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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purpose of Our Life

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

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

The Nature of the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Precious Human Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[[{"fid":"168","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","alignment":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_gallery_id[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"default","alignment":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_gallery_id[und][0][value]":""}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"title":"Click to view in our Image Gallery","height":400,"width":267,"style":"width: 267px; height: 400px; margin: 5px 8px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"2"}}]]Taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ultimate Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Universal Responsibility

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

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

Bodhicitta Motivation in Daily Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiencing Cancer For All Sentient Beings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[[{"fid":"1118","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","alignment":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_gallery_id[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"default","alignment":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_gallery_id[und][0][value]":""}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"title":"Click to view in our Image Gallery","height":400,"width":279,"style":"width: 279px; height: 400px; margin: 5px 8px; float: right;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"3"}}]]Refuge Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[End of tape]

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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


The Basic Program is a five year study program launched at Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC), an affiliate of the FPMT1, in August 2003 at the request of its spiritual director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

This program, contrary to its name, was intended for serious students who were prepared to commit themselves to this demanding course. It is “basic” insofar as the syllabus has been conceived by Rinpoche to ensure that senior students, at the very least, have studied these essential texts he had personally selected.

ABC was able to launch this program because of the arrival on 25th October 1999 of its new resident teacher, Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi. Small in stature, humble in demeanour, Khen Rinpoche’s appearance gave very little sign of his formidable scholastic reputation at Sera Je Monastic University, where he studied from the age of 18, until he emerged as the first Lharampa Geshe from Kopan Monastery (FPMT’s mother monastery in Nepal). Rinpoche said Khen Rinpoche was reputed at Sera Je as being someone who “has known” the Dharma, is widely respected for his exemplary behaviour and conduct and whose knowledge is like the mountain.

It should be noted that, at the present moment, there are only 38 geshes serving as resident teachers in the family of over 150 FMPT centres around the world. Rinpoche recently commented on the good fortune of the FPMT to have such excellent teachers:

“...who are not just scholars in words, but beings who are actually living the practice. Sincere hearted, good hearted, this is an extremely important quality for teachers, a very good model for students, for their inspiration for their studies, inspiration to have deep, clear understanding of Dharma, and be inspired to practice...And that’s the most important thing, without a qualified teacher then nothing happens, nothing is able to be developed.”2

ABC is therefore very, very fortunate indeed to be under the care and guidance of an exceptionally well-qualified teacher. Over the years, Khen Rinpoche has become father and mother, counselor, confidante, mentor, coach and the most perfect of spiritual guides and virtuous friends to countless ABC students as well as to many other devotees who come to consult him.

This book then is a compilation of Khen Rinpoche’s opening remarks and motivations at the beginning of lessons offered in Modules 5 – 9 of the Basic Program3 to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Khen Rinpoche’s arrival in Singapore.

These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha’s teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others.

In Singapore, we all lead very busy and stressful lives, juggling personal, family and work commitments and it can be hard to make time to attend Dharma teachings. There is much food for thought contained in this compilation. So wherever you are - commuting on public transport, waiting for a friend at an appointment, between meetings – pull out this book and take a little sip of the Dharma.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ven. Tenzin Gyurme, who is our Basic Program translator, Cindy Cheng who first prompted her husband, Phuah Soon Ek, to transcribe the Basic Program teachings, Fiona O’Shaughnessy who spear-headed the editing of the transcripts, Yap Siew Kee, Tara Hasnain and Cecilia Tsong who helped with proof-reading and the team of transcribers led by Phuah – Vivien Ng, Angie Xiao, Tok Sock Ling, Cheng Tien Yit and Alison Wong. The transcripts were further prepared for this compilation by Cecilia Tsong. We would also like to thank Lim Cheng Cheng and Tara Hasnain for their invaluable input and editorial suggestions.

May whatever merit is generated by publishing this book be dedicated to the long life and good health of our precious teachers, especially His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi as well as to the immediate fulfilment of all their holy wishes. May the Buddha’s teachings, especially the stainless teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa, flourish in the ten directions, and may Amitabha Buddhist Centre be free of all obstacles in spreading the holy Buddhadharma in Singapore exactly according to the wishes of Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

The Editorial Team / Singapore
October 2007
Updated 2011


Biography of Khen Rinpoche Geshe Chonyi 

Khen Rinpoche Geshe Chonyi has been the resident teacher of Amitabha Buddhist Centre since October 1999. He was born in Nepal in 1962 and was ordained by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 1974 at the age of twelve.

Khen Rinpoche holds a Geshe Lharampa degree, which is the highest Tibetan Buddhist doctorate awarded to monks from Sera Je Monastic University. This degree requires at least 20 years of intensive study and debate and only the most outstanding students qualify to sit for the exams.

After graduating as a geshe in 1997, Khen Rinpoche joined the prestigious Gyurme Tantric College for a year to further his studies on tantric Buddhism. He was awarded first position in his group for the highest Tantric Ngarampa (Master of Tantra) degree. He then returned to Kopan Monastery where he taught Buddhist philosophy.

With the support of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the late Khensur Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup (then abbot of Kopan Monastery), Khen Rinpoche started teaching the five-year Basic Program at ABC in August 2003.

This first cycle of the Basic Program was completed in September 2009 with over 25 students graduating from this cohort.

Khen Rinpoche was then requested and kindly agreed to teach another cycle of the Basic Program for new students at ABC. The second cycle of the Basic Program began in June 2011.

In July 2011, Khen Rinpoche was appointed abbot of Kopan Monastery, in addition to his duties as the centre’s resident teacher.

Besides being perfectly qualified to teach such a study program, Khen Rinpoche is also renowned for his ability in developing the students’ analytical skills through discussions, debate and written assignments. Khen Rinpoche is held in great esteem for his illustrious conduct, vast learning and great kindness, wisdom and compassion.


1 FPMT stands for the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. To find out more, go to  [Return to text]

2 An excerpt from a talk given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche before and after Guru Puja at Tse Chen Ling, San Francisco, USA on 26th April 2007.  [Return to text]

3 Modules 5 - 9 were conducted from 12th August 2005 to 11th October 2007. Modules 5, 7, 8 and 9 covered Chapters 1-9 of Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds while Module 6 was a commentary on the lo-jong (mind transformation) text, The Wheel-Weapon.  The audio recordings and edited transcripts of these modules can be found on the ABC website.  [Return to text]

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi

Originally published in 2007 for free distribution by Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. Published as an ebook in 2014 in partnership with Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha’s teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others.

We all lead very busy and stressful lives, juggling personal, family and work commitments and it can be hard to make time to attend Dharma teachings. There is much food for thought contained in this compilation. So wherever you are--commuting on public transport, waiting for a friend at an appointment, between meetings--pull out this book and take a little sip of the Dharma.

Please see the links below to read this book online or you can download a pdf.

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

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

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

The preceding is, briefly, an explanation of the reasons for meditation and a description of the path up to the buddha stage. If we really want to practise the Buddhist Dharma, we must first know what suffering is and realize the way in which we exist in samsara. To get out of samsara, we must have strong faith in the Buddha, and then practise as the Buddha taught. We should consider how other beings are also suffering in samsara, and out of compassion for them, we must wish to reach the buddha stage in order to help them.

It is important to try to find the right understanding of Dharma. Even if we buy a watch, which only needs to last for a few years, we try to find a good one. Because Dharma is not just for ourselves in this life, but for all beings in all lives, it is much more important to find the right and best understanding of it. If we want to trust another person, first we have to know that the other person is honest and reliable; we can only determine this by what the other one says or does. In the same way, we can have faith in the Buddha only by knowing what he taught, by looking at our experiences to see whether it is reasonable, and by practising it to see if it gives good fruit or not. Then our faith will be indestructible.


The terms are given first in English, followed by the Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents. The syllables in brackets provide a phonetic Tibetan pronunciation. Diacritical marks have not been used on Sanskrit letters. The explanations are intended only to expand briefly on the use of the term in this text. For exact transliteration and for more general definitions and a wider range of applications, the reader is referred to the glossaries of other publications concerning the sutra path in Buddhism, as well as to such dictionaries as Monier-Williams' A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, and Chandra Das' Tibetan-English Dictionary.

  1. The four noble truths; caturaryasatya; bzhi ( zhi).
  2. Suffering due to suffering; suffering of misery; duhkha duhkhata; sdug.bsngalgy sdug.bsngal (dug.ngal gyi dug.ngal).
  3. Suffering due to change; viparinama duhkhata; ’gyur.bai sdug.bsngal (gyur.wei dug.ngal).
  4. All embracing suffering due to mental formations; suffering of being conditioned; samskara duhkhata; khyab.pai 'dus.byed gyi sdug.bsngal (khyab.pai gyi dug.ngal).
  5. Volitional action of body, speech and mind; karma; las (ley). The Sanskrit term karma is generally used. Karma is of three types: skillful, unskillful, and neutral.
  6. Mental defilement; klesha; nyon.mongs (nyon.mong). There are two forms of mental defilements: harmful inclinations, and the mistaking of the way things appear to exist for the way they actually do.
  7. (Literally) circle or sphere; mandala; dkyil.'khor (kyil.kor). The Sanskrit term mandala is used most often. A mandala can be the physical circular object used for making offerings, the symbolic universe that is being offered, or the special abode or environment of the one who is receiving the offering.
  8. The intermediate state between one's death and one's next rebirth; antarabhava; (bardo).
  9. Desire; attachment; rag; 'dod.chags (dod.chag);
    Aversion; anger; hatred; dosha; zhe-sdang (zhe.dang);
    Ignorance; mental darkness; moha; gti.mug (ti.mug). These three comprise the three poisons.
  10. Ignorance regarding the self of persons; pudgalatmadrishti; gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi (gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi;
    Ignorance regarding the self of phenomena; dharmatmadrishti; cho.kyi dag.dzin gyi
  11. Carrying; vehicle; yana; (
  12. The mind motivated or dedicated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings; the altruistic intention; the awakening mind; bodhicitta; byang.chub kyi sems (jang.chub kyi sem).
  13. Wisdom; prajna; shes.rab (she.rab). Method; means; upaya; thabs (tab).
  14. Buddha field; buddha kshetra; sangs.rgyas kyi zhing (sang.gye kye zhing).
  15. Ten levels or grounds; dashabhumi; sa.bcu (sa.chu).
  16. "The Oceans of Clouds of Praises"; stod.sprin rgya.mtsho (do.trin gya.tso). This is a prayer in praise of the bodhisattva Manjushri, which contains a description of a buddha's qualities of body, speech and mind.
  17. Perfection; paramita; pha.rol tu (pa.rol tu
  18. Lha Lama Yeshe Ö; (Devaguru Jnanaprabha). This king was a descendant of King Langdarma (gLan-dar-ma), who was responsible for eradicating the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet.
  19. Verses 19 and 20 of Je Tsongkhapa's prayer The Beginning and the End ( (tog.ta ma)).
  20. Calm abiding; shamatha; zhi-gnas (zhi.nay). Calm abiding is the perfection of mental concentration.
  21. Analytical, or investigative, meditation; vicharabhavana; dpyad.sgom (je.gom). Discursive analysis of the true nature of the meditation object.
  22. Concentration meditation; sthapyabhavana; 'jog.sgom (jo.gom). Following discriminating or analytic meditation, one then single-pointedly places the mind on the meditation object. This practice is an aspect of calm abiding.
  23. Diamond posture; vajrasana; rdo.rje.gdan ( den). This asana is called the diamond posture or pose because in this position, one can sit firmly, "indestructibly," unmovingly, for a long period of time.
  24. Scattered attention; agitation; mental excitement; auddhyata; (go.pu).
  25. Torpor; sinking; lethargy; nirmagnata; (jing.wa).
  26. Mindfulness; remembrance; recollection; smrti; (
  27. Clear comprehension; awareness; mental spy; samprajdnya; shes.bzhin (she.zlzin).
  28. Subtle torpor; sukshmanirmagnata; (jing.wa
  29. Insight meditation; heightened insight; vipashyana; Ihag.mthon (Ihag.thong).

