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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
The perfection of generosity
The perfection of ethics
The perfection of patience
The perfection of joyous perseverance
The perfection of concentration
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.
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 lojong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.
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 lamrim and lojong (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 practicing 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 recognize 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 traveled 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 visited and taught in several foreign countries - Australia, New Zealand, America, and around Europe. His warmth, humor, 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 lamrim, or stages on the path to enlightenment, which explains all the steps or practices one needs to follow in order to attain enlightenment.
The lamrim consists of three main stages or levels, according to three different reasons or motivations for practicing Dharma. The first level, known as the "small scope," starts from taking an interest in one's future lives. This comes about when we realize 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 practicing 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. Realizing 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 practice thought transformation through which we become less self-centered 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.
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 lojong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.
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 lojong (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.
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.
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 bodhicitta12, "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.
We should always begin our study and practice at the basic level and slowly ascend the ladder of practice. First of all, we should learn about going for refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and put that into practice. Then we should study and follow the law of karmic actions and their results. Next, we should meditate on the preciousness of our human life, our great spiritual potential and upon our own death and the impermanence of our body. After that we should develop an awareness of our own state of mind and notice what it is really doing. If we are thinking of harming anyone, even the smallest insect, then we must let go of that thought, but if our mind is thinking of something positive, such as wishing to help and cherish others, then we must try to enhance that quality. As we progress, we slowly train our mind in bodhicitta and go on to study the perfect view of emptiness. This is the proper way to approach Buddhist study and practice.
As we engage in our practice of Dharma there will be definite signs of improvement. Of course, these signs should come from within. The great Kadampa master, Geshe Chekawa, states, "Change or transform your attitude and leave your external conduct as it is." What he is telling us is that we should direct our attention towards bringing about positive transformation within, but in terms of our external conduct we should still behave without pretense, like a normal person. We should not be showy about any realization we have gained or think that we have license to conduct ourselves in any way we like. As we look into our own mind, if we find that delusions such as anger, attachment, arrogance and jealousy are diminishing and feel more intent on helping others, that is a sign that positive change is taking place.
Lama Tsongkhapa stated that in order to get rid of our confusion with regard to any subject, we must develop the three wisdoms that arise through contemplation. We have to listen to the relevant teaching, which develops the "wisdom through hearing." Then we contemplate the meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of contemplation." Finally, we meditate on the ascertained meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of meditation." By applying these three kinds of wisdom, we will be able to get beyond our doubts, misconceptions and confusion.
INVESTIGATING OUR ACTIONS
The text advises that we should apply ourselves to gross analysis (conceptual investigation) and subtle analysis (analytical investigation) to find out if we are performing proper actions with our body, speech and mind. If we are, then there is nothing more to do. However, if we find that certain actions of our body, speech and mind are improper, we should correct ourselves.
Every action that we perform has a motivation at its beginning. We have to investigate and analyze whether this motivation is positive or negative. If we discover that we have a negative motivation, we have to let go of that and adopt a positive one. Then, while we're actually performing the action, we have to investigate whether our action is correct or not. Finally, once we have completed the action, we have to end it with a dedication and again, analyze the correctness of our dedication. In this way, we observe the three phases of our every action of body, speech and mind, letting go of the incorrect actions and adopting the correct ones.
We should do this as often as we can, but we should try to do it at least three times a day. First thing in the morning, when we get up from our beds, we should analyze our mind and set up the right motivation for the day. During the day we should again apply this mindfulness to our actions and activities. Then in the evening, before we go to bed, we should review our actions of the daytime. If we find that we did something that we shouldn't have, we should regret the wrong action and develop contrition for having engaged in it and determine not to engage in that action again. It is essential that we purify our negativities, or wrong actions, in this way. However, if we find that we have committed good actions, we should feel happy. We should appreciate our own positive actions and draw inspiration from them, determining that tomorrow we should try to do the same or even better.
Buddha said, "Taking your own body as an example, do not harm others." So, taking ourselves as an example, what do we want? We want real peace, happiness and the best of everything. What do we not want? We don't want any kind of pain, problem or difficulty. Everyone else has the same wish-so, with that kind of understanding we should stop harming others, including those who we see as our enemies. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often advises that if we can't help others, then we should at least not harm them, either through our speech or our physical actions. In fact, we shouldn't even think harmful thoughts.
The text states that we should not be boastful. Instead, we should appreciate the good actions we've performed. If you go up to people and say, "Haven't I been kind to you?" nobody will appreciate what you've done. In the Eight Verses of Mind Training, we read that even if people turn out to be ungrateful to us and say or do nasty things when we have been kind and helpful to them, we should make all the more effort to appreciate the great opportunity they have provided us to develop our patience. The stanza ends beautifully, "Bless me to be able to see them as if they were my true teachers of patience." After all, they are providing us with a real chance to practice patience, not just a hypothetical one. That is exactly what mind training is. When we find ourselves in that kind of difficult situation, we should just stay cool and realize that we have a great opportunity to practice kshantiparamita, the "perfection of patience."
In the same vein, the text also advises us not to be short-tempered. We shouldn't let ourselves be shaken by difficult circumstances or situations. Generally, when people say nice things to us or bring us gifts, we feel happy. On the other hand, if someone says the smallest thing that we don't want to hear, we get upset. Don't be like that. We need to remain firm in our practice and maintain our peace of mind.
The text reminds us to practice our mind training with consistency. We shouldn't practice for a few days and then give it up because we've decided it's not working. At first, we may apply ourselves very diligently to study and practice out of a sense of novelty or because we've heard so much about the benefits of meditation. Then, in a day or two, we stop because we don't think we're making any progress. Or, for a while we may come to the teachings before everyone else but then we just give up and disappear, making all kinds of reasons and excuses for our behavior. That won't help.
If we keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to become completely enlightened, then we can begin to comprehend the length of time we'll need for practice. The great Indian master, Chandrakirti, says that all kinds of accomplishments follow from diligence, consistency and enthusiasm. If we apply ourselves correctly to the proper practice we will eventually reach our destination. He says that if we don't have constant enthusiasm, even if we are very intelligent we are not going to achieve very much. Intelligence is like a drawing made on water but constant enthusiasm in our practice is like a carving made in rock-it remains for a much longer time.
So, whatever practice each of us does, big or small, if we do it consistently, over the course of time we will find great progress within ourselves. One of the examples used in Buddhist literature is that our enthusiasm should be constant, like the flow of a river. Another example compares consistency to a strong bowstring. If a bowstring is straight and strong, we can shoot the arrow further. We read in a text called The Praise of the Praiseworthy, "For you to prove your superiority, show neither flexibility nor rigidity." The point being made here is that we should be moderate in applying ourselves to our practice. We should not rigidly overexert ourselves for a short duration and then stop completely, but neither should we be too flexible and relaxed, because then we become too lethargic.
EXPECTATIONS OF REWARD
The next advice given in the text is that we should not anticipate some reward as soon as we do something nice. When we practice giving, or generosity, the best way to give is selflessly and unconditionally. That is great giving. In Buddhist scriptures we find it stated that as a result of our own giving and generosity, we acquire the possessions and resources we need. When we give without expecting anything in return, our giving will certainly bring its result, but when we give with the gaining of resources as our motivation, our giving becomes somewhat impure. Intellectualizing, thinking, "I must give because giving will bring something back to me," contaminates our practice of generosity.
When we give we should do so out of compassion and understanding. We have compassion for the poor and needy, for example, because we can clearly see their need. Sometimes people stop giving to the homeless because they think that they might go to a bar and get drunk or otherwise use the gift unwisely. We should remember that when we give to others, we never have any control over how the recipient uses our gift. Once we have given something, it has become the property of the other person. It's up to them to decide what they will do with it.
Another cardinal point of Buddhism concerns karmic actions. Sometimes we go through good times in our lives and sometimes we go through bad; but we should understand that all these situations are related to our own personal karmic actions of body, speech and mind. Shakyamuni Buddha taught numerous things intended to benefit three kinds of disciples-those who are inclined to the Hearers' Vehicle, those who are inclined to the Solitary Realizers' Vehicle and those who are inclined to the Greater Vehicle. Buddha said to all three kinds of prospective disciples, "You are your own protector." In other words, if you want to be free from any kind of suffering, it is your own responsibility to find the way and to follow it. Others cannot do it for you. No one can present the way to liberation as if it were a gift. You are totally responsible for yourself.
"You are your own protector." That statement is very profound and carries a deep message for us. It also implicitly speaks about the law of karmic actions and results. You are responsible for your karmic actions-if you do good, you will have good; if you do bad, you will have bad. It's as simple as that. If you don't create and accumulate a karmic action, you will never meet its results. Also, the karmic actions that you have already created and accumulated are not simply going to disappear. It is just a matter of time and the coming together of certain conditions for these karmic actions to bring forth their results. When we directly, or non-conceptually, fully realize emptiness, from that moment on we will never create any new karmic seeds to be reborn in cyclic existence. It is true that transcendent bodhisattvas return to samsara, but they don't come back under the influence of contaminated karmic actions or delusions. They return out of their will power, their aspirational prayers and their great compassion.
THE DESIRE TO BE LIBERATED
Without the sincere desire to be free from cyclic existence, it is impossible to become liberated from it. In order to practice with enthusiasm, we must cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the miseries of cyclic existence. We can develop this enthusiastic wish by contemplating the suffering nature of samsara, this cycle of compulsive rebirths in which we find ourselves. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his beautifully concise text, theThree Principal Paths, without the pure, determined wish to be liberated, one will not be able to let go of the prosperity and goodness of cyclic existence. What he is saying-and our own experience will confirm this-is that we tend to focus mostly, and perhaps most sincerely, on the temporary pleasures and happiness of this lifetime. As we do this, we get more and more entrenched in cyclic existence.
In order to break this bond to samsara, it is imperative that we cultivate the determined wish for liberation, and to do that we have to follow certain steps. First, we must try to sever our attachment and clinging to the temporary marvels and prosperity of this lifetime. Then we need to do the same thing with regard to our future lives. No matter whether we are seeking personal liberation or complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, we must first cultivate this attitude of renunciation. Having done that, if we want to find our own personal liberation, or nirvana, then we can follow the path of hearers or solitary realizers, but if we want to work for the betterment of all sentient beings, we should at that point follow Greater Vehicle Buddhism-the path of the bodhisattvas-which leads to the highest state of enlightenment.
The determined wish to be liberated is the first path of Lama Tsongkhapa's Three Principal Paths, which presents the complete path to enlightenment. Tsongkhapa said that this human life, with its freedoms and enriching factors, is more precious than a wish-fulfilling gem. He also tells us that, however valuable and filled with potential our life is, it is as transient as lightning. We must understand that worldly activities are as frivolous and meaningless as husks of grain. Discarding them, we should engage instead in spiritual practice to derive the essence of this wonderful human existence. We need to realize the preciousness and rarity of this human life and our great spiritual potential as well as our life's temporary nature and the impermanence of all things. However, we should not interpret this teaching as meaning that we should devalue ourselves. It simply means that we should release our attachment and clinging to this life because they are the main source of our problems and difficulties. We also need to release our attachment and clinging to our future lives and their particular marvels and pleasures. As a way of dealing with this attachment, we need to contemplate and develop conviction in the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and their results and then contemplate the suffering nature of cyclic existence.
How do we know when we have developed the determined wish to be liberated? Lama Tsongkhapa says that if we do not aspire to the pleasures of cyclic existence for even a moment but instead, day in and day out, find ourselves naturally seeking liberation, then we can say that we have developed the determined wish to be liberated. If we were to fall into a blazing fire pit, we wouldn't find even one moment that we wanted to be there. There'd be nothing enjoyable about it at all and we would want to get out immediately. If we develop that kind of determination regarding cyclic existence, then that is a profound realization. Without even the aspiration to develop renunciation, we will never begin to seek enlightenment and therefore will not engage in the practices that lead us towards it.
MOTIVATION FOR SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT
There are three kinds of motivation we can have for aspiring to attain freedom from the sufferings of cyclic existence. The lowest motivation seeks a favorable rebirth in our next life, such as the one we have right now. With this motivation we will be able to derive the smallest essence from our human life.
The intermediate level of motivation desires complete liberation from samsara and is generating by reflecting upon the suffering nature of cyclic existence and becoming frightened of all its pains and problems. The method that can help us attain this state of liberation is the study of the common paths of the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of teachings, and the practice and cultivation of the common paths of the three higher trainings-ethics, concentration and wisdom. This involves meditating on emptiness and developing the wisdom that realizes emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena. As a result of these practices, we are then able to counteract and get rid of all 84,000 delusions and reach the state of liberation. With this intermediate motivation we achieve the state of lasting peace and happiness for ourselves alone. Our spiritual destination is personal nirvana. The highest level of motivation is the altruistic motivation of bodhicitta -seeking complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. With this kind of motivation, we are affirming the connections we have made with all sentient beings over many lifetimes. All sentient beings are recognized as having once been our mothers, fathers and closest friends. We appreciate how kind they have been to us and we develop the responsibility of helping them to become free from all their suffering and to experience lasting peace and happiness. When we consider our present situation we see that at the moment, we don't actually have the power to do this but once we have become fully enlightened beings, we will have all kinds of abilities to help sentient beings get rid of their pains and problems and find peace and happiness.
THE SUFFERING NATURE OF SAMSARA
If we reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves, we will realize that with so much unbearable pain and suffering, it is as though we were in a giant prison. This is the prison of cyclic existence. However, because of our distorted perception, we often see this prison as a very beautiful place; as if it were, in fact, a wonderful garden of joy. We don't really see what the disadvantages of samsara are, and because of this we find ourselves clinging to this existence. With this attachment, we continue creating karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth in it over and over again and thus keep us stuck in samsara. If we look deep within ourselves, we find that it is the innate grasping at self that distorts our perception and makes us see cyclic existence as a pleasure land. All of us who are trapped in samsara share that kind of distorted perception, and as a result, we find ourselves creating all sorts of karmic actions. Even our good karmic actions are somewhat geared towards keeping us imprisoned within cyclic existence.
We should try to understand that being in cyclic existence is like being in a fire pit, with all the pain that such a situation would bring. When we understand this, we will start to change the nature of our karmic actions. Buddha said this in the sutras and Indian masters have carried this teaching over into the commentaries, or shastras. No matter where we live in samsara, we are bound to experience suffering. It doesn't matter with whom we live-our friends, family and companions all bring problems and suffering. Nor does it matter what kind of resources we have available to us; they too ultimately bring us pain and difficulty.
Now, you might think, "Well, that doesn't seem to be altogether true. In this world there are many wonderful places to visit-magnificent waterfalls, lovely wildernesses and so on. It doesn't seem as if samsara is such a bad place to be. Also, I have many wonderful friends who really care for me. It doesn't seem true that those in cyclic existence to whom I am close bring me problems and sufferings. Moreover, I have delicious food to eat and beautiful things to wear, so neither does it seem that everything I use in cyclic existence is suffering in nature." If such are our thoughts and feelings, then we have not realized the true nature of samsara, which is actually nothing but misery. Let me explain more about how things really are in samsara. The first thing the Buddha spoke about after his enlightenment was the truth of suffering. There are three kinds of pains and problems in cyclic existence-the "suffering of misery," the "suffering of change" and "pervasive suffering." We can easily relate to the suffering of misery, as this includes directly manifested pain and problems, such as the pain we experience if we cut ourselves or get a headache. However, our understanding of suffering is usually limited to that. We don't generally perceive the misery of change, which is a subtler kind of suffering. Even when we experience some temporary pleasures and comforts in cyclic existence, we must understand that these things also change into pains and problems. Pervasive, or extensive, suffering is even more subtle and hence even more difficult for us to understand. Suffering is simply the nature of samsara. When we have a headache we take medicine for the pain or when there is a cut on our body we go to the doctor for treatment, but we generally don't seek treatment for the other two kinds of suffering.
Buddhas and bodhisattvas feel infinite compassion for those of us who are trapped within cyclic existence because we don't realize that our pain and suffering are our own creation. It is as though we are engaged in self-torture. Our suffering is due to our own negative karmic actions, which in turn are motivated by all sorts of deluded thoughts and afflictive emotions. Just as we would feel compassion for a close friend who had gone insane, so are the buddhas and bodhisattvas constantly looking for ways in which to help us free ourselves from these problematic situations. With their infinite love and compassion, they are always looking for ways to assist us in getting out of this messy existence.
None of us would like to be a slave. Slaves go through all kinds of altercations, restrictions and difficulties and try with all their might to find freedom from their oppressors. Likewise, we have become slaves to the oppressors of our own delusions and afflictive emotions. These masters have enslaved us not only in this lifetime but for innumerable lifetimes past. As a result, we have gone through countless pains and sufferings in cyclic existence. Obviously, if we don't want to suffer such bondage any longer, we need to make an effort at the first given opportunity to try to free ourselves. In order to do this, we need to cultivate the wisdom realizing selflessness, or emptiness. In Sanskrit, the word is shunyata, ortathata, which is translated as "emptiness," or "suchness." This wisdom is the only tool that can help us to destroy the master of delusions-our self-grasping ignorance. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all that exists. As such it is the antidote with which we can counteract all forms of delusion, including the root delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger.
THE SELF-CHERISHING ATTITUDE
Buddha has stated that for Mahayana practitioners, the self-cherishing attitude is like poison, whereas the altruistic, other-cherishing attitude is like a wish-fulfilling gem. Self-centeredness is akin to a toxic substance that we have to get out of our system in order to find the jewel-like thought of cherishing other beings. When we ingest poison it contaminates our body and threatens our very existence. In the same way, the self-cherishing attitude ruins our chance to improve our mind. With it, we destroy the possibility for enlightenment and become harmful to others. By contrast, if we have the mental attitude of cherishing other beings, not only will we be able to find happiness and the best of everything we are seeking, but we will also be able to bring goodness to others.
In order to cultivate the altruistic attitude, we should reflect on the kindness of all other beings. As we learn to appreciate their kindness we also learn to care for them. We might accept the general notion that sentient beings must be cherished, but when we come down to it we find ourselves thinking, "Well, so and so doesn't count because they have been mean or unpleasant to me, so I'll take them off the list and just help the rest." If we do that we are missing the whole point and are limiting our thinking. We need all other beings in order to follow the path that Buddha has shown us.
It is others who provide us with the real opportunities to grow spiritually. In fact, in terms of providing us with the actual opportunities to follow the path leading to enlightenment, sentient beings are just as kind to us as are the buddhas. To use a previous example in a different context, in order to grow any kind of fruit tree we need its seed. However, it's not enough just to have the seed-we also need good fertile soil, otherwise the seed won't germinate. So, although Buddha has given us the seed-the path to enlightenment-sentient beings constitute the field of our growth-the opportunities to actually engage in activities leading to the state of enlightenment.
PRACTICES FOR DEVELOPING BODHICITTA
There are two methods of instruction for developing bodhicitta. The first is the "six causes and one result," which has come down to us through a line of transmission from Shakyamuni Buddha to Maitreya and Asanga and his disciples. The second is called "equalizing and exchanging self for others," an instruction that has come down to us from Shakyamuni Buddha to Manjushri and Arya Nagarjuna and his disciples. It doesn't matter which of these two core instructions for developing bodhicitta we put into practice. The focal object of great compassion is all sentient beings and its aspect is wishing them to be free from every kind of pain and suffering.
We start at a very basic level. We try to cultivate compassion towards our family members and friends, then slowly extend our compassion to include people in our neighborhood, in the same country, on the same continent and throughout the whole world. Ultimately, we include within the scope of our compassion not only all people but all other beings throughout the universe. We find that we cannot cause harm to any sentient being because this goes against our compassion.
Before generating such compassion, however, we need to cultivate even-mindedness-a sense of equanimity towards others-because our compassion has to extend equally towards all sentient beings, without discrimination. Usually, we divide people mentally into different categories. We have enemies on one side, friends and relatives on another and strangers somewhere else. We react differently towards each group. We have very strong negative feelings towards our enemies-we put them way away from us and if anything bad happens to them we feel a certain satisfaction. We have an indifferent attitude towards those who are strangers-we don't care if bad or good things happen to them because to us, they don't count. But if anything happens to those near and dear to us, we are immediately affected and experience all kinds of feelings in response.
In order to balance our attitude towards people and other beings, we should understand that there is nothing fixed in terms of relationships between ourselves and others. Someone we now see as a very dear friend could become our worst enemy later on in this life or the next. Similarly, someone we regard as an enemy could become our best friend. When we take rebirth our relationships change. We may become someone of a different race or some kind of animal. There is so much uncertainty in this changing pattern of lives and futures. As we take this into consideration, we begin to realize that there's no sense in discriminating between friends and enemies. In the light of all this change we should understand that all beings should be treated equally.
As we train our minds in this way, the time will come when we feel as close to all sentient beings as we currently feel to our dearest relatives and friends. After balancing our attitude in regard to people and other beings, we will easily be able to cultivate great compassion. However, we should not confuse compassion with attachment. Some people, motivated by attachment to their own skill in helping or to the outcome of their assistance, become very close and helpful to others and think that this is compassion, but it is not. Great compassion is a quality that someone who hasn't yet entered the path of Mahayana could have. So, after cultivating compassion and bodhicitta, you should combine it with cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness. This is known as "integrating method and wisdom" and is essential to reach the state of highest enlightenment.
I always qualify personal nirvana to differentiate it from enlightenment. In the higher practices, Theravadins cultivate a path that brings them to the state of nirvana, or liberation. These are people who are seeking personal freedom from cyclic existence. They talk about "liberation with remainder"-liberation that is attained while one still has the aggregates, the contaminated body and mind. "Liberation without remainder" means that one discards the body and then achieves the state of liberation. To attain the highest goal within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, one has to observe pure ethics, study or listen to teachings on the practice, contemplate the teachings and then meditate on them. For those of us who are following the Mahayana tradition, however, our intention should be to do this work of enlightenment for the benefit and sake of all other sentient beings. In Mahayana Buddhist practice we also need to follow the same four steps, but we are not so much seeking our own personal goal as we are aspiring to become enlightened beings in order to be in a position to help others.
READINESS FOR RECEIVING EMPTINESS TEACHINGS
Mahayana Buddhism consists of two major categories or vehicles. The first is the Sutrayana, the Perfection Vehicle; the second is the Tantrayana, the Vajra Vehicle. In order for anyone to practice tantric Buddhism, he or she should be well prepared and should have become a suitable vessel for such teachings and practices. Sutrayana is more like an open teaching for everyone. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Even within the Sutra Vehicle, the emptiness teachings should not be given to just anyone who asks but to only suitable recipients- those who have trained their minds to a certain point of maturity. Then, when the teachings on emptiness are given, they become truly beneficial to that person. Let's say that we have the seed of a very beautiful flower that we wish to grow. If we simply dump the seed into dry soil it is not going to germinate. This doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the seed. It's just that it requires other causes and conditions, such as fertile soil, depth and moisture in order to develop into a flower. In the same way, if a teaching on emptiness is given to someone whose mind is not matured or well-enough trained, instead of benefiting that person it could actually give them harm.
There was once a great Indian master named Drubchen Langkopa. The king of the region where he lived heard about this master and invited him to his court to give spiritual teachings. When Drubchen Langkopa responded to the king's request and gave a teaching on emptiness, the king went berserk. Although the master didn't say anything that was incorrect, the king completely misunderstood what was being taught because he wasn't spiritually prepared for it. He thought that the master was telling him that nothing existed at all. In his confusion, he decided that Drubchen Langkopa was a misleading guide and had him executed. Later on, another master was invited to the court. He gradually prepared the king for teachings on emptiness by first talking about the infallibility of the workings of the law of karmic actions and results, impermanence and so on. Finally, the king was ready to learn about emptiness as the ultimate reality and at last understood what it meant. Then he realized what a great mistake he had made in ordering the execution of the previous master.
This story tells us two things. Firstly, the teacher has to be very skillful and possess profound insight in order to teach emptiness to others. He or she needs two qualities known as "skillful means" and "wisdom." Secondly, the student needs to be ready to receive this teaching. The view of emptiness is extremely profound and is therefore hard to grasp. There are two aspects of emptiness, or selflessness -the emptiness, or selflessness, of the person and the emptiness, or selflessness, of phenomena.
People who are unprepared get scared that the teachings are actually denying the existence of everything. It sounds to them as if the teachings are rejecting the entire existence of phenomena. They don't understand that the term "emptiness" refers to the emptiness of inherent, or true, existence. They then take this misunderstanding and apply it to their own actions. They come to the conclusion that karmic actions and their results don't really exist at all and become wild and crazy, thinking that whatever makes their lives pleasurable or humorous is okay because their actions have no consequences.
Additionally, the listener's sense of ego can also become an obstacle, as the idea of emptiness can really frighten those who are not ready for it to the extent that they abandon their meditation on emptiness altogether. Buddha's teaching on emptiness is a core, or inner essence, teaching, and if for some reason we abandon it, this becomes a huge obstacle to our spiritual development. It is very important to remember that discovering the emptiness of any phenomenon is not the same as concluding that that phenomenon does not exist at all.
In his Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti describes indicative signs by which one can judge when someone is ready to learn about emptiness. He explains that just as we can assume that there is a fire because we can see smoke or that there is water because we can see water birds hovering above the land, in the same way, through certain external signs, we can infer that someone is ready to receive teachings on emptiness. Chandrakirti goes on to tell us, "When an ordinary being, on hearing about emptiness, feels great joy arising repeatedly within him and due to such joy, tears moisten his eye and the hair on his body stands up, that person has in his mind the seed for understanding emptiness and is a fit vessel to receive teachings on it."
If we feel an affinity for the teachings and are drawn towards them, it shows that we are ready. Of the external and internal signs, the internal are more important. However, if we don't have these signs, we should make strong efforts to make ourselves suitable vessels for teachings on emptiness. To do so, we need to do two things- accumulate positive energy and wisdom and purify our deluded, negative states of mind. For the sake of simplicity, we refer to these as the practices of accumulationand purification.
In order to achieve the two types of accumulation-the accumulation of merit, or positive energy, and the accumulation of insight, or wisdom -we can engage in the practice of the six perfections of generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. Through such practices we will be able to accumulate the merit and wisdom required for spiritual progress.
We can talk about three kinds of generosity (dana, in Sanskrit)- the giving of material things, the giving of Dharma and the giving of protection, or freedom from fear. The giving of material help is easily understood. In the Lam-rim chen-mo, Lama Tsongkhapa's great lam-rim text, we read that even if you have only a mouthful of food, you can practice material giving by sharing it with a really needy person. When we see homeless people on the streets, we often get irritated or frustrated by their presence. That is not a good attitude. Even if we can't give anything, we can at least wish that someday we will be in a position to help.
The giving of Dharma can be practiced by anyone, not just a lama. For example, when you do your daily practice with the wish to benefit others, there might be some divine beings or other invisible beings around you who are listening. So, when you dedicate your prayers to others, that is giving of Dharma, or spirituality. Somebody out there is listening; remember that. An example of giving protection would be saving somebody's life.
In his Supplement, Chandrakirti says, "They will always adopt pure ethics and observe them. They will give out of generosity, will cultivate compassion and will meditate on patience. Dedicating such virtue entirely to full awakening for the liberation of wandering beings, they pay respect to accomplished bodhisattvas." In Tibetan, ethics, or moral discipline, is called tsul-tim, which means "the mind of protection." Ethics is a state of mind that protects us from negativity and delusion. For example, when we vow not to kill any sentient being, we develop the state of mind that protects us from the negativity of killing.
In Buddhism, we find different kinds of ethics. On the highest level there are the tantric ethics-tantric vows and commitments. At the level below these are the bodhisattva's ethics, and below these are the ethics for individual emancipation-pratimoksha, in Sanskrit. If we want to practice Buddhism, then even if we have not taken the tantric or bodhisattva vows, there are still the ethics of the lay practitioner. And if we have not taken the lay vows, we must still observe the basic ethics of abandoning the ten negativities of body, speech and mind. Avoiding these ten negativities is the most basic practice of ethics. If anyone performs these ten actions, whether they are a Buddhist or not, they are committing a negativity.
There are three negativities of body-killing, stealing and indulging in sexual misconduct. There are four negativities of speech-lying, causing disharmony, using harsh language and indulging in idle gossip. There are three negativities of mind-harmful intent, covetousness and wrong, or distorted, views. When we develop the state of mind to protect ourselves from these negativities and thus cease to engage in them, we are practicing ethics. Furthermore, we must always try to keep purely any vows, ethics and commitments we have promised to keep.
In addition to these ten negativities there are also the five "boundless negativities," or heinous crimes. These are killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of an enlightened being-we use the term "shedding the blood" here because an enlightened being cannot be killed-and causing a schism in the spiritual community. These negativities are called "boundless" because after the death of anyone who has committed any of them, there is a very brief intermediate state followed immediately by rebirth directly into a bad migration such as the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms.
We have discussed generosity, ethics, patience and the need for enthusiasm and consistency in our practice. Regarding the remaining perfections of concentration and wisdom, even though we may not at present have a very high level of concentration, we do need to gain a certain amount of mental stability so that we don't indulge in negativities. We must also cultivate the perfection of wisdom, which understands the reality of emptiness. We may not yet have developed the wisdom that perceives emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena, but we should begin by developing our "wisdom of discernment" so that we can differentiate between right and wrong actions and apply ourselves accordingly. All these things constitute the actual practice that can help us to attain good rebirths in future.
We know that if we create any kind of karmic action-good, bad or neutral-we will experience its results. However, this does not mean that we cannot do anything to avoid the results of actions that we have already committed. If we engage in the practice of purification we can avoid having to experience the result of an earlier negative action. Some people believe that they have created too many negative actions to be able to transform themselves, but that's not true. The Buddha said that there isn't any negativity, however serious or profound, that cannot be changed through the practice of purification. Experienced masters say that the one good thing about negativities is that they can be purified. If we don't purify our mind, we cannot really experience the altruistic mind of enlightenment or the wisdom realizing emptiness.
As we look within ourselves, we find that we are rich with delusions. There are three fundamental delusions-the "three poisons" of ignorance, attachment and anger-which give rise to innumerable other delusions; as many as 84,000 of them. So, we have a lot of work to do to purify all these delusions as well as the negative karmic actions that we have created through acting under the influence of deluded motivation.
Let me tell you a true story from the life of Lama Tsongkhapa, who is believed to have been an emanation of Manjushri, the deity of wisdom. When Lama Tsongkhapa meditated on emptiness in the assembly of monks, he would become totally absorbed and simply rest in a non-dual state as if his mind and emptiness were one. After all the other monks had left the hall, Lama Tsongkhapa would still be sitting there in meditation. At times he would check his understanding of emptiness with Manjushri through the help of a mediator, a great master called Lama Umapa. Through this master, Lama Tsongkhapa once asked Manjushri, "Have I understood the view of emptiness exactly as presented by the great Indian Master, Nagarjuna?" The answer he received was "No." Manjushri advised Lama Tsongkhapa to go with a few disciples into intensive retreat and engage in purification and accumulation practices in order to deepen his understanding of emptiness.
In accordance with Manjushri's advice, Lama Tsongkhapa took eight close students, called the "eight pure disciples," and went to a place called Wölka, more than one hundred miles east of Lhasa. There, he and his students engaged in intensive purification and accumulation practices, including many preliminary practices such as full-length prostrations and recitation of the Sutra of Confession to the Thirty-five Buddhas. Lama Tsongkhapa did as many as 350,000 prostrations and made many more mandala offerings. When making this kind of offering, you rub the base of your mandala set with your forearm. Today, mandala sets are made of silver, gold or some other metal and are very smooth, but Lama Tsongkhapa used a piece of slate as his mandala base, and as a result of all his offerings wore the skin of his forearm raw.
We have a beautiful saying in Tibet: "The life-stories of past teachers are practices for posterity." So, when we hear about the lives of our lineage masters, they are not just stories but messages and lessons for us. The masters are telling us, "This is the way I practiced and went to the state beyond suffering."
During his retreat, Lama Tsongkhapa also read the great commentary to Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamaka called Root Wisdom. Two lines of this text stood out for him-that everything that exists is characterized by emptiness and that there is no phenomenon that is not empty of inherent, or true, existence. It is said that at that very moment, Lama Tsongkhapa finally experienced direct insight into emptiness.
Some people think that emptiness isn't that difficult an insight to gain, but maybe now you can understand that it is not so easy. It is hard for many of us to sit for half an hour, even with a comfortable cushion. Those who are trained can sit for maybe forty minutes and if we manage to sit for a whole hour, we feel that it's marvelous. The great yogi Milarepa, on the other hand, did not have a cushion and sat so long that he developed calluses. This is a great teaching for us. If masters or holy beings have created any negative karmic actions, they also have to experience their results unless those actions have been purified. Even those who are nearing enlightenment still have some things to purify and need to accumulate positive energy and wisdom. If this is true even for great masters and holy beings, then it must also be true for us. We have created innumerable negative karmic actions, so we should try to purify them as much as possible. All of us-old students, new students, and myself included-need to make as much effort as we can to purify our negativities, stop creating new ones and create more positive actions. This should be our practice. Many people might be doing their best to purify the negativities they have already accumulated but feel that they are not yet ready to completely stop creating more. As a result, they naturally get involved in negativities again. This is not good. You must do your best to both purify past negativities and not create any new ones.
