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

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

Beginning to Understand Karma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Karma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karma, inner strength and life itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karma, Reality and Belief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Seize this precious opportunity

Leisure and endowment are very hard to find
And, since they accomplish what is meaningful for humanity,
If I do not take advantage of them now,
How will such a perfect opportunity come about again?

Just as a flash of lightning on a dark, cloudy night
For an instant brightly illuminates all,
Likewise in this world, through the might of Buddha,
A wholesome thought rarely and briefly appears.
(Verses 4 & 5, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)1

We should contemplate the meaning of these two verses over and over again. Verse 5 describes our situation. It is very rare and difficult for us to generate virtuous thoughts or engage in virtue. Our primary concern is with the affairs of and the happiness of this life.

On top of that, it is even rarer for us to generate any interest or aspiration to study the profound teachings of the Buddha. The fact that we do have some interest in studying happens, as said in verse 5, through the power of the blessings of the Buddha on our mental continua. Combined with these blessings is the karma and merit we have accumulated in our past lives which has resulted in our interest in Dharma practice and studies now. If we think deeply about this, it seems almost miraculous that we have the aspiration to study the great treatises and difficult texts of the Buddha’s teachings. Since it has happened, we should not leave it at that.

Our aspiration to study must be sustained over time. This is important as we may be discouraged when studying this text, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds becomes difficult, and the thought comes to give up our studies.

Practising the Dharma is difficult. Trying to study and reflect on the great treatises is even more so, but the main thing is not to give up, to waste this precious opportunity. Reflecting on verses 4 and 5, we should set ourselves a long-term goal and focus on achieving the happiness of our future lives.

There are many benefits of listening to the teachings. One well-known story is that of Vasubandhu and the pigeon. The pigeon used to sit on the roof of Vasubandhu’s house. Vasubandhu, who was a great scholar of the Abhidharma (Treasury of Knowledge), used to recite this text from memory. Simply by hearing Vasubandhu’s recitation, the pigeon was reborn as a human and later also became a great scholar.

We are definitely far better off than the pigeon as we can listen to the teachings as well as understand, at least, part of those teachings. Then, in our future lives, we will definitely have the opportunity to continue to study the great treatises. The fact we have the chance to study this great text on bodhicitta now is definitely due to the result of having accumulated virtuous karma in the past. We should rejoice.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Take the essence of your life 

“This advice is aimed at those who want to study the Great Treatises”: From the onset, Gungtang Rinpoche clarifies that his advice is not directed at Brahma, the worldly god with clairvoyance and the ability to know past and future lives, or the gods of the desire realm endowed with great wealth and many enjoyments. His advice is directed at those who have a clear mind and who aspire to study the teachings of the Buddha correctly.

“All of us are now enjoying all the favourable conditions for studying. We have obtained this precious human life of leisure and opportunities. Not only that, we have also met with the teachings of the Buddha. We have met with teachers who can show us the path. Furthermore, we are surrounded by Dharma friends who share the same interests and who are able to support us in our practice. So, all the necessary conditions are here now.

"It is difficult to meet with such a perfect assembly of conditions again. Therefore, stop procrastinating in your Dharma studies and practise. Now is the time to take the essence of your life.”

Perfect conditions do not last 

When we are in class, we should concentrate and not let our minds be distracted, or worse, fall asleep. Sometimes, we may be overcome by mental distraction or sleepiness due to fatigue but it is important that we do not allow this to happen all the time. If this happens regularly, then we would have slept our way through the five-year program!

At the end of the class, if you were asked, “What did you learn today?” your answer should not be, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.” Again, this may happen sometimes because you are tired.  But it should not happen all the time. At the end of each session, you should be able to say that you have learnt something.

We can say, presently, we have the ideal conditions for studying. For example, you have the company of your classmates, who attend class with you. While these conditions exist, we should try to make the most of this opportunity and pay attention, without being distracted. In the future, it is possible that there will be no teacher, translator or classmates. Then, even if you have the keen interest to study and learn, you cannot do so because the conditions are no longer there.

Benefits of studying the Buddhadharma 

The numerous benefits of studying the Buddhadharma can be summarised in a single sentence: From studying comes the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.

We understand the need to turn away from negative actions by studying the Buddha’s teachings and we begin to engage in positive, beneficial actions. Turning away from negativities is the practice of the ethics of restraint.

When we develop the higher training of concentration from hearing the teachings, we will be able to abandon all sorts of meaningless activities.

From listening to the Buddhadharma, we can achieve the sorrowless state of liberation through gradually developing the wisdom that realises selflessness. With that wisdom, we can abandon the self-grasping conception together with its seeds.

Advice from the Kadampa masters 

The sun of Dharma has now arisen and is shining on our heads, yet we continue to engage in negativities and inappropriate behaviour.  We should really be ashamed of ourselves.

Our appropriated contaminated aggregates are actually filled with unclean substances.  Yet we cherish them so much and put in so much effort to pamper them. This is also very shameful behaviour.

After having purportedly generated bodhicitta, the wish to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, it is very shameful that we continue to criticise and put down others.

We should also be ashamed of the fact that having accepted the Mahayana teachings, we remain separated from compassion and wisdom.

And, having entered the vajra vehicle, the Vajrayana, we should be ashamed of the fact that we do not keep our commitments and remain lazy.

At this time when the sun of the Dharma has arisen and is shining on our heads, it is very shameful that we remain unable to improve the actions of our bodies, speech and minds through the processes of listening, reflection and meditation.

I think the main advice here is to listen to the teachings and practise them with the goal of changing and transforming our minds for the better.

There are people who think it is more important not to suffer now, “I don’t care about the future suffering as long as I do not have to suffer now.” This way of thinking is extremely foolish because if we are unable to bear even a small suffering now, how would we be able to endure the suffering of the lower realms?

The teachings as a mirror 

When we look into the mirror and see dirt on our faces, we would remove the dirt. In the same way, the teachings are like the mirror reflecting who we are and the faults we possess, which we need to rectify. This is the attitude or motivation we should have towards our Dharma studies.

Just as we should try to clean up the dirty face we see reflected in the mirror, the Buddhadharma points out the kind of behaviour we need to change. Simply knowing our faults is not enough. Feeling depressed or discouraged when we discover our many faults is also not beneficial. We need to do something to change them.

Studying out of a sense of obligation 

Studying and listening to the teachings should not be undertaken grudgingly as if one had no choice, like an obligation or like paying taxes. The Buddhadharma will not be beneficial when one has such an attitude. I think this is the reason why, in the teachings, it is said that one should not teach unless one is requested to do so.

Respect for the teacher 

It is mentioned in the lam-rim that just as one should have respect for the teachings, one should also respect the teacher. Ideally, one should think of the teacher as a spiritual friend. If this is not possible, at the very least, one should have some feeling of affinity or closeness to the teacher.

Respect for the teacher is important, as the purpose of listening to the teachings is to benefit the mind. If one harbours negative feelings towards the teacher, it is very difficult for the teachings presented to be of any benefit to one’s mind. If it is not possible to generate some affinity for the teacher, at the very least, one should listen with a mind of equanimity, i.e., with an unbiased mind. Then the teachings may be of some benefit. That is why the Buddha had advised that one should not teach those who have resentment or anger towards oneself or those who hold wrong views.

Qualities of a proper student

What are the qualifications of a proper student? The great Indian master, Aryadeva said, in the 400 Verses, that a suitable vessel for Dharma teachings is someone who is non-partisan or unbiased, intelligent and diligent.

Being non-partisan means that the student should not be biased, for example, thinking that one’s views are superior to those of others or that others’ views are mistaken. Instead, one should investigate if the teachings given accord with reality or not, accepting them if they do and rejecting them if they do not.

The student should also be intelligent, which means, in this context, having the ability and wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong. Simply listening to the teachings is not enough.

In addition, the student should also be diligent in seeking out and listening to teachings.

Considering these qualities in the reverse order, they work like this: when we are diligent, we will have strong interest in Dharma study and practice. We will make the effort to practise and to listen to teachings. When we do that, our wisdom to discriminate between what is right and wrong will increase and as that wisdom increases, we will also become non-partisan. Without discriminating wisdom, one tends to become more partisan and such bias only becomes the basis for sectarianism as well as conflict among different faiths.

All major religions came about to serve humanity and to bring peace and happiness to the world. The religious and sectarian conflicts we see today are not the fault of the religions themselves, but originate from the so-called followers who practise in a mistaken way. Therefore, regardless of the religion that we practise, we must study first.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Need for consistent effort 

This is advice for those who are engaged in serious study of the Great Treatises and philosophical teachings of the Buddha. Gungtang Rinpoche advised that it is a mistake to expect, from the onset of our studies, to immediately become an expert in these topics. At the same time, it is a mistake to quickly forget what has been taught.

As these teachings are extremely profound, Rinpoche pointed out that we need to put effort into our studies. That effort should be constant like the flow of a river. We will not succeed in our studies if our exertions are erratic and irregular.

We need to constantly revise, review and recall what we have learnt. The topics in the earlier, present and future modules of this program are all interconnected. We will not succeed in our studies if we keep on forgetting the earlier teachings even as we listen to teachings on new subjects.

The best way to really learn is through discussion. When we are able to come to a firm conclusion on a certain subject, during the course of a discussion, by applying logic and reasoning, this will remain in the mind for a very long time. In terms of what we can get from our studies, 25% comes from listening to the teacher, another 25% comes from self-study and the remaining 50% comes from discussion.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: The thief of forgetfulness

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “We put in great effort to listen to and study many teachings but we lose whatever knowledge we had gained to forgetfulness. It is like working very hard to accumulate wealth and possessions and having them all stolen by thieves and robbers.

"Putting in so much effort in our studies and letting our knowledge be stolen by the thief of forgetfulness is like coming away empty-handed from an island filled with jewels.”

The only way to stop this situation from happening to us is to constantly familiarise ourselves with what we have learnt. Rinpoche’s advice is directed at serious students of the great philosophical treatises. One achieves nothing by constantly forgetting what one has learnt as one progresses from topic to topic.

Instead of simply relying on listening to the teachings, where everything can be easily forgotten within months, one should familiarise oneself with what is taught by constantly reflecting on what has been taught, thinking about the teachings and analysing the texts. The greater the familiarity, the less likely one will forget what one has learnt.

Advice from the Kadampa masters: Warding off procrastination 

The great Kadampa masters advise: “Don’t think that something is difficult. By thinking this way, then this thought follows: ‘I shall not do it now. I’ll do it later.’ Avoid this attitude which is like a blind man finding and then losing the wish-fulfilling jewel. He will never find another wish-fulfilling jewel again.”

This analogy can be applied to our Dharma studies and practice. Trying to study and practice the Dharma is not easy. But it is wrong to postpone doing so. Putting off studying a difficult text during the Basic Program essentially means that studying it will never happen.

Also, when we have all the conditions gathered here, we should apply ourselves to our studies because one never knows whether the opportunity will come again.

When we listen to such advice, it is not sufficient to say, “O.K. I will do it.” And still nothing gets done. That is pointless. The main thing here is to try our best to listen and study.

Everyone is different as all of us have accumulated different karma. When it comes to studies and practice, therefore, some will encounter more difficulties than others. When such obstacles arise, we have to think, “This is the weapon of my own evil deeds coming back to me.” Thinking in this way, it no longer matters whether we understand everything or not as long as we have tried our best.

There are some people who are prone to discouragement and disappointment. There is nothing to be said if you are discouraged from the start, without even having tried to put in some effort. But when you really try and you still don’t understand, something can be done to build up your self-confidence.

How do we know that it is a mistake to postpone our studies and practice?  We grow older with the passing of time, not younger. As we age, our intelligence, mental agility and clarity decline. If we cannot study and practise now, how is it possible for us to do better in the future?

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Make sure we do not waste our lives

Gungtang Rinpoche said that we spend 20 years of our lives not thinking about the Dharma and another 20 years, thinking, “Oh, I must practise the Dharma,” but never doing anything about it. Then we spend another 20 years not being able to practise the Dharma, at the end of which we think, “Oh, I didn’t get to practise the Dharma after all.” In this way, we waste our entire lives.

When we examine our own lives carefully, we can see this describes our situation exactly. In the beginning of this module, we did not think of studying. Then we decided we needed to study, yet we did nothing about it.

It is your responsibility to ensure that what Rinpoche said does not happen to you. You have to make sure that this opportunity does not go to waste. You must pay attention when listening to the teachings. Otherwise, even though physically, you spend five years attending classes, you end up knowing nothing. It is important that you try your best to pay attention when you are in class.

Dealing with difficult topics 

Whenever you deal with more challenging topics, you must pay attention right from the beginning of the class because the material is all inter-connected. The more you concentrate, the more you will learn.

When you have been attending teachings for some time, especially those who have attended many teachings, you may be present physically but the mind is distracted.  It is like that, isn’t it? When you listen to songs, the mind is always concentrated but when you listen to the teachings, the mind is easily distracted. Over time, your attitude towards listening to the teachings becomes more flippant and that is not good.

Sometimes, you console yourself by thinking: “It is all right. It doesn’t matter whether I understand or not. I will try to be better in the next lesson.” This may work, but I think most of the time, things do not really work out this way. Whenever you are at any teachings, you have to make a pledge to yourself: “I’ll try my best to listen and pay attention to what is being said.”

There are also students who have unrealistic expectations. They expect to understand everything they hear there and now. This is impossible.  What is needed here is perseverance. With those expectations, when they do not understand a few words, they get upset and uptight. This is pointless. If you really want to learn, then you must persevere.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Practising contentment 

Guntang Rinpoche advised that just as it is important to practise contentment in our daily lives, to be satisfied with who we are and what we have, practising contentment is also applicable to our Dharma studies.

We are all different - different parents, different genes, levels of intelligence and so forth. We should not expect to have the same results as others but should study according to our own level and be happy and content with what we achieve in our studies.

Some students may feel disappointed or discouraged when, at times, they do not understand the lesson. When that happens, one needs to reflect on contentment – to be happy with whatever one has understood.

It is the same with material wealth and possessions. Some people are wealthier than others. It is also important to think about contentment in that situation. These differences in levels of intelligence, wealth, etc. are the results of different karmas.

Some people put themselves down by thinking they are hopeless and incompetent, incapable of doing anything. This happens to a lot of people. It is completely pointless to do that. When one is already facing difficulties, there is no need to generate more problems for oneself, thinking, “I am so stupid” and so forth. How does that help to improve the situation one is in? We have to accept ourselves for who we are. Instead, we should think, “I have achieved what I wanted to do,” and be happy and satisfied with that.

This is a city centre. Everyone is busy with their personal and work commitments. After a long day at work, we travel all the way here, twice a week, for classes. But it is only twice a week, for two hours per session, unlike in the monasteries where the monks can study full-time. That is their job. When we compare ourselves to these monks, obviously, we are far behind them. But we shouldn’t put ourselves down. Rather, we should praise ourselves, recognising and accepting the limitations that come with being a city centre. We should be content with what we have achieved.

Practising contentment in this way brings happiness, peace and bliss. It is particularly helpful when we are studying together and we find some classmates being able to understand what we cannot. This is from my own experience when I was studying. Sometimes, when I saw other fellow students understanding certain things that I did not understand, I felt discouraged. At that time, I reflected on how all of us have different karma and felt happy with what I did understand. Thinking in this way helped me a lot.

Importance of recitation and preliminary prayers

We have been reciting verses from the root text after reciting the Heart Sutra. I thought this recitation will be beneficial as (1) it helps us to familiarise ourselves with the verses over time and (2) since this is a special text composed by the great bodhisattva Shantideva himself, simply reading and reciting the text generates great merit for us.