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

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

To become a buddha, a bodhisattva has to practise six perfections: 17

  1. the perfection of giving (dana paramita)
  2. the perfection of morality (shila-paramita)
  3. the perfection of patience (kshanti-paramita)
  4. the perfection of energy (virya-paramita)
  5. the perfection of meditation (dhyana-paramita)
  6. the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramira)

Perfection of Giving

This perfection is divided into four categories: the giving of property, Dharma, refuge, and active love (maitri).

  1. The giving of propertyFor most of us, basic material needs such as food and clothing are the types of property easiest to give. High bodhisattvas, however, are capable of giving their eyes, flesh, and even their lives. The object we give is not the actual giving—it is only the means for giving. The real activity of giving is the strong decision to give freely, without avarice. In this way, even if we possess nothing, we can practise giving, because giving depends on our state of mind, not on the object being given. Milarepa had only a small cloth to wear and lived on nettles, but he still practised the ultimate perfection of giving. In the beginning when we try to start this practice, we may find that even the giving of money or material things is difficult, but when we have completed the perfection of giving, the giving of anything, even our own flesh, will be easy. To practise the perfection we need a very strong desire to help others and a very strong will. But if our motive for giving property is to gain fame, for instance, this is not the practice of giving at all.
  2. The giving of DharmaThe giving of Dharma means that one gives, with pure mind, the true teaching to other beings. This type of giving is more beneficial than the giving of property. Possession of property helps for only a limited time, while Dharma is lasting and more deeply helpful. A person with property may still be suffering, but Dharma can not only remove this suffering, it gives the person a new wisdom eye as well. Included in the bodhisattvas' work to attain buddhahood is the aim to give Dharma as fully as possible to all beings.
  3. The giving of refugeTo give refuge means that we work to save and protect the lives of all living beings. For instance, if we put water creatures stuck in the mud back into water, we are practising this kind of giving. The person who truly wants to put an end to war and killing is practising the refuge aspect of this perfection. If the life of any being is in danger, we have to help in any way we can. The practice of giving refuge results in very good fruit immediately and deeply.
  4. The giving of active loveThe practice of active love is the wish to give real happiness to all beings. By just having this wish, we cannot directly help beings straight away, but if it is cultivated it will eventually have great results. The immediate fruit of this practice is that no spirits can harm the practitioner.All these kinds of giving help in two ways—they help other beings and they help ourselves. If we practise giving solely for our own benefit, it is not true giving.

Perfection of Morality

The perfection of morality has three aspects:

  1. The first aspect is the protection of our body, speech and mind from performing unskillful deeds. We have the tendency to act unskillfully, and this tendency needs to be controlled. We protect ourselves from acting this way when we stop using our body, speech and mind in harmful ways. We can think of our body, speech and mind as three naughty children, and of ourselves as their parent trying to keep them occupied in a room. Immediately outside the door of the room is a dangerous precipice, which represents the harmful things to which the children are attracted. Whenever they try to run out of the room, we have to pull them back inside to safety. If we let our body, speech and mind go as they will, we shall experience much suffering in the future. This protection of body, speech and mind is the first aspect of morality.
  2. The second aspect is to protect others in the same way as we protect ourselves. For instance, when someone is about to kill an animal and we demonstrate that it is wrong to do so, we are protecting that person from committing harmful actions.
  3. When we perform any skillful deed, this automatically protects us from performing any unskillful ones. This substitution of skilful action in the place of unskilful is the third aspect of the perfection of morality.

Perfection of Patience

There are three types of patience:

  1. Patience when we are harmed by others.When we are harmed bodily or mentally by others we should not react by getting angry or harming them in return.
  2. Patience when we are suffering.When we suffer, we point to someone or something outside ourselves as the cause. The immediate reason for our suffering may be something outside, but the deep, or underlying, cause is our own karma, which is of our own doing. The fruit or our actions must come back to us. If a person stabs us with a knife, this injury had to happen to us. We cannot point to anyone outside ourselves as the cause. If, because of our religion, we have to leave our country and endure great suffering, this circumstance has been produced by ourselves. We should think that the seed of suffering has already been sown, therefore it must grow. This way of thinking reduces the power of suffering over us. We have to start practising patience with very small sufferings; later we shall be able to be patient with very large ones. As a result of having practised the perfection of patience, a bodhisattva can withstand any suffering whatsoever for the sake of beings.In Tibetan history there is a story that shows clearly how beneficial the practice of this type of patience can be. Some years after king Langdarma had eradicated the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet, a king of western Tibet, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö 18 decided to reestablish and propagate the pure Dharma in the land. For this purpose he went in search of a sufficient amount of gold with which to invite the very best Indian pandits to Tibet. While on his search he was imprisoned by the king of Garlog, who demanded as ransom Lha Lama Yeshe Ö's weight in gold. But when Yeshe Ö's nephew came with the gold, the old king refused to leave the prison, saying that his life was almost over and that instead the nephew should bring a pandit from India. The nephew then was able to invite Atisha from Nalanda, and Atisha re-established the pure Buddha Dharma in Tibet.Not only did this king willingly forsake his own freedom for the sake of others, but he also did not try to retaliate against the person who had captured him. To harm someone who is harming us does not make sense from a religious point of view. When we seek revenge against others who appear to be hurting us, it does not relieve our own pain, but only gives rise to new suffering for us by creating more karma. If, because we have caused pain to others, they turn around and beat us with a stick, the immediate cause of the pain is the stick, but the person wielding the stick is reacting against our own action, which itself was caused by our being in the grip of an overpowering mental defilement. So logically, our anger should be directed against our own mental defilements. Anger with other beings is very stupid and serves only to create more suffering for us. A country, being attacked by another, fighting back, returning the aggression, is like a hungry person taking poison.If all people were to practise patience it would bring real peace into the world, but those with no experience of Dharma find it very hard to believe in the efficacy of the practice of patience. If someone who is struck returns the blow, that person sets up a chain reaction with no end, but if one party shows patience, as a result others will do so also. We find this notion in the Christian tradition, when Jesus urged us to turn the left cheek to those who strike us on the right. In the Tibetan tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa composed two verses in which he prayed, 19

    When I remember, see or hear living beings
    speaking harshly or hitting me
    may I meditate on patience,
    and, avoiding anger, speak instead of their good qualities.

    By developing, in the stream of my being, the pure wish,
    which is based on bodhicitta,
    holding other beings dearer than myself,
    may I quickly bestow supreme buddhahood on them!

    The harm given us by the body, speech or mind of others is like a sword, arrow or spear. The practice of patience is the good armor of protection against this; possessing it, we cannot be injured. If we do not practise patience, trying instead merely to avoid conflict and say nice things and be friendly to everyone, we shall be unable to behave like this to all the countless beings, but with patience we shall be constantly protected from harm. If we walk along a very rocky path, it is impossible to remove all the stones from the way, but strong shoes protect us from all possible injuries.

  3. The patience of keeping concentration.The third kind of patience is that of keeping concentration on meditation, or anything else concerned with Dharma, without allowing distracting influences to harm the practice.

Perfection of Energy

This means energy for Dharma. There are three kinds:

  1. The first is the energy of the mind that stops the desire for unprofitable things. If we have a strong desire for ordinary things disconnected from Dharma, it disrupts our Dharma practice. Although we have to do everyday things, if our fondness for them is greater than our fondness for Dharma, our attention is taken away from our main work. A person may concentrate and work very hard, but if the goal of all that effort is a worldly one, then, according to Dharma, that person is lazy. People who really want to practise Dharma are in a hurry even when eating or excreting, so as not to waste time. Energy for worldly things is weakness; energy for Dharma is real strength. This aspect of the perfection of energy speeds us quickly towards the final goal. Having energy for Dharma practice, the real purpose of life, prevents our being distracted by worldly goals. It protects us from all kinds of bad things.
  2. The second kind of energy protects us against tiredness. For instance, a meditator who suffers from such tiredness that even the mere sight of the meditation place brings on sleep, overcomes this weakness by this kind of energy. One way to stop this fault is to consider the fruit of meditation or Dharma practice; if we bear this in mind, bodily tiredness does not make us lose our energy. People at work do not suffer very much from tiredness because they are thinking of the money they will get. If we consider the great fruit of practising Dharma wt will work hard at it. High lamas living in the mountains with very little food and sleep are not tired and complaining; rather they are very happy, because they see that the fruit of their work is near. These lamas have many different ways of practising Dharma: some are always teaching; others live alone in the mountains and accept perhaps one or two pupils.
  3. The third kind of energy is the confidence that we are not too small, weak or stupid to obtain the fruit of Dharma practice. Weakness of this kind stands in the way of achievement of the object. It can be overcome by thinking that the highest buddhas and bodhisattvas also once had only delusion, lived in samsara, and were worse than ourselves. By practising Dharma, they reached the highest stages of perfection; we can do the same. No one has perfect virtue from the beginning; when children first go to school they cannot even read or write, but later they learn to do not only that but many other things as well, and some become great scholars. The Buddha said that even insects living in excrement can become buddhas. If we bear all this in mind, we shall find no reason why we cannot practise Dharma.

The three kinds of energy overcome three weaknesses: the first that the mind will not turn to Dharma; the second is the fatigue we experience when we practise; the third is the doubt we have in our own ability to achieve the aims of Dharma. The person who wants to get to the top of a mountain has first to turn to the path, second, to keep going and not give in to laziness, and third, not to falter and think, "This is possible for strong people, but not for me.

The scriptures teach that all virtue follows from energy. With energy, someone who is not intelligent can get the Dharma fruit. A person who is intelligent but lazy will not get the fruit, and the intelligence is useless and wasted. With both intelligence and energy, there will be the greatest success. There is a simile in the scriptures that if the dry grass on a mountain catches fire and the wind fans it, the whole mountainside will catch fire, but if there is no wind the fire will go out straight away. Intelligence is like the fire and energy like the wind. If a person has intelligence and no energy, nothing will be accomplished. Thus the perfection of energy is essential for achieving the goal.