The practice of purification, or confession, must include the "four opponent powers," or the "four powerful antidotes." The first opponent power is the "power of contrition," or regret. If we happen to accidentally drink some poison then we really regret it because we feel so terrible. This feeling motivates us to go for treatment to detoxify our body, but we also make a kind of commitment or determination not to make that same mistake again. So, we also need to generate what is known as the "power of resolution"-the firm determination not to repeat the negativity.
The other two opponent powers are the "power of the object of reliance" and the "power of the application of antidotes." Taking refuge in the Three Jewels and generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment constitutes the power of reliance. Cultivating any general or specific meditation practice (such as meditation on the equality of self and others) constitutes the power of the application of the antidote. There is no negativity that can stand up to these four opponent powers.
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
Chödrön, Pema. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994.
Druppa, Gyalwa Gendun, the First Dalai Lama. Training the Mind in the Great Way. Translated by Glenn H. Mullin. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1993.
Gehlek Rimpoche. Lojong: Training of the Mind in Seven Points (edited transcript). Ann Arbor: Jewel Heart Publications. See www.jewelheart.org.
Gomo Tulku. Becoming a Child of the Buddhas: A Simple Clarification of the Root Verses of Seven Point Mind Training. Translated and edited by Joan Nicell. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
Gyalchok, Shönu & Könchok Gyaltsen (compilers). Mind Training: The Great Collection. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005. (This excellent book contains the root text and several important early commentaries to the Seven-Point
Mind Training as well as many other essential mind training texts, more than forty in all.)
Gyatso, Tenzin, HH the Dalai Lama. Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.
Gyeltsen, Geshe Tsultim. Mirror of Wisdom: Teachings on Emptiness. Long Beach and Boston: TDL Archive and Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 2000. (Contains a commentary on the Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun.)
Khyentse Rinpoche, Dilgo. Enlightened Courage: A Commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1993.
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
The fifth point is the measure, or criterion, of success in the mind training practice. The text says,
Integrate all the teachings into one thought.
We should understand that the one underlying purpose behind all the teachings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas is the elimination of the self-cherishing and self-grasping minds.
Primary importance should be given to the two witnesses.
This means that if, for example, we’re falsely accused of stealing, even though we might be able to call up a witness to testify to our innocence, we ourselves are the main witness because we know that we are, in fact, innocent and will not have to experience the karmic results of this action that we have not actually created.
Constantly cultivate only a peaceful mind.
We must sustain our practice whether things are going badly or well. When they go badly we sustain ourselves by using the techniques of transforming difficulties into the path, and, in this way, whatever happens, always maintain our practice and remain on the spiritual path.
Some people tend to get angry at the slightest provocation and say or do all kinds of destructive things. We should not be like that but try to remain steady in our practice. Instead of being touchy and easily upset, when things go badly we should think that it’s OK; we should be easygoing. Equally, when things go well, we should think that that’s OK too and be easygoing at such times as well. Everybody appreciates easygoing people and their consistency throughout the day. This is how we should be in our practice.
The measure of a trained mind is that it has turned away.
At this point the commentary mentions certain signs indicating some success in our mind training. For example, when we’ve been practicing for a while, even though we might not have fully abandoned every last sign of selfishness, having been able to weaken it a little is a sign of success. In other words, we know that we’re doing well if our selfishness has at least diminished.
There are five great marks of a trained mind.
A person who has practiced mind training may exhibit five great signs:
(a) The great ascetic—when we’re well trained we can accept all kinds of suffering if doing so enables us to benefit others and sustain our practice and can tolerate difficulties for the benefit of all beings or even just the community in which we live. It has various levels.
(b) The great being—we care more for others than ourselves.
(c) The great practitioner—our mental, verbal and physical activities mostly, though not completely, accord with mind training.
(d) The great disciplined one—we refrain from activities that harm others.
(e) The great yogi [or yogini]—we can combine the understanding of emptiness with our activities on various levels for the benefit of others.
By persevering in our practice of mind training we’ll find that these five signs gradually manifest and then become stronger and stronger.
The trained (mind) retains control even when distracted.
The commentary says that when we have trained our mind we can maintain control and continue practicing even when we’re distracted, just like an experienced horse rider doesn’t fall off, even when distracted.
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
For practitioners of great scope, the main point is the method of meditating on or practicing bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. What does this mean? Bodhicitta is a primary mind associated with two aspirations— the first, its cause, is what we practice to generate bodhicitta, the aspiration to benefit all sentient beings; the second, which accompanies and is similar to bodhicitta, is the aspiration to achieve enlightenment.
So, bodhicitta is a primary mind accompanied by the aspiration for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are three kinds of enlightenment—those of the hearer, solitary realizer and bodhisattva. Bodhicitta aspires to the highest form of enlightenment, that of the bodhisattva—the great, or Mahayana, enlightenment. When we understand that bodhicitta is the aspiration to attain the highest kind of enlightenment and that hearers and solitary realizers do not have it, we should feel strongly motivated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings because of the many unbearable sufferings they experience within cyclic existence.
We should also recognize that we are impermanent, changing from moment to moment, and must eventually leave this life, as we cannot stay here forever. Furthermore, when we do leave this life, even though we might have accumulated enough wealth and possessions to completely fill the whole Earth, we can take absolutely nothing with us and have to leave it all behind. Even if we have a huge family with hundreds of thousands of relatives, we will have to relinquish them all; not one can accompany us. Even this body, which we have inhabited since we entered our mother’s womb and have taken so much care of all our life, will not help us but will be left behind. Understanding all this should encourage us to practice and try to generate bodhicitta right away.
Of course, generating bodhicitta will not protect us from death, but if we do generate this attitude—or even if we simply practice it—we will not die a normal death; we will die with joy. That’s the difference bodhicitta makes. Normally, as we age, we find it difficult to stand up—we have to haul ourselves up on a stick or push against something solid—and when we sit down we just flop down into the chair. It’s difficult to do anything. But if we have developed bodhicitta, we’ll at least know that death is going to bring us a nice new body and will feel very positive about dying.
I speak from personal experience about the suffering of old age. I tell you, if you went to bed one night and woke up the next morning old, with all its attendant sufferings, you’d find it totally unbearable. However, the special sufferings of old age creep up on us gradually, and those who have had plenty of positive experiences from practicing bodhicitta are quite happy to die because it’s a chance to get rid of their rubbishy old body and move into one in which it will be much easier to practice. People who die without having practiced Dharma feel very afraid.
There are two kinds of bodhicitta—conventional and ultimate. Certain earlier presentations of how to generate it explained how to develop ultimate bodhicitta first and then moved on to conventional bodhicitta, but some recent masters have said that this is incorrect and that instead we should begin with conventional bodhicitta and then practice the ultimate. This is the order of the version presented here; the tradition that put ultimate bodhicitta first was taught for practitioners of extremely sharp intellect.
The training in conventional bodhicitta is explained here principally by way of the technique of equalizing and exchanging self and others. The other method, the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, is partly relevant, but equalizing and exchanging self and others is what is mainly explained. In his Compendium of Training, Shantideva says that our bodhicitta will be much firmer if we develop it by practicing equalizing and exchanging self and others from the outset.
Equalizing self and others
What exactly does equalizing self and others mean? Specifically, what is it that is supposed to be equalized? For example, is it that self and others are equal in being selfless, lacking in self-existence? Although this is true, it’s not what is meant here. Is it that self and others are equal in suffering in cyclic existence? Again, although this is true as well, neither is that our focus here. Perhaps the meaning is that self and others are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering? The answer here is yes, self and others are indeed the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, and this is what we are talking about here.
When we talk about equalizing self and others in order to generate bodhicitta, what we mean by the equality of self and others is that we all want happiness and none of us wants suffering.
Since time without beginning we have harbored the selfish attitude that continually makes us afraid of getting cold, hungry, thirsty and so forth or suffering in other ways. We always worry about what will happen to us. This continual worry is the selfishness that’s called the self-cherishing mind—the tendency to focus on our own happiness while neglecting the welfare and needs of others—and we have been under its influence since beginningless time.
Exchanging self and others means switching these two so that instead of being primarily concerned about our own happiness we become more concerned for that of others, and instead of neglecting others we neglect ourselves and strive for enlightenment for their benefit.
There is a connection between the self-cherishing mind and self-grasping, or grasping at true existence. The self-grasping mind is the actual root, or fundamental cause, of all samsaric suffering but it is very closely followed by the self-cherishing mind, which arises on the basis of self-grasping and itself serves as the basis for all the other delusions.
There are said to be 84,000 delusions, each of which arises as a result of the self-cherishing mind. Motivated by these delusions, we engage in harmful actions such as the ten non-virtuous actions, 9 the five immediate negativities 10 and other kinds of negative activity and, as a karmic consequence of doing so, have to undergo all kinds of unbearable suffering.
Thus the very root, the fundamental cause, of all our delusions, negative minds and suffering is self-grasping, the mind that thinks we are completely self-existent, inherently-existent; that we exist in a way that is totally independent of any causes or conditions, utterly independent of anything.
And if self-grasping is the king, then self-cherishing is his most powerful minister, the one who tries to achieve all kinds of objectives on his behalf. Selfishness itself does not conceive of or believe in the self as existing from its own side because that is not its job. However, the selfish mind does act as a protector or helper for the self that is conceived of by self-grasping as existing from its own side.
In order to get nice things for the self, self-cherishing causes us to develop attachment; to protect the self from harm, self-cherishing causes us to generate anger; in other situations it stimulates jealousy, pride and other delusions. Then, by following these negative minds, we engage in negative actions, create negative karma and suffer. Thus selfishness is just like a minister that the king can order around to get whatever he wants done.
Therefore, we should think repeatedly about how self-cherishing creates all our suffering and problems until we see it as our main enemy. Then, instead of allowing selfishness, whose main aim is our own happiness, to lead us around by the nose, we should switch everything around and start thinking about how we can benefit others, how their happiness is more important than our own.
If we think about it correctly we can easily understand how important others are and how all our happiness and fortune definitely and completely depend on them.
I mentioned before that one way of developing bodhicitta is through the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, which, based on equanimity, is as follows:
(a) recognizing that all beings have been our mother,
(b) recollecting their kindness as mother,
(c) thinking how to repay their kindness,
(d) developing love,
(e) developing compassion,
(f) generating the special intention of benefiting all beings by oneself alone, and then
(g) generating bodhicitta itself.
The only way we can gain these realizations is by depending on others.
Likewise, the only way we can develop the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom is by depending on others. Take, for example, the practice of generosity, the mind wanting to give away all our possessions and even our body in order to benefit others. Obviously we can do this only in dependence upon others; it is only thanks to them that we can develop a generous mind.
Then there’s morality, which means abandoning the ten non-virtuous actions—killing, stealing, lying and so forth. Abandoning killing means giving up taking the lives of others; we can do this only by depending upon others; again, it is only thanks to them that we can do it. Similarly, we abandon stealing by regarding others as important and therefore not taking their possessions; it is only thanks to others that we can do this, too. The same applies to all other beneficial qualities of mind—we can develop them only through the kindness of others.
We should think, therefore, that we must definitely attain the state of complete enlightenment as soon as possible for the sake of all sentient beings, and for that reason determine to spend all our time from now on working towards that goal without wasting even a moment. We must resolve to practice like this in particular for whatever remains of this life—studying, thinking, meditating and practicing as well as we can—especially this year, this month, this week and particularly this day. We must generate the strong determination to not waste time but spend every moment practicing whatever we have to do to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible.
Meditation on equalizing self and others is done by way of nine reasons, of which six work on the conventional level and three on the ultimate. With respect to the six conventional ones, three relate to self and three to others. This is how we should meditate on the equality of self and others.11
The shortcomings of self-cherishing
The fourth paragraph of the text says,
Banish the one to blame for everything,
Meditate on the great kindness of all beings.
The first line means that we should blame the self-cherishing mind for all our negative experiences. Why? Because every problem and fault we experience is a result of our own selfishness. Therefore we should blame ourselves for every unpleasant experience that befalls us, no matter how bad it is; we should grab hold of our own selfish mind and view it as the culprit.
As the great Shantideva wrote in his Guide,
All the suffering in the world
Comes from the desire for one’s own happiness.12
Every problem we experience comes from wanting and thinking of only our own happiness; all our suffering—everything that goes wrong, every kind of fault, everything fearful or unpleasant and all violence—comes from this selfish mind. Furthermore, it all comes equally from the self-grasping mind that conceives everything to exist from its own side.
Shantideva then compares selfishness to an extremely harmful spirit that continuously harms us.
If all the harm, fear and suffering in the world
Occur due to grasping onto the self,
What use is that great demon to me?13
Thus we’re encouraged to ask ourselves, “Why do I hang on to this selfish mind, which is such a harmful entity?”
As the Indian master Padampa Sangye told the people of Tingri, where he had decided to stay because he felt he could help them, whenever things go wrong we always blame others but we should instead point the finger of blame at ourselves, where the root of all problems lies.14
And, as the mind training text The Wheel-Weapon Mind Training says, if we develop this understanding it is marvelous, because by so doing we identify the real enemy that continuously gives us harm—beginning, middle and end. It says, “So now I’ve identified you, you thief.”15
But self-cherishing is not the ordinary kind of thief, who robs people by beating them up and forcibly taking their possessions. Self-cherishing is the type of thief that sneaks in surreptitiously at night and steals on the sly.
The Wheel-Weapon also says, “So now I’ve understood you for what you are, you unfaithful friend!”16 From the point of view of our own selfishness it seems to be our greatest friend, but in practice it does nothing but trick and deceive us. The selfish mind creates all the suffering we experience in this life, such as people being horrible to us, hitting and attacking us with weapons, but more especially, it is the cause of all the unbearable sufferings we’re going to experience in the lower realms in our future lives.
As Shantideva also said, look at the difference between the buddhas and ordinary worldly people like ourselves.17 Because we have not yet discarded our selfishness, we are still suffering here in cyclic existence, not even free from rebirth in the lower realms. Even arhats, who have completely transcended the suffering of cyclic existence, have reached only a limited degree of perfection because they have not relinquished their selfishness. They have not devoted themselves to benefiting others; therefore they have not been able to achieve the state of full enlightenment.
The Buddha, on the other hand, gave up all selfishness and totally devoted himself to benefiting others. As a result, he reached a state of complete freedom from suffering and to this day remains incredibly beneficial to and highly regarded by many beings. By seeing the difference between him and us, we will understand how important it is also to renounce the selfish mind and totally devote ourselves to benefiting others.
Originally, the Buddha was exactly the same as us. When water is boiling, the water on the top goes to the bottom and the water on the bottom comes up to the top, and it keeps on going round like that. Similarly, in many previous lives we were together with the Buddha—sometimes as best friends, sometimes as worst enemies, all the time changing, changing, changing. Then, unlike us, at a certain point he decided to enter the path by renouncing selfishness and devoting himself to others, and kept on developing spiritually until he attained enlightenment.
The kindness of all sentient beings
Furthermore, Shantideva pointed out that everything good—every form of happiness, all positive qualities and so forth—comes through the kindness of others. Therefore, the mind devoted to their welfare is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, the source of all happiness and everything good and useful in the world. Just as a farmer who possesses an extremely fertile field, where everything he plants always grows, is very happy to have it and cherishes and takes great care of it, we should feel the same way about other sentient beings—that they are extremely valuable, and cherish and take care of them.
It is interesting that, whether we are Buddhist or not, if we think about the great kindness of all beings it will be evident that all our happiness does indeed depend upon them.
It is also said that the buddhas and sentient beings are equally kind. The buddhas’ kindness is obvious—through following their teachings and advice we can attain enlightenment. However, we do so only by meditating on love, compassion, bodhicitta, the six perfections, the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and doing these practices obviously depends upon others. Therefore, they and the buddhas are equally kind and it is wrong to dismiss sentient beings while holding the buddhas in great esteem.
This does not mean that we should make prostrations, offerings, prayers and requests to sentient beings to be able to generate realizations and so forth but that they and the buddhas are equally important and kind in the genesis of our happiness and we should therefore appreciate and respect them both equally.
Having understood that all happiness, especially the many qualities we are trying to develop on the Mahayana path to enlightenment, results from the kindness of not just the buddhas but also all sentient beings, from this point on we should always remember how all beings are kind. This is what “meditate on the great kindness of all beings” means.
When we think about self and others, self refers to just the one person whereas others are utterly uncountable. Nevertheless, we normally take tremendous care of that one self and basically ignore most of the others. If we think about the difference in numbers here, it seems disgraceful to ignore the numberless in favor of just the one whereas neglecting the one in favor of the countless others doesn’t seem so bad.
As soon as we start meditating on all beings as most kind, even though we can concentrate on love and compassion—wanting all beings to be happy and free from suffering—for only a very short time, it is still a very powerful way of building up an extraordinary amount of merit. That’s why meditation on qualities such as love and compassion is so valuable.
Of course, it is inevitable and to be expected that we beginners meditating on the kindness of all sentient beings will occasionally create negative karma by getting angry at some of them, therefore we also need to know how to purify immediately any negativity we create.
According to the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, above, when we meditate on the four immeasurables, which include love—wishing all beings to be happy—and compassion—wishing them to be free from suffering—and on bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings—we start by recognizing all beings as having been our mother, recollecting their kindness and resolving to repay this kindness, and then go on to meditate on love, compassion, the special intention and finally the mind of bodhicitta itself. All these recognitions and qualities arise through the kindness of others because it is only by meditating on others that we can generate them.
Once we have entered the path to enlightenment we develop it further by practicing the six perfections and so forth. Again, each of these depends on the kindness of others. When we finally achieve enlightenment we spend all our time benefiting others because of the strength of our compassion, which cannot bear to see or ignore others’ suffering. So again, even when we become buddha, all our enlightened activity depends upon others and their kindness.
A mother’s kindness
Simply by looking at our present life we can see the kindness of others. From conception we were completely reliant on our mother’s kindness for survival. For the nine months we were in her womb she underwent many difficulties carrying us and then faced the hardships of giving us birth. Then, when we were very small, there was no way we could look after ourselves—we were always in danger of falling or getting hurt in various other ways, and when we got a bit bigger we were again in danger of running into traffic, falling from high places and so forth.
Parents constantly have to think about their children, protect them from danger and work to feed and educate them and so forth. Thus when we were small we completely depended on the kindness of our parents for everything.
This is also true for animals. We can see how ducks and geese, for example, look after their young—and while there is actually very little they can do to protect them from predators they will nevertheless defend them with their lives.
As we get older and go to school, our education depends upon the kindness of our teachers and our fun depends upon the kindness of the other children we play with. Later on, when we get married, start a family, live together and so forth, our enjoyment of all this going smoothly and happily depends upon our partner and the other members of our family. And when we become old and find it difficult to sit or stand and can’t cook or take care of ourselves properly, we again need somebody to look after us.
Thus, it’s clear that from the beginning of our life to its end, even our mundane happiness depends entirely upon the kindness of others, and not only the kindness of other human beings—we use animals’ bodies for food, shoes and clothing and so forth and they keep us company, protect us and help us in our work. Therefore we should also appreciate the kindness of animals.
With respect to other kinds of food, consider how grain used for food starts off in dependence on the kindness of others. Somebody plants the seeds in a field; somebody tills the earth; somebody removes the weeds; many people harvest the crop and make it ready to cook; others mill the flour and make bread; somebody else prepares our rice. Thus everything we eat depends on the kindness of the many others who bring it to us. Furthermore, the roads that bring us our food and help us get from place to place were built by the hard work of many people.
We might think that we paid for all this, but where did we get the money? It came from our job, but we only got that because somebody gave it to us.
Therefore, all we have comes from the kindness of others. We came into this world completely naked, without a stitch of clothing or anything in our hands. All we have accumulated since then has come from others.
We must reflect from our own experience on all the other ways in which others have been kind to us. The more we think about this, the more embarrassed we’ll be at thinking of ourselves as important and precious, and the more we’ll realize that in fact it is others who are important and precious. If we don’t think deeply about all this, it won’t make much sense, but if we want to follow the spiritual path we must develop this awareness. Meditating on the kindness of others is priceless.
Giving and taking
The next line of the text says,
Practice a combination of giving and taking.
This means that we should alternate giving and taking [Tib: tong-len]. I’ve been talking about the kindness of others—the more we think about this the more we’ll realize the extent of their suffering and will come to think that it’s so terrible that we must do something about it. Eventually we’ll feel compelled to take their suffering on ourselves and give them our happiness. This is what giving and taking means—giving happiness to all beings and taking on all their suffering—and we practice it in an attempt to destroy our self-cherishing mind.
We might think that since the suffering of others does not hurt us, why even consider taking it on? In response, the commentary reminds us that even in their dreams all beings want happiness and do not want suffering.
We might also think that while it is true that we all want happiness and freedom from suffering, nevertheless, the best thing is simply to take care of our own happiness and eliminate our own suffering. Moreover, we might wonder whether it is even possible to give happiness to others and alleviate their suffering, arguing that, since each of us has our own individual mind stream, we can of course create happiness in and remove suffering from our own mind, but how can we possibly do this for others? After all, their minds are completely separate from ours; surely they must be responsible for creating their own happiness and eliminating their own suffering?
While it is true that our minds are separate, it still makes sense that one person can help another find happiness and freedom from suffering. For example, a mother and her child are responsible for helping each other find happiness and eliminate problems. Now, we might argue that even though mother and child have different mindstreams, because they are so close and have great affection for one another it’s possible to talk of their doing this but not other sentient beings. The answer is that although it is true that in this life we have only one mother and father and don’t have that special connection with other sentient beings, before this life there was a previous one, and before that there was another, and before that another and so on—in fact, there is no beginning to the lives we have had in cyclic existence.
Furthermore, in many of those lives we were born from a womb, just as we were in this one, and if we think deeply about this we will see that every single living being has been our mother and father and has therefore been extremely kind to us. Through reflecting on the kindness of our present mother and father we should understand that in past lives, when other beings were our parents, they were similarly kind and affectionate towards us. Perhaps they were even kinder, sometimes even giving up their very life for our sake.
Thus all sentient beings have helped us in countless ways and saved us from innumerable harms and have even given their life for us on numberless occasions. However, the selfish mind says that while all this might be true, it happened so long ago that it’s all forgotten by now. Moreover, it also says that many of these beings have actually done their best to harm us as much as they can, so caring for all beings is out of the question.
However, the commentary points out that it is only our own selfishness that is raising these objections and denying the need to think so much about others and describes this way of thinking as a debate between selfishness and the altruistic mind dedicated to benefiting others. It’s like a dramatization, which is actually how to reflect and meditate. It discusses potential objections our mind might raise when we think about these issues, several of which will ring true to our experience. When the selfish mind comes up with these objections we have to find a way to respond.
For instance, when the selfish mind asserts that many other people are intent on harming us, the altruistic mind retorts that this is unreasonable because since beginningless time, over countless lifetimes in cyclic existence, others have been extremely kind to us. We cannot possibly measure how kind they have all been or count how many times they have protected and helped us. They have shown us this kindness since beginningless time and now, because of some minor problem, we’re branding certain people worst enemies undeserving of help. This is completely unreasonable and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even thinking it. Don’t we feel even a little embarrassed by our reaction?
Our ways of thinking and behaving are profoundly ignorant and particularly unpleasant because they completely disregard the untold help we have received and merely remember the little harm. It’s as if our parents, having taken care of us all our life, have become old and sick and gone into hospital and then said just one unpleasant thing to us, and we have reacted with anger and attacked them. If our family and friends would come to know how we have completely forgotten our parents’ kindness and reacted with hatred just because of this one comment they would be disgusted at our behavior.
Moreover, we may wonder why we meditate on the kindness of others and take on their suffering because neither we nor they seem to be affected by this practice. To this we can reply that of course no immediately visible, direct effects arise from such practice, any more than they do when we make offerings, prostrations and so forth to the buddhas, which also bring no immediate result. It is different when we give food or drink to those who are hungry or thirsty because such actions bring immediate benefit. But when we do this, do we really experience no benefit? Do we ourselves derive no benefit at all? We might feel that we do not benefit personally from giving to others in this way, at least not directly or immediately, but that doesn’t mean there’s no result at all. Likewise, if we see no immediate, visible result from practicing morality, does that mean that moral conduct has no benefit at all?
With respect to the karma created by various actions, some actions bring results in this life, some in the next and certain others in a more distant future life. Therefore, the altruistic mind has to respond to the selfish mind’s objection above by saying, “You are rather stupid in failing to recognize that the good you do might not bring immediate results. For example, farmers plant various kinds of seed, some of which ripen that very year, others the following year and some only several years later. The fact that they don’t all bring immediate results doesn’t stop the farmer from planting them.”
Likewise, when we try to generate, meditate on and practice bodhicitta, we don’t necessarily experience immediate, visible results like those of eating when we’re hungry, but nevertheless, the future good results that will eventually ripen are endless.
Just as when we see a high quality crop we can infer that its seeds must have been excellent, in the same way, when we see any good result we can confidently infer that it must have had a good cause. The principle that good results must be preceded by good causes applies to the state of enlightenment itself.
The exalted state of enlightenment—in which all good qualities are fully developed and from which all faults and obscurations are totally absent—is a good result. We can therefore infer that it must have been preceded by many good causes, such as the practice of the six perfections and the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and we can speak of all such practices along the path, over an extremely long period of time, as the good causes that bring the great result of enlightenment.
Thus we can see that by using our wisdom and intelligence to understand the difference between right and wrong and gradually working at eliminating wrong, harmful states of mind and actions and developing correct, beneficial ones, over time, we can attain enlightenment. Once we have done so we will be able to benefit many, many beings extensively—ripen on the path those not yet ripened, liberate those not liberated and completely free from all obscurations those not yet free. How will we be able to do that? How do enlightened beings do that? While on the path they gradually develop the mind wanting to benefit others, practice actions beneficial to others and abandon all thoughts and actions harmful to others, thereby gradually acquiring the power to attain the omniscient mind of a buddha.
That is the ultimate result, but the benefits of the actions that bring it are not seen immediately, unlike those of eating and drinking to get rid of hunger and thirst. In response to this, the selfish mind might reply, “That’s OK, ultimately there might be such a result, but for the time being I’m not interested in trying to benefit all sentient beings because it’s evident that however much I look at it, I see little benefit to either my body or my mind.”
However, this thought is also a mistake because, even in the short term, there are many benefits from helping others and not harming them. When we live trying to be as helpful to others as we can and avoiding aggressive, negative mental attitudes and actions towards them, our companions and the people with whom we live really appreciate us because our behavior makes them happy and we in turn enjoy being appreciated, popular and well-liked.
Although the selfish mind does not understand and appreciate all this, the buddhas, bodhisattvas and other holy beings do. Similarly, those of us who are trying to develop, practice and meditate on love, compassion and so forth also understand and appreciate it, as do the people with whom we spend our lives, as I’ve just said. Even strangers with whom we’ve just come into contact will appreciate and take a liking to us. They feel something right away, just as we immediately feel uncomfortable and afraid the moment we encounter a vicious, violent person, even somebody we’ve never seen before, or a scorpion or poisonous snake.
The selfish mind might further object that there’s no point in meditating on love or compassion because there’s no direct personal physical or mental benefit. The reply to this is, “Normally you, the selfish mind, say all sorts of unpleasant things to people—perhaps you should give up doing this because it harms neither their bodies nor their minds; so why bother? Moreover, you are normally so full of malevolent thoughts and covetousness towards others—perhaps you should give these thoughts up as well; since they neither help nor harm anybody directly, physically or mentally, just forget them.” It’s only when you take action on the basis of your ill will or covetousness that you actually harm others physically, so since those attitudes themselves neither harm nor help others directly, why not just drop them?
Such objections can arise when we think deeply about the various disadvantages of the selfish mind and begin to gain experience in this area. One lama explored this issue in his writings and, although it wasn’t in relation to the text we’re studying here, I’ll use what he said to illustrate the following point. Debating with the selfish mind about these things until it has nothing left to say is extremely helpful.
To continue the argument, then, the selfish mind objects: “I don’t want to practice altruism or give up selfishness because doing so has no direct benefit.” The reply to this is that we readily accept the benefits of saving money and other things for our old age but since doing so has no direct or immediate benefit us, why bother? Similarly, if we get a thorn in our foot, our hand removes it; since this does not benefit our hand in any way, why should it bother to help the foot?
If we do not abandon selfishness and devote ourselves to the happiness and welfare of others we will never achieve the perfect happiness of enlightenment and will forever be stuck with changeable, unreliable kinds of happiness.
How to practice giving and taking
The text then goes on to say,
Giving and taking should be practiced alternately.
First we were told to practice a combination of giving and taking; now we’re being told to practice them alternately. Finally,
And you should begin by taking from yourself.
Thus these two lines tell us how to practice giving and taking, the second being for those of us who lack the courage to practice taking in its fullest form—taking on all suffering of all beings—straight away. We build up to it gradually by taking on our own suffering first. How do we do this?
We can start by meditating each morning on taking on, in advance, the suffering we’re going to experience that day. On that basis we gradually build up to taking on the suffering of the next day as well, then the day after that, and so on until we’re able to take on all the suffering of this life and finally, the suffering of all our future lives.
Once we can do this we extend the taking to all our friends and relatives, then gradually build up to include all the people to whom we feel neutral, those who are neither friends nor enemies, and when we’ve mastered that we add in our enemies, those who harm us, thus extending our practice to include all sentient beings. Of course, if we have the courage and strength of mind to practice this most difficult technique from the outset we don’t need to train our mind in the gradual method that begins with taking on our own suffering first.
Briefly, in a simplified way, the meditation on taking is as follows.
Reflect on the six realms of cyclic existence: the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, demigod and god realms.18
Within the hell realm lie the hot and cold hells. The hot hells have eight levels with progressively increasing suffering, as do the cold hells. After the first level, the second has more suffering, the third still more, and so on. Then there are the surrounding hells like the hell of the shalmali tree, the swamps of rotting corpses and so forth, and then the temporary hells as well. However, the main sufferings that we take from the hell beings are those of the intense heat and cold they endure.
The worst sufferings in all of cyclic existence are those of the hell beings. The hungry ghosts experience slightly less and the animals’ sufferings are somewhat less again. The principal sufferings that the hungry ghosts undergo are those of hunger and thirst; they can go millions of years without finding even a gob of spit to eat.
With respect to the animals, if we look at those who live among us, especially in the West compared to Asia, they seem quite well cared for. Sometimes it can look as if pet dogs and cats, and even livestock, have an enjoyable life. They get a pleasant place to sleep and their food is prepared for them; it’s often better than that of humans in many parts of the world. The animals that live among us—pets, livestock and so forth—are referred to as “scattered animals” and compared to other animals actually suffer less than the majority, who live in the oceans.
Nowadays films give us a glimpse of how sea creatures live in water teeming with different species of fish; thousands, even millions, of different creatures living there together. They have more suffering than most land animals.
The general suffering of animals is that of not being aware and of eating and being eaten by each other. The big ones prey on the smaller ones or sometimes the smaller ones gang up on the big ones and kill and eat them instead. This goes on all the time and causes great suffering.
When taking suffering from humans, think about the three, six or eight sufferings. For example, the eight include the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death; of not being able to get what we want; of being separated from things and people we love; of all sorts of unwanted unpleasant things happening to us; and of our physical and mental aggregates, which are under the control of delusion and karma.
The main suffering of the demigods is that of fighting. Out of jealousy, they constantly fight with the gods, who eat the fruit of a tree whose roots are in the realm of the demigods but ripens in the realm of the gods.
The gods live for millions and millions of years, enjoying themselves greatly, experiencing extraordinary pleasure with their divine friends, but at the end of their lives, a week before they die, they hear a sound like an announcement in space, telling them that they will die on such and such a day. From that point on their splendor fades, they start to smell and their friends no longer want to come anywhere near them. Furthermore, they become aware that they have exhausted their merit and will soon be reborn in the lower realms.
Therefore, in that final week of their lives, they experience dreadful suffering, which is made more intense by seeing that all their pleasure is coming to an end and that they are about to experience great suffering. Moreover, even though a week might not sound like much, a week in the life of a god is like billions of years in the human realm.
The three lower realms are called bad realms because their inhabitants create nothing but bad actions and experience only bad results, while the three upper realms are called good realms because their inhabitants experience good results of good actions.19
When we practice tong-len 20 we begin by imagining the hell realms, thinking about the terrible sufferings the hell beings experience, and visualize taking it all on, completely relieving them of it all. Once we have done this we imagine giving the hell beings all our possessions, happiness and merit, the receipt of which brings each hell being to complete enlightenment. We then gradually work our way up in a similar manner through the other realms.
The way to practice taking is to concentrate on our breath and imagine that the sufferings of the beings in the particular realm we’re focusing on leave through their right nostril and enter us through our right. Visualizing our selfish-cherishing mind as a dense blackness at our heart chakra in the center of our chest, the sufferings we inhale descend dissolve into it, completely destroying this selfish mind.