In the monasteries in South India, it is customary for the monks to gather and recite prayers for a few hours before any debate session, making strong requests for success in their studies and debates. In the same way, we need to make extensive prayers for success in our studies.

In the great monasteries, there is a saying passed down from generation to generation that it is unnecessary for monks to perform special rituals or pujas to clear obstacles in their studies, as long as they apply themselves seriously to the  recitation of the preliminary prayers made before the debates or when they gather to do prayers together. The monks are advised to set a good motivation and reflect and contemplate carefully when they do such recitations. Doing that alone will clear all the obstacles that might arise during the course of their studies.

We should engage in the practice of recitation in the same way. We should make strong prayers during the recitation and think, “May this recitation remove all obstacles and unfavourable conditions that may arise during our studies and practice.”

We may wish to study and practise the teachings of the Buddha, but there are so many kinds of obstacles - outer, inner and even secret - that can occur. The best way to pacify these obstacles is to make very strong prayers combined with the very strong determination to continue one’s studies.

It is possible that, sometimes, when reciting these preliminary prayers, we may get bored or consider the prayers to be a chore, failing to see why we are doing them. You should understand now that these prayers and recitations are very beneficial for us. In fact, since this text is composed by the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, the benefit and merit that one accumulates simply by reciting this text is inexpressible. We should remind ourselves of this when we recite the text or prayers, and perform them enthusiastically.

From the time we start reciting the Heart Sutra till the end of the lesson, when we dedicate the merits, this can all be considered virtuous action. We should do whatever we can to make the lesson enjoyable for ourselves from our own side and to engage in our studies enthusiastically rather than thinking that we are doing this out of obligation and without a choice, like paying taxes.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field 

Guntang Rinpoche advises that during these degenerate times, when our minds are weak and we have so little merit, we need to rely on and make special requests to the deities and Dharma protectors, accumulate merit by doing practices such as prostrations, mandala offerings and so forth and purify our minds of obscurations by relying on the four opponent powers. These are the necessary supporting conditions for us to be able to continue and to have success in our study of the Great Treatises.

Intelligence alone or simply favourable conditions do not necessarily guarantee that one will complete one’s studies. We also need to rely on accumulating merit and purifying the mind from obscurations, as well as making fervent requests to the merit field.

During the course of one’s studies or practices, one will meet with all kinds of external and internal obstacles in the form of sicknesses and so forth. Therefore, it is important to make single-pointed requests to the merit field. However, the main thing that will see one through one’s studies is one’s determination and enthusiasm for studying. Without such enthusiasm and determination, one may continue to come to class but, over time, one’s interest will wane. Furthermore, without such enthusiasm and determination, making prayers may not necessarily be helpful.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Relying on valid texts 

Gungtang Rinpoche advised that when studying the teachings of the Buddha, we must study texts that are unmistaken and free of error, as the bases for our analysis and investigation of the teachings. We should check whether the contents of these texts accord with the great philosophical treatises.

Relying indiscriminately on texts that do not accord with what is found in the valid texts and Great Treatises will only cause our wisdom to decline. We are not saying here that one cannot read commentaries or texts that offer a more accessible explanation. But those texts must accord with what is found in the valid texts and treatises.

Sometimes, we may find certain texts easier to understand without first checking their validity. Whatever texts or commentaries we study, we should be able to trace them back to the teachings of the Buddha. Whatever we read should accord with the great commentaries composed by the great Indian and Tibetan masters of the past.


1 These verses are quoted from Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life translated by Stephen Batchelor (published: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, 1979). All subsequent references to this text will be from this edition. This text is also commonly known as Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds.  [Return to text]

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

Four Noble Truths
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

Religion (Dharma) is a means to leave suffering and attain happiness.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught four noble truths 1: The truths of suffering and the cause of suffering, and the truths of cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. We must recognize and remove the first two and realize through practice the second two.

We can understand this deep subject by considering the simple example of physical illness. When we are sick, we suffer, and look for the underlying cause—a disease or other disorder. When we realize that the illness is curable we see that our suffering can cease and seek treatment—the path to the cessation of this suffering.

The following text is an expanded explanation of these four noble truths, and of how we can follow a path that leads us out of suffering to the attainment of happiness, not only for ourselves, but for all beings.


The countless kinds of suffering can be divided into three:

  1. Suffering caused by suffering 2This type of suffering includes the pain, sadness and everyday suffering recognized by all beings. Even the smallest insect can recognize it. No creatures want this suffering. The reason why all creatures are so busy and active is that they are trying to avoid this type of suffering. Ants, for instance, are busy all day and night to avoid suffering from hunger; countries fight each other for fear of suffering from domination (even though this method creates more suffering).
  2. Suffering caused by change 3This type starts as happiness and then changes into suffering. Most beings do not recognize this as suffering. Worldly happiness looks like happiness, but in time it too changes into suffering. If we are hot and immerse ourselves in cold water it is very pleasant to start with, but after a while it becomes painfully cold. If we are cold and stay in the sun to get warm we will, after some time, suffer from being burnt. When friends meet after a long time they are delighted, but if they then remain continually together they may quarrel and grow tired of each other.This type of suffering includes anything that appears to be happiness and changes into suffering. If a person wants to become wealthy, works very hard and becomes rich, suffering is produced from the need for maintaining the wealth, fear of losing it, and desire for more. If one country wants to take over another, the oppressed country reacts, and mutual suffering is caused.The first of these two types of suffering is easily removable. The second is not, because it is not easily recognized. Thus, it is more deeply harmful. Even small insects can stop the suffering caused by suffering, and so can human beings, who, when they are ill, for example, can get treatment. But most people and animals think that the suffering caused by change is real happiness and spend their whole lives trying to achieve it; for example, people in business who devote their lives to making money and people who fight each other in wars, all in search of happiness.
  3. All-embracing suffering caused by mental formations 4This type is even more difficult to recognize than the suffering caused by change. It is the suffering inherent in samsara (the whole round of existence) and the cause of the previous two kinds of suffering. It covers, or embraces, all beings in samsara. As the earth is the foundation of our life, so this type of suffering is the foundation of the other two. If someone cuts us we automatically feel pain simply because we have bodies; our very existence is the root cause of this suffering.Because all beings exist in a state of causality, all are liable to suffering. This kind of suffering (duhkha) is produced from a harmful cause and all other suffering comes from it. All beings recognize the first kind of suffering; some recognize the second. But this third kind of suffering is very, very difficult to recognize. Without recognizing it, escape from samsara is impossible. This suffering is like a wound that does not give pain until it is touched. It is the ground containing all sufferings. When we remove this suffering we attain nirvana, or liberation.

To practise Dharma, understanding suffering is the first essential. Without this understanding, the will to get out of suffering does not arise. We are like people in prison who don't recognize where we are or how bad it is, and therefore have no wish to escape. If we are ill but do not recognize it, we have no wish to be cured.

If the first type of suffering is not recognized we can have no wish to escape from suffering. If the second is not recognized we will try to escape from it in the wrong way, only to return to suffering again. If the third type is not recognized, then even if our method is good, we cannot get to the root of all suffering.

Therefore, it is very important to recognize all three kinds of suffering. This recognition is the first door to practising Dharma and also the reason for practising. This is the reason that the Buddha taught suffering as the first noble truth. We can observe suffering directly by looking around us. The suffering caused by suffering is evident in everybody. The suffering caused by change, unreal happiness, is also quite obvious. We can see also that all other sufferings derive from the all-embracing suffering caused by mental formations. Although it is difficult to know what causes these sufferings, we must experience them and see them for what they are; from our experience our belief will be strong and steady. That is why the Buddha said it was important to judge and test his teachings for ourselves, giving the example of assaying gold. When we see that reality is as the Buddha said, our faith in the Buddha will be strong and not be destroyed by what others tell us.

All suffering has a beginning and an end. Things are undergoing change all the time. There are two types of change: coarse, obvious change—as when a table is being made and the changes are plain—and subtle change, such as the molecular changes going on continually inside the table.

The changes in human life are obvious—people start small, grow larger, and age. But it is not so obvious that in the time it takes to snap your fingers everything has changed. If you pour water from a pot, the stream appears to be one unit, but in fact, at each moment, the stream has moved and become something else.

Not only sentient beings but also the whole environment—trees and so on—are undergoing change. All beings in samsara are suffering all the time. If we do not recognize suffering fully we will not practise what is necessary to get out of it.

The Cause of Suffering

All suffering has a cause. If the cause is not removed, escape from suffering is impossible. If rain is coming in through a hole in the roof, there is no use sweeping the water out of the house without blocking the hole as well. If we are sick and take medicine for the symptoms alone, we may be able to stop them for a time, but we cannot be sure they will not recur. If, however, we eradicate the cause of suffering we can prevent its recurrence forever.

Although we can do nothing about the suffering of the past, we must close the door of future suffering. If a thorn tree outside our house pricks us every time we pass, it is no real solution to cut off odd branches; we must uproot the tree completely. We need to find the real cause, not an illusory one. If we make a mistake about the cause of suffering, real progress will be impossible. So we must know the second noble truth, the cause of suffering.

The cause of suffering has two divisions: karma (action) 5 and klesha (mental defilements). 6

At this time we are experiencing much suffering, whose cause we ourselves created in past existences. Therefore we ourselves have to do the work to escape from it. A teaching about the cause of and escape from suffering is useless if we do not practise it. If we are sick and go to the doctor, who gives treatment, we must follow the doctor's instructions in order to be cured. In school a student needs the teacher's instruction, but the most important thing is the student's own work. Up to now we have never practised the path, so we are still in samsara. Those beings who have practised it, such as Milarepa, have passed out of samsara. This passing was not easy. Milarepa's buttocks were covered in sores from sitting for so long in meditation. When Lorepa was meditating in the mountains, no-one brought him food, so he lived by gradually eating his shoes. Lama Tsongkhapa meditated in the high mountains, always offering mandalas 7 on a stone slab. The skin on his right forearm was rubbed away from polishing the stone. Escape from samsara depends on ourselves alone; if it depended on only the Buddha, there would be no one in samsara, because that was his great wish. As a good mother loves her children, he has equal love for all beings. In one sutra the Buddha taught:

  • The Buddha cannot wash away the delusion of beings with holy water;
    Neither can he take away the suffering of beings with his hand.

He can not give wisdom to beings if they do not practise. The Buddha's responsibility is to show the true path. In another sutra it says:

  • I am my own lord and my own enemy.

"Lord" because if we practise Dharma, we can look after ourselves and bring ourselves much happiness; "enemy" because if we do not practise properly, we build up more and more suffering for ourselves.

The Buddha teaches the way; we practise it. This combination brings happiness.

Karma (action)

There are many kinds of karma, but all are included within the categories of karma of body, karma of speech and karma of mind. Each of these categories includes actions of that particular faculty. Generally, karma is divided into skilful and unskilful, but here we are concerned only with unskilful karma—the karma that produces suffering. That which gives us real happiness and takes us to the goal is quite different.

Unskilful karma of body

  • KillingKilling is the action that destroys the life of any being. It is the greatest malpractice of the present time. No one wants suffering, but by fighting to avoid it people create it. This action has the opposite effect to that which is desired. The action need not be done by physical attack with sword, gun, etc.; the person who gives the orders (the president or the general) also acquires the karma-fruit. When a person orders a bomb to be dropped and a thousand people die, though their deaths have roots in their own past karma, the person giving the order is the immediate cause. That person acquires worse karma-fruit than those who actually drop the bomb. If a hundred people are killed by a hundred soldiers, each soldier may receive the karma-fruit of one death, but the person who gave the order receives the fruit of the one hundred deaths. Such people may think themselves very great, but they do not realize the suffering that they are bringing upon themselves.When the world is in peace, deep as well as immediate benefits result. But to be really peaceful we must decide by ourselves to be peaceful by practising Dharma. Even if a person does not actually kill anyone or order anyone to be killed, if one approves of killing as a good thing or rejoices in it, the karma-fruit is also acquired.Stealing

    Stealing is taking anything belonging to someone else that has not been given. It can be done secretly, by force, by cunning words, by cheating, and so forth. It includes laying claim to something that does not really belong to one, as when a country lays claim to another. If the stealing is done indirectly through someone else, it has the same karma-fruit. Its object can be any property, any people, and so forth, taken by any means. If we mistakenly take something that belongs to someone else, it is not stealing. Stealing requires not only the action but also the intention to take something that is not our own. Our mind must be aware that we are stealing.

    Sexual misconduct

    This action occurs when a married person goes after another sexual partner, or has intercourse even with the right partner at inappropriate times such as on full moon or new moon days or in the daytime, in unsuitable places (such as holy places), or with inappropriate organs. This action includes having intercourse with monks or nuns. Whereas killing and stealing, even when performed indirectly, have the same karma-fruit, this is not the case with sexual misconduct. The first two actions harm others who are innocent; sexual misconduct concerns the people involved. For bhiksus and bhiksunis (Buddhist monks and nuns) any kind of sexual indulgence is forbidden.

    Beating other people, attempting unsuccessfully to steal, putting people in prison for the wrong reasons, improper behavior on holy days, and any other bodily deeds that are harmful or provoke mental defilements are also unskilful karma of body.

Unskilful karma of speech

  • LyingLying includes anything spoken with the intention of deceiving others, with selfish motivation.SlanderSpeech that creates enmity between friends, out of some motive such as jealousy of their relationship, is slander. The speech may be either true or false, but for it to be slanderous the desire to bring discord must be in the speaker's mind. Slander can take place between countries as well as between individuals. If a person says something false in order to break up a friendship, this is both lying and slander.

    Harsh words

    This includes angry words against another, or swearing by the name of some holy person or object for evil ends such as the reinforcement of a lie, or the use of words to make people sad or angry. The Tibetan for this is zig.tsup meaning "rough word." Just as a rough stone rubbed against the body creates pain, so harsh words hurt the mind.

    Irresponsible talk

    Any kind of talk that provokes delusion—talk of violence, pornography and so forth—is considered irresponsible or gossip.

Unskilful karma of mind

  • GreedThis term refers not to desire for beneficial things such as knowledge or wisdom, but to the insatiable desire for illusory possessions and sensory experiences. Greed is seen in the poor person who sees big, shiny cars and expensive possessions, and is always running after them, or in the rich person who is surrounded by possessions yet wants even more. Greed is born from desire. Other unskilful actions of body and speech, such as stealing, cheating, and so forth result from the mental action of greed.MaliceThis wish to harm others includes taking pleasure in their misfortunes. It can apply to all categories of life, from nations to small insects. At first glance this action of mind may appear more harmful than greed, but in fact greed is more harmful because it does not apply to just a single situation; greed is persistent and brings no satisfaction.

    Wrong views

    Any kind of thinking that denies the truth of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, rebirth, the law of karma, nirvana and so forth constitutes wrong views.

Unskilful karma of mind is the worst kind of karma because actions of body and speech arise from mind. For instance, to kill an animal, first the wish to do so must arise in our mind. After so wishing, we may do the action on our own (body), or tell someone else to do it (speech). All actions of the body and speech must be preceded by the wish of mind. The mind forces body and speech to follow it; if we can control the mind, then other kinds of bad action can be avoided. Mind is very difficult to control, because its actions are so quick—many unskilful actions of mind are possible in one minute. For instance, if we want to harm someone else we can think of many different ways of doing so in one brief moment. Unskilful actions of mind happen so quickly that they cannot be counted; unskilful actions of speech are slower, and unskilful actions of body are the slowest of all. The first essential is to practise control of the mind If we don't control our minds and just follow desires and instincts, we will not lead a good life.

