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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lama Thubten Yeshe clarifies dharma practice and the role of the mind, New Delhi, India, October 31, 1979.
This teaching was given at Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre, New Delhi, on October 31, 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.

Making Dharma practice effective

The antidote to delusion, ego and every other problem we face is the wisdom of Dharma; Dharma wisdom provides the deepest solution to every human problem. Whoever has problems needs Dharma; Dharma wisdom is the light that eliminates the dark shadow of ignorance, the main source of all human afflictions.

Dharma philosophy is not Dharma; doctrine is not Dharma; religious art is not Dharma. Dharma is not that statue of Lord Buddha on your altar. Dharma is the inner understanding of reality that leads us beyond the dark shadow of ignorance, beyond dissatisfaction.

It is not enough merely to accept Dharma as being true. We must also understand our individual reality, our specific needs and the purpose of Dharma as it relates to us as individuals. If we accept Dharma for reasons of custom or culture alone, it does not become properly effective for our minds. For example, it’s wrong for me to think, “I’m Tibetan, therefore, I’m a Mahayanist.” Perhaps I can talk about Mahayana philosophy, but being a Mahayanist, having Mahayana Dharma in my heart, is something else.

You may have been born in a Dharma country, in an environment where religion is accepted, but if you do not use that religion to gain an understanding of the reality of your own mind, there is little sense in being a believer. Dharma cannot solve your problems if you do not approach it pragmatically. You should seek Dharma knowledge in order to stop your problems, to make yourself spiritually healthy—in religious terms, to discover eternal happiness, peace and bliss.

We ourselves are responsible for discovering our own peace and liberation. We cannot say that some other power, like God, is responsible—if we do, we are weak and not taking responsibility for the actions of our own body, speech and mind. Buddhists understand that they are personally responsible for everything they do: it’s in their own hands whether their actions are positive or negative. Therefore, although we might find ourselves in a religious environment—in India, Tibet or even the West—becoming religious is something else.

External cultural aspects do not indicate the presence of Dharma. Dharma is that which leads us beyond delusion, beyond ego, beyond the usual human problems. If we use it for such purposes we can say, “I’m practicing Dharma,” but if we don’t, there’s little benefit in reciting even the most powerful mantras.

One of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings is to renounce samsara. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t drink water when we’re thirsty. It means that we must understand samsara such that even when we’re caught in a samsaric situation, no karmic reaction ensues. The application of skillful method and wisdom is the real renunciation; as long as we have grasping and hatred in our mind, we have not renounced samsara.

You can change your clothes and shave your head, but when you ask yourself, “What have I really renounced?” you may find that your mind is exactly the same as it was before your external transformation—you have not stopped your problems.

That’s why we call samsara a cycle; cyclic existence. We do things—we change, change, change, change—we enjoy the novelty of every change, but actually, all we’re doing is creating more karma. Every time we do something, there’s a reaction that makes our bondage in cyclic existence even tighter than it was before. That’s samsara. To loosen this tightness we need the wisdom that illuminates the darkness of ignorance. It’s not enough to think, “I am Buddhist; Buddha will take care of me”; “I am Christian; God will take care of me.” Belief is not enough; we have to understand the reality of our own mind.

To this end, Lord Buddha taught many meditation techniques to wake us up from ignorance. First we have to understand our needs as individuals; according to Lord Buddha’s teachings each of us has different needs. Usually we ignore these and, without discriminating wisdom, just accept whatever comes along. As a result, we end up in a situation from which we cannot escape. That is samsara.

Understanding ourselves

Moreover, it is important for us to recognize that even if right now some of our habits and attitudes are wrong, it’s possible to change and transform them. Grasping at permanence makes us think that we’re unchanging. This negative thought pattern is very strong and prevents us from developing or acting in a Dharma way. To help us overcome our wrong conceptions, Lord Buddha taught the four noble truths. [See His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching on the four noble truths.] As the first characteristic of the noble truth of suffering, he taught impermanence.

It is very important to understand impermanence. When we understand the impermanent nature of things, their non-stop change, we give ourselves the time and space to accept whatever situation comes along. Then, even if we are in a suffering situation, we can take care of ourselves; we can look at it without getting upset. Otherwise, our upset or guilty mind prevents us from waking from confusion, from seeing our own clarity.

Clarity always exists within us. The nature of our consciousness is clear. It is merely a question of seeing it. If you always feel dirty, negative and hopeless, as if you’re somebody who could never possibly discover inner peace and liberation, you’re reacting to a deluded, negative mind, a fixed conception. You’re thinking beyond reality, beyond the nature of phenomena; you’re not in touch with reality. You have to eradicate such preconceived ideas before you can cultivate tranquility and peace, before your intelligence can touch reality.

Check up right now. Ask yourself, “What am I?” “Who am I?” Even on the relative plane, when you ask yourself this you find that you’re holding a permanent conception of your self of yesterday, the day before yesterday, last week, last month, last year…. This idea of the self is not correct. It’s a preconception that must be broken down and recognized as unreasonable. Then you can understand the possibility of ceaseless, infinite development and spiritual growth.

The beauty of being human is that you can continuously develop inner qualities such as peace, the energy of the enlightenment experience and bliss and eventually transcend your dualistic mind. When you come to understand this inner beauty, you’ll stop grasping at external objects, which can never bring eternal satisfaction. This is an important sign of spiritual progress. You cannot simultaneously be religious and grasp at material things; the two are incompatible.

We see people getting more and more confused and dissatisfied the more possessions they get until finally they commit suicide. Sometimes the poor don’t understand this; they think that materially wealthy people must be happy. They are not happy. They are dissatisfied, emotionally disturbed, confused and immersed in suffering. Suicide rates are much higher in affluent societies than in economically undeveloped ones. This is not Dharma philosophy—this is present-day reality, our twentieth century situation; it’s happening right now. I am not suggesting that you give up your material comfort; Lord Buddha never said that we have to give up our enjoyments. Rather, he taught that we should avoid confusing ourselves by grasping at worldly pleasures.

The underlying attitude that forces us to chase after unworthy objects is the delusion that causes us to think, “This object will give me satisfaction; without it life would be hopeless.” These preconceptions make us incapable of dealing with the new situations that inevitably arise from day to day. We expect things to happen in a certain way and when they don’t, we can’t cope with them properly. Instead of handling unexpected situations effectively we become tense, frustrated and psychologically disturbed.

Developing our Dharma experience

Most of us are emotionally unstable, sometimes up and sometimes down. When life is going well we put on a very religious aspect but when things go bad we lose it completely. This shows that we have no inner conviction, that our understanding of Dharma is very limited and fickle.

People say, “I’ve been practicing Dharma for years but I’ve still got all these problems. I don’t think Buddhism helps.” My question to them is, “Have you developed single-pointed concentration or penetrative insight?” That’s the problem. Simply saying, “Oh yes, I understand; I pray every day; I’m a good person” is not enough. Dharma is a total way of life. It’s not just for breakfast, Sundays, or the temple. If you’re subdued and controlled in the temple but aggressive and uncontrolled outside of it, your understanding of Dharma is neither continuous nor indestructible.

Are you satisfied with your present state of mind? Probably not, and that’s why you need meditation, why you need Dharma. Worldly possessions do not give you satisfaction; you can’t depend on transitory objects for your happiness.

When we refugees fled Tibet we left behind our beautiful environment and way of life. If my mind had been fixed in its belief that my happiness and pleasure depended solely upon being in the country of my birth, I could never have been happy in India. I would have thought, “There are no snow mountains here; I can’t be happy.” Mental attitude is the main problem; physical problems are secondary. Therefore, avoid grasping at material objects and seek instead an indestructible understanding of the ultimate nature of the mind.

Developing concentration and insight

Dharma practice does not depend on cultural conditions. Whether we travel by train, plane or automobile we can still practice Dharma. However, in order to completely destroy the root of the dualistic mind, a partial understanding of the reality of our own mind is not sufficient. Dharma practice requires continual, sustained effort; just a few flashes of understanding are not enough. To fully penetrate to the ultimate reality of our own mind, we have to develop single-pointed concentration. When we have done so, our understanding will be continuous and indestructible.

Lord Buddha’s teachings on single-pointed concentration are very important because they show us how to transcend worldly conceptions. However, single-pointed concentration alone is not enough. We have to combine it with penetrative insight. What’s the difference between the two? First we develop single-pointed concentration, which leads us beyond worldly emotional problems and gives us a degree of higher satisfaction. But a certain amount of darkness remains in our mind. In order to reach the depths of human consciousness we also have to cultivate penetrative insight, which is the only thing that can lead us totally beyond the dualistic view of all existence. From the Buddhist point of view, the dualistic way of thinking is the real conflict. Meditative concentration can bring us a certain degree of peace, but if the dualistic view remains, we still have conflict in our mind.

The object of insight meditation, the experience of emptiness, is realization of non-duality, where the flashing of sense objects and images disappears and we experience the total unity of absolute reality. There’s a difference between the experience of emptiness and its philosophy. Philosophically speaking, sense objects exist, sense pleasures exist, and there’s a relationship between the senses and the external world. But in the experience itself, there is no awareness of a duality, no perception of the sense world, and no sense of conflict to irritate the mind. Normally, whenever we perceive objects in the sense world, we see two things: we perceive the thing itself and immediately compare it with something else. Society is built on the dualistic mind. Eventually it comes down to, if my next door neighbor gets a car I’m going to want one, too. Two forces are at work, and one becomes the reason for the other.

From the Buddhist point of view, any information received through the five sense consciousnesses is always distorted by dualistic grasping. It’s like an optical illusion. It registers in our consciousness and we believe that what we’re seeing is true. Actually, it’s an unreal distortion and it gives birth to every other delusion.

Consequently, the Buddhist attitude towards data received through the five sense consciousnesses is one of mistrust. You cannot rely on the judgments of good and bad that come through your senses—they always give you a dualistic, distorted impression. You’re be better off going around with your eyes closed!

Anyway, always question and be critical of the information that comes in through your senses. That’s the way to eventually transcend ordinariness, karmically-created actions and the inevitable reactions of dissatisfaction.

Q. Are you saying that we are able to fully realize emptiness?
Lama. Definitely! How? By examining the nature of your own mind, repeatedly asking yourself, “What am I?” “Who am I?” Eventually, you’ll come to see the falseness of your instinctive ego-model and how it projects itself into your life, causing you to misinterpret every experience you have. When you discover this wrong view, you’re close to understanding emptiness. Until you discover how ego-grasping works within you, realization of emptiness is a long way off.