The way to practice giving is to imagine sending out through our left nostril our entire body and all our possessions, happiness and merit from the past, present and future to each and every sentient being in the realm we’re focusing on. All this enters their left nostril, as a result of which they develop all the realizations on the path and become fully enlightened.
After taking on all the sufferings of the hell beings and using them to harm our selfish mind and then giving them all our happiness and so forth, bringing them to complete enlightenment, we move on to the hungry ghosts. We likewise take all their suffering from their right nostril into our right nostril; it too dissolves into and destroys our self-cherishing mind. We then send out all our happiness, merit and so forth through our left nostril; it enters their left nostril and brings them to enlightenment.
When giving, we should feel as if we’re turning on a light in a dark place. It might have been dark for thousands or even millions of years, but no matter how long the darkness has been there, as soon as we turn on the light it’s immediately dispelled. In the same way, when we send our happiness and merit from our left nostril into the beings in the realm we’re focusing on, even though all their obscurations and so forth might have been there for a long time, they are totally eliminated and those beings are established in the state of complete enlightenment.
Thus, we gradually go through this process with all six types of sentient beings up to the gods, taking on their suffering, using it to destroy our selfish mind.
We can sometimes add another visualization to this practice: after bringing all beings to enlightenment we receive back through our left nostril the blessings of their enlightened body, speech and mind. These blessings completely eliminate our self-grasping mind—which resides in our heart and has always believed that everything exists from its own side, independent of all causes and conditions—like switching on a light instantly dispels darkness from a room or a powerful jet of water immediately sweeps away a pile of dirt.
Meditating like this is a way of taking action. Instead of merely generating the aspirational love that wishes all beings to be happy and the compassion that wishes them all to be free from suffering, by practicing tong-len we’re actively doing something that creates an extremely powerful, positive force within us.
Again, the selfish mind will raise arguments against this practice: “It’s just too tiring and difficult,” “What’s the point? It benefits neither others nor myself” and so forth. The objection that it does not benefit us is easily refuted: it clearly strengthens our love and compassion and when we engage in this practice we can see that it creates a tremendous positive force in our mind.
With respect to the objection that this practice does not help others in any way either, once more the selfish mind is considering that the only way to help others is directly; for example, by giving them food or drink when they are hungry or thirsty. It’s true that tong-len does not benefit others in that way but there are many ways in which we do benefit beings through this meditation, albeit neither directly nor immediately.
Anyway, although helpful, the benefits of giving food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty are very limited. Tong-len, by contrast, is incredibly beneficial because it is only through practicing it and similar meditations that we can become enlightened, and when we do we’ll be able to benefit numberless beings in a single moment. So, looking further ahead, the practice of this meditation offers enormous benefits to both ourselves and others.
With respect to alternating taking and giving, if meditating on taking makes you feel uncomfortable and you can’t handle the idea of taking on the evil actions, bad karma and negativities of others, you can leave that part out and just do the giving. Imagine all your merit, good qualities and so forth leaving you in the form of white light, going to all sentient beings, entering them and purifying them of all their delusions and negative karma. Imagine that all this is completely purified, washed out and cleansed, leaving their body in the form of frogs, scorpions, all kinds of other insects and dirty liquid and completely disappearing into the ground.
Actually, when taking, there’s no reason to feel that you’re being polluted because all the negativity, bad karma and obscurations you take is poured onto your selfish mind, thereby reducing its power. So you shouldn’t feel that it’s polluting you. It’s like peacocks eating poison— it doesn’t harm them but actually enhances the brilliance of the colors in their feathers.
The text continues,
These two should be made to ride on the breath.
The two referred to here are taking and giving. Although the text says “giving [tong] and taking [len],” the actual order in which we practice is taking and giving. We first take on their suffering and then give them happiness because while sentient beings are suffering, happiness is of little immediate use to them. Therefore we take away their suffering first and then give them happiness.
When we have had some experience in this meditation we combine it with our breath. Since we are always breathing, when we breathe in we imagine we’re inhaling all others’ suffering and when we exhale we imagine that we’re sending them all our happiness and so forth on our breath, as described above.
When Khädrub-je, one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s main disciples, praised him for being so helpful to others that even his breath helped them, he was referring to this practice, where high level practitioners can combine even their normal breathing with taking and giving.
Concerning the three objects, three poisons and three virtues,
The three objects are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral objects, the three poisons are attachment, aversion and ignorance and the three virtues are the opposites of the three poisons.
For example, when we come into contact with pleasant objects we experience pleasure and as a result generate attachment to those objects. When we come into contact with unpleasant objects we generate hatred, anger or aversion. And when we come into contact with neutral objects we generate a kind of neutral mental stupidity in relation to them.
It’s the same in our relationships with people. We feel attached to our friends, hatred for our enemies and, towards neutral people, “strangers,” our normal ignorance simply continues unabated. If whenever we notice these delusions arising in our mind we can think to ourselves, “May all the attachment, hatred and ignorance that sentient beings experience ripen on me,” we generate the three virtues.
The instruction to be followed, in short,
Is to be mindful of the practice in general,
By taking these words to heart in all activities.
In brief, the way to practice is to constantly remind ourselves of these instructions in all activities, which we can do by always remembering and reciting the words of Nagarjuna mentioned before,21
May the negativity and suffering of others ripen on me
And may all my virtue and happiness ripen on them.
Just as an old person needs to lean on a stick to move around, similarly, reciting words such as these helps remind us of the main points of the Mahayana mind training and keeps us going. By leaning on these words we can remember to practice taking and giving in all our daily activities.
So far this has been a commentary on the section of the text that explains how to meditate on conventional bodhicitta—how to generate the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are two methods for developing bodhicitta: the sevenfold cause and effect instruction and equalizing and exchanging self and others. This has been a brief explanation of the latter, making some basic points about equalizing and exchanging self and others.
Now let’s look at the next section of the root text.
When stability has been attained, impart the secret teaching:
Stability refers to the method side.22 When we have gained stability in the practices of conventional bodhicitta our teacher can give us the highly secret teaching on ultimate bodhicitta.
Ultimate bodhicitta refers to the direct realization of emptiness, so explaining it means explaining emptiness, which here means that everything is empty of true, or inherent, existence. Nothing is truly existent; everything is empty of true existence. That is the emptiness that we must realize.
Generally speaking, all phenomena that exist can be classified as either mind, which knows objects, or objects, which are known by the mind.
The next line of the text says,
Consider all phenomena as like dreams
When external objects appear to our mind, even though they appear to be truly existent, self-existent, existing from their own side, this is not at all the case. Therefore they are likened to dreams, which also seem to be real at the time but are seen to be unreal on awakening.
Both outer and inner objects are actually empty, but still, everything appears to be truly existent. However, if something were truly existent, if it truly existed the way in which it appears, it would have to be completely independent of anything.
For example, external objects like mountains, trees and forests are simply combinations of different particles or atoms; periods of time, such as years, months, weeks and so forth, are likewise combinations of moments. Therefore, none of these things—external objects, time or anything else—is independent of its constituent particles, periods of time and other factors. To be truly existent they would have to be completely independent of everything else.
When we talk about something being truly existent that means it’s independent of everything else. But since there’s nothing like that, there’s nothing that’s truly existent. The reason that there’s nothing completely independent, or truly existent, is because everything exists in dependence upon other factors.
Take a glass of water, for example. When we think about it, of course we know that it is dependent upon this and that, such as the various causes and conditions that have gone into producing it. If, however, instead of thinking about it we examine how it looks when it first appears to us, we’ll see that it has this vivid appearance, an appearance as if it were totally independent of any causes, conditions or, indeed, anything at all. That is how the glass of water appears—truly existent; completely independent of everything else; totally self-existent (which are just different ways of saying the same thing).
If the glass of water were truly existent the way it appears to be, it would have to be completely independent, but when we think about it we know that it depends on many different factors and is therefore not truly existent, independent or self-existent—and neither is anything else we can think of. Since this applies to everything that exists, all existent phenomena are empty of true existence.
Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
This next line refers to the fact that not only its objects but also the mind itself is empty of true existence. Mind, here, refers to the six kinds of primary consciousness—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental; all completely lack any true existence.
Where it says “unborn awareness,” awareness refers to consciousness. Consciousness itself is produced in dependence upon causes and conditions and is therefore not truly existent. That means a truly existent consciousness is not produced, so a truly existent consciousness is unborn.
You can understand this by examining its very nature of being completely empty of independent existence. This shows that it is neither truly existent nor produced by or dependent upon truly existent causes and conditions. Thus we have only to examine the nature of the six consciousnesses to understand that they’re unborn.
The remedy itself is released in its own place
This line refers to the fact that the wisdom understanding everything to be empty of true, independent or self-existence is the remedy to all of cyclic existence and everything that produces it.
Place the essence of the path on the nature of the basis of all
This means that because everything is empty of true existence, things are produced only from particular causes and conditions and come into existence depending upon specific factors. If things were not empty—in other words, if everything were truly existent—phenomena could not possibly come into being in dependence upon certain specific causes and conditions.
Moreover, because we can see and explain how each event is produced dependent upon its own specific causes and conditions, we can see that it is also impossible to assert that any event is truly existent.
Therefore, “essence of the path” refers to an understanding of the relationship between emptiness and dependent arising, the knowledge that because everything is empty, the various manifestations of dependent arising—things arising dependent upon various causes and conditions—are possible, and because such arisings occur, everything must be empty.
In the period between sessions, be a creator of illusions.
A creator of illusions is a conjuror who can make illusory objects appear due to a special arrangement of sticks and stones together with mantras and various other substances. When he makes things appear to his audience he also sees them but since he knows that he himself has simply conjured them up he knows that they’re illusory. In the same way, even when we have directly realized emptiness, when we come out of meditation, despite our knowing that nothing exists truly, everything will still appear to be truly existent. We’ll see things as truly existent but will know that in reality, they’re not; due to the force of our experience in meditation we’ll have the certainty in the post-meditation period that nothing exists truly, the way it appears.
I mentioned earlier that the self-cherishing mind completely depends upon the self-grasping mind—the consciousness that conceives or apprehends that everything is truly existent and therefore completely independent.
For example, we can figure out that a cake is not truly existent because we know it cannot be made without ingredients—fruit, butter, flour and so forth—but still, the self-grasping mind sees the cake, like everything else, to be completely truly existent and independent of any causes and conditions. This is in total conflict with the knowledge that everything exists depending upon causes and conditions and in this way, the self-grasping mind completely prevents the arising of any awareness of cause and effect, such as happiness resulting from virtue and suffering from non-virtue.
All the problems we experience in life and, indeed, all our beginningless suffering in cyclic existence, can be traced back to our self-cherishing mind and if we delve even deeper we’ll find that beneath this lies the very root of all our problems, the self-grasping mind.
Those with less experience of Buddhist teachings should try hard to understand this important point—the self-grasping mind that conceives everything as being completely independent is the support for the self-cherishing mind, which produces the various delusions that cause us to create negative actions, which, in turn, lead to our experiencing suffering in cyclic existence.
An alternative translation has
In between meditation sessions, be like a conjuror.
This refers to the period subsequent to the meditation session—how to practice in between meditation sessions—and how even though things are empty, they still appear.
An example of how everything is empty yet still appears is the way our face appears in a mirror. When we see our face in a mirror we know that there’s no actual face in the mirror even though there appears to be one there. There’s a reflection that exists there and it appears to be a face, but we know that the reflection is empty of being a real face. However, despite the fact that it is empty of real face, at the same time all the various features of a face appear.
9 Three of body (killing, stealing and sexual misconduct), four of speech (lying, slandering, speaking harshly and gossiping) and three of mind (covetousness, ill-will and wrong views).[Return to text]
10 Killing father, mother or an arhat, drawing blood from a buddha and creating a schism in the Sangha community. They are called immediate because those who create such actions are reborn in hell in their very next life. [Return to text]
11 Transforming Adversity Into Joy And Courage, pp. 167–171. This entire book, especially chapters 10–12, augments Geshe Tegchok’s thoughts on the development and practice of bodhicitta. [Return to text]
12 A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 8, verse 129 (p. 106, note 297). [Return to text]
14 “You say such clever things to people, but don’t apply them to yourself; People of Tingri, the faults within you are the ones to be exposed.” Dilgo Khyentse. The Hundred Verses of Advice of Padampa Sangye. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2002, verse 89. [Return to text]
15 Peacock in the Poison Grove, p. 83, verse 49: “I seize the thief who ambushed and deceived me.” [Return to text]
16 Ibid. Same verse: “The hypocrite who deceived me disguised as myself.” [Return to text]
17 Op. cit. Chapter 8, verse 130: “Enough of much talk! Note the difference between the fool who seeks his own benefit and the sage who works for the benefit of others.” [Return to text]
18 See the relevant sections of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand for details of all these.[Return to text]
19 The three upper realms are still fraught with all kinds of samsaric suffering (like the three, six and eight) but are relatively happier than the lower realms, therefore they are called “good.” [Return to text]
20 For a highly detailed description of this practice see Meditation Seven in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun on the LYWA website. [Return to text]
22 There are two streams of practice in the Mahayana: method—the development of bodhicitta—and wisdom—the development of the wisdom directly realizing emptiness. Like a bird needs two wings to fly, we need both method and wisdom to reach enlightenment. [Return to text]
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
The subject of this teaching is mind training [Tib: lo-jong],4 which has the connotation of cleansing, or purifying, our mental,verbal and physical actions. Actually, from that point of view, all the Buddha’s teachings are mind training in that they were all given for training the body, speech and mind.
The source of this teaching
This text, the Seven-Point Mind Training, is associated with Atisha, a great scholar and practitioner born in India in the tenth century. He received this teaching from Serlingpa, “The Man (or Teacher) from the Golden Isle,” which refers to Sumatra.
There are two methods for generating and practicing bodhicitta, the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, which, during Atisha’s time, was available in India, and the method of exchanging self and others, which was not. Therefore Atisha had to undertake the difficult, thirteen-month journey from India to Indonesia to receive the teachings on exchanging self and others.
The term “great compassion” may be understood on two levels: interpretive and definitive. On the interpretive level, it refers to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion; on the definitive level, it is the mind wanting to free all beings from suffering. This is the compassion that is important at the beginning, like a seed; in the middle, like the moisture and nutrition that make a plant grow; and at the end, like the ripening of the fruit.
The essence of this nectar of secret instruction
Is transmitted from the master from Sumatra, Serlingpa.
These two lines explain the great qualities of the teacher in order to generate confidence in the source of the mind training teachings. They originated with the Buddha himself and have come down to us today through an unbroken lineage of masters, including Serlingpa and Atisha.
Generally speaking, nectar means immortality—here it specifically indicates something that overpowers the various demonic forces that put an end to our life. Thus it actually indicates the Buddha, because the story of the Buddha tells how he overcame those forces. So when the text says “this nectar” it shows that this teaching has come from the Buddha.
He actually taught the method of generating bodhicitta through equalizing and exchanging self and others in a couple of sutras where he described how he had practiced it himself in previous lives. This teaching on exchanging self and others then passed down from master to master until it reached the great Nagarjuna, who wrote in his text, the Precious Garland of the Middle Way,
May the negativity and suffering of others ripen on me
And may all my virtue and happiness ripen on them.6
Buddha Maitreya also taught it in his Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras and Asanga taught it in his seven treatises on the levels, specifically in his Bodhisattva Levels. Moreover, Shantideva taught this subject very clearly in his Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, where he explained exactly what equalizing and exchanging self and others means. Thus this lineage shows that this teaching comes from an authentic source—the Buddha—and is not something newly fabricated.
The root text continues:
You should understand the significance of this instruction
As like a diamond, the sun and a medicinal tree.
This time of the five degenerations will then be transformed
Into the path to the fully awakened state.
This section, an explanation of the greatness of the text, is designed to excite our interest in it. The second line says “like a diamond, the sun and a medicinal tree,” the Tibetan word dorje [Skt: vajra] being translated as “diamond” here. Even a small fragment of diamond is more valuable than gold or other precious substances, so a diamond is said to outshine them all. Similarly, even a small, partial instruction from the Seven-Point Mind Training is exceptionally powerful and very effective for destroying our selfishness, and in that way it surpasses all other kinds of teaching.
Then it says that mind training is like the sun. Of course, when the sun is up and fully visible in the sky it completely illuminates the land, but even before it has actually arisen its light dispels much of the darkness of the night. Similarly, even when we understand or practice only a part of mind training it is already very powerful in overcoming selfishness and the other delusions.
Finally, mind training is likened to a medicinal tree, whose roots, trunk, branches, flowers and leaves are all therapeutic, making the whole tree medicinal. Therefore, while of course the whole tree can cure disease, even one of its leaves or petals is similarly effective, and in the same way, even a partial explanation of this mind training is very powerful in overcoming the negative mind.
Therefore, just as diamonds, the sun and medicinal trees are regarded as important and precious, so, too, is this mind training teaching.
The last two lines of this verse say “This time of the five degenerations will then be transformed into the path to the fully awakened state.” Without going into the time of the five degenerations in detail, it refers to a period such as the present, when people’s minds and activities have degenerated.7 For instance, even though we have used our mind to make incredible technological advances—for example, we have harnessed nuclear power with all its positive uses—we have also used that very same intelligence to create weapons of mass destruction.
Somehow, ours is a time of fear, and in that sense it is degenerate. Nuclear power stations can be very dangerous if they malfunction and nuclear weapons obviously threaten us all. There are many adverse circumstances within our external environment and our own minds and bodies that likewise cause us many problems. At such times it is very easy for practitioners to completely abandon their practice. If we fail to respond to such difficulties properly we will experience only negative consequences.
We’re liable to face many dangerous and harmful situations where not only do we risk giving up even trying to practice Dharma but sometimes things are so bad that we end up killing ourselves. Usually we’re very fond of ourselves—nobody cares for us as much as we do—but when the going gets rough some of us even kill ourselves.
Therefore, instead of just letting things be, we need to find a method that enables us to transform unfavorable conditions into a support for our practice and not let them stop us from doing it altogether.
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
We are extremely fortunate to live at a time when the Mahayana mind training teachings abound. There was a time not so long ago when they were much harder to find. Of course, as many lamas point out, all of the Buddha’s teachings are for training the mind, in that mind training can be said to be the subject of the oftquoted verse,
Do not commit any non-virtuous actions,
Perform only virtuous actions,
Subdue your mind thoroughly—
This is the teaching of the Buddha.1
But in the Tibetan tradition, at least, the connotation of mind training is the development of bodhicitta, the determination to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. And of the various methods for the development of bodhicitta, mind training emphasizes the practice of transforming suffering into happiness, using the various problems and obstacles we encounter in life as supports for our spiritual practice and not allowing them to overwhelm us or even slow us down.
Based on a couple of lines from Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, the main Tibetan source of the mind training teachings is Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s Seven-Point Mind Training. Currently there are at least fourteen English-language commentaries on this text by both Tibetan and Western teachers, as detailed in the bibliography of this book, which is another reason that we’re extremely fortunate. However, the availability of these teachings is not enough. We have to put them into practice.
Therefore we are most grateful to the great Geshe Jampa Tegchok for adding his lucid explanation of how to practice mind training. With reference to a special Tibetan commentary,2 he engages us in a debate between our inner selfish voice and our altruistic motivation, which makes this teaching especially personal in helping us take on that greatest of challenges—defeating the false logic of our own selfishness. We are honored to have been able to edit this oral teaching to make it available for worldwide distribution free of charge.
We thank Ven. Steve Carlier for his excellent translation, Ven. Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives, Dharamsala, for allowing us to use the translation of Pabongka Rinpoche’s edition of the root text found in the LTWA’s Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, Clive Arrowsmith for his beautiful photography, and Jeff Cox of Snow Lion Publications for sending us Alan Wallace’s teachings for reference.
1. The Dhammapada, Chapter 14.
2. See Chapter 10: Conclusion.
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
"Shantideva pointed out that everything good—every form of happiness, all positive qualities and so forth—comes through the kindness of others. Therefore, the mind devoted to their welfare is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, the source of all happiness and everything good and useful in the world. Just as a farmer who possesses an extremely fertile field, where everything he plants always grows, is very happy to have it and cherishes and takes great care of it, we should feel the same way about other sentient beings—that they are extremely valuable, and cherish and take care of them.
"It is interesting that, whether we are Buddhist or not, if we think about the great kindness of all beings it will be evident that all our happiness does indeed depend upon them."
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
So then through contemplating the faults of the cycle of existence and then generating a mind which wishes to abandon those faults and the sufferings coming therefrom, one can strive in the practice of generating the mind which cognises selflessness, (whether it be selflessness of persons or selflessness of phenomena, or emptiness, whatever you like to designate that nature of reality). Then through that one can achieve the state of nirvana or the state of cessation.
So this state of cessation then - you may wonder 'can I remain in this state?' But if we contemplate this, what is known as a 'lesser', enlightenment is not the full fruition of one's endeavours towards generating qualities and abandoning negativities within oneself. That is to say one hasn’t brought to a final fruition one’s spiritual path, and with regard to others, one hasn’t brought about any final stages of spiritual practice or endeavour. So this being the case then, one should contemplate remaining in this lesser enlightenment, and then contemplate the qualities of the highest unsurpassable state of enlightenment. So we can look at the difference twofold: With regard to one’s own practice then, one hasn’t reached the limit of one’s spiritual practice. That is to say, from the side of abandonment, one might have removed the grosser delusions, but one still hasn't removed the subtle imprints left by those delusions on one's mental continuum, or mind, that is to say, the obstructions or the stains which prevent the forcing of omniscience or full enlightenment. Then from the side of achieving qualities - even though one has achieved certain qualities through this lesser nirvana, like the direct perception of emptiness and so forth, one still hasn't brought about the qualities of Buddhahood. So if we look at the varying inconceivable qualities of the Buddha's enlightened activity, then we can see that a person staying in a lesser enlightenment is incomparable with somebody who has achieved the state of unsurpassable full awakening, that is to say, has become Buddha.
So that individual, through having achieved the status of Fully Enlightened One, has not only brought about the final result of his or her spiritual endeavour, but also at the same time has brought about the ultimate benefit for all other sentient beings. That is to say, having achieved that state, he or she is able to bring about manifest inconceivable benefit for all other sentient beings, the likes of which is not known or is unable to be performed by any other kind of being. Then through having achieved that state, one has brought about the final fruition of one’s own spiritual practice and has brought about the extreme of being of use, or of benefit, to others. So the cause of giving rise to that spiritual state is bodhicitta. So then we should understand how to generate this mind of bodhicitta, and the way of meditating upon the causes which give rise to the bodhicitta are explained as the 'six cause and one effect' instructions.
'Six cause and one result' instruction
This 'six cause and one result' instruction for developing the mind aspiring to highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings (that is to say, the mind of bodhicitta) - let us look at this from the point of view of the resultant state, that is bodhicitta. The direct cause of bodhicitta is this special intent - this thought that 'I myself must engage in this particular effort in order to benefit all sentient beings'. The special intent has as its cause a mind of great compassion. 'Great compassion' is the wish to separate each and every sentient being from not only dissatisfaction, but also the very causes of dissatisfaction. The cause for this mind of great compassion is a mind of great love. So here 'great love' refers to the attitude which wishes all sentient beings to have not only manifest happiness and well-being, but also the causes which will bring about such happiness and well-being. This then has as its cause the wish to repay the kindness of sentient beings. So here when we think about repaying the kindness, we have to remember the kindness which we have been shown in the past - thus we have the fifth cause, that is, remembering the kindness of others. And the kindest person to oneself is one's mother, so the first (or the last in the way that we are here presenting it at the moment) cause is the mind which views all sentient beings as having been one's kind mother in a previous existence.
So then recognising all beings as having been one's mother we have to have a certain attitude towards sentient beings. Because at the moment, if we are honest with ourselves, the way we view others is that we hold those who are our friends or our relatives very close, whereas we put a great distance between ourselves and those who are unkind to us, or are our enemies. So the difference between the way we view friends and enemies is as vast as the ocean. If our friends and relatives have nice experiences, nice things, nice food then we are very happy; if they undergo any kind of difficulty then we feel very sad, we wish to be a friend at that time or to separate them from that dissatisfaction. Then with regard to our enemy, the way we view them is that if they have any good qualities whatsoever or any kind of enjoyment, then our mind-state becomes perturbed, we wish to compete with them, we generate jealousy towards them, we generate covetousness towards the enjoyments which they might possess. And if they have any kind of difficulty whatsoever then we greatly rejoice, and we are praying that it might increase and so forth. So with a mind which is so one-sided, it is almost impossible to bring about this mind which recognises all sentient beings as having been one's kind mother. So initially we need to equalise all sentient beings, we need to view them all in an equal light. And then through having an equal attitude towards all sentient beings, whether they be kind or difficult towards us, then on the basis of that view, we are able to engage in the practices which will bring about this mind striving for full awakening, or the mind of bodhicitta. So then initially we need to make the ground, or the field, within which we are going to plant the causes which will give rise to bodhicitta, or the mind aspiring striving for enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. You may then wonder – isn’t this a case of a numerical miscalculation – surely there are seven causes and one effect? But this is not the case – there are six causes but the six causes are like seeds which need to be planted in a field. So here the ‘field’ is one of an equal view of equanimity towards all sentient beings, then within that field, the causes which will give rise naturally to the mind aspiring to full enlightenment are then planted. So initially one needs to clean out or make ready the field, or the bed, and then slowly plant the seeds serially in that.
In order to develop this mind which views all sentient beings in an equal light, one needs to view one's friends as friends in this lifetime, but then contemplate that in a previous existence they may have been one's worst enemies, and those who caused one a great amount of difficulty and harm. Then with regard to one's enemies, one can contemplate that in a previous existence, these individuals may have been those who were extremely kind to one, having been one's kind parents and so forth. So here then we are talking about previous existences, we are not limiting ourselves to this life in and of itself.
So in order for this to have some weight behind it we need to contemplate the existence of previous lives, and to do this we should utilise the reasoning that is given in the Pramanavarttika: The first moment of awareness of a fetus has a preceding moment which is similar to it. The root text of that book tells us to separate what we know as the ‘body’ and ‘mind’, and then look at the causes of both of them. If we look at the cause of our present physical form, then that is the sperm of the father and the blood of the mother coming together, that is the substantial cause of our human form. But this in and of itself is not enough - there has to be something else added to that in order for a live human being to then develop in the mother's womb and be born - and this is the consciousness which has to enter into that mixture, and then when the three factors are complete, the fetus can start to grow and develop in the mother's womb.
So this first moment of awareness is a consciousness, a mind, and its substantial cause should be one which is concordant with it, that is to say, it should be another moment of consciousness. Now that moment of consciousness doesn’t come from the white substance from the father or the red substance from the mother, but rather comes from what is known as the 'intermediate state being', or the 'bardo being'. So at that point then, the bardo being ceases to be and that consciousness then enters into the white and red mixture. So it is not the case that minds come out of nowhere and then disappear again, rather they come into being through dependence upon a cause, which is a substantial cause which is similar to them. So if we understand that, we trace back our existence - the time we were born, the time when we were in the mother's womb, and then the time of the three (that is to say the white and the red liquids and then the consciousness coming together), the moment before that when we were what is known as an intermediate state being. And then if we trace the intermediate state being's consciousness back to the principal cause of that, which is the person who is passing away, and then if we trace that last moment of a human being's life back to birth, and so on. So we see that there is not an end to one's previous existences. So that's why it is said that consciousness in and of itself doesn't have a beginning but it does have an end, in the sense that when we achieve full enlightenment, at that point, we won't be under the control of the afflictive emotions and karma. So we will be free of being a consciousness which is wandering under the control of others…
So through this we can see not only ourselves having a mind which is without beginning, but all other sentient beings also having a similar mind, also having worn various forms in the past, having acted out various parts of mothers and fathers and so forth in the past. So through this continual contemplation, our initial feeling that 'I think there is a past life, I think there might be a future life' becomes stabilised. Through having stabilised this view, we can see that it is very feasible that those who are close to us now have in past existences been our enemies, and those who are our enemies now have at some point in the past been very kind to us. So through this repeated contemplation we will start to view from our side sentient beings in an equal light. Thus we will develop the view of equanimity to all sentient beings.
Reasonings and views to bring about the mind of equanimity
Developing this mind which views all sentient beings equally, one should strive to develop these reasonings and views within oneself to bring about the field within which we are going to plant the seeds for bodhicitta. So then through having contemplated the reasonings which bring about the correct mind which understands the actual nature of past and future lives, then let us try to bring about this mind of equal view towards all sentient beings.
So in order then to bring this about, we need to have a starting point, or a reference point, and one of the very important pith instructions is to view somebody to whom one has no particular attraction or aversion, an ordinary person which one may have just seen on the street one day, and then view that person in front of oneself with the motivation that 'I am going to develop a mind of equanimity towards that individual'. One begins the contemplation that this individual is one whom I may have known well in a previous existence... Contemplate the reasons why that person has had previous existences, how we may have had relationships with that individual in the past, be it a good relationship or a bad relationship. Then after having meditated upon the various reasonings which we have gone through, the mind of equanimity will start to arise within one's mind, or being.
Then we need to view not only those to whom we have no particular affinity but also those friends which bring about desire, and those enemies which bring about self-grasping, anger and the rest of the destructive emotions. So when we engage in these contemplations, we can do it in either a vast way or an abbreviated way. If we do it in a vast way then - viewing somebody whom we have no particular attachment or aversion to, on either side of that person we can visualise different kinds of friends and different kinds of enemies. Let's say we make a division into three - those to whom we are very attached, very close to, then those whom we are quite close to, and then those whom we have some vague feeling of closeness towards. Then the same with enemies - we can have our very great enemies, then a 'middling' enemy, and then someone who might have said at one time or another something unpleasant to us, a 'slight' enemy.
So then viewing first of all the slight enemy, we can contemplate that at the present moment, having engaged in negative actions in the past one is experiencing the negative result of such an action, and that negative result is causing us to have some slight rift between us, to cause some slight unpleasantness between us. Then contemplate how in the past this individual I am visualising, this slight enemy, has been incredibly kind to me, as kind as my mother of this life. Then they have also been a harsh enemy, they haven't always been in this slight enemy situation, but owing to the change of circumstances brought about through the ripening effect of previously accrued negative karma, the experience one is having with that individual is one which is slightly unpleasant. So using the reasonings which we went through earlier, remove that feeling of slight aversion and bring it into a neutral state by contemplating how that individual has been incredibly kind and also quite nasty to one in a previous existence, just like the person to whom one has a neutral feeling.
And then thirdly, we look to somebody who is quite close to us, someone who may have just said something pleasant to us, somebody whom we feel slightly close to. In the past we have perhaps developed some kind of positive karma, the ripening result of which is that we have had some kind of slightly pleasant encounter with such an individual. Then using the lines of reasoning, we can lessen our desirous attachment towards that person to whom we have a slight affinity.
Then we can go back to contemplating the neutral person in the middle and go on to (if we are doing it in an abbreviated way) view one's harsh enemies of this life, those whom one has a really bad relationship with. And then we can view those to whom we are particularly close, for example our partners or our parents and so forth. So whether we do that using a threefold division of slightly close, mediocrely close and greatly close, or just an abbreviated one of quite close and very close, it doesn't matter, but we should do this serially, using the lines of reasoning upon each of those individuals, and then through utilising those lines of reasoning, bring about an equal view towards all sentient beings. Thus we develop and achieve the mind of equanimity.
Dealing with the individuals who are our worst enemies - we might be in such a predicament that even the thought of them, bringing their appearance to mind, causes us to generate great anger, and the moment when we see them, we generate anger, and the moment they see they us, again they generate anger, and you want to engage in some particular action which will bring harm to that enemy and vice versa. This kind of attitude is one which is quite mistaken because just through seeing such an enemy or them seeing you, through developing anger through seeing that individual's form, what one is doing is continually familiarising oneself with the destructive emotion of anger
…And that this is not something which is beneficial to ourselves. So then we should make the resolve that 'I am not going to, just as habit would dictate, give rise to this mind of anger towards this sworn enemy which I have; rather, I'm going to engage in the practice of developing equanimity towards that individual'. So then using the reasonings which we've gone through, contemplate that this is just the ripening effect of previously accrued negative karma through which we are experiencing - both of us - great difficulties. And this is only a kind of temporary state, in that in the previous existence, this person has been incredibly kind to me, as kind as a mother or a very close friend or a partner, and this is only a kind of temporary state which is just brought about through the interconnectedness of actions and cause and effect. Then, through this, we lessen our aversion towards that enemy and rather bring them into the fold of those towards whom we have an equal view, a mind of equanimity. Then lastly, those individuals whom we are very close to, those whom we are very attached to - these individuals are ones which may be our parents or our partners and so forth. Then we should contemplate in a similar fashion: These individuals are ones whom we enjoy a good relationship with at the moment but this in and of itself is only temporary; at most, its time-limit will be this life only. So again using reasonings which we've gone through: In a previous existence I have been an enemy to this person, they have been very unkind and difficult to me, they have been my parents and so forth. Through this contemplation then, our attachment to that individual lessens and then we finally bring them into the fold of all sentient beings towards whom we've developed this equal view of equanimity.