All the sufferings of all beings in samsara are produced by mind. Beings out of samsara, in permanent bliss, are in that state because they developed their minds. Body and speech are only servants of the mind.

Fruition of karma

Many different kinds of fruit are possible from one deed. If in this life we were to kill someone, our immediate rebirth would probably be in a hot hell. Life in hell is much longer than on earth, and there is constant suffering from heat or cold. Hell beings and humans are completely different kinds of creature, and the particular properties of one existence are limited to that existence. Even in this world there are many kinds of spirit not normally visible to humans (although sometimes we may be aware of them), and they too have their own special properties.

Between one life and the next we experience the bardo. 8 We cannot see most bardos, but at a certain high stage of development, through special practices and meditations, we can. In order to strengthen all our qualities and not just one isolated faculty, we should practise both Dharma and those techniques that lead to special powers.

Some beings have the karma to be reborn in a state of such continual suffering that humans would not be able to survive. In some hells, for instance, there is no distinction between the fire itself and the beings living in the midst of it. Those who have killed in their past lives, even if reborn human, exist in a state of uninterrupted suffering from afflictions such as chronic illness. Treatment that preserves life and health cannot help them. When we suffer sickness, pain, and trouble, there is always an immediate cause, but the underlying reason is our karma. Two people may have the same disease and receive the same treatment, but one will progress better than the other because of different karma. If we attribute the difference to luck, we have only a superficial understanding of the situation.

Some people have bad tendencies from childhood; these are also karma-fruit. Parents may raise their children in the same way, yet they develop differently because of karma. Past lives produce inborn tendencies. The actions of past lives determine all factors such as the place of birth and type of death of future lives. One is born in a dangerous or strife-torn place because of one's past karma. If a person murders another in this life, in the next life the victim may become the murderer and the murderer the victim. Each of our actions is a link in a chain with no beginning, for samsara has no beginning; it can, however, have an end.

To understand this chain, it is necessary to understand the relation of mind to body. Mind is like a river passing through different countries (bodies). A river takes different names (forms) according to the different countries. In this way the mind passes on, carrying the accumulated karma with it. When a being dies, the body decays and the mind passes on, to continue in another bodily form, according to the type of body that it inhabits in that life.

Because they do not distinguish between mind and body, people think that both arise together from the parents and disappear together after death. After death the body does remain in a decaying state, but if the body and mind were the same, the mind should also remain in this state. In a living being, body and mind do have an immediate relationship, but when the being dies, this relationship becomes more and more remote. As the mind becomes further detached from the body, bodily feelings and functions gradually fade out until they finally cease. Some people think that the functions of the mind are dependent on breathing, but advanced yogis are able to live and concentrate for years without breathing. Because the mind and body are absolutely different, their causes must be absolutely different. The cause of the human body is the sperm-ovum union of the parents; thus children are physically similar to their parents. This immediate physical cause cannot produce the mind of the child, and could only do so if there were no difference between mind and body.

There are also some mental states that can be passed from parent to child. Some forms of madness, for instance, are caused by imbalance in the elements of the body, which can be passed on genetically. Mind usually follows the incoming and outgoing air; therefore imbalance in these airs can create mental disturbances.

Doctors can alter the temperament of a person by operating on the brain. Because the brain is the centre of the nerves carrying the airs that influence the mental processes, all the airs themselves are centralized in the brain. This is why we sometimes develop a headache when we concentrate too strongly; this overly strong concentration puts pressure on the brain. Although the mind is influenced by the nerves localized there, the mind itself is formless, not physical, and its cause must be of the same nature. Each mind- within-a-body causes the next. Bodies have a beginning; mind does not. Karma continues along with the mind.

The minds of beings in samsara are always covered with delusion. If, through the practice of Dharma, delusions can be removed and a high spiritual level reached, the mind can occupy more than one body; incarnate lamas (tulkus) can take several bodily forms simultaneously. When a person attains the high spiritual level of arhatship, he or she is then completely out of samsara. An arhat (foe destroyer) is not necessarily a bodhisattva, but the highest arhat is a buddha. Before buddhahood there are different levels of mind, but the minds of all buddhas are equal.

If a person steals, the immediate fruit is rebirth in a cold hell. Such beings are born in ice and their bodies are indistinguishable from the ice itself. The cracking of the ice produces much suffering. After birth in a cold hell, these beings may be reborn as animals living in very bad conditions, such as the pariah dogs of India. Even when finally reborn into human form, those who have stolen find themselves in conditions of extreme poverty. People with this type of karmic background may become children with a persistent tendency to steal, or may be born in a place where it never rains and there is famine. Whatever the fruit produced, it is related to the previous deeds. Any difficulties connected with property, lack of food and so forth are the fruit of stealing. Karma affects the environment as well as the body and mind.

The heaviest fruit produced by sexual misconduct is rebirth in a hell. More usual is rebirth as an animal. A being cannot practise sexual misconduct in hell. If the being is reborn human, he or she will experience such marital trouble as adultery. Sometimes even small children like perverse sexual acts; this tendency is the result of past misconduct. Because of these types of past action, the person may be reborn in a very dirty environment.

If a person tells a harmful lie, rebirth can also be in a hell. If the being is reborn human, then he or she will have neither faithful friends nor enjoy the good faith of others. Such a person, from childhood, will have the tendency to lie. The environment itself may be a very deceptive one.

A person who slanders with murderous intention may be reborn in a hell. If reborn human, friends will be lost through slander, and from childhood there will be a tendency to slander others. Rebirth may be in a dangerous place, with earthquakes and so on.

If a person uses harsh words, rebirth in a hell may result. If reborn human, the person will be a slave, beggar, or someone who is always being scolded. The person may be born as an ill treated dog. There will be the tendency to abuse others. This karma can also produce a bad environment. For instance, some people in Tibet always live in places where the conditions are unpleasant, the ground is covered with thorns, and so on. These people realize how bad the place is, but for some reason cannot separate themselves from it, saying, "This is my country, I cannot leave it." If by irresponsible talk people produce sufficient delusion, their rebirth may be in a hell. If human, they might be surrounded by friends with scattered minds much given to chatter. Even if they want to break free of this superficiality and delusion, the environment will prevent it. From childhood there will be a fondness for idle talk. Rebirth may be in a place where many useless weeds but no crops grow. Idle talk does not appear to be very harmful, but it can be the worst kind of unskilful action of speech because if we encourage the tendency toward it, it occurs again and again, wasting our lives.

Greed, if it has extreme ill effects, may produce rebirth in a hell. If the person is born human, the fruit that results may be of the same sort as that resulting from stealing—a constant lack of property. Even if no unskilful physical action was performed in the past life, the bad fruit will be produced because of the person's actions of mind. The person will have just the opposite of what was wanted. Greed causes other unskilful acts, such as stealing, lying, slander, etc. Greed itself is also produced in the next life.

If wishing to harm others leads to killing, or if the mind-action is strong and harmful enough, rebirth in a hell can result. Mental action is the strongest and most persistent kind. If someone kills an animal, this involves only one unskilful action of body, but many unskilful actions of mind. A person can be sitting in a meditation posture, appearing to be very pure, but performing many unskilful actions of mind. If someone who in the past has wished others much harm takes birth as a human, that person becomes the recipient of harmful intentions and has only treacherous friends. A person who in the past entertained harmful thoughts toward others will have that same tendency even from childhood in a later birth. It is ironic but the fruit of greed is that the person does not receive what is desired, and the fruit of wishing to harm others is that the person receives what is not desired.

Wrong views prevent spiritual progress. A person who believes that actions such as killing, stealing, etc. are not wrong and practices these actions may be reborn in hell. Even though the person believes that such actions are morally right, bad results are produced. Consider the following for example: There is some fruit to eat on top of a mountain; a man is looking for the fruit and three people deceive him. One sends him round by a very long way, the second sends him or, a very dangerous route, and the third tells him that there is no fruit to be had at all. By following the advice of the first two, it may take him a long time, but he will reach the fruit. However, the third has deceived him worst of all; if he believes from the start that there is no fruit, he will have no chance of obtaining it. Holding wrong views closes the door to happiness. If it does not cause birth in hell, it can cause birth as an animal (a state of ignorance) or as a human in a place where Dharma is unknown or forbidden. Wrong faith also opens the door to all unskilful deeds.

This is a simplification into ten general categories of unskilful karma and the respective fruits. If we sow wheat there will be many different results—stalk, leaves, grain, etc. Similarly, one deed has many different kinds of fruit—types of birth, environment, tendencies, and so on. This is why Buddhists say that everything comes from karma; karma structures all things that happen in the world. All events have two causes—an immediate cause and a deep karma-cause.

Klesha (mental defilement)

Karma results from klesha—mental defilement. Karma and klesha are both considered avarana. Avarana literally means "covering"—an avarana covers the mind, obscuring the realization of nirvana. Karma and klesha together make up kleshavararna. There is also another kind of avarana, which remains even in the arhat stage after karma and klesha have disappeared. This is called jneyavarana, "the covering of what can be known," or obscuration to omniscience.

Klesha is the immediate cause of karma; karma causes suffering. If we can remove klesha, we can stop the flow of karma, prevent suffering from arising, and reach nirvana—though not the ultimate nirvana. Jneyavarana still remains in varying degrees in both arhats and bodhisattvas, and is finally removed only when the buddha stage is attained.

In the scriptures, kleshavarana is said to have eighty-four thousand different forms. They can be simplified into three main categories, from which the others come or in which the others are included: desire, aversion, and ignorance. 9


  • Desire is easily distinguishable from aversion. Desire must have an object and it makes the object seem more beautiful and attractive than it really is. Desire causes unskilful karma in any of the following ways. If we desire to eat meat, we kill animals; if we desire property, we are inclined to steal it; if we desire intercourse, we may commit, sexual misconduct. In the desire to create a false impression, we may lie; to obtain a desired object or goal, we may slander others; although aversion is more usually the cause, desire too may cause us to speak harsh words; in the grip of attraction to foolish things, we waste ourselves in irresponsible talk. Desire is the direct cause of greed; desire for the possessions of others can produce harmful thoughts. In brief, then, if any being, from a human down to the smallest insect, desires something and this desire produces an unskilful action, that action has arisen from the klesha of desire.


  • Aversion is the opposite of desire: it makes its object seem worse than it is. Aversion can easily produce killing, and out of spite or the wish to deprive someone, it can cause stealing or sexual misconduct. Lying and slander are commonly caused by aversion, and harsh words usually arise from it. Irresponsible talk too can be the result of aversion, as when a person talks at length in a derogatory manner about another. Although greed is not produced by aversion, malice usually is.When we have desire it is not as painful as aversion. It can bring temporary happiness with it, and this makes us want to be very close to the object. Aversion always produces pain immediately; we want to be very far from its object. In the scriptures, desire is likened to a flower, which is very beautiful at first but soon changes and becomes ugly, while aversion is likened to a wasp, which only stings. The face of a person filled with desire is bright and shining; the face of a person filled with aversion is grim and dark.


  • All unskilful actions except wrong views, which are always produced by ignorance, can result from desire and aversion. Although we can be misled by the ignorance of our teachers, wrong views are, fundamentally, the result of our own ignorance. Desire and aversion are active, making things seem better or worse than they are; ignorance is the failure to realize the nature of things. If we kill, not out of aversion or desire, but because we don't think it wrong or perhaps even think it good, this is the direct result of ignorance. Any unskilful act that arises from not knowing that it is unskilful is partly rooted in ignorance. For instance, people who make animal sacrifices think that they are doing something good—they have no ill-will toward or desire for the animal; they simply believe that killing the animal will please their god.

Fear can be good, bad or indifferent. If we have done a bad deed and repent out of fear of the karma-fruit, the fear is reasonable and wholesome in its effects. That very fear can lead us to practise Dharma and thence toward enlightenment. If we are afraid to practise Dharma because we are afraid that the practice will prove harmful in some way, this fear is the fruit of ignorance. When children are afraid of the dark, fearing ghosts and so on, this is neither good nor bad. Similarly, while the fear of death is produced by our desire of clinging to life, the fear itself is neither good nor bad.

Desire and aversion are both produced by ignorance. We experience them because we do not know the real nature of things.

The reason for practising meditation is to overcome suffering; to overcome suffering we must overcome karma; to overcome karma we must overcome desire and aversion; to overcome desire and aversion we must overcome ignorance. Meditation overcomes ignorance.

Ignorance >> desire or aversion >> unskilful karma >> three sufferings

No beings want suffering; they all want to remove it. Most do not know how to, and some even create suffering in their efforts to remove it. People take medicines that cure sickness temporarily but cannot remove it forever. To remove suffering permanently, we must find its cause—karma; we must remove the cause of the cause —desire and aversion; we must remove the cause of these—ignorance. Ignorance is the deepest root of all suffering. If ignorance is removed, all that stems from it will automatically disappear. Escape from samsara is impossible unless ignorance is removed. If we sit in meditation without understanding the real reason for doing so we will achieve only limited results.

If we want to remove ignorance, we must first discover its nature and that of its opposite, shunzyata (emptiness). Then, through meditation on emptiness, we have to remove ignorance.

There are two different kinds of ignorance: ignorance regarding the ego and ignorance regarding external phenomena. 10

Ignorance regarding the ego

From devas to the smallest insects, all beings in samsara are subject to this kind of ignorance, from which the other mental defilements arise. This ignorance causes us to perceive our own nature the wrong way. To remove it, we must realize the true way we exist.

What we call "ego," or "self," can be divided into either the body (caused by the parents) and mind (caused by past existences), or the five skandhas (aggregates). These skandhas are the five elements of sensory existence:

  1. Physical form (rupaskandha). This includes air, blood, semen, bone—anything material, composed of atoms. The sound of the voice is included in this skandha, because sound is form.
  2. Feelings (vedanaskandha). These arise from bodily contacts and mental contacts (with ideas, concepts, and so on), and can be pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent.
  3. Cognition, perception, differentiation (samjnaskandha). This skandha is the mind that recognizes objects through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking.
  4. Volitional formations (samskaraskandha). Samskaras are the qualities or tendencies of mind, produced by karma, that control the various kinds of conditioned mental factors, or "caitta." (Caitta are in an inseparable relationship with the essential mind, "citta." These factors can be beneficial—for example, concentration, intelligence, wisdom, confidence, energy, tranquillity, friendliness and sympathetic joy at the success of others—or harmful—ignorance, desire, anger, greed and all that is unprofitable in the spiritual sense. Caitta are mental karma; karma of body and speech arise from caitta; most caitta are included in samskaraskandha. The sequence of time and the changing nature of things are included in this skandha.
  5. Consciousness (vijnanaskandha). The function of this skandha is the awareness of an object. It allows the other skandhas to operate.

The five skandhas together support the concept of ego. This concept cannot be supported by any of the skandhas in isolation; it depends on all of them, just as the wheels, windows, steering wheel, engine, and other parts together make up the concept of "car." Any of these parts in isolation is not the car. If all the parts are piled together in a heap, it is still not a car. Those parts arranged in a certain order comprise what people recognize and think of as a car. If people did not give it this name and did not recognize it as such it would not be a car.

The collection known as a particular human is built in the same way as is a car. A child is born composed of five skandhas and with all the usual qualities; his parents call him "Tashi." Then this collection of skandhas and qualities becomes generally known and recognized as Tashi.

In samsara there are three planes of existence: the desire realm (kamadhatu), the form realm (rupatdhatu), and the formless realm (arupadhatu). In the first two realms no being can exist without all five skandhas. In the formless realm, beings have no physical form – rupaskandha—but do have the other four skandhas. Without these there is no ego.