The Perfections of Concentration and Wisdom

Concentration must be on an object. It is very important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for concentration meditation is zhi.nay; nay means to "dwell" or "stay," and zhi means "in peace." In a practical sense, then, zhi.nay means to live peacefully without busy-ness, and is often translated as "calm abiding." 20 If we do not examine it carefully, our mind seems quite peaceful; but if we really look inside, it is not peaceful at all. Our mind is not able to stay on the same object for a second. It flutters around like a banner in the wind; as soon as we concentrate on one thing, another comes to disturb it. Even if we are living on a high mountain or in a quiet room or cave, our mind is always moving. If we go up to the top of a high building in a busy city we can look down and see how much turmoil there is, but when we are moving around within the crowd, we are only aware of a little of the bustle. Among the various mental factors, there is constant movement between conflicting elements; these factors always lead the mind. The movement of a banner fluttering in the wind Is not caused by the banner itself but by the wind. Mind is like the banner and the mental factors are like the wind. This constant movement stops the mind concentrating on an object for long. Of our mental factors, the defilements are stronger than the good qualities. We usually do Dot try to control them, and even when we do, it is very difficult because for a long time we have been in the habit of always following them. Concentration or calm abiding occurs when our mental factors are purified and thus our mind is able to dwell peacefully on the object.

There are two kinds of meditation: analytical meditation 21 and concentration meditation. 22 It is necessary to use both kinds of meditation to remove delusion and reach the goal. Some people say that thinking and learning about Dharma are not meditation, but the scriptures say that these activities are in fact also kinds of meditation. If we do not think carefully and know the nature of the object we cannot concentrate well. The bustle within the mind is mind-produced; to quiet it, therefore, action by the mind itself and nothing external is required. The primary action must be by the mind; on this basis, factors such as a suitable place and the meditation posture can help.

The place in which we practise concentration should be clean, quiet, close to nature, and pleasing to us. Our friends should be peaceful and good. Our body should be healthy, not sick. Sitting in the correct position also helps. For meditation, there are seven aspects of the ideal posture:

  1. If it is not painful, the vajra posture, 23 with the legs crossed and the feet resting upturned on the thighs is best. However, if sitting in this position causes pain and distracts the mind, the left foot should be tucked under the right thigh and the right foot should rest on the left thigh.
  2. The trunk must be as straight and erect as possible.
  3. The arms should be in a bow shape, not resting against the sides of the body or pushed back; they should be at rest but firm. The back of the right hand should rest in the palm of the left; the thumbs should be level with the navel.
  4. The neck should be curved slightly forward, with the chin in.
  5. The eyes should be focused straight along the sides of the nose.
  6. The mouth and lips should be relaxed, neither open nor tightly shut.
  7. The tongue should be pressed gently against the palate.

These are the seven aspects of the vajra posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path, but each also has a practical purpose. The legs crossed and the feet on the thighs make a locked position. We can lock ourselves firmly in place with legs crossed and the feet on the thighs as described above; positioned like this we could sit in meditation for a long time, even for months, without falling. The straightness of the body allows for the best functioning of the channels carrying the airs on which the mind rides in our bodies. If the body is straight these channels will not be blocked. The position of the arms is also to allow the best functioning of these channels. If one looks too high one can easily see something distracting; if the head is too low one gets pain in the neck or becomes sleepy. The mouth should not be closed so tightly that breathing is difficult if the nose is at all blocked; nor should it be open so widely that strong breathing causes the fire element of the body to increase with high blood pressure resulting. If the tongue is pressed against the palate, the throat and mouth will be kept moist. These are the immediate reasons for the meditation posture. Very rarely, people's arrangement of the inner channels is different, in which case they need a different position.

By just sitting in the vajra posture we achieve a good frame of mind, but the main work has to be done by the mind itself. If a thief enters a room, the way to remove him is to go in and throw him out, not just to shout from the outside. Similarly, if we are sitting on the top of the mountain while our mind is wandering in the village below, we shall not be able to develop concentration.

There are two enemies of concentration. One is busy-ness, wildness, or scattered attention; 24 the other is sleepiness, torpor, or sinking. 25 Our attention is distracted when a desire arises and the mind immediately races after it. Whenever the mind goes after anything other than the object of concentration, this is wild or scattered, mind. Sleepiness, or torpor, occurs when the mind is sleepy and not alert. If we want to concentrate well, we have to overcome these disturbances. If there is a beautiful picture on the wall of a dark room, we need a candle to see it, but if there is a draught, the flame will flicker and we shall not be able to see it properly. If there is no draught but the flame is very weak, there will not be enough light and we shall still not be able to see the picture. If there are neither of these difficulties, the flame will be strong and steady and we shall be able to see the picture clearly. The picture is like the object of concentration, the flame is the mind, the wind is scattered attention and the weak flame is torpor.

In the early stages of the practice of concentration, the first of these disturbances is more common. The mind immediately flies away from the object to other things. This can be seen if we try to keep our mind on the memory of a face; it is immediately replaced by something else. It is very difficult to quell these disturbances because, over many lives, we have built up the habit of following them, while we have not developed the habit of concentration. We may find it very hard to develop new habits of mind and leave old ones behind, but concentration is the basic necessity for all higher meditation and for all kinds of mental activity.

Mindfulness 26 and awareness consciousness 27 are the antidotes to scattered attention and torpor respectively. The drawing here represents an aspiring meditator, who is following the path of meditative stages that ends in the accomplishment of calm abiding and the beginning of the practice of insight meditation. At the bottom of the page we see the practitioner, who holds a rope in one hand and a hook in the other, chasing after an elephant led by a monkey. The elephant represents the meditator's mind; a wild or untrained elephant can be dangerous and wreak enormous destruction, but once trained will obey commands and do hard work. The same holds true for the mind. Any suffering that we have now is due to the mind being like a wild, untrained elephant. The elephant also has very big footprints; these symbolize the mental defilements. If we work hard at improving our mind it will be able to do very great work for us in return. From the suffering of the hells to the happiness of the buddhas, all states are caused by the behaviour of the mind.

At the start of the path the elephant is black, which represents torpor or sinking of the mind. The monkey leading the elephant represents scattering of the mind. A monkey cannot keep quiet for a moment—it is always chattering or fiddling with something and finds everything attractive. In the same way that the monkey is in front leading the elephant, our attention is scattered by the sense objects of taste, touch, sound, smell, and vision. These are symbolized by food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume, and a mirror. Behind the elephant is a person, who represents the meditator trying to train the mind. The rope in the meditator's hand is mindfulness and the hook is awareness. Using these two tools the meditator will try to tame and control his mind. Fire is shown at different points along the path to represent the energy necessary for concentration. Notice that the fire gradually decreases at each of the ten stages of zhi.nay, as less energy is needed to concentrate. It will flare up again at the eleventh stage, when we start practising insight meditation.

In the beginning, just as the elephant following the monkey pays no attention to the person chasing behind, the practitioner has no control over his or her mind. In the second stage, the practitioner, who has almost caught up with the elephant, is able to throw the rope around the elephant's neck. It looks back; this is the third stage, where the mind can be restrained a little by mindfulness. Here a rabbit is on the elephant's back, symbolizing subtle torpor, 28 which previously might have seemed to be a state of concentration, but now can be recognized for the harmful factor that it is. In these early stages we have to use mindfulness more than awareness.

At the fourth stage the elephant mind is more obedient, so less pulling with the rope of mindfulness is necessary. By the fifth stage the elephant is being led by the rope and hook and the monkey is following behind. At this point we are not much disturbed by scattering or distracted attention; mostly we have to use awareness instead of mindfulness. In the drawing, the sixth stage of practice is depicted with the elephant and the monkey both following obediently behind the practitioner, who does not have to look back at them. This means that the practitioner does not have to focus continually on controlling the mind, and the absence of the rabbit shows that the subtle torpor, which appeared at the third stage, has now disappeared.

Upon reaching the seventh stage, the elephant can be left to follow of its own accord and the monkey takes leave; the practitioner has no more need to use the rope and hook—scattered attention and torpor occur only mildly and occasionally. At the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white and follows behind the practitioner; this shows that the mind is obedient and there is no sinking or scattering, although some energy is still needed to concentrate. At the ninth stage the practitioner can actually sit in meditation while the elephant sleeps peacefully nearby; at this point the mind can concentrate without effort for long periods of time-days, weeks, or even months. The tenth stage, where we see the meditator sitting on top of the elephant, signifies the real attainment of calm abiding. At the last, eleventh, stage, the meditator is sitting on the elephant's back holding a sword. At this point the practitioner begins a new kind of meditation called "higher vision," or insight meditation. 29

If we practise the calm abiding type of meditation, we might use an image of Buddha as our object of concentration. The first thing we do is look at it very thoroughly. Then we start meditating. In meditation we do not look at the object with our physical eyes but focus with the mind's eye. At first our memory of it will not be at all clear, but even so, we should not try to force it to become clear—this is impossible at the start. The important point is to keep our attention focused on it, clear or otherwise. The clarity will eventually come naturally.

At the beginning, concentration is very difficult; the mind always turns this way and that. When we persist in the practice, however, we shall find that we are able to keep our mind on the object for one or two minutes, then three or four minutes, and so on. Each time the mind leaves the object, mindfulness has to bring it back. Awareness has to be used to see if disturbances are coming or not. If we carry a bowl full of hot water alone a rough road, part of our mind has to watch the water and part has to watch the road. Mindfulness has to keep the concentration steady, and awareness has to watch out for disturbances that may come. As we saw in the drawing, we need progressively less mindfulness after the initial stages, but then our mind, tired from fighting the scattering of attention, produces torpor.

After a while there comes a stage where the meditator feels much happiness and relaxation, which is often mistaken for the true state of calm abiding; in fact, however, it is subtle torpor, which makes the mind weak. If we continue our practice with energy, this subtle torpor will also disappear. When we have removed this disturbance, our mind becomes clearer and more awake, and thus the object of our meditation is seen more clearly. As our perception of the meditation object increases in clearness and freshness, our body will be sustained by our peace of mind, and we shall not have hunger or thirst. Eventually, a meditator can continue like this for months at a time. The feeling experienced in the mind at this stage cannot be described.

If we look at a piece of cloth with our eyes we can see it, bur not in great detail. But a person who has concentrated on it well with the mind's eye can see it very clearly in all details. When we die our mind becomes weaker, but if we practise meditation then our mind, at this time, will actually become fresher and clearer. Normally, dying people experience delusions and fears which lead to a bad rebirth. If, however, we have meditated well, then during the death process our mind will be concentrated on Buddha, Dharma and so forth; this helps very much for the next birth.

The scriptures say that in the ninth stage of the practice of calm abiding, even if a wall crashes down next to the meditator, he will not be disturbed. As the meditator continues to practise, his body and mind experience a special pleasure; this feeling marks the attainment of the final goal of calm abiding. The meditator's body feels light and tireless, symbolized in the drawing by the person flying. His body has become very supple, and his mind can be turned to any meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The meditator feels as though the object and his mind have become one.

Although at the ninth stage of calm abiding we feel very happy and peaceful, this is not the real end of meditation. Firm concentration on the object is still not the complete achievement. Now the meditator can combine concentration with an examination into the real nature of the object of meditation. After continuing the simultaneous practice of both types of meditation, a special pleasure arises from the seeing into the object. "Seeing the object" involves seeing whether an object is suffering, seeing if it is permanent or changeable, and looking for the highest truth to be found about the real nature of the object. In Tibetan, the name for this meditation with insight is lhag.thong; lhag means more, or higher, and thong to understand or realize. 29 Through this kind of meditation the mind obtains more understanding of the object than it can through simple concentration; when this practice has been perfected, the mind can turn to anything. The perfection of lhag.thong gives great spiritual satisfaction, but if one is satisfied merely with this, it is like having an aeroplane built, ready to fly, but left on the ground.