So it's very important that when engaging in this meditation, we do it in a serious and serial way. 'Serious' in the sense that we engage in the practice, and once we've developed some kind of taste for that practice then we move onto the next part - we don't just do it in a kind of haphazard way. Because if we just make the prayer - 'May I come to view all sentient beings in an equal state, free of anger and attachment, holding some as close and some as far away', and then making the request to the spiritual master to bless one's mind-stream so that this view will come about, then that's as far as it will go - it will just be a prayer. So some days it might go well and other days it might go poorly. But if this is the case, then one has no real chance of developing the causes for bodhicitta because one hasn't really developed the proper field within which these seeds are to be planted. So it cannot be over-emphasised how much one should strive at developing this field and then one should set about planting the seeds within that field. Otherwise, some days one's practice might go well whereas other days it will go very poorly, and thus one's request to the lama to bless one, so that one develops the mind of equanimity, free of anger and attachment, which holds some as close and some as far, will just be mere words.
The recognition of all sentient beings as one's kind mothers
So then having developed this equal view towards all sentient beings, one should then familiarise oneself with this view until it becomes stable within one's mental continuum, or mind, and then one should strive to develop the first of these six causes which is the recognition of all sentient beings as one's kind mothers. So then the meditation scenario is similar to what we've gone through: initially we pick someone with whom we have no particular relationship, then an enemy, then one to whom we have a particularly close affinity, and then use the lines of reasoning which we have gone through previously - that just as I have had beginningless lives, so in the same way the individual whom I'm bringing to mind in front of me has had countless previous existences. Then in those existences, we have not just come out of thin air, but rather we were born from our mother's womb. So as we equally are the same in having had beginningless existences, then we are also the same in that we have also had a beginningless, or countless, number of mothers. So if we put two 'countlesses' together, they kind of fall one on top of the other, so it's very likely that this person in front of oneself has been, at some point, one's kind mother. And then through that kind of contemplation, we come to generate the mind or belief that the individual whom one is visualising, has at some point in the past had the experience of being one's mother, and then we stabilise this belief until this comes a part of our being. And then after that has been stabilised, we move our attention towards our enemies, and then to those to whom we are close and again use the same lines of reasoning – that just as I have had countless previous existences, they too have had countless previous existences, and during those existences, we were not born from nowhere but rather we were born from a mother. So then it is extremely likely that this individual has been my kind mother in a previous existence. And then we continually familiarise oneself with this view that all sentient beings throughout space have had in a previous existence the experience of being our mother. Then when, through familiarisation, this view becomes stable, we can move on to the next part.
Remembering the kindness of one's mother
So then just viewing all sentient beings as having been one's mother in the past is nothing much in and of itself; rather this is just providing the basis for the following two contemplations - that is, remembering the kindness of one's mother and then wishing to repay that kindness. So the word 'mother' when we contemplate that, evokes images of somebody who has been incredibly kind to one, for example young children always cry for their mothers and so forth. So then if we contemplate how our mother of this life has been incredibly kind to us, then the reasoning will follow that, equally, in previous existences how all sentient beings, at the time that we were undergoing the experience of a parental relationship, were equally as kind to us as the mother of this life.
So then if we look at the initial stages when we are a fetus in the womb: the person who was carrying us, our mother-to-be, was very strict in her diet, was very strict in the amount of work she would engage in, would be very careful about going here and there because she didn't want to bring any harm to the child she was carrying. Then at the time of birth, as it says in the scriptures, the bones are moved by the very birth of the child. These days it’s probably less painful than it was in the past because we often hear accounts of mothers dying during childbirth. Then at the time of birth, a child's flesh is very tender and the child can only be held in a very delicate, very soft way, can only be held in very fine cloth and so forth, all of which is provided for by one's kind mother. And then as one starts to grow, our mother continually takes care of us, feeding us with milk from the breast, and clearing away mucus from the nose with her hands, removing excrement and so forth, continually watching over us, and making sure we are not in any kind of minor distress, making sure that we have a full stomach, that we are not on any rough surface and so forth. And then as we start to develop as a child, we learn to crawl, then it is said that the mother is continually looking for hundreds of ways to protect the child from the world, in the sense that in your house there might be a fire and the child might crawl towards the fire or it might crawl out of a door, crawl onto a road where it might be hurt by cars, or might crawl near to the stairs. So every day the mother is continually protecting us from hundreds of dangers or hundreds of difficult situations. Not only giving us a physical protection in the early years, but also then later in life helping us to turn from a child into an adult, aiding us with education, giving money for our education and so forth. All of this is not something that appeared from nowhere but rather something which is brought about solely through the kindness of one's mother. So using the mother of this life as an example, then we should engage in the practice of bringing to mind the kindness which we have been shown.
Wishing to repay such kindness, mind of great love, mind of great compassion
Then through recalling the kindness of one's parent sentient beings, we should not just leave it at that, but rather use that as the starting point to wish to repay such kindness which has been shown to us. We might think that we can repay the kindness of our parent sentient beings by giving some food or some clothing or a place to stay, but that is limited in the sense that it is only something which might be utilised or enjoyed in this life, and this life alone. Rather if we view sentient beings in the sense that sentient beings all, like ourselves, desire to have happiness and the causes of happiness and desire to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. So if we were really to repay the kindness of parent sentient beings, it would be most beneficial if we could bring about the causes for happiness and their result for our parents, and bring about the removal of suffering and the causes of suffering for our kind parent sentient beings. So in order to do this one needs to develop heart-warming love - wishing them to have happiness and its causes, and compassion - wishing them to be free of suffering. The plight of sentient beings in echoed is Shantideva's book, The Bodhicaryavatara, where it says,
Although desirous of happiness,
through the force of ignorance,
they destroy its causes like an enemy.
Although not wishing dissatisfaction,
they joyfully enter its path.
So what Shantideva is saying is that sentient beings, although desirous of happiness, do not know the causes which bring about happiness, and more often than not, destroy the causes of happiness like they would destroy an enemy because of being blinded by ignorance and confusion. And then through this confusion, they joyfully enter the pathway which will lead to the state of dissatisfaction.
Then through wishing others to have happiness and its cause (which is love), and wishing others to be free of suffering and its causes (which is compassion) one needs to develop, or bring about, the superior intention. So here 'superior intention' refers then to not just leaving the mind of love and compassion as just that - a mind wishing others to have happiness and wishing other to be free of suffering, but rather bringing about the means which will allow them to have the causes of happiness and be free of the causes of dissatisfaction. So 'superior' in that it is superior to all the other kinds of intention which one might develop; this superior intention is the actual cause which brings about the mind aspiring to highest enlightenment. So then if we look at this through the utilisation of an example, we can get some idea of what this mind should be like. If we then view sentient beings as being blind; 'blind' in the sense that the wisdom eye has been blinded by the arrow of ignorance; and not only that, but the kind mother sentient beings are unsure of what to take up and what to abandon, so in that way they are kind of crazy in a sense, or drunk. And then not only that, but they are bereft of a spiritual friend who can advise them of what to take up and what to abandon, thus we can say they are without a guide. And as our kind parent sentient beings have accrued, like ourselves, many positive and negative karmas, then it's very possible that they could very easily fall into the abyss of the lower realms. So they are like a person walking upon a cliff-face. So if an only child were to see his mother in a state of being blinded by a cataract or an arrow of ignorance, without a guide, and kind of temporarily insane, walking atop a high cliff path, then that child would be desperately seeking a way to get to his mother and to rescue her from such a predicament. So in the same way we should train our minds so that we view all sentient beings as that only child views his mother whilst wandering atop the cliff path: blinded by ignorance, bereft of a spiritual friend who can show them what to take up and what to abandon, bereft of a guide to lead them along that path, in immediate danger of falling to the abyss at the bottom of the cliffs i.e. the lower realms, wandering along such a path. We should train our minds to feel like that only child viewing his mother in such a predicament.
Qualities of the Buddha
Having given rise to this superior intent, like the child viewing his mother in such a predicament, we need to contemplate - how can I rescue my kind mother sentient beings? What can I do that will enable me to rescue all these kind mother sentient beings from this perilous predicament? So then we need to search, we need to look around to see who has the ability to bring about the release from suffering of all mother sentient beings. If we search in the hearers and the Solitary Realisers, foe-destroyer camp, then we find that those individual do not have the capacity to bring about such a cessation. If we look in the Bodhisattvas abiding on the grounds, then we find that those superior ones also do not have the ability to liberate all sentient beings from such a predicament. So then through searching, we come to the conclusion that… the only individual we will find who has such an ability is the Fully Enlightened One, the Buddha.
So as is mentioned in the Abhisamayalamkara then, the desire to achieve this state of Buddhahood is one of the two-fold cause which brings about this state. For example as is mentioned in the text, one needs to view all sentient beings and wish to separate them from the suffering which they are undergoing and the causes of that suffering, and then also complement that with the wish that one will achieve this exalted state (that is the state of full enlightenment, or full awakening) to bring about such a cessation, to bring about the removal of these causes of suffering. So then there are two factors which are needed to bring full enlightenment about - the desire to achieve that, and the reason - to liberate all sentient beings from suffering and the causes of suffering.
So then if we contemplate the Buddha – what is it about the Buddha that has the ability to release all sentient beings from suffering? So if we look at the qualities of the Fully Enlightened One, we can look at the qualities of the body, the speech, the mind and the enlightened activity. For example with regard to the physical form of the One Thus Born, then we have the thirty two major and eighty minor marks, the mere sight of which causes liberation. Then we have the inconceivable speech. So it is said that if a hundred people in their own languages ask a hundred different questions, each and every one of them will be satisfied with regard to the answer they receive from one utterance from the enlightened speech of the Fully Awakened One. And with regard to the mind, there is a division of knowledge and love. So with regard to knowledge: in a single instant, the Fully Awakened One knows all actions, all dharmas, of the past, the present and the future simultaneously. And with regard to love: Viewing all sentient beings in an equal fashion, regardless of those beings' views toward the Fully Awakened One, whether they be massaging perfume into one of the hands or cutting the other hand with a sword, then the Buddha himself views all sentient beings as a mother views her only child. And with regard to the enlightened activity - the enlightened activity is one which is completely limitless and spontaneously works to bring about the benefit of sentient beings. So this state of existence, this state of Buddhahood, is that which one strives to achieve so as to be able to bring about the benefit of all sentient beings. This is what is known as the 'king-like' bodhicitta; 'king' in the sense that a king can decree laws and so forth which will bring about benefit to his subjects, so in the same way if one achieves this status, one can bring about the benefit of all sentient beings.
Exchanging self for others
We have gone through the six cause and one effect method of generating the awakened mind, but there is also another method of generating such a mind aspiring to highest enlightenment, which comes through Manjushri and Shantideva and such masters. This is known as 'the equalising and exchanging of self for others'. So it is said that through this contemplation, one necessarily meditates upon the six cause and one effect. However if one contemplates the six cause and one effect method of generating the awakened mind, it doesn't necessarily follow that one engages in the practice of equalising and exchanging self for others, so there is a difference there.
So then the starting point is to develop a mind which views all sentient beings as being equal – equal in the sense of all sentient beings wanting happiness and all sentient beings wising to avoid suffering. What follows then is the meditation of giving and taking, where one visualises taking upon oneself the suffering of others and then giving one’s qualities to others. Although this in and of itself is not the main purpose of this profound meditation technique - the profundity here then comes about through changing one’s attitude
…through contemplating this mistaken attitude and this beneficial attitude, one can truly engage in this particular practice through changing one's attitude towards oneself and others.
The exalted remembering the kindness of sentient beings
In order to develop this mind, one needs remembering the kindness of others in an exalted way. This is to say that one doesn't just dwell upon the kindness which was shown to one in a previous existence where one had the parental relationship with a particular individual, but rather what one dwells upon is that all sentient beings at all times are being useful and kind to us. If we consider our enjoyments, for example the clothes we wear - if we have a nice woollen sweater that keeps us warm, then let us consider where this sweater came from: Initially the wool had to come from a sheep which was kept by a farmer, then there was the sheep-shearer who took the wool, then the wool was cleaned, then the wool was made into spinning wool; then from that wool a sweater was made which was then dyed, then taken to a shop, then sold to us, and then we can enjoy this sweater. So through the kindness of many individuals in the manufacture of our sweater then we are able to enjoy this product.
So in the same way when we eat food, whether it be rice or barley or whatever, then that doesn't just come from nowhere or just come from the cook that has put it on a plate for us. Rather if we consider that a field has to be sown, a field has to be ploughed, then the seed, whether it be rice or barley, has to be sown, then the crop has to be taken care of (watered, fertilised and so forth), then has to be harvested, then the chaff has to be taken away, and then the rice is processed, then it's packaged, then it's taken to a shop, then it's put on the shelf, then we are able to take that from the shelf and then cook it. So all along the way, there are countless kind individuals who are aiding us to enjoy these products, countless individuals involved in their production. So then one contemplates their kindness in aiding us to enjoy various products. So through this contemplation, we develop the exalted remembering the kindness of sentient beings. This is extremely important and without this, it is very difficult to actually engage in the main part of this pith instruction or meditation.
This is the same for any situation in which we find ourselves. For example, now we are all sitting here enjoying the Dharma teaching in this beautiful building. So this building didn't come from nowhere and it certainly didn't come about through our efforts. Rather countless individuals in the past - hundreds or perhaps even thousands - were involved in the planning of this building, the building of the foundations, then of the actual building itself, putting the windows in and whatever - so that now we can just come to this building and enjoy the Dharma teaching which Rinpoche is giving. But if we contemplate that hundreds or thousands of individuals have been instrumental in bringing about this Dharma talk we are now enjoying - it's not just those of us who are assembled here, rather hundreds and thousands of kind mother / father sentient beings have aided us, whether knowingly or not, in the past by having built this court-house.
So all of our enjoyments are brought about through the kindness of sentient beings. Our body came into existence through the combined efforts of our mother and father and the union of the white and red fluids. Then everything we own, every possession which we have, came into existence, came into our possession, through the kindness of sentient beings. In fact everything we can imagine came into being through the kindness of other sentient beings - so thus we should contemplate.
The faults of self-cherishing and the benefits of cherishing others
So then after this contemplation, we need to bring to mind the next step which is contemplating on the faults of self-cherishing and the benefits of cherishing others more than oneself. So it is said that self-cherishing leads one by the head, as it were, into all kinds of dissatisfaction or suffering. So let us understand what is meant by self-cherishing: If we think of certain situations which we might find ourselves in - let us say we want to have some particular object, a table or whatever. Then if we don't have the money to purchase such an item, then really wanting the best for ourselves and thinking that this 'best' will only be achieved through having such an object (in this instance, the table), then we will engage in the practice of stealing. Then, wishing the best for ourselves, we may think that if we kill an enemy we may have greater status or greater peace or whatever - then we may engage in the practice of killing another, purely through wishing to have the best for ourselves. Again for example, we might wish somebody to perform an action for us, and in order to bring that about, we may confuse that person or lie to that person so that they engage in such a negative action, through which we might engage in some temporary benefit.
But in all three of these examples, through wishing the best for ourselves, what we have generated is negative karma, the ripening results of which, that is to say rebirth in the lower realms of existence, are thus to be experienced in the future. Thus it is said that this attitude - wishing the best for oneself, cherishing oneself above everything else - is that which is going to lead one to into all states of dissatisfaction And then cherishing others more than oneself is said to be the basis or the ground of all good qualities. So if we talk from the point of view of generating the various spiritual grounds and paths, whether they be of the greater or the lesser vehicles, all of this comes about through relating with others in a positive way. For example, if we wish to engage in the practice of the various perfections - the perfection of giving then is only possible through the kindness of others. Then if we talk about engaging in the practice of morality, which is the cause of achieving human existence - this is only possible through relations with others. So we can see that all good qualities, all positive karmas, are brought about through viewing one's kind parent sentient beings in a positive light, and thoroughly ridding oneself of wanting the best for oneself, of this self-cherishing attitude.
So these qualities are enumerated in great detail in Shantideva's book The Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara) where he says that
All happiness and joy in the world comes about through cherishing others,
whereas all suffering in the world comes about through cherishing oneself.
So as we have seen, having this attitude which puts oneself above all others is one which is just going to lead one to engage in negative actions, the ripening results of which are nothing but that which one is trying to escape - the state of dissatisfaction The Bodhicaryavatara gives manifold reasonings for the benefit of cherishing others and how terrible it is to engage in this attitude which holds oneself above others. And in essence it concludes with
What need is there for many words?
Full enlightenment comes about through the attitude of cherishing others,
whereas all states of woe come about through cherishing oneself.
So we can see through this last quotation that the state of Buddhahood with the incredible qualities which are contained therein, comes about solely through cherishing others, whereas all the states of suffering, in their various forms, come about through this self-cherishing attitude.
So if we wish to achieve positive states, positive qualities, then we should engage in this attitude of cherishing others, and if we wish to thoroughly abandon the causes of ddissatisfaction then we should thoroughly understand what is meant by self-cherishing, then contemplate the faults of that and then strive to change that attitude.
So these quintessential instructions - the six cause and one effect, and this equalising and exchanging self for others - these contemplations are to be emphasised, and if one can practice these as much as possible, this will give great impetus for achieving or generating the mind aspiring to highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. After having generated this mind, we have the basis for engaging in the Bodhisattva activities and whatever kind of activities we are engaging in, for example the practice of the Secret Mantra and so forth, they will become useful and beneficial, not only to ourselves but to others. If we engage in the practice of the mantras without this basis of bodhicitta, it's not really going to be of much use and can in some instances be rather harmful or detrimental to one. So having this practice as the core of our whole being is one which will bring great benefit to one in one's manifold practices. It is said that if all the wise ones came together and contemplated for aeons and aeons about which is the most beneficial thing for one, they wouldn’t find anything more exalted than this - the mind aspiring to highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. So contemplating thus we should try to bring about a change in our mind through these quintessential instructions.
So to begin the teaching, let us correct our attitude, and contemplate - as far as space extends are existing countless sentient beings in a state of dissatisfaction or suffering. In order to separate or liberate each and every one of those sentient beings, I myself must achieve the highest unsurpassable enlightenment and in order to do that I am now going to receive the commentary on the unmistaken path in the form of The Three Principles of the Path.
The Benefits of Hearing the Teaching
So again to reflect upon the benefits of listening to the teaching - if we use a quotation from a text called 'Wisdom', then the first line of this reads that 'listening is the lamp which dispels the darkness of ignorance'. So here the example is quite clear - in a worldly sense, if we walk into a dark room holding an oil lamp, or if we just turn the light on, through having light in that room we are able to see what previously we couldn't see because the room was dark. So in the same way, if we think about the things which are to be taken up, the things which are to be abandoned, or the karmic law of cause and effect, or the view of suchness (that is to say the correct view of reality) as the objects to be seen in a room, then the light which will dispel the darkness of ignorance with regard to those particular objects which are to be seen in the room is the hearing of the teaching. So through hearing then we are able to dispel ignorance about what objects are to be known (for example, the karmic law of cause and effect), and what is to be taken up and what is to be abandoned with regard to our behaviour. Then when we reflect upon this practice of hearing, it's not just hearing the teaching; the way we make the lamp blaze forth is through hearing the teaching and then contemplating the meaning of that and then meditating upon that in a single-pointed fashion. For example if we take thusness, then through initially hearing the teaching on that, contemplating the meaning of that and then single-pointedly meditating upon that, we are able to achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. Again then the root of this liberation is hearing the teaching. It is like wanting to do something within a room and then carrying in an oil lamp to then be able to see what forms, what objects, are in that room and then getting to grips with those objects, or working with those objects. So hearing the teaching initially then is something very important as it is like the lamp which dispels the ignorance with regard what is to be taken up and what is to be abandoned ie the karmic law which for us as practitioners is something that is extremely important and something that we should become very familiar with; and then with regard to suchness, or the ultimate mode of phenomena, if we don't understand this correctly then there is no liberation. So if we talk about two kinds of darkness, or two kinds of ignorance, both of which because their nature is darkness, are removed by the lamp of hearing the teaching. So then the 'hearing is the lamp which dispels the darkness of ignorance'.
The second line of the stanza from the text 'Wisdom' reads 'hearing is like the weapon which destroys the enemy of the destructive emotions'. So here then if we think in ancient India what was meant by weapons, it was like throwing-stars, daggers, swords and so forth. However in these modern times there are various other kinds of weapons but whatever the weapon is, it is an object which is used to destroy something else. In this case, the weapon of listening is used to destroy the enemy of the destructive emotions. For example, if we are a person who has a lot of anger, through meditating on its antidote, love, we are able to overcome that enemy of anger and thoroughly destroy it so it is no longer any burden upon our being. In the same way, if we are a person who has a lot of attachment, either for our own physical form or for another's physical form or for some other object like a precious jewel, then we can reverse that attachment by thinking about the repulsiveness of that particular object. Through this meditation we can lessen and then thoroughly remove and destroy this enemy of the destructive emotions which one has in one's mental continuum, or mind. Initially then one must come to recognise what is actually meant by an enemy, what an enemy is, then after having that recognition we must apply the antidote or the weapon. The weapon here which we are going to apply is something that we can only have gained through engaging in the practice of hearing the teaching. So thus in the second line, the actual thing which destroys the enemy of the destructive emotions is like a weapon, and this weapon is brought about, or manufactured, through hearing the teaching. So hearing then is like a 'weapon which destroys the enemy of the destructive emotions'.
The third line says that 'hearing the teaching is the best of all possessions'. What we usually mean by possessions are various things which we might have in our house and which cause us a great amount of anxiety, or worry. That is to say, the more possessions we seem to gain, they just seem to add to our burden of anxiety, that is to say, we worry that they might be carried away by thieves, or we worry about fire in the house, or these days, flooding in the house, destroying the wealth or possessions which we have striven so hard to gain. So in the same way, when we think about the possession of hearing the teaching and the wisdom which arises through that - if we have that in our mindstream it is not something which can be destroyed by the four elements - water, fire and so forth; it is not something that can be carried off by thieves and bandits; it is rather something that is continually with us and which there is no danger of losing. So the third line of this stanza from the text 'Wisdom' instructs us that wisdom is the best of all possessions for those very reasons.
So the last line of this stanza then describes hearing as 'the best of associates or friends'. So we can understand this from our own experience - when fortune is with us then we seem to have a lot of friends or associates around us. However when circumstances change for the worse, we do seem to find that these close, or seemingly close, friends or associates seem to go farther and farther away from us, abandoning us in our time or hour of need. With regard then to the practice of hearing and the knowledge we have gained through that, then in difficult situations or in positive situations, that friend continually remains with us in all circumstances. In a worldly sense then when circumstances are good, we seem to have a lot of friends and then when circumstances are bad, our friends seem to keep a distance and then finally disappear from sight. So actually if we compare ourselves - a person who has heard the Dharma teaching and has contemplated the Dharma teaching and has that kind of friend, with somebody who doesn't have that kind of friend, then during the good times there is not really that much difference between us. However in the difficult times when circumstances change for the worse, we find that through contacting this friend, that is to say bringing to mind the teachings we have heard - like if we lose wealth for example, we can contemplate on the changing nature of the cycle of existence; if we have various sicknesses or illnesses befall us or bereavements and so forth, we can again contemplate on the suffering nature of the cycle of existence; if we are harmed by other human beings or perhaps various snake spirits and so forth - whatever the harmer - we can reflect upon how we might have harmed that particular individual in a previous existence, thus we can contemplate on the karmic law; we can also then expand our view to include others, thinking that this is just a small difficulty when compared with the difficulties of all other sentient beings which are around me and in the world system. Thus we can utilise this friend, we can chat with this friend which is the friend of initially hearing the teaching - this excellent associate which doesn’t abandon us during our hour of need but is continually there for us. Thus hearing the teaching and the knowledge gained therefrom is like the 'best of friends or associates'.
Contemplation on Suffering
So now we come to the text which we are going through. Initially then let us contemplate on dissatisfaction or suffering; the reason for this is that we have to know what suffering is in order to turn away from dissatisfaction or suffering. Through trying to achieve liberation we need to remove this grasping attachment so we have to understand the faults of what we are attached to, and then through understanding those faults, we can turn away from them. At present our mind is infatuated and continually holding on to, or stuck to, the cycle of existence. Through thinking of the faults then of the cycle of existence, we can turn our minds away from the cycle of existence, or the cycle of pain. So this is mentioned by Lama Tsongkhapa in his writings when he says that the more we are able to contemplate on the faults of the cycle of existence, or dissatisfaction, then the stronger our yearning for liberation will become. So this we can see from an example: If we are a prisoner in a prison and we just sit in our room thinking 'well, they give us food, there's good lighting here, I think I'll just stay here' - then for that individual there is no hope, there is no way that that person is going to even take a step outside of his or her prison cell. So in the same way, if an individual is in a prison cell and he or she thinks 'I must get out of this predicament' - through thinking about the benefits of being released from jail - thinking about being able to work in various places, being able to travel to various countries, being able to enjoy various kinds of scenes and enjoyments and so forth; and then thinking about how bound one is in the prison cell - thinking that 'I can't move, I have no freedom to do what I want, I have no enjoyment through staying here' - through thinking thus, the faults of staying in the prison and the benefits of leaving the prison kind of naturally increase. So like this, if we think about the faults of the cycle of existence, the difficulties therein, our yearning for liberation from this cycle of existence will increase naturally; and the stronger our yearning for freedom from the cycle of existence, the stronger our Dharma practice and so our practice of turning away from the cycle of existence, or renunciation (the first of these three points) will become.
The Four Noble Truths
So this reflection on dissatisfaction or suffering cannot be over-emphasised. For example (I forgot to translate from before), when the Buddha first taught the Four Noble Truths in Varanasi, at that time, the first thing he said to his five disciples was 'this is the truth of dissatisfaction' (or 'this is the truth of suffering'). So the reason for saying that initially was to get his disciples to recognise the truth of suffering, or the fact that everything within contaminated existence, that is to say, within the cycle of existence is in and of itself or by its own nature -
[end of side - tape breaks here] …existence and our experience, and through that, through contemplating the Four Noble Truths we can turn away from the cycle of existence. So this is why the teaching of the Four Noble Truths was given initially - in order to jar the disciples into recognising the dissatisfaction inherent in the cycle of existence. So if we then have a quick look at the Four Noble Truths (that is the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation and then the path leading to the cessation); if we emphasise or go a little bit vaster in our explanation of the first truth, that is to say, the truth of suffering, then we will just whizz through the latter three. Through the understanding of the first, this will imply the understanding of the latter three - this can be seen in an example from the text known as 'The Uttaratantra of Maitreya'. In this text it says that the truth of suffering is like the crop, and the cause of suffering is like the seed of that crop, then the cessation is the non-existence of that crop and the path leading to that cessation is the fire which burns the seed which renders it barren and unable to produce its crop. So that is very clear, isn’t it - if we have a crop which we do not want, we need to uproot or prevent the seed of that crop from producing its fruit or its crop, so the way to do that is to make the seed barren and through that it cannot produce or give rise to its fruition, that is to say, the crop. So in the same way then, through recognising the lot, or the 'crop' of dissatisfaction which we have, we can set about burning or removing the causes for that, and the way to do that is through contemplating the cause which will eliminate that result, that is to say, the truth of dissatisfaction, and naturally bring about the truth of cessation.
Three Kinds of Suffering
So with regard to the first noble truth, that is the truth of dissatisfaction, or suffering, with this there are various ways we can divide it - a division into three is presented, four, six, seven and so forth. However as we are only giving an abbreviated commentary, let us just dwell upon the division of suffering into three. Through dwelling upon these three and contemplating them in relation to our experience, we can derive great benefit. So let us go through the division of the truth of suffering into three: that is then the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and the all-pervasive suffering. So with regard the first of this threefold division (the suffering of suffering), this is what everybody understands to be dissatisfaction - whether it be a physical ailment, or whether it be that one is feeling a little bit depressed or a bit tired or a bit run down - these feelings of dissatisfaction, be they physical or mental, are what everybody understands as dissatisfaction or suffering, whether they be a practitioner or not.
The Suffering of Change
The second then is the suffering of change; this is what the majority of people in the world do not want to recognise as dissatisfaction or suffering. The reason for this is because of the way we view pleasurable experiences in the world - we view them as being nothing other than pleasurable experiences, that is to say, only bringing about pleasure, not bringing about the slightest discomfort or dissatisfaction. So if we contemplate this - what is meant by the truth of the suffering of change, we will come to understand how all experiences, when brought about in a contaminated way, that is to say, under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma are all in this nature of dissatisfaction, they do not give any lasting satisfaction. For example if we are in a cold place and we go out into the sunshine - for the first moments we are sitting or lying there in the sun, it seems only to bring bliss and joy to the mind. However, the longer we stay in the sun, what we find is that this joy, this bliss which we achieve from going out of the cold room into the sun, suddenly changes. What happens is that we get very hot, very bothered or flustered, we might get sunburn, and then through this our whole perception of being in a warm place changes - far from being something which has brought us this seemingly inherently existing bliss or joy, it is rather something which has brought us a feeling of dissatisfaction, or a feeling of suffering. So then we might want to reverse this - so we go back into an air-conditioned room, a cool room. When we arrive there, again this feeling of great joy arises in the first moment of entering such a room and it appears as nothing but bliss and joy coming from going into that room or being under that fan. But as time goes on, then we get really, really cold, we start to freeze, and then again, we have to move on to a different place, we have to get out of that room, or turn the fan off, and relieve ourselves of what appeared previously as a self-existing joyful object. We find that we need to remove ourselves from such an object in that it is not producing the joy and happiness which we previously achieved from that.
So then this is what is meant by the suffering of change; momentarily bringing bliss - this is not being denied, however it is not an everlasting bliss which is being brought about through change. The first moment is blissful because you've moved from a cold area into a warm one or from a warm area into a cold one - so it does bring about a kind of happiness, but that happiness is only the happiness of moving from one state into another - it's not a kind of self-existent or autonomously-existent joy that comes from contact with that object; rather it has the nature of change because it is brought about through contaminated action and karma. It is therefore what we call a 'contaminated' experience - contaminated through being brought about by these destructive emotions and karma. So the second moment then, or later on in one's experience of that either warmth or cold, this changes into something other than what it initially was, and through that change, brings about dissatisfaction. So it is this changing nature - changing from a momentary pleasure into something which is quite the opposite of that - which one needs to recognise in all of one's experiences, through which we will come to understand that all of our experience, whether grossly unpleasant or seemingly pleasant, have this nature of dissatisfaction, or not really delivering in the long run.
Another example we could use is if we sit down for a long time it seems very pleasant and then perhaps we get a little bit uncomfortable and we want to move around. When we get up - we stand up and stretch perhaps - we feel great joy at having stood up; but again, this is only the joy which comes about through ending the sitting down, through changing our position. Moving a little bit brings joy to the mind - we perhaps go for a walk and this movement of going for a walk again seems to be self-existing joy that is coming through the object, that is to say, walking. However, the more we walk, the more tired we become, and then eventually we want to sit down - if we are old, perhaps we have bad knees, but even if we are young, we cannot go on walking forever, eventually we become tired and we want to sit down or we want to lay down. So when we sit or when we lay down, again this brings great joy to the mind but this is a joy that is coming from engaging in that particular object, that is to say, sitting down, rather it is just a joy which comes about through plain and simply sitting down - it is not something the contact with which is going to bring everlasting joy. So this is the important point with the suffering of change - to recognise that no experience in and of itself is going to bring about everlasting joy; rather, it is in the nature of contamination, therefore it is eventually going to change into something that is quite the opposite of what we initially perceived it to be.
So then we come to the third of this threefold division, that is the all-pervasive suffering. What is meant by this the all-pervasive suffering? If we talk about the three realms of existence (that is to say, the desire, the form and the formless realm), within the desire realm (within which we find the division of the six different types of individuals), we find that there is the gross suffering of suffering. However through the form and the formless realms we find that there is not this gross suffering but up to and inclusive of the third concentration, we find that there is the suffering or the dissatisfaction, of change, but not in the fourth state of concentration. But without going too deeply into what is meant by these various states of concentration - if we just take the desire, the form and the formless realm - if one is born under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma, that is to say, in a contaminated way, within any of these three realms, then one is bound into the state dissatisfaction and suffering. So what we can understand here then by 'all-pervasive' - 'all' refers to the three realms, and 'pervasive' means that if one is born into these three realms under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma, then one is in the predicament of a contaminated existence, and then through that very nature one's lot is just that of dissatisfaction.
With regard then to this all-pervasive dissatisfaction or suffering - this is brought about through not particularly positive or negative actions but rather through neutral actions, or equanimitous actions. So what is meant here then is that this is not a gross feeling like the feeling of joy or the feeling of dissatisfaction in a manifest way, but rather is a very subtle or latent tendency to undergo such difficulties which is brought about through these karmic seeds of equanimity. So then through having been born under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma in any one of these three realms, one doesn't have any freedom to do what one wishes, that is to say, one is bound by the destructive emotions and karma. As the great master Sakya Pandita said 'freedom is joy, whereas being bound is suffering' (or 'dissatisfaction'). So if we contemplate these words by Sakya Pandita, although few in number, there is a great deal of understanding to be gained. For example we all like the word 'freedom' - if one has freedom, one can do exactly what one wants - one can go where one wants, one can eat what one wants and so forth. If one is under the influence of another, that is to say, bound by another, we have no freedom, we cannot do what we would like - we cannot go where we like, we cannot sit where we would like. This being the case then, it is not a pleasant situation to be in. Through contemplating this, we see that through being bound by the destructive emotions and karma, we do not have the freedom to do exactly what we want. Surely then we should turn our attention towards removing these fetters, or bonds, and then giving ourselves the freedom to do exactly what we would like to do. So it's good to contemplate those words of that particular master with regard to the various different kinds of suffering which we've gone through.