All beings exist as a combination of skandhas and cannot exist without them. Buddha is also a combination of these skandhas, but ones that have been purified and transformed.

There are two ways of looking at the ego:

  1. Through ignorance, negative understanding of the ego. This produces aversion and desire, unskilful karma, and suffering.
  2. Through realization of shunyata, understanding the emptiness of the ego. This is positive understanding of the ego. Meditation on shunyata removes ignorance and thus ail the other mental defilements and their results.

As soon as we think of "I" as an entity existing independently, our ignorance has apprehended the ego in the wrong way. When we are aware that the ego does not exist independently, we can find right understanding. Without this understanding, our ignorance persists. This is the main point about shunyata, or emptiness: that the ego does not exist independently. This emptiness is the emptiness of the ego as an entity existing independently. Ego exists only as a combination of the skandhas.

Ignorance regarding outer phenomena

Ignorance about the five elements, mountains, seas, and so forth constitutes ignorance regarding outer phenomena. If we consider a biscuit, for example, it is a combination of various things—wheat, water, oil, fire and the activity of the baker. We recognize it as "biscuit," but really it is a combination of forces and qualities. This analysis applies to all external phenomena; ultimately we will understand that there is no difference between the ego and outer phenomena. But when we look at either of them without thinking carefully about what they really are, we see them as existing independently. Everything changes subtly in a split second of time. Scientists can see very subtle changes in things with instruments such as microscopes (though not the most subtle changes), but when they are not studying these changes, these same scientists see things as existing independently.

This twofold ignorance about the ego and outer phenomena is the root of all defilements, karma and suffering. To remove suffering we must remove this ignorance completely. The only way to do this is to meditate on emptiness. There are many other objects of meditation, but emptiness is the most important.

By Lati Rinpoche in New York, New York, 1991

Lati Rinpoche, a recognized reincarnate lama, was Abbot of the Shartse College of Ganden Monastery in Mundgod, South India. Born in the Kham district of Tibet, he received his Geshe degree at Ganden Monastery and later joined the Tantic College of Upper Lhasa before being forced into exile by the Chinese Communist invasion. Lati Rinpoche passed away on April 12, 2010.  See the Thubten Dhargye Ling website for a more extensive biography.

This teaching was given in New York City, October 15, 1991. Transcribed by Phillip Lecso.

Before giving the actual teaching Rinpoche would like to say some prayers. First is a prayer to Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and this prayer contains prostration, recitation of Sutra and dedication. The second prayer is The Hundred Deities of Tushita because Rinpoche is here to represent the Gelugpa tradition. The next prayer will be The Foundation of Remarkable Qualities and this short prayer contains a major outline of the Lam-rim teaching. As we recite this prayer we review the entire structure of the path. Finally will be the Heart Sutra for removing the obstacles to give and receive these teachings.

I would like to thank you for coming here to listen to the teachings and I am sure there are many other things to do but you have placed them aside and made the point that it is important to attend the teachings. I very much appreciate this.

As we all know our purpose in gathering here is to discuss the Dharma. There are various spiritual traditions in this world and I feel that each spiritual tradition has its own qualities and all have made contributions for the welfare of humanity. I feel it is important for us to cultivate respect for each other’s spiritual traditions and cultivate a pure perception, appreciating the good qualities of other’s traditions.

As followers of various spiritual traditions, if we properly appreciate each other and work with each other, creating harmony between us, this would contribute to world peace and stability. Instead of appreciating the good points of each other’s traditions, if we go on criticizing one another, bringing out the weak points here and there, this will create disharmony and we will not make positive contributions to the world.

As follower of various spiritual traditions we have a responsibility to be kind and caring towards others, otherwise nonbelievers who do not follow any form of religion will feel that we are unnecessarily creating divisions among ourselves. Due to this we say our tradition is the best and cling to it, criticizing other’s traditions and create unnecessary divisions. When we do this the religion we adopt instead of helping us calm and settle our minds, it fuels attachment and hatred. So be careful with your spiritual tradition and don’t give this kind of impression to nonbelievers.

Creating unnecessary divisions has nothing to do with the spiritual traditions themselves; this is a weakness of us the followers of the traditions. We are placing our weaknesses onto our spiritual traditions so we need to be careful with what we do. The Dalai Lama has said that we should cultivate respect and pure perception towards all forms of life, especially the followers of different spiritual traditions. If we make a point to put this into practice, there will certainly be harmony between followers of the different traditions and with this harmony and cooperation, we could make a great contribution to world peace and happiness.

Of the various spiritual traditions, I am here to speak about Lord Buddha’s teaching. As you know Lord Buddha’s teaching has different vehicles or yanas such as the Lower Vehicle or Hinayana and the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle. Of these two vehicles I am here to speak more about the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle of Buddhism.

Perhaps one could say that Mahayana Buddhism or Greater Vehicle Buddhism flourished incomparably in Tibet. Over time it developed into different schools or traditions of what is called Tibetan Buddhism. All the teachings that the followers of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are the teachings of the same teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha gave the teachings and all of the followers of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are practicing this.

All four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have flourished well but sometimes one does hear some unfortunate things, which I feel are unnecessary conflicts among the various traditions. This is misinformation, which has been given that has nothing to do with the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. All four traditions can trace their teachings back to Lord Buddha’s teachings, which originated in India. Over the centuries Tibet sent a number of brilliant scholars to India to study and reproduce a number of greatly realized scholars as well as lotsawas, the translators many of whom were emanations. So one can trace back all of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism back to the teachings of Lord Buddha.

Of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, I am here to present the teachings of the Gelugpa tradition which is also called the Wholesome Tradition or the Virtuous Tradition. I am going to touch on different points of what is the philosophical view, what is the meditation in this tradition and what is called the contact or the behavioral aspect of this tradition. Actually it would be ideal to tell you of the lineage masters of the Gelugpa tradition and when one tells the life stories of great masters; this facilitates one gaining respect, confidence and conviction in those great masters. Due to the time factor and the fact that I am incapable of relating the greatness of those past masters, I will skip this.

But I must mention a little bit about Manjusri, Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa tradition. At a very young age when he was three he received a layperson’s ordination or upasaka vows from Karmapa Rolpay Dorje. Later he received novice monk and full ordination from Choye Dondrup Rinchen. From the age of three until sixteen years of age, Lama Tsongkhapa studied at the feet of those two great masters and received innumerable tantric initiations, commentaries, transmissions and pith instructions. When he was sixteen years old he went to central Tibet.

In central Tibet he continued his extensive studies and practice with many great masters such as Lama Umapa (Sp?), Nyapon Kunga Pel, Lama Rendawa and so forth. A full list of his teachers would be very long so I mentioned just a few. He also studied with Potam Gyaltsen (Sp?), Tonjup Sangbo (Sp?) and other great masters receiving innumerable transmissions of scriptures. Lama Tsongkhapa was never satisfied with partial study so he studied with many great masters and the treatises or shastras of many great masters such as Maitreya, the Six Ornaments and the Two Supreme Ones. He completed a profound study of all those treatises.

Studying with great masters he learned a great deal of the scriptures so he became the holder of the treasure of scriptural teachings. He also implemented the teachings and particularly he performed retreats and practiced intensively developing high realizations. He developed the realizations of the three principal aspects of the path, which include the altruistic intention to become enlightened or bodhicitta and the wisdom that understands emptiness.

Having accomplished his intensive study of the great treatises and having actualized profound realizations, Lama Tsongkhapa did critical study of the teachings of Buddhism existent in Tibet at that time. He also composed many profound treatises and later mainly following the tradition of the great Atisha; he founded the Gelugpa tradition called the New Kadampa Tradition. This is how he made a tremendous contribution for the restoration of Buddhism in Tibet.

The point that I am making is that Lama Tsongkhapa did not found a tradition just out of his own mind without any kind of base. He studied the teachings of Buddhism present at that time in Tibet and accomplished realizations. Later he founded this new tradition. Before Lama Tsongkhapa there were three different traditions of Kadampas such as the Textual Kadampa who followed the scriptural texts, the followers of the Pith Instruction or the Quintessential Instructions and the Lam-rim tradition or the Stages of the Path tradition. But Lama Tsongkhapa received all of these traditions from great masters and integrated the three traditions.

As for the highest tantric teachings Lama Tsongkhapa received teachings on the Guhyasamaja Tantra many according to the tradition of the great translator Marpa Lotsawa. He received the teachings on Chakrasamvara according to the tradition of the Sakya masters. He received teachings on Yamantaka according to the tradition on the translator Ralosawa. Of course it is not possible for me at this point to tell everything about the teachings, transmissions and everything Lama Tsongkhapa received. I have just given you a glimpse into the teachings of Sutra and Tantra that he received.

To experience the profundity and authenticity of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, if you were to study the eighteen treatises that Lama Tsongkhapa wrote which contain innumerable quotations from sutras and from the profound treatises, shastras, of the Indian masters as well as Tibetan masters who preceded him one would gain confidence in his teaching. You would see its authenticity and based on various authentic sources.

As for the philosophical or profound view, Lama Tsongkhapa relied heavily upon the works of the great Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and other great masters who followed them. Lama Tsongkhapa studied the works of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva on emptiness or the profound view and he gained a precise insight into the way in which all phenomena actually exist, that is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. He was very pleased with this realization and I quote from his text, which says, “I have been able to transcend the artificial view”. Where some people might think that he found an artificial, incomplete view but he transcended those extremes he gained a precise insight into the profound, ultimate nature of phenomena. This ultimate reality of phenomena is the same for every kind of phenomena from form to the omniscient state of mind.

Perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of his realization and his work is how dependent arising and emptiness complement each other. As one studies dependent arising and develops confidence in it, one’s understanding of emptiness and confidence in that profound view also increases. In other words what I am telling you here is that Lama Tsongkhapa explained precisely how things conventionally exist and yet they are empty of intrinsic existence or existing in and of themselves. He wrote a number of commentaries such as his commentary to the Fundamental Wisdom and he wrote about the special insight as one finds in the Lam-rim texts. He wrote great texts like Unraveling Thought and others texts that deal with the profound view of emptiness.

In his works on profound emptiness he explains precisely how understanding the conventional appearance of phenomena helps to eliminate the extreme of nihilism and how the understanding of emptiness eliminates the extreme of eternalism. This was a unique contribution that Lama Tsongkhapa made.

As for meditational practice in his works Lama Tsongkhapa presented the conducive factors for developing shamatha or calm-abiding and the conducive factors for developing penetrative insight or vipasyana. He also taught a great deal about the different objects of meditation and the criteria for judging whether or not one has attained calm-abiding or special insight. He also taught how to identify the obstacles in one’s way from performing meditation such as laxity and excitement as well as how to counteract them, eliminating all faults and obstacles. In fact he mentioned about both stabilized meditation or contemplative meditation and analytical meditation. He presented where one needs more analytical meditation and when to perform single-pointed meditation or stabilized meditation. Sometimes one needs to alternate those two types of meditation and he was very clear on this point also. While dealing with these subjects he relied heavily upon the Five Treatises of Maitreya and the works of Asanga such as the Bodhisattva Levels and The Stages of Meditation by Acharya Kamalashila.

In short Lama Tsongkhapa said that if one wants to cultivate calm-abiding or shamatha then one should primarily do single-pointed meditation or stabilized meditation. If one wants to gain insight into the profound nature of phenomena then one should be primarily doing analytical meditation especially right from the beginning. If one is interested in cultivating special insight then one should alternate between analytical meditation and stabilized meditation. Also he said that if one is to meditate on outlines such as cultivating one’s relationship with the spiritual master and to gain insight into the precious nature of one’s human life, how one’s life is endowed with leisure and freedom and how one’s life is transient then at first one should do analytical meditation. At the end of each analytical meditation one should perform single-pointed meditation. He was very clear on how to meditate on each and every point and as I have already mentioned he taught about meditation practice based on the authentic works of Maitreya, Asanga and Kamalashila.

As Lama Kuntangsang (Sp?) said that as for the behavioral pattern one should adopt, it should be in accordance with the principles of Buddha’s teaching. Lama Tsongkhapa was also particularly concerned with the Vinaya or the behavioral aspect of the teachings. Whatever one finds in the Vinaya or the texts dealing with monk’s, nun’s or lay practitioner’s ethics or ethical discipline, one should be following them accordingly.

According to Lama Tsongkhapa if one can the best thing is to follow even the minor precepts or ethical behavior that is mentioned in the Vinaya. But if one is unable to do this because of the predominance of defilements in one’s mind or one is ignorant of them or due to one’s lack of understanding of the precepts or carelessness or lack of conscientiousness, if one does break one’s minor vows then in accordance with the Vinaya text one’s should perform purification and restore one’s vows. One should not let one’s broken vows remain as they are, one needs to purify and restore them in accordance with Lord Buddha’s teaching.

In short one should study the Vinaya or other texts dealing with ethical disciplines and learn what one can do and what one shouldn’t be doing. Supposing one breaks a vow how does one restore one’s vows? In the Vinaya one finds that even at the cost of one’s life, one should observe one’s precepts or ethical discipline.

This was an introduction. Today the main subject is as announced is the nature of mind and the union of bliss and voidness or emptiness. First I would like to speak about the nature of mind and I will do this in the context of the basis, path and the result. I will do my best to be brief, lucid and concise.

I must say that what I am going to speak about is within the framework of Lord Buddha’s teaching. I cannot speak about other than what Buddha taught and you have already listened to great masters here. Sometimes you may hear the same kind of teaching but as the bodhisattva Shantideva said, “I have nothing new to say to you”. What I shall be doing is to talk about those things within the Gelugpa tradition; how Gelugpa masters have understood this and how they practiced this.

Bodhisattva Shantideva also said that all of the problems one experiences and all one’s fears and frustrations as well as happiness, all arise from one’s mind. Mind is the basis for all of them. To continue Shantideva’s quote, he also said, “The mind is the forerunner of everything”. In order for one to accomplish peace and happiness while ridding oneself of problems and suffering, it is essential for one to know the workings of the mind, how the mind works. Otherwise one won’t be able to accomplish happiness and get rid of one’s problems. For this reason, one should study the mind and one should safeguard one’s mind. One should protect it and cherish it.

Lama Tsongkhapa had said the same thing that the mind is the basis for both good and bad. As far as actions are concerned there are the three doors of body, speech and mind but body and speech are very much influenced by the mind. The mind is the primary basis; mind dictates or influences one’s physical and verbal actions. All of the great masters such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and Asanga have unanimously stated that the mind is the basis for both liberation and enlightenment and cyclic existence.

What is mind? What are the types of mind? According to the Prasangika-Madhyamika School, the highest school of thought there are six consciousnesses or six types of consciousness; the five sense consciousnesses which are eye, ear, nose, tongue and body consciousnesses along with the mental consciousness. So these are the six consciousnesses asserted in the Prasangika-Madhyamika School.

How does the eye consciousness or the visual consciousness arise? It arises based on certain conditions with the fundamental condition being the eye sense organ along with a visible form. Through the interaction of these factors the visual consciousness or eye consciousness arises.

It is the same with the other consciousnesses as say the ear consciousness relies on the ear sense organ and different types of sound. Only then can the ear consciousness arise. The nose consciousness relies on the nose sense organ and different types of smell and the taste consciousness relies on the tongue sense organ and taste. So depending on different factors different consciousnesses arise. The first five consciousnesses are the sense consciousnesses and they are considered as coarse as they rely on the physical organs. Those who do research on them feel that this is true. They are coarse consciousnesses.

