it all and
those who impudently eat meat
will always be reborn as fools.30

Before I taught you to abandon
meat that was seen, heard or suspected...31
Thinkers failing to understand this
are born in places where meat is consumed.32

The arya path of liberation
is thus veiled through the fault of attachment.
Meat, alcohol, onions and garlic cause
obstacles on the arya path.
In the future proponents of ignorance,
mitigate eating meat and claim:
" As meat is appropriate, free from evil,
the buddhas have permitted it."

Food should be viewed like medicine: accordingly
yogis well versed in the Dharma eat
the gifts from their alms-round regretful as if
it were the meat of their own dear sons.
Whoever is steeped in compassion feels
that sorrow–thus have I explained.

Others33 will always dwell in the company
of wild beast such as tigers and wolves.
Whenever meat is eaten, beings are
terrified and that is why yogis,
out of compassion do not eat it.
Eating meat lacks compassion and wisdom,34
it means turning away from freedom,35
it goes against the aryas' victory banners,36
Therefore eating meat is folly.

To be reborn in the houses of Brahmins,
or in places where yogis dwell,
in homes of families rich in wisdom–
those are results of abandoning meat.

This is written in the Lankavatara Sutra. Apparently, some people have misinterpreted this sutra to the effect that it is only directed to a certain assembly of raksha men and women and does not apply to the rest of us. However, this interpretation is quite untrustworthy. Any sensible person should be able to tell from the answers to Manjushri's questions in the Angulimala Sutra and similar quotations, whether or not such arbitrary statements and distortions of Buddha's valid words should be given credence.

Futhermore, everyone familiar with logic agrees that you would have to be someone like the great forerunners Nagarjuna and Asanga–foretold by the Buddha himself–to be able to tell definitive statements from interpretable ones by relying on the criteria of special intention, contextual necessity and contradiction with reality. It would take an expert authenticated by the Buddha himself to establish any intentions at variance with his literal statements, not some arbitrary sophist expounding all kinds of interpretations.

It is not up to us or biased scholars to settle how the Buddha's teachings should be interpreted. Otherwise one might arrive at the above conclusion that eating meat has been prohibited only for rakshas. Also, if anyone were able to interpret the Buddha's teachings correctly, there would have been no need for him to predict that Nagarjuna and Asanga in particular would elucidate his teachings correctly. The above prediction from the Lankavatara Sutra already anticipates this:

In the future proponents of ignorance
mitigate eating meat and claim:
"As meat is appropriate, free from evil,
the buddhas have permitted it."

Although it is unlikely
that Dharma talk by fishermen37 like myself
can bring about any benefit, nevertheless,
how could the words of the Tathagata
fail to bring about benefit?

—with these words of relief I shall sit back for a moment now that the main body of this text is completed.

I would like to add a point His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, made at the Kalachakra initiation in Mundgod suggesting that in the past, at the time of the Great Dharma kings of Tibet, eating meat was also rejected. He said the old edicts of the Dharma kings were quite clear on this: "The monks shall learn the behaviour of the pundits and the great abbot (Shantarakshita): drinking alcohol, eating meat and the like are inappropriate."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said: "None of the visitors coming to Bodhgaya from all over the world offer alcohol and meat, it is only the Tibetan pilgrims that spread out their pieces of meat and liquor saying 'we are doing our offering ceremony'—I do not think this is nice, I have often said that. I also do not like the fact that during the big assemblies at the major monasteries platters full of meat are set up with the words 'we have performed an offering ceremony'. I have said again and again that it is better to set up substances like nectar pills, blessed water or black tea. And if some people claim that, according to anuttarayoga tantra, you have to take meat, the only reason that may be quoted in support of this claim is the statement about the acceptance of the five kinds of meat and the five kinds of nectar. There is no other reason. Quite apart from the fact that this refers to a very high level of realisation,38 if indeed you postulate the need for eating meat based on the statement about accepting the five kinds of meat and the five kinds of nectar, then you should be consistent and insist on the need for eating horse meat, dog meat as well as human flesh, drinking urine and eating feces."39

At the time I noted down the Dalai Lama’s words precisely: Once we accept the statement about the five kinds of meat and nectar, the claim that we must eat meat would clearly and logically imply that we must eat dog meat and human flesh, too.

The main point of the sutras quoted here is to demonstrate that the Buddhist Dharma is a teaching of non-violence. As this fundamental principle, i.e. not to harm, constitutes the core and root of the Buddhist teachings, it is important to apply and implement it. It is good to rely on statements by the Buddha when it comes to deciding what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Is the main point of the teaching of non-harmfulness not lost, if you try and substantiate your own desires with tortuous arguments, carelessly eating the meat of killed animals?

The Buddha drew a distinction between actions that are "unwholesome by nature" and actions that are "unwholesome because of vows". As far as the latter are concerned he made certain modifications taking differences in time and place into account. For instance, he rejected daily baths for monks in some countries, but permitted them in hot countries. Likewise, he generally prohibited touching women under the influence of attachment, making nevertheless clear that, under a number of circumstances, it would be correct and necessary to touch them—for instance when a woman is in danger of drowning and has to be pulled out of the water. While allowing for such modifications considering a given situation in the context of actions "unwholesome because of vows", there was no way a licence for actions "unwholesome by nature" such as killing and stealing could be given. The latter are harmful actions regardless of time and space and even a buddha cannot change harmful karma into wholesome karma. The aspect of non-violence in the teachings of the Buddha is demonstrated by the unanimous rejection of harmful actions such as killing, stealing and the like in all the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana scriptures and therefore I rejoice in the fact that all the successors of the Buddha in the traditions of Hinayana and Mahayana, of Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu and Nyingma continue to explain and practice this teaching in accordance with the fundamental idea of non-harmfulness.

Thus I have scooped a jug of the nectar of Buddha's words from the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, from the Angulimala Sutra and other scriptures, on the issue of giving up and accepting meat, without exaggeration nor understatement, and I have embellished it with the fresh white lotus flower of statements by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. May this offering, too, become a cloud of offerings that pleases the buddhas.

One's flesh and that of others are no different
But making a difference and eating it we have long roamed.40
The Buddha taught: everyone's realm is the dharmadhatu
one must not eat the meat of one's own realm.

Composed in the year 2620 after the Buddha's birth, the year 1995 according to the Western calendar, with the wish to benefit by Geshe Thubten Soepa.


The above booklet about eating meat was read through, cover to cover, by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He told me: "It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read". I cannot express how pleased I was at these words. I would like to complement my composition by a few questions and answers concerning the topic.


1. For example. love, compassion and non-violence. [Return to text]

2. Love, compassion and non-violence are those very roots of virtue. [Return to text]

3. With the dispositions of hearers, solitary realisers and buddhas. [Return to text]

4. A flower only found at the time a buddha is born. [Return to text]

5. Manjushri is actually asking two questions that may be paraphrased in these terms: 1) Why don't you eat meat? 2) I think the reason may be that all sentient beings have Buddha nature – it that correct?. [Return to text]

6. For example, a play with changing parts. The main emphasis is on the impermanence and instability of life with its ever-changing relationships between sentient beings, not on the illusion-like nature of life. [Return to text]

7. The line of argument here is: 1) it is inappropriate to eat one's own flesh 2) one's own flesh and that of others is the same – therefore it is also inappropriate to eat the flesh of others. [Return to text]

8. All sentient beings have the potential to get rid of suffering. This is referred to as Buddha nature. It is the foundation for all good qualities such as compassion, love, and wisdom. [Return to text]

9. Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha) is attained by the power of reality. It stems from the mental continuum which goes on from one life to the next and constitutes the seed of unpolluted wisdom. [Return to text]

10. This second reason may be framed as a short dialogue: Q: Why don't you eat your own flesh? A: Because it hurts. Q: If so, is it not the case that it will hurt other sentient beings, if you eat their flesh? A: Yes, it would. Q: Then how can it be proper to eat someone else's flesh? [Return to text]

11. The dharmadhatu is the ultimate nature of mind, which is purity. The minds of buddhas and all sentient beings have this quality of natural purity. As all beings partake of this ultimate purity of mind, they all have the capacity to attain buddhahood. [Return to text]

12. Important monastic disciple of the Buddha, arhat of the Abhidharma tradition. [Return to text]

13. A kind of cannibal or blood-thirsty creature. [Return to text]

14. For example, a body which–unlike that of sentient beings–is not the result of afflictions and karma. [Return to text]

15. The concentration of the deep, calm ocean is one of 400 concentrations described in that sutra. Someone who has attained this level of concentration is able to engage in activities curbing the consumption of meat and alcohol. For the benefit of beings they will send out emanations discouraging others from killing animals, eating meat and drinking. [Return to text]

16. Followers of certain non-Buddhist philosophies. [Return to text]

17. In case one has seen or heard that the creature was killed to be eaten or if one suspects this to be the case. [Return to text]

18. The opposite of the above three aspects. [Return to text]

19. Without harm to oneself or others, which–in this case–implies that the animal has not been killed to be eaten and that its meat has no deleterious effects (on one's health). [Return to text]

20. Devadatta stipulated that 1) milk, 2) meat, and 3) salt should not be eaten, that 4) monastic robes should not be patched together from bits and pieces and that 5) monasteries should not be located in remote places but close to lay communities. Generally speaking, Buddhists do not accept these rules as valid. [Return to text]

21. Spiritual practitioner, especially one having taken monastic vows. [Return to text]

22. Although bees are only killed accidentally in the process of getting at their honey, honey is usually included in lists of unwholesome animal products as it is the result of stealing something very precious from animals. [Return to text]

23. For example, not killed for the purpose of using its parts. [Return to text]

24. According to the rules of monastic discipline bhikshus are not allowed to cultivate crops. [Return to text]

25. Buddhist householder without monastic vows. [Return to text]

26. What was left out concerns the avoidance of onions and garlic. [Return to text]

27. The Tibetan sutra text reads chang which is barley beer, but also alcohol in general. [Return to text]

28. That is the meat does not go on sale without causes, i.e. without an animal being killed. That should be clear to the buyer. [Return to text]

29. In other words: the Buddha rejected eating meat before in the Elephant Sutra, the Great Cloud (Mahamegha) Sutra, as well as the Angulimala Sutra. On this occasion in the Lankavatara Sutra he is rejecting it yet again. [Return to text]

30. To be more precise: such a person accumulates the causes for being reborn as a fool in the future. [Return to text]

31. To have been obtained by means of killing animals. [Return to text]

32. Not only will they be reborn in a country where meat is consume–they do not avoid eating meat and will therefore be reborn as beings eating meat. [Return to text]

33. Other meat eaters. [Return to text]

34. For example, eating meat causes compassion and wisdom to decrease or degenerate. [Return to text]

35. Meaning the path to liberation will take longer. [Return to text]

36. Meaning the robes of ordination. [Return to text]

37. Fishermen kill animals for a living and are not in a very good position to teach anyone about the holy Dharma–neither am I. [Return to text]

38. In fact the ability to transmute them. [Return to text]

39. That is what the five kinds also refer to. [Return to text]

40. We have long been caught in samsara and failed to break free from it. [Return to text]

A "must-read" for all Buddhists, this text presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Now available as an ebook.
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings

Geshe Soepa's presentation begins with an extensive look at the various sutras and tantras which reveal the Buddha's teachings on why we should avoid eating meat. There is a question and answer section on topics including tantric rituals and whether to offer meat to Sangha. Geshe Soepa also discusses the practice of neutering animals and concludes that eating meat or otherwise exploiting animals is contrary to the core Buddhist practice of compassion.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has read through Geshe Soepa's explanation and said "It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read."

Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings is a must-read for all Buddhists and especially for those who wish to support and advocate for their practice of vegetarianism. A proponent of animal welfare, Geshe Thubten Soepa has taught extensively on the subject of vegetarianism.




Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

The preceding is, briefly, an explanation of the reasons for meditation and a description of the path up to the buddha stage. If we really want to practise the Buddhist Dharma, we must first know what suffering is and realize the way in which we exist in samsara. To get out of samsara, we must have strong faith in the Buddha, and then practise as the Buddha taught. We should consider how other beings are also suffering in samsara, and out of compassion for them, we must wish to reach the buddha stage in order to help them.

It is important to try to find the right understanding of Dharma. Even if we buy a watch, which only needs to last for a few years, we try to find a good one. Because Dharma is not just for ourselves in this life, but for all beings in all lives, it is much more important to find the right and best understanding of it. If we want to trust another person, first we have to know that the other person is honest and reliable; we can only determine this by what the other one says or does. In the same way, we can have faith in the Buddha only by knowing what he taught, by looking at our experiences to see whether it is reasonable, and by practising it to see if it gives good fruit or not. Then our faith will be indestructible.


The terms are given first in English, followed by the Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents. The syllables in brackets provide a phonetic Tibetan pronunciation. Diacritical marks have not been used on Sanskrit letters. The explanations are intended only to expand briefly on the use of the term in this text. For exact transliteration and for more general definitions and a wider range of applications, the reader is referred to the glossaries of other publications concerning the sutra path in Buddhism, as well as to such dictionaries as Monier-Williams' A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, and Chandra Das' Tibetan-English Dictionary.

  1. The four noble truths; caturaryasatya; bzhi ( zhi).
  2. Suffering due to suffering; suffering of misery; duhkha duhkhata; sdug.bsngalgy sdug.bsngal (dug.ngal gyi dug.ngal).
  3. Suffering due to change; viparinama duhkhata; ’gyur.bai sdug.bsngal (gyur.wei dug.ngal).
  4. All embracing suffering due to mental formations; suffering of being conditioned; samskara duhkhata; khyab.pai 'dus.byed gyi sdug.bsngal (khyab.pai gyi dug.ngal).
  5. Volitional action of body, speech and mind; karma; las (ley). The Sanskrit term karma is generally used. Karma is of three types: skillful, unskillful, and neutral.
  6. Mental defilement; klesha; nyon.mongs (nyon.mong). There are two forms of mental defilements: harmful inclinations, and the mistaking of the way things appear to exist for the way they actually do.
  7. (Literally) circle or sphere; mandala; dkyil.'khor (kyil.kor). The Sanskrit term mandala is used most often. A mandala can be the physical circular object used for making offerings, the symbolic universe that is being offered, or the special abode or environment of the one who is receiving the offering.
  8. The intermediate state between one's death and one's next rebirth; antarabhava; (bardo).
  9. Desire; attachment; rag; 'dod.chags (dod.chag);
    Aversion; anger; hatred; dosha; zhe-sdang (zhe.dang);
    Ignorance; mental darkness; moha; gti.mug (ti.mug). These three comprise the three poisons.
  10. Ignorance regarding the self of persons; pudgalatmadrishti; gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi (gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi;
    Ignorance regarding the self of phenomena; dharmatmadrishti; cho.kyi dag.dzin gyi
  11. Carrying; vehicle; yana; (
  12. The mind motivated or dedicated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings; the altruistic intention; the awakening mind; bodhicitta; byang.chub kyi sems (jang.chub kyi sem).
  13. Wisdom; prajna; shes.rab (she.rab). Method; means; upaya; thabs (tab).
  14. Buddha field; buddha kshetra; sangs.rgyas kyi zhing (sang.gye kye zhing).
  15. Ten levels or grounds; dashabhumi; sa.bcu (sa.chu).
  16. "The Oceans of Clouds of Praises"; stod.sprin rgya.mtsho (do.trin gya.tso). This is a prayer in praise of the bodhisattva Manjushri, which contains a description of a buddha's qualities of body, speech and mind.
  17. Perfection; paramita; pha.rol tu (pa.rol tu
  18. Lha Lama Yeshe Ö; (Devaguru Jnanaprabha). This king was a descendant of King Langdarma (gLan-dar-ma), who was responsible for eradicating the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet.
  19. Verses 19 and 20 of Je Tsongkhapa's prayer The Beginning and the End ( (tog.ta ma)).
  20. Calm abiding; shamatha; zhi-gnas (zhi.nay). Calm abiding is the perfection of mental concentration.
  21. Analytical, or investigative, meditation; vicharabhavana; dpyad.sgom (je.gom). Discursive analysis of the true nature of the meditation object.
  22. Concentration meditation; sthapyabhavana; 'jog.sgom (jo.gom). Following discriminating or analytic meditation, one then single-pointedly places the mind on the meditation object. This practice is an aspect of calm abiding.
  23. Diamond posture; vajrasana; rdo.rje.gdan ( den). This asana is called the diamond posture or pose because in this position, one can sit firmly, "indestructibly," unmovingly, for a long period of time.
  24. Scattered attention; agitation; mental excitement; auddhyata; (go.pu).
  25. Torpor; sinking; lethargy; nirmagnata; (jing.wa).
  26. Mindfulness; remembrance; recollection; smrti; (
  27. Clear comprehension; awareness; mental spy; samprajdnya; shes.bzhin (she.zlzin).
  28. Subtle torpor; sukshmanirmagnata; (jing.wa
  29. Insight meditation; heightened insight; vipashyana; Ihag.mthon (Ihag.thong).

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

To become a buddha, a bodhisattva has to practise six perfections: 17

  1. the perfection of giving (dana paramita)
  2. the perfection of morality (shila-paramita)
  3. the perfection of patience (kshanti-paramita)
  4. the perfection of energy (virya-paramita)
  5. the perfection of meditation (dhyana-paramita)
  6. the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramira)

Perfection of Giving

This perfection is divided into four categories: the giving of property, Dharma, refuge, and active love (maitri).