Four Wrong Views
So as practitioners, we should strive to understand this all-pervasive suffering. In essence we can say that the all-pervasive suffering comes about just through having contaminated aggregates ('contaminated' here referring to being under the control of the destructive emotions and under the control of the karma issuing therefrom). With regard then to the first of the Four Noble Truths of suffering, there are what is known as four aspects, or four different parts to that particular truth of suffering. With regard to the whole of the Four Noble Truths and with regard to each of the truths, they each have four different aspects; here we are just going to go through the four aspects with regard to the truth of suffering. So within this truth of suffering, we find that there are four wrong views which ordinary beings perceive and then through this perception we undergo various forms of dissatisfaction, or suffering. These four wrong views are - perceiving dissatisfaction as satisfaction; grasping onto what is impermanent as permanent; grasping onto something of a dirty nature as being clean; and then grasping onto an inherently existent self or I where such a self-existent self or I does not exist. Then through contemplating these four aspects of this first truth, we can reverse our attachment towards the truth of suffering, that is to say, we can turn our mind away from the cycle of existence.
So then if we put these four into syllogisms, then we can really clearly see how our aggregates, that is to say, our body and mind in this contaminated state are in the nature of dissatisfaction or suffering, and through this we can come to understand that wherever we are born in this state (ie a contaminated state) within any of the realms of existence, we are going to have dissatisfaction, and nothing other than that, as our lot. So with regard to the second one if we go through this first, we can say that the subject, which is our aggregates, are not something which is permanent ie they are something which is impermanent because they come about through relying upon causes and conditions; in an ordinary sense, as they rely on something else to come into existence, they cannot exist permanently, therefore they must be something other than that and the only opposite of that is something that is impermanent. Therefore our aggregates, our contaminated mind, are something that is impermanent because of being brought about through causes and conditions. Then with regard to the first of these four aspects, the subject - again, our aggregates, contaminated body and mind - are something which is in the nature of dissatisfaction because they have no freedom. And so again we can see - we are under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma, and through being bound by destructive emotions and karma, we have no freedom to do what we would like to do in our existence. Therefore the second syllogism is the subject - one's aggregates - is in the nature of dissatisfaction through being under the influence and control of the destructive emotions and karma. Then with regard to the third, again the subject is the same - viewing our contaminated aggregates - then seeing them in the nature of something which is undesirable or dirty. Then through contemplating the nature of those particular objects, we can come to this realisation and understanding. And then lastly (this is the most important one) the subject - again, the contaminated objects of body and mind - are something which is empty of a self-existence or autonomous existence because a naturally existing, or existing from its own side, self is not something which exists, ie it is completely fictitious.
So here then through this contemplation, what we come to find is that within all the different schools there are presentations of this selflessness, or this lack of an inherently existing self. So through all the different schools we can gain a greater picture of what is meant by an inherently existent self, and what the lack of that means; but in essence, and what every philosophical school agrees upon, is that this self-existent self or this autonomous I is something which cannot exist in and of itself, therefore the subject (our contaminated body and mind) lacks an inherently existing self because such an inherently or autonomously existing self is not something which exists. So these then are the four aspects of this first truth (that is the truth of suffering) and by contemplating the faults of grasping onto something as joyful which is in the nature of suffering, grasping at something as permanent which is actually in the nature of impermanence, grasping at something as clean which is actually in the nature of being dirty, and grasping at something as inherently existent, when in actual fact, it doesn't exist in such a way - through contemplating the faults of those four false views, we can reverse them and through reversing them we can put a stop to the first of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of suffering.
Fully Qualified Renunciation
So going back to our root text we read:
Leisure and opportunity are difficult to find,
there is no time to waste.
Reverse attraction to this life, reverse attraction to future lives,
think repeatedly of the infallible effects of karma and the misery of this world.
So we have just gone through the misery of this world (this can also be translated as 'samsara', or 'the cycle of contaminated existence'), and then through the contemplations we have just gone through we can slowly begin to turn our minds away from this life and put them towards thinking about future lives, and then finally, turn our attention away from our future lives and think more of achieving liberation from the cycle of existence. So through our contemplations on the misery of the world (as it is translated here) what is the sign that we have actually generated the mind striving for liberation? So we read the next stanza:
when you do not for an instant wish for the pleasures of samsara,
and day and night remain intent on liberation,
you have then produced renunciation.
So here then through contemplating the truth of suffering, and then 'when you do not wish for an instant the pleasures of samsara'. So here it's important to understand what is meant by 'do not for an instant wish for the pleasures of samsara'. What we can undergo is a strong feeling of renunciation and wishing to be free from the cycle of existence, and then in the next moment we want to do something which is very much within the cycle of existence, or very much concerned with the pleasure of cyclic existence, or samsara. So this is a sign that we haven't gained the fully qualified wish to achieve renunciation, or the fully qualified wish to achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. The next two lines read 'and day and night remain intent on liberation, you have then produced renunciation'. So when we are continually thinking of achieving liberation from the cycle of existence, it is at that moment that we have generated the fully qualified renunciation; at any time during a twenty-four period, we are always concerned with liberation from the cycle of existence - it's at that point we have generated the fully qualified renunciation. As is mentioned in the Letter to a Friend, we should be like a person whose hair has caught fire; if a person's hair has caught alight, whatever they are doing - whether it be important work or some kind of hobby - that all gets thrown to one side, and one's whole attention and one's whole time and action is concerned only with one thing, that is putting out the fire on one's head. So in the same way, we should have renunciation like that, within which all other work apart from work which is going to lead us out of the cycle of existence can be easily left aside, and we remain single-pointed and steadfast in our attitude of striving for liberation from the vicious cycle of existence. So it is at that point that the fully qualified mind - wishing to go forth from the cycle of existence, or renunciation, has been developed in our being, or mind.
The next stanza then reads:
Renunciation without the pure bodhi-mind does not bring forth
the perfect bliss of unsurpassed enlightenment.
Therefore the wise generate the excellent bodhi-mind.
So here, even if one has generated the fully qualified renunciation (that is to say, wishing to escape from the vicious cycle of existence), if one doesn't contemplate the dissatisfaction of others, one's kind mother sentient beings, then no matter how much renunciation one has, this is not going to bring about the state of having abandoned the most subtle abandonments, and having gathered together all the most excellent qualities, that is to say, the state of buddhahood, or unsurpassed enlightenment. Therefore the wise, seeing that being without the bodhi mind (that is to say, bodhicitta) is not going to bring about this state of unsurpassed or highest enlightenment, strive to generate within their existence, or within their mind, this wish to achieve buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, this mind of bodhicitta.
So then in order to achieve the state of buddhahood, or unsurpassed enlightenment, one needs two factors - method and wisdom. So as is quoted in the sutras, method without wisdom is bondage and wisdom without message is again, bondage. So what this tells is that we cannot achieve buddhahood through just one, either wisdom or method - we need both of them in union to achieve unsurpassed enlightenment. This is also echoed in Chandrakirti's book The Entrance to the Middle Way where he gives the analogy of the crane - so when a crane flies through the sky, he does so in dependence on both wings; if there is a fault with either of the wings, then the crane will not be able to fly from the east to the west or wherever. So in the same way, in order for the crane-like individual to 'fly' to the state of omniscience, one needs both 'wings' of method and wisdom unified together in one practice.
This is again mentioned in the Abhisaymamalankara where it says that the final, or ultimate, peace is brought about not through just contemplation on the nature of existence (that is to say, on selflessness), but rather is brought about through a dual practice of wisdom and method. We can here see a fault in those foe-destroyers of the hearer lineage in that they practise fully qualified renunciation and in addition to that meditate single-pointedly upon selflessness or suchness, and through that they achieve a lesser state of emancipation, or lesser nirvana. So then as we are not striving for this lesser nirvana but rather for a higher nirvana, we need to add something else to our practice, and this additional practice which we need to utilise is this mind of great compassion or 'the great lord of the minds'. This practice, in dependence upon which the welfare for all sentient beings is brought about, can thus take us to the end of the path of peace, that is to say, to the highest state of enlightenment. And if we look at the resultant state, then the various emanation bodies which come forth through the Buddha's activities, again, these solely come about through familiarisation with this mind striving to bring about benefit for others, the great mind which strives to remove others' pain or this great mind of bodhicitta. In this resultant stage, the Buddha can emanate various emanations for the benefit of others; so this is a result of training oneself in the bodhi mind.
So then we need to generate this bodhi mind. So there is a quote from the Mahayana sutra Alankara which says: ...[end of side - tape breaks here]
…colours and lights going here and there, we think 'oh, that is a nice, magical being, I want to become just like that magical individual'. So this is not the bodhi mind, the correct attitude for achieving full enlightenment, rather, this is just a selfish wish to become something rather odd! However, as individuals striving for buddhahood we need to have two qualities. The first quality is viewing all sentient beings with a mind of great compassion, wishing to free them from the predicament of suffering in which they find themselves, and it is said that the stronger one's compassion, the easier it is to bring about this bodhi mind. So the first cause, or first necessity, is bringing about this bodhi mind. The second one is a mind which is bent on achieving full enlightenment to be of maximum use to other sentient beings. So one needs to have these two contemplations together in order to achieve buddahood, these are the two crucial points which one must have - the mind wishing to liberate sentient beings from their suffering, and then a mind which is determined to achieve full enlightenment in order to bring this about in the best possible way.
The Predicament of Sentient Beings
In order to bring about this feeling of wishing to liberate sentient beings from their predicament, or their lot, of suffering, then we need to understand what is meant by their dissatisfaction or suffering. Then the next line of our root text reads:
Swept by the current of the four powerful rivers,
tied by strong bonds of karma so hard to undo,
caught in the iron net of self-grasping,
completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance.
So here then if we use the first analogy 'swept by the current of the four powerful rivers'. So if we use this imagery of four really strong rivers flowing very fast, then caught within the combination of those four rivers. Here the 'four rivers' are four factors which hold sentient beings in the state of dissatisfaction, or suffering. So these are desire, views (wrong views), existence in and of itself, and then ignorance. So if we look at these four - ignorance is the initial cause of all the other destructive emotions. So it is said the first moment is ignorance - conceiving something in a wrong way - and that confusion brings about all the other destructive emotions and thereafter all the actions that are entered into through the force of those wrong thoughts and then thereafter the various karmic results of those actions. As for desire then, there are various kinds of desire - there is the strong desire which makes one's mind change from something peaceful to something which is completely intent on one object, there is the desire of carefully planning how to gain an object which one wants and so forth. Then with regard to the various views, what is meant here by 'view' is wrong view. Wrong view here can be divided into five, such as the general wrong mind, or wrong consciousness, and so forth. Then with regard the third, existence in and of itself - here, what is meant by existence can also refer to the cycle of existence, or samsara, and can also refer to karmic actions in the dormant and also in their fully ripened states. So those four rivers combined as one are what is carrying our kind mother sentient beings along. So if we imagine somebody who has fallen into a fast-flowing river or fallen into the rapids - if they are able to shout for help then that is one thing, and if they are able to swim then there is every possibility that they will be able to reach the banks of the river and get out of this fast moving current.
However, this is not the case because as the next line of the root text tells us - 'tied by strong bonds of karma so hard to undo'. So not only are these kind mother sentient beings swept along in this rapid, but in addition, their hands and feet are tied up, they are completely bound up with very tough ropes and cannot possibly move. And you would think then that even if this is the case they might be able to get out of these bonds by contortion or suchlike, but this again is not the case because in addition to being bound, (as the third line reads) they are 'caught in the iron net of self-grasping'. So here 'iron net' can also be translated as 'cage'. So not only is one bobbing along completely bound by the strong bonds of karma, but one is also wrapped in this chain-mail of self-grasping. And you would think then that as this is the case, if one was fortunate enough to come into contact with a fisherman sitting on the riverbank, by calling out to him, if he is a kind-hearted individual, he might throw us a line or try to hook us out. However, this is again not the case because as the fourth line reads - 'completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance'. So if we look at this example - someone has been throw into a rapid, is being swept along by this powerfully moving water, not only are they bound up but they are wrapped in chain-mail and it is the middle of the night, so there is no chance even to come into contact with somebody on the riverbank who one could call to and request assistance because it's in the middle of the night, it's very dark, and nobody goes to the riverbank at that time. So in the same way there are the four powerful rivers which we have just gone through (the four causes of the cycle of existence), then fettered by bonds of karma, wrapped in this chain-mail of self-grasping, completely enveloped in the darkness of ignorance - that is the pitiful state of one's kind mother / father sentient beings.
Physical and Mental Suffering
So as is mentioned in Aryadeva's book The Four Hundred Verses, the aristocrats are beset with mental suffering whereas the ordinary person is beset with physical suffering. Whatever kind of suffering one is engaged in, one should daily try to put an end to such suffering. So here then we can divide dissatisfaction grossly into two, that is to say, dissatisfaction, or suffering which is physical and then that which is mental. Then those kind of aristocrats, those who have very fine jobs, they are individuals who do not suffer so much physically - they have nice places to live, nice food to eat and so forth; however they have a lot of mental torment - thinking about the various businesses which they are involved in, the various meetings they have to go to and so forth - that is their lot of suffering. Whereas for an ordinary working person there is not so much mental worry about rushing to meetings, buying and selling stocks and so forth, but there is physical suffering in that one has to work for one's living so therefore one engages in various strenuous activities. This is not something which is easily seen in the West, but in India if you look around building sites there are no cranes or lifting devices - bricks are carried by the local people stacked high on the head and the cement is carried on the back by the coolies and so forth. So if you see the very low-paid, low caste people in India you will see that they go through immense physical difficulty, but when they sit down there is not so much mental dissatisfaction or suffering, but rather their lot is that of physical difficulty. Then as the text goes on to say, whatever kind of suffering it is - whether mental or physical, one should daily engage in a practice which is going to bring about the thorough removal of that dissatisfaction.
So using that quote from The Four Hundred Verses then, a person who has wealth when viewing how poorer people live might think 'living such an aristocratic life is not all it's cracked up to be - living in the open, living a pauper's life is something that is quite delightful. I think I'm going to give up everything and go and live as a pauper!' And then the paupers, or the working people, when viewing the aristocrats, or the wealthy individuals, think 'oh, we have such a hard time - all this work we have to do but those guys are just sitting around, they have nice food to eat, servants to wait upon them, nice comfortable beds and so forth. How great it would be to achieve such a status!' However, if we look at that with a vaster view, we see that both kinds of individuals are undergoing dissatisfaction, and the dissatisfaction which they are undergoing is same in essence but different in aspect; different in aspect in the sense that for a poorer individual it is physical but for a wealthy individual it's mental. But the contaminated actions which have brought about their very existence are ones within which one can never find any permanent peace; rather as we mentioned earlier, the first moment can be somewhat peaceful or joyful, but then as soon as that is over with, the experience changes into something other than what it initially was. So viewing the cycle of existence, or samsara, as the product of contaminated actions, contaminated destructive emotions and so forth, then we should strive to put an end to all dissatisfaction and the causes of that dissatisfaction, not just one particular kind of those various kinds of dissatisfaction. We should strive to abandon the whole of the cycle of existence, and this is echoed in the prayer to the lineage gurus of the Lam-rim genre of teachings by Tsongkhapa when he says that one should strive to abandon the cycle of its existence through seeing its faults, through seeing how it is impermanent and through seeing how it is not something that is very stable.
This teaching was given at Tushita Mahayana Meditation Center, New Delhi, on July 4, 1979. First published in Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. Now appears in the 2005 LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.
Inner development and materialism
It is extremely important that we make an effort to lead a spiritual life while, as human beings, we have the opportunity to pursue inner methods that bring peace of mind.
It is common experience that happiness does not arise from external factors alone. If we check carefully into our own daily lives, we will easily see that this is true. In addition to external factors, there are also inner factors that come into play to establish happiness within us.
If external development were all it took to produce lasting peace within us, then those who were rich in material possessions would have more peace and happiness while those who were poor would have less. But life is not always like this. There are many happy people with few riches and many wealthy people who are very unhappy.
In India, for example, there are many pandits, highly realized yogis and even simple Dharma practitioners who live humble lives but have great peace of mind. The more they have renounced the unsubdued mind, the greater is their peace; the more they have renounced self-cherishing, anger, ignorance, attachment and so forth, the greater is their happiness.
Great masters such as the Indian pandit Naropa and the Tibetan yogi Jetsun Milarepa owned nothing yet had incredible peace of mind. They were able to renounce the unsubdued mind, the source of all problems, and thus transcended all suffering. By actualizing the path to enlightenment they achieved a superior happiness. Thus, even though they often had to go days without food—the great yogi Milarepa lived for years in a cave subsisting only on wild nettles—they rank among the happiest people on Earth. Because they abandoned the three poisonous minds of ignorance, attachment and anger, their peace and happiness was indeed great. The more they renounced the unsubdued mind, the greater was their peace.
If happiness depended on only material development, rich countries such as America would be very happy places. Many people try to follow the American way of life, thinking it will bring them happiness, but personally, I find greater peace in more spiritually-minded countries such as India and Nepal. These are much happier countries, more peaceful for the mind. When I return to India after traveling in the West, it’s like coming home. There are so many differences. India is actually a very spiritual country and this makes a great difference to the mind.
When you look at materialistic societies and the way people live, your own mind gets disturbed. The people there are increasingly busy, and new and different problems continually arise; they’re tense and nervous and have no time to relax. In India, you see people relaxing all over the place, but in the West, you pick up the vibration of the population’s agitated minds and finish up feeling nervous yourself. If happiness depended solely on external development, countries like Switzerland and America would be the most peaceful places on Earth, with less quarreling, fighting and violence, but they’re not like that.
This proves that there is something lacking in the way the West seeks happiness. Materially, developed countries may be on top of the world but many problems continue to destroy their peace and happiness. What is missing? It is inner development; external development is pursued to the exclusion of inner development, development of the mind. It’s a huge mistake to focus solely on material progress while ignoring development of the mind, the good heart. This is the world’s greatest mistake.
In itself, material progress is not bad and is to be encouraged, but inner development is much more important. You can’t even compare the two—inner development is a trillion times more effective than external development in producing lasting happiness. You’ll find neither peace nor happiness if you neglect to develop the mind. The good heart brings peace of mind. By all means, develop the material world, but at the same time, develop the mind. If you compare the peace of mind gained through material things to that generated by the good heart—by compassion, love, patience, and the elimination of the violent, unsubdued mind—the superior value of the latter is overwhelming.
Patience vs. anger
Even if you owned a pile of diamonds the size of this Earth, the peace you’d get from that would be minimal and could never compare with that afforded by inner development. No matter how many jewels you own, you’re still beset by mental problems such as anger, attachment and so forth. If somebody insults you, for example, you immediately get angry and start to think of ways to harm, insult or hurt that person.
If you are a person of inner development, you react quite differently. You think, “How would I feel if he got angry with me, insulted me and hurt my mind? I’d be really upset and unhappy. Therefore, I shouldn’t be negative towards him. If I get angry and insult him, he’ll get terribly upset and unhappy, just as I would in the same situation. How can I do that to him?” This is the way you should think; this is the way of inner development, the true path to peace.
When my friend says or does something to me that I dislike and discomfort and anger start to grow in my mind, I may want to retaliate by saying something hurtful. But instead, I should gather my awareness, be skillful and brave, and think, “How can I be angry with my friend? How can I say painful things to her? How can I bring her harm? If she got violent with me, how unhappy I would be, how it would disturb my mind, how it would hurt me. Therefore, to harm this friend who, just like me, wants happiness and does not want suffering, would be most shameful. What kind of person would I be if I acted like that?”
When you think like that, your anger, which at first seems to be as solid as stone, disappears like a popped water bubble. At first it seems that there’s no way you can change your mind, but when you use the right method, when you meditate like this, your anger vanishes, just like that. You don’t see the point of getting angry.
When you practice patience, you try not to let your anger arise; you try to remember how it disturbs your mind, destroys your happiness, disturbs others’ minds and happiness, and doesn’t help at all. As you practice patience, your face becomes beautiful. Anger makes you really ugly. When anger enters a beautiful face, no amount of make-up can hide the complete ugliness that manifests. You can see anger in people’s faces; you can recognize it. You become afraid of anger just by looking at the terrifying face of an angry person. That is the reflection of anger. It’s a very bad vibration to give off. It makes everybody unhappy.
The real practice of Dharma, the real meditation, is never to harm others. This protects both your own peace of mind and that of other beings. This is true religious practice; it brings benefit to both yourself and others. Practicing patience in this way even once is worth more than any amount of diamonds. What kind of inner peace can you derive from diamonds? All you do is run the risk of being killed for them. The value of the good heart is beyond compare with that of any material possession.
Since we want only happiness and no suffering, it is extremely important for us to practice Dharma. Dharma is not chanting, doing rituals or wearing uniforms; it’s developing the mind, the inner factor. We have many different inner factors: negative ones, such as the unsubdued mind, ignorance, delusions and so forth; and positive ones, such as love, compassion, wisdom and the like. Dharma practice is the destruction of our negative mental factors and the cultivation of our positive ones.
Linguistically, the word “dharma” means “existent phenomenon,” but when we say, “the practice of Dharma,” or “holy Dharma,” it means that which protects us from suffering. That is the meaning of the holy Dharma; that is the Dharma we should practice.
There are many different levels of suffering from which we require protection. Dharma is like a rope thrown to somebody about to fall over a precipice. It protects and holds us from falling into the realms of suffering—the worlds of the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals.
A second level of suffering from which the holy Dharma protects us is that of the entirety of samsaric suffering—that of all six realms—and its cause: the disturbing negative minds and the karma they cause us to create.
Finally, the holy Dharma also protects us from the self-cherishing thought and the subtle obscurations that prevent us from attaining enlightenment, the state of buddhahood—the highest sublime happiness. As long as the self-cherishing thought remains in our mind there’s no way we can achieve buddhahood; the path to sublime happiness is blocked. Self-cherishing is the greatest hindrance to happiness and enlightenment. If we practice Dharma, we’ll find protection from the disturbances that the self-cherishing thought creates and will quickly receive enlightenment.
Death is followed by the intermediate state, after which we take rebirth in one of the six realms. Rebirth, life, death, intermediate state, rebirth again: we constantly circle on this wheel of life, repeatedly experiencing confusion and suffering because of impure conceptions and views. When we practice Dharma, we’re guided and protected from the impure conceptions and views that constantly keep us bound to samsaric suffering. Dharma practice helps us at many levels.
Identifying the problem
The problem is that our body and mind are in the nature of suffering; they are not beyond suffering. This is the whole problem. As a result, we are constantly busy. Why is our body in the nature of suffering? It’s because our mind is in the nature of suffering; our mind is not liberated from suffering because it is not liberated from the unsubdued minds of ignorance, attachment, anger and their actions, karma. Therefore, its nature is one of suffering. Thus, in turn, our body suffers.
Without choice, our body is subject to the sufferings of heat, cold, hunger, thirst, birth, old age, sickness and so forth. We don’t have to seek out these sufferings; they come to us naturally and we have to experience them. All this is because we have not liberated our mind from suffering. Our country is not samsara; our city is not samsara; our family is not samsara—samsara is the body and mind that are in the nature of suffering; the body and mind that constantly make us worry and keep us busy. Samsara is the body and mind that are bound by the delusion and karma.
Samsara is a cycle, a wheel. Its function is to circle. How does it circle? Our aggregates—our body and mind—continue from this life into the next; they connect our past life to this one and this life to the future one. They always continue, always join one life to the next. They create an ongoing circle; like the wheels of a bicycle, they always take us to different places. We are the subject who circles, like the person who rides the bike. Our self is like that. We circle on and on, from life to life, taking rebirth in accordance with how we have lived our life, the karma we have created and our general state of mind. Dependent upon these factors, we take rebirth as an animal, a human, a god, a hell being and so forth. Our aggregates carry us like a horse carries a rider.
The problem is that from beginningless time throughout all our previous lifetimes we did not do the work necessary to liberate our mind from the unsubdued minds and karma. Therefore, our mind and body are still in the nature of suffering; we’re still experiencing the same problems over and over again. Had we liberated ourselves from the unsubdued minds and karma we would never have to suffer again; it would be impossible. Once we’re free from samsaric suffering, from the bondage of karma and the unsubdued mind, we can never suffer again; no cause remains for us to experience further suffering. If we’d liberated ourselves before, there’d be no reason for us to suffer now; our mind and body would not be in the nature of suffering.
If we didn’t have a samsaric body, we wouldn’t need a house, clothing, food or other temporal needs. There’d be no need to worry, make preparations, collect many possessions, chase money, have hundreds of different clothes to wear in the different seasons, have hundreds of shoes, make business and so forth. We’d have none of these problems. But we do have a samsaric body, therefore our entire life, from rebirth to death, is kept busy taking care of it.
Lama Tsongkhapa, a highly realized Tibetan yogi recognized as an embodiment of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom, wrote from his personal experience of the path,
If you do not think of the evolution of samsara, you will not know how to sever its root.1
For example, let’s say there’s a person who is always sick because he eats the wrong food. As long as he doesn’t recognize the mistake in his diet, the cause of his sickness, he will continue to be sick no matter how much medicine he takes. Similarly, if we don’t understand the evolutionary patterns of samsara, there’ll be no way for us to receive the peace of nirvana that we seek. To do this, we must cut the root of samsara; to do that, we must know the correct methods; to know the methods, we must recognize what causes us to be bound to samsara. By realizing what binds us to samsara, we can generate aversion for and renunciation of the causes of samsaric existence. Lama Tsongkhapa concludes the above verse by saying,
I, the yogi, have practiced just that. You who also seek liberation, please cultivate yourself in the same way.
This great yogi, who achieved enlightenment by actualizing the path, advises us to do what he did: first, it is very important that we desire liberation from samsara; then we must recognize its evolutionary laws; finally, we have to sever its root.
To understand the evolution of samsara we must understand the twelve links of interdependent origination, or dependent arising [Skt: pratityasamutpada], that clearly explain how we circle in samsara.2 How did our present samsara—these aggregates in the nature of suffering—come into being? In a past life, out of ignorance, we accumulated the karma to be born in this human body. A split second before our previous life’s death, craving and grasping—not wanting to leave the body, not wanting to separate from that life—arose. We were then born in the intermediate state, and after that our consciousness entered our mother’s womb. The resultant embryo grew and our senses gradually developed. Then contact and responsive feelings came into existence. Now our rebirth has occurred, we are aging, and all that remains for us to experience is death.
In this life there is no peace, from the time we are born until we die. We continually go through much suffering as human beings: the pain of birth; dissatisfaction with our situation; undesirable experiences; worries; fear of separation from desirable objects, friends, relatives, and possessions; sickness; old age and death. All these problems come from karma, and karma comes from ignorance. Therefore, the one root of samsara is ignorance, the ignorance of mistaking the nature of “I,” the self, which is empty of true existence—although our “I” is empty of true existence, we completely believe that it is truly existent, as we project. By totally eradicating this ignorance, we put a final end to our beginningless suffering and attain nirvana.
The path that repays the kindness of all sentient beings
In order to do this, we must follow a true path. However, it is not enough that we ourselves attain nirvana because that benefits only one person. There are numberless sentient beings, all of whom have been our mother, father, sister and brother in our infinite previous lives. There is not one single sentient being who has not been kind to us in one life or another. Even in this life, much of our happiness is received in dependence upon the kindness of others, not only humans—many animals work hard and suffer for our happiness; many die or are killed for us. For example, in order to produce rice in a field, many people work and suffer under the sun, many creatures are killed and so forth. The happiness of each day of our life completely depends on the kindness of other sentient beings.
As human beings, we have a great opportunity to repay their kindness. They are ignorant of and blind to Dharma wisdom but since we have met the holy Dharma, we’re able to understand the nature of reality and help all sentient beings by reaching enlightenment and liberating them from suffering. Therefore, we should always think as follows:
“I must attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings. Sentient beings have been extremely kind and benefited me very much. They are suffering. These sentient beings, all of whom have been my mother in many previous lives, are suffering. Therefore, I, their child, must help. If I don’t help them, who will? Who else will help them gain liberation from suffering? Who else will lead them to enlightenment? But for me to do that, I must first reach enlightenment myself; I must become a buddha; I must actualize the omniscient mind. Then my holy body, speech and mind will become most effective. Each ray of light from the aura of the enlightened holy body can liberate many sentient beings and inspire them on the path to happiness, nirvana and full enlightenment. I must become buddha in order to liberate all sentient beings.”
The path is the holy Dharma and the essence of the path is the good heart. The greatest, highest good heart is bodhicitta—the determination to become a buddha in order to liberate all sentient beings from suffering. This is the supreme good heart. This is what we should generate.
By Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup in Kopan Monastery, Nepal, December 1987. Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup, former abbot of Kopan Monastery, gave this teaching on the eighteen root bodhisattva vows at the 20th Kopan Course, held in December 1987.
Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup, former abbot of Kopan Monastery, gave this teaching on the eighteen root bodhisattva vows at the 20th Kopan Course, held in December 1987. The teaching is translated by Ven. Tsen-la and lightly edited by Sandra Smith.
This is a brief exposition on the bodhisattva vows.
Whether we reflect on things from the point of view of self or from the point of view of others—whatever point of view we have, our main objective is to achieve enlightenment at any cost.
As explained in the lam-rim teachings, the suffering nature of our existence in samsara and its causes are the result of our own selfish attitude or self-cherishing mind. The conclusion or the main essence of the lam-rim teachings is to generate a strong motivation—the strong thought to benefit sentient beings at all costs. The reason for this essential conclusion is that all our happiness, including the smallest, is solely due to the kindness of others.
The benefit we can accomplish is to fulfill what others wish and repay their kindness. What others want at all times is happiness and what they don't want is suffering and pain. Just as it is for others, it is also the same for us, and as it is for us, it is the same for others as well.
We learnt in the teachings on the graduated path to enlightenment that to find happiness and to eliminate suffering, the responsibility belongs to us completely. Although we have complete responsibility for fulfilling all the happiness of others and eliminating all their suffering, we do not have the potential to fulfill this at the moment.
Is it possible for me to actualize or to attain such potential? We can achieve this potential. Is a person with such potential a possible phenomenon in the world? This is also a possibility. Who can we identify as such a person? That would be the Buddha himself. If we put in the effort, we can achieve such a state ourselves, because we can accumulate the causes for this result, enlightenment. In order to achieve the result of enlightenment, we need to train in the methods to achieve it.
The main method to achieve enlightenment is bodhicitta, the altruistic aspiration towards enlightenment generated out of the mind of compassion. Bodhicitta, the altruistic mind seeking solely the welfare of others, needs to be enhanced limitlessly. It is not enough just to habituate our mind, and generate or cultivate the altruistic mind in our meditation—besides generating the altruistic mind, we also need to actually venture into the deeds of such a mind.
The main deeds of bodhisattvas, the beings who have bodhicitta, are the observation of a high code of ethics. How quickly or slowly we achieve enlightenment is solely dependent on how purely we observe the bodhisattva vows. These vows need to be received or taken from a lama and then all the various aspects of the vows need to be observed.
Of these various aspects of the bodhisattva vows, the root vows are this set of eighteen. We must abandon:
1. Praising ourselves and belittling others.
If we have received bodhisattva vows and engage in actions such as praising ourselves with the desire to achieve material things or respect and so forth—if we have that kind of intention, and the view of gaining things that glorify our qualities and put down others—when we have bodhisattva vows and undertake such an action, then we break the root vow. This is a very brief explanation of the first vow.
This is one of the most dangerous vows, because we are likely to break this vow very easily due to our strong, self-cherishing mind. There is a danger of breaking this vow very often because of our selfishness, and also because we very easily disparage others, including our guru, when we see the slightest faults or mistakes in them.
2. Not giving material aid and Dharma.
This vow is usually broken when we are miserly. When we have an abundance of material things and somebody asks for material aid due to their great poverty or lack of something, but we refuse, then we accrue the second transgression. If we have no sense of miserliness, but refuse to give because it may cause obstacles or hindrances to our Dharma practice, then under these circumstances, not giving is validated.
Secondly, there is miserliness regarding teaching Dharma. We feel miserliness over imparting these teachings and we also feel lazy to explain the teachings sometimes. That's the second way to break the vow. The only circumstances when it is valid not to give teachings is when this would not benefit someone but would cause harm, and in that case we can refuse to give teachings. Generally, in giving Dharma teachings, the kind of people that we should teach are those with much aspiration and enthusiasm towards the teachings.
3. Not forgiving others, and even if someone apologizes, not listening to an apology.
The third vow is broken, for example, when we fight with somebody and that person apologizes afterwards or gives us a material present, but we refuse to listen out of anger, upset feelings or hatred. If we hold a grudge and refuse to accept a material gift or listen to an apology, then we break the third vow. So, for these sets of vows it is essential not to hold onto anger or a grudge after we have had a fight or disagreement. If we hold onto a grudge or anger, then it is difficult to accept an apology later on.