When talks about mind as the basis for both cyclic existence and enlightenment or liberation, one is in fact talking about the six mental consciousnesses, not the sense consciousnesses. These mental consciousnesses also rely on certain conditions such as the mental organ and phenomena as its object. The mental consciousness again is not just one consciousness, it has different forms. There is the coarse form of mental consciousness, the subtle form and the subtlest form of mental consciousness. To give an example when one meditates on emptiness or for developing calm-abiding, one’s mind becomes subtler. When one is in a meditative state one’s mind has become to a certain extent subtle.

Also in the case of attachment and anger, normally when one experiences them, they arises quickly so they are coarse. One can also talk of the subtle forms of attachment and anger. There are the eighty conceptions, which are relatively speaking, are subtler.

In the context of tantra when one talks of the mind of three appearances which are radiant appearance or white appearance, radiant red appearance and black near attainment. These are subtle forms of mental consciousness but the subtlest of all is the primordial clear light mind. This is the subtlest state of mind. Towards the end I will briefly speak about the primordial clear light mind which is the subtlest mind in the context of tantra because our topic is the union of bliss and emptiness.

I have a restriction as I feel there are people here who haven’t received any initiation or empowerment so to truly talk of the union of bliss and emptiness is very difficult. Both masters and disciples would be breaking their commitments and vows to go into detail and create the conditions for going to hell. Without an empowerment even if one listens to teachings on tantra and practice it, one may achieve some minor attainment but this won’t help much as one will find oneself in one of the unfortunate states of rebirth. Just as one cannot expect oil to come from squeezing sand so one can’t expect great wonders to happen through tantric practice without the proper initiation.

At this point, not in the context of tantra, I will explain how the mind forms the basis for the cycle of compulsive rebirth or samsara and nirvana, liberation or enlightenment. To talk about how the mind is the basis for cyclic existence one cannot help but speak about how one comes into cyclic existence, how one enters into this cycle of compulsive rebirth. I need to be very brief on this.

Acharya Chandrakirti has said that all the diversity one finds among sentient beings and their environment is the result of karmic actions that sentient beings create. Sentient being in the sense of those beings capable of feeling and thinking. Historically speaking Shakyamuni Buddha after he became completely enlightened, the first teaching he gave in the Deer Park in Varanasi was on the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths contain nothing but how the process of coming into cyclic existence works, how to break this process and go out of cyclic existence.

There are different approaches one can follow to talk about the process of entering cyclic existence and of going out of cyclic existence. One can do this speaking about the Four Noble Truths in general or in particular one can speak about the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination which explain how one has come into cyclic existence and how one can go out of cyclic existence.

The great Nagarjuna said, “So long as there is grasping at the physical and mental aggregates, there will be grasping at a self or I. Due to this there will be activity or action and due to all of them one will be in the compulsive cycle of rebirth”. What Nagarjuna is saying is that so long as one has grasping for both a self and phenomena, one will grasp at a notion of a person, which is called the view of the transitory collection. Due to these graspings one will continually create karmic actions, a chain of karmic actions and these karmic actions bind one to the cycle of compulsive rebirth.

In saying that one grasps at the self of a person, one feels that as a person in and of oneself, existing in one’s own right, and because of this grasping one cherishes oneself too much. Due to this grasping or self-cherishing attitude, many other inappropriate states of mind or conceptions take place in one’s mind. Due to this one experiences delusions such as attachment or anger and under their influence one creates karmic actions. These karmic actions keep one within cyclic existence. As one creates karmic actions, they deposit imprints or latencies in one’s mindstream or mental continuum.

At the time of death what happens is that the dependent links of craving and grasping, the eighth and ninth links activate one’s karmic actions. Following these, the dependent link of existence or becoming arises. By this process when one karmic actions intensify and after one leaves this world, one has to take rebirth. So one is born through four different ways, mostly from the womb of one’s mother. The other ways are to be born from eggs, born from heat and moisture and lastly to be born miraculously or spontaneously. These are the four different ways of taking birth.

At the time of death if a positive karmic action is activated by dependent links of craving and grasping, then one is able to have a fortunate rebirth. But at the time of death if a negative karmic action is activated by those factors then one will achieve an unfortunate rebirth. Suppose one is born in an unfortunate state. Until one’s karma that precipitated one to be born there is exhausted, it make take eons, hundreds of years of human lifetime, for one to experience that unfortunate state of tremendous suffering.

If a positive karmic action gets activated at the time of death by the two dependent links then one achieves a fortunate rebirth either as a human being or as a celestial being, deva. Even if one is born as a human being, which is relatively speaking a fortunate rebirth, but one has to experience human problems. One cannot escape problems. Also if one is born as a god or celestial being in the Desire Realm, relatively speaking that is a very happy situation. But still one has to experience the problems that the gods of the Desire Realm experience and the same with the demigods.

Suppose one is born in the Formless Realm or Form Realm in which there isn’t the suffering of suffering but wherever one is born in cyclic existence one does experience the pervasive suffering of conditioning. Wherever one is born in cyclic existence the way one has been currently reborn, one is always under the influence of contaminated karmic actions and afflictive emotions or delusions. This is why one always runs into difficulties and problems. Wherever one finds oneself in cyclic existence there are problems.

The great Nagarjuna said,”From the three arises the two. From the two, seven and from the seven arises three”. The explanation given is in terms of the twelve links of dependent origination. Within the twelve links of dependent origination there are three links that are afflictive emotions or delusions come the two links that are karmic actions, karmic formation and becoming. From these karmic actions arise the succeeding seven links such as name and form, contact, feelings and etc. From these seven arise the last three dependent links. This is how when one is caught up in these twelve dependent links one continually experiences one or another form of problems. There doesn’t appear to be a gap, just incessantly and continually experience forms of problems.

According to Buddhism no one has dumped one into this cyclic existence. Under the influence of karmic actions and delusions, one has been born into this problematic creation. When one’s mind is conjoined with delusion or afflictive emotions, one runs into all kinds of difficulties and problems. If one is to posit a creator of everything then it is one’s mind. One’s mind is the creator of everything. Sometimes one hears that contaminated karmic actions and delusions are the creator of the life one is experiencing. One could also say that one’s mind is the creator. One’s mind has always been joined with contaminated karmic actions and delusions.

If one goes deeper into this matter, it is one’s karmic actions which have brought one into cyclic existence and if one traces further one finds that the underlying causes are the delusions and afflictive emotions. Of the different forms of afflictive emotions or delusion, at the very root there is the ignorant perception of grasping at a self. This is the root cause of all of one’s problems and one’s life in cyclic existence. Just because this grasping has always accompanied one’s mind, so one can say that one’s mind is the basis for life in cyclic existence. It is the creator of one’s life in cyclic existence.

As one looks into one’s present situation, one is controlled by one’s mind, one’s way of thinking. One’s mind has been dominated by or controlled by the defilements or afflictive emotions such as attachment and anger. This is why one encounters many difficulties and problems. Because one’s mind is not under one’s control, one is captivated by the mind and one’s mind is captivated by defilements. This is how one encounters all difficulties. This is like a child as a child who is very nice but spoiled. The defilements and afflictive emotions have spoiled one’s mind so to speak. When children find themselves in bad company they learn bad manners and when we see those children we think how sad the way they behave.

In a sense the defilements and delusions have made one just like those spoiled children. One’s mind has very much been spoiled by them and this is why one hears of people committing suicide. When one pauses to reflect on why someone would do that, one has no answer. This seems inconceivable to us. The fact of the matter is that one has no control over one’s mind and one’s mind has been ruling one. The mind in turn is dominated by the negative emotions and this is how one can go to such an extreme.

When the defilement dominate one’s mind, one fins oneself doing many improper actions and somehow when a particular delusion arises in one’s mind, at that moment it is as though one has gone crazy. One does not look like one’s normal self and one does actions that one should not be doing. One should be ashamed to do such actions but one becomes a shameless person. The delusion is dictating one’s behavior. One picks up so much courage to do certain things, one becomes very fearless and does actions one should not be doing. This is how the defilements dictate one’s actions and force one to do that which one really should not do.

When delusion arises in one’s mind and it dictates one’s behavior, all of one’s actions become negative. One cannot expect positive actions to be created under the influence of delusions. As the great Nagarjuna has said that actions which arise from attachment, anger and obscuration are negative actions. Actions that arise from non-attachment, non-anger and non-obscuration are positive actions. By what Nagarjuna is telling us if one acts under the command of delusions, one cannot expect to create peace and happiness. Peace and happiness do not come from actions created under the influence of the delusions. If one really wants genuine peace and happiness and for one’s life to go smoothly, one needs to discipline one’s mind, one should subdue one’s mind. As one subdues one’s mind life becomes much better and one experiences peace and happiness.

As we know there are people who do not believe in rebirth or life before and after the present one. But then there are people who believe in previous and future lives and among those are those who feel that Tibetans when they die will be reborn as Tibetans and so forth. This is their way of thinking and I have nothing to say about this.

As a believer in rebirth if one accepts this as fact that one’s good and bad karmic actions decide the type of rebirth that one will achieve, then one cannot remain satisfied by the fact that one has enough food, clothing and shelter. One needs to examine; one needs to look within oneself and find out when one dies where will one end up. What kind of rebirth will one achieve? It is very important for one to question oneself and find the answer to this question.

In a sense the existence of previous lives has become a problem for many people and they find it hard to believe in this idea. In Buddhism, in the profound treatises and texts there are presentations of different reasonings to establish previous lives as well as future ones. In discussing these reasonings like the substantial cause of mental consciousness, the preceding moment of experience or in terms of familiarization or intimacy one has had in the past, in order to understand how these reasons establish the theory of rebirth, one needs to have acquaintance with Buddhist logic and metaphysics. Otherwise one might not grasp the idea.

I will not go into those reasonings but I want to take the opportunity to mention that there is a clear indication that there have been previous lifetimes. For instance among people of the same nationality there are some who look handsome or beautiful and those with much lesser qualities. These differences must have causes and conditions; it can not just happen without cause. So when one traces back this physical body, back to one’s mother’s womb. One cannot create good or bad karmic actions in that state so one cannot say that actions in the mother’s womb were the cause. This indicates a previous existence and helps support the idea that there have been past lives.

One also finds differences among us such as in business some are very successful, flourishing while others are struggling. They are the same businesses with the same effort and similar factories but still big differences in success. One finds similar differences in children in the same family; some are very successful and handsome while others are less handsome and less successful. So all these differences one finds must have causes and conditions as their basis. In this life, one can place the same amount of effort in the same endeavor but there are huge differences in success. As one looks into this one finds support for past lives, what one did in the past.

One can also talk about how children educated in the same way, the same school, studying under the same teacher, with the same facilities yet there is a big difference between the students. Some learn quickly while others hardly seem to learn at all. Why is there this big difference? As far as the facilities are concerned and all the things that can be done in this lifetime are concerned, they all have the same opportunity but why is there such a large difference in the students? I think this has something to do with what one did in the past.

One does find people who such personalities that they are very influential. Just by their presence they are much influence on other people. This does not seem to be an acquired quality but an inborn quality that they have and I think that this quality can be traced back to previous lifetimes. Then of course in our world we find children who can remember their past lives vividly. This also suggests that previous lives do exist, if they did not exist what are these people remembering? If there are past lives that they have remembered then it is clear that there will be future lives.

Thinking along these lines as one develops certain belief in past and future lives then the theory of karmic action makes more sense. Then one knows that one must be careful with all of one’s actions otherwise one will have to experience the ripening results of all of one’s actions. Lord Buddha said that one will experience different situations in accordance with one’s own actions. This means that one cannot neglect one’s future rebirth in future lives, one has to be careful now so that one does not suffer in one’s future lives.

Of course we all cherish ourselves and want to fulfill our own interests and wishes. As one develops concern about one’s future, what one wants for their future it helps to be concerned about future lifetimes. What do we want for our future lives? If one wants to have happiness in the future, in one’s future lives especially what is pertinent for one to do is to train one’s mind, discipline one’s mind or subdue one’s mind. This is the best way. To accomplish the kind of peace and happiness that one wants, material development is good but it will not insure genuine peace and happiness. The more material progress one makes, the more scattered becomes one’s mind as one’s mind wanders to different material things. Temptations and all those other things happen.

The only way to bring true peace and happiness to oneself is to make inner development, inner transformation, which can only come about through spiritual practice. I don’t speak English so I don’t know how much the word religion carries the meaning of the Tibetan word cho, the Dharma. The Tibetan word cho tells one that one needs to make change or transformation. When talks of practicing cho or Dharma one is implying that one is going to make change, transforming oneself into better beings.

If one wants to make the greatest accomplishment and do the best through spiritual practice then one has to follow the gradual spiritual path. First one must study and practice the three principal aspects of the path which are renunciation or aversion to cyclic existence, bodhicitta or the altruistic intention to become enlightened and the profound view or the insight into emptiness. Having cultivated these three principal aspects of the path then one enters into tantric practice performing Highest Yoga Tantra practice. In this way one can attain enlightenment in one lifetime. If one is able to follow this process that is the best and one will make great the greatest accomplishment.

As there are different spiritual paths within Buddhism that one can follow, if one doesn’t mind to take a long time to reach enlightenment, one has this kind of determination, one cultivates the enlightened attitude of the altruistic intention to become enlightened. After this it may take three great, countless eons to accumulate the merit and wisdom needed and during this process one is tremendously benefiting sentient beings, working for them. One is working for enlightenment to benefit sentient beings the most. So this is one way, the follows the way of Bodhisattvas and how they benefit sentient beings.

Then one can also follow the path of Solitary Realizers or Pratyekabuddhas. One can follow the stages of this path and attain Arhatship or the state of liberation of a Solitary Realizer. If this doesn’t suit one then one can follow the stages of the path of a Hearer or Sravaka, which leads to their state of liberation. These are the different paths; one has many choices before one. One makes one’s choice and follows the path to its destination.

Later I will speak very briefly about those different paths, how one can attain enlightenment in just this one lifetime. I will also speak on how to attain the realization of Solitary Realizers and how to attain the liberation of Hearers or Sravakas. I shall touch briefly on all of them. Also another important point here is how can one integrate spiritual practice into one’s daily life. As one goes on in life, how can one practice the Dharma at the same time? I will also speak briefly about this.


The way one integrates spiritual practice into one’s daily life is within the context of what is called the five paths. Of the five paths the first one is called the power of setting forth the thought which is the power of motivation. Be it spiritual practice or a worldly activity, as one knows it is important to reflect on what one wants to do first and then make a good plan. Done this way things go much better. In terms of spiritual practice when one gets up in the morning one needs to set one’s motivation that one will place much effort into the practice of Dharma in this life, this year, this month and particularly this day. One will not waste one’s life just for the sake of accumulating food, clothing, shelter, being satisfied merely with those. One will work for achieving enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, which is the highest type of motivation. This is called the power of motivation.

When one gets up in the morning one should make a point to generate the proper motivation to make one’s daily activities meaningful in a spiritual sense. The second path is power of the white seed, which means the purification of negativities and the accumulation of positive energy. Those who are committed to do certain main practices have preliminary practices to perform first such as ngondro. Engaging in ngondro practice consists of this power of the white seed. Even if one is not aiming for such main practices they can still perform preliminary practices such as prostrations, circumambulation, making offerings and so forth. This constitutes the power of the white seed. The seven limb practice constitutes purification of unwholesome actions and the accumulation of positive energy. One can practice the seven limb and do purification and the accumulation of merit.