  1. The giving of propertyFor most of us, basic material needs such as food and clothing are the types of property easiest to give. High bodhisattvas, however, are capable of giving their eyes, flesh, and even their lives. The object we give is not the actual giving—it is only the means for giving. The real activity of giving is the strong decision to give freely, without avarice. In this way, even if we possess nothing, we can practise giving, because giving depends on our state of mind, not on the object being given. Milarepa had only a small cloth to wear and lived on nettles, but he still practised the ultimate perfection of giving. In the beginning when we try to start this practice, we may find that even the giving of money or material things is difficult, but when we have completed the perfection of giving, the giving of anything, even our own flesh, will be easy. To practise the perfection we need a very strong desire to help others and a very strong will. But if our motive for giving property is to gain fame, for instance, this is not the practice of giving at all.
  2. The giving of DharmaThe giving of Dharma means that one gives, with pure mind, the true teaching to other beings. This type of giving is more beneficial than the giving of property. Possession of property helps for only a limited time, while Dharma is lasting and more deeply helpful. A person with property may still be suffering, but Dharma can not only remove this suffering, it gives the person a new wisdom eye as well. Included in the bodhisattvas' work to attain buddhahood is the aim to give Dharma as fully as possible to all beings.
  3. The giving of refugeTo give refuge means that we work to save and protect the lives of all living beings. For instance, if we put water creatures stuck in the mud back into water, we are practising this kind of giving. The person who truly wants to put an end to war and killing is practising the refuge aspect of this perfection. If the life of any being is in danger, we have to help in any way we can. The practice of giving refuge results in very good fruit immediately and deeply.
  4. The giving of active loveThe practice of active love is the wish to give real happiness to all beings. By just having this wish, we cannot directly help beings straight away, but if it is cultivated it will eventually have great results. The immediate fruit of this practice is that no spirits can harm the practitioner.All these kinds of giving help in two ways—they help other beings and they help ourselves. If we practise giving solely for our own benefit, it is not true giving.

Perfection of Morality

The perfection of morality has three aspects:

  1. The first aspect is the protection of our body, speech and mind from performing unskillful deeds. We have the tendency to act unskillfully, and this tendency needs to be controlled. We protect ourselves from acting this way when we stop using our body, speech and mind in harmful ways. We can think of our body, speech and mind as three naughty children, and of ourselves as their parent trying to keep them occupied in a room. Immediately outside the door of the room is a dangerous precipice, which represents the harmful things to which the children are attracted. Whenever they try to run out of the room, we have to pull them back inside to safety. If we let our body, speech and mind go as they will, we shall experience much suffering in the future. This protection of body, speech and mind is the first aspect of morality.
  2. The second aspect is to protect others in the same way as we protect ourselves. For instance, when someone is about to kill an animal and we demonstrate that it is wrong to do so, we are protecting that person from committing harmful actions.
  3. When we perform any skillful deed, this automatically protects us from performing any unskillful ones. This substitution of skilful action in the place of unskilful is the third aspect of the perfection of morality.

Perfection of Patience

There are three types of patience:

  1. Patience when we are harmed by others.When we are harmed bodily or mentally by others we should not react by getting angry or harming them in return.
  2. Patience when we are suffering.When we suffer, we point to someone or something outside ourselves as the cause. The immediate reason for our suffering may be something outside, but the deep, or underlying, cause is our own karma, which is of our own doing. The fruit or our actions must come back to us. If a person stabs us with a knife, this injury had to happen to us. We cannot point to anyone outside ourselves as the cause. If, because of our religion, we have to leave our country and endure great suffering, this circumstance has been produced by ourselves. We should think that the seed of suffering has already been sown, therefore it must grow. This way of thinking reduces the power of suffering over us. We have to start practising patience with very small sufferings; later we shall be able to be patient with very large ones. As a result of having practised the perfection of patience, a bodhisattva can withstand any suffering whatsoever for the sake of beings.In Tibetan history there is a story that shows clearly how beneficial the practice of this type of patience can be. Some years after king Langdarma had eradicated the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet, a king of western Tibet, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö 18 decided to reestablish and propagate the pure Dharma in the land. For this purpose he went in search of a sufficient amount of gold with which to invite the very best Indian pandits to Tibet. While on his search he was imprisoned by the king of Garlog, who demanded as ransom Lha Lama Yeshe Ö's weight in gold. But when Yeshe Ö's nephew came with the gold, the old king refused to leave the prison, saying that his life was almost over and that instead the nephew should bring a pandit from India. The nephew then was able to invite Atisha from Nalanda, and Atisha re-established the pure Buddha Dharma in Tibet.Not only did this king willingly forsake his own freedom for the sake of others, but he also did not try to retaliate against the person who had captured him. To harm someone who is harming us does not make sense from a religious point of view. When we seek revenge against others who appear to be hurting us, it does not relieve our own pain, but only gives rise to new suffering for us by creating more karma. If, because we have caused pain to others, they turn around and beat us with a stick, the immediate cause of the pain is the stick, but the person wielding the stick is reacting against our own action, which itself was caused by our being in the grip of an overpowering mental defilement. So logically, our anger should be directed against our own mental defilements. Anger with other beings is very stupid and serves only to create more suffering for us. A country, being attacked by another, fighting back, returning the aggression, is like a hungry person taking poison.If all people were to practise patience it would bring real peace into the world, but those with no experience of Dharma find it very hard to believe in the efficacy of the practice of patience. If someone who is struck returns the blow, that person sets up a chain reaction with no end, but if one party shows patience, as a result others will do so also. We find this notion in the Christian tradition, when Jesus urged us to turn the left cheek to those who strike us on the right. In the Tibetan tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa composed two verses in which he prayed, 19

    When I remember, see or hear living beings
    speaking harshly or hitting me
    may I meditate on patience,
    and, avoiding anger, speak instead of their good qualities.

    By developing, in the stream of my being, the pure wish,
    which is based on bodhicitta,
    holding other beings dearer than myself,
    may I quickly bestow supreme buddhahood on them!

    The harm given us by the body, speech or mind of others is like a sword, arrow or spear. The practice of patience is the good armor of protection against this; possessing it, we cannot be injured. If we do not practise patience, trying instead merely to avoid conflict and say nice things and be friendly to everyone, we shall be unable to behave like this to all the countless beings, but with patience we shall be constantly protected from harm. If we walk along a very rocky path, it is impossible to remove all the stones from the way, but strong shoes protect us from all possible injuries.

  3. The patience of keeping concentration.The third kind of patience is that of keeping concentration on meditation, or anything else concerned with Dharma, without allowing distracting influences to harm the practice.

Perfection of Energy

This means energy for Dharma. There are three kinds:

  1. The first is the energy of the mind that stops the desire for unprofitable things. If we have a strong desire for ordinary things disconnected from Dharma, it disrupts our Dharma practice. Although we have to do everyday things, if our fondness for them is greater than our fondness for Dharma, our attention is taken away from our main work. A person may concentrate and work very hard, but if the goal of all that effort is a worldly one, then, according to Dharma, that person is lazy. People who really want to practise Dharma are in a hurry even when eating or excreting, so as not to waste time. Energy for worldly things is weakness; energy for Dharma is real strength. This aspect of the perfection of energy speeds us quickly towards the final goal. Having energy for Dharma practice, the real purpose of life, prevents our being distracted by worldly goals. It protects us from all kinds of bad things.
  2. The second kind of energy protects us against tiredness. For instance, a meditator who suffers from such tiredness that even the mere sight of the meditation place brings on sleep, overcomes this weakness by this kind of energy. One way to stop this fault is to consider the fruit of meditation or Dharma practice; if we bear this in mind, bodily tiredness does not make us lose our energy. People at work do not suffer very much from tiredness because they are thinking of the money they will get. If we consider the great fruit of practising Dharma wt will work hard at it. High lamas living in the mountains with very little food and sleep are not tired and complaining; rather they are very happy, because they see that the fruit of their work is near. These lamas have many different ways of practising Dharma: some are always teaching; others live alone in the mountains and accept perhaps one or two pupils.
  3. The third kind of energy is the confidence that we are not too small, weak or stupid to obtain the fruit of Dharma practice. Weakness of this kind stands in the way of achievement of the object. It can be overcome by thinking that the highest buddhas and bodhisattvas also once had only delusion, lived in samsara, and were worse than ourselves. By practising Dharma, they reached the highest stages of perfection; we can do the same. No one has perfect virtue from the beginning; when children first go to school they cannot even read or write, but later they learn to do not only that but many other things as well, and some become great scholars. The Buddha said that even insects living in excrement can become buddhas. If we bear all this in mind, we shall find no reason why we cannot practise Dharma.

The three kinds of energy overcome three weaknesses: the first that the mind will not turn to Dharma; the second is the fatigue we experience when we practise; the third is the doubt we have in our own ability to achieve the aims of Dharma. The person who wants to get to the top of a mountain has first to turn to the path, second, to keep going and not give in to laziness, and third, not to falter and think, "This is possible for strong people, but not for me.

The scriptures teach that all virtue follows from energy. With energy, someone who is not intelligent can get the Dharma fruit. A person who is intelligent but lazy will not get the fruit, and the intelligence is useless and wasted. With both intelligence and energy, there will be the greatest success. There is a simile in the scriptures that if the dry grass on a mountain catches fire and the wind fans it, the whole mountainside will catch fire, but if there is no wind the fire will go out straight away. Intelligence is like the fire and energy like the wind. If a person has intelligence and no energy, nothing will be accomplished. Thus the perfection of energy is essential for achieving the goal.

The Perfections of Concentration and Wisdom

Concentration must be on an object. It is very important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for concentration meditation is zhi.nay; nay means to "dwell" or "stay," and zhi means "in peace." In a practical sense, then, zhi.nay means to live peacefully without busy-ness, and is often translated as "calm abiding." 20 If we do not examine it carefully, our mind seems quite peaceful; but if we really look inside, it is not peaceful at all. Our mind is not able to stay on the same object for a second. It flutters around like a banner in the wind; as soon as we concentrate on one thing, another comes to disturb it. Even if we are living on a high mountain or in a quiet room or cave, our mind is always moving. If we go up to the top of a high building in a busy city we can look down and see how much turmoil there is, but when we are moving around within the crowd, we are only aware of a little of the bustle. Among the various mental factors, there is constant movement between conflicting elements; these factors always lead the mind. The movement of a banner fluttering in the wind Is not caused by the banner itself but by the wind. Mind is like the banner and the mental factors are like the wind. This constant movement stops the mind concentrating on an object for long. Of our mental factors, the defilements are stronger than the good qualities. We usually do Dot try to control them, and even when we do, it is very difficult because for a long time we have been in the habit of always following them. Concentration or calm abiding occurs when our mental factors are purified and thus our mind is able to dwell peacefully on the object.

There are two kinds of meditation: analytical meditation 21 and concentration meditation. 22 It is necessary to use both kinds of meditation to remove delusion and reach the goal. Some people say that thinking and learning about Dharma are not meditation, but the scriptures say that these activities are in fact also kinds of meditation. If we do not think carefully and know the nature of the object we cannot concentrate well. The bustle within the mind is mind-produced; to quiet it, therefore, action by the mind itself and nothing external is required. The primary action must be by the mind; on this basis, factors such as a suitable place and the meditation posture can help.

The place in which we practise concentration should be clean, quiet, close to nature, and pleasing to us. Our friends should be peaceful and good. Our body should be healthy, not sick. Sitting in the correct position also helps. For meditation, there are seven aspects of the ideal posture:

  1. If it is not painful, the vajra posture, 23 with the legs crossed and the feet resting upturned on the thighs is best. However, if sitting in this position causes pain and distracts the mind, the left foot should be tucked under the right thigh and the right foot should rest on the left thigh.
  2. The trunk must be as straight and erect as possible.
  3. The arms should be in a bow shape, not resting against the sides of the body or pushed back; they should be at rest but firm. The back of the right hand should rest in the palm of the left; the thumbs should be level with the navel.
  4. The neck should be curved slightly forward, with the chin in.
  5. The eyes should be focused straight along the sides of the nose.
  6. The mouth and lips should be relaxed, neither open nor tightly shut.
  7. The tongue should be pressed gently against the palate.

These are the seven aspects of the vajra posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path, but each also has a practical purpose. The legs crossed and the feet on the thighs make a locked position. We can lock ourselves firmly in place with legs crossed and the feet on the thighs as described above; positioned like this we could sit in meditation for a long time, even for months, without falling. The straightness of the body allows for the best functioning of the channels carrying the airs on which the mind rides in our bodies. If the body is straight these channels will not be blocked. The position of the arms is also to allow the best functioning of these channels. If one looks too high one can easily see something distracting; if the head is too low one gets pain in the neck or becomes sleepy. The mouth should not be closed so tightly that breathing is difficult if the nose is at all blocked; nor should it be open so widely that strong breathing causes the fire element of the body to increase with high blood pressure resulting. If the tongue is pressed against the palate, the throat and mouth will be kept moist. These are the immediate reasons for the meditation posture. Very rarely, people's arrangement of the inner channels is different, in which case they need a different position.

By just sitting in the vajra posture we achieve a good frame of mind, but the main work has to be done by the mind itself. If a thief enters a room, the way to remove him is to go in and throw him out, not just to shout from the outside. Similarly, if we are sitting on the top of the mountain while our mind is wandering in the village below, we shall not be able to develop concentration.

There are two enemies of concentration. One is busy-ness, wildness, or scattered attention; 24 the other is sleepiness, torpor, or sinking. 25 Our attention is distracted when a desire arises and the mind immediately races after it. Whenever the mind goes after anything other than the object of concentration, this is wild or scattered, mind. Sleepiness, or torpor, occurs when the mind is sleepy and not alert. If we want to concentrate well, we have to overcome these disturbances. If there is a beautiful picture on the wall of a dark room, we need a candle to see it, but if there is a draught, the flame will flicker and we shall not be able to see it properly. If there is no draught but the flame is very weak, there will not be enough light and we shall still not be able to see the picture. If there are neither of these difficulties, the flame will be strong and steady and we shall be able to see the picture clearly. The picture is like the object of concentration, the flame is the mind, the wind is scattered attention and the weak flame is torpor.

In the early stages of the practice of concentration, the first of these disturbances is more common. The mind immediately flies away from the object to other things. This can be seen if we try to keep our mind on the memory of a face; it is immediately replaced by something else. It is very difficult to quell these disturbances because, over many lives, we have built up the habit of following them, while we have not developed the habit of concentration. We may find it very hard to develop new habits of mind and leave old ones behind, but concentration is the basic necessity for all higher meditation and for all kinds of mental activity.

Mindfulness 26 and awareness consciousness 27 are the antidotes to scattered attention and torpor respectively. The drawing here represents an aspiring meditator, who is following the path of meditative stages that ends in the accomplishment of calm abiding and the beginning of the practice of insight meditation. At the bottom of the page we see the practitioner, who holds a rope in one hand and a hook in the other, chasing after an elephant led by a monkey. The elephant represents the meditator's mind; a wild or untrained elephant can be dangerous and wreak enormous destruction, but once trained will obey commands and do hard work. The same holds true for the mind. Any suffering that we have now is due to the mind being like a wild, untrained elephant. The elephant also has very big footprints; these symbolize the mental defilements. If we work hard at improving our mind it will be able to do very great work for us in return. From the suffering of the hells to the happiness of the buddhas, all states are caused by the behaviour of the mind.

At the start of the path the elephant is black, which represents torpor or sinking of the mind. The monkey leading the elephant represents scattering of the mind. A monkey cannot keep quiet for a moment—it is always chattering or fiddling with something and finds everything attractive. In the same way that the monkey is in front leading the elephant, our attention is scattered by the sense objects of taste, touch, sound, smell, and vision. These are symbolized by food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume, and a mirror. Behind the elephant is a person, who represents the meditator trying to train the mind. The rope in the meditator's hand is mindfulness and the hook is awareness. Using these two tools the meditator will try to tame and control his mind. Fire is shown at different points along the path to represent the energy necessary for concentration. Notice that the fire gradually decreases at each of the ten stages of zhi.nay, as less energy is needed to concentrate. It will flare up again at the eleventh stage, when we start practising insight meditation.

In the beginning, just as the elephant following the monkey pays no attention to the person chasing behind, the practitioner has no control over his or her mind. In the second stage, the practitioner, who has almost caught up with the elephant, is able to throw the rope around the elephant's neck. It looks back; this is the third stage, where the mind can be restrained a little by mindfulness. Here a rabbit is on the elephant's back, symbolizing subtle torpor, 28 which previously might have seemed to be a state of concentration, but now can be recognized for the harmful factor that it is. In these early stages we have to use mindfulness more than awareness.

At the fourth stage the elephant mind is more obedient, so less pulling with the rope of mindfulness is necessary. By the fifth stage the elephant is being led by the rope and hook and the monkey is following behind. At this point we are not much disturbed by scattering or distracted attention; mostly we have to use awareness instead of mindfulness. In the drawing, the sixth stage of practice is depicted with the elephant and the monkey both following obediently behind the practitioner, who does not have to look back at them. This means that the practitioner does not have to focus continually on controlling the mind, and the absence of the rabbit shows that the subtle torpor, which appeared at the third stage, has now disappeared.

Upon reaching the seventh stage, the elephant can be left to follow of its own accord and the monkey takes leave; the practitioner has no more need to use the rope and hook—scattered attention and torpor occur only mildly and occasionally. At the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white and follows behind the practitioner; this shows that the mind is obedient and there is no sinking or scattering, although some energy is still needed to concentrate. At the ninth stage the practitioner can actually sit in meditation while the elephant sleeps peacefully nearby; at this point the mind can concentrate without effort for long periods of time-days, weeks, or even months. The tenth stage, where we see the meditator sitting on top of the elephant, signifies the real attainment of calm abiding. At the last, eleventh, stage, the meditator is sitting on the elephant's back holding a sword. At this point the practitioner begins a new kind of meditation called "higher vision," or insight meditation. 29

If we practise the calm abiding type of meditation, we might use an image of Buddha as our object of concentration. The first thing we do is look at it very thoroughly. Then we start meditating. In meditation we do not look at the object with our physical eyes but focus with the mind's eye. At first our memory of it will not be at all clear, but even so, we should not try to force it to become clear—this is impossible at the start. The important point is to keep our attention focused on it, clear or otherwise. The clarity will eventually come naturally.