4. Abandoning the Mahayana Dharma.
The downfall of abandoning the Mahayana Dharma is accrued in circumstances such as when we are engaging in Mahayana practice and later we decide, “I might as well train in the Shravaka path, or the Hearer’s path, which is a faster way of attaining arhatship.” We abandon Mahayana Dharma under these circumstances.
5. Taking offerings which are meant for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
This occurs when we take for ourselves offerings made to the Triple Gem. This includes materials to make a statue or to print scriptures or to make clothes for statues. Of the three types of offerings, if we use offerings made to the Sangha for ourselves, no matter how small they are, then the karma is very heavy. It is said that if we take offerings made to the Buddha and the Dharma, the negative karma can be completely purified, but if we take offerings made to the Sangha, even if we purify, some result has to be experienced despite the purification. It can be something as minor as picking a flower, a twig or a leaf from the garden. We are taking that which has not been given to us.
6. Abandoning the Dharma.
This means abandoning the practices and teachings belonging to the Hearers’ Vehicle, the Shravakas, the Solitary Realizers’ Vehicle or the Mahayana Vehicle. We see one or other of these teachings as not being suitable for our practice. We may say, for example, “What's the point of meditating on the whole lam-rim? I might as well just do the breathing and contemplate on the mind. That's all!” Even just saying that is abandoning Dharma.
7. Causing an ordained person to disrobe.
This vow includes things like, for example, taking away robes that belong to monks, or causing someone else to take the robes away.
8. Committing the five immediate negativities.
We commit these “immediate negativities” when we kill our father, mother or an arhat, cause a Buddha to bleed, or cause disharmony within the community of the Sangha.
9. Holding wrong views.
Holding wrong views refers to believing in the non-existence of cause and effect, past and future lives, and the non-existence of the three objects of refuge and so forth.
10. Destroying towns, cities or places where many people are living.
We break the tenth vow if we intentionally destroy a town or city. Whether we start some sort of fire or use water or other means, we have the intention of destroying that whole town or city.
11. Teaching the profound teachings to those who are not fit receptacles.
An example would be somebody who is on the bodhisattva path and when we expound the teachings on emptiness, the person gives up or turns away from the Mahayana path. Instead of helping the person progress, we cause that individual to regress. That would be an example of teaching the profound to someone who is not ready.
12. Turning someone away from complete enlightenment.
The twelfth downfall occurs when, for example, somebody has full aspiration towards complete enlightenment and we influence the person by saying that there is not much benefit, and that it is better to work for our self-liberation through either the Solitary Realizer's path or the Hearer’s path. If we influence the person to turn away from full enlightenment through our talk, we incur this twelfth downfall.
13. Encouraging others to abandon the self-liberation vows.
The transgression occurs when we tell people that the self-liberation vows, such as the monks’ and nuns’ ordination vows, are not necessary. We tell people to just study the Mahayana Dharma and generate bodhicitta. If we talk and influence people in this way, we incur the thirteenth downfall of abandoning self-liberation vows.
14. Causing others to hold distorted views.
We incur the fourteenth downfall when we cause others to hold distorted views. An example of this is when a person has received a lot of material presents and respect through giving teachings, and out of jealousy, we feel that this person’s gains are unbearable. We say, “Why do you listen to his teachings, why do you give him so much respect and so forth?”
To differentiate the first root downfall from the fourteenth, the fourteenth one mainly arises out of a jealous mind, as the other person is getting so many enhancements, and that is causing our own downfall. We are losing out by the other person gaining and we feel unbearable jealousy over that, so it mainly has its base in jealousy.
15. Expressing a great form of lies.
This downfall means telling profound lies and saying we have realizations when we don't. An example of the fifteenth root downfall, the expression of profound lies, is when we haven't realized emptiness, but we say, "I have realized emptiness, so I am going to teach you this emptiness out of my experience."
16. Taking material things that belong to the objects of refuge.
An example of the sixteenth vow is when we intentionally fine someone who is ordained so that we gain material things. The sixteenth vow refers to any property that belongs to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We either forcefully confiscate or take away property belonging to the objects of refuge, or we influence or cause someone else to take the property away. If we have a fight or a duel, or something like that, we take things belonging to the objects of refuge.
17. Laying down harmful regulations and passing false judgment
The next vow is putting together rules or disciplines that are not valid. An example of this downfall is when a gelong is practicing very purely and we make certain rules and regulations that would disrupt his progress. We do this out of jealousy for that person who is doing his practices purely, and in order to distract him away from his meditation.
Lama Lhundrup: How many have we got? Eighteen?
Students: No, seventeen.
Lama Lhundrup: Seventeen? We missed out the fourteenth one, which is disrespecting or criticizing the Hinayana teachings. Then, the other one is abandoning the bodhicitta mind. Does that make eighteen? What happened? No, I think it’s eighteen.
2. Not giving material aid or teaching the Dharma.
3. Not forgiving someone who has previously offended you.
4. Condemning the teachings of Buddha and teaching distorted views.
5. Taking offerings to the Three Jewels.
6. Despising the Tripitaka and saying these texts are not the teachings of Buddha.
7. Causing an ordained person to disrobe.
8. Committing any of the five heinous crimes.
9. Holding views contrary to the teachings of Buddha.
10. Completely destroying any place by means of fire, etc.
11. Teaching shunyata to those who are not yet ready.
12. Turning people away from working for full enlightenment.
13. Encouraging people to abandon their vows of moral conduct.
14. Causing others to hold distorted views about Hinayana teachings.
15. Practicing, supporting, or teaching the Dharma for financial profit and fame while saying that your motives are pure, and that only others are pursuing Dharma for such base aims.
16. Telling others even though you have very little or no understanding of shunyata, that you have profound understanding of shunyata.
17. Taking gifts from others and encouraging others to give you things originally intended as offerings to the Three Jewels.
18. Taking away from those monks who are practicing meditation and giving it to those who are merely reciting texts.
Lama Lhundrup: This is not very good—there are things missing. Are there eighteen now?
Lama Lhundrup: Most are okay, most are correct. Right? These are the eighteen root downfalls. If you observe these eighteen root vows purely, then the forty-six auxiliary vows are already included in these root eighteen vows.
The Four Conditions
There are four main conditions that have to be fulfilled in order to incur the complete transgression of a root vow. The first of these conditions is having broken a vow before and still wishing to break it in the future. Secondly, we are not able to abandon that downfall and we wish to pursue the downfall again. Thirdly, we feel very happy to break the vow and we don’t see any faults or disadvantages to our actions. Lastly, we don’t have any sense of shame or consideration for others. If these four points are present, there is complete transgression of the root vow.
We explained these eighteen root downfalls very briefly, but if we explain them elaborately, each vow branches out into many, many different points.
Two of these eighteen vows do not require the fulfillment of all four conditions in order to incur the full transgression. These two vows are giving up bodhicitta and the generation of wrong views. These two vows do not require all four conditions to be present for complete transgression. The moment you give up or totally disregard bodhicitta, that naturally causes the root downfall, without the presence of any of the four conditions. Also, the generation of wrong views is powerful enough to cut off the continuum of virtue. So, these two vows do not require the presence of the four conditions, but the remaining sixteen require the presence of all four conditions in order to incur the full downfall. If all four conditions are not present, we incur only the shortcoming of breaking that particular vow.
Of these four conditions, if we have one point that says if we don’t see the fault or the harm in that transgression, we have a medium level of contamination. Literally it’s called “medium contamination,” and we have only a partial transgression as opposed to a full transgression.
If we engage in one of these root downfalls and we see the faults or the shortcomings of undertaking that course of action, we incur only a small contamination. If we have this particular condition but do not have the other three conditions, by being aware of the fault in this action, it becomes only a small shortcoming. Having understood these eighteen root downfalls, because they can be so easily accrued, if we constantly familiarize ourselves with the shortcomings, then it helps us to avoid engaging in them so easily.
The fourth condition—having a sense of shame or consideration for others—refers to the fact that if we engage in a particular transgression, we will experience the expected, ripening result, and having that awareness, we try to abstain from that negative action. That is having a sense of shame. Also, if we have consideration for others in the sense that if we engage in a particular negative action, then others will come to know of it and the Buddha will know of it. We abstain from the negative act out of consideration for others. These two points are essential for practicing Dharma. If we have a strong sense of shame and consideration for others, then we do not easily incur the transgression of vows. So, it is essential that we observe this sense of shame and consideration.
Do you have any doubts or questions about these points?
Lama Lhundrup: Yes, it is very easy. When we study and meditate on the graduated path to enlightenment, the first and foremost point is renunciation, in order to realize the shortcomings of cyclic existence. If we are attached to our possessions or the pleasures of this life, there is no way to generate renunciation, and if we do not have renunciation, there is no way to generate compassion, and without compassion there's no bodhicitta.
Okay, you can use for others. Your motivation is for others, not for your selfish motivation but for others. Eating chocolate “I eat for beneficial all mother sentient beings.” All right? Okay? So then for the whole day if you want chocolate, you have no problem. All right? Yes, it depends on your mind. It looks easy. If you have control of your mind, then okay. Right? Simple.
Student: What happens when vows overlap? For example, walking up to Kopan Hill, many people ask me for one rupee, but the rupees in my pocket are to study the Dharma. How does that work?
Lama Lhundrup: I think, okay.
Student: Which one? To give the rupee or to buy the lessons of Dharma?
Lama Lhundrup: Maybe you can first buy lessons for the Dharma, then later you can give to the world. All right.
Student: So there is a priority?
Lama Lhundrup: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Otherwise, you cannot get opportunity to listen to Dharma. All right?
Lama Lhundrup: Yes, that’s you can see, nuclear, atom bomb.
Lama Lhundrup: Because we have a strong selfish mind. We still have the vows, but there is also that strong selfish mind. So when somebody is destroying, disturbing us and doing very bad things to us, so then we get very angry. So then anger makes us want to do many incredible, bad things. We cannot control ourselves.
Lama Lhundrup: Some beginning ordinary being can take these kind of vows, yes, no problem. Yes, they can take.
Lama Lhundrup: Military, army? Possible. Some people first take the vows, then somebody puts them in the army, but they can do like that.
Lama Lhundrup: If by telling the truth, then you destroy the other person, then maybe you can somehow change the words. The bodhisattva can do this kind of lying, if it is really beneficial. They can tell a lie if it is beneficial for them. With a motivation of compassion we can lie. Otherwise, when we lie we destroy their own peace. Yes, by our motivation, motivation is very important, all right? So then okay, you can say.
Lama Lhundrup: You can say this, but after you have conception, Oh, I told Mum lying, so then after night time you have purification. All right?
Lama Lhundrup: You can try to just have the motivation, to try never to kill any sentient beings. “I don't kill animals”, you just have that motivation, you can say like this. So it doesn’t matter if you can just have this kind of motivation, then if you [accidentally] kill an animal, you don't have the motivation for killing. But if you see a dead animal then you can do something for them such as saying OM MANI PADME HUM. Whatever you do for them is beneficial.
Lama Lhundrup: If you took bodhisattva vows then you can do sessions for whole your life, you become the Mahayana path, yes. This is more comfortable.
Lama Lhundrup: That’s difficult. What example you can tell me? Why giving back? Reasons?
Lama Lhundrup: That kind if you have some good reasons, then you can ask guru and if guru says okay, then you have. Yes.
Lama Lhundrup: Root or what? Maybe you can say what.
Lama Lhundrup: If we have a strong bodhicitta motivation, then these seven nonvirtuous actions of the body and speech2 are allowed in the case of bodhisattvas, who have bodhicitta. They have an exemption over these nonvirtuous actions depending on the circumstances. In this case, we are talking about people who have spontaneous, genuine, intuitive bodhicitta. They have exemption from these seven nonvirtues of body and speech. We are not talking about somebody who just has it verbally or by making effort. It is not an exemption for those who do not have bodhicitta; it is an exemption for those who have bodhicitta. These people are allowed to do these actions under circumstances that will give the most benefit. In our undertaking of a particular nonvirtuous action, we should feel completely tolerant of any result that we might incur.
Lama Lhundrup: There's no harm in that particular one because there is no truly existent Christianity and therefore we can see Christianity and Buddhism as oneness in nature, because the essential point of Buddhism is non-violence, or not giving harm. That is the essential point. It is concordant with Christian philosophy and it is the main point of Buddhism too. So we abide in that nature, in that point.
Lama Lhundrup: If we have a teaching from Christian teachers and it is a way of developing ourselves and developing our bodhicitta, then we can still practice it. If, instead of developing us, it undermines us and degenerates our mind, then we have the wisdom to differentiate.
Student: So, the very broad meaning of practice is simply practicing bodhicitta, practicing to develop your mind? That’s all?
Lama Lhundrup: Yes, true mind, true bodhicitta, true love, that's all. Thank you. Okay, thank you very much.
A commentary on the root text The Seven-Point Mind Training given by Geshe Lama Konchog at Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia, from October 31 to November 3, 1987. Translated by Dhawa Dundrup. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Thupten Konchog, who accepts all errors and omissions. Second edit by Sandra Smith, January 2013.
This teaching is also available for download as a free e-book from Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore.
Lama Tsongkhapa said, in Songs of Experience, that to have attained a human body is a very rare experience and it should be used to its maximum potential for the Dharma. This human body has great potential if used positively but also great power if used negatively. We can illustrate the great potential of human rebirth by putting all the animals of this universe on one side and a single human on the other; even the combined number of the other sentient beings cannot equal the potential and ability that one human has to do positive actions.
Let us imagine a magical machine that has the power to produce anything a person could desire. If such a machine is used to produce only straw instead of using it to produce many wonderful things, we can understand how stupid that would be. Likewise, our human body is just like a magical machine and if we use it in a trivial way then we, too, must be considered to be very stupid. There is not a more ignorant person than the one who possesses a human body yet does not put it to proper use.
If we use this human body in a negative way, it has the potential to be very destructive, but used in a proper and positive way, it has the power to generate bodhicitta and the mind of enlightenment. When it is used meaningfully, this body can help us attain realizations on all the various levels of the path. In the past, many great masters from India and Tibet used their human bodies to reach the desired goal of enlightenment. If we do the same, we can be just like them and have the same kinds of achievements and accomplishments.
Our normal attitude to life is such that the possibility of achieving material gain is far more important than putting our human body to proper use. This attitude is due to not realizing the importance of this precious human body. Maybe some people do realize its importance, yet they are still tempted by the prospect of material gain. These people feel more strongly about acquiring material possessions than they do about directing their mind towards a spiritual path.
We might feel that spiritual practice is beyond us, but if we think and examine this carefully we will realize that spiritual practice is very easy. It is as easy as changing and transforming our mind and attitude; there is nothing to transform externally. If we stop doing something bad that we have been doing for a long time and substitute it with a positive attitude, along with good actions, that is spiritual practice. Spiritual practice only depends on the transformation of the mind; it is easy.
Our present way of thinking is to regard this life’s interests and welfare as far more important than the next life, so we use this body to accomplish the good things of this life only. What we have to do is completely turn this attitude around and instead, be more interested in the next life’s welfare and employ this body to do the things that will bear fruit in the next and following rebirths.
We can make a boundary line to decide whether we are acting for this life’s interests or the next, by deciding whether our actions are Dharma-based—whether they are spiritual or non-spiritual actions.
We usually use our body, speech and mind for this life’s interests only and in doing so we use them in ways that are harmful and not helpful to other sentient beings. So what we must do is change or transform our actions of body, speech and mind so that we help others and do not cause them harm. We also need to be very aware of the next life. From this point of view we can understand that spiritual practice is not something difficult or too distant.
If we put all our efforts into spiritual practice, we can attain the best possible result in the next rebirth and even if not, we can still attain an intermediate result. Even if we can’t attain that, we can attain the lowest result to be achieved by spiritual practice. So there are lots of options which we can choose, in accordance to our abilities and mentalities. It is only a matter of putting in the effort to do so.
In the past we have attained many human rebirths, yet in all those lives as a human we did not use our body for proper spiritual practice or in a proper way, because we were not able to achieve the results of having higher realizations. Now, if we do not use our rebirth properly, the pattern will continue.
Even up to this present moment, we have spent most of our time pursuing things totally related to this life only. If we consider our present life carefully, we would see that we have spent much of our time doing things that can bring no profit for future rebirths.
We have had many rebirths as different aspects of sentient beings, from the top of cyclic existence to the lowest. We just do not remember them. Actually there is no form of sentient being that we have not taken in the past. This pattern will continue if we do not carry out our spiritual practice, and our past will continue to be our future. We have been born into many different forms and experienced many different forms of suffering; if we were to remember them we would find it unbearable.
However the past is the past; it is over, but what we have to do for the remaining part of this life, is to put effort into spiritual practice for the next life. At best, we should be able to achieve enlightenment and at the intermediate level, we should be able to attain individual liberation. If we cannot attain these two levels, then the remaining part of our life should be spent doing spiritual practices, so at least we will avoid future migration into the three bad migrations—as a hell being, a hungry ghost or an animal.
If we know that we will have this human body for a very long time, there will be plenty of time to do spiritual practices, but we do not know this and it is a very bad mistake to think like this. It is also wrong to think that we can put it off until the next rebirth, because it is not easy to obtain a human rebirth as it requires all the proper causes and conditions. What we have to realize is that this is the time we have the freedom to decide: “Am I going up to a good migration or down to a bad one?” It is up to each one of us to use this body to its maximum potential for the purpose of next life.
To take rebirth as a human is not at all easy. Rebirth is not a product without causes or conditions; it all depends on causes and conditions and they do not occur easily. First we have to observe the morality and discipline of observing virtuous conduct and we have to practice the six perfections together with pure aspirational prayers. If all these factors are complete, then the next rebirth as a human is possible, otherwise it is not.
The human body as a basis for spiritual practice depends on being able to do the practice. We may be rich with material possessions, but if we have not used our body for proper spiritual practice, then in the real sense we are not rich. However, a person with no material wealth who has used his body for spiritual practice is in the real sense of the word a rich person.
We may think, “I will use this body for spiritual practice, but first I must have all the material facilities, so I must work, earn some money and look after my family and then I will be able to do my practice.” That kind of procrastinating attitude deludes us.
If the older students are asked, they would have to admit that most of their time is spent in worldly activities and very little in Dharma practice. Even for any of the older students to have done pure spiritual practice is quite doubtful.
Our normal attitude is such that we go on procrastinating. We think, “I will do it tomorrow, tomorrow.” We never think, “I may die today!” So we just go on and on, putting it off from day to day. If death comes today we have achieved nothing, so we must be very intelligent and clever, and practice this very moment.
People who do not procrastinate, do their spiritual practice with a decisive attitude. Even though they realize that they may die today, there is no regret because they are doing the practice right now. Such a person is an intelligent person.
The human body has great potential, but death can come at the most unexpected time, for instance by a car accident or a deadly disease. For some people, when the sickness is very serious and life-threatening, the teacher or lama can only give instructions such as thought transformation, as nothing else may be of help.
The only thing that we can take with us to the next rebirth is our spiritual practice, the Dharma. It is the only thing that will bring happiness and success in the next rebirth. We all want happiness and we do not want suffering, and even if we die today, spiritual practice is important because we can make aspirational prayers in order to have a good rebirth, which is the basis for the attainment of enlightenment. If we have done generous and charitable acts during our lifetime, then there will be no shortage of possessions in the next rebirth. In this life we may have many facilities, but if we have not done spiritual practice then in the next life they will be absent.
Spiritual practice is really a preparation for happiness in the next life, so it is very important. We want happiness and we do not want to suffer—that is the innermost desire within everyone of us and because of this, spiritual practice is so important.
A person who is mindful of death feels afraid now, but does not fear death when he is dying. This person is an intelligent person. However, a person who is not afraid of death at present, but is very frightened when death actually comes, is a foolish person.
Milarepa sang a song which says, in effect, “I am afraid of death because I am not mindful of it, so I have gone to the mountain retreat to understand the relative nature of the mind. Because of this, for the time being, I seem to have no fear of death”. We need to be very mindful of the death process and make preparation for it, so that when the time comes we will feel no fear.
Another good saying from Geshe Potowa is, “I am not afraid of dying, I am afraid of taking the next rebirth.”
At the time of death, our mind will not dissolve into nothingness as the external substances of the body do. The mind is not like that. It is and always has been, a stream of continuity. The subtlest mind, which is inseparable from the subtlest wind, goes on from one rebirth to the next. There comes a time when this subtlest mind, in combination with other causes or other gross minds, becomes more in amount and engages in more activity. However, at the time of death it loses its composite parts and becomes the subtlest mind and wind, and goes to the next rebirth.
We have to understand the nature of the subtlest mind and wind, and once we have attained the realization and understood it completely and properly, there will be no more fear—just like Milarepa, who discovered he had no more fear when he understood the reality of the mind.
We have to understand the nature of the subtlest mind, which is known in Tibetan as “the remote mind.” This is like, for example, a person in total solitude in a mountain retreat. That person is said to be abiding in remoteness. So like that, if our most subtle mind remains too deeply inside, it is only the coarse mind that is performing activities. What we understand is only the external coarse mind and not the innermost subtle mind. Scientists doing studies on the function of the mind only find the external, coarse mind. If we could find the innermost mind by research, then we would not have to experience any more suffering of samsara, cyclic existence.
We all possess this innermost, subtle mind, which is the seed, the very potential, for the attainment of enlightenment. At present we have not been able to find or understand the most subtle mind, so we have not been able to employ it properly. This is why we have not attained enlightenment and have been wandering about in cyclic existence.
Once we have discovered the most subtle mind, it is called by the term “the knowing wisdom.” At present our minds are ignorant, which means in Tibetan “not knowing,” so what we have to do is to find that most subtle mind and use it properly.
Our mind-stream has much more negativity than virtue, so there is naturally a greater possibility that our next rebirth will be in one of the three bad migrations. There is far less possibility that we will attain a higher rebirth such as a human or a god.
After death, rebirth is determined by either of two ways. The first is by the heaviness or lightness of the negativities or the merit on our mind-stream; and the other is by determining which of these we have become more accustomed to.
If we have met with a Dharma teacher and done good spiritual practices, we naturally become more accustomed to performing virtuous deeds and thereby accumulating more merit. So naturally when death comes, if we have become more familiar with doing virtuous acts than non-virtue, we will definitely have a good rebirth.
If we have become more familiarized with doing virtuous deeds we will have accumulated merit, so in the next rebirth we will enter the formless or form realm. This means our rebirth will be as a human or as a god. If we have done many non-virtuous acts, then the next rebirth will be any of the three bad migrations, such as a hell-being, a hungry ghost or an animal.
We have developed great power in collecting negativities onto our mind-stream, which becomes the cause of going down to the three bad migrations. We are like a super-power in collecting negativities, but like an underdeveloped country in collecting virtue.
We can see which rebirth we will be taking just by looking at our actions now—negative or positive, virtuous or non-virtuous. If we have done more non-virtuous actions than positive, then it is likely to be a bad rebirth.
If we are reborn in a hot hell realm, the body will become inseparable from the very nature of the flames, or fire. In hot weather here in Australia, we feel uncomfortable and turn on our air conditioners, but in the hot hells our body becomes fused with the fire and is unbearably hot. If we are born as a cold hell being, then our body becomes inseparable from the coldness of the ice and once again there is no relief. But at the present time if the weather becomes cool, when we find it unbearable we turn on our heaters.
When we do the fasting practice, the nyung-nä, we do it only for the required amount of time, but if we were born as a sentient being in the hungry ghost realm, then for aeons we would have to stay without food in a constant state of starvation.
If we were born as a sentient being in any of those bad migrations we would understand just how bad it is there and we would seek refuge. Just as a criminal turns to a solicitor to defend him, we too, would have to turn to the kind of refuge we could rely on for support.
A criminal must depend on a solicitor for the entire length of time that all charges are made against him. Likewise, we have much negativity created from beginningless lifetimes and so we have to depend for protection on refuge in the Three Jewels. This has to be continuous and for a very long duration. Before death comes we should at least have generated the attitude of going for refuge and observing the law of cause and effect.
If we can generate a feeling of fear towards the suffering of the bad migrations and so generate an attitude of wanting to go for refuge to the Three Jewels as well as observing the laws of cause and effect, then definitely in the next life we will obtain rebirth as a human. However, a practice done only with this much motivation is merely a spiritual practice, without pure motivation, because to be reborn again as a human being is not a permanent release from suffering.
So if a person has not done any spiritual practice, they will still continue with those sufferings. This body is called the aggregates of the contaminated mind, which means that it is the result of negative actions. This human body which has been attained is the result of non-virtuous actions. This is called in itself, cyclic existence.
No matter what kind of body we have, as long as there is suffering, that body is called the contaminated result of non-virtuous actions. The aryas, the ones who have attained realizations on the path of seeing, have eliminated the cause for suffering, the ego-grasping, so they no longer suffer experience cyclic existence. However, as long as we have ego-grasping, there will be this suffering body.
Of course, the wisdom realizing emptiness is the only means to uproot the cause of suffering, the ego-grasping. We can do visualizations, aspirational prayers, the practice of Chenrezig the Buddha of Compassion, as well as other practices and we can be reborn in one of the pure realms. Once we are reborn there, we are still ordinary people of course, but because we are doing practices and receiving teachings, from there we can gain enlightenment.
If we do the nyung-nä fasting practice along with very pure mantra recitation, as well as aspirational prayers to the deity, we will be reborn in one of the pure realms. So from this point of view, we can understand the very great potential of this human body.
If we decide to do a spiritual practice there are many options and alternatives available to us. There are practices that will bring us rebirth into any of the pure realms. It is only a matter of choosing to practice or not. It is just like going to a very big shopping centre where we can choose from the many different products being offered.
If we want to eliminate the causes of suffering during this lifetime, we must attain the wisdom realizing emptiness and for this purpose, for the time being, we have to abide on the three higher trainings. These are the trainings in morality or discipline, in concentration and in wisdom. If we practice these higher trainings, we can, at least, be freed from the three lowest realms of cyclic existence.
When we attain liberation, we are freed from cyclic existence, but that is not enough because there is still self-interest there. It is a completely selfish attitude to be only interested in our own attainment of the goal, because there are still mother sentient beings who suffer. To be freed from cyclic existence is not the ultimate attainment, because we have still not attained all the qualities and overcome all the weaknesses.
The attitude we must generate is one of great courage. We have to think, “I will release all these sentient beings from suffering. With this purpose in mind, I will first have to attain the state that has all the qualities and is completely without any evils or weaknesses.” In other words, we must attain buddhahood. The word for buddhahood in Tibetan means being awakened from the sleep of ignorance and having all the qualities developed. This is the state we must attain in order to help all sentient beings.
In order to do the practice so that we will attain the state of buddhahood, first we must understand the practice. To understand the practice, we must first listen to the teachings, and so it is with this attitude and understanding that we must now generate the motivation for listening to the teachings.
The Seven-Point Mind Training Practice
The practice to attain buddhahood—completely attaining the qualities without any negativities—is a very profound subject. It is called the Seven-Point Mind Training practice.
This is a most profound teaching and in a sense it is the innermost essence of the teaching of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana path. It is the practice that we must consider as the most important in order to attain the highest form of enlightenment. There is no greater or meaningful practice than this one.
This Seven-Point Mind Training text was written down by Geshe Chekawa, but it was not something that he invented, nor is it new. The subject was taught by Buddha along with all the practices of mind training, but no matter what subject headings and subdivisions there are, they are all included in the Seven-Point Mind Training practice by Geshe Chekawa.
The source of this text originated with the Buddha and most especially when he generated bodhicitta in the hell realm while pulling a chariot along with other sentient beings. The source also lies with the text by Nagarjuna called The Precious Garland and the great Shantideva’s Engaging in the Deeds of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryavatara).
At the beginning of the text, Geshe Chekawa pays homage to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, by saying, “I prostrate to Avalokiteshvara.” This has a special significance because it ensured that his work of compiling the text would be successful and be without any hindrances. It seems that respect is paid explicitly to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, but it also implies that respect is paid to the compassion that is within all sentient beings, because this was the actual source that the Buddha of Compassion arose from.
All the qualities of the Mahayana path have great compassion as their source either in the beginning, the middle or at the end. In the beginning, great compassion is like the seed being planted in the soil; in the middle, the seed is nourished with water, sunlight and caring which is like the cause for continuous practice; and at the end it is like the ripening of the crop so that we can eat and live.
If there are no continuous conditions such as teachings and discourses, there can be no result, therefore all the qualities of the Mahayana path lie in the beginning, the middle and the end.
In order to show that the Seven-Point Mind Training text was not newly invented by himself, and in order to show its authenticity; that it originated with the Buddha, Geshe Chekawa states in the second line of the text that “this teaching has been passed from Lama Selingpa.”
The teaching was passed from Shakyamuni Buddha to Atisha, who passed it to Dromtönpa under a seal of secrecy. Dromtönpa passed it to Potowa and others in secret. Geshe Sharawa passed it to his disciple Chekawa, who gave the teachings to the public.
In the Beginning
This teaching has its origins in the great compassion or bodhicitta of the Buddha when during one of his rebirths as an ordinary sentient being suffering in a hell realm, he saw others trying to pull a very heavy chariot. Through his great compassion, he understood that the ego-grasping mind was something negative, whereas caring for others was something positive. This became the basis of the Seven-Point Mind Training practice. With this attitude in mind, he helped the other people pull the cart. The agent of the hell realm crushed a very heavy hammer down on the head of Buddha and said, “Why are you taking onto yourself the burden of others? You do not need to do that!” From then on the Buddha took rebirth into a higher aspect. So it is that this teaching, with its emphasis on the great compassion, originated from the very first act of Buddha at that time.
In the Middle
This teaching also has a deed of the Buddha in the middle. Once he was born as a boy, but each boy born to that mother died, so it was believed that he should be given a girl’s name. So this Buddha was named Zaway Pumo. Zaway Pumo sold things in the market place and gave the money to his mother. However, one day he wanted to go with other merchants to trade in faraway countries, but his mother insisted that he didn’t go as it would be too dangerous. He decided to go, so he walked over his mother’s body and was out of control.
This boy went on a sea voyage and passed the coasts of four different islands or countries, each with a different name. The first place was called “the country of joy.” He met four or five different girls there, but still he moved on to the next place. The next place was called “the supreme joy.” He continued on to all these wonderful islands in this way and it was believed that this journey was the result of the boy giving his earnings to his mother. So a very good result ripened from this action and he was able to enjoy the benefits of those countries.
Finally he came to a country where there was a house and inside there were many people who were suffering very badly. An iron rod circulated over the heads of the people like a fan and as it went around it kept cutting and smashing their heads. The boy saw this and it caused him great distress. When he asked these people why they were experiencing such strange suffering, they replied that it was because they had stepped over their mother’s head in the past. This was considered to be a very disrespectful act.
Suddenly a voice sang from somewhere in the sky, saying that the rod that had been circulating over the heads of these people would now stop and the people did not have to suffer any more. But now the iron rods would circulate over the head of the boy instead. This was the result of the ripening of the act where the boy had walked over his mother’s head in the past. While the boy was experiencing the great suffering of the iron bar over his head, he began to consider the self-cherishing and ego-grasping mind and so it was at this point that he generated the attitude of caring for other sentient beings more than for himself.
At the End
He thought about the unbearable suffering of those who had committed similar acts towards their mothers and how they would have to experience similar suffering. With this reasoning he thought, “May the result of sentient beings of the past, present and future who may have stepped over their mother’s body ripen upon me.” Because he generated this attitude so powerfully, the iron rod that had been circling over his head immediately went away.
If we experience problems with sickness or other similar desperate situations, it is good to think about this incident of the Buddha during one of his past lifetimes when he had a girl’s name. Instead of being depressed, we can generate an attitude of courage—that this sickness can be substituted for the sufferings of other sentient beings.
So whenever we experience physical or mental suffering, no matter what the problem, instead of being depressed, generate a good heart towards taking on the responsibility for others. This can be very effective. This method is a very profound instruction; it is very effective in removing suffering.
The spiritual practice of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana, is something that has to be accumulated bit by bit, atom by atom. It does not come upon us suddenly and at a certain time. The process is not like that, it has to be achieved bit by bit.
So when we begin the teaching with the prayer of going for refuge and then the aspiration to the highest enlightenment, that is to say, buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, then we recite the four-line prayer as we have just done. So within that, as you know, we should recite, 'through the merit I receive by engaging in listening to this teaching, may I achieve buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings'. The lama who is giving the discourse recites 'through the merit I achieve through explaining the Dharma'. So as we, the disciples, are not explaining the Dharma, then we needn't recite this, so we should recite 'through the merit I receive through listening to this teaching, may I achieve buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings'.