Q. What is the relationship between emptiness and consciousness?
Lama. Consciousness is not emptiness. But when you understand the nature of consciousness, the clarity of mind, you have an experience very similar to that of the perception of emptiness. Therefore, in the Tibetan tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, we emphasize contemplating your own consciousness as a preliminary leading to the experience of absolute emptiness.

Q. You spoke of sensory awareness disappearing in the experience of emptiness. How can we perceive the world without the five sense consciousnesses?
Lama. Well, there are both absolute and relative worlds. In the beginning, you meditate on the nature of the relative world and this then becomes the method by which the absolute is discovered. Look at the sense world but don’t be entranced by it. Be constantly analytical, always checking to see that your perception is clear and free from ego-based exaggeration. Relative reality is not the problem; the problem is that in your perception of things, you exaggerate and distort the various aspects of an object. Therefore, you must continually question your experience. You can’t simply say, “It’s right because I saw it and wrong because I didn’t.” You have to go deeper than that.

Q. When you put a question to your mind, to whom do you put the question?
Lama. When you question your own consciousness, you question your wrong conceptions, your belief in nonexistent entities. When you see a red glass, you recognize it as a red glass, but inside you raise doubts: “Maybe it’s red, maybe it’s white.” Whenever you question, answers come. Usually we just accept whatever happens without question. As a result, we’re deluded and polluted. To question is to seek, and the answer lies within you. We feel that our consciousness is small, but it is like a mighty ocean in which everything can be found. When I talk you may think, “Maybe this lama will give me some realization,” but there is no realization to give. To talk about Dharma is to throw switches here and there, hoping to wake people up. Belief in Buddha, Krishna or whomever is not enough; you must take responsibility for your own body, speech and mind. We all have a certain degree of wisdom; this must be cultivated. All religions use bells—Buddhism and Hinduism included. The bell symbolizes wisdom. At the moment, the bell of wisdom is lying unused within us. The ring of the ritual bell is a reminder: “Use your wisdom!”

Q. Admittedly we should not be overly passive in our responsibilities, but sometimes taking karmic responsibility seems to heighten our sense of ego. There seems to be a choice between responsibility and outward energy as opposed to passive, inner wisdom.
Lama. Intellectually, we understand that there are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This is positive. Buddha is OK; Dharma is OK; Sangha is OK. But what is Buddha to me? When I totally develop myself, I become buddha; that is my buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha is his buddha, not mine. He’s gone. My total awakening is my buddha. How do you awaken to your own buddha? The first step is simply to be aware of the actions of your body, speech and mind. Of course, you should not be egotistical about it, thinking, “Buddha and Dharma are OK, but I don’t care about them—I am responsible.” And also you should not have pride: “I am a meditator.” The whole point is to eradicate the ego—don’t worry about whether you are a meditator or not. Just put your mind in the right channel, don’t intellectualize, and let go. Your question is very good: we have to know how to deal with that mind. Thank you.

Q. You said that suicide rates are higher in the West than in the East. But it is also true that death from starvation is commoner in the East than in the West. It seems to be instinctive for the Easterner to renounce whereas materialism appears to be natural for Westerners. So may I suggest, skeptically, that renunciation has led the East to poverty while materialism has brought the West to affluence?
Lama. That’s also a very good question. But remember what I said before: renouncing this glass does not mean throwing it away, breaking it or giving it to somebody else. You can eat your rice and dhal with a renounced mind. It’s very important for you to know that.

It’s true that most Eastern people are culturally influenced by their religious tenets. For example, even when we are three or four years old, we accept the law of karma. Then again, most Eastern people also misunderstand karma. Somebody thinks, “Oh, I’m a poor person, my father is a sweeper—I too have to be a sweeper.” “Why?” “Because it’s my karma—it has to be that way.”

This is a total misconception and has nothing to do with the teachings of either Hinduism or Buddhism; it’s a fixed idea totally opposite to the nature of reality. We should understand, “I’m a human being—my nature is impermanent. Maybe I’m unhappy now, but I’m changeable—I can develop within myself the mind of eternal peace and joy.” This is the attitude we should have.

The incredible changes we see in the world today come from the human mind, not from the world itself; the affluence of the materialistic West comes from the Western mind. If we Easterners want our standard of living to equal that of the West, we can do it. At the same time, however, we can have renunciation of samsara.

In order to develop renunciation, you have to understand the actual value of material goods and their relationship to happiness. Most Westerners grossly exaggerate the value of material things. They are bombarded with advertisements: “This [object] gives you satisfaction”; “That gives you satisfaction”; “The other gives you satisfaction.” So they become psychologically convinced, “I must buy this, I must buy that, otherwise I won’t be happy.” This conviction leads them to the extreme of materialism—and ultimately to suicide. Similarly, Easterners misconceive the teachings of religion and fall into the extreme of passivity, laziness and apathy: “Karma—it’s my karma.”

Q. What is the difference between moksha and nirvana?
Lama. There are several levels of moksha, or liberation. One of these is nirvana, which is beyond ego and is endowed with everlasting peace and bliss. Higher than nirvana is enlightenment, which is sometimes called the “great nirvana” and is the fruition of bodhicitta, the determination to reach enlightenment for the sole purpose of enlightening all the infinite sentient beings. You can lose interest in samsara, undergo spiritual training and attain nirvana, but you have yet to develop bodhicitta and realize full enlightenment.

Q. You spoke about non-duality. Do love and hate still exist in that state?
Lama. The experience of non-duality itself is in the nature of love. The emotional tone of love is lower during meditative absorption on non-duality but its nature is essentially present. Most people’s love is biased and dualistic. Love characterized by non-duality feels no partiality. The lam-rim teaches us to meditate on how every single sentient being—including animals, birds, fish and insects—has repeatedly been a mother to us in our infinite previous lives. Moreover, without exception, they all want happiness and seek to avoid suffering. If we meditate and expand our objects of knowledge, we’ll come to know the nature of other beings and our love will become vast.

Q. Nirvana seems to be a duality because it implies non-nirvana.
Lama. Linguistically, this is true. If we label something “nirvana,” we create an entrance for the label “non-nirvana.” But in the minds of those perceiving non-duality, there are no labels. They just experience nirvana and let themselves go into it.

Q. I always visualize nirvana as the LSD experience.
Lama. Then I guess there’s not much nirvana, here in the East.

A short teaching given on the basics of Buddhism in New Delhi, India, 1960s.
His Holiness gave this teaching in Delhi in the early 1960s. It was translated by Losang Chöpel and Glenn H. Mullin and first published in English in 1981 in Teachings at Tushita. This teaching was published in 2005 in the LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.

The purpose of Buddhism

From the Buddhist point of view, the minds of ordinary people are weak and distorted because of the delusions and emotional afflictions they carry within. As a result, they are unable to see things as they actually exist; what they see is a vision that is twisted and defined by their own emotional neuroses and preconceptions.

The purpose of Buddhism is to remove these distortions from the mind and thus facilitate valid perception. As long as we have not uprooted our delusions our perception remains tainted; when we eradicate them we enter a state of always seeing reality as it is. Then, because our mind abides in perfect wisdom and liberation, our body and speech automatically course in wholesome ways. This benefits not only us but also others, in both this life and those that follow. Therefore, Buddhism is said to be a path not simply of faith but also one of reason and knowledge.

How to study Buddhism

Tibetans are fortunate to have been born into a society where spiritual knowledge was both available and highly appreciated. However, having been born into it perhaps we sometimes took it for granted. The Buddha himself said, “Test my words as carefully as goldsmiths assay gold and only then accept them.” The Buddha taught people of all backgrounds and levels of intelligence for a long period of time. Consequently, each of his teachings must be weighed carefully for meaning and evaluated to determine whether it is literally true or only figuratively so. Many teachings were given in particular circumstances or to beings of limited understanding. Accepting any doctrine or aspect of a doctrine without first scrutinizing it analytically is like building a castle upon ice—one’s practice will be unstable and lack fundamental strength and depth.

Practicing Dharma

What does “practice Dharma” mean? Literally translated, Dharma means “that which holds”; it is the spiritual teaching that keeps or leads us out of suffering. Buddhism asserts that although at the moment our mind is overpowered by delusion and distortion, ultimately there is an aspect of mind that is by nature pure and unstained, and that by cultivating this purity and eliminating mental obscurations we are “held back” from suffering and unsatisfying experiences.

Buddha taught the potential purity of mind as a fundamental tenet of his doctrine, and Dharmakirti, the Indian logician who appeared a millennium later, established its validity logically. When this seed of enlightenment has been sufficiently cultivated, we gain the experience of nirvana, freedom from all the shortcomings of samsara. As well as the concept of the seed of enlightenment, Dharmakirti validated logically the entire spectrum of Buddhist tenets, including the law of karma, the concept of rebirth, the possibility of liberation and omniscience, and the nature of the Three Jewels of Refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

As for the actual mode of practice, it’s a mistake to practice without a logical understanding of the doctrine. We should know well just what we are doing and why, especially those of us who are monks or nuns and have dedicated our entire lives to the practice of Dharma; we should be particularly careful to practice immaculately. The Sangha is very important to the stability of the doctrine; therefore, we should do our best to emulate the Buddha himself. Those considering ordination should first think well; there is no need to become a monk just to be an inferior monk. The Sangha has the responsibility of embodying the precepts. If you want to lead an ordinary life, leave monasticism to those of greater spiritual inclination and simply practice as a layperson as best you can.

All world religions are similar in that they provide methods for cultivating wholesome aspects of mind and eliminating unwholesome ones. Buddhism is a particularly rich religion because, having developed in India when the country was at a high point spiritually and philosophically, it presents both a total range of spiritual ideas and a rational approach to the methods of spiritual development. This is particularly important in this modern era, when the rational mind is given such credence.

Because of this aspect of rationality, Buddhism finds little difficulty in confronting the modern world. Indeed, many of the findings of modern science, such as those of nuclear physics, which are considered new discoveries, have long been discussed in ancient Buddhist scriptures. Because Buddha’s last advice to his disciples was that they should never accept anything on faith alone but only through rational investigation, the Buddhist world has always managed to keep the spirit of inquiry very much alive within its precincts. This is unlike many other religions, which lay claims on the truth and thus never allow any type of investigation that seems to threaten their limited descriptions of reality.