The third power is called the power of familiarization or intimacy. This means that if one takes renunciation as one’s key practice, one does one’s practice and afterwards one develops more intimacy with renunciation. This is the power of familiarization. If one wants to cultivate the altruistic intention to become enlightened or bodhicitta, as one performs the practice one develops more intimacy with the enlightened attitude. Or one could be meditating on deity yoga and through this meditation one develops more and more intimacy with the deity. This applies to any other kind of practice.

The fourth power is the power of applying the counteractive measures or antidotes. If one’s main aim is to challenge the self-cherishing attitude or self-centeredness, as it arises in one’s mind one should counteract it; one needs to challenge it. As any form of delusion like anger or attachment arises in one’s mind, one does not let it be there unchallenged but face it and confront it. This is called the power of applying the antidotes.

Of course the best method is to see that any form of delusion does not arise within one’s mind. This is to say that prevention is better than cure. Once the delusion has arisen in one’s mind it is difficult to bring it under control. Just before attachment or anger arises in one’s mind if one is mindful and notice that it might arise, just stop it and prevent it from arising in one’s mind.

In case one is not able to prevent the delusions from arising within one’s mind because one is being exposed to different situations and different objects, one way to as a temporary measure is to keep the objects of delusion at a distance and avoid them. So one of the methods that is practiced is to go into seclusion isolating oneself from the objects of delusion. This can be helpful temporarily. So long as one has delusions if one encounters the objects of those delusions it is difficult not to experience the delusions. So in this case try to avoid the objects of delusion.

The fifth power is the power of aspirational prayer and here one can say any kind of prayer. May I be able to direct my mind into spiritual practice. May my spiritual practice become a spiritual path. May this spiritual path be brought to the completion stage. These are all wonderful prayers. One can also pray that the Dharma, the source of benefit and happiness for all sentient beings, flourish all over the world. May all sincere practitioners and the upholders of the Dharma enjoy long lives and good health. However the best kind of prayer is, “May I never be separated from the altruistic mind of enlightenment of bodhicitta in this life and in all future lives." This is the best kind of aspirational prayer that one can make. This is the power of aspirational prayer.

In short the way one can integrate spiritual practice or those five powers that constitute spiritual practice into one’s daily life is when one first gets up, set the power of motivation. In the context of Greater Vehicle Buddhism one should set the motivation that at least today one will not be selfish, one will not let selfishness dictate one. In other words this is to say that one will develop concern for others, being kind and caring for others. One then should perform the purification of negativities and the accumulation of positive energy in different ways. If one is committed to do certain spiritual practices, one should do this with a sense of delight and enthusiasm not that it is a burden placed upon one.

In fact selfishness is the main obstacle in the context of Greater Vehicle Buddhism to practice. At the end one does aspirational prayers and dedication. One can pray for a long and healthy life but that is just an ordinary prayer. One instead should pray for the peace, happiness and prosperity of all sentient beings and that one may engender this enlightened attitude in all of one’s future lives. If one does this in one’s daily life then one’s life will be very well integrated with spiritual practice.

Lord Buddha’s teachings consists of are called the 84,000 bundles or sections. These 84,000 bundles of teaching are contained within the twelve scriptural divisions or the nine scriptural divisions, which are different ways of classifying his teachings placing them into different baskets. One could also say that Buddha’s teachings are all included within the Three Baskets or Tripitaka, Sutra, Abhidharma and Vinaya. The subject matter of these three baskets are brought together or summarized in their essence by the great Atisha in his The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. [See His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment for a copy of Atisha's text and a commentary on it.]

Even ordinary things can be learned by observing what others are doing. One cannot learn each and every thing unless one goes to study with professional teachers. If this is true for ordinary things it is especially true of the spiritual journey one wants to undertake. It is like going to an unknown land or destination but with an inner transformation there is nothing to see or hear with one’s ears. Here it is very important for one to cultivate a relationship with a qualified spiritual guide. At this time one has achieved such a precious human rebirth free of the main obstacles to the practice of the Dharma and also possesses the enriching factors to accomplish realization. If one is to make the best use of one’s life and accomplish not only temporary purposes for this life but also reach the ultimate spiritual goal; one cannot be lazy and use this life properly. One has the potential to accomplish one’s goals.

As for this precious human life it is very hard to attain, as the causes needed to attain this kind of life are hard to create. At this time one does have this precious human life but this life will not remain forever. It has a transient nature so it is very unstable. If one does not make the best use of it now, the time will come when one must leave this life and go empty-handed. So when the time comes for one to leave this world and one reflects on what one has accomplished during one’s life, all the worldly activities one thought were so meaningful, do not make much sense at the time of death. If only one had created positive energy and practiced the Dharma then that would stand with one at the crucial time of death. Otherwise one will be helpless in the face of death; only the Dharma can help one at that time. One should reflect and meditate on all of these important points.

As one meditates on those points serially, first one performs analytical meditation where one brings up all the reasons to establish each point and ascertain each point. At the end of each analytical meditation one switches to single-pointed or stabilized meditation on each point. The purpose of meditating on the points I mentioned is for one to be able to eliminate clinging to this life. One is so attached to this life and the things associated with this life which firmly binds one to samsara. One has to get rid of this clinging to just this lifetime and meditating on those points will help one with this.

If one continues to cling to this life one can do practice but one’s Dharma practice will not be that effective. One may have the feeling that one has been practicing for a long time without much benefit. This is telling one that one has not been practicing the Dharma properly in its pure form. Doing the practice just for this life is not a Dharma practice. One is only confusing oneself and will not be able to achieve one’s higher goals, spiritual goals. So this is why the first thing one should try to do is to work on getting rid of clinging to this life. Otherwise one will not be able to get rid of clinging to material prosperity and the like all this and future lives.

One should also meditate on different aspects of the law of karma or karmic action. Its major characteristics or aspects are the certainty of karmic action. This means if one creates a positive karmic action that it will definitely bring a positive result. There is no way that it will bring about problems or difficulties. If one creates a negative karmic action it will bring a negative result. This is a law of nature. So this is the certainty of karmic action.

The second point is the increasing nature of karma. This means that one could create a small positive action and with the passage of time it can intensify and bring a great result. The same is with a slight negative action; with the passage of time it intensifies and can bring great problems to one.

The third characteristic of karma is whatever karmic action one has not created or accumulated one will not experience the results. One is only responsible for one’s own actions and of the actions one creates, one experiences the results. Actions one has never created one does not need to worry about, one will not experience those results.

The fourth characteristic of karma is that whatever karmic action one has created, good or bad, provided they are not destroyed by certain factors, they never are wasted. It may take eons and eons but one’s karmic actions will definitely bring their respective results. For instance if one creates a positive karmic action and it is never destroyed by one’s anger, it may take many eons to bring its result but it will definitely bring its result. Similarly one could perform a negative karmic action and if one does not apply the Four Antidotes to purify those karmic actions with the passage of time given the proper conditions it will ripen into its negative result. So this is how karmic actions work.

By meditating on these different aspects of karma one develops confidence in the infallible workings of karmic action. One also needs to contemplate of the different aspects of the suffering in cyclic existence, the general sufferings of cyclic existence and the particular sufferings of cyclic existence. The purpose of meditating on the different forms of suffering along with the working of karmic action is to help one cut off clinging to material prosperity and the ordinary pleasures of life in cyclic existence.

What one needs to be like a sick person, who is nauseated at the sight of food, in that one should have a similar aversion to the sufferings of cyclic existence. At the present as soon as one sees prosperity as someone who owns a magnificent house, one becomes attached to it wishing to have the same type house. Or one sees the automobiles of others so one desires one for oneself. There is nothing wrong with appreciating a beautiful thing but when one develops attachment that is a different matter. One needs to work with one’s own mind and the attachments towards material things in cyclic existence. If one is able to generate the same kind of attitude that a prisoner develops whom really wants out of the prison, who is tired of spending one more day in prison. If one starts to generate that kind of aversion and renunciation towards life in cyclic existence then one is starting to develop the proper aversion towards cyclic existence which is a very important spiritual quality.

It is the same for all three types of practitioners. First one must develop an aversion to life in cyclic existence. One should not get attached even to the best of material prosperity or things of cyclic existence. Once one has developed renunciation then if one decides to follow the path of the sravaka or Hearers then one needs to develop the genuine aspiration seeking the liberation of sravakas. As one develops that genuine aspiration, one is already on the path of accumulation of a sravaka and the main practice consists of the Three High Trainings, training in higher ethical discipline, higher concentration and higher wisdom.

By performing the Three Higher Trainings one progresses on the stages of the path such as the paths of preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. As one attains the path of no more learning one achieves the liberation of the Hearers.

Having generated renunciation if one is interested in following the path leading to liberation of the pratyekabuddhas or Solitary Realizers first one needs to cultivate a genuine aspiration seeking that liberation. As one experiences that aspiration genuinely one is already on the path of accumulation of the Solitary Realizer’s Vehicle. Again the practice is the same, the practice of the Three Higher Trainings. Through this practice one progresses on the remaining paths such as the paths of preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. The major difference between Solitary Realizers and Hearers is that the Solitary Realizers have to accumulate much more positive energy or merit. This they accomplish mostly on the path of accumulation.

Generally speaking all sentient beings have the great potentiality to become a completely enlightened person eventually which is called the Buddhanature. But one does speak of those who are temporarily inclined towards the Hearer’s Path or inclined towards the Solitary Realizer’s. What they need to do first is according to their inclinations they need to follow the respective paths leading to their respective states of liberation. Having attained those states of liberation then they move on to the path of the Greater Vehicle working for supreme enlightenment.

To substantiate this point that all of us have the Buddhanature, as Rinpoche has quoted the nature of the mind is clear light and it has never been defiled. The defilements are just temporarily in one’s mind; they are just adventitious. They have not contaminated the pure nature of one’s mind so this is why one has the great potentiality to grow.

Each of us, in fact all sentient beings have the Buddhanature which is of two types, the naturally-abiding Buddhanature which is the main cause for one to attain the Truth Body or Dharmakaya and the developmental Buddhanature that is the main cause for one to attain the Rupakaya or the Form Body. As Maitreya has stated that if one makes effort consistently one will be able to experience one’s Buddhanature and attain one’s spiritual goals. Even if an insect were to do this positive development that insect would attain supreme enlightenment. This means we all share in this Buddhanature.

As we have Buddhanature, this is why all of us can become Buddhas provided we make consistent efforts. Another reason for one to be able to become a Buddha eventually is as I have already quoted that the nature of the mind is clear light, pure and never defiled. The defilements that one has in one’s mind do not form the nature of the mind. They have not contaminated the purity of one’s mind so to speak. The naturally-abiding Buddhanature, which is the emptiness of one’s mind, the ultimate nature of one’s mind has remained pure right from the beginning and has never been contaminated. So all of the delusions and defilements that one has in one’s mind are just temporary and if one makes a point to apply the antidotes to them, they are removable. They can be eliminated, can be gotten rid of.

Just as the nature of fire is heat and burning so is the clarity and stillness is the nature of the mind. So the clarity and calmative power of the mind has never been defiled by the delusions. The defilements, as I already have said are just temporary. By temporary I mean that they can be separated from the mind. One can eliminate the defilements for one’s mind and experience the purity of one’s mind. Because one can do this, this is the great possibility for us to become an enlightened person.

In the case of a Mahayana practitioner, having generated renunciation, if one is of sharp faculties one should straight away meditate on emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena. Having gained insight into emptiness one then cultivates the conventional mind of enlightenment, which is bodhicitta. In the case of a Mahayana practitioner of lower faculties having generated renunciation, one first cultivates the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. One then studies emptiness and develops insight into the ultimate nature of things.

As for the cultivation of the altruistic mind of enlightenment there are two different techniques or lineages. One is called the Six Causes and the One Result Quintessential Instructions for Developing the Mind of Enlightenment and the practitioners of lower faculties normally start with this practice. Practitioners of sharp faculties develop the altruistic mind of enlightenment by practicing the other lineage; the instructions called Equalizing and Exchanging Self with Others.

It doesn’t matter which of the two lineages of instructions one practices. With either one is able to experience the altruistic intention to become enlightened. As soon as one experiences genuinely the mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta, one finds oneself on the path of accumulation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. This is the entryway into Mahayana Buddhism and as it has been said that for someone wishing to become a completely enlightened person, they must cultivate the mind of enlightenment, which is the source of enlightenment. It should be stabilized and made firm as Mount Meru, the King of Mountains.

Without cultivating the mind of enlightenment there is no other way to reach enlightenment. If one wants to attain enlightenment one has to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. With the mind of enlightenment, whatever one does especially if practicing generosity, morality or ethical discipline, patience or tolerance and so on, all of one’s actions will become the deeds of a bodhisattva and one’s practice becomes perfections.

As soon as one generates meditative stabilization integrating calm-abiding with special insight, one finds oneself on the path of preparation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. Then as one continues one’s practice and cultivates greater intimacy with these insights, one progresses on the remaining paths. When one develops direct insight and experience emptiness, one is then on the path of seeing of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. As one develop even greater intimacy with this direct insight along with skillful means, one progresses on the path of meditation and the path of no-more learning.

This is all within the context of Sutrayana or the Greater Vehicle of Buddhism. This is to say that one must accumulate merit for three countless eons. On the paths of accumulation and preparation one is able to accumulate the merit for one countless eon. The seven spiritual grounds from the first, Joyous to the seventh ground account for one countless eon of the accumulation of merit or positive energy. On the last three spiritual grounds, the eighth through tenth bhumis account for the final countless eon of the accumulation of merit then becoming a fully enlightened being. This finishes my discussion of the Three Vehicles having created the context to speak a little bit about tantric practice.

There are two entrances into the Tantric Vehicle or Path. One can enter from the path of accumulation of the Greater Vehicle Buddhism or one can enter the Tantric Path from the tenth bhumi. Actually the formal entryways are those two ways from which one can enter the Tantric Path. We are an exception as we enter into tantra from all kinds of entrances. The reason why one enters from either the path of accumulation of the Mahayana or the tenth bhumi is because to perform tantric practice one has to first do the common practices, one must first cultivate the common path which are the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, renunciation, bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness. Having cultivated those paths first then one can enter into the tantric practice and one is qualified to engage in tantric practices.

One then seeks a qualified Vajra master, receives the standard empowerments and then enters into the tantric practices. The tantric path is considered a very profound and swift, it can take one to the final destination the most quickly. But its profundity and swiftness also depends upon the Lam-rim or the Stages of the Path, especially the Three Principal Aspects of the Path as I already mentioned. There is a saying in Tibetan that the reason why butter cheesecake is so delicious is because of the butter; without the butter it is just a dry cheese ball. So the profundity and swiftness of the tantra is due to the Lam-rim, the common path. Without the common path tantra is just full of ritual noises (hum hum and phat phat).

If one wants to be a qualified practitioner of tantra then one has to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. When bodhicitta is genuinely present within one’s mindstream, one is already on the path of accumulation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. One then can enter into tantric practice. In this context it is not enough to only cultivate relative bodhicitta, one has to cultivate the extraordinary altruistic mind of enlightenment. This extraordinary mind of enlightenment gives one a push so that when one sees others suffering one is unable to tolerate it. One cannot sit idly by but must do everything possible. This kind of push, this kind of inside drive is needed.

Having cultivated this extraordinary altruistic mind of enlightenment, if one wants to practice the three lower tantras one needs to receive the standard initiations into the mandalas of the respective tantras from a qualified Vajra master. One must also receive the commentary on the tantra. If one wants to practice Highest Yoga Tantra, Mahanuttarayoga Tantra it is the same. One needs to find a qualified Vajra master and receive all four of the initiations. One then can engage in tantric practice. In fact it is said that abhisheka or empowerment is the door to enter into tantra.