At the beginning, concentration is very difficult; the mind always turns this way and that. When we persist in the practice, however, we shall find that we are able to keep our mind on the object for one or two minutes, then three or four minutes, and so on. Each time the mind leaves the object, mindfulness has to bring it back. Awareness has to be used to see if disturbances are coming or not. If we carry a bowl full of hot water alone a rough road, part of our mind has to watch the water and part has to watch the road. Mindfulness has to keep the concentration steady, and awareness has to watch out for disturbances that may come. As we saw in the drawing, we need progressively less mindfulness after the initial stages, but then our mind, tired from fighting the scattering of attention, produces torpor.

After a while there comes a stage where the meditator feels much happiness and relaxation, which is often mistaken for the true state of calm abiding; in fact, however, it is subtle torpor, which makes the mind weak. If we continue our practice with energy, this subtle torpor will also disappear. When we have removed this disturbance, our mind becomes clearer and more awake, and thus the object of our meditation is seen more clearly. As our perception of the meditation object increases in clearness and freshness, our body will be sustained by our peace of mind, and we shall not have hunger or thirst. Eventually, a meditator can continue like this for months at a time. The feeling experienced in the mind at this stage cannot be described.

If we look at a piece of cloth with our eyes we can see it, bur not in great detail. But a person who has concentrated on it well with the mind's eye can see it very clearly in all details. When we die our mind becomes weaker, but if we practise meditation then our mind, at this time, will actually become fresher and clearer. Normally, dying people experience delusions and fears which lead to a bad rebirth. If, however, we have meditated well, then during the death process our mind will be concentrated on Buddha, Dharma and so forth; this helps very much for the next birth.

The scriptures say that in the ninth stage of the practice of calm abiding, even if a wall crashes down next to the meditator, he will not be disturbed. As the meditator continues to practise, his body and mind experience a special pleasure; this feeling marks the attainment of the final goal of calm abiding. The meditator's body feels light and tireless, symbolized in the drawing by the person flying. His body has become very supple, and his mind can be turned to any meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The meditator feels as though the object and his mind have become one.

Although at the ninth stage of calm abiding we feel very happy and peaceful, this is not the real end of meditation. Firm concentration on the object is still not the complete achievement. Now the meditator can combine concentration with an examination into the real nature of the object of meditation. After continuing the simultaneous practice of both types of meditation, a special pleasure arises from the seeing into the object. "Seeing the object" involves seeing whether an object is suffering, seeing if it is permanent or changeable, and looking for the highest truth to be found about the real nature of the object. In Tibetan, the name for this meditation with insight is lhag.thong; lhag means more, or higher, and thong to understand or realize. 29 Through this kind of meditation the mind obtains more understanding of the object than it can through simple concentration; when this practice has been perfected, the mind can turn to anything. The perfection of lhag.thong gives great spiritual satisfaction, but if one is satisfied merely with this, it is like having an aeroplane built, ready to fly, but left on the ground.

The mind can be turned to deeper and higher things. It has to be used on the one hand to overcome karma and defilements, and on the other to obtain the virtues of a buddha. For this, the object can only be emptiness, or shunyata; other meditations prepare the mind for this final object. If we have a very good torch that can show up anything, we have to use its light to find what is important. The root cause of all our trouble is ignorance. We have to use our knowledge of emptiness to dispel ignorance; we must use our mind, purified by calm abiding and special insight, to cut the root of the tree of ignorance. In the drawing, at this stage, the practitioner is holding a sword, symbolizing the realization of emptiness, to cut the two black lines symbolizing the two obscurations: the defilement-obscuration and the knowledge- obscuration.

The realization of emptiness is essential to remove ignorance. Once we come close to a thorough understanding of emptiness we are on the way to the perfection of wisdom—the complete comprehension of emptiness.

The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

There are five successive paths on which a bodhisattva develops:

  1. The path of accumulation (sambharamarga)
  2. The path of training or preparation (prayogamarga)
  3. The path of seeing (darshanamarga)
  4. The path of intense contemplation (bhavanamarga)
  5. The path of liberation or no more training(vimuktimarga)

When bodhicitta has been developed until it is natural and intrinsic, the bodhisattva has completely obtained the sambharamarga (which has lower levels before this point). Then many spiritual powers (rddhi) are attained, such as psychic power (mahabhijna), which enables the bodhisattva to know other people's thoughts, to know the past and future events of other beings' lives, to fly, to have multiple bodies, and so forth. A bodhisattva does not concentrate on these techniques specially to get a particular power; these powers come naturally. But the bodhisattva is able to put them to good use because these powers aid greatly in seeing the karma, spiritual development and potentialities of other beings, and whether or not they are in a state where they can be helped escape from samsara. The bodhisattva can see at which place beings can receive teachings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the various buddha-fields. 14 Many other virtues also accrue to the bodhisattva.

At this point the most important thing for the bodhisattvas is to meditate on emptiness, which is still not perceived clearly. When emptiness becomes clearer the second path, the path of training, is attained; this stage immediately precedes becoming an arya-bodhisattva.

Then, after much meditation, the feeling arises within the bodhisattva that the mind that meditates and emptiness are one, like water poured into water; (this feeling, though, is deceptive). This signifies the attainment of the path of seeing and the becoming of an arya-bodhisattva. Although the arya-bodhisattva still retains old karma as well as some defilements, no new karma is produced from this level of attainment onwards, and there is a great increase in psychic powers. For instance, the arya-bodhisattva begins obtaining the power to eradicate past karma and even deeper defilements. Because there are many different layers of avarana, they have to be removed one by one; as the psychic powers grow stronger, the bodhisattva can remove more and more layers.

Due to the first direct perception of emptiness on the path of seeing, the bodhisattva removes the first layer of obscuration of defilements (kleshavarana). The bodhisattva now has greater wisdom because there are fewer layers of defilements covering or hiding reality. On the first two paths, the obscurations are suppressed but are not truly eradicated and therefore they can still rise again. But on the path of seeing, one layer is actually removed forever. In all, there are ten layers of defilement-obscurations; they are like ten cloths which hide reality and have to be peeled or washed away. The practitioner removes the veils covering reality in the same way that one washes clothes, by using the strength of washing soap appropriate to the amount of dirt.

There are ten levels 15 of arya-bodhisattva:

  1. The joyous (pramudita)
  2. The stainless (vimala)
  3. The light-maker (prabhakari)
  4. The radiant (arcishmati)
  5. The very hard to conquer (sudurjaya)
  6. The turning-toward (abhimukhi)
  7. The far-going (durangama)
  8. The unshakable (acala)
  9. The good mind (sadhumati)
  10. The cloud of dharma (dharmamegha)

"The joyous" level, pramudita, is reached on the path of seeing, and all the other nine on the path of intense contemplation. At each of the ten levels, the bodhisattva has increasingly greater virtue and has overcome more defilements. In several scriptures, the amount of increase in virtue is given for each level; at some levels the virtues are innumerable. All these levels are a connected stream. One layer of defilement-obscuration is removed at each of the first seven levels; at the eighth, "The unshakable," the remaining three are removed so that the bodhisattva is then free entirely from kleshavarana. With respect to the removal of defilements, the bodhisattva is equal with the lower arhats, but in terms of the virtue amassed through such practice, the bodhisattva is much higher. These defilements are all removed by meditation on emptiness; at the level of the unshakable there is particularly strong growth in the strength of this meditation on emptiness.

At the ninth level, "The good mind," the bodhisattva begins at last to remove the wisdom-obscuration— jneyavarana. This is very subtle and difficult to perceive. If we put some garlic or onion into a pot and then remove it, the smell still remains. In the same way, although the defilement has gone, this obscuration still remains. At the level of "good mind," the bodhisattva is out of samsara but the wisdom is not quite perfect. At this point the bodhisattva can recognize and begin to remove the only remaining factor obscuring reality: the wisdom-obscuration, Without the removal of the wisdom-obscuration, the bodhisattva cannot help beings to the extent that a fully enlightened buddha can. The degree to which we can help others depends on the depth of our own wisdom.

While defilement-obscuration is like a cut that gives pain, the wisdom-obscuration is like the painless scar that remains when the cut has healed but not finally disappeared. "The cloud of dharma" is the level immediately before buddhahood, on which the last traces of the wisdom-obscuration are taken away. The removal of obscurations is like removing increasingly fine and wispy veils. The development of greater spiritual power is like having stronger and stronger binoculars to see more and more clearly. At the buddha stage, all obscurations are gone. Even a small part of a buddha's mind can see all things clearly at the same time. If there is even a tiny cloud in the sky there is still a small shadow on the earth, but when this cloud has disappeared the sun can shine everywhere. At the level called "The cloud of dharma," the bodhisattva meditates on emptiness with perfect concentration. Although emptiness can be seen clearly and completely, the tenth level bodhisattva cannot perceive both emptiness and phenomena simultaneously; a buddha, however, can see both at the same time. Things are empty of independent self- existence, but they themselves are not emptiness. The moment this final trace of the wisdom-obscuration disappears, phenomenal existence and emptiness suddenly appear together. At this moment a buddha can see phenomenality and emptiness simultaneously, not only with eye-perception, but also with the other sense-perceptions. At the time of becoming a buddha, not only is knowledge of the deepest nature of everything attained, but also the final virtues of body—such as easily multiplying the body an infinite number of times—and speech—such as being able to give teachings to any being without difficulty.

The virtue of a buddha's speech is unlimited. If, for instance, a thousand people each ask a different question in a different language at the same time, a buddha, by saying just one word, can answer all their questions immediately. We do not have the inner power to do this kind of action because of our avaranas. In all, there are sixty-four virtues of a buddha's speech: sweetness, softness, an attraction that makes people want to listen, a quality that gives a feeling of peace to those who hear it, and so forth. The different virtues of the body, speech and mind of a buddha can be found throughout many different sutras, and are presented collectively in a work by Lama Tsongkhapa. 16

There are one hundred and twelve different virtues of a buddha's body. The duty of a buddha is to help sentient beings; if it is helpful, in one second he can multiply himself as many times as there are beings, or can manifest as any kind of being or object such as trees, water, and so on. The buddha performs this type of miraculous action always and only to help beings find release from samsara.

To receive such help, we must also contact the buddha from our own side. At night, when the moon is shining on the surface of a lake that is clear and smooth, the light can shine on all parts of it, but if the surface is disturbed or overgrown the moon cannot penetrate or be reflected; when it is smooth and clear, the moon is reflected clearly in it, the reflection being just like the moon in the sky. In the same way, the buddha's help goes out to all beings equally; it is the beings' receptivity that varies. We must, for our part, make contact with the buddha; if it were not necessary for us to act from our own side, the buddha would have already taken us all out of samsara. A buddha has the ultimate mahakarunika, so he would not leave beings in suffering if by his own efforts alone he were able to take them out of it. If you clap your left hand with your right, your left hand must be there to receive the blow, otherwise there is no sound.

Once all coverings are removed and the power of the virtue that has been built up is at its full height, there is nothing we cannot do. We can multiply our bodies infinitely and can give teachings on all levels, from the beginning of the path to the goal; the virtue of a buddha's mind is that even a small part of it knows the reality of everything. This buddha stage is the effect of many causes, achieved through an enormous amount of Dharma practice.

After the historical buddha, Shakyamuni, had finished his teaching on earth, all the beings there at the time who had the karma to see and hear him had done so, and so he went to continue his work in other realms. Although this form has disappeared, he can still help beings in other forms. Buddhas can take ordinary forms such as a friend, guru and so forth.

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

Yana 11 is not the carrier or what is carried—it is the carrying. Thus Hinayana means "carrying the smaller load," and Mahayana, "carrying the great load."

Hinayana practitioners are those who find samsara unbearable and want to escape from it into the state of nirvana. They help others enormously by renouncing the world and striving to obtain freedom, but their main thought is personal liberation from samsara. An arhat—one who has completed this path of personal liberation—has many spiritual powers, and can give spiritual teaching and aid to many beings, but still has to remove jneyavarana. The attainment of nirvana will prove not to be sufficient and the arhat will then have to enter the bodhisattva path and progress through the ten levels to the final, complete buddhahood.

Those who practise Mahayana also renounce samsara and want to escape from it. But because they identify with all other beings in samsara, Mahayanists do not want merely personal liberation. Through their great concern for others, Mahayanists' all-motivating wish is to give complete happiness to all beings. They understand first that all beings in samsara—insects, devas and the rest—are equal in that they all want happiness and do not want suffering. They also perceive that none of these beings has the satisfaction of complete happiness. For this reason, they develop the great wish to take all beings out of suffering. This wish, which is also a kind of caitta, is called mahakarunika, "the great compassionate one." Mahayana practitioners realize that all beings in samsara, though they may have transitory happiness, do not have true, lasting, happiness.

The next wish, that of giving all beings the ultimate happiness of buddhahood is called mahamaitreya, "the great wish of active love." These wishes are stronger than the dissatisfaction of the Hinayana follower. Before this stage of aspiration is reached, there are many other practices that have to be developed so that Mahayanists can fully realize the suffering of beings.

At first they want to bring all beings to enlightenment without any help. This is called adicinta, "the first thought." Then, when they examine themselves to see if they have enough power to do so alone, they find that the same defilements that other beings have exist within themselves as well. Thus they try to find who does have the power to help others in this way. Through this they find that only a buddha can do so, and develop the wish to reach the buddha stage quickly. This is bodhicitta 12, "the mind dedicated to enlightenment."

When one has practised this a great deal, mahakarunika, mahamaitreya, adicinta and bodhicitta become part of the person's very nature. At this point the practitioner becomes a bodhisattva, though not yet an arya-bodhisattva—a very advanced bodhisattva, who has seen emptiness clearly. When the practitioner reaches the high state of a bodhisattva, all the devas pay respect. Once bodhicitta has arisen, the seed of Dharma will continue to grow whether the person is awake or asleep, and even very harmful karma can be prevented from ripening.

Usually, people can remove mental defilements only by meditation on emptiness. Bodhicitta makes meditation on emptiness much more powerful. When a soldier is fighting an enemy he needs to use his weapon, but he also needs to have good food; bodhicitta is like this food.

To reach the final goal we need two instruments: prajna (wisdom), and upaya (right means), which contains both compassion and compassionate activity. 13 Mahakarunika, mahamaitreya, adicinta and bodhicitta are all included in upaya. Prajna is seeing things as they really are. A bodhisattva must have both of these. Arhats, who have completed the Hinayana path, are out of samsara and have attained the lowest level of nirvana, are strong in prajna—in the realization of emptiness—but weak in upaya. They have compassion (karuna), but not the great compassion of mahakarunika. They have active love (maitri), but not mahamaitreya. The main difference between their path and that of the Mahayana is on the side of upaya. Eventually, arhats will have to develop it.

Pandit Shantideva, in his Bodhicaryavatara, mentioned all the different virtues of bodhicitta, for those interested in knowing more about the mind dedicated to enlightenment.

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

Religion (Dharma) is a means to leave suffering and attain happiness.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught four noble truths 1: The truths of suffering and the cause of suffering, and the truths of cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. We must recognize and remove the first two and realize through practice the second two.

We can understand this deep subject by considering the simple example of physical illness. When we are sick, we suffer, and look for the underlying cause—a disease or other disorder. When we realize that the illness is curable we see that our suffering can cease and seek treatment—the path to the cessation of this suffering.

The following text is an expanded explanation of these four noble truths, and of how we can follow a path that leads us out of suffering to the attainment of happiness, not only for ourselves, but for all beings.


The countless kinds of suffering can be divided into three:

  1. Suffering caused by suffering 2 This type of suffering includes the pain, sadness and everyday suffering recognized by all beings. Even the smallest insect can recognize it. No creatures want this suffering. The reason why all creatures are so busy and active is that they are trying to avoid this type of suffering. Ants, for instance, are busy all day and night to avoid suffering from hunger; countries fight each other for fear of suffering from domination (even though this method creates more suffering).
  2. Suffering caused by change 3 This type starts as happiness and then changes into suffering. Most beings do not recognize this as suffering. Worldly happiness looks like happiness, but in time it too changes into suffering. If we are hot and immerse ourselves in cold water it is very pleasant to start with, but after a while it becomes painfully cold. If we are cold and stay in the sun to get warm we will, after some time, suffer from being burnt. When friends meet after a long time they are delighted, but if they then remain continually together they may quarrel and grow tired of each other.This type of suffering includes anything that appears to be happiness and changes into suffering. If a person wants to become wealthy, works very hard and becomes rich, suffering is produced from the need for maintaining the wealth, fear of losing it, and desire for more. If one country wants to take over another, the oppressed country reacts, and mutual suffering is caused. The first of these two types of suffering is easily removable. The second is not, because it is not easily recognized. Thus, it is more deeply harmful. Even small insects can stop the suffering caused by suffering, and so can human beings, who, when they are ill, for example, can get treatment. But most people and animals think that the suffering caused by change is real happiness and spend their whole lives trying to achieve it; for example, people in business who devote their lives to making money and people who fight each other in wars, all in search of happiness.
  3. All-embracing suffering caused by mental formations 4 This type is even more difficult to recognize than the suffering caused by change. It is the suffering inherent in samsara (the whole round of existence) and the cause of the previous two kinds of suffering. It covers, or embraces, all beings in samsara. As the earth is the foundation of our life, so this type of suffering is the foundation of the other two. If someone cuts us we automatically feel pain simply because we have bodies; our very existence is the root cause of this suffering.Because all beings exist in a state of causality, all are liable to suffering. This kind of suffering (duhkha) is produced from a harmful cause and all other suffering comes from it. All beings recognize the first kind of suffering; some recognize the second. But this third kind of suffering is very, very difficult to recognize. Without recognizing it, escape from samsara is impossible. This suffering is like a wound that does not give pain until it is touched. It is the ground containing all sufferings. When we remove this suffering we attain nirvana, or liberation.