The Three Jewels of Refuge

Whether or not you are a Buddhist is determined by whether or not you have taken refuge in the Three Jewels—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—purely, from the depths of your heart. Simply reciting Buddhist prayers, playing with a rosary or walking around temples does not make you a Buddhist. Even a monkey can be taught to do these things. Dharma is a matter of mind and spirit, not external activities. Therefore, to be a Buddhist, you must understand exactly what the Three Jewels of Refuge are and how they relate to your spiritual life.

With respect to refuge in Buddha, we talk about the causal Buddha refuge—all the buddhas of the past, present and future, of whom the most relevant to us is Buddha Shakyamuni—and the resultant Buddha refuge—refuge in our own potentiality for enlightenment, the buddha that each of us will become. As for refuge in Dharma, there is the Dharma that was taught in the scriptures and that which is the spiritual realization of what was taught. Finally, we take refuge in Sangha, in both ordinary monks and nuns, who are symbols of the Sangha, and the arya Sangha—those beings who have gained meditational experience of the ultimate mode of truth. Therefore, we say that Buddha is the teacher, Dharma is the way and Sangha are the helpful spiritual companions.

Of these three, the most important to us as individuals is the Dharma, for ultimately only we can help ourselves—nobody else can achieve our enlightenment for us or give it to us. Enlightenment comes only to the person who practices Dharma well, who takes the Dharma and applies it to the cultivation of his or her own mental continuum. Therefore, of the Three Jewels, Dharma is the ultimate refuge. By hearing, contemplating and meditating on Dharma our lives can become one with it and enlightenment an immediate possibility.

Karma

All the great Kadampa masters of the past stressed that refuge must be practiced in the context of an intense awareness of the law of cause and effect; it requires observance of the law of karma as its support. Buddha said, “You are your own protector and your own enemy.” Buddha cannot protect us; only our own observance of the law of karma can. If we keep our refuge purely and live in accordance with karma, we become our own protector; if we don’t, if we live in a way contradictory to the spiritual path, we become our own worst enemy, harming ourselves in this and future lives.

The mind of an ordinary person is undisciplined and uncontrolled. To be able to engage in higher Buddhist practices, such as the development of samadhi, insight into emptiness or the yogic methods of the various tantric systems, we must first cultivate a disciplined mind. On the basis of refuge and self-discipline we can easily develop ever-increasing experiences in higher Dharma practices but without the foundation of discipline our higher practices will yield no fruit.

Developing practice

We all want to practice the highest techniques but first we have to ask ourselves if we have mastered the lower prerequisites, such as discipline. The aim of refuge is to transform an ordinary person into a buddha; when this has been accomplished the purpose of refuge has been fulfilled. The moment our mind becomes Buddha, our speech becomes Dharma and our body, Sangha. However, the attainment of this exalted state depends upon our own practice of Dharma. Leaving practice to others while hoping for spiritual benefits for ourselves is an impossible dream.

In order to purify our mind of karmic and perception-related mistakes and cultivate the qualities of enlightenment within our stream of being, we ourselves must perform the practices and experience the spiritual states. The 108 volumes of the Buddha’s word that were translated into Tibetan have one essential theme: purify the mind and generate inner qualities. Nowhere does it say that somebody else can do this for us. Therefore, in a way, the buddhas are somewhat limited—they can liberate us only by means of inspiring us to practice their teachings. Many buddhas have come before but we are still here in samsara. This is not because those buddhas lacked compassion for us but because we were unable to practice their teachings. Individuals’ progress along the spiritual path depends upon the efforts of those individuals themselves.

The ten virtuous actions

The process of self-cultivation has many levels. For beginners, however, the first necessity is to avoid the ten non-virtuous actions and observe their opposites, the ten virtuous actions. Three of these ten actions are physical: instead of killing we should value and cherish life; instead of stealing we should give freely of what we can to help others; and instead of taking others’ partners we should respect their feelings. Four actions concern speech: instead of lying we should speak the truth; instead of causing disharmony by slandering others we should encourage virtue by speaking about their good qualities; instead of speaking harshly and sharply our words should be soft, gentle and loving; and instead of conversing meaninglessly we should engage in meaningful activities. Finally, three of the ten actions concern mind: we should replace attachment with non-attachment; ill-will towards others with feelings of love and compassion; and incorrect beliefs with realistic attitudes.

Every Buddhist should follow these ten fundamental disciplines. Not doing so while engaging in so-called higher tantric methods is simply fooling yourself. These ten are simple practices, observances that anybody can follow, yet they are the first step for anybody wanting to work towards the powerful yogas that bring enlightenment in one lifetime.

When we take refuge and become a Buddhist we must honor the family of buddhas. Engaging in any of the ten non-virtues after having taken refuge is to disgrace Buddhism. Nobody is asking you to be a Buddhist; you’re a Buddhist because you’ve chosen to be. Therefore you should qualify yourself accordingly, and the minimal qualification is to avoid the ten non-virtues and cultivate their opposites. Granted, nobody is perfect, but if you want to call yourself a Buddhist, you have to exert some effort. When something causes attachment or anger to arise within you, the least you should do is make an effort not to be overcome by that distorted state of mind and instead maintain a free and loving attitude.

Cultivating the mind

The essence of Dharma is cultivation of the mind because all the positive and negative karmas of body and speech originate in and are given direction by the mind. If you do not cultivate an awareness of your mental processes and the ability to cut off negative streams of thought as they arise, twenty years of meditation in a remote cave will be of little value. Before looking for a cave you should look for good qualities in your mind and develop the ability to live in accordance with Dharma. Only then will sitting in a cave be better than a bear’s hibernation. Talking about doing tantric retreat while the ten foundations of Dharma are still beyond you is simply making yourself a laughing stock.

Making this life useful

As humans, we have the potential to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime. However, life is short and much of it has already passed by. We should ask ourselves how much spiritual progress we have made. Death can arrive at any moment and when it does we must leave behind everything except the mental imprints of our life’s deeds. If we have practiced and tried to live in accordance with Dharma during our life, or even gained realizations, that energy will be there within our mind. On the other hand, if we have spent our life in non-virtue, negative thoughts and memories of our samsaric ways will occupy our consciousness when it goes to the next life.

Therefore, now, while we have the ability, we should practice Dharma intensively and purely. Dharma practice will bring peace and harmony to both ourselves and those around us, even in this life, and, should we not achieve enlightenment in this lifetime, it will give us a wish-fulfilling jewel that we can carry into future lives to help us continue along on the spiritual path.

Ultimately, our future is in our own hands. Most people make fantastic plans for next week, next month and next year, but what counts most is to practice Dharma right now. If we do this, all our aims will be fulfilled. When we cultivate virtuous activities today, the laws of dependent arising ensure that a positive stream of change is set in motion. This is the preciousness of being human: we are able to affect dynamically our own future state of being by applying discriminating wisdom to all the actions of our body, speech and mind. To use and cultivate this discriminating wisdom is to extract the very essence of the human life.

Tenzin Ösel Hita gave these Dharma talks during the 45th Kopan Course at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, November 27, and December 07, 2012.
Tenzin Ösel Hita gave these talks during the 45th Kopan Lam-rim Course at Kopan Monastery in 2012. In the talks Ösel covers many lam-rim topics such as guru devotion, Dharma, the sufferings of samsara, our five senses and love, all from a contemporary viewpoint.

You can learn more about Tenzin Ösel Hita by exploring his biography on the LYWA website.

First Discourse: Dharma, Samsara, and Q&A

So I think we are a bit early, five minutes early.

[Background noise] It’s a bit loud.

Okay, so first of all, I would like to thank you all for being in the November course. I think it’s very, very special that all of you have come from all over the world, from so many different places to meet here. It’s a very special occasion and a huge opportunity for all of you to also connect with everybody else. So I just wanted to thank you for making that effort of coming over here and learning some Dharma, and making the connections.

Sorry for the breathing. [Loud noise in background] How do you do it Gyatso-la? How do you breathe?

[Ven Gyatso/Adrian: Just bend it out a bit.]

[Microphone adjustment] Hello? Yeah, that’s better. Now I can breathe!

So first I just wanted to mention the translators. How many translators are there? Three? Four? So I’m going to try to talk a little bit slowly if that’s okay. If I’m going too fast, just let me know, okay? Thank you.

So let us start with gratitude, first of all. Gratitude for the body we have, which was given by our parents. Gratitude for the food we are able to eat, and for the shelter we have every day, which many people don’t have. So let us also have gratitude for this space which we are sharing right now.

So let’s have a minute of silence in gratitude for all those precious things that are ours. Because actually, the only thing that we actually own is our body, and the moment comes with that. So let us feel appreciation for that. So minute of silence. [meditate]

So first of all, I would like to start introducing myself because I think many of you probably don’t know who I am or what my history is. So I think it’s important to explain a little bit why I’m sitting here right now.

So basically, I grew up in a monastery in India, in South of India. Since I was six, I grew up in the monastery ‘til I was seventeen or eighteen.

So I had a lot of contact with Buddhism and the tradition because I was a monk. So basically, I felt it was important also to talk a bit from my own experience of what Buddhism is like for me, so that I could help many of the new people who have not had much contact with Dharma, and also being it’s their first time, so it can be sometimes a bit heavy and difficult to understand. But in the end, it will be very easy because it’s very simple. It’s just sometimes, it can get complicated, but you can simplify it always. So don’t worry about that.

So when I was around sixteen years old, fifteen, sixteen, because most of my life I had believed I was a Buddhist, because I grew up in that ambiance. And then when I was fifteen, sixteen, I read the book called Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I don’t know if you’ve read it but you should if you can. It’s really good.

And after reading that book, I really questioned myself and I said, “Am I really Buddhist?” How can I be a Buddhist if I don’t quite understand yet the Buddhist philosophy and what Buddhism really is? So then I started to realize that maybe actually I was still learning to be a Buddhist. So therefore, I was like in the process of becoming a Buddhist.

And I believe I still am today. I’m twenty-seven. It’s been already ten years and I’m still in the process of becoming a Buddhist. So it’s not something that just happens from one day to another Being Buddhist is not about just reading book or going to courses, taking meditation or initiations. It’s also about the lifestyle, the attitude you have, the way you think, the way you act, the way you talk. So that’s basically one of the important parts of being a Buddhist.