Suppose one wishes to practice the Guhyasamaja Tantra which is a Buddhist Highest Yoga Tantra. In fact the Guhyasamaja Tantra has two traditions. One could receive the initiation according to the Jñanapada tradition or according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition. According to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition one must receive the Guhyasamaja empowerment called Akshobhya Vajra Empowerment receiving these four empowerments. Having received them then one can practice the two stages, the generation stage and the completion stage. For a beginner one has to follow this order, there is no other way. Without practicing the generation stage one cannot practice the completion stage because it is said that these two stages are like rungs in a ladder, one must go step-by-step. In a special case like someone who already generated an understanding of the generation stage in a previous lifetime, that practitioner can straightaway practice the completion stage. This is an exceptional case.

Having received the proper initiation or empowerment one then has to practice first the generation stage. According to the Jnanapada tradition of Guhyasamaja one has to practice what are called the Four Drops or bindu for the completion stage. According to the extensive mandala of Vajrapani one has to practice the four types of blessing. According to Yamantaka practice one has to do the Four Yogas which constitute the completion stage practice. According to the Ghantapa tradition one has to practice five levels and these five levels are the completion stage but are not the same five levels as the completion stage practice of the Guhyasamaja Tantra. According to the Kalachakra Tantra one has to practice the Six Preparatory Yogas. What is common to all of these completion stage practices is the Six Yogas of Naropa.

So those are the different classifications and there are eight of them, which are referred to as the eight great commentaries according to the tradition of Lower Tantric College.

To give you a little more insight into the five levels of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja, according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition the five levels are the Isolated Body level and Isolated Speech level as one level, Isolated Mind level, the Illusory Body level, the Clear Light level and the Level of Unification. Sometimes one talks of six levels of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja, sometimes five but it is just a matter of classification, there is no conflict.

Now we are getting to the main topic the union of bliss and voidness. The Isolated Body practice where a practitioner who has completed both the coarse and subtle yogas of the generation stage and is meditating on the subtle drop at the lower end of the central channel or secret space, is able to bring all of the winds into the central channel. There are the three phases of entering, abiding and the dissolution of the winds in the central channel or nadi. Just before this happens with the two levels of the generation stage up to this level where a certain exalted wisdom is generated is called the Isolated Body level.

On the Isolated Body level of the completion stage of The Guhyasamaja according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition, in the state of meditative equipoise one is meditating on the wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness or emptiness. This is the primary experience at this level of practice. As one comes out of that meditative state in the post-meditational period one tries to see every appearance of whatever object one experiences as the nature of non-dual bliss and voidness. Also during the post-meditational period on this level one experiences this non-dual union of bliss and voidness in the form of deities.

What does the Isolated Body mean? The body of course refers to one’s body, which is composed of different constituents like the Five Psychophysical aggregates. These constitute the basis of isolation and it is the ordinary appearance along with the ordinary clinging attitude from which the practitioner’s body is isolated from ordinary appearance and the ordinary cling attitude. This is done through deity yoga practice so one arises in the form of a deity or deities and sees oneself as the deity, not as an ordinary being. This is the etymological explanation of the term isolated body.

Next is the Isolated Speech level and at the practitioner’s heart one visualizes the mantra drop or circle trying to bring the winds of the upper and lower body into the central channel. There one realizes the wisdom of appearance. When one experiences this wisdom and when one is able to dissolve the winds into the indestructible drop within one’s heart, up to this point is the boundary of the Isolated Speech level.

The etymological explanation of the term isolated speech, from what is speech isolated, is in fact the ordinary perception and clinging to speech. On this level the arising, abiding and flow of the breath is not perceived as the ordinary flow but in the sound of the Three Syllables [OM AH HUM]. The flow of the breath or speech is not just seen as ordinary but as if it resounds naturally as the Three Syllables. The main practice here is the Vajra Recitation also the two ways of dissolving the winds into the central channel. There is the gradual dissolution and the spontaneous dissolution. One can also rely on external concert.

Through these techniques or methods one brings the winds into the central channel at the heart and they dissolve into the indestructible drop where one experiences the wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness. From this point on to where one attains the Impure Illusory Body this whole level is of Isolated Speech.

In order to experience the exemplary Clear Light of the Isolated Mind level one has to bring all of the wind energies into the indestructible drop. For this one has needs to rely on a qualified consort. By qualified consort it is meant is a consort who has also received the standard tantric empowerments and who has also cultivated the three aspects of the common path. Through relying on the consort’s help one brings the totality of the winds into the indestructible drop and experiences the exemplary Clear Light of the Isolated Mind.

If both practitioners who are helping each other in this way are not qualified then the result is ordinary sexual activity, nothing Dharmic will happen. The exemplary Clear Light will not arise so both practitioners need to be qualified. If one practices in the way I have just described and through one of the two ways of dissolving the wind energies of the body, one goes through all of the stages of the dissolution processes that occurs at the time of death. One also sees eight different indicative signs of the dissolution of the elements, constituents and so forth.

As these happen, this is the internal practice, one also experiences four types of joy due to the flow of the drop at the crown of the head down to the tip of the secret organ. When the drop reaches the tip of the secret organ, one experiences spontaneous bliss and this blissful mind is used to penetrate and experience emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena. This is how one experiences the non-dual bliss and voidness. As the drop comes to the tip of the secret organ one needs to retain it there and this is an important point of the practice.

At the end of that dissolution one experiences the Clear Light mind which is the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind. This blissful Clear Light mind is used to penetrate and experience emptiness. This Clear light mind is also called the Exemplary Clear Light mind of the Isolated Mind Level. As one continues on with the practice one experiences emptiness directly, the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind experiences emptiness directly and at that point the Clear Light becomes the Meaning Clear Light.

In the case of ordinary people it is at the time of death that there is a chance for one to experience the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind as it manifests at death. But in the case of yogis or meditators through the power of their yoga or meditations are able to experience the primordial Clear Light mind, which is an exceptional case. So through the practices I just mentioned when one experiences the Exemplary Clear Light mind of the Isolated Mind Level, at that point one is still not experiencing emptiness directly or nakedly, still there is what is called the image of emptiness, a generic image. Through a combination of the practice where that generic image is removed and one has a direct experience, this experience is called the spontaneous wisdom experiencing emptiness directly or the Meaning Clear Light.

Having reached this state, the Exemplary Clear Light Mind of the Isolated Mind, one is still is still in a meditative state. As one rises from that meditation one attains the Impure Illusory Body. As one continues one’s practice and re-enters the meditative state when one is able to gain a direct experience of emptiness, the subtle primordial Clear Light Mind, experiencing emptiness directly, one achieves the Meaning Clear Light. When one arises from that meditative state one achieves the Pure Illusory Body. So the unification of the Impure Illusory Body with the primordial Clear Light mind in union with the Pure Illusory Body with the Meaning Clear Light mind is called the unification of mind and body or the Extraordinary Thing, the ugonnata.

I would like to stop here. We will have a short meditation period before the question and answer session. One great Tibetan master has said although there is meditation on the generation stage but meditation on the Guru Yoga is unsurpassable. There is no greater meditation than that. Though there are many forms of recitation that one can do, making supplication to one’s guru is the best recitation.

I will tell you a little anecdote. Once a lama told his disciple to meditate on his teacher but the disciple got the information confused. He thought the lama told him to visualize himself sitting on his lama’s head. His lama had a bald head and the student kept slipping off of his hat. The disciple approached his master and said that he did not know how to sit on his bald head as he kept falling off. The lama was very skilled and instead of scolding his disciple said for him to try meditating with his lama on his head.

Meditation on one’s guru or master is the supreme meditation Many masters in the past have agreed with this. I feel this would be a great opportunity for us to meditate on His Holiness the Dalai Lama, our root guru, as we are about to receive the Kalachakra Empowerment from him. I feel this would be an appropriate meditation for us to do. He has won the Nobel Peace Prize as well being the embodiment of great compassion and has so much to do with peace and happiness in the world. Let us meditate on His Holiness either sitting on the crown of our heads, in the space in front or in our heart. However if you are bald His Holiness might slip!

Rays of light emanate from the body of His Holiness, which enters our bodies and these rays purify all of our defilements and negative thoughts. As we become purified reflect that rays of light emit from you to all other sentient beings which purify their negative states of mind. All experience peace, harmony and happiness. Also reflect that as the rays of light enter our bodies, they also lengthen our life spans, provide good health, aiding one’s practice.

Question: How does one cultivate proper motivation?

Answer: Of course the best motivation is the motivation of the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. One can also cultivate other proper motivations. For bodhicitta one purposely cultivates the though to benefit all sentient beings by repeating the thought “I wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings”. Generally constant reflection on this thought helps generate a feeling within one.

Question: Of the two aspects of either distancing oneself from the delusions or taking difficulties on to the path which is the better practice?

Answer: For beginners if one is not able to take the difficulties of troubling situations as an opportunity to transform them into one’s practice then it would be better to keep the situations at a distance.

Question: His Holiness has stated that there is no difference in the attainment between the Sutra and Tantra Vehicles but as the mind realizing emptiness in tantra is more subtle and profound, why are they considered equal? What difference does it make in helping sentient beings escape cyclic existence?

Answer: As far as the ultimate goal of enlightenment is concerned there is no difference at all whether one achieves it through the Sutrayana practice or Tantrayana practice. In the case of the state of the mind of enlightenment, the bodhicitta developed through tantric techniques is more profound and swift so thus one is more determined and has more strength to work towards enlightenment. It has more to do with technique than the mind realizing enlightenment.

As we see in daily life people who are more determined to do something, they get it accomplished quicker whereas others are not capable of that intensity.

Question: In general must karma always come to fruition or can the result be avoided through purification or realization?

Answer: This was already addressed earlier. Yes, through purification one purifies one’s karma and can avoid experiencing the results or through realization it is possible that one does not have to experience the results of certain karma.

An example is that if one is a keen practitioner of cultivating Guru Yoga it is possible for one to see in one’s dreams one’s master scolding one and certain negativities are purified.

Question: Is there any way to help a friend who has died?

Answer: Normally one recites prayers for them of purification and also makes offerings on their behalf. This can help the deceased.

Question: How can one deal with an inability to visualize appropriately when practicing the generation stage?

Answer: One has to take into consideration one’s own abilities and one can’t expect one’s visualization to be perfect at the beginning. In accordance with one’s own abilities perform the visualization and as time goes by one’s abilities will grow and one will see progress. With patience if one continues one’s practice of visualization of the generation stage a time will come when one is able to perform the visualization very well.

For example when one first learns how to write one does not do it very well. With practice writing one gains the skill of writing and later one can write well. The same can be said of visualization practice.

Question: One often hears of the suffering of samsara but very little about the joys of samsara. Even though both suffering and joy are impermanent, if the nature of samsara is suffering why would we have come into being?

Answer: If one talks about all of the nice things of samsara then one would never develop an aversion for cyclic existence and one would want to stay here. Let me talk about the problems one faces if one stays in samsara and help develop the aversion. What brings all of one’s problems and how can one avoid those causes? Through understanding suffering and its causes one is able to generate compassion towards other sentient beings. When one knows one’s own situation that will also help one to bring down one’s pride and arrogance.

We are all very attached to life in cyclic existence. If we talk of all of the nice aspects of cyclic existence, it will only intensify our attachment. We will not think of leaving cyclic existence.

Question: I wonder of the appropriateness of Indian or Tibetan deities in the West.

Answer: Anyone who wants to attain enlightenment has to create causes for attaining the Rupakaya of an enlightened being and the Dharmakaya. The main cause for obtaining the Form Body of an enlightened being is generating oneself as a deity, deity yoga. The main cause for attaining the Truth Body of an enlightened being is meditating on emptiness. These causes need to be created to attained enlightened bodies.

The Kadampa masters used to say that everyone had a deity to meditate upon and a mantra recitation to be performed but I don’t find many persons whom have a real Dharma state of mind. So what I feel is that for beginners it is more important to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment, bodhicitta.

Question: If negative karma creates future suffering isn’t there a tendency to feel less compassion for those with an unhappy childhood like child abuse?

Answer: Whatever actions one does not just negative, decides one’s future life. In the case of those who have unhappy lives especially child abuse, one needs to understand the situation and cultivate compassion for them. There is no way that the theory of karma should obstruct one from generating compassion to them.

Question: Given the law of karma since the Tibetan people have generated so much merit over the centuries how can you explain the terrible atrocities committed against the Tibetans by the Chinese?

Answer: The Tibetans generated tremendous positive energy as well as many negative actions. At this time the negative karmic actions has ripened and the Tibetan people are experiencing atrocities. Whatever positive karmic actions have been accumulated will bring their results in the future.

Question: With each subsequent lifetime must one start over again the process of learning non-attachment or does it get easier?

Answer: If one is able to overcome attachment in this lifetime then one will not need to do it again in any future lifetime. If one has worked hard in this life and to a great extent has overcome attachment, in future lifetimes it will be easier for one to generate detachment. This is the same for any other form of delusion and spiritual practice becomes easier in future lifetimes.

Question: What is the difference between the union of great bliss and emptiness and Mahamudra?

Answer: One can talk of this in the context of the Sutrayana practice or Tantrayana practice. In the Sutrayana practice the wisdom that understands emptiness is referred to as Mahamudra or the Great Seal. In the context of tantra the Exemplary Clear Light and the Meaning Clear Light Mind, where the experience of bliss and emptiness has become non-dual, are referred to as Mahamudra or the Great Seal.

Question: What is the difference between attachment in wanting a new car and the attachment for wanting to leave cyclic existence?

Answer: When one talks of the aspiration to leave cyclic existence, that is not a form of attachment. In the case of wanting a new car, that also is not necessarily attachment. Just the wish for a new car does not mean that one is attached to the car. Attachment can become involved in the situation. The aspiration to leave cyclic existence is not a form of attachment.

Question: What is the difference between resisting anger and suppressing it?

Answer: The best method for one is not to become angry in the first place. Prevention is the best technique but when anger arises one should apply the antidotes to overcome one’s anger. One needs to work with one’s mind and lower the intensity of one’s anger.

Question: What kind of existence is there after cyclic existence ends? What is left of the individual and how can one help others?

Answer: When one attains freedom from cyclic existence one is free from all of the problems of cyclic existence and one has great capability to help other sentient beings. It is not the case that when one attains freedom from cyclic existence that everything ends and nothing remains. What remains is the state of liberation, as one knows. Being in the state of liberation one has the capability to help other beings otherwise right now one is being carried away by the current of the delusions. Two people stuck in a raging river cannot help each other to get out of the river, only someone on the shore can help. So being in the state of liberation is something like that as now that oneself has no problems one can help others effectively.

As I have already mentioned to achieve states of liberation one has to follow the path of either of the Hearers or Solitary Realizers. If one wants full enlightenment or Buddhahood then one must cultivate the mind of enlightenment.

Question: How can animals do any good works in order to obtain a human rebirth?

Answer: Animals are in a difficult situation but they do have the chance to obtain a human rebirth. If in their past lives they had accumulated positive actions then they have the positive karma to be reborn as a human being. However it is difficult for them as animals to create the causes for a human rebirth.

Question: I was born Catholic and have been brought up to respect a Christian God. Is it appropriate to transfer this reverence to Lord Buddha?

Answer: Yes, you can do that.

Question: Why does ignorance arise?