To practise Dharma, understanding suffering is the first essential. Without this understanding, the will to get out of suffering does not arise. We are like people in prison who don't recognize where we are or how bad it is, and therefore have no wish to escape. If we are ill but do not recognize it, we have no wish to be cured.

If the first type of suffering is not recognized we can have no wish to escape from suffering. If the second is not recognized we will try to escape from it in the wrong way, only to return to suffering again. If the third type is not recognized, then even if our method is good, we cannot get to the root of all suffering.

Therefore, it is very important to recognize all three kinds of suffering. This recognition is the first door to practising Dharma and also the reason for practising. This is the reason that the Buddha taught suffering as the first noble truth. We can observe suffering directly by looking around us. The suffering caused by suffering is evident in everybody. The suffering caused by change, unreal happiness, is also quite obvious. We can see also that all other sufferings derive from the all-embracing suffering caused by mental formations. Although it is difficult to know what causes these sufferings, we must experience them and see them for what they are; from our experience our belief will be strong and steady. That is why the Buddha said it was important to judge and test his teachings for ourselves, giving the example of assaying gold. When we see that reality is as the Buddha said, our faith in the Buddha will be strong and not be destroyed by what others tell us.

All suffering has a beginning and an end. Things are undergoing change all the time. There are two types of change: coarse, obvious change—as when a table is being made and the changes are plain—and subtle change, such as the molecular changes going on continually inside the table.

The changes in human life are obvious—people start small, grow larger, and age. But it is not so obvious that in the time it takes to snap your fingers everything has changed. If you pour water from a pot, the stream appears to be one unit, but in fact, at each moment, the stream has moved and become something else.

Not only sentient beings but also the whole environment—trees and so on—are undergoing change. All beings in samsara are suffering all the time. If we do not recognize suffering fully we will not practise what is necessary to get out of it.

The Cause of Suffering

All suffering has a cause. If the cause is not removed, escape from suffering is impossible. If rain is coming in through a hole in the roof, there is no use sweeping the water out of the house without blocking the hole as well. If we are sick and take medicine for the symptoms alone, we may be able to stop them for a time, but we cannot be sure they will not recur. If, however, we eradicate the cause of suffering we can prevent its recurrence forever.

Although we can do nothing about the suffering of the past, we must close the door of future suffering. If a thorn tree outside our house pricks us every time we pass, it is no real solution to cut off odd branches; we must uproot the tree completely. We need to find the real cause, not an illusory one. If we make a mistake about the cause of suffering, real progress will be impossible. So we must know the second noble truth, the cause of suffering.

The cause of suffering has two divisions: karma (action) 5 and klesha (mental defilements). 6

At this time we are experiencing much suffering, whose cause we ourselves created in past existences. Therefore we ourselves have to do the work to escape from it. A teaching about the cause of and escape from suffering is useless if we do not practise it. If we are sick and go to the doctor, who gives treatment, we must follow the doctor's instructions in order to be cured. In school a student needs the teacher's instruction, but the most important thing is the student's own work. Up to now we have never practised the path, so we are still in samsara. Those beings who have practised it, such as Milarepa, have passed out of samsara. This passing was not easy. Milarepa's buttocks were covered in sores from sitting for so long in meditation. When Lorepa was meditating in the mountains, no-one brought him food, so he lived by gradually eating his shoes. Lama Tsongkhapa meditated in the high mountains, always offering mandalas 7 on a stone slab. The skin on his right forearm was rubbed away from polishing the stone. Escape from samsara depends on ourselves alone; if it depended on only the Buddha, there would be no one in samsara, because that was his great wish. As a good mother loves her children, he has equal love for all beings. In one sutra the Buddha taught:

  • The Buddha cannot wash away the delusion of beings with holy water;
    Neither can he take away the suffering of beings with his hand.

He can not give wisdom to beings if they do not practise. The Buddha's responsibility is to show the true path. In another sutra it says:

  • I am my own lord and my own enemy.

"Lord" because if we practise Dharma, we can look after ourselves and bring ourselves much happiness; "enemy" because if we do not practise properly, we build up more and more suffering for ourselves.

The Buddha teaches the way; we practise it. This combination brings happiness.

Karma (action)

There are many kinds of karma, but all are included within the categories of karma of body, karma of speech and karma of mind. Each of these categories includes actions of that particular faculty. Generally, karma is divided into skilful and unskilful, but here we are concerned only with unskilful karma—the karma that produces suffering. That which gives us real happiness and takes us to the goal is quite different.

Unskilful karma of body


Killing is the action that destroys the life of any being. It is the greatest malpractice of the present time. No one wants suffering, but by fighting to avoid it people create it. This action has the opposite effect to that which is desired. The action need not be done by physical attack with sword, gun, etc.; the person who gives the orders (the president or the general) also acquires the karma-fruit. When a person orders a bomb to be dropped and a thousand people die, though their deaths have roots in their own past karma, the person giving the order is the immediate cause. That person acquires worse karma-fruit than those who actually drop the bomb. If a hundred people are killed by a hundred soldiers, each soldier may receive the karma-fruit of one death, but the person who gave the order receives the fruit of the one hundred deaths. Such people may think themselves very great, but they do not realize the suffering that they are bringing upon themselves.When the world is in peace, deep as well as immediate benefits result. But to be really peaceful we must decide by ourselves to be peaceful by practising Dharma. Even if a person does not actually kill anyone or order anyone to be killed, if one approves of killing as a good thing or rejoices in it, the karma-fruit is also acquired.


Stealing is taking anything belonging to someone else that has not been given. It can be done secretly, by force, by cunning words, by cheating, and so forth. It includes laying claim to something that does not really belong to one, as when a country lays claim to another. If the stealing is done indirectly through someone else, it has the same karma-fruit. Its object can be any property, any people, and so forth, taken by any means. If we mistakenly take something that belongs to someone else, it is not stealing. Stealing requires not only the action but also the intention to take something that is not our own. Our mind must be aware that we are stealing.

Sexual misconduct

This action occurs when a married person goes after another sexual partner, or has intercourse even with the right partner at inappropriate times such as on full moon or new moon days or in the daytime, in unsuitable places (such as holy places), or with inappropriate organs. This action includes having intercourse with monks or nuns. Whereas killing and stealing, even when performed indirectly, have the same karma-fruit, this is not the case with sexual misconduct. The first two actions harm others who are innocent; sexual misconduct concerns the people involved. For bhiksus and bhiksunis (Buddhist monks and nuns) any kind of sexual indulgence is forbidden.

Beating other people, attempting unsuccessfully to steal, putting people in prison for the wrong reasons, improper behavior on holy days, and any other bodily deeds that are harmful or provoke mental defilements are also unskilful karma of body.

Unskilful karma of speech


Lying includes anything spoken with the intention of deceiving others, with selfish motivation.


Speech that creates enmity between friends, out of some motive such as jealousy of their relationship, is slander. The speech may be either true or false, but for it to be slanderous the desire to bring discord must be in the speaker's mind. Slander can take place between countries as well as between individuals. If a person says something false in order to break up a friendship, this is both lying and slander.

Harsh words

This includes angry words against another, or swearing by the name of some holy person or object for evil ends such as the reinforcement of a lie, or the use of words to make people sad or angry. The Tibetan for this is zig.tsup meaning "rough word." Just as a rough stone rubbed against the body creates pain, so harsh words hurt the mind.

Irresponsible talk

Any kind of talk that provokes delusion—talk of violence, pornography and so forth—is considered irresponsible or gossip.

Unskilful karma of mind


This term refers not to desire for beneficial things such as knowledge or wisdom, but to the insatiable desire for illusory possessions and sensory experiences. Greed is seen in the poor person who sees big, shiny cars and expensive possessions, and is always running after them, or in the rich person who is surrounded by possessions yet wants even more. Greed is born from desire. Other unskilful actions of body and speech, such as stealing, cheating, and so forth result from the mental action of greed.


This wish to harm others includes taking pleasure in their misfortunes. It can apply to all categories of life, from nations to small insects. At first glance this action of mind may appear more harmful than greed, but in fact greed is more harmful because it does not apply to just a single situation; greed is persistent and brings no satisfaction.

Wrong views

Any kind of thinking that denies the truth of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, rebirth, the law of karma, nirvana and so forth constitutes wrong views.

Unskilful karma of mind is the worst kind of karma because actions of body and speech arise from mind. For instance, to kill an animal, first the wish to do so must arise in our mind. After so wishing, we may do the action on our own (body), or tell someone else to do it (speech). All actions of the body and speech must be preceded by the wish of mind. The mind forces body and speech to follow it; if we can control the mind, then other kinds of bad action can be avoided. Mind is very difficult to control, because its actions are so quick—many unskilful actions of mind are possible in one minute. For instance, if we want to harm someone else we can think of many different ways of doing so in one brief moment. Unskilful actions of mind happen so quickly that they cannot be counted; unskilful actions of speech are slower, and unskilful actions of body are the slowest of all. The first essential is to practise control of the mind If we don't control our minds and just follow desires and instincts, we will not lead a good life.

All the sufferings of all beings in samsara are produced by mind. Beings out of samsara, in permanent bliss, are in that state because they developed their minds. Body and speech are only servants of the mind.

Fruition of karma

Many different kinds of fruit are possible from one deed. If in this life we were to kill someone, our immediate rebirth would probably be in a hot hell. Life in hell is much longer than on earth, and there is constant suffering from heat or cold. Hell beings and humans are completely different kinds of creature, and the particular properties of one existence are limited to that existence. Even in this world there are many kinds of spirit not normally visible to humans (although sometimes we may be aware of them), and they too have their own special properties.

Between one life and the next we experience the bardo. 8 We cannot see most bardos, but at a certain high stage of development, through special practices and meditations, we can. In order to strengthen all our qualities and not just one isolated faculty, we should practise both Dharma and those techniques that lead to special powers.

Some beings have the karma to be reborn in a state of such continual suffering that humans would not be able to survive. In some hells, for instance, there is no distinction between the fire itself and the beings living in the midst of it. Those who have killed in their past lives, even if reborn human, exist in a state of uninterrupted suffering from afflictions such as chronic illness. Treatment that preserves life and health cannot help them. When we suffer sickness, pain, and trouble, there is always an immediate cause, but the underlying reason is our karma. Two people may have the same disease and receive the same treatment, but one will progress better than the other because of different karma. If we attribute the difference to luck, we have only a superficial understanding of the situation.

Some people have bad tendencies from childhood; these are also karma-fruit. Parents may raise their children in the same way, yet they develop differently because of karma. Past lives produce inborn tendencies. The actions of past lives determine all factors such as the place of birth and type of death of future lives. One is born in a dangerous or strife-torn place because of one's past karma. If a person murders another in this life, in the next life the victim may become the murderer and the murderer the victim. Each of our actions is a link in a chain with no beginning, for samsara has no beginning; it can, however, have an end.

To understand this chain, it is necessary to understand the relation of mind to body. Mind is like a river passing through different countries (bodies). A river takes different names (forms) according to the different countries. In this way the mind passes on, carrying the accumulated karma with it. When a being dies, the body decays and the mind passes on, to continue in another bodily form, according to the type of body that it inhabits in that life.

Because they do not distinguish between mind and body, people think that both arise together from the parents and disappear together after death. After death the body does remain in a decaying state, but if the body and mind were the same, the mind should also remain in this state. In a living being, body and mind do have an immediate relationship, but when the being dies, this relationship becomes more and more remote. As the mind becomes further detached from the body, bodily feelings and functions gradually fade out until they finally cease. Some people think that the functions of the mind are dependent on breathing, but advanced yogis are able to live and concentrate for years without breathing. Because the mind and body are absolutely different, their causes must be absolutely different. The cause of the human body is the sperm-ovum union of the parents; thus children are physically similar to their parents. This immediate physical cause cannot produce the mind of the child, and could only do so if there were no difference between mind and body.

There are also some mental states that can be passed from parent to child. Some forms of madness, for instance, are caused by imbalance in the elements of the body, which can be passed on genetically. Mind usually follows the incoming and outgoing air; therefore imbalance in these airs can create mental disturbances.

Doctors can alter the temperament of a person by operating on the brain. Because the brain is the centre of the nerves carrying the airs that influence the mental processes, all the airs themselves are centralized in the brain. This is why we sometimes develop a headache when we concentrate too strongly; this overly strong concentration puts pressure on the brain. Although the mind is influenced by the nerves localized there, the mind itself is formless, not physical, and its cause must be of the same nature. Each mind- within-a-body causes the next. Bodies have a beginning; mind does not. Karma continues along with the mind.

The minds of beings in samsara are always covered with delusion. If, through the practice of Dharma, delusions can be removed and a high spiritual level reached, the mind can occupy more than one body; incarnate lamas (tulkus) can take several bodily forms simultaneously. When a person attains the high spiritual level of arhatship, he or she is then completely out of samsara. An arhat (foe destroyer) is not necessarily a bodhisattva, but the highest arhat is a buddha. Before buddhahood there are different levels of mind, but the minds of all buddhas are equal.

If a person steals, the immediate fruit is rebirth in a cold hell. Such beings are born in ice and their bodies are indistinguishable from the ice itself. The cracking of the ice produces much suffering. After birth in a cold hell, these beings may be reborn as animals living in very bad conditions, such as the pariah dogs of India. Even when finally reborn into human form, those who have stolen find themselves in conditions of extreme poverty. People with this type of karmic background may become children with a persistent tendency to steal, or may be born in a place where it never rains and there is famine. Whatever the fruit produced, it is related to the previous deeds. Any difficulties connected with property, lack of food and so forth are the fruit of stealing. Karma affects the environment as well as the body and mind.

The heaviest fruit produced by sexual misconduct is rebirth in a hell. More usual is rebirth as an animal. A being cannot practise sexual misconduct in hell. If the being is reborn human, he or she will experience such marital trouble as adultery. Sometimes even small children like perverse sexual acts; this tendency is the result of past misconduct. Because of these types of past action, the person may be reborn in a very dirty environment.

If a person tells a harmful lie, rebirth can also be in a hell. If the being is reborn human, then he or she will have neither faithful friends nor enjoy the good faith of others. Such a person, from childhood, will have the tendency to lie. The environment itself may be a very deceptive one.

A person who slanders with murderous intention may be reborn in a hell. If reborn human, friends will be lost through slander, and from childhood there will be a tendency to slander others. Rebirth may be in a dangerous place, with earthquakes and so on.

If a person uses harsh words, rebirth in a hell may result. If reborn human, the person will be a slave, beggar, or someone who is always being scolded. The person may be born as an ill treated dog. There will be the tendency to abuse others. This karma can also produce a bad environment. For instance, some people in Tibet always live in places where the conditions are unpleasant, the ground is covered with thorns, and so on. These people realize how bad the place is, but for some reason cannot separate themselves from it, saying, "This is my country, I cannot leave it." If by irresponsible talk people produce sufficient delusion, their rebirth may be in a hell. If human, they might be surrounded by friends with scattered minds much given to chatter. Even if they want to break free of this superficiality and delusion, the environment will prevent it. From childhood there will be a fondness for idle talk. Rebirth may be in a place where many useless weeds but no crops grow. Idle talk does not appear to be very harmful, but it can be the worst kind of unskilful action of speech because if we encourage the tendency toward it, it occurs again and again, wasting our lives.

Greed, if it has extreme ill effects, may produce rebirth in a hell. If the person is born human, the fruit that results may be of the same sort as that resulting from stealing—a constant lack of property. Even if no unskilful physical action was performed in the past life, the bad fruit will be produced because of the person's actions of mind. The person will have just the opposite of what was wanted. Greed causes other unskilful acts, such as stealing, lying, slander, etc. Greed itself is also produced in the next life.

If wishing to harm others leads to killing, or if the mind-action is strong and harmful enough, rebirth in a hell can result. Mental action is the strongest and most persistent kind. If someone kills an animal, this involves only one unskilful action of body, but many unskilful actions of mind. A person can be sitting in a meditation posture, appearing to be very pure, but performing many unskilful actions of mind. If someone who in the past has wished others much harm takes birth as a human, that person becomes the recipient of harmful intentions and has only treacherous friends. A person who in the past entertained harmful thoughts toward others will have that same tendency even from childhood in a later birth. It is ironic but the fruit of greed is that the person does not receive what is desired, and the fruit of wishing to harm others is that the person receives what is not desired.

Wrong views prevent spiritual progress. A person who believes that actions such as killing, stealing, etc. are not wrong and practices these actions may be reborn in hell. Even though the person believes that such actions are morally right, bad results are produced. Consider the following for example: There is some fruit to eat on top of a mountain; a man is looking for the fruit and three people deceive him. One sends him round by a very long way, the second sends him or, a very dangerous route, and the third tells him that there is no fruit to be had at all. By following the advice of the first two, it may take him a long time, but he will reach the fruit. However, the third has deceived him worst of all; if he believes from the start that there is no fruit, he will have no chance of obtaining it. Holding wrong views closes the door to happiness. If it does not cause birth in hell, it can cause birth as an animal (a state of ignorance) or as a human in a place where Dharma is unknown or forbidden. Wrong faith also opens the door to all unskilful deeds.