So for me it’s been like that. And I think it’s, it may be helpful if I can share a little bit my small thoughts with all of you because I understand it can be hard sometimes to understand the traditional way.

Of course, the tradition is super important because it’s something that has come from many, many generations, thousands of years of people practicing and having realizations and understanding, and passing it on to the next generations.

So that’s why tradition is super important. It’s there, and it’s available. It doesn’t mean it will work for everybody. Each person has to find their own way of understanding and what works for them because nobody can really come and say, “Okay, I found the truth. Take it.” It may be his truth, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your truth. You have to find your own truth.

Somebody can come and help you to find that. And that’s what Dharma is for. The guru is also. The guru, the teacher, is helping you to find your own way, your own self, investigating inside and understanding the nature of the mind. That is the guru and the Dharma.

But ultimately, the real guru is inside ourselves. We are our own guru, we are by ourselves. So it’s up to us to walk the path, always. We are born by ourselves in this body, and we will die by ourselves. There will be nobody who will take care of us afterwards in the sense like holding our hands and carrying us. We have to walk the path by ourselves.

They will help us, of course. It’s like being in the middle of a forest in the night. [pause] Am I going too fast? [Asking translators?] Sorry. It’s like being in the forest at night and it’s completely dark. So you’re trying to get out of the forest. But you don’t know which direction to take.

And then suddenly, the full moon comes out and then the full moon helps you to see a little bit better. So then you can see better and you can maybe climb a tree and see where, which direction you want to take. So then basically we’re trying to get out of the forest. We’re not going to the moon. The moon helps us to get out of the forest.

So that’s a little bit like the metaphor I like to use with Dharma and gurus. Because many people think the guru is salvation. No. The guru will help you to understand our own nature, but that’s not salvation. Salvation is in ourselves. And the further away we search from ourselves, the further away we are from ourselves and the harder it is to find that.

So I just wanted to make a point, there before I started because I have struggled with that for a long time. So I think… and also it’s just my point of view, so it doesn’t mean it’s the truth or anything. You just take what you feel works for you, what you like, and what you don’t think works for you, just leave it – it’s not that important for you. Each person is different, right?

Like for example, when you’re walking on the beach and you see the ocean, the sea, and the sun is coming down and you see the reflection of the sun coming towards you. It’s like a path from the sun to you. And what you see shining is what you see shining. But somebody else who’s over on the other side will see their own shining, their own path.

Actually, the whole ocean is shining but we only see one small part which is from the sun to us. And what we have seen, the shining, the other person cannot see because they’re in another place. So we have to walk to where they are to see the same shining, right? I’m sure you have seen that before. And sometimes when you go in the plane, you can see the whole ocean shining, which is how it normally is.

So that’s just like a metaphor to understand that each of us is different as individuals. Each grain of sand in the ocean is different. So you can never really compare, and you can’t really judge other than judge yourself because we are the only ones who really know ourselves, and we really know where we are or what we’re doing. So that’s why it’s important to try not to judge. And if you have to judge, then at least don’t condemn because we can all change.

So the November course is about Buddhism. And I wanted to start talking about samsara.

Many of you know probably already what samsara is. According to Buddhism, samsara is like the wheel, it’s a wheel of.., where we are born and we die again, and we are stuck in this wheel of constant rebirth and just going around and around.

So Dharma is here to help us to be liberated from that, even though that’s very far away still. We have to concentrate on the now, right? So it’s important to, that’s the concept of samsara.

So the purpose of Dharma is to help oneself in order to help other people. And that way we find our own purpose because, basically [if] we think about the animals on this planet, their purpose is to survive and to reproduce. And we are like animals also. The only difference is that we have many different capabilities or capacities. We’re able to think, we’re able to speak, so many, each of you[know already. We’re all human beings.

So apart from, of course, surviving and reproducing, we have many other purposes. But of course, the main purpose is to help ourselves, to understand ourselves so that we can help other people do the same. And as we can see today in the planet, it’s complete chaos. People who think they are happy, they’re actually suffering much more than the people who think they are suffering.

There’s a saying that I like. It says, “Some people are so poor that all they have is money”, which is not so far from the truth.

So in this world, sometimes it can be really hard for some people, and we have the opportunity to be in contact with the Dharma, which can help us a lot. There are many other different ways of finding our true nature and understanding it – and one of them is Dharma.

So we are all here, and that’s a good thing, it’s a really good thing. So, if some of you sometimes feel it’s difficult to understand, don’t worry, it’s easy, ultimately it’s easy, even though there’s things because of tradition, may become complicated but that’s up to you to filter what works for you because for each person it’s different.

So because Gyatso’s talking, Venerable Gyatso’s speaking about karma yesterday, and so one of the important things of karma is the intention behind it. The intention is so important because that’s the main thing that is behind our actions and our thoughts and speech. So that’s why it’s really important to always check oneself. Before you check someone else, check with yourself. Because many people, many times, we tend to just judge other people and not really look at ourselves. “Oh this person is doing that, he’s saying this, blah, blah, blah”. But then we don’t really look at ourselves. And then, we forget about what we are doing. So it doesn’t really make sense, right?

So that’s why it’s so important to check oneself and see really what our intention is. Because based on our intention, then the karma comes from there. If the intention is positive, then the karma is positive; if the intention is negative, then the karma will be negative.

I mean, I can’t really show you that karma exists. I didn’t believe in reincarnation for a long time; and karma was one of the things that I didn’t believe in. I used to call myself ‘agnostic scientific’. And then I added ‘spiritual’ afterwards. I was never an atheist because you never know what really is out there. You know what your own world is, from your eyes, what you live. But there’s so much out there.

When you go to another city and you see everybody just moving around, you’re like, “Wow, this exists all the time”. It’s just that I’m here right now and I’m seeing it now. But even if I’m not here, it’s still happening. So what we think, is not everything that is. What we see is not everything; it’s part, it’s a small part. So that’s why you always have to be open also, not like closed doors and say, “No, that’s not true”, or “That doesn’t exist”, because it may very well exist; you never know.

And so for a long time, I didn’t believe in karma, and then slowly, slowly I started to understand that karma is a little bit like the law of the universe; it’s like physics, it’s a type of law. So karma is another law. It’s so subtle, it’s very hard to see. But from generation to generation people have experienced it, and that’s what we have today. It’s the teachings of the Buddha that have been carried on to many generations.

So if you don’t believe it, you can check. But it makes sense, and it’s very logical because karma is like the law of cause and effect. What you give, you will receive eventually. And even if you don’t believe it, I think it’s pretty logical because sometimes you question yourself, “Why are these people suffering? They didn’t do anything”. So there must be a reason why. And for me, I think it’s the most understandable explanation to that.

So behind our intentions and our choices, which are very important of course, because every day we make choices, our emotions sometimes they guide us towards those choices.

One of the things, I think Dharma tries to help us is to not become slaves to our emotions because there are many different emotions. There’s the negative ones and the positive ones. The negative ones, for example, anger or jealousy or different very negative emotions, sometimes create more negative energy.

Like, for example, anger. When you get angry you go blind a little bit. And then from that, then you can do some actions which later on will cause a lot of suffering to yourself and to other people because you were blind at that moment and you became a slave to that emotion.

So you have to really be careful with some emotions because when you do become a slave, that creates an energy and a reaction. So it’s always better if you have emotions, to have positive emotions; try to control the negative emotions.

It doesn’t mean that those emotions are not going to be part of us, like, for example, anger. I can be an angry person, right, even if I don’t look like it right now. But sometimes when it comes out, then it comes out , yeah? It doesn’t mean I’m not angry, like I’m not an angry person. It’s inside. This has to be a catalyst that will make it come out.

So it’s not like we can banish anger, but we can – or maybe you can, I don’t know. Eventually, I think, Dharma can help you with that. But I think mainly it’s to try to control that emotion and try to be aware of where it’s coming from.

Like when you start getting angry, then you say, “Oh, this is happening”. Then you try to breathe, try to rethink, try to understand where it’s coming from, investigate, observe, and then slowly, the anger will disappear. So that’s like a very good, one of the first steps in order to try to keep the negative emotions at bay, because the negative emotions are a big thing about karma – they can create a lot of bad karma. So we have to really check that.

So sometimes the emotions can create an attitude or a state of mind. We have a thought, then from that, there comes an attitude. Then because maybe we are stressed, somebody comes, and that person is talking to us very nicely but because we are stressed or we are pissed or whatever, then we talk really badly to them. We don’t, kind of pay attention, and we just…. So that sometimes is something that we really have to be aware.

If you are stressed, and it’s hard for you to not to be angry with the person, then that’s the test. That’s when you can be the real Buddhist. Then if you can really control that and be a good person at that time, then that’s, you’re surely becoming a real Buddhist. Right.

Just cause you read a book or do some meditation, doesn’t mean you become a Buddhist – at least from my side. Each person has their own view, of course.

So it’s so important to be aware of our mind at all times because if you think about it, everything that’s been created by the human being – starting with the gompa, our clothes, the floor, the roof, the place, the buildings, everything – in one beginning, it started with a thought. Someone had to think of that before it started, before they started to create that. So just by looking, everything that’s been created by the humans, then you can already see how powerful the thought is.

So just because you’re the only one who knows what you’re thinking, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay to think bad things. I mean it’s, of course, it’s normal but sometimes it’s good to check why it’s coming, from where it’s coming and whether it’s beneficial for yourself.

For example, if you criticize someone, you’re actually harming yourself more than you’re harming the other person. You’re also harming the other person.

So that’s one of the things, it’s important now that we are alive and that we’re here, to try to be a better person. That’s basically what Dharma is telling us. And through that, we can really find happiness, because most of us, that’s what we’re searching – we’re searching for happiness.

And also I had a hard time with happiness because it’s so far away, like enlightenment, to become enlightened or to help all sentient beings. How can you help all sentient beings? That’s like almost impossible. I used to struggle with that every day. How can I be happy? Happiness. Where am I going to find happiness. I mean, it’s a state of mind.

So those things for me was really, really hard, and I found ways around it. So instead of ‘all sentient beings,’ it would be ‘some sentient beings,’ starting with yourself and your family and your friends, which is enough. And happiness, I also found it not being unhappy is easier than trying to be happy. So that’s like the first step.

When you’re trying not to be unhappy, then you make the cause for eventually to be happy. So that’s, at least for me, it’s easier to tackle when you think about it.

