Dharma for Daily Life is a compilation of lamrim teachings given by the Venerable Geshe Doga between 2001 to 2006 at Tara Institute, Melbourne, Australia. The teachings include advice regarding spiritual development, meditation and how to apply Dharma to daily life. Translated by Ven. Fedor Stracke and republished by Happy Monks Publication in 2014.
You can download the publication as a PDF here.
It is important to think about whether we have the potential to attain enlightenment or not. When we contemplate this, we should arrive at the conclusion that we are definitely able to attain enlightenment, for the reason that we have buddha nature.
Our mind has the potential to be fully purified of all mental stains. Without going into a great philosophical explanation we can say that this potential for complete purification is our buddha nature, and because of it we can generate bodhicitta and become enlightened. Our mind has the potential to be purified of all mental stains because the basic nature of the mind is unstained and clear.
Firstly, what is mind? Mind is non-physical. It does not have color, shape, taste, smell, sound, or a tactile quality. Its basic nature is clear. Because of this basic clear nature, it has the potential to reflect objects, or arise in the aspect of objects. If we investigate, we can experience this for ourselves.
If, while the mind is in a calm, non-conceptual state in which we are not thinking about anything, a single mental image appears to the mind, at this moment, the mind has reflected the object or has arisen in the aspect of that particular object. This is what the mind does – it reflects objects, and it can do this because its basic nature is clear, like glass.
From our own experience, we can sometimes feel the mind abiding in its basic nature. Then, while we are viewing our environment through this basic mind, it seems as if some other type of adventitious, disturbing mental attitude will come between our basic mind and our environment.
The basic, clear mind is what we refer to as the fundamental mind. It has a natural purity that it is free from any type of stain. Everyone’s mind has this natural purity, but adventitiously this purity is obscured by the various disturbing emotions and disturbing thoughts. It is like with clouds in the sky, or dirt in water. Clouds temporarily obscure the sky, but they are not of one nature with the sky. While the clouds temporarily obscure the sky, they are not solidly established as being one with it. They come and go. In the same way, disturbing thoughts and the harmful emotions such as attachment, anger, pride, jealously, or competitiveness temporarily obscure the natural purity of the basic mind, but they are not of one nature with this basic mind. This means that we do not exist as one with the afflictions.
It is the same with dirt in water. Initially, the water is clean-clear, but if dirt falls into it, the clarity of the water is temporarily obscured. The dirt is not of one nature with the water, but is a separate object from the water, and only temporarily obscures its clarity. Once the dirt has separated from the water, the water returns to being clean-clear. These examples shows how our disturbing thoughts and emotions are not of one nature with our basic buddha nature, but only temporarily obscure it. The mental stains only temporarily obscure our buddha nature, and are not a fixed feature in our mind.
The Union of Inner and Outer Happiness
Everybody wants to have happiness, and happiness is twofold. There is outer happiness, and there is inner happiness. To have outer happiness it is important to look well after one's body, and to have inner happiness it is important to look well after one's mind. Out of the two, inner happiness is the predominant factor that decides whether one has a happy life experience or not. We all know from experience that one can have tons of outer happiness without actually being happy, while one can have a total lack of outer happiness and yet still be happy as long as one has inner happiness.
Therefore it is important that we treat our mind well. Of course, external conditions are also needed for happiness, but the primary cause for happiness is the mind. To protect the mind, we need to meditate. Without meditation, it is not possible to protect the mind. Meditation means training the mind well in virtue, so that we are able to refrain from doing actions that we know will harm the mind. We should be able to act in accordance with our wisdom. First we must develop the wisdom that understands what is harmful to the mind and what is beneficial, by focusing the mind inwards and analyzing which mental states give happiness, and which mental states give suffering, and then we have to put that wisdom to use and refrain from actions that we recognize as harmful.
Changing the Mind
The purpose of meditation is to prevent harmful actions of body, speech and mind so that we can achieve peace and happiness. The happiness we are talking about here is not some transitory type of happiness, but the peace and happiness that is the truth of cessation – the total pacification of the mental afflictions, including their seeds.
To achieve that, we have to purify the mind of the mental states that make it heavy, unwieldy and unworkable. Through this process of purification the mind becomes flexible and serviceable. We then also gain control over our body and speech, because it is our mind that determines our actions of body and speech.
If we have many mental afflictions, we need to gradually reduce them to just a few. If we have strong afflictions we need to gradually make them weaker. In this way, our mind will naturally abide internally, enabling us to progress along the path and eventually eradicate completely the mental afflictions and their seeds.
Normally the underlying motivation for all our actions is to attain every possible happiness and eliminate any type of suffering. Since all our actions of this life have been carried out with this motivation of self-interest, we should by now have some mental satisfaction and happiness to show for our efforts.
For example, many people work throughout their lives with the idea that, when they retire, they will have enough money to relax. However, while they have accumulated the external conditions to physically relax, they may find that they have neglected the internal conditions that facilitate a happy, peaceful mind and inner mental satisfaction. If they were to examine their situation closely, they would conclude that they are in this position due to an unsubdued mind.
What happens in our mind is much more important than what happens externally. It is important to withdraw the mind from the 'busy-ness' and stress of life and focus it internally, making it happy and pliable. The significance of our internal mental state becomes obvious if we live alone. There is no-one to cause us problems, yet we find we are unhappy. This proves that we are missing a positive internal influence to facilitate our happiness.
The basis of our actions should be the motivation to benefit others. With this motivation, even if we engage in worldly actions, those actions become beneficial for others. If we then feel that our Dharma practice has been of benefit, this will in turn inspire us to practice more Dharma. In this way, we can carry the Dharma into worldly life. It is good to think about the connection between these two sides of our lives.
Many thoughts populate our mind, causing it to become restless and agitated. We tend to believe these thoughts, whether they are true or not. Such thoughts make us susceptible to anger. They also cause other confused mental states that lead us to lose our faith in the Dharma, or our aspiration to practice the Dharma, or our self-confidence.
One train of thought we might set in motion contains countless associated thoughts, each accompanied by ignorance, which makes the mind darker. Our mind becomes filled with more and more conceptual thoughts until we feel overwhelmed and completely unhappy.
Therefore, we first need to identify the most prevalent affliction in our mind, and meditate on its specific antidote. In this way, we can progressively counteract all the mental afflictions.
Effort is required in overcoming mental afflictions. Although the Buddha has all the realizations, and all the bodhisattvas have high realizations, those realizations cannot be transferred to our mental continuum.
The buddhas and bodhisattvas teach us the Dharma, but it is up to us to put that Dharma into practice, as it has been explained to us. Because the mind is a creature of habit, it will adapt to whatever it is trained in.