So one of the most important things before receiving a Dharma teaching is one's motivation for receiving the teaching. So our motivation should be one that is in accordance with the Dharma, that is to say, in accordance with the Three Jewels. So what should our motivation be? Most of us already know, but it's good to go over that. One should listen to the teaching with the thought 'I must achieve the highest unsurpassable enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings in order to lead them out of the state of dissatisfaction into one of everlasting satisfaction'. So with this motivation one should then listen to the teachings, not rather with the motivation to gain fame or renown or some kind of strange blessings; rather one should adjust one's motivation or attitude to one of achieving the highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The Benefits of Listening to the Dharma
So with regard to this attitude or motivation for receiving the teaching - initially if we understand the benefits of listening to the teaching, of receiving the Dharma discourses, then we will willingly engage in the practice of hearing the teaching, or delight in hearing the teaching. So then we should understand this through an example: If we are engaging in some kind of worldly work, for example a business, if we understand the benefits of engaging in a certain business deal, then we will put a lot of effort into that business deal, we won't have a two-pointed mind, that is to say, we won't have doubt with regard to that deal because we will have firstly seen the benefits, understood the actual deal itself and then engaged in that action. So in the same way when engaging in the practice of Buddhism, then initially one should understand the benefits of engaging in the Dharma practice.
So this is understood through understanding a quotation from a book which talks about the benefits of hearing the Dharma. So within this text then it first instructs that we should delight in the practice of hearing the Dharma because through this all qualities arise. So what is meant by this is that through engaging in the three higher trainings, we achieve the state of liberation; whether we are engaging in a lesser vehicle practice or in a greater vehicle practice, we achieve the result which is the state of liberation. Of those three higher trainings, the most important is the one of wisdom. So with regard to this wisdom which is crucial at the base and path and resultant level of the path, then how does this come about, how do we generate this wisdom within our mind, or within our being? We generate this through initially hearing a teaching about wisdom and then engaging in that particular practice. So initially then, the benefits that come about through engaging in the three higher trainings - the state of liberation and so forth - all come about through initially hearing the Dharma teaching.
Then the second line from that text goes on to say that through listening, negativity, or non-virtue, is reversed. So what this means is that through hearing the teaching, we understand what is virtuous to take up and what is non-virtuous and thus what are the objects to be abandoned. So this is principally talking about the higher training of morality. So here then if we talk about restraint - what is meant by 'restraint' here is the subduing of negative actions or negative states of mind. So this again is something that is learned through hearing the teaching. So through hearing the teaching we understand what is meant by a negative action and how to refrain from that particular action - we understand what is the base, what is the motivating factor, what is the intention with regard to the particular action or the particular karmic deed which we are going to perform and then what is meant by the rejoicing in that action afterwards. So then if we don't understand this fourfold mode of action, then we can easily engage in negative actions, and then the ripening result of those, or the negative result of those, which will inevitably come will just be something that causes us displeasure later on.
For example, if we have not heard the Dharma teaching about the necessity of abandoning the negative action of stealing, we might engage in the practice of stealing, through borrowing something and not returning it, or we might engage in the practice of killing through being pestered by an insect, and through this we will inevitably receive the result of such actions. If we don't want to have such unpleasant karmic results, we need to know what actions to abandon, and the only way we are going to understand what actions are to be abandoned is through hearing the Dharma teachings. So again here then, the praise of listening to the Dharma teaching is that one will know exactly what negative actions to reverse and this is only understood through initially engaging in the practice of hearing a teaching upon that.
So then the third line talks about the higher training of concentration. So if we talk about the mind of calm abiding, or shamatha, then this mind is one which spontaneously and effortlessly remains single-pointedly upon its object of observation. So let's talk about the achieving of that state of mind - what does one need to initially engage in? One needs to initially understand what is meant by the object of observation, the object upon which we are going to generate this single-pointed mind, this single-pointed concentration. Then we need to understand what are the beneficial mental factors which we need to take up, for example faith in the practice, introspection and so forth. Then we also need to know the objects of abandonment which are abandoned by these positive attitudes, for example mental sinking, laxity and so forth. So when we understand what is to be taken up and what is to be abandoned on this path of achieving this single-pointed mind of concentration, we will be able to engage in this particular practice of achieving a mind of calm-abiding. So again, we only know what objects are to be taken up and what objects are to be abandoned (in this case, mind-states) through engaging in the practice of hearing the teaching about this particular mind-state, or the mind of calm abiding.
Then the last line says that in essence one achieves the state of liberation through hearing the teaching. So here when we talk about having engaged in the practice of the three higher trainings, the natural result of that is to achieve the state of liberation. If we look for the root cause of achieving the state of liberation, we will find that it is hearing the teaching. So initially when one engages in the practice of hearing the teaching, then generating the various wisdoms which arise form hearing, and then contemplating the teaching, and then meditating single-pointedly on the teaching, then through having done that one generates the yogic direct perception of suchness, and then through single-pointed placement on that, one goes through the various stages and paths and achieves then the state of omniscience. So all good qualities arise through initially engaging in the practice of hearing the teaching, thus hearing the teaching is incredibly important.
The Root Text
So after having gone through the benefits of listening to the Dharma, we should engage in the practice of listening to the Dharma teaching. So the Dharma teaching which we are going to receive today is known as The Three Principals of the Path. So when we talk hear about 'path', what is meant by 'path'? In general we can talk about various kinds of path, for example, a road or a rail-track, something which gets us from A to B. However in this instance, we are not talking about a worldly path, we are rather talking about a spiritual path, and what is meant here by a spiritual path is one which gets us from a spiritual A to B, travelling through the various stages, based upon the oral instructions of the past masters, the present masters, and then taking those instructions to heart, putting them into practice, and through that moving through various stages of spiritual evolution. Here 'principal' then refers to the main points of the path, like for example snatching the essence from what is known as the Lam-rim (or the graduated stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings. So when we talk of these 'three principals of the path', we talk about a person of smaller, middling and greater capacities and then the practices which are in common with a person of smaller, middling and then the pinnacle practice which is unique to a person of greater capacity. So within that division of three, what we find are various divisions and sub-divisions, but the essence is all kind of snatched together and put in these three principals of the path, which we are going to go through.
So this particular text was composed by Lama Tsongkhapa and it was something which he received while in communication, if you like, with Manjushri, and it is the heart-essence of his practice and also of the Lam-rim genre of texts. So this was requested by a disciple of his who lived in a place called Gameron which is on the Chinese-Tibetan border. This monk requested him to give him some inspiring word for his practice, and then Lama Tsongkhapa wrote this to him based on the teachings he had received in the pure vision, thus we have the written form of The Three Principals of the Path.
The Three Principals
So if you ask – ‘what are these three principals of the path?’ Initially then it’s renunciation. So 'renunciation' here refers to a turning away from the faults of the cycle of existence and yearning or directing one’s spiritual career towards liberation from such a state of existence. Then the second is the mind of bodhicitta. This refers to a mind which for the benefit of all sentient beings, through seeing sentient beings’ suffering, strives to achieve the highest state of enlightenment in order to be of maximum or optimum benefit. So through seeing the faults in one’s state of mind, through abandoning those, gathering all the qualities, achieving the mind of omniscience of the Buddha - this desire to achieve such a state - the mind of bodhicitta - is the second of the three. Then the third of the three is what is known as the 'correct view', also known as 'wisdom'. 'Wisdom' here then refers to the mode of abiding of phenomena, that is to say the middle way view - 'middle way' here being a middle way between the two extremes of annihilation and permanence. So this correct view of reality then is the third of the three principal aspects of the path.
So then initially we have the prostration and then the promise to compose the text. So initially then we have the first line of the text:
I bow down to the venerable lamas.
So then we should understand what is meant by this prostration - who is the object towards which the author is making this prostration? It is the field of merit, that is to say, the field upon which the prostrator, or the one making the supplication, receives the maximum amount of merit, that is to say, one's spiritual mentor, or one's lama. So here then the prostration is made to the venerable lamas. So here then we should understand what is meant by 'venerable lamas' by looking at the Tibetan word. If we look at the etymology of [Tib] - the first part [Tib] refers to the lama having heard a lot of teaching, that is to say, the lama is very knowledgeable about the Buddhist practice. Then the second part of that word [Tib] refers to not only having heard the teaching but then has accomplished, or has gained realisation of, that teaching through putting it into practice in a faultless fashion. So this then refers to the level of realisation of the lama. So here then [Tib] together refer to the lama's knowledge and then the realisation of that knowledge. Then the third word 'lama' - if we look at the meaning of this word, what we find is that it refers to the highest, or that of which there is none higher. So then this is the name given to one's spiritual master with whom there is none higher with regard to the knowledge of the teaching and the realisation of that teaching. So thus we have [Tib]. In Tibetan, there is the plural [Tib] - so [Tib] here refers to the various lamas of the various lineages, that is to say, of the profound lineage, of the vast lineage, there are many what we call 'lineage lamas'. So through saying 'I bow down to the venerable lamas' - using the plural, the author is showing his willingness to bow down before all the lamas of the lineage and in particular then his principal teachers.
The Promise to Compose the Text
So then we have now reached the first stanza which is the promise of composition, so I will read from the root text:
I will explain as well as I am able
the essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror,
the path praised by the Conqueror's offspring,
the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation.
So here when we talk about 'the teachings of the Conqueror', the 'Conqueror' here then refers to the Fully Enlightened One, the Buddha, and then 'the essence of the teachings' here - whether it be the various sutras or the various teachings of the Secret Mantra and the fourfold division therein, the essential part of all of this is what is going to be explained. So here then we have to understand what is meant by the teaching of the Buddha. It wasn't that the Buddha just gave a teaching and then everybody had to follow that teaching. Rather, as is mentioned by Nagarjuna in the 'Precious Garland', the Buddha teaches as a grammarian instructs his pupils. That is to say, a grammarian doesn't just teach advanced grammar to... [end of side - tape breaks here]
…initially then one would learn the alphabet, so you would learn the basic Tibetan grammar like [Tib], or in English 'A, B, C', then in dependence upon that you would learn how to form words and then sentences and then advance up into advanced grammar and so forth. So the Buddha taught his disciples in much the same way, that is to say, in a method which would lead them along a path. So 'path' here then is referring initially to renunciation. So there are two kinds of renunciation which are mentioned - one is to turn one's attention away from this life in and of itself and towards one's future lives; then to turn one's mind even away from future lives and put one's mind in a state where one wishes to achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. So thus then there is turning away from this life and then turning away from future lives, thus two kinds of turning away, and these are taught in stages to the aspiring disciples. In essence, we can say that the Buddhist teachings are taught as a method to subdue one's unruly mind, to subdue the destructive emotions which we find therein, and then to develop the spiritual qualities on top of that. So this is what is meant by 'the essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror', and here 'Conqueror' refers to having conquered all others, thus the Fully Enlightened One.
So then the second line of The Three Principal Teachings of the Path (which is the first in Tibetan) talks about the practice of renunciation. The third in English (and the second in Tibetan) - 'the path praised by the Conqueror's offspring'. So here then let us have a look at the word 'Conqueror's offspring'. Here then if we read from the Tibetan it says the holy Conqueror's offspring, or the exalted Conqueror's offspring. So this word 'exalted' means that a person in whose mental continuum, or mind, the wish to achieve full awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings has arisen, becomes a superior individual, thus kind of a holy individual. At that moment of generating the mind aspiring to the highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, a lot of negative karma is destroyed, and that person then becomes what is known as one of the 'Conqueror's offspring', or the son or daughter of the Victorious One. This is mentioned quite clearly in Shantideva's book called The Bodhicaryavatara where it says that just through having given rise to this, no matter what caste one is born to, one becomes renowned as the son or the daughter of the Victorious One. So no matter what caste or what colour one might be, one is equal in the sense that one will be equally regarded, through having given rise to this mind, as the offspring of the Victorious One. This mind then is one is which is extremely important and its importance cannot be overestimated because through this mind one achieves the state of buddhahood, and if one doesn't have this mind, if one hasn’t given rise to this thought, then no matter what practice one engages in, one will not come any closer to the state of omniscience.
Then the next line reads 'the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation'. So 'fortunate ones' here then refers to those who are engaging in the Buddhist practice - fortunate in the sense that we have become into contact with the Buddha's teaching and are able to put them into practice, and in particular, fortunate in the sense that we have come into contact with the teaching of the greater vehicle, or the Mahayana teaching. So this sentence is describing the third of the three principals of the path which is correct view, correct view of reality. Because as the line says, 'the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation'.
So here then 'desire liberation' - what is meant by 'liberation' and how does this sentence teach us about the correct view of reality? Here we have to understand what is meant by 'liberation'. So liberation then refers to a kind of release or an escape. So if there is a release, something has to loosen so we can escape from it, or if there is an escape there has to be something from which we are going to escape. So here then what we are escaping from or loosening and then getting away from is the destructive emotions, and then action, or karma. So these are the two fetters which bind us to the wheel, or cycle, of existence. So it is only through removing ourselves from the destructive emotions and action that one is able to achieve liberation.
So then if we think about what the cause of the destructive emotions and karma is, we can say that the root of the causes of cyclic existence (that is to say, of the destructive emotions and then the action which is brought about through them) is grasping at a truly existent or self-existent self or 'I'. So then if one wants to reverse this root, one needs to understand how this root is baseless, that is to say, we need to understand how phenomena actually exist and how, perceiving them in a wrong way, we develop these destructive emotions and then through having brought about these destructive emotions, we engage in action, the result of which is the wheel of existence, that is to say, the state of dissatisfaction. If we look at action and destructive emotions in and of themselves, then we find that the strongest of the two is the destructive emotions. If we look at the destructive emotions, then we find in the various college text books that there are two kinds, that is to say, the root and then the secondary destructive emotions, but whether it be root or secondary, these destructive emotions are emotions which cause us to have an unpeaceful or disturbed mind. So those states of mind are those which we are seeking to abandon through uprooting the root of those destructive emotions, that is to say, wrong view. So that which is going to uproot the wrong view is the correct view which is taught here in the third line - 'the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation'. 'Entrance' here then referring to the path which one has to engage in if one wants to achieve liberation, that is, the removal of the destructive emotions and the actions which come about through that.
Then the last line in the Tibetan which is the first in English is 'I will explain as well as I am able'. So through this we see that Je Rinpoche was a very humble individual. He in fact was an incredibly learned person, so he could easily have written 'I am going to explain the subject matter better than others or in a different way to others' but rather than that he wrote 'I will explain as much as I can, as well as I am able', then he went on to give the rest of the verse. So this clearly shows that Lama Tsongkhapa himself was a very humble individual who always took a low status.
The Cycle of Existence
So that concludes the promise to compose the text. The next stanza is a request to listen well to the teaching which is to follow. So in English it reads:
'Listen with clear minds you fortunate ones
who direct your minds to the path pleasing to the Buddha,
who strive to make good use of leisure and opportunity
and are not attached to the joys of samsara.'
'Not attached to the joys of samsara' here refers to having turned away from the pleasures in which one may indulge in the wheel of existence, that is to say, samsara. So having gained precious human existence which is adorned with leisure and opportunity, then engaging with effort in the practice of the path, then to make use of this human opportunity which we now have in our hands by directing our minds to the path which is pleasing to the Buddha. Here 'pleasing to the Buddha' means the path of the greater vehicle, that is to say, having engaged with effort in the practice of generating the mind aspiring to highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, and then engaging single-pointedly in that practice, thus the path which is pleasing to the Buddha. Then for the disciples listening to the discourse then - 'listen with clear minds you fortunate ones' - 'fortunate' in the sense of having come into contact with this particular teaching and then engaging in the practice thereafter.
So then the next stanza of the text reads:
Those with bodies are bound by the craving for existence;
without pure renunciation there is no way
to still attraction to the pleasures of samsara.
Thus from the outset, seek renunciation.'
So this stanza then teaches us that initially one should strive to generate a mind which is turned away from the world, that is to say, a mind which is free from seeking the pleasures of the cycle of existence, so one's attraction to those fetters have been reversed and thus one is striving in the opposite direction, that is to say, striving to achieve release from the cycle of existence. If one initially doesn't seek release from the cycle of existence, one isn't going to be able to get out of the cycle of existence, one isn't going to find any release from the cycle of existence within that. So initially one should seek renunciation from that cycle of existence. So as the text tells us, 'without pure renunciation, there is no way to still attraction to the pleasures of samsara', thus one will not be able to turn away from the pleasures of samsara, therefore one will still be trapped within that. So the first line reads 'those with bodies are bound by the craving for existence' - 'those whose bodies' then refers in particular to human beings who are bound by this craving for existence. So this craving is one which has to be reversed before one can really start out on the path of liberation.
Contemplation on the Preciousness of Human Existence
So then the next stanza reads:
Leisure and opportunity are difficult to find;
there us no time to waste.
Reverse attraction to this life, reverse attraction to future lives.
Think repeatedly of the infallible effects of karma
and the misery of this world.
So here then we are taught about renunciation, renunciation away from initially this life and then subsequently from future lives, so two kinds of renunciation are thus taught. So with regard to the first practice of turning one's mind from this life, one can bring about this change in one's attitude through reflecting on the preciousness of human existence, precious human rebirth, and then through the impermanence of human life. So through these kind of contemplations and the contemplation of action (cause and effect), one can turn one's mind away from the pleasures of this life and bring to mind the future lives which are yet to come. So the basis on which we can do this kind of contemplation is our human existence, that is to say our precious human rebirth which we now possess, a life of leisure and opportunity, which the text then tells us are difficult to find.
So if we want to quote, for example, from Lama Tsongkhapa's works, then we read that this human existence is more precious than a wish-fulfilling gem. So how is it more precious than that gem? In the worldly sense, if we have a wish-fulfilling gem, if we polish it, and put it atop a pole then whatever prayers we make to this wish-fulfilling gem are instantly fulfilled, through which we can have all the riches and enjoyments in one lifetime. But with regard to future lifetimes, there is nothing we can take with us. It is only in dependence upon this kind of human existence which we have now that we can put ourselves in a position where we will achieve the status of human being or god in the future, or if we so wish, the various kinds of liberation, that is to say, the greater and the lesser vehicle liberations from the cycle of existence. This can all be brought about only through dependence upon the support of precious human existence which is more precious than the wish-fulfilling gem in that we can fulfil our future aims through and in dependence upon this precious human existence.
Then it says that this human existence is something which is difficult to find. So here then we should understand why it is difficult of find, and this we can understand through two key points, that is to say, difficult to find because its cause is difficult, and through an example. So initially then through an example: In the sutras we read that the Buddha was once asked 'What is the difference between beings in the higher realms and those in the lower realms?' So to answer this the Buddha put his finger in the earth and said 'the amount of dust which I have on my fingertip symbolises those beings in the pleasurable states, or the states of bliss, whereas all the other grains of sand and dust which are on the face of the earth resemble those who are in the unfortunate states, or the states of suffering and misery'. So through that example we can see that having an existence which is within this fingertip of dust, that is to say, in the realms of bliss, or the higher realms, is something extremely difficult to achieve, whereas if we look all around us it's impossible even to count the amount of dust one might come into contact with in the street, something which is completely uncountable.
Then with regard to the cause, the cause is principally to guard ethical behaviour. So this is the root cause and this needs to be supplemented with the practice of the six perfections and complemented by stainless prayers. So we might think that if we don't keep virtuous or ethical behaviour but rather engage in the practice of the six perfections we may achieve some higher existence as a human, but as Nagarjuna mentions in his book, what we find is that wealth comes about through the practice of the perfection of giving, while the states of bliss (that is to say, the higher realms of existence humans, gods and so forth) come about through engaging in the practice of ethical conduct. This is commented upon by Chandrakirti in his book Entrance to the Middle Way when he says that through engaging in the practice of generosity, it doesn't necessarily follow that one will be reborn in the states of bliss (that is to say, in the higher states of existence), because even if one engages in the practice of giving, if one doesn’t protect one's ethical behaviour one may be reborn as a spirit which is quite wealthy or, for example, a snake spirit, a naga spirit, which is well-renowned for having plentiful jewels. Having wealth or jewels in that instance comes about through engaging in the practice of generosity; however, that individual hasn't engaged correctly in the practice of the protection of morality, therefore hasn't achieved the status of humans or gods (that is to say the realms of bliss) through the very fact of not protecting the cause, that is, ethical behaviour. So through contemplating these things we can come to see how the precious human existence which we now have in our hands is something which is not only more useful than a wish-fulfilling gem, but is also something which is incredibly difficult to come by.
Contemplation on Death
So then through these contemplations of one's precious human existence, one abandons all non-beneficial action. Then through contemplating how difficult it is to find such a human existence, one will seek out what will take the essence of this precious human existence, that is to say, one will put a lot of effort into engaging in the practice of the Dharma through seeing that one has in one's hands the incredible opportunity to make use of this life, and then the preciousness of one's life won't be carried off by the thief of laziness. So here we have to understand that this precious human life which we have is not something which is going to last forever - at some point there is going to be the separation of the mind and the body.
So when we talk about having a life-force within us, this life-force is basically referring to one's physical body and one's mind being joined together, so that when this joining of these two aggregates is broken, this is what is known as 'death', or the separation of the life-force. So when this occurs, one's physical form remains and is buried or whatever and then aggregate of consciousness goes on to one's future existence. So this is what is meant by 'death', and this is something which is definitely going to happen to all of us.
Now death is something which is definitely going to happen to all of us, but the time of our death is something which is not sure, not definite. If it were definite then we could mark it on the calendar and then just practice a bit beforehand, but however that is not the case - we could pass away at any time. So this being the case, we should really strive to engage in the practice of the Dharma while we have the chance to do that.
Then the third contemplation on death is that nothing is of any use to us at the time of death apart from the amount of time we have engaged in the practice of the Dharma. The reason for this is if we look at our predicament - when we are dying, no matter how rich we are, all our wealth gets left behind; no matter how many friends or associates we have, they all get left behind; even our body which we have striven so hard to protect and adorn and make look beautiful - this at the time of death gets left behind; and all that goes on to the future existence is the aggregate of one's mind and the amount of positive potential and Dharma practice which one has imprinted upon the aggregate of one's consciousness. So then we should contemplate that not only do we have this precious human existence which is difficult to find and has great meaning, but we should strive to put this into use through contemplating the great purpose of human life and how difficult it is to achieve that, through contemplating that we are definitely going to die, that the time of our death is uncertain, and that the only thing that will be of any use to us at the time of death is how much Dharma practice we have done in our life.
So the second line then:
There is no time to waste;
reverse attraction to this life…
So here what we are advised to do is to engage in the practices which we have gone through - contemplating the preciousness of one's human existence, how it is something difficult to come by and has great meaning and that it is not something which is going to last but rather is something that is at some point going to pass away. So through these contemplations, we come to the state of reversing attraction to this life. The sign of this is that we do not engage in any worldly actions, that is to say, actions which will bring about a result in this life, rather we are striving to utilise all our time to generate positive potential and positive Dharma training that will be of use to us in future lives. So once that has been developed fully within us, we can be said to be on our way with the practice which is in common with an individual of lesser capacity. Then we should try to emulate the great Kadampa geshe Potowa who used to spend all his time engaged in the practice of meditation or explaining the Dharma or engaging in different kinds of practice. He was continually meditating, reading Dharma, explaining the Dharma - he wasn't an individual like us who runs around doing this and that, but rather had just put his mind solely into Dharma practice, so we should strive to emulate such an individual.
Contemplation on the Karmic Law
So then the text goes on to tell us to:
reverse attraction to future lives;
think repeatedly of the infallible effects of karma
and the misery of this world.
So then one has a human existence now; if one turns one's attention away from this life and directs it towards one's future lives, the very best one can hope to achieve is another human existence like the one we have now or perhaps birth as a god or as a demigod (thus the three realms of bliss, or three higher realms). But if we investigate those three higher realms, they are not something which is stable, that is to say, they are not going to last for a long time - even having been born in those states we will inevitably fall from those states when the time of our death comes.
So the way we can reverse attraction towards, or thinking solely about, one's future existence is thus through contemplating the karmic law, that is to say, the law of cause and effect. So here this is a very profound subject, something which is quite difficult to go into great detail upon in such a short space of time, but if we go through the outline of four. Initially we should understand that karma, or action, is something which is definite, its increase is also something which is definite, and then one will not get certain results, for example a positive result, unless one engages in a positive action, that is to say the cause of such a result, and one won't get a result from which one hasn't planted the cause for its arising.
So if we look at this outline of four serially: Initially then that karma, or action, is definite. This means that if we engage in a positive action it is definite that the result of such an action, or such a karma, will be something positive. For example our human life now is the result of engaging in a positive cause in a past existence, and thus this is the ripening effect of that cause. Now the doubt can come - if someone is born as a human and is continually ill or undergoes a great amount of difficulty in their life, then we might feel 'well, that person is born as a human which, you say, is the result of a positive action; however, their human existence is not anything particularly joyous, anything particularly blissful - so how can that be the result of a positive cause?' So here we should understand a distinction between the different kinds of causes and the different kinds of results of those causes. The very fact that a sick individual has a human body is the result of a positive seed which was planted sometime in a previous existence. However, the various difficulties that this individual undergoes are not the result of the same cause, they are rather the results of different causes, or different karmas. That is to say, that individual has not only committed positive actions in the past, but has also committed negative actions, the ripening results of which are manifest as various difficulties, that is to say, illness etc.
So we can also understand this in reverse - if we look at certain kinds of animals, for example, dogs and cats - even though they are members of what we call the animal kingdom, or are included in the lower realms of existence, then they can still have the results of having committed positive causes in a previous existence. For example, we see dogs that are very, very beautiful, have very beautiful barking, cats that have very beautiful purring and so forth, very beautiful fur, very beautiful tails etc. So these results are not the results of negative causes, or negatives karmas, but rather are the result of positive causes, even though the basis for their ripening is an inferior one which is brought about through a negative karmic action, or a negative cause.
Then the second part of the outline is that karmas, or actions, once committed, increase. We can learn this through a very simple worldly example - if we plant a seed, the result of that seed can be something as huge as a great tree and yield lots of fruit. So a huge tree comes about through a tiny seed and in the same way a small action can bring about a great result, whether it be positive or negative. We read in the biography of the Buddha that a child threw some grains into the Buddha's begging bowl when the Buddha was walking past. Obviously the child couldn't just reach up and put them in the bowl because he was just a child and the Buddha was an adult, so there was a great difference in height. But even through throwing these grains, it is said that four of the grains fell in the begging bowl and one fell on the circular rim of the bowl, and even though this cause was something very, very small, it is said that the result of this was that the individual was born as a wheel-turning king with complete power over the four continents. So even from a small karmic action such as that, the result is something which is much, much bigger and this is explained clearly in the sutras.
Then the latter two of the outline of four are that if one hasn't generated certain causes then one won't experience the result of those causes, and the opposite - if one has accrued certain causes then one will definitely receive the result of those causes. So here then if one engages in a virtuous action then the result of that is something definite which will come to one and vice versa - if one has engaged in a negative action then the result of that is certain to come to one no matter what one's circumstances. We can still see this through an example given in the sutras: When the Sakya lineage of India (that which the Buddha belonged to) were destroyed, all wiped out simultaneously, two of them were hiding in a field, and it is said that even though they were far away from the battleground, owing to the light of the sun, the field caught fire and they perished in the fire. So the Buddha was asked about this: 'These two people who escaped from the battleground then went to this field to hide - how is it that they died at the same time that the Sakya clan was wiped out?' He explained that even though they weren't in the actual battleground, then they still had a similar karma to die at that particular time. So we can see various stories which give us solid examples of how that if we have accrued certain kinds of causes, their effect is definitely going to occur at that time unless that karma is exhausted in some way.
This brings us to the fourth of the outline of four which is that karma in and of itself never goes to waste, that is to say, it doesn't grow rotten and then suddenly disappear in and of itself, rather it is something that stays with us unless it is destroyed. So here then we have the understanding that karma is not something which we have to undergo - we can, if we apply the right antidotes, rid ourselves of these particular positive or negative karmic actions. So as it said then, the only good thing about bad karma is that is can be removed from our mindstream, or from our being. For example if we engage in the practice of love, this is the antidote to anger, and the reverse is quite the same - if we generate anger, this is the thing which destroys love ie virtuous states of mind. So if we have accrued a great amount of positive potential, or karma, this can be destroyed in a moment of anger. And with regard to negative states of mind which we may have generated in the past, if we engage in the opponent powers practices of regretting and then applying the various methods of confession and so forth, we can rid ourselves of these negative karmic seeds which we have in our being since we have accrued them in the past.
So the stanza then tells us to also reflect upon the misery of this world, or the cycle of existence, but tomorrow in the section on compassion, we will engage in the contemplation on the misery of the cycle of existence, so there's no need to go into this now. So if you have a question or two?
Question: I wanted to ask about collective karma. Rinpoche talked a bit about karma but how is it that one karma over-rides and brings a whole group of people to one disaster out of all the karma that there could be?
Rinpoche: With regard to the understanding of karma for an individual - if we understand this well, we will understand that through engaging in positive causes a positive result comes about, and the same for engaging in destructive karmic actions or causes - the result of that will be something unpleasant. So it is not that a group of people collectively engages in one particular action and then goes on to another action, but rather if we understand that through engaging in a positive cause, a positive effect comes around, not only for ourselves but if say everyone in the room has generated a similar cause in the past then the result for all of us can ripen at the same time. It's not that a group has to create a cause as a group, and then kind of all gather back and, as another group, have that result. For example, if we look at time - now we are in the time of the five degenerations, so it's not that we were all in some previous existence engaging in a particular action and the particular result of that is now undergoing the time of the five degenerations; but rather it is that we have engaged in various kinds of negative actions in the past, the result of which - the time of the five degenerations - is being experienced by all people, albeit in slightly different ways.
Question: I have a question for Rinpoche about renunciation. Here in the West we like to have comfortable homes, we have nice clothes, things like that, so I ask how we can practice renunciation without giving up all these things? [Big laugh from class!]
Rinpoche: It's very important to have a sense of satisfaction with oneself, that is to say, if we in general look at the way we behave, if we have some kind of enjoyment, we are always looking to better that enjoyment. If we are wearing some kind of particular clothing, we are always seeking something which is more beautiful, if we have some delicious food, we are always looking for something to match that or better that food. So our mind is not something very content at this point, so it's very important to develop a content and peaceful mind which is looking at one's enjoyments in a realistic fashion. That is to say, whatever we get, be it the very best, we are never going to be satisfied with that if we engage in desire for perfect objects, or beautiful objects - we are always going to try to find something which is better than what we have at the moment. With relationships, having friends, be they Dharma friends or whatever, when we come together, there is always going to come a time at the end when we disperse; and, for example, with our body, we have perfect human existence now, but this is not something which is going to last, it is something which is going to pass out of existence. So if we have a mind which is attached to and desirous of better and better objects, we are always going to be within a state of dissatisfaction, so a mind of satisfaction is something that is extremely important to develop, and more will be said about this in tomorrow's session.
So before tomorrow's session it would be excellent if you could contemplate the subject matter which we have gone through today. I have received this teaching many, many times from many high and extremely realised masters and they in return have received this from their teachers and thus we can trace the lineage back to Buddha himself. So through the blessing of the lineage there is definitely some benefit to be derived from engaging in these contemplations. Whether there is any direct benefit coming from me or not, there is doubt with regard to that, but with regard to the blessing of the lineage, as I mentioned I have received this teaching many times from many highly realised lamas, so remembering their instructions, I am imparting them to you. So if you could engage in the practice of contemplation on the subject matter, that would be excellent.
A teaching given to the monks and nuns of the International Mahayana Institute at Boudhanath, Nepal, 2 February 1975. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. For a translation of the root text, see Appendix 1 of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment, or www.lam-rim.org. Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Before listening to this teaching, first generate bodhicitta, thinking, “I want to receive enlightenment for the benefit of all mother sentient beings.” In other words, before listening to teachings, it is necessary to think of, to remember, all mother sentient beings.
The subject today is Lam-drön, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which was written in Tibet by the great Atisha (Dipamkara Shrijnana), who was born about the year 982 in northeast India as the son of a Bengali king.
Buddhadharma had already been established in Tibet before Atisha’s arrival there, but an evil king called Langdarma (Udumtsen), who was said to have horns growing from his head, hated the Dharma and caused it to degenerate in Tibet. But even though the teachings had been corrupted, they still existed—just not as purely as before. It took about sixty years to restore the teachings to their original purity in what became known as the later spreading of the Dharma in Tibet.
How that happened was that in western Tibet, in the kingdom of Gugé, there lived a Tibetan king, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö, and his nephew, Jangchub Ö. They decided to invite a learned and realized teacher from the great Indian monastery of Vikramashila to spread Dharma in Tibet. When they investigated to see who was the most learned and realized person there, they discovered that Atisha would be by far the best one to invite.
But before Lha Lama Yeshe Ö could request Atisha to come from Vikramashila to Tibet, he needed to find gold to make a proper offering, so went to a place called Garlog in search of it. However, before he could accomplish his mission, the ruler of Garlog threw him in prison, where he died. In that way, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö sacrificed his life to bring Atisha to Tibet.
Then his nephew, Jangchub Ö, sent emissaries to India to invite Atisha to Tibet. When he finally met Atisha, he explained how the Dharma had degenerated during Langdarma’s rule and how correct teachings no longer existed in Tibet, and requested Atisha to give the Tibetan people fundamental teachings on refuge, bodhicitta and so forth they were so ignorant. Therefore, Atisha wrote the precious teaching, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. This text is based on the Prajnaparamita teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and is the source of not only all the Gelug lam-rim teachings but also those of the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which all practice the graduated path to enlightenment and quote it in their teachings.