This is a simplification into ten general categories of unskilful karma and the respective fruits. If we sow wheat there will be many different results—stalk, leaves, grain, etc. Similarly, one deed has many different kinds of fruit—types of birth, environment, tendencies, and so on. This is why Buddhists say that everything comes from karma; karma structures all things that happen in the world. All events have two causes—an immediate cause and a deep karma-cause.

Klesha (mental defilement)

Karma results from klesha—mental defilement. Karma and klesha are both considered avarana. Avarana literally means "covering"—an avarana covers the mind, obscuring the realization of nirvana. Karma and klesha together make up kleshavararna. There is also another kind of avarana, which remains even in the arhat stage after karma and klesha have disappeared. This is called jneyavarana, "the covering of what can be known," or obscuration to omniscience.

Klesha is the immediate cause of karma; karma causes suffering. If we can remove klesha, we can stop the flow of karma, prevent suffering from arising, and reach nirvana—though not the ultimate nirvana. Jneyavarana still remains in varying degrees in both arhats and bodhisattvas, and is finally removed only when the buddha stage is attained.

In the scriptures, kleshavarana is said to have eighty-four thousand different forms. They can be simplified into three main categories, from which the others come or in which the others are included: desire, aversion, and ignorance. 9


Desire is easily distinguishable from aversion. Desire must have an object and it makes the object seem more beautiful and attractive than it really is. Desire causes unskilful karma in any of the following ways. If we desire to eat meat, we kill animals; if we desire property, we are inclined to steal it; if we desire intercourse, we may commit, sexual misconduct. In the desire to create a false impression, we may lie; to obtain a desired object or goal, we may slander others; although aversion is more usually the cause, desire too may cause us to speak harsh words; in the grip of attraction to foolish things, we waste ourselves in irresponsible talk. Desire is the direct cause of greed; desire for the possessions of others can produce harmful thoughts. In brief, then, if any being, from a human down to the smallest insect, desires something and this desire produces an unskilful action, that action has arisen from the klesha of desire.


Aversion is the opposite of desire: it makes its object seem worse than it is. Aversion can easily produce killing, and out of spite or the wish to deprive someone, it can cause stealing or sexual misconduct. Lying and slander are commonly caused by aversion, and harsh words usually arise from it. Irresponsible talk too can be the result of aversion, as when a person talks at length in a derogatory manner about another. Although greed is not produced by aversion, malice usually is.When we have desire it is not as painful as aversion. It can bring temporary happiness with it, and this makes us want to be very close to the object. Aversion always produces pain immediately; we want to be very far from its object. In the scriptures, desire is likened to a flower, which is very beautiful at first but soon changes and becomes ugly, while aversion is likened to a wasp, which only stings. The face of a person filled with desire is bright and shining; the face of a person filled with aversion is grim and dark.


All unskilful actions except wrong views, which are always produced by ignorance, can result from desire and aversion. Although we can be misled by the ignorance of our teachers, wrong views are, fundamentally, the result of our own ignorance. Desire and aversion are active, making things seem better or worse than they are; ignorance is the failure to realize the nature of things. If we kill, not out of aversion or desire, but because we don't think it wrong or perhaps even think it good, this is the direct result of ignorance. Any unskilful act that arises from not knowing that it is unskilful is partly rooted in ignorance. For instance, people who make animal sacrifices think that they are doing something good—they have no ill-will toward or desire for the animal; they simply believe that killing the animal will please their god.

Fear can be good, bad or indifferent. If we have done a bad deed and repent out of fear of the karma-fruit, the fear is reasonable and wholesome in its effects. That very fear can lead us to practise Dharma and thence toward enlightenment. If we are afraid to practise Dharma because we are afraid that the practice will prove harmful in some way, this fear is the fruit of ignorance. When children are afraid of the dark, fearing ghosts and so on, this is neither good nor bad. Similarly, while the fear of death is produced by our desire of clinging to life, the fear itself is neither good nor bad.

Desire and aversion are both produced by ignorance. We experience them because we do not know the real nature of things.

The reason for practising meditation is to overcome suffering; to overcome suffering we must overcome karma; to overcome karma we must overcome desire and aversion; to overcome desire and aversion we must overcome ignorance. Meditation overcomes ignorance.

Ignorance >> desire or aversion >> unskilful karma >> three sufferings

No beings want suffering; they all want to remove it. Most do not know how to, and some even create suffering in their efforts to remove it. People take medicines that cure sickness temporarily but cannot remove it forever. To remove suffering permanently, we must find its cause—karma; we must remove the cause of the cause —desire and aversion; we must remove the cause of these—ignorance. Ignorance is the deepest root of all suffering. If ignorance is removed, all that stems from it will automatically disappear. Escape from samsara is impossible unless ignorance is removed. If we sit in meditation without understanding the real reason for doing so we will achieve only limited results.

If we want to remove ignorance, we must first discover its nature and that of its opposite, shunzyata (emptiness). Then, through meditation on emptiness, we have to remove ignorance.

There are two different kinds of ignorance: ignorance regarding the ego and ignorance regarding external phenomena. 10

Ignorance regarding the ego

From devas to the smallest insects, all beings in samsara are subject to this kind of ignorance, from which the other mental defilements arise. This ignorance causes us to perceive our own nature the wrong way. To remove it, we must realize the true way we exist.

What we call "ego," or "self," can be divided into either the body (caused by the parents) and mind (caused by past existences), or the five skandhas (aggregates). These skandhas are the five elements of sensory existence:

  1. Physical form (rupaskandha). This includes air, blood, semen, bone—anything material, composed of atoms. The sound of the voice is included in this skandha, because sound is form.
  2. Feelings (vedanaskandha). These arise from bodily contacts and mental contacts (with ideas, concepts, and so on), and can be pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent.
  3. Cognition, perception, differentiation (samjnaskandha). This skandha is the mind that recognizes objects through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking.
  4. Volitional formations (samskaraskandha). Samskaras are the qualities or tendencies of mind, produced by karma, that control the various kinds of conditioned mental factors, or "caitta." (Caitta are in an inseparable relationship with the essential mind, "citta." These factors can be beneficial—for example, concentration, intelligence, wisdom, confidence, energy, tranquillity, friendliness and sympathetic joy at the success of others—or harmful—ignorance, desire, anger, greed and all that is unprofitable in the spiritual sense. Caitta are mental karma; karma of body and speech arise from caitta; most caitta are included in samskaraskandha. The sequence of time and the changing nature of things are included in this skandha.
  5. Consciousness (vijnanaskandha). The function of this skandha is the awareness of an object. It allows the other skandhas to operate.

The five skandhas together support the concept of ego. This concept cannot be supported by any of the skandhas in isolation; it depends on all of them, just as the wheels, windows, steering wheel, engine, and other parts together make up the concept of "car." Any of these parts in isolation is not the car. If all the parts are piled together in a heap, it is still not a car. Those parts arranged in a certain order comprise what people recognize and think of as a car. If people did not give it this name and did not recognize it as such it would not be a car.

The collection known as a particular human is built in the same way as is a car. A child is born composed of five skandhas and with all the usual qualities; his parents call him "Tashi." Then this collection of skandhas and qualities becomes generally known and recognized as Tashi.

In samsara there are three planes of existence: the desire realm (kamadhatu), the form realm (rupatdhatu), and the formless realm (arupadhatu). In the first two realms no being can exist without all five skandhas. In the formless realm, beings have no physical form – rupaskandha—but do have the other four skandhas. Without these there is no ego.

All beings exist as a combination of skandhas and cannot exist without them. Buddha is also a combination of these skandhas, but ones that have been purified and transformed.

There are two ways of looking at the ego:

  1. Through ignorance, negative understanding of the ego. This produces aversion and desire, unskilful karma, and suffering.
  2. Through realization of shunyata, understanding the emptiness of the ego. This is positive understanding of the ego. Meditation on shunyata removes ignorance and thus ail the other mental defilements and their results.

As soon as we think of "I" as an entity existing independently, our ignorance has apprehended the ego in the wrong way. When we are aware that the ego does not exist independently, we can find right understanding. Without this understanding, our ignorance persists. This is the main point about shunyata, or emptiness: that the ego does not exist independently. This emptiness is the emptiness of the ego as an entity existing independently. Ego exists only as a combination of the skandhas.

Ignorance regarding outer phenomena

Ignorance about the five elements, mountains, seas, and so forth constitutes ignorance regarding outer phenomena. If we consider a biscuit, for example, it is a combination of various things—wheat, water, oil, fire and the activity of the baker. We recognize it as "biscuit," but really it is a combination of forces and qualities. This analysis applies to all external phenomena; ultimately we will understand that there is no difference between the ego and outer phenomena. But when we look at either of them without thinking carefully about what they really are, we see them as existing independently. Everything changes subtly in a split second of time. Scientists can see very subtle changes in things with instruments such as microscopes (though not the most subtle changes), but when they are not studying these changes, these same scientists see things as existing independently.

This twofold ignorance about the ego and outer phenomena is the root of all defilements, karma and suffering. To remove suffering we must remove this ignorance completely. The only way to do this is to meditate on emptiness. There are many other objects of meditation, but emptiness is the most important.

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections.
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes


Lama Je Tsongkhapa has written: The development of an awakening mind (bodhicitta) is the framework of the Mahayana path and the foundation and basis of all the great waves of bodhisattva actions. Like an elixir that turns all metals to gold, it transforms all actions into the two collections (of wisdom and merit). It is a treasure of merit that accumulates limitless collections of virtues. Knowing this, the heroic sons of the conquerer, Buddha, adopt this jewel-like development of an awakening mind as their fundamental (practice).


The following is an English rendering of the oral instructions of Geshe Rabten, a Tibetan lama who has been instrumental in bringing the pure teaching of Buddha Dharma to the West, making it clear, and causing it to increase and flourish.

From the time of his own childhood, in Kham province, Tibet, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche had admired the Buddhist "monks in their maroon robes." At the age of eighteen, he left home to go to central Tibet where he entered the great Sera Monastery and began the twenty-four years of continuous study and personal hardship that would lead, in 1963, to the highest degree award of lharampa geshe.

At Sera, while attending classes with his gurus and memorizing large numbers of root texts and related commentaries, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche spent most of his days, and nights, engaged in debate, the Tibetan learning method for honing the intelligence and deepening understanding. He thoroughly mastered the traditional curriculum leading to the geshe degree: basic logic, mind and its functions, and logical reasoning (pramana); general study of the perfections (paramita); specific study of the nature of existence (madyamika); ethics (vinaya); phenomenology (abhidharma); review of ethics and phenomenology (karam geshe level); and final review of the the great treatises (lharam geshe level—only the two best students per year are awarded the title of lharampa geshe).

During this time Geshe Rabten Rinpoche also studied the graded path to the attainment of enlightenment via sutra practice and tantra. He has received many empowerments, first from the former incarnation of Gonsar Rinpoche, and later from His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his Senior and Junior Tutors, the late Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, and many other lamas.

When, in 1969, a group of Westerners interested in Buddhism wanted teachings, His Holiness the Dalai Lama requested Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to instruct them, as His Holiness knew Geshe-la would be able to present to these students such teachings as the four noble truths and the entire path to enlightenment, clearly and effectively.

Geshe Rabten Rinpoche remained in meditational retreat in the Indian Himalayas until 1974, when he went to Europe to conduct meditation courses. In 1975, at the request of his Western students, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to Europe again, this time to give sustained teachings on the Buddha Dharma. And in 1979, the monastic institute, Tharpa Choeling, was established near Mt. Pelerin, above Lake Geneva in Switzerland. At Tharpa Choeling, a monastic education based on Geshe's own at Sera is available to serious Western students.

After Lord Buddha achieved supreme enlightenment he gave numerous sermons on the path to enlightenment, varying each teaching according to the mental state of the listener and the occasion. These teachings of the Compassionate One collected together comprise the three paths of Buddhism.

Among the vast quantity of Buddhist scriptures are oral and written teachings that have been passed on from Lord Buddha himself, through Maitreyanatha, Asanga, Atisha and other great gurus up to the venerable Tsongkhapa, in an unbroken line. These particular teaching traditions have been carried on by the great Tibetan teachers so that we fortunate practitioners today still have the chance to be guided by them. The Graduated Path to Liberation is an English rendition of oral instructions of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, whose being and teachings radiate both wisdom and compassion.

May this benefit all beings.

A teaching on the meditative practice of calm abiding (shi-nä)

Concentration is important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for the practice of concentration is shi-nä (zhi-gNas). Shi means peace and means to dwell; shi-nä, then, is dwelling in peace or being without busyness.

If we do not carefully watch the mind it may seem that it is peaceful. However, when we really look inside we see that this is not so. Mind does not rest on the same object for even a single second. It flutters around like a banner flapping in the wind. No sooner does mind settle on one object than it is carried away by another. Even if we live in a cave on a high mountain the mind moves incessantly. When we are on the top of a tall city building we can look down and see how busy the city is, but when we are walking on the streets we are aware of only a fraction of the busyness. Similarly, if we do not investigate correctly we will never be aware of how busy the mind really is.

Primary consciousness itself is pure and stainless, but gathered around it are fifty-one secondary mental elements, some of which are positive, some negative and some neutral. Of these secondary elements, in ordinary beings, the negative ones are stronger than the positive. Most people never attempt to gain control of these secondary mental elements; if they did they would be amazed at how difficult such a task is. Because the negative elements have dominated the mind for countless lifetimes, overcoming them will require tremendous effort. Yet shi-nä cannot be experienced until they have been totally subdued.

Thus the busyness of the mind is mind-produced. This means that a mental rather than a physical effort is required to eliminate it. Nonetheless, when engaging in an intensive effort to develop shi-nä it is important to make use of certain secondary factors of a physical nature. For example, the place where one practises should be clean, quiet, close to nature and pleasing to the mind. And friends that visit should be peaceful and virtuous. One's body should be strong and free from disease.

The practice of concentration requires sitting in a proper posture, to which there are seven points:

  1. Legs crossed and feet resting on the thighs, with soles turned upward. If this causes too much pain, it distracts from concentration. In which case, sit with the left foot tucked under the right thigh and the right foot resting on the left thigh.
  2. The trunk set as straight and erect as possible.
  3. Arms formed into a bow-shape, with elbows neither resting against the sides of the body nor protruding outward. The right hand rests in the left palm, with the thumbs touching lightly to form an oval.
  4. The neck straight but slightly hooked, with the chin drawn in.
  5. Eyes focused downward at the same angle as the line of the nose.
  6. Mouth and lips relaxed, neither drooping nor shut tightly.
  7. Tongue lightly held against the palate.

These are the seven points of the correct meditational posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path. Also, there is a practical purpose in each of the seven:

  1. Having the feet crossed keeps the body in a locked position. One may eventually sit for a long period of time in meditation, even weeks or months in a single sitting. With legs locked, one will not fall over.
  2. Holding the trunk straight allows maximum functioning of the channels carrying the vital energies throughout the body. The mind rides on these energy currents, so keeping the channels working well is very important to successful meditation.
  3. The position of the arms also contributes to the flow of the energy currents.
  4. The position of the neck keeps open the energy channels going to the head and prevents the neck from developing cramps.
  5. If the eyes are cast at too high an angle the mind easily becomes agitated, if at too low an angle the mind quickly becomes drowsy.
  6. The mouth and lips are held like this to stabilize the breath. If the mouth is held too tightly shut, breathing is obstructed whenever the nose congests. If the mouth is help open too widely, breathing becomes too strong, increasing the fire element and raising the blood pressure.
  7. Holding tongue against the palate avoids an excessive build-up of saliva and keeps the throat from parching. Also, insects will not be able to enter the mouth or throat.

These are only the most obvious reasons for the seven points of the meditational posture. The secondary reasons are far too numerous to be dealt with here. It should be noted that the nature of the energy currents of some people does not permit them to use this position and they must be given an alternative. But this is very rare.

Although merely sitting in the vajra posture produces a good frame of mind, this is not enough. The main work, that done by the mind, has not yet even begun. The way to remove a thief who has entered a room is to go inside the house and throw him out, not to sit outside and shout at him. If we sit on top of a mountain and our mind constantly wanders down to the village below, little is achieved.

Concentration has two enemies, mental agitation, or busyness, and mental torpor, or numbness.

Generally, agitation arises from desire. An attractive object appears in the mind and the mind leaves the object of meditation to follow it.

Torpor arises from subtle apathy developing within the mind.

In order to have firm concentration these two obstacles must be eliminated. A man needs a candle in order to see a painting which is on the wall of a dark room. If there is a draught of wind the candle will flicker too much for the man to be able to see properly and if the candle is too small its flame will be too weak. When the flame of the mind is not obstructed by the wind of mental agitation and not weakened by the smallness of torpor it can concentrate properly upon the picture of the meditation object.

In the early stages of the practice of concentration mental agitation is more of a hindrance than torpor. The mind is continually flying away from the object of concentration. This can be seen by trying to keep the mind fixed on the memory of a face. The image of the face is soon replaced by something else.

Halting this process is difficult, for we have built the habit of succumbing to it over a long period of time and are not accustomed to concentration. To take up the new and leave behind the old is always hard. Yet, because concentration is fundamental to all forms of higher meditation and to all higher mental activity, one should make the effort.

Mental agitation is overcome principally by the force of mindfulness and torpor by attentive application. In the diagram representing the development of shi-nä there is an elephant. The elephant symbolizes the meditator's mind. Once an elephant is tamed, he never refuses to obey his master and he becomes capable of many kinds of work. The same applies to the mind. Furthermore, a wild and untamed elephant is dangerous, often causing terrible destruction. Just so, the untamed mind can cause any of the sufferings of the six realms.

At the bottom of the diagram depicting the development of concentration the elephant is totally black. This is because at the primary stage of the development of shi-nä mental torpor pervades the mind.

In front of the elephant is a monkey representing mental agitation. A monkey cannot keep still for a moment but is always chattering and fiddling with something, being attracted to everything.