The mind can be turned to deeper and higher things. It has to be used on the one hand to overcome karma and defilements, and on the other to obtain the virtues of a buddha. For this, the object can only be emptiness, or shunyata; other meditations prepare the mind for this final object. If we have a very good torch that can show up anything, we have to use its light to find what is important. The root cause of all our trouble is ignorance. We have to use our knowledge of emptiness to dispel ignorance; we must use our mind, purified by calm abiding and special insight, to cut the root of the tree of ignorance. In the drawing, at this stage, the practitioner is holding a sword, symbolizing the realization of emptiness, to cut the two black lines symbolizing the two obscurations: the defilement-obscuration and the knowledge- obscuration.

The realization of emptiness is essential to remove ignorance. Once we come close to a thorough understanding of emptiness we are on the way to the perfection of wisdom—the complete comprehension of emptiness.

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

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


Lama Je Tsongkhapa has written:

The development of an awakening mind (bodhicitta) is the framework of the Mahayana path and the foundation and basis of all the great waves of bodhisattva actions. Like an elixir that turns all metals to gold, it transforms all actions into the two collections (of wisdom and merit). It is a treasure of merit that accumulates limitless collections of virtues. Knowing this, the heroic sons of the conquerer, Buddha, adopt this jewel-like development of an awakening mind as their fundamental (practice).


The following is an English rendering of the oral instructions of Geshe Rabten, a Tibetan lama who has been instrumental in bringing the pure teaching of Buddha Dharma to the West, making it clear, and causing it to increase and flourish.

From the time of his own childhood, in Kham province, Tibet, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche had admired the Buddhist "monks in their maroon robes." At the age of eighteen, he left home to go to central Tibet where he entered the great Sera Monastery and began the twenty-four years of continuous study and personal hardship that would lead, in 1963, to the highest degree award of lharampa geshe.

At Sera, while attending classes with his gurus and memorizing large numbers of root texts and related commentaries, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche spent most of his days, and nights, engaged in debate, the Tibetan learning method for honing the intelligence and deepening understanding. He thoroughly mastered the traditional curriculum leading to the geshe degree: basic logic, mind and its functions, and logical reasoning (pramana); general study of the perfections (paramita); specific study of the nature of existence (madyamika); ethics (vinaya); phenomenology (abhidharma); review of ethics and phenomenology (karam geshe level); and final review of the the great treatises (lharam geshe level—only the two best students per year are awarded the title of lharampa geshe).

During this time Geshe Rabten Rinpoche also studied the graded path to the attainment of enlightenment via sutra practice and tantra. He has received many empowerments, first from the former incarnation of Gonsar Rinpoche, and later from His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his Senior and Junior Tutors, the late Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, and many other lamas.

When, in 1969, a group of Westerners interested in Buddhism wanted teachings, His Holiness the Dalai Lama requested Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to instruct them, as His Holiness knew Geshe-la would be able to present to these students such teachings as the four noble truths and the entire path to enlightenment, clearly and effectively.

Geshe Rabten Rinpoche remained in meditational retreat in the Indian Himalayas until 1974, when he went to Europe to conduct meditation courses. In 1975, at the request of his Western students, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to Europe again, this time to give sustained teachings on the Buddha Dharma. And in 1979, the monastic institute, Tharpa Choeling, was established near Mt. Pelerin, above Lake Geneva in Switzerland. At Tharpa Choeling, a monastic education based on Geshe's own at Sera is available to serious Western students.

After Lord Buddha achieved supreme enlightenment he gave numerous sermons on the path to enlightenment, varying each teaching according to the mental state of the listener and the occasion. These teachings of the Compassionate One collected together comprise the three paths of Buddhism.

Among the vast quantity of Buddhist scriptures are oral and written teachings that have been passed on from Lord Buddha himself, through Maitreyanatha, Asanga, Atisha and other great gurus up to the venerable Tsongkhapa, in an unbroken line. These particular teaching traditions have been carried on by the great Tibetan teachers so that we fortunate practitioners today still have the chance to be guided by them. The Graduated Path to Liberation is an English rendition of oral instructions of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, whose being and teachings radiate both wisdom and compassion.

May this benefit all beings.

A teaching given to the monks and nuns of the International Mahayana Institute at Boudhanath, Nepal, 2 February 1975. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. For a translation of the root text, see Appendix 1 of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment, or Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

By Khunu Lama Rinpoche in Boudhanath, Nepal, 1975

A teaching given to the monks and nuns of the International Mahayana Institute at Boudhanath, Nepal, 2 February 1975. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. For a translation of the root text, see Appendix 1 of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment, or Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

This teaching was published in 2005 in the LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.

Before listening to this teaching, first generate bodhicitta, thinking, “I want to receive enlightenment for the benefit of all mother sentient beings.” In other words, before listening to teachings, it is necessary to think of, to remember, all mother sentient beings.

The subject today is Lam-drön, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which was written in Tibet by the great Atisha (Dipamkara Shrijnana), who was born about the year 982 in northeast India as the son of a Bengali king.

Atisha and the later spread of Dharma in Tibet1

Buddhadharma had already been established in Tibet before Atisha’s arrival there, but an evil king called Langdarma (Udumtsen), who was said to have horns growing from his head, hated the Dharma and caused it to degenerate in Tibet. But even though the teachings had been corrupted, they still existed—just not as purely as before. It took about sixty years to restore the teachings to their original purity in what became known as the later spreading of the Dharma in Tibet.

How that happened was that in western Tibet, in the kingdom of Gugé, there lived a Tibetan king, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö, and his nephew, Jangchub Ö. They decided to invite a learned and realized teacher from the great Indian monastery of Vikramashila to spread Dharma in Tibet. When they investigated to see who was the most learned and realized person there, they discovered that Atisha would be by far the best one to invite.

But before Lha Lama Yeshe Ö could request Atisha to come from Vikramashila to Tibet, he needed to find gold to make a proper offering, so went to a place called Garlog in search of it. However, before he could accomplish his mission, the ruler of Garlog threw him in prison, where he died. In that way, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö sacrificed his life to bring Atisha to Tibet.

Then his nephew, Jangchub Ö, sent emissaries to India to invite Atisha to Tibet. When he finally met Atisha, he explained how the Dharma had degenerated during Langdarma’s rule and how correct teachings no longer existed in Tibet, and requested Atisha to give the Tibetan people fundamental teachings on refuge, bodhicitta and so forth they were so ignorant. Therefore, Atisha wrote the precious teaching, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. This text is based on the Prajnaparamita teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and is the source of not only all the Gelug lam-rim teachings but also those of the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which all practice the graduated path to enlightenment and quote it in their teachings.

After generating bodhicitta, as above, our main task is to attain enlightenment. Now, even though we might think that life in samsara is pleasant, it’s not. There is no true pleasure in samsara. Enlightenment can be attained only through the practice of Dharma. Therefore, we should all practice Dharma.

In terms of teachings in general, there are two types: Buddhadharma and the teachings of the outsiders [Skt: tirthika; Tib: mu-teg-pa]2, which are based on mistaken beliefs, understandings opposite to those of Buddhadharma. By following such non-Buddhist teachings, you can be born anywhere from the lower realms to the peak of samsara, the highest of the four formless realms, but you can never escape from suffering.

Within the Buddhadharma, there are also two divisions: Hinayana and Mahayana. By following Hinayana teachings, you can escape from samsara but you cannot attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment, you have to practice Mahayana teachings. Within the Mahayana there are the teachings spoken by the Buddha himself and those written later by his learned followers, the eminent Indian pandits, including the six ornaments and the two supremes,3 and the great Tibetan masters.

The teaching we are discussing here, then, is that written by the learned pandit Dipamkara Shrijnana, the Lam-drön. What is it about? It derives from the Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization (Abhisamayalamkara) and explains the three levels of teaching: the paths of the practitioners of small, middling and supreme capacity, especially the latter.

Verse-by-verse commentary on Lamp for the Path

The text opens with the title of this teaching in Sanskrit, which in Tibetan is Jang-chub lam-gyi drön-ma. This is followed by homage to Manjushri.

1. The first verse includes three things. First there is homage to the Triple Gem: the buddhas of the three times, the oral teachings and realization of them, and the sangha—those who have received the unshakable, or noble, path. Second, he mentions that his pure disciple, Jangchub Ö, requested him to give this teaching. Third, he makes the promise, or vow, to write this teaching, this lamp for the path to enlightenment, the Lam-drön.

2. In the second verse, Atisha explains what he’s going to write about: the graduated paths of the persons of least, intermediate and supreme capacity, or capability. These are also the paths that Lama Tsongkhapa explains in his short, middle-length and great lam-rim teachings—the graduated paths of these three types of practitioner.

3. Of the three levels of follower, Atisha first explains the graduated path of those of least capacity. Such people think, “I don’t care what suffering or happiness I experience in this life; I must avoid rebirth in the lower realms and attain an upper rebirth.” With this in mind, practitioners of least capacity abstain from negative actions and practice virtue.

4. Persons of intermediate capacity develop aversion to not only the sufferings of the three lower realms but also to those of the three upper realms; to the whole of samsara. Such practitioners abstain from negative actions in order to free themselves from samsara, without much concern for other sentient beings.

5. Who, then, are the beings of greatest capacity? They are those who, having understood their own suffering, take it as an example of the suffering that other beings are also experiencing and generate the great wish of wanting to put an end to the suffering of all sentient beings.

6-11. There are six preparatory practices. First, visualize the merit field and make offerings. Then kneel down with your hands in prostration and take refuge in the Triple Gem. After that, generate love for other sentient beings by thinking of the sufferings of death, old age, sickness and rebirth as well as the three sufferings and the general suffering of samsara. In that way, generate bodhicitta.

12-17. It is necessary to generate the aspiration to attain enlightenment, and the benefits of doing so have been explained in the sutra called Array of Trunks. Atisha also quotes three verses from another sutra, the Sutra Requested by Viradatta, to further explain the benefits of bodhicitta.

18-19. There are two types of bodhicitta, relative and absolute. Within the category of relative there are two further divisions, the bodhicitta of aspiration—wanting to receive enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings, thinking, “Without my receiving enlightenment, I cannot enlighten others”—and the bodhicitta of engagement, actually following the bodhisattva’s path by taking the bodhisattva precepts and engaging in the actions of a bodhisattva, thinking, “In order to engage in positive actions and avoid negative ones, I am going to practice the six perfections.”

20-21. The teachings explain that in order to practice engaged bodhicitta, we should take the bodhisattva ordination, but in order to do so we should hold one of the seven levels of pratimoksha ordination, such as gelong, gelongma, getsul, getsulma and so forth.4 Ideally, then, we should hold one of these fundamental ordinations before taking the bodhisattva vow, but the learned ones say that in general, those who avoid negative karma and create virtuous actions can actualize bodhicitta, even if they don’t hold any pratimoksha precepts.

22. The bodhicitta of aspiration can be generated without dependence upon a lama, but engaged bodhicitta depends on a lama. To find a lama from whom we can take the bodhisattva vow, we have to know the qualifications of such a lama.