After generating bodhicitta, as above, our main task is to attain enlightenment. Now, even though we might think that life in samsara is pleasant, it’s not. There is no true pleasure in samsara. Enlightenment can be attained only through the practice of Dharma. Therefore, we should all practice Dharma.
In terms of teachings in general, there are two types: Buddhadharma and the teachings of the outsiders [Skt: tirthika; Tib: mu-teg-pa]2, which are based on mistaken beliefs, understandings opposite to those of Buddhadharma. By following such non-Buddhist teachings, you can be born anywhere from the lower realms to the peak of samsara, the highest of the four formless realms, but you can never escape from suffering.
Within the Buddhadharma, there are also two divisions: Hinayana and Mahayana. By following Hinayana teachings, you can escape from samsara but you cannot attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment, you have to practice Mahayana teachings. Within the Mahayana there are the teachings spoken by the Buddha himself and those written later by his learned followers, the eminent Indian pandits, including the six ornaments and the two supremes,3 and the great Tibetan masters.
The teaching we are discussing here, then, is that written by the learned pandit Dipamkara Shrijnana, the Lam-drön. What is it about? It derives from the Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization (Abhisamayalamkara) and explains the three levels of teaching: the paths of the practitioners of small, middling and supreme capacity, especially the latter.
Verse-by-verse commentary on Lamp for the Path
The text opens with the title of this teaching in Sanskrit, which in Tibetan is Jang-chub lam-gyi drön-ma. This is followed by homage to Manjushri.
1. The first verse includes three things. First there is homage to the Triple Gem: the buddhas of the three times, the oral teachings and realization of them, and the sangha—those who have received the unshakable, or noble, path. Second, he mentions that his pure disciple, Jangchub Ö, requested him to give this teaching. Third, he makes the promise, or vow, to write this teaching, this lamp for the path to enlightenment, the Lam-drön.
2. In the second verse, Atisha explains what he’s going to write about: the graduated paths of the persons of least, intermediate and supreme capacity, or capability. These are also the paths that Lama Tsongkhapa explains in his short, middle-length and great lam-rim teachings—the graduated paths of these three types of practitioner.
3. Of the three levels of follower, Atisha first explains the graduated path of those of least capacity. Such people think, “I don’t care what suffering or happiness I experience in this life; I must avoid rebirth in the lower realms and attain an upper rebirth.” With this in mind, practitioners of least capacity abstain from negative actions and practice virtue.
4. Persons of intermediate capacity develop aversion to not only the sufferings of the three lower realms but also to those of the three upper realms; to the whole of samsara. Such practitioners abstain from negative actions in order to free themselves from samsara, without much concern for other sentient beings.
5. Who, then, are the beings of greatest capacity? They are those who, having understood their own suffering, take it as an example of the suffering that other beings are also experiencing and generate the great wish of wanting to put an end to the suffering of all sentient beings.
6-11. There are six preparatory practices. First, visualize the merit field and make offerings. Then kneel down with your hands in prostration and take refuge in the Triple Gem. After that, generate love for other sentient beings by thinking of the sufferings of death, old age, sickness and rebirth as well as the three sufferings and the general suffering of samsara. In that way, generate bodhicitta.
12-17. It is necessary to generate the aspiration to attain enlightenment, and the benefits of doing so have been explained in the sutra called Array of Trunks. Atisha also quotes three verses from another sutra, the Sutra Requested by Viradatta, to further explain the benefits of bodhicitta.
18-19. There are two types of bodhicitta, relative and absolute. Within the category of relative there are two further divisions, the bodhicitta of aspiration—wanting to receive enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings, thinking, “Without my receiving enlightenment, I cannot enlighten others”—and the bodhicitta of engagement, actually following the bodhisattva’s path by taking the bodhisattva precepts and engaging in the actions of a bodhisattva, thinking, “In order to engage in positive actions and avoid negative ones, I am going to practice the six perfections.”
20-21. The teachings explain that in order to practice engaged bodhicitta, we should take the bodhisattva ordination, but in order to do so we should hold one of the seven levels of pratimoksha ordination, such as gelong, gelongma, getsul, getsulma and so forth.4 Ideally, then, we should hold one of these fundamental ordinations before taking the bodhisattva vow, but the learned ones say that in general, those who avoid negative karma and create virtuous actions can actualize bodhicitta, even if they don’t hold any pratimoksha precepts.
22. The bodhicitta of aspiration can be generated without dependence upon a lama, but engaged bodhicitta depends on a lama. To find a lama from whom we can take the bodhisattva vow, we have to know the qualifications of such a lama.
23-24. First, the lama should know all about the ordination and how to bestow it. Furthermore, he should himself be living in the bodhisattva ordination and have compassion for the disciple. That’s the kind of lama we need to find from whom to take the ordination. But what if we can’t find a perfect lama like that? Atisha then goes on to explain what, in that case, we should do.
25-31. The Ornament of Manjushri’s Buddha Land Sutra explains how, long ago, Manjushri generated bodhicitta. This is what we can do. Visualize the merit field and all the buddhas and, in their presence, generate bodhicitta, the intention to attain enlightenment. Then promise, “I invite all sentient beings as my guest to the sublime happiness of liberation and enlightenment. I will not get angry or harbor avarice, covetousness, jealousy and so forth. I will not harm other sentient beings in any way. I will live in pure discipline by avoiding all negative actions, even worldly desires and sense objects of attachment, such as attractive sounds and beautiful forms and so forth. I shall give up such things. As all the buddhas have followed pure moral conduct, so shall I.
“I will not try to receive enlightenment for myself alone. Even though it takes an endless amount of time to work for even one sentient being, I shall remain in samsara. I shall make pure the impure realms of sentient beings, places where there are thorns, rocks and ugly mountains. I shall also purify my three doors of body, speech and mind and keep them pure. From now on, I will create no more negative actions.”
32-35. The best way to keep our three doors pure is to generate aspirational bodhicitta, engage in the practice of bodhicitta and follow the path to enlightenment. This depends on observing the three levels of moral conduct—the pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows. If we do this properly, we can complete the two collections of merit and transcendent wisdom.
One thing that really helps us complete these two collections is the ability to foresee the future; therefore, we should try to acquire clairvoyance. Without it, we are like a baby bird whose wings are undeveloped and has not yet grown feathers and remains stuck in its nest, unable to fly. Without clairvoyance, we cannot work for other sentient beings.
36-37. The person who has achieved the psychic power to foresee the future can create more merit in a day than a person without this ability can create in a hundred years. Therefore, to complete the collections of merit and transcendent wisdom quickly, it is necessary to acquire the psychic power to see past, present and future.
38. In order to do this, it is necessary to achieve single-pointed concentration [Skt: samadhi; Tib: ting-nge-dzin]. For this, we must understand the details of the method of attaining samadhi, such as the nine stages, the six powers and the four mental engagements.5
39. In order to practice samadhi meditation properly, we must ensure that the conditions are perfect. If they are not, then even though we try practicing it hard for even a thousand years, we’ll never achieve it. Therefore, we should find a perfect environment, remain quiet and avoid having to do work such as healing the ill and making astrological predictions—any activity that keeps us busy.
40. The way to meditate to attain single-pointed concentration is to focus our mind on a virtuous object, such as an image of the Buddha. We visualize such an image in front of us and simply concentrate on that. As we focus our mind on the object again and again, we’ll be able to hold it for increasingly greater periods of time, and through the continuity of such practice will eventually attain calm abiding [Skt: shamatha; Tib: shi-né] and single-pointed concentration. Thus we will gain “higher seeing” [Tib: ngön-she], the psychic power to see the future and so forth.
41-43. But that is not the point. Next we have to practice penetrative insight [Skt: vipashyana; Tib: lhag-tong]. Without it, our samadhi cannot remove our delusions. In order to eradicate our two levels of obscuration—the obscurations of delusion [Skt: kleshavarana; Tib: nyön-drib] and the obscurations to knowledge, or omniscience [Skt: jneyavarana; Tib: she-drib]—we must achieve the wisdom realizing the non-self-existence of the I. Doing so also depends upon achieving method, such as compassion and so forth. It’s a mistake to practice only wisdom and not method. This can lead us to fall into individual liberation, or lower nirvana. Similarly, practicing only method and not wisdom is also a mistake and causes us to remain in samsara.
44-46. The Buddha taught that of the six perfections, the last of the six is the path of wisdom and the first five—charity, morality, patience, effort and concentration—are the path of method, or skillful means [Skt: upaya; Tib: thab]. First, we should meditate on method, then on wisdom, then on both together. By practicing both together, we can receive enlightenment; by practicing the wisdom of selflessness alone, we cannot.
47-49. Realizing the five aggregates [Skt: skandhas], the twelve sources and the eighteen constituents as empty of self-existence is recognized as higher wisdom. There is existence and non-existence: there is no such thing as the production of the existent, nor is there such a thing as production of the non-existent. There is no such thing as production of both the existent and the non-existent, nor is there production of neither the existent nor the non-existent. That is one form of logic negating the production of both the existent and the non-existent. There is also another form of logic negating production of a thing from self, other, both or neither—the four extremes. The main thing to discover here is non-self-existence. That can be found through the first line of logical reasoning, which negates production of the existent and the non-existent, and through the second, which negates production of the four extremes.
50-51. It can also be discovered through a third line of reasoning that examines things to see whether they are one or many. These lines of reasoning are elaborated by Nagarjuna in his Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness and in other texts, such as his Treatise on the Middle Way.
52-54. These things are explained in those texts, but here they are mentioned just for the purpose of practicing meditation. Meditating on the non-self-existence of the I and the non-self-existence of all other phenomena is meditation on shunyata, or emptiness. When the wisdom realizing emptiness analyzes the subject and the object, it cannot discover self-existence in either of those. Moreover, it cannot find self-existence in the wisdom of emptiness. Thus, we realize the emptiness of even the wisdom of emptiness itself.
55-58. Since this world is created by superstition, or conceptuality [Tib: nam-tog], if we eradicate the creator, superstition, we can attain liberation. The Buddha said that it is superstition that causes us to fall into the ocean of samsara. Therefore, that which is to be avoided is superstition, but the emptiness of superstition, which is like the sky, like empty space, is that which is to be practiced. By achieving this, we will be able to see the absolute nature of existence. Therefore, the bodhisattvas’ practice is to avoid superstition and thus to achieve the non-superstitious mind. Through the various different means of logic—by realizing the emptiness of the produced and of inherent existence—we can avoid superstition and achieve the wisdom of shunyata.
59. Then we can also attain the different levels of the path of preparation [Tib: jor-lam], the second of the five paths. We attain the four levels of this path and gradually the ten bhumis [Tib: sa], or bodhisattva grounds, as well. Finally, we attain the eleventh level, enlightenment itself.
60-67. Having realized shunyata, we can also gain the general realizations of tantra, such as the four powers of pacification, wrath, control and increase, and other attainments, such as “accomplishing the good pot.” Accomplishing the good pot means doing a particular meditation in retreat for a long time and, if we are successful, gaining the ability to just put our mouth to the opening of a pot and say something like “May I become the king of this country” and have our wish fulfilled.
Or we can gain the tantric power of the “eye medicine.” If we accomplish this, just by applying a special ointment to our eye we can see things precious substances such as gold, jewels and so forth even hundreds of miles beneath the surface of the Earth; no matter how far away they are, we can see them.
Through the practice of tantra we can receive enlightenment without having to undergo many great austerities. The tantric way to enlightenment is through happiness; other paths to enlightenment are through hard, austere practice.
There are four different levels of tantra: Action, Performance, Yoga and Highest Yoga Tantra. First we have to receive initiation. In order to do so, we have to make material offerings, such as gold or even members of our family—a spouse or a sibling— and with great devotion request our guru to give us the initiation.6 If he is pleased, out of his compassion he will then give us the initiation. Having taken it, we also receive the great fortune of being able to attain enlightenment and all the high realizations that come with it.
In Highest Yoga Tantra there are four different initiations: the vase, secret, transcendent wisdom and word initiations, the latter being where the guru imparts clarification, or proof, through verbal explanation. However, the secret initiation should not be given to those living in ordination. If monks, for example, take the secret initiation, they have to leave the monastic order, because those who have taken the secret initiation are required to practice with a female consort. If they do these practices without first returning their ordination, they lose it, the consequence of which is rebirth in hell.
To receive tantric commentaries, you first have to receive initiation. Without initiation, you cannot receive tantric teachings. You also cannot perform fire pujas [Tib: jin-sek] or give tantric teachings.
68. In the last verse, Atisha closes this text by describing himself as an elder [Tib: nä-tän], a full monk who, in the first twelve years after taking ordination, hasn’t created any moral falls; a senior full monk. He states that he has given this brief explanation on the steps of path at the request of his noble follower, Jangchub Ö.
Every lam-rim teaching ever written refers back to this text, A Lamp for the Path, irrespective of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition—Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya or Gelug. Where does the Lamp itself refer back to? That is to the Buddha’s prajnaparamita teachings. In terms of prajnaparamita texts, there are elaborate, intermediate and short, but the author of all of them is the Buddha. Therefore, all lam-rim texts have their source in the teachings of the Buddha.
If you want to understand the lam-rim well, you should study it as extensively as possible. When you understand the lam-rim well, you will understand the Lamp for the Path. Once you do, you should teach it all over the world.
There are many aspects of the Mahayana tradition, but in general, it contains great knowledge. The main thing, however, the fundamental thing, is concern for others, working for others, benefiting others. Followers of the Hinayana are mainly concerned about only their own samsaric suffering—in order to escape it, they follow the path of the three higher trainings: higher conduct, higher concentration and higher wisdom. There are many ways to explain how the Mahayana is different from and higher than the Hinayana, but the main difference is that Mahayana practitioners are more concerned with working for the welfare of others than their own.
People nowadays might think of helping other people, but Mahayana practitioners benefit not only other people but also suffering hell beings, pretas, animals and every other sentient being. There is not one sentient being who has not been our mother—all sentient beings have been our mother numberless times—therefore we should be concerned for their welfare, wanting them to become enlightened as quickly as possible. This, then, is the fundamental difference between the Hinayana and the Mahayana, this concern more for others than oneself, in particular, the wish to enlighten all sentient beings. That’s what makes the difference.
It is excellent that you are studying the vast and profound teachings of the Mahayana, thinking about them, analyzing them intently, and you should continue to do so. In general, there are many religions and everyone thinks that the teaching of his or her own religion is the best. But just saying that one’s own religion is the best doesn’t prove it’s the best; that doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, simply saying that Buddhadharma is the best religion in the world doesn’t make it so. However, there are many logical reasons you can use to prove that Buddhadharma is, in fact, the best.
For example, even accepting and practicing bodhicitta is very different from not accepting and practicing bodhicitta. Even in this, there’s a big difference between Buddhism and other religions; the fact of the presence of the practice of bodhicitta shows that Buddhism is higher than other religions, that Buddhism is the best. Buddhism also talks about dependent origination and emptiness; it explains dependent origination as it exists, right there. So, not only in conduct but also in view, Buddhism is very different from other religions and therefore the best. There are many ways to prove this.
However, Buddhadharma is something that the more you study it, the deeper it becomes, the more profound you find it to be. This is a quality unique to Buddhadharma. With other teachings, the more you study them, the lighter they become.
If you have understood any of what I have taught here, keep it in mind and build upon it. When you have understood more, keep that as your foundation and build further upon that. In this way, your knowledge will continually increase. Then, like the sun rising, spread Dharma in the West.
There are many countries, such as Vietnam, where Buddhism existed for centuries, but none were like Tibet. In those countries there existed only one aspect of the Buddhadharma, not all; but in Tibet, all aspects of the teaching existed—Hinayana, Sutrayana and Vajrayana. In order to study all this, you should learn the Tibetan language, study its grammar, and follow your lama properly.
[Dedication prayers are made and then the monks and nuns try to make offerings to Rinpoche.]
Please, don’t offer me anything. I have enough to eat and drink; that’s all I need. The reason I have given you this teaching is not to receive something but for you to practice purely. I’m not building monasteries or making offerings to statues and so forth so I have no need for money. I accept offerings only when I lack something. When I have enough, I don’t accept offerings, especially not from monks or nuns. My idea of wealth is different. Otherwise, teaching and taking money is a bit like making business. For now, I just want you to practice, but if things get bad and I don’t have enough to eat or drink, then maybe I’ll accept something.
[Then everybody received a blessing from Rinpoche, one by one.]
This teaching was given at Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre on November 14, 1979. Edited by Nicholas Ribush from an oral translation by Lama Gelek Rinpoche. First published in Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. Now appears in the 2005 LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.
Bodhicitta and wisdom
The enlightened attitude, bodhicitta, which has love and compassion as its basis, is the essential seed producing the attainment of buddhahood. Therefore, it is a subject that should be approached with the pure thought, “May I gain enlightenment in order to be of greatest benefit to the world.”
If we want to attain the state of the full enlightenment of buddhahood as opposed to the lesser enlightenment of an arhat, nirvana, our innermost practice must be cultivation of bodhicitta. If meditation on emptiness is our innermost practice, we run the risk of falling into nirvana instead of gaining buddhahood. This teaching is given in the saying, “When the father is bodhicitta and the mother is wisdom, the child joins the caste of the buddhas.” In ancient India, children of inter-caste marriages would adopt the caste of the father, regardless of the caste of the mother. Therefore, bodhicitta is like the father: if we cultivate bodhicitta, we enter the caste of the buddhas.
Although bodhicitta is the principal cause of buddhahood, bodhicitta as the father must unite with wisdom, or meditation on emptiness, as the mother in order to produce a child capable of attaining buddhahood. One without the other does not bring full enlightenment—even though bodhicitta is the essential energy that produces buddhahood, throughout the stages of its development it should be combined with meditation on emptiness. In the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, where the Buddha spoke most extensively on emptiness, we are constantly reminded to practice our meditation on emptiness within the context of bodhicitta.
However, the spiritual effects of receiving teachings on bodhicitta are quite limited if we lack a certain spiritual foundation. Consequently most teachers insist that we first cultivate various preliminary practices within ourselves before approaching this higher precept. If we want to go to university, we must first learn to read and write. Of course, while merely hearing about meditation on love, compassion and bodhicitta does leave a favorable imprint on our mental continuum, for the teaching to really produce a definite inner transformation, we first have to meditate extensively on preliminaries such as the perfect human rebirth, impermanence and death, the nature of karma and samsara, refuge and the higher trainings in ethics, meditation and wisdom.
What precisely is bodhicitta? It is the mind strongly characterized by the aspiration, “For the sake of all sentient beings I must attain the state of full enlightenment.” While it’s easy to repeat these words to ourselves, bodhicitta is much deeper than that. It is a quality we cultivate systematically within our mind. Merely holding the thought “I must attain enlightenment for the sake of benefiting others” in mind without first cultivating its prerequisite causes, stages and basic foundations will not give birth to bodhicitta. For this reason, the venerable Atisha once asked, “Do you know anybody with bodhicitta not born from meditation on love and compassion?”
The benefits of bodhicitta
What are the benefits of generating bodhicitta? If we know the qualities of good food, we’ll attempt to obtain, prepare and eat it. Similarly, when we hear of the great qualities of bodhicitta we’ll seek to learn the methods and practices for generating it.
The immediate benefit of generating bodhicitta within our mind-stream is that we enter the great vehicle leading to buddhahood and gain the title of bodhisattva, a child of the buddhas. It does not matter what we look like, how we dress, how wealthy or powerful we are, whether or not we have clairvoyance or miraculous powers, or how learned we are, as soon as we generate bodhicitta we become bodhisattvas; regardless of our other qualities, if we do not have bodhicitta we are not bodhisattvas. Even a being with bodhicitta who takes rebirth in an animal body is respected by all the buddhas as a bodhisattva.
The great sages of the lesser vehicle possess numberless wonderful qualities but in terms of nature, a person who has developed even the initial stages of bodhicitta surpasses them. This is similar to the way that the baby son of a universal monarch who, although only an infant possessing no qualities of knowledge or power, is accorded higher status than any scholar or minister in the realm.
In terms of conventional benefit, all the happiness and goodness that exists comes from bodhicitta. Buddhas are born from bodhisattvas but bodhisattvas come from bodhicitta. As a result of the birth of buddhas and bodhisattvas, great waves of enlightened energy spread throughout the universe, influencing sentient beings to create positive karma. This positive karma in turn brings them much benefit and happiness. On the one hand, the mighty stream of enlightened and enlightening energy issues from the wisdom body of the buddhas, but since the buddhas are born from bodhisattvas and bodhisattvas from bodhicitta, the ultimate source of universal goodness and happiness is bodhicitta itself.
How to develop bodhicitta
How do we develop bodhicitta? There are two major methods. The first of these, the six causes and one effect, applies six causal meditations—recognizing that all sentient beings were once our own mother, a mother’s kindness, repaying such kindness, love, compassion and the extraordinary thought of universal responsibility—to produce one result: bodhicitta. The second technique is the meditation in which we directly change self-cherishing into the cherishing of others.
In order to practice either of these methods of developing bodhicitta we must first develop a sense of equanimity towards all living beings. [See Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Equilibrium Meditation.] We must transcend seeing some beings as close friends, others as disliked or hated enemies and the rest as merely unknown strangers. Until we have developed equanimity for all beings, any meditation we do in an attempt to develop bodhicitta will not be effective. For example, if we want to paint a mural on a wall we must first get rid of all the cracks and lumps on its surface. Similarly, we cannot create the beautiful bodhicitta within our mind until it has been purified of the distortions of seeing others as friend, enemy or stranger.
The attitude of discrimination
The way we impute this discrimination upon others is quite automatic and, as a result, whenever we see somebody we have labeled “friend,” attachment arises and we respond with warmth and kindness. Why have we labeled this person “friend”? It is only because on some level or other this person has benefited or supported us. Alternatively, whenever we encounter somebody we have labeled “enemy,” aversion arises and we respond with coldness and anger. The reason is again because that person once harmed or threatened us in some way. Similarly, when we encounter somebody who has neither helped nor harmed us, we apply the label “stranger” and have no feelings for that person one way or the other.
However, if we examine this method of discriminating others we will quickly see that it is an extremely unstable process. Even in this life, people once regarded as friends become enemies and enemies often become friends. And in the countless lives we have taken since beginningless time while spinning on the wheel of life there is not one sentient being who has consistently been either friend or enemy.
Our best friend of this life could easily have been our worst enemy in a previous incarnation and vice versa. A friend who mistreats us quickly becomes an enemy and an enemy who helps us soon becomes a new-found friend. So which one is really the friend and which one the enemy? Instead of responding to others on the basis of the ephemeral benefit or harm they bring us we should meditate that all have alternately benefited and harmed us in the stream of our infinite past lives and, in that way, abandon superficial discriminations.
A root cause of this discriminating mind is the self-cherishing attitude, the thought that makes us consider ourselves more important than others. As a result of self-cherishing we develop attachment to those who help us and aversion to those who cause us problems. This, in turn, causes us to create countless negative karmas trying to support the “helpers” and overcome the “harmers.” Thus we bring great suffering upon ourselves and others, both immediately and in future lives, as the karmic seeds of these actions ripen into suffering experiences.
The benefits of cherishing others
A teaching says, “All happiness in the world arises from cherishing others; every suffering arises from self-cherishing.” Why is this so? From self-cherishing comes the wish to further oneself even at others’ expense. This causes all the killing, stealing, intolerance and so forth that we see around us. As well as destroying happiness in this life, these negative activities plant karmic seeds for a future rebirth in the miserable realms of existence—the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. Self-cherishing is responsible for every conflict from family problems to international wars and for all the negative karma thus created.
What are the results of cherishing others? If we cherish others, we won’t harm or kill them—this is conducive to our own long life. When we cherish others, we’re open to and empathetic with them and live in generosity—this is a karmic cause of our own future prosperity. If we cherish others, even when somebody harms or makes problems for us, we are able to abide in love and patience—a karmic cause of a beautiful form in future lives. In short, every auspicious condition arises from the positive karma generated by cherishing others. These conditions themselves bring joy and happiness and, in addition, act as causes for the attainment of nirvana and buddhahood.
How? To attain nirvana we have to master the three higher trainings in moral discipline, meditation and wisdom. Of these, the first is the most important because it is the basis for the development of the other two. The essence of moral discipline is abandoning any action that harms others. If we cherish others more than ourselves we will not find this discipline difficult. Our mind will be calm and peaceful, which is conducive to both meditation and wisdom.
Looking at it another way, cherishing others is the proper and noble approach to take. In this life, everything that comes to us is directly or indirectly due to the kindness of others. We buy food from others in the market; the clothing we wear and the houses we live in depend upon the help of others. And to attain the ultimate goals of nirvana and buddhahood, we are completely dependent upon others; without them we would be unable to meditate upon love, compassion, trust and so forth and thus could not generate spiritual experiences.
Also, any meditation teaching we receive has come from the Buddha through the kindness of sentient beings. The Buddha taught only to benefit sentient beings; if there were no sentient beings he would not have taught. Therefore, in the Bodhicaryavatara, Shantideva comments that in terms of kindness, sentient beings are equal to the buddhas. Sometimes, mistakenly, people have respect and devotion for the buddhas but dislike sentient beings. We should appreciate sentient beings as deeply as we do the buddhas themselves.
If we look at happiness and harmony we will find its cause to be universal caring. The cause of unhappiness and disharmony is the self-cherishing attitude.
At one time the Buddha was an ordinary person like us. Then he abandoned self-cherishing and replaced it with universal caring and entered the path to buddhahood. Because we still cling to the self-cherishing mind, we are left behind in samsara, benefiting neither ourselves nor others.
One of the Jataka Tales—accounts of the Buddha’s previous lives—tells the story of an incarnation in which the Buddha was a huge turtle that took pity on some shipwreck victims and carried them to shore on its back. Once ashore, the exhausted turtle fell into a faint but as he slept he was attacked by thousands of ants. Soon the biting of the ants woke the turtle up, but he saw that if he were to move, he would kill innumerable creatures. Therefore, he remained still and offered his body to the insects as food. This is the depth to which the Buddha cherished living beings. Many of the Jataka Tales tell similar stories of the Buddha’s previous lives in which he showed the importance of cherishing others. The Wish-Fulfilling Tree contains 108 such stories.
Essentially, self-cherishing is the cause of every undesirable experience and universal caring is the cause of every happiness. The sufferings of both the lower and upper realms of existence, all interferences to spiritual practice and even the subtle limitations of nirvana come from self-cherishing, while every happiness of this and future lives comes from cherishing others.
Engaging in bodhicitta
Therefore, we should contemplate deeply the benefits of cherishing others and try to develop an open, loving attitude towards all living beings. This should not be an inert emotion but one characterized by great compassion—the wish to separate others from their suffering. Whenever we encounter a being in suffering we should react like a mother witnessing her only child caught in a fire or fallen into a terrible river; our main thought should be to help others. With respect to those in states of suffering, we should think, “May I help separate them from their suffering,” and those in states of happiness, we should think, “May I help them maintain their happiness.” This attitude should be directed equally towards all beings. Some people feel great compassion for friends or relatives in trouble but none for unpleasant people or enemies. This is not spiritual compassion; it is merely a form of attachment. True compassion does not discriminate between beings; it regards all equally.
Similarly, true love is the desire to maintain the happiness of all beings impartially, regardless of whether we like them or not. Spiritual love is of two main types: that merely possessing equanimity and that possessing the active wish to maintain others’ happiness. When we meditate repeatedly on how all beings have in previous lives been mother, father and friend to us, we soon come to have equanimity towards them all. Eventually this develops into an overwhelming wish to see all beings possess happiness and the causes of happiness. This is great, undiscriminating love.
By meditating properly on love and compassion we produce what are called the eight great benefits. These condense into two: happiness in this and future lives for both ourselves and others and development along the path to full and perfect buddhahood. Such meditation results in rebirth in the three upper realms as a human or a god and fertilizes the seeds of enlightenment.
In brief, we should have the wish to help others maintain their happiness and separate them from suffering regardless of whether they have acted as friend or enemy to us. Moreover, we should develop a personal sense of responsibility for their happiness. This is called the “special” or “higher” thought and is marked by a strong sense of responsibility for the welfare of others. It is like taking the responsibility of going to the market to get somebody exactly what he needs instead of just sitting reflecting on how nice it would be if he had what he wanted. We take upon ourselves the responsibility of actually fulfilling others’ requirements.
Then we should ask ourselves, “Do I have the ability to benefit all others?” Obviously we do not. Who has such ability? Only an enlightened being, a buddha, has the ability to benefit others to the full. Why? Because only those who have attained buddhahood are fully developed and fully separated from limitations; those still in samsara cannot place others in nirvana. Even shravaka arhats or tenth level bodhisattvas are unable to benefit others fully, for they themselves still have limitations, but buddhas spontaneously and automatically benefit all beings with every breath they take. The enlightened state is metaphorically likened to the drum of Brahma, which automatically booms teachings to the world, or to a cloud, which spontaneously makes cooling shade and life-giving water wherever it goes.
To fulfill others’ needs, we should seek to place them in the total peace and maturity of buddhahood; to be able to do this we must first gain buddhahood ourselves. The state of buddhahood is an evolutionary result of bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is born from the special thought of universal responsibility—the thought of benefiting others by oneself alone. To drink water we must have both the desire to drink and a container for the water. The wish to benefit others by placing them in buddhahood is like the desire to drink and the wish to attain enlightenment oneself in order to benefit them in this way is like the container. When both are present, we benefit ourselves and others.
If we hear of the meditations that generate bodhicitta and try to practice them without first refining our minds with the preliminary meditations, it is very unlikely that we shall make much inner progress. For example, if we meditate on compassion without first gaining some experience of the meditations on the four noble truths, or at least on the truth of suffering, we will develop merely a superficial understanding. How can we experience mature compassion, the aspiration to free all beings from suffering, when we do not know the deeper levels of suffering that permeate the human psyche? How can we relate to others’ suffering when we do not even know the subtle levels of frustration and tension pervading our own being? In order to know the workings of our own mind, we have to know every aspect of suffering; only then can we be in a position to empathize with the hearts and minds of others. We must have compassion for ourselves before we can have it for others.
Through meditation on suffering, we can generate a certain amount of renunciation, or spiritual stability. This stability should be guarded and cultivated by the various methods taught on the initial and intermediate stages of training, which are the two main steps in approaching the meditations on bodhicitta. As we progress in our meditations on the suffering nature of being and the causes of this suffering, we begin to search for the path leading to transcendence of imperfection. We meditate upon the precious nature and unique opportunities of human existence, which makes us appreciate our situation. We then meditate upon impermanence and death, which helps us transcend grasping at the petty aspects of life and directs our mind to search for spiritual knowledge.
Because spiritual knowledge is not gained from books or without cause, its cause must be cultivated. This means training properly under a fully qualified spiritual master and generating the practices as instructed.
Merely hearing about bodhicitta is very beneficial because it provides a seed for the development of the enlightened spirit. However, cultivation of this seed to fruition requires careful practice. We must progress through the actual inner experiences of the above-mentioned meditations, and for this we require close contact with a meditation teacher able to supervise and guide our evolution. In order for our teacher’s presence to be of maximum benefit, we should learn the correct attitudes and actions for cultivating an effective guru-disciple relationship. Then, step-by-step, the seeds of bodhicitta our teacher plants within us can grow to full maturity and unfold the lotus of enlightenment within us.
This is only a brief description of bodhicitta and the methods of developing it. If it inspires an interest in this topic within you, I’ll be very happy. The basis of bodhicitta—love and compassion—is a force that brings every benefit to both yourself and others, and if this can be transformed into bodhicitta itself, your every action will become a cause of omniscient buddhahood. Even if you can practice to the point of simply slightly weakening your self-cherishing attitude, I’ll be very grateful. Without first generating bodhicitta, buddhahood is completely out of the question; once bodhicitta has started to grow, perfect enlightenment is only a matter of time.
You should try to meditate regularly on death and impermanence and thus become a spiritual practitioner of initial scope. Then you should develop the meditations on the unsatisfactory nature of samsara and the three higher trainings [ethics, concentration and wisdom] and thus become a practitioner of medium scope. Finally, you should give birth to love, compassion, universal responsibility and bodhicitta and thus enter the path of the practitioner of great scope, the Mahayana, which has full buddhahood as its goal. Relying on the guidance of a spiritual master, you should cultivate the seeds of bodhicitta in connection with the wisdom of emptiness and, for the sake of all that lives, quickly actualize buddhahood. This may not be an easy task, but it has ultimate perfection as its fruit.
The most important step in spiritual growth is the first: the decision to avoid evil and cultivate goodness within your stream of being. On the basis of this fundamental discipline, every spiritual quality becomes possible, even the eventual perfection of buddhahood.
Each of us has the potential to do this; each of us can become a perfect being. All we have to do is direct our energy towards learning and then enthusiastically practice the teachings. As bodhicitta is the very essence of all the Buddha’s teachings, we should make every effort to realize it.