So that’s why, so there’s always many ways to see it and many ways to get around so that you can understand for yourself, because each person is different, like I said. And it’s normal that for some people it may work, for some people it may not work.

So I don’t want to take too much time because I know it’s, the day is very intense for all of you, and you are also doing in the November course, apart from the teachings there’s meditation, there’s what’s it called, writing sessions, discussion groups and dreaming, dream interpretations. I don’t know, there’s many different things which I really like to be part of. So I don’t want to take much of your time. Maybe we can repeat this again another day.

So basically, we’re looking for happiness. So if we try not to be unhappy, then we can create the causes slowly to be happy. And basically, how can we be happy is by helping other people to be happy, and that will come back to us.

So the more we try to be happy, the less happy we will be. And it works that way. If you try to be, try to buy a lot of stuff for yourself, the more stuff you buy, the less happy you will be because the stuff will never reach our expectations, and sometimes it will break, so we’ll be unhappy.

So if we actually search to make someone else happy, then we’ll be happy automatically. Just by seeing them, just the appreciation they give us, just the action. Even if they don’t appreciate, it doesn’t matter, we already did the action.

So the compassion, what we like is well-being, to live well. Sometimes, for example when we suffer, the suffering starts in one moment, let’s say something happens. There can be different types of suffering – physical suffering or mental suffering; sometimes the physical suffering is created by the mental suffering, like sometimes we can become sick because we are depressed all the time. So our body reacts to that. Our thoughts are very powerful, so they really affect us and they affect the people around us, too.

So what we really want to be, we search for the well-being, to be comfortable, to have food when we’re hungry, to have a nice bed to sleep, not to be cold, when we’re too hot, to have something nice breeze. So basically, if we’re able to help other people with that, then we are helping ourselves. Because ultimately, we are all just functional beings, right? Our function is to live. So if we live in a better way according to our own moral code, then we’ll be better people, and eventually we can really find that happiness eventually.

So it’s not so far away, but there’s first steps you have to take. Just like enlightenment. I used to think, “Wow, enlightenment is so far away, it’s impossible. How can we talk about enlightenment if it’s so far away?” But of course, you have to have your goal, you have to see where you want to go. Then if you know where you’re going, then slowly it will happen. But you have to know where you want to go.

So it’s a good thing to want to reach enlightenment one day. But of course, there’s many steps before. So we have to concentrate on the other steps. But always keep that in mind – that our purpose is to become enlightened, to be free from suffering and from samsara in order to help other people to reach that also. Basically that’s Buddhism; at least from my point of view, that’s Buddhism condensed in a sentence.

So compassion is so super important. We can talk about bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is one of the means to reach that goal, and karma is part of that. When you have compassion, then you create a very positive karma that will help you and help other people eventually reach that place.

So that’s basically what I wanted to share today. I hope it wasn’t too complicated. And I’m not sure if maybe we have time for questions and answers, but maybe we can do that another day unless, of course, there’s a microphone handy and people would like to ask questions.

Even though, personally I’m not qualified to answer Buddhist questions but I can try to answer the best I can. So I don’t know.

Ven. Gyatso: If people have questions, you can stand up and speak loudly.

Lama Osel: There’s no microphone? [One manifests] Oh, yeah, perfect!

I think for now, today, I think that’s good. Oh, many questions.

Questions and Answers

Question: Thanks for talking to us today.

Thank you.

Questioner: I have a problem with I can’t talk to a partner, or desire with people, that the monks maybe cannot explain about, so perhaps you can enlighten us on that topic.

Lama Osel: Yes, it’s very complicated. First of all, I think each couple is completely different because it’s two individuals, and each individual is so different, so that a couple makes it even more different, more unique. So each couple is so different, it’s really hard sometimes to really explain the situation for each couple. Of course, what goes between each couple is just between them, of course. And they are the ones who are learning through each other.

Personally I think living with a couple, with a partner is very helpful in order to learn, for example, patience or understanding, or empathy, or all these really good qualities can come from living with your partner, as long as you give space and you understand the other person, and you really try to listen to them and try to understand what they are going through, and also accept because each person is the way they are. And many times, at the times of the couple when we are together, [There’s music coming from close by], oh, beautiful Indian music. Maybe it’s supposed to go with the conversation, the couple conversation. Romantic music.

So when you’re living with someone, it can be very hard because many times we project what we would like the other person to be like. And of course, our projections never reach what reality is actually. Because there’s two different things: what we see is not the same as what there is.

For example, when I was maybe fourteen, fifteen, I used to have many zits in my face, green zits that come from puberty. So I used to see myself really ugly. And then maybe someone take a picture, and see the picture and be like, “Oh my god, I’m so ugly! I don’t like myself, at all”. And then maybe five, six years later, I would see the picture, and I’m like, “Wow, I’m so young! I look so good. I wish I could be like that now!”

So there you have a really good example of how the mind plays tricks on us, because the picture’s exactly the same. It’s just that I see myself different. I’m projecting what I would like to be like on both occasions. But the picture’s the same, the person in the picture is the same.

So that’s, I think it’s a good example to show that what we are seeing is not always what there actually is there, because what we see can change all the time. Maybe today we see something, then next year, it’s something different – even tomorrow or even maybe in an hour it can change.

But the thing there, it’s changing, of course, but it’s the same thing. I mean it’s changing, because the energy particles are moving constantly there, buzzing. But, actually, it’s solid. It looks solid, at least. Like next year, maybe the table will continue being the same, maybe the same color, but my mind will have been completely different. So our mind changes at a much greater speed.

So that, also in a relationship with your partner, that affects us a lot. And that’s I think, one of the root of the problems living, when you live with your partner is that many times you project, and you think you know the person or you understand the person, but actually what you understand is what you think you understand.

So it’s important sometimes to know how to differentiate those things. And that’s what Buddhism calls ‘dualism’. Now, I’m not sure. Is that correct? Kind of? Close. I’m still learning.

So when you live with a couple, it’s so important always to respect and to give space, and to try to understand. And when emotions, especially negative emotions come, to push them down, and then that’s a really good practice. So you can really evolve, fast, when you live with your partner if you know how to complement each other, how to complement each other in that sense.

And respect, of course, always, respect – is the most important, I think, factor. And understanding also. Try to understand that person as much as you can. Before you try to impose what you would like, or what you think is correct, try to understand what the other person is saying to you, and what they are trying to make you understand.

So then vice versa, it works really well. If you can really achieve that level, then you will evolve much faster ‘cause think that’s the best test of patience. Maybe parents and your partner?

In Asia, it’s not so much the parents, but I think in the West, it is ‘cause it can be really hard sometimes. 
 Yeah, so I hope I answered your question in an understandable way.

Any more questions?

Question: Dear Osel, What role do you think the internet, and social media have in spreading the Dharma, or at least raising mass consciousness? How can we make sure that we don’t become superficial activists? For example, just clicking on a link to save the whales and feeling good about that only.

Lama Osel: Oh, that’s a complicated question. But I think clicking is the first step, right? ‘Cause the computer is in our house or maybe we’re in cyber café, but at least it’s the nearest thing to trying to do that good action. So there’s also a first time, there’s always a first step. So clicking is good enough as long as your intention is there, right?

Then of course, other people maybe go to Africa to help the children there. Or maybe study medicine and then go to Africa and be a medic. Maybe other people will sponsor a child, and some people just click. I think either way, as long as your intention is pure, then it’s good enough. Because each person is different, and some people don’t have the time, don’t have the capacity or maybe the budget or the finance to do that.

Or even the, what do you call it when you do, when you really work hard at some things, the hardship. Like some people give up really easily, some people don’t. So dedication is the word I was looking for. Some people don’t have enough dedication, so it’s easier than other ways. So I think each person has to find their own method of trying to achieve that goal.

Question: So technology can be a great way to spread these beautiful ideas. But it can also be a source of addiction and attachment. And I wonder if you have anything to say about how we can use Dharma to not get attached, to like …

Lama Osel: Facebook.

Question: …the computer. Yes, Facebook, yes.

Lama Osel: Yeah, I know, I understand what you mean. Yeah, it’s true, sometimes the internet can create attachment, and just being connected all the time, you just, it’s like you spend so much time on internet sometimes that it can be difficult to really relate to the real world, our reality as a human being; it’s just the screen sometimes, that’s our reality.

Even for some kids, they’re playing game all the time, and that’s their reality. And then when they go out into society, they have difficulty relating to other people because they don’t feel comfortable with themselves, because they are so accustomed to just being themselves in the computer.

So that can happen also like with Facebook or with other computer-related programs or internet, internet-related programs.

I think it’s a question of, what do you call it, [pause] moderation. I think if you’re able to moderate, then it’s okay as long as you’re doing something useful, apart from passing the time, which most of us…. I think I pass a lot of time on Facebook or just looking at things, and just whatever.

But I think it’s important to have moderation and try to, as long as you’re spending your time, try to do it in a way that’s meaningful for you. I mean, you can spend, maybe an hour or two just doing nothing, because it’s important also to do nothing, to rest and to just be with yourself and relax. But don’t spend too much time doing nothing, ‘cause then you’ll be unhappy ‘cause you haven’t accomplished anything, and that’s one of the causes also of being unhappy.

Maybe bring the microphone to them if it’s possible. Sorry. It’s coming, okay?

Question: How can you use Dharma knowledge in our daily life in our relationship with parents, friends and partners, to give them some advice without sounding harsh, like saying, “It’s your karma, you’re so attached; it’s impermanence”?

Lama Osel: I think maybe examples are really good. When you use examples that relate to the people in everyday life, like for example impermanence – you can explain to that in the sense that just because you buy a new I-phone, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. Right? You may be happy when you bring it from the shop to your house. “Woah, I got a new I-phone!” And then you get home, you unwrap it, or it can be anything. And then eventually, it will be something else. So that’s a good example for impermanence.

Or karma, it’s like also, for example, if what would you like people to do for you? If you want to be happy in the sense, if you don’t like someone to talk harshly towards you, then why would you talk harshly to someone else, for example, right? Because that creates, it’s not nice for you.

Or if someone hits you, you don’t like it. So why would you do that to someone else, right? You try to explain that in the first person, so that maybe they can relate to that in everyday life, using examples like that. I think it’s easier than just using the name ‘karma’ or ‘impermanence’ or ‘attachment’. Eventually you can use that, but you have to explain to them what it means, right? Otherwise they won’t really understand.