23-24. First, the lama should know all about the ordination and how to bestow it. Furthermore, he should himself be living in the bodhisattva ordination and have compassion for the disciple. That’s the kind of lama we need to find from whom to take the ordination. But what if we can’t find a perfect lama like that? Atisha then goes on to explain what, in that case, we should do.

25-31. The Ornament of Manjushri’s Buddha Land Sutra explains how, long ago, Manjushri generated bodhicitta. This is what we can do. Visualize the merit field and all the buddhas and, in their presence, generate bodhicitta, the intention to attain enlightenment. Then promise, “I invite all sentient beings as my guest to the sublime happiness of liberation and enlightenment. I will not get angry or harbor avarice, covetousness, jealousy and so forth. I will not harm other sentient beings in any way. I will live in pure discipline by avoiding all negative actions, even worldly desires and sense objects of attachment, such as attractive sounds and beautiful forms and so forth. I shall give up such things. As all the buddhas have followed pure moral conduct, so shall I.

“I will not try to receive enlightenment for myself alone. Even though it takes an endless amount of time to work for even one sentient being, I shall remain in samsara. I shall make pure the impure realms of sentient beings, places where there are thorns, rocks and ugly mountains. I shall also purify my three doors of body, speech and mind and keep them pure. From now on, I will create no more negative actions.”

32-35. The best way to keep our three doors pure is to generate aspirational bodhicitta, engage in the practice of bodhicitta and follow the path to enlightenment. This depends on observing the three levels of moral conduct—the pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows. If we do this properly, we can complete the two collections of merit and transcendent wisdom.

One thing that really helps us complete these two collections is the ability to foresee the future; therefore, we should try to acquire clairvoyance. Without it, we are like a baby bird whose wings are undeveloped and has not yet grown feathers and remains stuck in its nest, unable to fly. Without clairvoyance, we cannot work for other sentient beings.

36-37. The person who has achieved the psychic power to foresee the future can create more merit in a day than a person without this ability can create in a hundred years. Therefore, to complete the collections of merit and transcendent wisdom quickly, it is necessary to acquire the psychic power to see past, present and future.

38. In order to do this, it is necessary to achieve single-pointed concentration [Skt: samadhi; Tib: ting-nge-dzin]. For this, we must understand the details of the method of attaining samadhi, such as the nine stages, the six powers and the four mental engagements.5

39. In order to practice samadhi meditation properly, we must ensure that the conditions are perfect. If they are not, then even though we try practicing it hard for even a thousand years, we’ll never achieve it. Therefore, we should find a perfect environment, remain quiet and avoid having to do work such as healing the ill and making astrological predictions—any activity that keeps us busy.

40. The way to meditate to attain single-pointed concentration is to focus our mind on a virtuous object, such as an image of the Buddha. We visualize such an image in front of us and simply concentrate on that. As we focus our mind on the object again and again, we’ll be able to hold it for increasingly greater periods of time, and through the continuity of such practice will eventually attain calm abiding [Skt: shamatha; Tib: shi-né] and single-pointed concentration. Thus we will gain “higher seeing” [Tib: ngön-she], the psychic power to see the future and so forth.

41-43. But that is not the point. Next we have to practice penetrative insight [Skt: vipashyana; Tib: lhag-tong]. Without it, our samadhi cannot remove our delusions. In order to eradicate our two levels of obscuration—the obscurations of delusion [Skt: kleshavarana; Tib: nyön-drib] and the obscurations to knowledge, or omniscience [Skt: jneyavarana; Tib: she-drib]—we must achieve the wisdom realizing the non-self-existence of the I. Doing so also depends upon achieving method, such as compassion and so forth. It’s a mistake to practice only wisdom and not method. This can lead us to fall into individual liberation, or lower nirvana. Similarly, practicing only method and not wisdom is also a mistake and causes us to remain in samsara.

44-46. The Buddha taught that of the six perfections, the last of the six is the path of wisdom and the first five—charity, morality, patience, effort and concentration—are the path of method, or skillful means [Skt: upaya; Tib: thab]. First, we should meditate on method, then on wisdom, then on both together. By practicing both together, we can receive enlightenment; by practicing the wisdom of selflessness alone, we cannot.

47-49. Realizing the five aggregates [Skt: skandhas], the twelve sources and the eighteen constituents as empty of self-existence is recognized as higher wisdom. There is existence and non-existence: there is no such thing as the production of the existent, nor is there such a thing as production of the non-existent. There is no such thing as production of both the existent and the non-existent, nor is there production of neither the existent nor the non-existent. That is one form of logic negating the production of both the existent and the non-existent. There is also another form of logic negating production of a thing from self, other, both or neither—the four extremes. The main thing to discover here is non-self-existence. That can be found through the first line of logical reasoning, which negates production of the existent and the non-existent, and through the second, which negates production of the four extremes.

50-51. It can also be discovered through a third line of reasoning that examines things to see whether they are one or many. These lines of reasoning are elaborated by Nagarjuna in his Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness and in other texts, such as his Treatise on the Middle Way.

52-54. These things are explained in those texts, but here they are mentioned just for the purpose of practicing meditation. Meditating on the non-self-existence of the I and the non-self-existence of all other phenomena is meditation on shunyata, or emptiness. When the wisdom realizing emptiness analyzes the subject and the object, it cannot discover self-existence in either of those. Moreover, it cannot find self-existence in the wisdom of emptiness. Thus, we realize the emptiness of even the wisdom of emptiness itself.

55-58. Since this world is created by superstition, or conceptuality [Tib: nam-tog], if we eradicate the creator, superstition, we can attain liberation. The Buddha said that it is superstition that causes us to fall into the ocean of samsara. Therefore, that which is to be avoided is superstition, but the emptiness of superstition, which is like the sky, like empty space, is that which is to be practiced. By achieving this, we will be able to see the absolute nature of existence. Therefore, the bodhisattvas’ practice is to avoid superstition and thus to achieve the non-superstitious mind. Through the various different means of logic—by realizing the emptiness of the produced and of inherent existence—we can avoid superstition and achieve the wisdom of shunyata.

59. Then we can also attain the different levels of the path of preparation [Tib: jor-lam], the second of the five paths. We attain the four levels of this path and gradually the ten bhumis [Tib: sa], or bodhisattva grounds, as well. Finally, we attain the eleventh level, enlightenment itself.

60-67. Having realized shunyata, we can also gain the general realizations of tantra, such as the four powers of pacification, wrath, control and increase, and other attainments, such as “accomplishing the good pot.” Accomplishing the good pot means doing a particular meditation in retreat for a long time and, if we are successful, gaining the ability to just put our mouth to the opening of a pot and say something like “May I become the king of this country” and have our wish fulfilled.

Or we can gain the tantric power of the “eye medicine.” If we accomplish this, just by applying a special ointment to our eye we can see things precious substances such as gold, jewels and so forth even hundreds of miles beneath the surface of the Earth; no matter how far away they are, we can see them.

Through the practice of tantra we can receive enlightenment without having to undergo many great austerities. The tantric way to enlightenment is through happiness; other paths to enlightenment are through hard, austere practice.

There are four different levels of tantra: Action, Performance, Yoga and Highest Yoga Tantra. First we have to receive initiation. In order to do so, we have to make material offerings, such as gold or even members of our family—a spouse or a sibling— and with great devotion request our guru to give us the initiation.6 If he is pleased, out of his compassion he will then give us the initiation. Having taken it, we also receive the great fortune of being able to attain enlightenment and all the high realizations that come with it.

In Highest Yoga Tantra there are four different initiations: the vase, secret, transcendent wisdom and word initiations, the latter being where the guru imparts clarification, or proof, through verbal explanation. However, the secret initiation should not be given to those living in ordination. If monks, for example, take the secret initiation, they have to leave the monastic order, because those who have taken the secret initiation are required to practice with a female consort. If they do these practices without first returning their ordination, they lose it, the consequence of which is rebirth in hell.

To receive tantric commentaries, you first have to receive initiation. Without initiation, you cannot receive tantric teachings. You also cannot perform fire pujas [Tib: jin-sek] or give tantric teachings.

68. In the last verse, Atisha closes this text by describing himself as an elder [Tib: nä-tän], a full monk who, in the first twelve years after taking ordination, hasn’t created any moral falls; a senior full monk. He states that he has given this brief explanation on the steps of path at the request of his noble follower, Jangchub Ö.


Every lam-rim teaching ever written refers back to this text, A Lamp for the Path, irrespective of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition—Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya or Gelug. Where does the Lamp itself refer back to? That is to the Buddha’s prajnaparamita teachings. In terms of prajnaparamita texts, there are elaborate, intermediate and short, but the author of all of them is the Buddha. Therefore, all lam-rim texts have their source in the teachings of the Buddha.

If you want to understand the lam-rim well, you should study it as extensively as possible. When you understand the lam-rim well, you will understand the Lamp for the Path. Once you do, you should teach it all over the world.

There are many aspects of the Mahayana tradition, but in general, it contains great knowledge. The main thing, however, the fundamental thing, is concern for others, working for others, benefiting others. Followers of the Hinayana are mainly concerned about only their own samsaric suffering—in order to escape it, they follow the path of the three higher trainings: higher conduct, higher concentration and higher wisdom. There are many ways to explain how the Mahayana is different from and higher than the Hinayana, but the main difference is that Mahayana practitioners are more concerned with working for the welfare of others than their own.

People nowadays might think of helping other people, but Mahayana practitioners benefit not only other people but also suffering hell beings, pretas, animals and every other sentient being. There is not one sentient being who has not been our mother—all sentient beings have been our mother numberless times—therefore we should be concerned for their welfare, wanting them to become enlightened as quickly as possible. This, then, is the fundamental difference between the Hinayana and the Mahayana, this concern more for others than oneself, in particular, the wish to enlighten all sentient beings. That’s what makes the difference.

It is excellent that you are studying the vast and profound teachings of the Mahayana, thinking about them, analyzing them intently, and you should continue to do so. In general, there are many religions and everyone thinks that the teaching of his or her own religion is the best. But just saying that one’s own religion is the best doesn’t prove it’s the best; that doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, simply saying that Buddhadharma is the best religion in the world doesn’t make it so. However, there are many logical reasons you can use to prove that Buddhadharma is, in fact, the best.

For example, even accepting and practicing bodhicitta is very different from not accepting and practicing bodhicitta. Even in this, there’s a big difference between Buddhism and other religions; the fact of the presence of the practice of bodhicitta shows that Buddhism is higher than other religions, that Buddhism is the best. Buddhism also talks about dependent origination and emptiness; it explains dependent origination as it exists, right there. So, not only in conduct but also in view, Buddhism is very different from other religions and therefore the best. There are many ways to prove this.

However, Buddhadharma is something that the more you study it, the deeper it becomes, the more profound you find it to be. This is a quality unique to Buddhadharma. With other teachings, the more you study them, the lighter they become.

If you have understood any of what I have taught here, keep it in mind and build upon it. When you have understood more, keep that as your foundation and build further upon that. In this way, your knowledge will continually increase. Then, like the sun rising, spread Dharma in the West.