The monkey is leading the elephant. At this stage of practice mental agitation leads the mind everywhere.

Behind the elephant trails the meditator, who is trying to gain control of the mind. In one hand he holds a rope, symbolic of mindfulness, and in the other he holds a hook, symbolic of alertness.

At this level the meditator has no control whatsoever over his mind. The elephant follows the monkey without paying the slightest attention to the meditator. In the second stage the meditator has almost caught up with the elephant.

In the third stage the meditator throws the rope over the elephant's neck. The elephant looks back, symbolizing that here the mind can be somewhat restrained by the power of mindfulness. At this stage a rabbit appears on the elephant's back. This is the rabbit of subtle mental torpor, which previously was too fine to be recognized but which now is obvious to the meditator.

In these early stages we have to apply the force of mindfulness more than the force of mental attentive application for agitation must be eliminated before torpor can be dealt with.

In the fourth stage the elephant is far more obedient. Only rarely does he have to be given the rope of mindfulness.

In the fifth stage the monkey follows behind the elephant, who submissively follows the rope and hook of the meditator. Mental agitation no longer heavily disturbs the mind.

In the sixth stage the elephant and monkey both follow meekly behind the meditator. The meditator no longer needs even to look back at them. He no longer has to focus his attention in order to control the mind. The rabbit has now disappeared.

In the seventh stage the elephant is left to follow of its own accord. The meditator does not have to give it either the rope of mindfulness or the hook of attentive application. The monkey of agitation has completely left the scene. Agitation and torpor never again occur in gross forms and even subtly only occasionally.

In the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white. He follows behind the man for the mind is now fully obedient. Nonetheless, some energy is still required in order to sustain concentration.

In the ninth stage the meditator sits in meditation and the elephant sleeps at his feet. The mind can now indulge in effortless concentration for long periods of time, even days, weeks or months.

These are the nine stages of the development of shi-nä. The tenth stage is the attainment of real shi-nä represented by the meditator calmly riding on the elephant's back.

Beyond this is an eleventh stage, in which the meditator is depicted as riding on the elephant, who is now walking in a different direction. The meditator holds a flaming sword. He has now entered into a new kind of meditation called vipasyana, or higher insight: (Tibetan: Lhag-mthong). This meditation is symbolized by his flaming sword, the sharp and penetrative implement that cuts through to realization of Voidness.

At various points in the diagram there is a fire. This fire represents the effort necessary to the practice of shi-nä. Each time the fire appears it is smaller than the previous time. Eventually it disappears. At each successive stage of development less energy is needed to sustain concentration and eventually no effort is required. The fire reappears at the eleventh stage, where the meditator has taken up meditation on voidness.

Also on the diagram are the images of food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume and a mirror. They symbolize the five sources of mental agitation, i.e. the five sensual objects: those of taste, touch, sound, smell and sight, respectively.

Most people take the mental image of a Buddha-form their object of concentration in order to develop shi-nä. First one must become thoroughly familiar with the object that one will focus on. This is done by sitting in front of a statue or drawing of the object for a few sessions and gazing at it. Then try sitting in meditation, holding the image of the form in mind without the aid of the statue or drawing. At first your visualization of it will not be very clear nor will you be able to hold if for more than a few seconds. Nonetheless, try to hold the image as clearly and for as long a period as possible. By persisting you will soon be able to retain the image for a minute, then two minutes and so forth. Each time the mind leaves the object apply mindfulness and bring it back. Meanwhile, continually maintain attentive application to see if unnoticed disturbances are arising.

Just as a man carrying a bowl full of water down a rough road has to keep one part of his mind on the water and another part on the road, in shi-nä practice one part of the mind must apply mindfulness to maintain steady concentration and another part must use attentive application to guard against disturbances. Later, when mental agitation has somewhat subsided, mindfulness will not have to be used very often. However, then the mind is fatigued from having fought agitation for so long and consequently torpor sets in.

Eventually, a stage comes when the meditator feels tremendous bliss and peace. This is actually only extremely subtle torpor but it is often mistakenly taken to be real shi-nä. With persistence, this too disappears. The mind gradually becomes more clear and fresh and the length of each meditation session correspondingly increases. At this point the body can be sustained entirely by the mind. One no longer craves food or drink. The meditator can now meditate for months without a break. Eventually he attains the ninth stage of shi-nä, at which level, the scriptures say, the meditator is not disturbed even if a wall collapses beside him. He continues to practice and feels a mental and physical pleasure totally beyond description, depicted in the diagram by a man flying. Here his body is inexhaustible and amazingly supple. His mind, deeply peaceful, can be turned to any object of meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The tenth stage of shi-nä—or actual shi-nä, is attained. When he meditates it is as though the mind and the object of meditation become one.

Now the meditator can look deeply into the nature of his object of meditation while holding all details of the object in his mind. This gives him extraordinary joy.

Here, looking into the nature of his object of meditation means that he examines it to see whether or not it is pure, whether or not it is permanent, what is its highest truth, etc. This is the meditation known as vipasyana, or higher insight. Through it the mind gains a deeper perception of the object than it could through concentration alone.

Merely having shi-nä gives tremendous spiritual satisfaction; but not going on to better things is like having built an aeroplane and then never flying it. Once concentration has been attained, the mind should he applied to higher practices. On the one hand it has to be used to overcome karma and mental distortion, and on the other hand to cultivate the qualities of a Buddha. In order to ultimately accomplish these goals, the object of meditation that it takes up must be voidness itself. Other forms of meditation are only to prepare the mind for approaching voidness. If you have a torch with the capacity to illuminate anything you should use it to find something important. The torch of shi-nä should be directed at realization of voidness for it is only a direct experience of voidness which pulls out the root of all suffering.

In the eleventh stage on the diagram two black lines flow out of the meditator's heart. One of these represents klesavarana, the obscurations of karma and mental distortion. The other represents jneyavarana, the obscurations of the instincts of mental distortion. The meditator holds the wisdom-sword of vipasyana meditation, with which he plans to sever these two lines.

Once a practitioner has come close to understanding voidness he is on his way to the perfection of wisdom. Prajna-paramita, the ultimate goal of the development of concentration.

A commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice by Geshe Rabten.


Geshe Rabten gave this commentary on the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice in Dharamsala, India, in June, 1975. Translated by Gonsar Rinpoche. Edited by Dr. Nicholas Ribush and Sandra Smith.

You can read an extensive commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga and listen to the oral transmission of this practice given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the LYWA website.

Read further teachings on this practice by His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche.

A Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice booklet, translated and arranged with additional prayers by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, is available from FPMT Foundation Store.

Photo from a course at Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala, India, in June of 1975, taught by Geshe Rabten and translated by Gonsar Tulku. Photo by Dan Laine.

The Guru Yoga of Tushita’s Deva Host

Today the teaching will be a brief discourse on the practice of guru yoga called Gan dän lha gyäi ma. Both Gan dän lha gyäi ma and the Guru Puja are guru yoga in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa. The only difference between them is in the elaboration of the words. In meaning they are exactly the same.

The qualities we need to develop most are wisdom, compassion and power. The practice of this guru yoga in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa is the best method to accomplish all three. Through the practice of this guru yoga we can accomplish these three attributes of the Buddha, particularly his wisdom. Since you have all come here with the will to practice guru yoga, if you listen carefully and practice every day it will be very beneficial for you.

In ultimate nature, Lama Tsongkhapa is form combined with the wisdom, power and compassion of every buddha. When Lama Tsongkhapa manifests in the wrathful form of a Highest Yoga Tantra deity, it is Yamantaka. When he appears in the peaceful form of a bodhisattva, a buddha, it is Manjushri. When he appears in the form of a human being as a master guru of many sentient beings, it is Lama Tsongkhapa. What we see on the altar is a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa.

The full life story of Lama Tsongkhapa is beyond explanation. It comes in such a big volume that it cannot be finished in a few hours. Also it is not necessary at this time to give you a full biography of Lama Tsongkhapa. Lama Tsongkhapa is one with Manjushri. Therefore, the actual nature, the essential nature of Lama Tsongkhapa is the wisdom attribute of the Buddha. There are various ways of accomplishing and increasing wisdom. But this method, the practice of guru yoga in connection with Guru Manjushri is the best method. It is the supreme method for the accomplishment of wisdom.

Many people think that this planet on which we live, this small Earth, is the only world, the center of the universe or the only world with beings. People may think this, but it’s not right. There are countless worlds smaller and larger than this; countless realms of beings other than this Earth on which we live. There are countless impure realms like this one, where beings are endowed with suffering; completely oppressed with suffering, karma and delusion and so forth. There are countless such worlds in the universe and also there are countless pure worlds, pure realms where beings are free from this kind of suffering.

Among these pure realms, the Buddha Heavenly Abode of Tushita is one of such pure realms where beings are separate from all the gross forms of suffering and their cause and even the word suffering does not exist. But it is not the Tushita that is a few yards away [Lama Yeshe’s Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala]. Generally speaking, Tushita is a deva realm. There are many different deva worlds and ordinary Tushita is one of the deva worlds. Tushita Buddha Abode belongs to and is part of the ordinary Tushita deva land but it is separate and much higher—in reality and in essence.

It is in the higher realms of this Tushita of which we are speaking—the one that is separate from the ordinary deva land Tushita—that buddhas, bodhisattvas and many other beings live. They are all completely free from suffering. Of course, the buddhas are completely free from suffering, but even the bodhisattvas and other unenlightened beings are much higher and free from these gross obstacles. By the blessing of the environment itself it is easy for these beings to practice Dharma and to progress and develop their minds. Here, virtuous qualities of mind such as compassion, love and so forth are easy to generate and increase. So, it is a purely heavenly abode where the beings are free from all obstacles and suffering and endowed with everything necessary for spiritual development.

Also the qualities of the Tushita pure land, such as the beautiful flowers, lakes, mountains and so forth there, are not just ordinary substantial phenomena, but manifestations of the buddha mind, reflections of the great beings who live there. The qualities of this abode are beyond the comprehension of ordinary beings. Even the sound of the leaves blown by the wind gives teachings on emptiness, bodhicitta and so forth, and the songs of the beautiful birds in the trees are also Dharma teachings.

From here, in India, the direction of Tushita is to the north, high above us in space. At present, the lord of this abode is Buddha Maitreya. [Geshe Rabten points to his altar.] That painting up there is one form of Buddha Maitreya and that little statue to the left side of Lama Tsongkhapa is Maitreya Buddha. Buddha Maitreya is the lord of this abode Tushita but is not like a worldly lord, like a king or ruler of a country. He is the lama, the master of all those bodhisattvas and other beings who live in this world. He is constantly turning the wheel of Dharma for the sake of the beings who live in Tushita and the other bodhisattvas who come there from other worlds to receive the nectar of Buddha Maitreya’s teachings.

At present in this world in which we live, the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni is still flourishing. But this will gradually degenerate and completely end, after which a new era of Dharma will start. That will begin by Buddha Maitreya appearing in this world. Lama Tsongkhapa is, in one way, as I explained before, the combined form of all the attributes of Buddha Maitreya in nature. But at present, he is in Tushita in the form of a bodhisattva called Jampel Nyingpo, remaining there in that form as a chief disciple of Buddha Maitreya. Also, Lama Atisha is also there place in the form of a bodhisattva called Namkha Trimame, another chief disciple of Buddha Maitreya. But although Lama Sumati Kirti [Losang Dragpa, that is, Lama Tsongkhapa] is in Tushita at the feet of Buddha Maitreya, as disciple, as prince of the devas there, other manifestations of him are also in many different forms in many different worlds. Even in this world, there are countless forms of Lama Sumati Kirti helping sentient beings. There are many scriptural sources, stories and reasons to prove that Lama Tsongkhapa is presently with Buddha Maitreya, but I won’t explain them at this time as it would take too long.

Practicing the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa is of great benefit because it establishes a great relationship with Lama Tsongkhapa, Manjushri and Buddha Maitreya as well. It becomes a preparation for us to be able to reincarnate at the feet of Buddha Maitreya when our present life ends and continue towards accomplishing our goal in Tushita.

When practicing this guru yoga, we invite, or invoke, Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya. I will explain from the beginning what we must do in this guru yoga, including the preparation.

To practice this guru yoga you should first clean your place, the environment in which you are going to meditate. Then, if you have a thangka, statue or picture of Lama Tsongkhapa to serve as a base, or an object, of your meditation, that would be highly beneficial. At the front of that you should arrange all your offerings nicely; place everything in a pure, proper and correct way…the water offering, flowers, incense, light, fruit and so forth.

Then sit facing the altar and begin your practice by inviting Lama Tsongkhapa from Tushita from the heart of Buddha Maitreya and then make the offerings, prostrations and the following limbs.

However, it is not enough just to invite the deity; you must also make certain preparations from within yourself. The best such preparation is to take refuge in the Triple Gem and generate bodhicitta.

Kön chhog sum la kyab su dro
Sem chän tham chä dag gi dröl
Jang chhub nä la gö par gyi
Jang chhub sem ni yang dag kye

I go to the Triple Gem for refuge
I will liberate all sentient beings
And lead them to (or establish them in) the stage of bodhi (full enlightenment)
I will perfectly generate bodhicitta

I will not explain refuge and bodhicitta in detail because I have already explained these in previous teachings.

First we take refuge in the Triple Gem. After taking refuge, what we wish and are willing to do is liberate all sentient beings from all suffering. Therefore, the second line is, “I will liberate all sentient beings.” By liberating all sentient beings from suffering, then where will we lead them; to what kind of stage? It is to liberation, or nirvana, that we wish to lead them. This nirvana is not the ordinary nirvana of the arhats but the ultimate bodhi stage of buddhahood. Therefore, the third line is:

And for that purpose, to liberate sentient beings from suffering and lead them to the stage of enlightenment, then what I want to do, what I am going to do, comes in the next line:

We should recite the above verse three times, not only repeating the words but contemplating the meaning deeply.

After this comes another verse blessing the place or the environment:

Tham chä du ni sa zhi dag
Seg ma la sog me pa dang
Lag thil tar nyam bäiduryäi
Rang zhin jam por nä gyur chig

Everywhere may the ground be pure,
Free of the roughness of pebbles and so forth
May it be in the nature of lapis lazuli
And as smooth as the palm of one’s hand

That is the blessing of the ground, the place where you are meditating. Then there follows another verse to bless the offerings:

Lha dang mi yi chhö päi dzä
Ngö su sham dang yi kyi trül
Kün zang chhö trin la na me
Nam khäi kham kün khyab gyur chig

May human and divine offerings
Actually arranged and mentally created
Clouds of finest Samantabhadra offerings
Fill the entirety of space

There are two purposes of meditation. One is to purify all obstacles and interferences; the other is to grow and develop all the inner qualities. Blessing of the environment—preparing the pure ground, or place, for your meditation—symbolizes purification of the obstacles, all inner roughness. Making infinite offerings to the buddhas symbolizes infinite development of all inner qualities and richnesses.

Now, the actual visualization of this guru yoga will be explained according to this illustration. If you can find such a picture it will be beneficial. The place above Lama Tsongkhapa is the Tushita abode, the abode of Buddha Maitreya. The actuality of this abode is beyond painting or drawing, but to symbolize this actuality we see some radiance, clouds and things like that around the palace. The Tushita pure land is not dependent on the light of the sun or moon. It does not have to be illuminated by some other astrological body; it is illuminated by the radiance of the beings that live there.

The central figure in Tushita is Buddha Maitreya. He is shown demonstrating the Dharmachakra mudra, the gesture of turning the wheel of Dharma. He is not sitting cross legged but on a chair. The significance of this special position is that it shows that he is prepared to get up soon—he is not fully relaxed, settled or firmly seated; he is just about to get up and come into this world as the successor of Buddha Shakyamuni. Showing the Dharmachakra mudra means that he is constantly turning the wheel of Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings, now and also after life in this world.

There are also some other smaller figures to each side of Maitreya Buddha: Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa’s Nyingma lama, Lhodrag Namkha Gyeltsen. These are the chief disciples and there is also a great assembly of bodhisattvas and many other beings surrounding Buddha Maitreya, receiving Mahayana teachings from him.

After taking refuge, generating bodhicitta, purifying the place, blessing the offerings and so forth, we begin the actual guru yoga by inviting Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya.


Gan dän lha gyäi gön gyi thug ka nä
Rab kar zho sar pung träi chhu dzin tser
Chhö kyi gyäl po kün khyen lo zang drag
Sä d’ang chä pa nä dir sheg su söl

You who emanate from the heart of the savior of the hundred devas’ Joyful Realm
On the peak of a cloud (water holder) resembling clumps of extremely fresh white curd
The king of Dharma, omniscience Losang Dragpa, with your sons:
I request you to come to this place

This is the invitation. Ganden is Tushita in Tibetan and lha gyä literally means the hundred devas of Tushita, “hundred” being not literal but meaning very many buddhas and bodhisattvas. Gön means lord, or savior. So, the one who is the lord of the hundred devas of Tushita is Maitreya Buddha, who is lord not in the sense of a worldly lord leading a country but in the sense of being the spiritual master, leader or guide of all those beings.

When we meditate here, it’s not that we are inviting Lama Tsongkhapa with strong devotion but up there, Buddha Maitreya and the others are paying no attention to us and just keeping themselves busy with whatever they’re doing. It’s not like that. The way we should meditate is that they are all paying full attention to us, completely involved with what we’re doing. All the bodhisattvas, and Buddha Maitreya in particular, are looking directly down at us with radiant smiles, with much affection and love, looking at us, ready to help.