Question: I guess you own modern movies, and I would like to ask you what you think about Western society especially in case of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll? Look at the United States of America – some people say it’s like ancient Rome.

Lama Osel: Ancient Rome.

Question: Ancient Rome, it’s going down. Who will be the next leader?. What do you think?

Lama Osel: I think, first of all, we shouldn’t generalize, because each person is different. As an individual, each person makes their own choices. So just because a group of people do something, doesn’t mean everybody does it. So that’s, I think the first thing is not to generalize so much.

But I think it’s part of the culture, the Western culture, it has a long history of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, so it’s part of the culture in a way. And it’s also something interesting to experience in order to understand in deeper way what samsara means.

Because sometimes, for example, if, when you become a monk in Tibetan tradition at a very young age, and you take vows, and you give up things which you don’t even know what they are. Then eventually you have a curiosity and you will want to know what it is like. So I think for some monks, of course, it’s no problem. But for some monks it is a problem, because they want to understand, they want to know what that is. It’s like reading a book about chocolate and then, of course, you don’t really know what it is like to eat chocolate. But it doesn’t mean the chocolate is going to bring you happiness. Right? In the book, it says chocolate will not bring you happiness. But you want to know at least what it tastes like in order to know that it won’t bring you happiness.

So it doesn’t mean that everybody has to do that. It’s just that for some people it’s interesting to have gone through that. And for example, Kopan started with the hippies that came to Nepal, and then they were introduced to the Dharma. And because they had gone through that, they really appreciated Dharma, and they found it as something very helpful because they felt that their generation was getting a little bit lost with the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

So as I said before, I think moderation is very important, and to learn from our mistakes and to learn from our experience, and to always try to be a better person.

And I think culturally, it’s part of the Western culture, also worldwide. It’s not something that is bad in a sense. Of course, without moderation, everything is bad, without the right intention. So you just, you try to keep that at bay and try to understand why, where it’s coming from, why it’s coming, why are we searching that. And that eventually that is not going to bring satisfaction.

I mean, you can look at all these famous singers from the 1970’s like Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, and so many of them just passed away at a very young age. And just because they were experiencing that, doesn’t mean they’re going to be a better person. Of course it made great music, which may inspire people to be better people but it doesn’t mean that that is the answer.

So if you try it, try it in moderation and eventually understand where it comes from, and understand that that does not bring happiness. As a matter of fact, it brings more unhappiness.

Question: What do you think is Buddhism in the modern world, how does it translate, and is the modern Buddhism is keeping the essence of Buddha’s teachings.

Lama Osel: I think Buddhism came from thousands of years ago. So it’s important also to relate to Buddhism, today. Because people have changed, and sometimes tradition has stayed behind, it doesn’t mean it’s not useful; of course it’s useful, it’s super important for everybody because Buddhism is based on the tradition, that’s how it’s arrived to us – from word of mouth, through texts, through ancient texts.

But I think there’s many ways to introduce, make an introduction of Buddhism to the Western people who have no interest in religion, for example. Actually there are many people who have aversion towards religion. And I think, those are the people who are in the most need of getting in contact with the Dharma.

So that’s why I think it’s very important to create different ways to share and to explain Dharma to those people because they are the ones who need it the most; they are the ones who are suffering the most also.

So I agree with you that Dharma can be explained in many different ways, and today, I think, also there’s many different ways to explain it. Then slowly, slowly, there will be even more. So I think that’s very important.

Question: You said that if we are happy we inspire people to be happy. _ [missing] said that if we don’t do anything, we are not like too much – we are not happy. But if we are doing too many things, also we are not happy because we stress maybe of doing so many things. So what do you think to get a balance to find like happiness or we can an inspiration for people?

Lama Osel: Yeah, it’s important to listen to your body, right, because our body’s our vehicle – it’s what, where we live in since we were born ‘til we die, it’s where we live, we are alone inside.

The only way to communicate with people is through speech, through facial expression, through physical contact, maybe music, maybe painting, art, stuff like that. But ultimately, we are alone, right? So it’s so important to listen to our body because our body will tell us whether we are stressed or we have to take a slower pace.

I mean, sometimes, if we are not doing other exercise, then also our body will tell us by maybe some back pain. So it’s good to do like stretching exercises like yoga, something like that?

So it’s just, for each individual it’s different. So it’s just, I think the body will tell us when it’s the moment to stop working too much, and when it’s the moment to start doing something if we’re not doing a lot. But ultimately, of course, it’s the individual – each person has to see that by themselves.

So I think we have time for two more questions.

Question: What path is the one that you recommend for those people who have this kind of aversion towards religion? What way to go?

Lama Osel: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m trying to also find out myself. But I think that, like the saying, “All roads lead to Rome”, and Rome is ourself. So I think it can be complicated in some moments, but I think eventually each person can find their own path.

Of course, it’s a very good question because not everybody finds it interesting or finds it helpful or useful. So maybe it’s just also a question of timing? When you reach a certain point in your life and you suddenly think, “Okay. Wow, I need to find meaning in my life. I have to understand what life is about”. And then maybe that thought [snaps fingers], will trigger the fact that you start searching for an answer or something. So sometimes it’s just the question about the moment in your life, and also your situation.

So it can be complicated but I think ultimately we were slowly able to reach more people, to be able to really find the true nature of their mind and understand how that works.

One more question.

Question: In your opinion, what is the best way to find an inner self, and not an outer self that is relying on your inner strength, and not something that it relies on outer things? And what’s like the path to find this?

Lama Osel: To find what?

Student: Like an inner sense that doesn’t rely on outer things….

Lama Osel: Oh, oh, okay.

Student:… to do with ego or attachment.

Lama Osel: Yeah, yeah. Well basically, wherever you are in the world, if you are not comfortable with yourself, whether you’re in Hawaii or you’re in Africa, it’s not going to make a difference. So you have to always start with yourself. And then how you relate to the outside world is based on how relate with yourself.

If you have many problems in your mind, then even if you go on vacation, then you will still have problems. So it’s important sometimes to also switch off the thoughts because many times we can be our worst enemy. At the same time, we can be our best enemy.

So it’s important to really check and see why we’re thinking, where it’s coming from and if it’s really helpful for us. ‘Cause, for example, one of the reasons there’s so much negativity in the world, from my perspective at least, is that people overvalue negativity much more than positive-ness.

Like, for example, there can be a mother who raised five children by herself for twenty years, and you’ll never see that on the news. You’ll never see, “Oh, this single mother raised five children by herself, doing two different jobs”.

But you will see a mother killed her son – that you may see. So that’s a good example to show that how even the news always overvalues negativity much more. And also we do because sometimes it’s like, it’s more interesting, oh we pay more attention. Oh there was an accident, and you say, “Wow, oh my God, there’s an accident”, which, of course, is terrible. But then there are so many other really nice things happening, and you say, “Okay, it’s normal”.

So if we can really switch that and overvalue positive-ness, and really say, “Okay, this person said this to me, which is very beautiful”, and really give a lot of importance to that, and slowly, slowly not give so much importance to the negative-ness, then that can really create a difference in our life and also in the people surrounding us.

And also in the collective memory because each individual affects the collective memory. So if we work with ourselves in that way, then we can actually help everybody else, even if it’s in a very subtle way.

I don’t know, I mean, I believe in the collective memory; maybe not all of you do. But I think the collective memory is a little bit like evolution or like god, or maybe sometimes love or karma – it can have many different names. It’s just sometimes you have to identify what works for you, what names, the one that you identify with.

For me, collective memory is like the omnipresence, like god. It’s something that we are all part of in an energetic way.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. At least that’s what I believe now. It may change tomorrow.

So one last question.

Question: Hello. Since you left the monastery ten years ago, I’m just wondering how have been working to go through what you have to reach that stage. Have you been studying any other sects of Buddhism or other religions?]

Lama Osel: Well, since I left the monastery, which has been already almost ten years now, I’ve just been living life and suffering, and, and I’m going through what everybody else goes through. And I think one of the inspirations I’ve had apart from Buddhism is many different authors, like Alejandro Jodorowsky or Thich Nhat Hanh or Hermann Hesse and Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho – just all these people. I just try to read books. Even Carlos Castaneda helped me a lot.

So since reading books and just experiencing life and talking with people, and just going through what everybody else goes through.

Of course, I had a raising in the monastery. So the way I saw things was a little bit different from people who grew up in the West. ‘Cause I grew up in the monastery with my basis as Dharma, and Buddhism, so it was easier for me to not get sucked into the samsara in a very deep way, so kind of just try to experience it and try to understand how it works.

Yeah but of course, I think we are all sucked into it eventually, I mean, all the time. But that’s what’s so hard about it is to really find how to get out of it, and how to help people. And that’s what Venerable Gyatso is here for, is to help us find that way, that path.

So I just would like to thank Venerable Gyatso so much from the bottom of my heart for helping all of us. And maybe sometimes maybe hard to understand, but ultimately it’s so beneficial. It may be difficult to also not fall asleep sometimes. I’m joking. But at least try to sleep well at night, so that that doesn’t happen during the teachings because you can miss some very important stuff. ‘Cause it really is – lam-rim is the basis of Dharma. So if you get a good understanding of lam-rim, then you’ve got enough. With that, you have enough for the whole lifetime.

So that’s why this November course is very important, it’s historical for all of us. So just keep that in mind and try not to get stressed. And just keep a light-heart, light-mind, just try to [seems to be exhaling], don’t think too much. And if you think, think positive, right?

Okay, thank you so much. Thank you. [applause]

A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation
Venerable Geshe Tsulga (Tsultrim Choephel) was resident teacher at Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies in Boston, MA. He passed away in November 2010.

In this book, the highly learned and revered teacher Geshe Tsulga offers a concise explanation of how to put the Buddha's teachings into practice, with emphasis on the early stages of the path and guru devotion. Suitable for both beginners and advanced students.

An excerpt of this book is included below. Click here to download the full English and Tibetan version of the book.

How to Practice the Buddhadharma
A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation

When practicing Buddhadharma it should be practiced not just for this life but with thoughts of benefit in the next life onward. After all, working for the fleeting comforts of this life is not confined to humans. Even among animals there are many who do the same. The difference between humans and animals, therefore, should be determined by the ability to think long term.