There are many countries, such as Vietnam, where Buddhism existed for centuries, but none were like Tibet. In those countries there existed only one aspect of the Buddhadharma, not all; but in Tibet, all aspects of the teaching existed—Hinayana, Sutrayana and Vajrayana. In order to study all this, you should learn the Tibetan language, study its grammar, and follow your lama properly.

[Dedication prayers are made and then the monks and nuns try to make offerings to Rinpoche.]

Please, don’t offer me anything. I have enough to eat and drink; that’s all I need. The reason I have given you this teaching is not to receive something but for you to practice purely. I’m not building monasteries or making offerings to statues and so forth so I have no need for money. I accept offerings only when I lack something. When I have enough, I don’t accept offerings, especially not from monks or nuns. My idea of wealth is different. Otherwise, teaching and taking money is a bit like making business. For now, I just want you to practice, but if things get bad and I don’t have enough to eat or drink, then maybe I’ll accept something.

[Then everybody received a blessing from Rinpoche, one by one.]

1. For the long version of this story, see Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, pp. 44–72, or the biography of Atisha on this website. [Return to text]

2. See Hopkins, Jeffrey : Meditation on Emptiness, pp. 320-21. [Return to text]

3. These are the great Indian scholars Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dharmakirti and Dignaga, and Shakyaprabha and Gunaprabha. [Return to text]

4. See Illuminating the Path, p. 123. [Return to text]

5. See Opening the Eye of New Awareness pp. 53-66. [Return to text]

6. These days, initiations seem a bit easier to come by.

This talk was extracted from the FPMT Education Department's Discovering Buddhism at Home readings, Module 8, "Establishing a Daily Practice." It was taken from Liberation in Our Hands, Part II, Appendix F: "How to Meditate on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”, by Pabongka Rinpoche, pp. 323-344. Original translation by Art Engle. Reprinted with permission from Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press.A Teaching With Special Emphasis on The Methods of an Experiential Instruction

Stages of the Path to Enlightenment

A Teaching With Special Emphasis on
The Methods of an Experiential Instruction,
Expressed Openly And in Plain Words
as if Pointing With a Finger to
Each Element of Practice

In response to a written request from Dragom Choktrul Rinpoche of the Shodo Monastery in Kham, the incomparably beneficent, glorious and kindhearted one, the Supreme Savior Dorjechang Pabongkapa Dechen Nyingpo, composed the following work unexpectedly and at a time when he was extremely busy and faced with many responsibilities. What is included here are the instructions on how to gain the realizations from Relying on a Spiritual Friend through Refuge.


I pray that my mind and those of all lineage disciples
Become steeped in dharma through the power and blessings
Of the father, Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang,
And those of his lineage of spiritual sons.

Having found a form that is valuable and hard to find,
And having perceived the eight worldly dharmas1 to be the play of fools,
Those friends who strive single-mindedly in their pursuit of an ultimate goal are
marvelous indeed!

When we are proud of our wide learning, our efforts at teaching and studying,
And we are even sure that we could explain a hundred scriptures,
Though our minds have not improved the least bit spiritually,
It is because we lack the analytic meditation that combines understanding with experience.

A mere semblance of listening, study, and understanding
Can generate both strong faith and listening wisdom2 about the topics of leisure and fortune, Impermanence, aversion,3 and so on; but they have not arisen through analytic meditation.
Such wisdom is nothing more than right judgment4 and so eventually it fades away.

You run a risk by failing to generate soon after this wisdom
The genuine experience that comes from reflection.
Many persons become insensitive to dharma5 when they allow
The former awareness to fade away before they can generate the latter.6

Once you are overcome by insensitivity to dharma, your mind stream
Becomes ruined and you are incapable of being tamed,
Even by the Lam-rim or the blessed words of your guru.
So apply yourself to the profound method for avoiding insensitivity to dharma.

This is achieved through the blessings of your guru’s speech,
Along with your own efforts to listen to dharma properly.
So, however much understanding you gain through hearing dharma, it’s vital
To generate soon afterward the understanding which comes from reflection.

How, then, do you generate the understanding which comes from reflection?
Analytic meditation is the exercise of eliciting experiential realizations
By contemplating a particular meditation topic from every standpoint
And in every way, using scriptural citations and sharp reasoning.

For instance, if you set forth as the object to be established that your guru is a Buddha,
Advance again and again those cogent arguments that will prove he is a Buddha;
For this is the means of eliciting the conviction that he is a Buddha.
Practicing this strenuously and repeatedly is what we refer to as analytic meditation.

Indeed, the primary aim for all the meditation topics—such as leisure and fortune,
Impermanence, renunciation, generating enlightenment mind, and the correct view—
Is to elicit sure understandings of them by engaging in sharp analytic meditation.

Even though this analysis only brings you the first elements
Of the experiential awareness that derives from reflection,
You will never be overcome by insensitivity to dharma
And you will have firmly planted the roots of your spiritual experience.
So train yourself skillfully in the ways of analytic meditation.

Moreover, analytic meditation is a unique quality of our system.
It is not recognized even partially in any tradition that stands
Outside the range of our Jamgon Lama’s7 enlightened speech.

The need for analytic meditation, how to practice it, and so on
Are taught in the Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment [Lam-rim Chen-mo].
By careful study and reflection on these points you’ll realize
That they represent an extraordinary quality of our teaching system.

To merely review a series of topics in your mind is reflective meditation;8
This is not what we call cultivating analytic meditation.
Neither is it analytic meditation to memorize the words of a teaching
And then rehearse their meaning in your mind.

To memorize the essence of every one of the path’s stages, as well as their order, number, and so on,
And then to recall each essence, order, and number individually
Is also just reflective mediation, not analytic meditation.

Therefore, as I said earlier, analytic meditation consists of
Setting forth a single topic as the object to be established,
And then repeatedly analyzing it with scripture and profound reasoning
As the means of generating a sure understanding.

For instance, when we reflect again and again on the reasons
Why we think that a particular object is attractive,
We develop strong desire. This is “analytic meditation” toward
An object of attachment, and it increases our active desire.

Likewise, when we recall again and again how a terrible enemy
Has harmed us, our hatred greatly increases.
This represents analysis toward an object of hatred,
And it ignites our “experiential awareness” of hatred.

Let’s shift now to the spiritual domain, where the aim is to increase
An experiential awareness of different virtuous minds by repeatedly contemplating
The various reasons that will elicit them, as I just described with desire and hatred.

What you must do here is contemplate over and over again
The most penetrating of scriptural citations and arguments,
And in particular those arguments which are the most effective
For eliciting a spiritual transformation within your mind.

If the repeated contemplation of just a single argument
Evokes a sense of ever-growing anguish in your mind,
Such as you might feel on hearing of your mother’s death,
This is a sign that you are succeeding; so continue striving.

But if repeated contemplation of a single argument grows stale
And your mind remains unmoved, this means your practice is not succeeding.
It’s also a forewarning against becoming insensitive to dharma.
So combine supplications to your guru with fervent acts that accumulate merit
And remove obstacles.9 Then try again to cultivate the meditation topics effectively.

Some persons at this point10 develop sudden and powerful feelings of faith,
Impermanence, renunciation, and so on, even without having practiced meditation.
They become joyously enthusiastic, thinking these are true spiritual realizations.
But soon after, when the intensity of such feelings completely disappears,
We see that they become saddened at the loss of these sentiments.
However, these are nothing but limited sensations that arise on the basis
Of transitory perceptions; they aren’t true spiritual realizations.
There is no need whatsoever for you to become proud
When such feelings arise or become dejected when they fade.
Still, because they are a sign that you have received blessings
From your guru and tutelary deity, you should strive to make them firm.

True realizations are the experiential awarenesses of faith, impermanence, and so on,
Which come forth in succession after meditating continuously with wisdom’s discerning power.
These represent inferential knowledge and, unlike the feelings mentioned earlier, they never fade away.

Moreover, you must learn the skillful technique for eliciting realizations.
Begin by meditating on all the points contained in the individual topics,
From serving a spiritual teacher to generating enlightenment mind.
Do so just long enough to become proficient in each of them.
Then meditate again on serving a spiritual teacher up through generating
Enlightenment mind, in order to elicit contrived experiential realizations.
Then do the same again, in order to elicit uncontrived experiential realizations.

When you have become familiar with these topics to the point of feeling sure
That you know how to meditate on them and that you are able to generate the realizations, we call this becoming proficient.

A spiritual awareness which arises after continuous reflection
On many scriptural citations and reasonings, but which fails to arise
Without such reflection, is called a contrived experiential realization.

An uncontrived experiential realization is one which arises distinctly,
As soon as you bring a subject to mind and irrespective
Of any prolonged reflection, like the desire for sense objects
That arises in your mind without any need of prolonged contemplation.

When understanding and experience combine thus in your mind,
This marks the first dawning of spiritual realization.
Moreover, for some meditation topics the realizations arise easily;
They can be generated even after practicing for only seven days or so.
For other topics, the realizations arise after several days or weeks.
For still others, they are difficult to generate even after a year or more.

For instance, it’s easy to realize the certainty of death;
But the uncertainty of the time of death is very hard to realize.
It’s extremely easy to realize how nothing except dharma can help
At the time of death. Such differences hold true for the other topics as well.

Therefore, don’t continue meditating obstinately on those topics
For which realizations come easily; instead, move on to the next point.
Likewise, don’t think that the topics which are difficult to realize
Are taking too long. No matter how long they take, even months or years,
Continue meditating until you generate the appropriate realizations.

Finally, you need only practice reflective meditation toward
Those earlier topics which you have already mastered
And those later ones for which you have yet to gain realizations.
So focus single-mindedly as you analyze and contemplate the one topic you are currently practicing.


Now that I’ve instructed you on how to carry out properly
The key elements involved in practicing analytic meditation,
What is the first topic to which you should apply analytic meditation
And how should you apply analytic meditation to it?

Analytic meditation need not be applied to the three introductory topics,11
The preliminary practices,12 and so on. Therefore, the practice
Of analytic meditation should begin with the topic of how to serve a spiritual teacher.

If you contemplate skillfully for about seven days the benefits
Of serving a teacher and for about seven days also the faults
Of failing to serve a teacher, you will produce a mental transformation.13

The next topic is the root practice of cultivating faith,
Which is extremely important but also difficult to realize.
Yet no matter how many months or years it takes to complete,
Don’t think that it’s taking too long. Practice it one-pointedly
Until you succeed in eliciting a mental transformation.

Moreover, if you contemplate too many points during a single period,
Your practice will become reflective meditation, not analytic meditation.
Therefore, during each period contemplate just one topic.
For instance, make the topic “Vajradhara affirmed that our guru is a Buddha”—
The first of the four in this section14—the only one you wish to verify.
Then, with scripture and sharp reasonings as proof, apply yourself and contemplate
This very topic for the entire period until you generate a sure understanding.

Just as on the first day, cultivate this topic the next day and the next day after that.
Cultivate it for a month and for a second month as well.
Continue practicing this way until you elicit the true experiential awareness.
When the experiential awareness emerges, switch to the next topic.

After you have realized a topic, contemplate it with reflective meditation alone.
However, don’t move on to a later topic before you have gained realizations of those which precede it;
The later topics cannot be realized before the earlier ones.
Therefore, strive vigorously to elicit a realization of the initial topic.15
After eliciting an experiential realization of this topic,
Undertake to practice in a similar way the second one—
That a guru is the agent for all the Buddhas’ activities.