Thug ka nä means from the heart. This is where Lama Tsongkhapa comes out from. First a pure white radiant cloud, which is in the nature of compassion, emanates from Buddha Maitreya’s heart, or holy mind—the love that Buddha Maitreya has for the sentient beings of this world. It is not just an ordinary cloud but one with deep meaning, symbolizing the purity and perfection of his great compassion. It should be as white and radiant as possible and very thick, like a heap of fresh, white curd. The thickness of the cloud symbolizes Buddha Maitreya’s strong love and compassion for sentient beings. It springs out and rolls down and remains there in front of us. If you meditate and practice seriously, you sit quietly in your room, read the words slowly, then visualize as clearly as possible with all your effort. The cloud rolls down and stops in front of you. At its end there is a large heap of cloud. This is like preparing the way and the seat.

In front of you there are three big heaps of clouds. On the central cluster is a golden throne decorated with precious stones. To each side of it there is a lower, smaller throne. The golden throne is supported by eight lions and on it are a lotus and a moon disk. Then, after visualizing this cloud, when we recite the last two lines of this verse, Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples, or spiritual sons—Gyältsab Rinpoche and Khädrub Rinpoche—emanate from the heart of Buddha Maitreya. Lama Tsongkhapa is an emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas; Gyältsab Rinpoche is an emanation of the compassion of Maitreya; and Khädrub Rinpoche is an emanation of the power of Maitreya. These three, master and spiritual sons, come down on the white cloud. They spring forth instantly and come down effortlessly, without any difficulty, like being completely tired after a long journey with heavy luggage on their backs; not like that. They come down instantly, suddenly; spontaneously. Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief spiritual sons are one in nature, but when the compassion of Lama Tsongkhapa takes form it is on his right side as Gyältsab Rinpoche and when his power takes form it is on his left side as Khädrub Rinpoche. But all three are one in nature. Therefore, when we practice this kind of guru yoga it helps us accomplish all three attributes of the Buddha: wisdom, power and compassion.

Lama Tsongkhapa is called the king of Dharma not because he is some great monarch who rules over many subjects but because he is an emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas. Fully accomplished wisdom is that which rules over all of Dharma. Therefore, Lama Tsongkhapa is called the king of Dharma. It is similar when he is called omniscient. In Tibetan, kün khyen means one who knows all—because Lama Tsongkhapa is an emanation of the wisdom of all buddhas, he is omniscient. Nothing is hidden from the Buddha mind. Losang Dragpa (Skt: Sumati Kirti) is his human name, his Dharma name as a human being. So, we are requesting the assembly of all three, master and spiritual sons, to come down and remain in front of us.

The actual way to accomplish wisdom, the method to employ, comes at the end of this guru yoga, where the guru mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa is recited.

Requesting to have a stable life

This second verse is the request to always remain in front of us.

Dün gyi nam khar seng thri pä däi teng
Je tsün la ma gye päi dzum kar chän
Dag lo dä päi sö nam zhing chhog tu
Tän pa gyä chhir käl gyar zhug su söl

In the sky before me, on a lion throne, lotus and moon disk,
The jetsun lama smiles with delight.
Supreme field of the merit of mind’s devotion,
I beg you to abide for a hundred eons to increase the teachings.

Dün gyi nam khar means in the sky, or space, in front of us—about two meters; not too high, not too low, but about the level of our forehead. At that spot there is the heap of cloud, which is in three parts, as explained before. On the center one is the golden throne with lotus and moon disk. On top of that sits Lama Tsongkhapa. On each side of the main throne are two smaller golden ones, also with lotus and moon disks, on which are seated the two chief disciples.

These golden thrones are supported by lions. Actually, they are lions in appearance, but in nature they have the quality of the enlightened mind. Among animals, the lion is king; the victorious one who is not afraid of any other animal. The throne of the lama is supported by four lions, which symbolize the four great qualities of the buddha mind called the four fearlessnesses.

On each golden throne supported by four lions is first a lotus disk, or seat, whose nature is Lama Tsongkhapa’s fully accomplished renunciation. On top of that is a moon disk, or seat, whose nature is Lama Tsongkhapa’s fully accomplished bodhicitta. On top of that sits Lama Tsongkhapa, who himself is in the nature of wisdom, the fully accomplished right view of shunyata. Thus, these three—lotus, moon and lama—symbolize the three principal aspects of the path.

The words in this practice are very simple and easy to read but have extremely profound meanings. Just the words je-tsün lama are highly significant. Je signifies the path in common with the small scope; tsün signifies the path in common with the medium scope; lama signifies the path of high scope. Lama Tsongkhapa, by practicing all these three stages of the path and gradually accomplishing them, finally accomplished the state of buddhahood.

Gye päi dzum kar chän means smiles radiantly with delight, with a radiant delightful smile, which means that Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples, the three lamas, are looking down on us, not in an unhappy or displeased way but in a radiantly smiling way full of compassion, love and affection. The way the lamas look at us delightedly rather than unhappily is an auspicious preparation for our always being able to please our lamas and never disappoint them and have a close relationship with them.

Dag lo dä päi means the faith and devotion of our mind; expressing the strong faith in and devotion to our lama in our mind. Out of strong devotion we want to accumulate great merit in connection with our lama. The supreme field for accumulating merit out of devotion is the lama, therefore, we request Lama Tsongkhapa to always remain so that we can create merit in the highest possible way.

Tän pa gyä chhir käl gyar zhug su söl. Apart from acting as the supreme field for accumulating merit out of devotion, there’s another reason for asking the lama to abide, which is for the dissemination, or flourishing, of the Dharma in the ten directions. For that purpose we also request you, the jetsun lama, to remain for a hundred eons (Skt: kalpa).

Since the flourishing of the Dharma and the happiness of sentient beings is the supreme request, there is no request superior to it, therefore, in this particular practice, it is placed here first. Generally in the seven limb puja, the request for the long life of the lama or the buddhas is the sixth of the seven limbs. But here, because it is such an important request, it is explained first of all.

As I explained before, the most important object—the Triple Lama—is visualized front and center, but also, all of space surrounding the lamas is filled with clouds of offerings, as we visualized at the beginning. So, when meditating on this, we visualize in space many offering deities—many offering gods and goddesses holding various offering objects—on the clouds to either side and above the three lamas.


She jäi khyön kün jäl wäi lo drö thug
Käl zang na wäi gyän gyur leg shä sung
Drag päi päl gyi lham mer dze päi ku
Thong thö drän pä dön dän la chhag tshäl

Your holy mind understands the full extent of objects to be known.
Your eloquent speech is the ear-ornament of the fortunate ones.
Your holy body is glowing and glorious with fame.
To you, who is meaningful to see, hear and remember, I prostrate.

Next, following the usual order of the seven limb puja, which here we are offering to Lama Tsongkhapa, comes the limb of prostration. We prostrate to the lama by expressing the qualities of his body, speech and mind. Usually when we prostrate to and praise the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, we do it in that order—body, speech and mind—but in this guru yoga, mind comes first, then speech, then body.

We start with mind instead of body because in essence, Lama Tsongkhapa is, in nature, the wisdom of the Buddha; wisdom is the essential aspect of the enlightened mind. Therefore, instead of body, we first praise the buddha mind, the mental quality of the Buddha, of the lama. She jäi khyön kün means the entire extent of knowable objects, everything that exists; jäl wäi means to realize or cognize. So the entire extent of knowable phenomena is realized or cognized by what power? It is realized by the power of the buddha mind, the omniscient mind of the lama.

The second line of this verse praises the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s holy speech. Käl zang na wäi means the ear of the fortunate ones, those who have received the opportunity to practice Dharma in general and the Mahayana in particular. People who have the great fortune of following and practicing the Mahayana Dharma are the most fortunate ones. This ear ornament, gyän gyur, is not an ornament like the earrings Indian women wear. The true ear ornament of the fortunate is not material but is the eloquent speech, leg shä sung, the teaching of the Buddha that is well explained, vast and profound. This is the true ear ornament of the fortunate.

When the fortunate ones, those who practice the Mahayana Dharma, hear a teaching of the vast and profound Buddhadharma, it pleases their ear sense. Therefore, it is called an ear ornament. If that’s true for the Mahayana in general, what need is there to specify the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa? They are unbelievably deep, profound, vast and clear; not indecisive, but extremely decisive and definite. They dig the depths of the Buddha’s teachings and make them clear. In Tibet, the Dharma masters used to say that if you’re undecided about the meaning of a teaching, look to the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, because they are so decisive.

The next line praises the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s holy body. Because of his omniscient mind and eloquent speech, as explained before, he became extremely famous in the Land of Snows, Tibet, for the glory of his being. Everybody praised him.

Since Lama Tsongkhapa came along later, he did not go to India to receive teachings from the Indian masters, but there’s not a single part of all hundred volumes of teachings of the Buddha in the Kangyur that Lama Tsongkhapa didn’t study and learn. There’s no way to explain in just a few words Lama Tsongkhapa’s qualities. If you are interested you can read his extensive biography, which explains in his life in great detail.

Not only was Lama Tsongkhapa extremely learned in all the texts but he was also highly realized, having gained many great inner experiences through the practice of tantra. If you are really interested, you can read another biography called In Praise of the Sacred Life: the Story of Lama Tsongkhapa, which makes all this very clear. If you can receive teachings on that text it will be evident. What I am giving here is just a very simple introduction. If you want to know these things more deeply, you’ll need to receive teachings particularly on his life.

So, drag päi päl means the glory of fame and lham mer dze päi ku means resplendent form, or that merely his appearance is very powerful and glorious. Just by his appearance he overshadows or overpowers all those who see the manifestation of his form. This power of his appearance is not external power; it is inner power. Through his inner realizations, his inner power, his appearance becomes so powerful to sentient beings that it completely releases them from their life sufferings.

His power not being external means that he has no high rank, social status or external superiority. As you probably know, Lama Tsongkhapa was born in Amdo in East Tibet in a poor family. In the same way that many students came from far eastern Tibet in those days—begging for food along the way and carrying their bedding and other small things on their back on a bamboo frame—Lama Tsongkhapa himself also traveled alone to Lhasa, in central Tibet. It took him about six or seven months. Once there, he met many great masters and not only put great effort into studying all the teachings of the Buddha, but he also meditated on them, realized their profound meaning, and became so glorious that he became like the sun, completely illuminating the whole of Tibet with the light of Dharma. There are many other things like this that could be explained, but we don’t have enough time to go into them now.

The fourth line of this verse tells us that because Lama Tsongkhapa is endowed with such a body, speech and mind, to see his physical manifestation, to hear his name or about his life or to listen to his teachings, and to remember him from our mind becomes beneficial, worthwhile and very fruitful for us. Of course we have to prostrate to the lamas, but first we should know the reason for doing so. If we don’t know why we are prostrating, then even if we do bow down, it won’t become particularly beneficial or be sensible to do so. When we bow down to someone, we need to know the qualities of the object of prostration to make it meaningful. Therefore, this brief explanation of Lama Tsongkhapa’s body, speech and mind are explained. The purpose of prostration is to express our respect and to accumulate merit; this is enhanced by knowing the details of the life and qualities of the object of prostration. Prostration is also an antidote to pride.


After prostration, the next limb is offering. The material offerings you are making should already have been placed on your altar before beginning the puja. The offering limb comes in these lines:

Yi wong chhö yön na tshog me tog dang
Dri zhim dug pö nang säl dri chhab sog
Ngo sham yi trül chhö trin gya tsho di
Sö nam zhing chhog khyö la chhö par bül

Beautiful drinking water, various arranged flowers,
Fragrant incense, light, scented water and so forth;
Actually performed and mentally transformed oceans of clouds of offerings
I offer to you, the supreme field of merit.

Yi wong means pleasing. That means the offerings should be pure, clean and good in appearance. Making an offering that doesn’t even please ourselves is not at all good for the accumulation of merit. Yi wong chhö yön actually means pleasing water offerings, but it doesn’t have to be only water. We can also offer tea, milk, yogurt or any other kind of liquid. However, in this practice it is not right to offer wine, beer, spirits and so forth because Lama Tsongkhapa was a bhikshu. Na tshog me tog means various flowers, many, many different kinds of flowers, some as individual stems, some as garlands and some as flowers for house decoration. There are many different ways to offer flowers. If we can get actual flowers we should offer them by placing them at the front of the altar, but if we can’t, we still have the right to offer all the flowers growing wild in fields and on mountains and cultivated flowers in people’s gardens and in the park. You can offer all these beautiful flowers mentally and make an immense offering of them to the lamas.

The next line talks about offering incense and so forth. We should offer incense that smells good, but the fragrant incense and scented water we offer should be natural and pure, like from sandalwood and flowers, not chemical perfumes and powders or the smell of soap or anything like that. If such natural fragrances are not available we can create them in our mind. Visualize that all of space, the whole environment, is filled with the fragrance of flowers, sandalwood and so forth. Dri zhim dug pö is fragrant incense and nang säl is light.

The light we offer is not only that of butter lamps, candles and so forth—whatever’s on your altar—but also the light of the sun and the moon. You can even offer the electric lights of cities and so forth. Basically, we offer whatever helps illuminate darkness. In the West, big parks, for example, are very beautiful at night, with all their light displays. All these beautiful appearances we take not for ourselves, for our own pleasure, but in order to make an offering of them to the lama. Take it mentally and, in this case, offer it to please Lama Tsongkhapa.

Dri chhab is scented water. This scented water is also natural: sandalwood water, rose water, saffron water and so forth. It is not artificial perfume. If we have this kind of natural scented water we put it in a cup or bowl and offer it. Although it is meant for the body of the lama, we don’t pour it onto the pictures or statues because it might damage them. Sog means and so forth or the like. Here, sog includes the food offerings, the music offerings, and all the other offerings, such as garments etc. These are explained in detail in the offering part of the Bodhicaryavatara.

In the next line, ngö sham means actually arranged, or performed, and refers to those few offerings that we have put on the altar. But we have to offer much more than that. Thus we have yi trül, which means manifested from or created by the mind, a huge collection of offerings that fills all of space. All these vast clouds (chhö trin) of offerings are like an ocean (gya tsho)—in other words, very many.

The last line of this verse refers to the fact that in order to attain buddhahood we need to accumulate vast stores of merit and the best means of doing this is with our guru, our lama; here, Lama Tsongkhapa who is, in essence, our own root guru. There is nothing superior to this, therefore he is referred to as the supreme field of merit, sö nam shing chhog. For example, by sowing grape seeds in a field we obtain a great crop of grapes. Similarly, by accumulating merit in relation to the supreme field of the guru, we obtain the greatest of all results, the supreme fruit of buddhahood. In this way, the lama is also a field that yields fruit, but the fruit we obtain is the supreme fruit, the ultimate goal, therefore the lama is referred to as the supreme field, very different from an ordinary, worldly field.


The next verse is the limb of confession. Here we confess all our downfalls, all the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated, in front of Lama Tsongkhapa. This comes in these lines:

Gang zhig thog me dü nä sag pa yi
Lü ngag yi kyi mi ge chi gyi dang
Khyä par dom pa sum gyi mi thün chhog
Nying nä gyö pä drag pö so sor shag

Whatever non-virtues of body, speech and mind,
And especially, actions opposite to the three vows
That I have created from beginningless time,
From the bottom of my heart, I regret and fervently confess them all individually.

The first line is different in some texts, where it is dag gi thog me instead of gang zhig thog me but it means more or less the same thing. Dag gi is actually clearer than gang zhig. Gang zhig refers to the actual downfall itself whereas dag gi means “by me,” the one who actually accumulated these downfalls.

There can be another difference in some texts, where it says lü ngag yi sum, which means “by the three doors of body, speech and mind,” instead of lü ngag yi kyi, which means simply “by body, speech and mind.” It can be either way; it doesn’t really matter.

Thog me dü nä means from beginningless time. All the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in the past up to now, from time immemorial up to this moment, all that we have done in the past…this is what it means. What we have accumulated from time immemorial are so many non-virtuous actions—killing and so forth—by body. We have also accumulated countless non-virtuous actions of speech, such as lying. And by mind, we have created even more. To be very precise, we can say that almost every thought we have had has been non-virtuous. That is how much non-virtue we have accumulated through our mind.

We don’t remember most of the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in this life, but we should at least be able to remember the gross ones, the most important ones. But while we can be fairly sure of the major negativities we have created in this life, we might have some doubt about the non-virtues that we have accumulated in our past lives. However, we can see that we have a natural tendency to accumulate non-virtuous actions—nobody has to teach us and we don’t have to make any effort to learn them. Very naturally and spontaneously we accumulate many non-virtuous actions. This inherent tendency to create non-virtuous actions in this life is the fruit of past non-virtues, a clear sign of the great acquaintance we developed with non-virtuous actions in past lives.

For example, when actors or dancers they develop acquaintance with their parts and moves they become so accustomed to what they’re doing that their performances become very natural and spontaneous. They don’t have to think about what they’re doing at all. Every movement of their body, every song, comes without effort. Simultaneously, our present spontaneous tendency to create non-virtuous actions is the best proof of the existence of past lives and the accumulation of non-virtuous actions in those lives as well.

The next line says, “And especially, actions opposite to the three vows.” In other words, in addition to all the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in general, we also have some extra ones that we have accumulated in connection with the various vows we have taken. Most of us have taken all different kinds of pratimoksha vows: upasaka/upasika, shramanera/shramanerika and bhikshu/bhikshuni vows. In addition to those, many of us have also taken tantric initiations in which we have received bodhisattva and tantric vows. Anyway, each of us should know what vows we have taken. However, more—far more—than the number of vows we have taken, are the transgressions of those vows that we have accumulated; so many that they completely pour over us like monsoon rain. If we look at our daily life very precisely—for example, if we look honestly at what we have done from this morning up to this moment—we’ll find that even in this very short period we have already accumulated many transgressions of our pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows.