Answer: From time immemorial until now ignorance has been with us. I have already discussed our grasping at the self as well as a self of phenomena, which are different forms of ignorance. From these two forms of ignorance arise attachment, hatred and all of the other forms of delusion. These other forms of delusion strengthen ignorance and ignorance strengthens the other delusions. It is like the chicken or the egg argument; it is difficult to say which came first.

Question: Is meditation on emptiness the same as Clear Light meditation?

Answer: Sometimes emptiness is referred to as objective Clear Light and the wisdom understanding emptiness as the subjective Clear Light. In this sense meditation on emptiness can be said to be Clear Light meditation. The term Clear Light is used in different ways and one must learn in which context the term is being used.

Question: What is the special importance of guru yoga?

Answer: The guru or one’s spiritual guide is the source of all spiritual attainment. It is through the blessings and inspiration of one’s gurus that one progresses along the path and stages. This is why guru yoga or the practice of cultivating the spiritual guide is very important.

Question: Is the practice of Dzogchen enough or do we need to practice other things before Dzogchen?

Answer: I have not studied Dzogchen so I am not the right person to answer this question.

Question: Could you explain the image of the mind being the sky with clouds relates to applying the antidotes to the afflictions such as anger, not just letting it drift away but confronting it?

Answer: The defilements one has within one’s mind will not go away on their own. One must supply the antidotes and one has to practice. This is how one purifies the mind of negativities and the defilements. If the defilements could go away on their own by now everyone would be free from all defilements, as it has been an immeasurable long time already. If one does not apply any of the antidotes to one’s defilements and leave then as they are, one will only develop more intimacy with the defilements and they will become stronger and more powerful. The best antidote to all of one’s defilements, to completely uproot the defilements is the meditation on emptiness.

Question: Could you say more about the Illusory Body?

Answer: As there are those who have not received the empowerments, I am not free to talk more about the Illusory Body. Maybe if you are interested you will find an opportunity later to find out more about the Illusory Body.

Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche

New Delhi, India, 1979

A teaching on renunciation, first published in Teachings at Tushita

Dharma protects us from suffering

The Sanskrit word Dharma [Tib: chö] means to hold, or uphold. What is it that Dharma upholds, or maintains? It is the elimination of suffering and the attainment of happiness. Dharma does this not only for us but for all other sentient beings as well.

The sufferings we experience are of two types: those immediately visible to us as humans and those we cannot see without psychic powers. The former include the pain involved in the birth process, the unpleasantness of occasionally becoming sick, the misery experienced by growing old and aging, and the terror of death.

The sufferings that come after death are not visible to an ordinary person. We might think that when we die we will probably be reborn as a human being. However, this is not necessarily the case. There is no logical reason for us to assume that such an evolution will occur. Nor is it the case that after we die we will not take rebirth at all.

As for the particular type of rebirth we will take, this is very difficult to predict; it’s not within our present sphere of knowledge. If we generate positive karma during this life, it will naturally follow that we will take happy forms of rebirth in the future. Conversely, if we create mostly negative karma, we will not take a happy rebirth but experience great difficulties in lower states of being. This is certain. That’s the way rebirth works. If you plant a wheat seed, a wheat plant grows; if you plant a rice seed, a rice plant is produced. Similarly, if you create negative karma, you’re planting the seeds of rebirth in one of the three lower states as a hell being, a hungry ghost or an animal.

Although the sufferings of the hell beings and hungry ghosts may be invisible to us, we can see those of the animals with our own eyes. If we wonder what it would be like if we ourselves were to be reborn as animals, we can just look at those around us and imagine what it would be like to be in their condition. Dharma is that which holds us back and protects us from experiencing the suffering of the three lower realms.

However, the entire wheel of rebirth, the whole of cyclic existence, is in the nature of suffering. Dharma safeguards us from all of it. Moreover, the Mahayana Dharma, the teachings of the great vehicle, protects not only ourselves but also all other living beings.

In Buddhism, we hear a lot about the Three Jewels of Refuge—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The first of these includes all the fully enlightened beings who teach the Dharma. For us, Buddha Shakyamuni, who first turned the wheel of Dharma at Sarnath by teaching the four noble truths, is the most significant. The last of these four truths—the truth of the path—is the Dharma that we must practice in order to achieve liberation. This is the refuge object called the Dharma jewel.

The cause of suffering

Dharma practice entails two things: recognizing and eradicating the root of samsaric suffering. What is the root of cyclic existence? It is the grasping at a truly existent self and at truly existent phenomena. Therefore, we need to develop revulsion for this grasping that brings us all our suffering and an understanding of the antidote to it. The antidote to grasping at true existence is the wisdom realizing selflessness; a deep understanding of selflessness will liberate us from suffering.

The sufferings we experience in cyclic existence are caused by the karma created by our acting under the influence of the delusions. When we understand this, we aspire to obtain the antidote to self-grasping. Why have we not yet developed this antidote in our mind stream; why don’t we understand selflessness? One reason is that we are not sufficiently aware of impermanence and death.

Contemplating impermanence and death

The only possible outcome of birth is death. We are inevitably going to die. There has never been a sentient being whose life did not end with death. People try many methods to prevent death from occurring, but it’s impossible. No medicine can cure us of death.

But just thinking “I’m going to die” isn’t really the correct way to contemplate death. Of course, everybody is going to die, but merely recalling this fact is not very powerful. It is not the proper method. Similarly, just thinking of the fact that our body is constantly disintegrating and deteriorating and will eventually fail is also not enough. What we have to think about is how to prevent all this from happening.

If we think about the fear that we’ll experience at the time of death and how to eliminate it, our meditation on death will be effective. People who have accumulated much negative karma during their lives become very frightened at the time of death. They cry, drool, excrete into their clothing and are completely overwhelmed—clear signs of the fear and suffering that occur at death because of negative actions created during life.

Alternatively, if during our lifetime we refrain from committing negative actions, death will be very easy to face. Death can be a joyous experience, like that of a child coming home. If we have purified ourselves, we can die happily. By abstaining from creating the ten non-virtuous actions and cultivating their opposites, the ten virtues, our death will be easy and, as a result, we won’t have to experience rebirth in conditions of suffering. We will be assured of rebirth in more fortunate states.

If we plant seeds of medicinal plants, we get trees with medicinal powers; if we plant seeds of poisonous trees, we get poisonous fruit. Similarly, if we plant the seeds of virtuous actions on our consciousness, we will experience happiness in future rebirths; we will experience good fortune, both mentally and physically. This basic Dharma teaching of avoiding the ten non-virtuous deeds and cultivating the ten virtues is given not only in Buddhism but also in many other religions.

If simply thinking “I’m going to die” is not very beneficial, how then should we contemplate death and impermanence? We should think, “If I have created any of the ten non-virtuous actions, when I die I will have to face great fear and suffering and will be reborn into unimaginable misery. If, on the other hand, I have created virtue, when I die I will not experience much fear or suffering and will be reborn into a fortunate state.” That is the correct way to think about death.

This meditation is not thinking gloomily and pessimistically, “I’m going to die and there’s nothing I can do about it,” but rather contemplating intelligently, “Where will I go after death? What sort of causes have I created? Can I make my death a happy one? How? Can I make my future rebirths happy? How?”

When contemplating future rebirths we should remember that there is no place in cyclic existence that is reliable. No matter what body we obtain, it must eventually pass away. We read accounts of people who have lived for a hundred or even a thousand years, but no matter how fantastic their stories, they have all had to die. All samsaric bodies are subject to death.

Moreover, there is no place to which we can run to escape death. No matter where we are, when the time comes, we’ll have to die. At that time, no amount of medicine, mantra or practice will help. Surgery can cure certain diseases, but it can’t prevent death.

No matter what type of rebirth we gain, it will be subject to death. The process is ongoing. Contemplating the long-range effects of our actions and the continuity of the process of birth, life, death and rebirth will help us generate much positive karma.

Even though we sometimes plan to practice the Dharma, we usually plan to do so tomorrow or the day after. However, we can’t tell when we’re going to die. If we were guaranteed a hundred years to live, we’d be able to plan our practice long-range, but we have not the slightest certainty of when we’re going to die. Therefore, it’s very foolish to put our practice off. Some people die in the womb before they’re even born; others die as small babies before they’ve even learned to walk. There’s no logic in thinking that we’re going to live long.

Furthermore, our body is very fragile. If it were made of stone or iron we could be excused for thinking that it was very stable, but we can easily see that it’s very weak and liable to go wrong at any moment. It’s like a delicate wrist-watch made of countless tiny, fragile parts. Our body is not to be trusted. And there are many circumstances that can cause our death: food that has become poisonous, the bite of a small insect or the prick of a tiny thorn. Such seemingly insignificant conditions can kill us. Even the food and drink we ingest to extend our life can become the circumstances that end it. There’s no certainty as to when we’ll die or what will cause our death.

Even if we feel certain that we’ll live a hundred years, many of those years have already passed and we haven’t accomplished much. We approach death like somebody asleep in a railway carriage, constantly getting closer and closer to the destination but unaware of the process. Of course, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We just constantly get ever-closer to death.

No matter how much money, jewelry, houses or clothes we accumulate in life, it makes no difference whatsoever at the time of death. When we die, we go to the next life empty-handed; we cannot take even the tiniest material object with us. Even our body must be left behind; our mind and body separate and our mind goes on alone.

If at death we have to leave our body, our friends and all our possessions, what, then, accompanies our consciousness at that time? Is there anything that can go with it to the next life? Yes, there is. When we die, the karmic imprints that we have accumulated during our life accompany our consciousness.

Creating positive and negative karma

If we have created any of the ten non-virtuous actions, a negative karmic debt accompanies our mind-stream as it evolves into the future rebirth. By killing other beings, stealing others’ possessions or indulging in sexual misconduct, we leave karmic imprints of these negative physical actions on our consciousness. By lying, slandering other people and causing disunity among them, gossiping or speaking harshly, harming others with words, we leave karmic imprints of these negative verbal actions on our consciousness. By harboring covetous thoughts, wishing to have the possessions of others; generating ill-will towards others, wishing them harm; or holding distorted views, such as “there are no past or future lives,” “there’s no such thing as cause and effect” or “there’s no such thing as refuge,” we leave karmic imprints of these negative mental actions on our consciousness. All these negative karmic debts travel with and direct our mind into future rebirths.

The reverse is also true. If we turn away from negativity and create virtuous actions of body, speech and mind, the karmic seeds of these positive actions also travel on our mind-stream and produce better circumstances in our future lives.

If we really think about the situation we’re in we’ll resolve to try to generate positive karma and eliminate its opposite in whatever way we can. In other words, we should try to create as little negativity as possible and purify the seeds of past negative actions so that not even the smallest karmic debt remains to be repaid in our future lives.

We also need to look at the kinds of result that can happen within the law of cause and effect. For example, there’s the story of a person who had many good qualities but was harsh in his speech. Once he abused another person by saying, “You talk like a dog.” As a result, he himself was reborn as a dog five hundred times. Seemingly small negative actions can bring devastating effects.

Similarly, however, small positive actions can also produce great results. For example, there’s the story of the young child who made a humble offering to the Buddha and as a result was reborn as the great king Ashoka, who built thousands of stupas and performed countless other sublime activities.

Developing renunciation

Contemplating the various non-virtues we have committed and their results is a very effective way of ensuring our welfare and happiness. When we think of the suffering we ourselves will have to bear as a result of our negativities, we’ll give birth to the strong, indestructible wish not to have to experience all this misery and will have developed what is called renunciation.

Acquainting ourselves with this type of thinking is itself a form of meditation—analytical meditation. First we develop mindfulness of our own suffering; then we extend this mindfulness to the suffering of all other sentient beings. Considering deeply how all beings want to be completely free of all suffering but are caught in a net of suffering from which they cannot escape leads to compassion.

If we don’t develop the wish to be free from all our own suffering, how can we develop the wish for others to be free from theirs? We can put an end to our own suffering, but this in itself is not ultimately beneficial. We need to extend this wish to all living beings, who also desire happiness. We can train our mind to develop the wish for all sentient beings to be completely parted from their sufferings. This is a much wider and more beneficial way of thinking.

Why should we concern ourselves with the suffering of other living beings? It’s because we receive so much from others: the milk we drink comes from the kindness of others, the warm clothing that protects us from the wind and cold, the house we live in, the money we receive, our precious human body—all these things come from the kindness of others; the list is endless. However, just these few examples should be enough to show us why we should try to find a method that can eliminate the suffering of all the kind mother sentient beings.

No matter what kind of practice we do—the recitation of mantras, any other kind of meditation, whatever it is—we should always do it with the thought, “May this benefit all living beings.” Not only will this help others; it will naturally benefit us as well. Ordinary life situations can give us an appreciation of this: somebody who is very selfish and always works for his or her own gain is never really liked by others whereas somebody who is very kind and always helping others is usually very popular.

The thought we must develop in our mind stream is, “May all beings be happy and may none of them suffer.” We should try to incorporate this thought into our own thinking by remembering it again and again. This will be extremely beneficial. Those who in the past developed this thought are now great buddhas, bodhisattvas or saints; all the truly great people of the world based their lives upon it. How wonderful it would be if we could try to generate this thought within ourselves.

Q. Are we advised not to defend ourselves when somebody tries to harm us?
Serkong Rinpoche. That question introduces a very extensive subject. If somebody hits you over the head with a stick, the best response is to meditate that you experienced this because of your own past negative actions. Think how this person is allowing that particular karmic debt to ripen now rather than at some future time. You should feel gratitude that this person has eliminated that negative karmic debt from your mind stream.

Q. What if somebody attacks my wife or child, who are under my protection? Should I not defend them? Would it be negative to do so?
Serkong Rinpoche. As it is your duty to protect your wife and child, you must try to do so as skillfully as possible. You have to be clever. The best way to protect them is without harming their attacker. In other words, you have to find a method of protecting them whereby you do not inflict any harm.

Q. He can he harm my children but I cannot harm him? Is it not our duty to defend our children against barbarous and cruel acts? Should we just lay down our lives?
Serkong Rinpoche. In order to handle this situation skillfully you need a great deal of courage. There’s a story about a previous life of the Buddha in which he was a navigator who went to sea with a group of five hundred people in search of buried treasure. One of these people had very greedy thoughts of murdering all the others and stealing the jewels for himself. The bodhisattva navigator became aware of the man’s intentions and thought it incorrect to let a situation develop where one man killed five hundred. Therefore, he developed the courageous thought of saving the five hundred by killing this one man, willingly accepting upon himself the full responsibility of killing. If you are willing to be reborn in hell in order to save others, you have a greatly courageous thought and can engage in these acts, just as the Buddha himself did.

Q. Under such circumstances, is killing still considered to be a negative action?
Serkong Rinpoche. Nagarjuna says in his Friendly Letter that if one commits negativity in the name of protecting one’s parents, children, Buddhism or the Three Jewels of Refuge, one will have to experience the consequences. The difference is in whether or not you are aware of the consequences and are willing to take them upon yourself in order to selflessly protect your wife and child. If you harm the enemy, you are going to experience a suffering rebirth. However, you should be willing to face this by thinking, “I will take that suffering on myself so that my wife and child don’t suffer.”

Q. Then according to Buddhism it would still be a non-virtuous act?
Serkong Rinpoche. Protecting your wife and child is virtuous but harming your enemy is not. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of both actions.

Q. You said that those who create negative karma will suffer in the future but those who do good will experience happiness. Can these good actions lead to complete liberation, in the sense of not having to experience rebirth?
Serkong Rinpoche. If you want to gain complete liberation from cyclic existence, you have to follow the teachings of the Buddha completely and precisely. If you do so correctly, liberation from cyclic existence is definitely possible.