After gaining a realization of that topic, go to the next one—
That even nowadays all Buddhas act on behalf of sentient beings.
Meditate by applying the intense analysis of scripture, reasoning, and your guru’s instruction.
Just as you cultivate this topic the first day, continue doing so
The next day and the one after that—for days, months, or even years
Until you succeed in eliciting the proper experiential realization.

You must bring forth the realization which perceives that your guru
Is truly a Buddha. And since this very topic is much more crucial
Than all the others, devote yourself to it with great effort.

After gaining this realization, then go to the next topic,
The one that is called “Our perceptions are unreliable.”
Cultivate it by intensely applying the technique of analytic meditation.
When you have practiced this way and truly perceive
That your guru embodies the actual nature of all the Buddhas,
And when all the Buddhas and your guru appear to merge as one,
You have generated the realization that relates to serving a spiritual teacher.

Once you have elicited realizations of the four points that comprise
“The root practice of cultivating faith,” then also generate successive realizations
Of the four that comprise “recalling the spiritual teacher’s kindness.”
You should briefly contemplate as well the topic of pleasing your guru through action.


After properly gaining, in the manner described, the spiritual realizations
That relate to generating faith and respect toward your spiritual teacher,
You should set out to elicit in succession the realizations for the topics
Ranging from leisure and fortune to generating precious enlightenment mind.

However, the realizations that relate to serving a spiritual teacher,
In which you cultivate a faith which perceives your guru as a Buddha,
Are difficult to generate without practicing for months or even years.
Therefore, carry out this extraordinary meditation instruction,
So that you can make progress quickly in gaining experiential realizations.

Devote one period of each day to the subject of serving a spiritual teacher.
Meditate on the topics in the manner that was described above.
Devote one period to eliciting realizations of those topics beginning with
Leisure and fortune, by analyzing them according to the established order.

First, this will further your realizations about serving a teacher.
Second, through gradually improving your understanding of the topics
That relate to persons of lesser and moderate capacity—
Namely, leisure and fortune, impermanence, suffering, and so on—
These lesser and moderate realizations will reach an advanced level
By the time you complete the subject of serving a spiritual teacher.

And if you also pursue the first stages of analyzing the correct view,16
You will make swift progress, simultaneously developing and completing
Experiential realizations of the three principal elements of the path.17
For instance, if you plant walnut, peach, and grape seeds together,
Their trunks and branches and flowers will develop simultaneously
And you can enjoy the fruit of all three at the same time.

Therefore, divide each day’s meditation periods into three parts.
During one part, meditate only on serving your spiritual teacher;
During one part elicit successively the realizations for the topics
Ranging from leisure and fortune to precious enlightenment mind;
And during one part apply analytic meditation to the profound view.


So when you divide your meditation into these three periods,
The way to contemplate serving a spiritual teacher is as I explained before.
And the way to gain the realizations starting with leisure and fortune
Is first to identify what the essence of leisure and fortune is.

Reflect on what it would be like if you had been born into any of the inopportune conditions18
And how fortunate you are not to have been born there in this life.
Don’t consider the qualities of leisure and fortune in a shallow or detached manner;
Reflect again and again, applying sharp analytic meditation
So that you will imbue yourself with a deep awareness of how you currently possess them all.
When you are overcome with joy, like a pauper who has found a treasure,
Then you have generated the realization of identifying leisure and fortune.

Next switch to the topic of viewing leisure and fortune as having great value,
And repeatedly scrutinize it with the subtle analysis of scripture and reasoning.
You will have realized the great value of leisure and fortune
When you become distressed if even an instant of time is vainly spent.

Then go on to the next meditation topic, the difficulty of finding
Leisure and fortune, and reflect on it with powerful analytic meditation.
When you become as upset about being idle for even an instant
As another person would if he spilled a bag of gold dust into a river,
Then you have realized the difficulty of finding leisure and fortune.


Turn now to the meditation topics that relate to impermanence.
You are sure to develop mental transformations by first meditating
For about a week on the six disadvantages of failing to recall death
And then for another week or so on the six advantages of recalling death.

After that, practice the three reasons that death is certain.
The first reason is that the Lord of Death is certain to appear
And cannot be turned back by any means. With great determination,
Apply analytic meditation to this topic no matter how many days or months it takes.

After achieving that experiential awareness, the next topic to verify
Is that your life span does not increase and is constantly growing shorter.
Cultivate it by practicing analytic meditation forcefully.

After achieving that experiential awareness, apply analytic meditation
To the next topic—that there is little opportunity
To practice dharma even during the time you remain alive.

But the truly extraordinary and unequaled instruction for recalling death
Is contained in the topic called “Meditating on the nature of death.”19
Through it, recollection of impermanence can be generated easily.
In the outline that gives the order in which to present the teachings,
This topic is placed after the set of nine points20 for meditating on death.
But a key instruction for how to put the teachings into practice is that you should meditate on it here.21

So when you’ve used the three reasons to determine that death is certain,
Consider what the various stages in the dying process will be like.
By meditating on this, you will feel a sense of overwhelming terror.

When you contemplate again and again the experiences that will befall you,
Applying analytic meditation to the meanings contained in writings
Like the one that I composed urging recollection of impermanence,22
You will be so dismayed that you cannot stay on your meditation seat.

If after meditating in this way you feel great terror,
As though you were experiencing your actual death now,
And if your reflection on the stages of death is so vivid
That they seem real and cause your heart to jump suddenly in fear,
This is the measure that you have realized the certainty of death.

After that, practice analytic meditation with total concentration,
Applying it to the sole topic that your life span is uncertain—
The first reason23 in the root category called “The uncertainty of the time of death.”
There is no certainty that your death will not come this very moment.
You should contemplate this fact by applying analytic meditation
From every standpoint and in every way.

Here is a key instruction that is both secret and profound,
About how to recollect that the time of death is uncertain.
You see and hear directly about the uncertainty of other persons’ lives.
Death strikes by means of many causes, suddenly and unexpectedly.
Some persons die while they are walking.
Some die while they are eating, others while talking.
Some persons die while laughing, others while they are running.
Some who are strong and agile die performing athletic feats.
One moment they are persons; the next they are corpses.
One moment they are alive; the next they are gone.
As you contemplate again and again the nature of these occurrences,
Analyze yourself as well, using sharp reasonings such as these:
“I have exactly the same nature as these persons.”
“How can I be sure that I won’t die this very moment?”
“How can I be sure that I won’t be a corpse this very night?”
“How can I be sure my funeral rites won’t be performed tonight?”
“How can I be sure I won’t be laid to rest in a cemetery tonight?”

You will generate the proper realization by recalling
That you can never be sure when Yama, The Lord of Death,
Will grip you in his jaws and then crush you with his fangs.
Recall how you are locked in the throes of battle with this arch enemy
And that you can’t be sure he won’t kill you right now.

After that, meditate on the next topic, how the factors that bring death
Are many while the factors that sustain life are few.
After gaining this experiential awareness, go on to the next reason
And apply analytic meditation intensely to the topic which addresses
How your body and life force are as fragile as a water bubble.

When you have forcefully applied these techniques for contemplating
The three reasons that relate to the uncertainty of the time of death,
You’ll think. “I can’t be sure I won’t die this very minute.”
As you lie down, you’ll wonder, “Will I wake up tomorrow morning?”
When you get up, you’ll wonder, “Will I go to bed tonight?”
While going somewhere, you’ll wonder, “Will I come home again?”
As you return, you’ll wonder, “Will I ever go back there again?”
You’ll wonder, “Which will come first, tomorrow or my next life?”
“Will death arrive before I can finish eating my bag of tsamba24?”
“Which will come first, the end of this pot of tea or death?”
You’ll think, “There’s no certainty I won’t depart this very moment.”
When you develop an impatience which thinks, “I have no time, I have no time,”
Then you’ve generated the realization of the uncertainty of death.

Realization of the certainty of death comes with relative ease.
However, it’s more difficult to realize the uncertainty of the time of death.
So don’t think to yourself that the latter topic is taking too long.
Continue with your practice for days, months, or even years.
Meditate with single-minded resolve until you produce a mental transformation.
After generating this realization, go on to the next topic—
That nothing except holy dharma can benefit you at the time of death.

For as many days and months as are needed, contemplate these three reasons:
That neither friends, nor wealth, nor body are of any help.

But once you perceive that nothing except dharma benefits you at death,
No further practice is needed; for this very understanding is the measure of realization.
Because this topic is easy to realize and need not be practiced long,
A key point is to go on to the next subject after you have gained the proper awareness.


Although the topic of meditating on the suffering of the lower states
Is taught separately from how to perform the act of taking refuge,
The ideal way in which to practice them is to take refuge
Right after reflecting on each aspect of the lower states.

Still, a powerful and effective instruction for the novice practitioner
Is to meditate initially on the suffering of the lower states alone,
Separately from the act of taking refuge.
Then, after gaining the first stages
Of experiential realization, you should cultivate the two practices jointly.

Among the areas of the three lower states, begin by meditating on
The suffering of “Revivals”, which is the first of the hot hells.
After generating the perception that you have actually taken birth there,
Contemplate its sufferings as though you are really experiencing them.

You may think, “It would be agonizing to take birth in such a place;
But I am only imagining this. It is not a real experience.”
Though it is just your imagination and not a real experience,
Your mind contains the seeds of accumulated and undiminished karma
That have the power to hurl you into the Revivals hell.

So have no doubt; when these seeds are activated and rendered potent
In the limb called “being,”25 you will definitely fall into that place.

If it frightens you now merely to contemplate such a place,
What will you do when you are actually born there?

Contemplate how you will manage to endure suffering like that.
Contemplate how you will manage to bear such a long life span.

Meditate alternately and with conviction, then, on these two ideas:
That you have actually been born there and that you are certain to be born there.
When you develop an intense desire to seek immediately
A means of liberation and a refuge that can save you from this peril,
And this brings on such great apprehension that you even
Lose your appetite for food, this is the measure of having generated
An experiential awareness of the suffering in the lower states.

Likewise, strive to meditate in the manner that was just described,
Intensely and with single-minded determination, until you generate
The realizations that relate to the individual sufferings experienced
In Black Lines, Compression, Screams, Great Screams,
Conflagration, Great Conflagration, and Unrelenting Torment.26

After that, apply this same method of contemplation
To the four great adjacent hell regions and the eight cold hells.
Don’t reflect as though you were watching some remote spectacle.
Reflect instead that you have actually been born in these places
And that you are certain to be born there. After meditating intensely
On what you experience there and how you will have to undergo terrible
And intense suffering for a very long time, an unbearably strong pain
Will penetrate your heart as before, and cause you to lose all contentment.

When you develop an intense desire to seek a means of liberation and a refuge
That can save you, this is the mark that you have generated the proper realization.

To enhance your practice when meditating on the suffering of the hells,
Read their descriptions in the Sutra on Well-composed Recollection
And examine carefully the specific sufferings of these regions
As they are depicted in drawings. After doing this, reflect:
“As soon as I cast off this physical form, I, too, will become
A victim of these very same conditions. What shall I do then?”
Recalling this again and again is the best way to improve your practice.