Therefore, the purpose of practicing Buddhadharma is to avoid the experience of, or to eliminate totally, the suffering that none of us wants and to gain the temporary and lasting happiness we all desire. Happiness and suffering arise from their own causes and conditions. They do not appear without prior causes and conditions, nor are they produced by a creator of the world. Therefore, one should first know or identify the causes of suffering and happiness. Then, because suffering is an unwanted phenomenon, the causes and conditions of suffering should be destroyed. Suffering is a result created from causes and if the causes and conditions to create that result are not there, suffering cannot arise. For example, if the seed of a flower is missing, no flower can grow.

Likewise, if we wish to have happiness, we should learn the causes of happiness through an investigation that searches for the causes and conditions that produce happiness. Then, we should work to gather these causes of happiness with great determination. If the creation of these causes and conditions is complete, it is not possible for the fruit of happiness not to arise. For example, if rice seeds, water, fertilizer, and so forth are present in the fields during spring, a good harvest will follow in autumn. If they are not present, no harvest is possible. Practice should consist of methods to eliminate nonvirtuous activity and mental afflictions, the very causes of suffering, and to bring the causes of happiness—faith, wisdom and their associated practices—into one’s being. These two kinds of practice is what is meant by the practice of Dharma.

Moreover, the term "Dharma" means to hold or to protect. If one practices Dharma well, one will be held back from falling into the depths of the lower realms or from the fear of being reborn in such places and will be protected from such suffering. Furthermore, Dharma in this context of "practice" should be understood as being a method to remake the practitioner's way of thinking, or to transform his or her mind.

Since beginningless time we sentient beings have been thinking only about one life and of ourselves alone. In this way countless eons have passed. During that time our thoughts and wishes have been only for happiness and yet never, not even for an instant, have we found the happiness to satisfy our desires. Instead, we have helplessly experienced and will continue to experience every possible unwanted suffering from the Hell of Respite up to the Peak of Existence for eons and eons. All this time, we have been without protection, without guidance, with no gain or benefit for oneself and others. At no time have we risen out of this desperate situation. Not knowing the causes of happiness and suffering we engage in wrong practice, falling prey to unwanted suffering, and have not attained our desired goal of happiness. In the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life it says:

Although we wish to be free of suffering,
we run toward the causes of suffering.
Although we wish for happiness,
with ignorance we destroy it
as if it were our enemy.

As this quote points out suffering is a result of misunderstanding what is to be eradicated and what is to be cultivated. Therefore, without letting ourselves fall under the influence of the old mind that thinks only of this life and only of ourselves, we should now transform our way of thinking. Concerning this bad attitude of cherishing oneself alone Panchen Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen says in the Guru Puja:

This chronic disease of cherishing ourselves
is the cause of unwanted suffering.
Seeing this, we hold it in contempt and as worthy of blame.
Bless us to destroy the demon of selfishness.

In the same text he says:

Self cherishing is the road to every trouble.

In the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life it says:

Thinking of our ourselves is the doctrine of the devil.

We should look upon this self-cherishing attitude as our principal enemy who has dealt ourselves and others so much suffering since time without beginning. Therefore, by turning away from this unbefitting and ingrained attitude we should develop the mind that thinks about happiness for ourselves and others from the next life onward as well as an attitude that works toward that end. By training in Buddhadharma it is possible to change our minds to such a way of thinking. If we train ourselves through the proper practice of Dharma, working for the benefit of future lives and not for this life alone, with the thought of working for others and not for ourselves alone, then our minds can be led into that direction. Therefore, Dharma has been spoken of as that which holds us from the abyss, protects us from fear, tames the mind, remakes the mind, and transforms the mind, and it should be understood in this way.

Whether one thinks from the perspective of all sentient beings wanting happiness or from the perspective of all sentient beings not wanting suffering, one should practice Dharma. Take this human rebirth that we have now, for example. In a past life as human beings we prayed to be reborn as human beings specially endowed with ten favorable conditions for achieving liberation and omniscience and to be free from the eight great obstacles. Alongside that prayer, we practiced giving, kept the morality that restrained from the ten nonvirtuous activities, practiced patience, developed determination, dwelt in meditative absorption, practiced wisdom, and so on. Because of these perfect causes and conditions, we have now gained this human form complete with its eight leisures and ten endowments, and we are free from the suffering of lower realms. Therefore, from now on until we die we should practice a Dharma that brings happiness to others and to our own future lives. The incomparable Atisha said:

A rebirth complete in leisure and endowment is very difficult to gain.
Even attained it is so difficult to find once more.
Strive in practice, therefore, and make it meaningful.
A buddha has appeared, a Sangha community exists,
you have gained this hard-to-find human rebirth,
a teacher so difficult to meet has been found,
do not render it meaningless.

As this quote explains, we have gained this precious form with its leisure and endowments, met with the precious teachings of the Buddha, and met with the teacher or guru who flawlessly shows us the path. These and every other favorable internal and external condition for the practice of Dharma have come together at this one time. Now we must give this achievement of a human rebirth meaning and power. If that were not possible, we would have to conclude that there is no difference between being born as a human and being born as a dog.

Our unwanted sufferings are those of the lower realms and those of cyclic existence. Within our being we possess the complete causes and conditions for birth in the lower realms. Therefore, not only is it difficult to gain a higher rebirth but there is every danger immediately after we die of being born against our wishes in the prison of lower realms, where we are certain to experience unbearable suffering. The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life says:

If nonvirtuous activity performed for an instant
can produce an eon in the Hell without Respite,
what need is there to say that nonvirtuous activity
accumulated since beginningless time
will not produce birth in higher realms.

Within us nonvirtuous activity is stronger than virtuous, and the mind, therefore, is held or bound by mental afflictions. This means that even neutral states of mind, not to mention virtuous, do not arise that often. This is because our minds naturally gravitate toward nonvirtue. Such activities, in terms of their fields, motivating thoughts, bases, and objects, have great strength and it will be difficult to purify ourselves of them totally before we die by means of confession and strong resolution.

Generally, virtuous activity is rare, and such activity when it is performed is often impure from the point of view of its preparation, undertaking, and conclusion. However we look at it, in our next life there can be no rebirth other than one in the lower realms. Born as a hell being, hungry ghost, or animal, our suffering will be so great and our minds so ignorant that we will not know at all the practices of cultivating virtue and eradicating nonvirtue. Even hearing the words of such practices will be rare. Most lower-realm beings under the power of coarse afflictions such as anger amass nonvirtuous karma again and again, and in their rebirths they migrate lower and lower with never a chance to be reborn in happier realms. The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life says,

By engaging in no virtuous activity,
but amassing the nonvirtuous,
for a hundred billion eons
even the words "happier realms"
will not be heard.

The same text says:

Having experienced it one is not free,
for during the experience
more nonvirtue is gathered.

Therefore, in order not to be born in those lower realms in future lives, we should practice a pure Dharma. In our practice of eradicating nonvirtue and cultivating virtue we should not fall under the spell of laziness and think to put it off until tomorrow, next month, next year or next life. Rather we should begin right now because practice must be undertaken before
we die and our time of death is uncertain. Je Gungtangpa said:

Before the tomorrow of Dharma practice
there is danger that the death of today will arrive.
Now, without deluding yourselves,
if you want to practice Dharma, do it today.

A talk by His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche about the four Tibetan traditions.
From a talk given by His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche in Darjeeling, India. Translated by Harold Richards.

The Buddha said that many hundreds of Dharma traditions would come into this world. All traditions would arise from the perfect action of awakened buddhas and would be their means of helping sentient beings. What would these means be like? Entrusting ourselves to some religious traditions would enable us to take birth in the elevated planes of those religions: as human beings or as desire realm celestial beings. Through entrusting ourselves to others, we could be born into the seventeen planes of the form realm or in the four states of the formless realm. Moreover, they reveal ways of blocking the access to ill-gone states (as animals, etc.) and gaining elevated planes of existence. All give us strength and transforming powers.

Some practices are meant to give us the capability of attaining Lesser Vehicle levels of the Enemy Conqueror and the Solitary Realizer (Hinayana arhat and pratyekabuddha) and others give the ability to reach the Greater Vehicle (bodhisattva and Buddha). They do this, and so I believe in all religious traditions. All derive from the perfect actions of the Buddha and give sentient beings release from cyclic existence in both temporary and ultimate senses. Accordingly, these are the subjects I teach my disciples.

While I was in Tibet there were eight major Buddhist traditions, but nowadays in India, the Land of Superiors, only four have been able to flourish. These are Sakya, Gelug, Nyingma and Kagyü. Again, each conveys the stainless word of the Buddha above all and has produced successions of expert scholars and realized saints (pandit and siddhalabdha) to further it.

Thus each is like pure gold, authentic Dharma untainted by anything vile, a thing most people don’t find even when they search, something that can lead to liberation from cyclic existence and to omniscience. This is Dharma in all its profundity and vastness.

If they are all the Dharma of the Buddha, why are there all these different systems? Generally speaking, the variety is produced according to the inclinations of different people. Each particular system is distinctly for the aptitudes of particular people whose minds are ready to be cultivated by such a system.

All four major traditions have in common the four ways of converting frames of thought, going for refuge, generating the two precious gems of relative and absolute enlightenment mentalities, and evolution and perfection phases. It is not for anyone to call one good and others bad. All are only good.

Nonetheless, each individual tradition has its own records of profound gracious advice from the personal experience (gDams ngag) of particular gurus and from the oral tradition techniques for efficiency (man-ngag) transferred from one vessel (i.e. disciple) to another. It is while someone is involved in the practice of his religious system that he is given detailed essential pith instructions by the noblest lamas.

It seems to me that each tradition must benefit someone who has the inclination and prior associations and so I have no partiality to any of the Dharma traditions. Call them systems of gracious advice or Dharma; all are what I teach.

In addition, all traditions stress good practice of the principle of cause and effect and in this every one of them maintains above all the four ways of converting of thought—the turning about in our patterns of thought regarding this cyclic existence—as the means of a basis for being able to aim for liberation and buddhahood.

As for a general account of my lamas: in Tibet the lord of all doctrine is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Everyone knows that. As such, out of his great compassion he puts into operation the means for all presentations of doctrine without distinction enabling them to flourish more and more and for helping particular sentient beings and migrating beings in general. Consequently, he is also an exceptional lord of exposition in each doctrine.