The final line of this verse reads, “From the bottom of my heart, I regret and fervently confess them all individually.” Nying nä means from the heart. Gyö pä drag pö means with very strong repentance. This means that simply uttering a few words while feeling nothing in our heart is not confession; this does not help us purify our non-virtuous actions. We need to confess non-virtuous actions with strong repentance from the depths of our heart. So sor shag has two different meanings: one is the confession of each negative action individually, one by one; the other is to confess again and again. So sor can be interpreted either way; however, interpreting it as again and again is deeper, more beneficial. It is not enough for us to confess our non-virtuous actions just once. We need to remember and confess them again and again.


Nyig mäi dü dir mang thö drub la tsön
Chhö gyä pang pä däl jor dön yö je
Gön po khyö kyi lab chhen dzä pa la
Dag chag sam pa thag pä yi rang ngo

In this time of the five degenerations, you strove for many listenings and realizations,
And made meaningful the perfect human rebirth
By renouncing the eight worldly dharmas.
In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.

This is a time of degeneration of the Dharma. The great bodhisattvas and others who practice bodhicitta purposely take birth among sentient beings in such degenerate periods in order to help when it is really needed. The time of Lama Tsongkhapa’s birth was also during this period of the five degenerations, when

1.  Beings’ lives are short;
2.  There is much fighting and trouble among sentient beings;
3.  Delusions are very strong and manifest grossly;
4.  Wrong views about Dharma, karma and so forth abound among sentient beings; and
5.  All energy, possessions and material power are deteriorating.

So, Lama Tsongkhapa appeared at a time when these five signs were flourishing. He was greatly learned and knew all the texts from India as well as their Tibetan commentaries. He had studied all Nyingma, Kagyü, Kadam and Sakya lineages and received all the practices and teachings of the different traditions. It is very beneficial to study his life.

Mang thö means he had much learning and drub la tsön means he made a great effort to practice. Lama Manjushri appeared to Lama Tsongkhapa and urged him to meditate, so he went directly to meditate as soon as possible. Some people may think that because Lama Tsongkhapa was a great guru and a famous master that he was of high rank and had many luxuries and things like that, but that’s not at all how it was. He didn’t lead that kind of life.

When he and his eight chief disciples left for meditation they went as hermits, without any belongings or possessions. Before they left for retreat Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples collected everything that they had except their robes and monk’s bowls and sold them to use whatever money they got for offerings. Even so, they had very little money, just a few Tibetan tsang, which is like a few rupees. So, they made offerings by selling their possessions, then left completely for meditation.

First they put much energy into their preliminary practices, living on the mountain, each of them in a different cave. Lama Tsongkhapa himself put great effort into his preliminary practices because they are the foundation of all spiritual development. For example, he made so many mandala offerings using a flat piece of stone as a mandala base that his arm became so calloused that it was almost like a horn. Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples sacrificed all worldly pleasures such as good food and so forth to live a very simple, meditative life. Some of them even fasted, living on just a few juniper seeds a day. They meditated with great effort for many years until each accomplished the goal of his meditation. Some accomplished the different tantric deities and received direct instructions from them, direct visions and so forth. Many of these deeds are in Lama Tsongkhapa’s great life story, but many are in the secret, tantric, life story of Lama Tsongkhapa, which is a separate text. It is not very long, so it would be excellent if you were to receive teachings on that. So that is the meaning of the line, “In this time of the five degenerations, you strove for many listenings and realizations.”

The next two lines say, “And made meaningful the perfect human rebirth by renouncing the eight worldly concerns.” Chhö gyä means eight dharmas; in other words, the eight worldly dharmas.

The first of these eight worldly dharmas is yearning for the pleasure and happiness of this life only. The second is yearning for praise. When someone praises us we enjoy it very much, so we’re always craving praise from others. The third is yearning for favorable speech, words. We are always seeking for something good, something nice and sweet to hear. The fourth worldly dharma is yearning for material gain in this lifetime—food, clothing, money and so forth.

The fifth worldly dharma is aversion to the suffering of this lifetime. The sixth is aversion to criticism and blame. The seventh is aversion to hearing unpleasant things, the opposite of yearning for pleasant words; a dislike of unpleasant words. And finally, the eighth worldly dharma is aversion to not getting material things.

Thus you can see that in the eight worldly dharmas there are four that we always seek out and four that we always wish to be separated from. They are called worldly dharmas because they are the principles of worldly people, those who do not practice Dharma at all or who do not practice it purely, beings whose whole lives are completely spent and sacrificed for gaining the first four and abandoning the second four. We are completely deceived by these eight worldly principles. They take us away from the true practice of Dharma. Not only do they interfere with our practice of Dharma but they also cause us much trouble and suffering.

All the fighting, death and other sufferings in the life of a worldly person are because of these eight worldly dharmas. From a quarrel between two or four people up to a war between great nations, all is for the purpose of the eight worldly dharmas. Although these eight worldly dharmas interfere with our practice of Dharma and cause us much trouble and suffering, if they didn’t always force us to accumulate non-virtuous actions, they might not be so bad, but the fact is that all the non-virtuous actions that we accumulate individually or in common, from childhood all the way through our entire life, are all incurred through our pursuit of the eight worldly dharmas.

Therefore, these eight worldly dharmas that give us so much trouble are completely unworthy of the attachment we have for them. They are deeply wrong for us to be involved in. But out of ignorance, we worldly beings, not knowing this, get purposely, voluntarily and completely involved in them. True practitioners of Dharma totally renounce the eight worldly dharmas and practice everything that is their opposite. All the great gurus of the past, such as Jetsun Milarepa and Lama Tsongkhapa, renounced the eight worldly dharmas, fought against them with all their might and gained victory over them.

Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Even from childhood I had a spontaneous tendency to be afraid whenever somebody offered me something or prepared a high seat for me, because I realized that all worldly gains are deeply impermanent.” So, chhö gyä pang pä means by renouncing the eight worldly dharmas. Däl jor dön yö je means making this perfect human rebirth meaningful and worthwhile: by renouncing the eight worldly dharmas he made the precious human life that he had obtained worthwhile and fruitful. Lama Tsongkhapa never wasted even a second of his precious life.

The next two lines read, “In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.” Gön po khyö kyi means you, the savior. Lab chhen dzä pa la means in the great wave of your deeds, the vast and profound deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, I rejoice from the depths of my heart.

Dag chag means I or we; sam pa thag pä means from the depths of our thought or mind; yi rang ngo means rejoice. All together, it means that we rejoice in the great, extensive deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, not just paying lip service to them but we rejoice from the depths of our heart, from deep within our mind.

Rejoicing is the supreme practice for accumulating merit. Rejoicing counteracts all delusions in general but it is the direct antidote of jealousy in particular. Jealousy toward the goodness and practice of other beings causes our merit and development to degenerate. Rejoicing in the goodness and precious deeds of other sentient beings doesn’t take much effort but accumulates vast amounts merit. In other words, they put much effort into practicing Dharma but simply by rejoicing in their practice, we can create much merit for ourselves.

Requesting to turn the wheel of Dharma

The next verse is a request for the turning of the wheel of the Dharma, a request for teachings.

Je tsün la ma dam pa khye nam kyi
Chhö küi kha la khyen tsei trin thrig nä
Ji tar tsham päi dül jäi dzin ma la
Zab gyä chhö kyi chhar pa bab tu söl

Please, holy jetsun gurus,
From billowed clouds of compassion and wisdom in the sky of dharmakaya,
Make rainfalls of profound and extensive teachings of whatever is suitable
For the ears of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued.

Je tsün la ma means venerable lama. I explained the meaning of that in Verse 2. Dam pa means holy, or supreme; the supreme guru. Lama Tsongkhapa has given us all the methods and prerequisites that gradually lead us to the attainment of the ultimate goal of enlightenment. Therefore, he is the supreme lama. Khye nam kyi means by you.

The next line says that all of space of dharmakaya is filled with the clouds of wisdom and love. Chhö ku means dharmakaya; kha la means space. Because Lama Tsongkhapa is a buddha, his mind is in the nature of the dharmakaya; his mind resembles space, infinite space. Gathering in this space of Lama Tsongkhapa’s dharmakaya mind are clouds of wisdom and compassion, from which falls rain. Khyen means wisdom; tsei means love and bodhicitta—the method side qualities of mind. Trin thrig nä means by gathering the clouds.

The next lines say, “Make rainfalls of profound and extensive teachings of whatever is suitable for the ears of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued.”

Ji tar tsham päi means fittingly, or whatever is suitable. We are requesting the lama to turn the wheel of Dharma, to give teachings in a way that fits, or suits, the capacity of the sentient beings. This has a deep meaning. For example, a wise doctor gives medicine to different patients according to the strength of their body. A doctor does not prescribe strong medicine for a person who is very weak because the patient’s body cannot support it; therefore the doctor prescribes a milder medicine; for patients with stronger bodies the doctor prescribes stronger remedies. Like this, in a fitting way, the doctor writes the prescription. A doctor just thinking, “I have this really strong medicine,” and then immediately prescribing it without thinking about the capacity of the patient, may do more harm than good.

It is the same for patients as well. They should take the medicine that suits their body; they can’t just go out and buy the strongest medicine there is without taking into account the strength of their body. Therefore, in the same way, we request the lama to teach the Dharma according to our capacity, for the benefit of all sentient beings. If a lama gives a student of small capacity a very high and powerful practice, it might harm rather than help the student. Dül ja means disciple, the object to be subdued; dzin ma is another Tibetan word for earth, or ground—dül ja dzin ma la means on the field, or ground, of the disciples, the objects to be tamed. Zab means profound; gyä, vast, extensive; chhö kyi, of Dharma; chhar pa, rain; bab tu söl, let pour down. Thus, we are requesting the lama to let pour down the rain of profound and extensive Dharma fittingly on the ground of the disciples.

As I mentioned before, generally in the seven limb puja, the request for the long life of the lama or the buddhas is the sixth of the seven limbs, so normally it would come at this point, but in this practice, because it is such an important request, it is explained at the beginning.


Therefore, the next limb is that of dedication.

Dag gi ji nye sag päi ge wa di
Tän dang dro wa kün la gang phän dang
Khyä par je tsün lo zang drag pa yi
Tän päi nying po ring du säl je shog

I dedicate whatever virtues I have collected,
For the benefit of the teachings and of all sentient beings,
And in particular, for the essential teachings
Of venerable Losang Dragpa to shine forever.

We dedicate all the merits that we have accumulated since beginningless time up to now for two great purposes. One is for the benefit for the doctrine, the teaching; for the flourishing and stability of the Dharma. The other great purpose is for the benefit of all sentient beings. Then, in particular, since this is a guru yoga practice in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa, we dedicate all our merit for the flourishing and stability of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, the essence of which is the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the realization of shunyata. The essence of the teaching of Lama Tsongkhapa is these three principles of the path and the practice of tantra as well. We dedicate our merit for all that to flourish forever.

Actually, there isn’t any separate, independent doctrine or tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa. In reality, the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa is the Kadam tradition, which was founded by Lama Atisha. But then we have this term “Gelug,” which makes it even worse. It is not only pronounced incorrectly but it’s also spelt wrong. It should be Ga, not Ge, because Lama Tsongkhapa founded the first monastery, the great monastery on the mountain, Gadän Monastery. Once Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition became established, people started calling it the Gadän lug, Galug for short; lug means tradition. So, Galug means tradition of Gadän.

Now that we have invited Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya, requested him to remain in front of us as a field of merit and to this field of merit have made all the offerings, including the seven-limb puja, from prostration to dedication, we offer a mandala.

[Here offer a long or a short mandala.]

Recitation of the guru mantra

After the mandala offering comes the recitation of the lama mantra and the practice for accomplishing the three attributes of the Buddha in general and the wisdom attribute in particular.

There are many different kinds of wisdom. First we need great wisdom. But it is not enough simply to have great wisdom; we also need illuminating wisdom, a wisdom that is very clear. But neither are great wisdom and clear wisdom enough; we also need quick wisdom; wisdom that is very fast without taking time. Neither is it enough to have great, clear and quick wisdom; we also need profound wisdom, which can dig deeply into our practice. Superficial wisdom is not of much benefit or use; it understands and realizes only that which is on the surface. It cannot plumb the depths.

Thus, there are four wisdoms, and we can accomplish them all through the practice of the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa. In order to do so we must first rid ourselves of interferences to the development of wisdom; we must purify all our impurities. Therefore, before reciting the lama mantra, we make a specific request:

De tar shug drag söl wa tab päi thu
Je tsün yab sä sum gyi thug ka nä
Ö zer kar po bug chän thrö päi ne
Chig tu dre nä rang gi chi wor zug

Thus by the force of strong request,
From the hearts of the venerable father and sons,
Hollow rays of white light emanate,
Combine into one and absorb into the crown of my head.

This verse means that through our having made the offering of practice and a mandala to Lama Tsongkhapa and by the force of our request made with strong devotion to Lama Tsongkhapa and his two main disciples, three hollow white beams of light, like tubes, emanate from their hearts, combine into one, enter the crown of our head and absorb into us.

Bug chän means hollow, like a tube; chig tu dre nä means combined into one; rang gi chi wor zug means absorb into the crown of my head.

Three light rays emanate from the heart of Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples. The central one comes from Lama Tsongkhapa, one from Gyältsab Rinpoche (to Lama Tsongkhapa’s right) and the other from Khädrub Rinpoche (to his left). You should remember this very precisely because in meditation you have to visualize all the details. The light rays that emanate from their hearts are radiant white in color. They are beams of light but hollow inside, like a tube; empty inside. One starts from the heart of each of the three lamas, but after a short distance they combine into one. The end of this single beam that is a combination of all three absorbs into the crown of your head.

So, when you meditate seriously, you have to make this visualization very precisely. Three radiant white light tubes start from the hearts of the three lamas, concentrate into one, and that very concentrated hollow beam of light absorbs into the crown of your head. Then:

Ö kar bu gäi jug ngog lä jung wäi
Dü tzi kar po o mäi dog chän gyi
Nä dön dig drib bag chhag ma lü pa
Trü nä rang lü dang säl shel tar gyur (or, shel tar dag par gyur)

Through the white light hollow beam of light flows
Radiant white nectar the color of milk.
All illnesses, spirit harms, defilements, obstacles and their imprints, without exception,
Are washed away and my body becomes as pure and clear as crystal.

Radiant white nectar, amrita, flows through the hollow tube of light that has emanated from the hearts of the three lamas. This ambrosia is much more radiant than milk and absolutely white in color. Although in appearance it is like a liquid, it is in nature the buddha mind. It starts flowing down the three tubes of light, which then combine into one—like three rivers that come from three different valleys and unite into one, which then becomes much more powerful—enters our head and flows down into our body.

When the amrita, whose nature is that of the buddha mind, comes into our body it completely washes away all interferences, illnesses—physical and mental—evil influences, downfalls, karmic obstacles, obstacles due to delusion and imprints; all gross, medium and subtle interferences are completely washed away.

Our body is completely rid of them, as it says in the last line of this verse, and our whole body becomes full of light and amrita and extremely radiant, like a light body, like light fills a bulb. Like that, our body becomes completely full of light and amrita, with no external or internal impurities left in it. But this light and amrita are not simply like ordinary water or some other liquid like that—in this light and amrita are tiny letters, tiny versions of the lama mantra, the syllables of the mantra and many different things mixed with and absorbed in it, which I will explain in detail.

If we practice this guru yoga purification very strongly it becomes exactly the same as practicing Vajrasattva meditation. The effect is exactly the same, sufficient for Vajrasattva purification. But when practicing this meditation—the light and amrita flowing down, entering us and purifying all our obstacles and filling our whole body—we should not do the visualization quickly but slowly, stage by stage.

During this time, we recite the lama mantra, this one-verse praise that is the lama mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa. We recite it again and again, all the while visualizing in our mind the entire process of purification. Therefore, if we practice this lama mantra, called the migtsema, correctly, with the right motivation and the proper visualization, it also fulfills many other practices, because it contains within it the profound meaning of many aspects of Dharma; many things are concentrated in these few words.

So, to summarize, we have reached the point of complete inner purification by the white light and nectar that emanates from the three hearts of the three lamas, which are combined into one. This light and nectar absorbs into the crown of our head and enters our body, purifying all our obstacles, external and internal. Our body is filled with light and amrita, then it becomes radiant and completely pure, inside and outside. At the end of the purification, our body becomes completely in the nature of light, like a light bulb which changes completely from the outside.

Our body is completely filled with amrita and light, and within this there are many syllables of the lama mantra. Those who can read Tibetan should visualize the syllables of the lama mantra, which are not as they are written, but are more in the nature of light. They are like light letters. When we say that our body is filled with syllables of the lama mantra, it is not like a bag filled with grain; rather, the syllables fill our body like rain in a fog. With this visualization in our mind, recite at least one mala of the lama mantra. During this one mala, visualize this process of purification, with light coming down from the chests of the lamas, entering our body, purifying the obstacles and filling it with light and amrita, and the lama mantra syllables.

The one-verse lama mantra starts with this line:

Mig-me tze-wäi ter-ch’en chän-rä-zig
Avalokiteshvara who is great treasure of compassion without apprehension.

Chän-rä-zig is Avalokiteshvara. Mig-me means without apprehension, without grasping. This refers to shunyata nature, which is without inherent nature, or void of inherent nature. This shunyata nature is called mig-me. Mig means apprehend and me means without. Mig-me means no true inherent nature to apprehend.

Compassion without apprehension means compassion which is accompanied or supported by the wisdom realizing shunyata. Compassion which is supported by the realization of shunyata is much greater, more profound and powerful than ordinary compassion without the support of wisdom. Tze-wäi is compassion and ter-ch’en means great treasure. The great treasure of th