After that, generate a state of awareness in which you imagine
That you have actually become each type of hungry ghost and animal.
Though at this time you haven’t really become these beings,
Your mind is a storehouse filled with myriad forms of projecting karma
That will surely cause you to be born there before very long.

So reflect: “When that happens, these are the experiences I will undergo.”
Then ponder all the activities you will engage in—both while walking and at rest—
When you actually take birth as different types of hungry ghosts
Or as a dog, a donkey, a worm, a bird, a deer, and so forth.
Also ask yourself: “How will I be able to endure all this?”
To enhance this practice, read as well about the suffering of hungry ghosts
And animals as described in the Sütra on Well-composed Recollection.

Meditate this way until you think,
“I wish I could close the door to the lower states this very moment,”
Or “How wonderful it would be to find a means of closing it right now.”
When you also take up, ever so quickly, strenuous forms of practice,
These are the signs that you have generated the appropriate realization,
As the scriptures describe in the story of Ananda’s two nephews.27


After generating, as described, the realizations that relate to the suffering in the three lower states,
You will also develop the desire to find a refuge that can save you from this plight.
When this occurs, you are ready to contemplate how the Triple Gem
Is the only true refuge and to reflect on their various qualities.

You will elicit a mental transformation by reflecting for about seven days
On the four reasons that explain why they are a worthy object of refuge.
After that, meditate on a Buddha’s physical, verbal, and mental qualities, and on the qualities of his activities.
Do this in accord with your intellectual powers, either in brief
By following the explanations that appear in the Lam-rim writings
Or in detail by following those presented in major philosophical treatises,
Such as the two Ornaments, the Higher Science,28 and the like.
The measure for having generated the proper experiential realization is to develop an intense faith that cannot be reversed.

Meditate similarly on the qualities of the dharma and the sangha—Either in brief as taught in the Lam-rim or in detail as taught
In the major treatises. The measure for having generated this realization
Is again to develop a strong faith which cannot be overcome,
Through having recognized the qualities of this system’s Triple Gem—
That is, our teacher, his teaching, and those who practice the teaching.

After eliciting a realization of this topic, do the same for each of those
In the section called “learning the distinctions.”
The measure for having generated
This realization is to be able to apprehend clearly the distinctions
Associated with each aspect of the Triple Gem.

After eliciting that realization, go to the next topic, which addresses
How to take refuge by professing faith in the Triple Gem.
Reflect:“I accept my guru and the Buddha as the ones who teach me how to find refuge;
I accept the holy dharma gem as the actual refuge;
And I accept the sangha as the companions who help me to find refuge.”
The measure of this experiential realization is to gain the conviction
That you could accept only the Triple Gem with such strong faith,
Because no other teacher, refuge, or followers are their equal.

After generating this experiential realization, the next topic
Is to take refuge by disavowing faith in any other tradition.
Reflect carefully how our teacher, the Buddha, and his teaching
Are the sole point of entry for those who seek liberation,
And how they are superior by virtue of possessing six distinctions.29
Reflect as well how other teachers and their teachings—
Such as the doctrines of Bon, the tirthikas,30 great worldly gods,
And all those teachings and teachers different from this dharma—
Are inferior in that they possess six opposite distinctions.
Through reflecting thus, bring forth a heartfelt conviction of how
Our supreme teacher, his teaching and those who follow it are the sole refuge,
And how no other tradition whatsoever is a true refuge.

The measure of realization is reached when this keeps you from generating
Even the slightest thought of wanting to take refuge in someone else.

After that, you will elicit a mental transformation by meditating
For about seven days on the benefits of taking refuge and also for about a week
On the precepts to be observed. So exert yourself with heartfelt conviction.

Because it does not take very long to generate realizations
Of the meditation topics associated with taking refuge,
Study and reflect on the explanations found in the major scriptures.
Learn as well to meditate on them with single-minded determination;
For the virtuous qualities of the Triple Gem are as vast as space,
As numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges, and as deep as the ocean.
Moreover, the three realms are too small to hold the merit that is gained
By recognizing and developing faith toward even a portion of them.
So devote yourself to this practice earnestly and vigorously.


After properly eliciting separate realizations as described above,
For the topics of reflecting on the suffering in the lower states
And recalling extensively the virtuous qualities of the Triple Gem,
You should practice taking refuge in a way that combines the two subjects.

The two causes which form the basis for the act of taking refuge
Are the fear of being tormented by the suffering in the lower states
And the faith which believes that the Triple Gem alone have the power to save you.
The actual essence of taking refuge is the mental act in which,
Based on these causes, you entrust yourself from your heart
To the Triple Gem as the object which can save and protect you.

If you were to fall into the lower states, you would not be able
To find a refuge, nor would you even know how to take refuge.
Thus, it’s crucial that you begin right now to practice taking refuge.
You should do this by reflecting carefully on the words
Composed by the Lord Shantideva, which begin at the phrase
“With eyes that peer about in terror” and continue up to
The line “Please free me quickly from this source of fear.”31

Furthermore, the way of devoting yourself fully to these points
And meditating on them extensively is to carry out the following practice:
First emanate from the heart of the guru on the crown of your head
A complete object of refuge, which becomes seated in front of you.
Then visualize all sentient beings of the six classes surrounding you.
After that, begin by meditating on the suffering of Revivals.

Imagine you are actually there, so vividly that it fills you with terror.
Then reflect that you need not be afraid, because the saving refuge
Of the Guru and Triple Gem—who are sitting in the space before you—
Possess the power that can save you from this plight.
Finally, hold in your mind the thought that you beseech this object of refuge
From the bottom of your heart to save you and all sentient beings
Right now from this suffering of Revivals, while you diligently repeat
The refuge formula aloud many times over.

Do the same for the other hot hells—
Black Lines, Compression, Screams, and the rest—
As well as for the four adjacent hell regions,
The eight cold hells, the hungry ghosts, animals, and so on.
Meditate on all their various sufferings, taking each one separately.
Then recite the refuge formula aloud, after you have contemplated each topic.

These key points make for a practice that is truly wonderful.
Nowadays, many persons recite the refuge formula a prescribed number of times.
But they repeat the formula without having gained any knowledge

Of the topics just described, such as the causes and essence of taking refuge,
Its virtuous qualities, distinctions, or the professing of faith and disavowal of other religions,
Such practice is mere verbal striving, mere words, mere counting.
How could this ever represent a genuine form of taking refuge?
What can you accomplish by a refuge practice which fails to enter the door
To the inner faith of Buddhism and which is performed as though it were a form of punishment?

So if you want to undertake a prescribed number of refuge recitations,
Perform them here,32 while reflecting extensively on the various topics;
This will ensure that your efforts are carried out most effectively.


1. Concern with experiencing pleasure and pain, concern with material gain or not getting, concern with receiving praise or blame, concern with experiencing agreeable sounds, etc. and disagreeable. Back to text

2. This is a reference to the first of three levels of wisdom – derived from listening. The other two are wisdom derived from reflection and wisdom derived from meditation. Wisdom derived from listening only represents correct judgment; therefore, it is not knowledge in the epistemological sense. Moreover, as the text notes later on in this section, the main purpose of analytic meditation is precisely to generate the second type of wisdom, that which is born of reflection, because this does represent knowledge—more specifically, inferential knowledge. Back to text

3. That is, aversion for the defects of samsaric existence. Back to text

4. Traditional Buddhist epistemology defines seven types of cognitive awareness. Only two of these—inference and direct perception—have the capacity to represent knowledge. The other five, including right judgment, do not. Back to text

5. This is a condition which occurs when a person gains some learning of the dharma but fails to put it into practice. As a result, his mind becomes hardened to the dharma and he fails to achieve any spiritual self-discipline. Back to text

6. The “former awareness” is the wisdom which derives from listening; the “latter” is the wisdom which derives from reflection. Back to text

7. Je Tsongkapa. Back to text

8. shar gom. While reflective meditation represents a valid form of practice, it is important to distinguish it from analytic meditation. The point being made here is that only analytic meditation represents the true method for generating uncontrived experiential realizations. Back to text

9. Examples of acts that accumulate merit are making offerings, rejoicing at one’s own virtue and that of others, and so forth. Two practices that remove obstacles are confession and making prostrations. Back to text

10. That is, after having listened to Lam-rim teachings and studied related texts, but without having practiced analytic meditation. Back to text

11. These are the first three divisions of the Lam-rim teaching: (1) the greatness of the origniator of the dharma teaching, (2) the greaness of the dharma teaching itself, and (3) the correct method of listening to, and teaching, the dharma. Back to text

12. The six preliminary practices are: (1) Cleaning the place and setting up the altar, (2) Arranging well-obtained offerings, (3) Positioning oneself and generating refuge and bodhicitta, (4) Visualizing the field of merit, (5) Offering a 7-limb prayer and mandala, and (6) Making requests. Back to text

13. This phrase is equivalent in meaning to “eliciting an experiential realization.”Back to text

14. The section of the lam-rim outline entitled “How to regard our guru as a Buddha.”Back to text

15. In this context, the initial topic is the one entitled “Vajradhara affirmed that our guru is a Buddha.” Back to text

16. This topic should be pursued in a third period of each day. See next paragraph. Back to text

17. Renunciation, enlightenment mind, and the correct view. Back to text

18. The eight inopportune conditions are: being born as a hell-being, craving spirit, animal, in a barbaric country, as a long-living god, with imperfect senses, having wrong views, or when a Buddha has not come into the world. Back to text

19. You can find this in Pabongka Rinpoche's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, pages 133-138. Back to text

20. The nine reasons that are included in the three root categories. Back to text

21. That is, after contemplating the three reasons associated with the certainty of death. Back to text

22. This poem is called Heart Spoon: Encouragement through Recollecting Impermanence, available from the FPMT Education Department or Wisdom Publications. Back to text

23. Like the first root category, the second is also comprised of three reasons: (1) the life span of a person in the Jambudvipa is uncertain, (2) the factors that contribute to death are many and those that sustain life are few, (3) our bodies are extremely fragile. Back to text

24. Roasted barley flour, a common staple food in Tibet. Back to text

25. This is the tenth limb of the twelve-part teaching on dependent origination also commonly referred to as “becoming”. Back to text

26. These are the seven remaining hot hells. Back to text

27. See Liberation in Our Hands, p. 177 (Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press) Back to text

28. Ornament of Realizations (Abhisamayalamkara), Ornament of Mahayana Sutras (Mahayanasutralamkara), and Treatise on the Higher Science of the Mahayana (Mahayanottaratantrasastram). Back to text

29. The six are (I) a Buddha is without faults and has fulfilled all virtuous qualities; (2) a Buddha’s teaching bestows the fruit of happiness through a path that is easy to traverse; (3) the teaching enables you to move against the flow of samsara‘s current; (4) the teaching removes the mental afflictions; (5) the teaching does not deceive those who seek liberation; and (6) the teaching is singularly virtuous and enables you to eliminate faults. See Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment [Lam-rim Chen-mo] by Lama Tsongkhapa. Back to text

30. A particular group of religious practitioners. Back to text

31. Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Chapter 2, verses 45-53. (A translation by Vesna and Alan Wallace is available from Snow Lion Publications.) Back to text

32. That is, the appropriate occasion for carrying out such a practice is when you have reached this stage in the Lam-rim teachings. Back to text