At present the lord of Kagyü doctrine is His Holiness Karmapa, whose name is well renowned, the lord of Nyingma doctrine is Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, and the lord of Sakya doctrine is Sakya Dagchen Rinpoche. While acting as the heads of doctrine, these four provide (spiritual needs) with great kindness and, due to this, in places like India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim, the Buddha’s teachings are flourishing and radiating like a shining sun.

As far as I’m concerned, I have been fortunate enough to gain many empowerments, transmissions and discourses from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his two tutors, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. I have also received many from my root guru, His Holiness Karmapa and from both Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche and Sakya Trizin Rinpoche. By entrusting myself to many lamas of all four traditions I am creating good associations and a great sense of belief. Furthermore, within my group of disciples, there are many monks and lamas of the four traditions and I feel that I serve their doctrine without discrimination in tenets.

However, I must be really fortunate to have Sakyapas, Nyingmapas, Kagyüpas, and Gelugpas all in my monastery. Subsequently, through bearing all tenets of the religious traditions as my crown, and revering them, I hope to be a practitioner of them all and similarly intend the recipients of my teaching to have great belief in all doctrine.

When someone has an association with some system of Dharma and a lama, it is permissible that he mainly practices that particular doctrine. Such tendencies are the result of the force of his individual activities in prior lifetimes. Apart from this, I feel that to be a believer without distinction in all tenets is authentic evidence of a noble being. It is an outcome of having accomplishments of expertise, sincerity and goodness, that the lamas, abbots, masters and tulkus can explain, debate and compose, bringing about the welfare of sentient beings; and all have great belief without distinction.

So it is that the teachings of Buddha are spreading through the West for the first time. In this pioneering context you might think yourself a practitioner merely through having heard some scanty pieces of Dharma.

On the other hand, not remaining content with a limited understanding of the Dharma, you might make a proper study of it and from the outset with the motivation of benefiting sentient beings, you could put into practice all of the teachings about the opportunities so hard to achieve (precious human body), death and impermanence, cause and result and the faults of cyclic existence, followed by the ten grounds and five paths up to the ultimate: buddhahood.

Thus, to whichever lama you might entrust yourself—Sakyapa, Gelugpa or Nyingmapa—if with belief you combine your mind with the aim for perfection of the practices by every means, then doing them will be worthwhile.

Otherwise, by pursuing diverse aspects of Dharma in meager ways, learning a few phrases here and there, and acting out the semblance of being a practitioner, it will be difficult to derive much benefit. Is it not better to practice perfection without cheating yourself?

This talk was given by HH Zong Rinpoche in Kathmandu, Nepal April 1974 at Kopan Monastery.
His Holiness Zong Rinpoche came to stay at Kopan Monastery for a few days during the Sixth Meditation Course, March-April 1974. He gave this talk to almost two hundred Western students on April 17. It was translated by Lama Thubten Yeshe and edited by Nicholas Ribush.

Read the transcript of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings from the Sixth Kopan Course on the LYWA website.

His Holiness Zong Rinpoche (1905-84) was born in Kham, Tibet, studied at Ganden Monastery, gained renown as a learned geshe and great debater and served as abbot for nine years. He fled to India in 1959 and later served as principal of the Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath.

Lama Yeshe and His Holiness Zong Rinpoche at the 6th Kopan Course in April 1974. Photo from the collection of Francesco Prevosti. Photographer unknown.

[Zong Rinpoche chants]

Rinpoche says that he’s just given you the rlung, or oral transmission, of the Avalokiteshvara mantra, and that there’s a Dharma relationship between all of us from the past; we’ve all known each other before.

Rinpoche says that he’s much attached to Dharma wisdom because he’s been practicing it since he was six or seven years old, and he’s very happy that all of you are acting in accordance with it. However, you should make sure that you’re sincere in trying to understand the Dharma and not just on some trip. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that he’s seen some people study Buddhism quite deeply but then not put what they have learned into action so that after some time they disappear without an atom of wisdom.

He says he has known Lama Zopa Rinpoche for a long time and although Rinpoche has not had that much time to study, he has something, he knows something that is as valuable as scholarship. He sees what Rinpoche’s doing for you people and thinks it’s beneficial, especially since you have come from so far away, seeking Dharma knowledge-wisdom. It’s difficult but of course, your searching for the Dharma means you have a tremendous level of morality within you, and therefore he’s very glad. But of course, in general, whenever anybody practices Dharma it’s very good.

In particular, those who have renounced samsara in order to put all their energy into the Dharma path are very fortunate to have come to that decision. That’s most worthwhile. And those of you who have taken ordination as monks and nuns—which has been your own decision; nobody else has made you do it—please try to put all your energy into the Dharma path of liberation according to your decision and become continuously successful. That’s really worthwhile.

Lord Buddha himself said that this decision of wanting to take ordination and then keeping your body, speech and mind pure, not harming any other sentient being, is much more beneficial these days than it was in Lord Buddha’s time. In fact, keeping the ordination for one day of this twentieth century is much more beneficial than keeping it for a whole lifetime back then.

Now, you hear many teachings at this meditation course but the main, fundamental thing you need to know is how to take refuge, what the essence of refuge is, what karma is and how it’s created. Those are the main things you need to know. You can’t spend your life sitting in the lotus position meditating. So taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, actualizing your practice continuously and following karma strictly are important. I’m sure Lama Zopa Rinpoche has explained all this and I’m sure you know it too.

The root of what we call Dharma is the mind, your mental attitude, therefore, even if you create negative karma you can purify it; we have the methods for doing that. And also, you should always have pure thoughts and generate a pure motivation, whatever Dharma practices you do. That, too, is important.

We’re always so busy that we don’t have time to meditate every day, but each night, before you go to sleep, you should take refuge, reflect on the excellent qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and try to sleep with a pure, positive motivation. In that way your sleep itself becomes Dharma practice and your positive energy automatically increases.

Then, when you get up in the morning, instead of thinking about samsaric things, again think about the good qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. So in the morning, get up, make three prostrations, take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and generate a pure motivation for whatever you’re going to do that day. This is very important and worthwhile since you can’t practice perfect single-pointed concentration because of your busy life. If you do this continuously every morning it will be very effective in helping you integrate every day of your life with Dharma knowledge-wisdom.

Of course, life is difficult—it’s hard not to create any negative actions—but there’s a solution. You can purify them with understanding knowledge-wisdom. So instead of being discouraged, thinking, “Oh, I can’t do anything; I’m so negative,” know that knowledge-wisdom is a powerful antidote to negativity and stop feeling sorry for yourself and hanging onto your old habits and uncontrolled energy. So make a strong effort to purify your negativities with wisdom.

I know it’s hard for you to practice only Dharma and not engage in any samsaric activity, but try as much as you can to do some of the things we’re doing here, such as prayers, mantras and so forth. Do your best to bring Dharma wisdom into whatever situation you’re in and, slowly, slowly, you’ll continuously develop. Then, even if you don’t reach levels of perfection in this life, there’s hope that you might do so in the next. It’s possible.

Another thing is that rather than hating people who practice Dharma you should be glad and rejoice in their actions. Sometimes your friend might do something good, some meditation or something, and you look at him sideways, “Hmm….” Instead of being jealous, be happy. That, too, is very important. It becomes wisdom.

Remember how Lord Buddha spent years actualizing knowledge-wisdom while he was on the path to enlightenment and finally gained perfect liberation, and be happy; rejoice instead of feeling hatred. Doing so creates the cause for you to also reach that level.

Similarly, when you see people reciting mantras, doing prostrations—there are many different ways of actualizing Dharma knowledge-wisdom—instead of looking at them funny, “What’s she doing, why is she trying to be different?” try to feel glad. Or when you see somebody who has taken ordination trying to keep his or her body, speech and mind pure, instead of feeling dislike and jealousy, rejoice that the person is trying to do something positive.

When you rejoice at others’ positive actions you also create merit. That’s better than looking critically at what others do and putting them down, thinking they’re just trying to be different. When you rejoice at others’ positive actions you generate positive energy within yourself. And not only at others’ positive actions—you can also rejoice at your own positive actions. Be happy that you have found the chance to gain Dharma wisdom, which is very difficult to find. It’s not easy to have the opportunity to open your mind, develop awareness and discover the true nature of your internal world. This truly is most difficult.

You can see this for yourself. Look at the members of your own family and the people in your own country and abroad. It’s extremely difficult to come to the conclusion that it’s important to search for the inner truth and develop knowledge-wisdom. So feel that you are very, very fortunate to have come to that conclusion yourself—when you do, that itself increases the energy of your Dharma wisdom.

During the meditation course you might sometimes feel that developing Dharma wisdom is difficult but try not to think that way and feel fortunate instead. Of course, when you practice Dharma problems might arise but instead of thinking, “This is a problem, this is bringing me down,” try to make it a positive experience. Transforming negative experiences into Dharma wisdom is very important.

We think, “I’m suffering, I’m agitated,” but if you really look at this agitated life you’ll see how short it is. When actualizing Dharma wisdom on the path to liberation it’s natural for samsaric problems to arise; you have to expect them. But this life itself is short, transitory and illusory and you should not be attached to samsaric happiness, which lasts just a day or two. There’s no point clinging to that and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re samsarically happy or sad; it doesn’t matter. Rather than being up and down all the time, you’re better off continuously actualizing Dharma wisdom.

When everything’s going well you say, “Oh, I like practicing Dharma,” but when you encounter problems you say, “It’s too hard.” Some little problem arises, perhaps with a friend, you’re up and down, and for that small reason your practice suffers. You shouldn’t let small samsaric agitation upset you; your wisdom should be stronger than that and you should not so easily lose energy and give up your practice. That’s wrong.

Rinpoche says that he has had contact with us before and we have met this time in order to develop Dharma wisdom, not simply for this life’s happiness. Similarly, you’re taking this meditation course because of your tremendous past connections with Lama Zopa Rinpoche; there’s a strong karmic link between his energy and yours and you’re extremely fortunate to have that contact. It hasn’t happened accidentally or because of something that happened just last year.

He also says that he’s glad that you can see the possibility of actualizing the path to everlasting peaceful liberation and is happy to be able to talk to you for this short time. He feels he doesn’t have to explain too much because Lama Zopa Rinpoche is doing that and there’s much you know already.

So, please actualize what you know and feel is worthwhile, and he will pray for you to continuously actualize knowledge-wisdom on the path to liberation. Thank you so much.