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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
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

“There is nothing to fear other than my mind” 

The Mighty One has said that all such things
Are (the working of) an evil mind,
Hence within the three world spheres
There is nothing to fear other than my mind
(Verse 8, Chapter 5, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

All the fears of cyclic existence and the three realms, the suffering we wish to avoid and the happiness we are seeking arise from the mind. Likewise, all qualities depend on the mind.

When you check all the scriptures, this is also their main message – that there is a need to discipline our minds. We can understand this from our personal experience. When the afflictions – anger, attachment, ignorance, pride, jealousy and so forth – arise, suffering and unhappiness are always the result. The stronger the afflictions, the greater the suffering. On the other hand, when we have less discursive thoughts, when the three mental poisons arise infrequently, when the mind is concentrated or focussed on benefiting others, there is more mental peace and we tend to be happier with fewer problems.

By reflecting along these lines, we will understand why it is said that all fears and worries originate from the mind. Therefore, we should protect the mind against non-virtue and guide the mind towards virtue, with mindfulness and introspection. When we fail to do this, although we yearn for happiness, we run away from the causes of happiness. Although we wish to avoid suffering, we pursue the causes of suffering.

We are controlled by our minds that, in turn, are controlled by the negative emotions that disturb our mental peace and calm. That is why we feel unhappy and suffer. We need to immerse our minds in virtue instead, because when this happens, happiness is the result.

Realising the nature of our minds 

There is a saying by the great Kadampa masters: “The difference between cyclic existence and nirvana comes from whether we have realised the nature of our minds or not.”

Liberation may seem external, like a distant place. But it can be achieved on the basis of our minds. In the same way, cyclic existence is not an external phenomenon. It abides in our minds. As long as our minds are under the control and bondage of the afflictions, we remain in cyclic existence. We achieve liberation at that very moment when our minds are freed from the control of our afflictions. So liberation is not something far away or external, and once liberated, we will experience everlasting bliss and happiness.

With reference to the paths and grounds – from the path of accumulation through to the path of preparation, followed by the path of seeing, the ten bodhisattva grounds, the path of no more learning and, finally, enlightenment – the difference between each level and each ground is primarily based on the qualities of the mind and its development. We assert that someone has achieved and is abiding in a specific path on the basis of their mental development, not their physical transformation. How do we differentiate between a bodhisattva and a non-bodhisattva? The difference does not lie in their external appearances but on whether that person has developed bodhicitta or not.

Another way of looking at the quotation is this: As soon as we have realised the ultimate nature of the mind, its lack of true existence, we are liberated from our afflictions.

Engaging in physical and verbal virtues (or positive actions) contributes to our mental development and this helps us one day to realise the emptiness of our minds. When we achieve the wisdom realising emptiness, we destroy cyclic existence. This is one of the benefits of realising emptiness.

When our self-cherishing attitude is very strong, it is very difficult for our actions to be virtuous. Furthermore, during the course of engaging in virtue, other afflictions such as competitiveness, jealousy and pride arise.

For example, arrogance and conceit may arise when we are doing retreat, “I am in retreat and they are not.” Also, during the course of this five year Basic Program, we have acquired some knowledge and understanding of the Dharma. That knowledge can be the condition for us to feel superior to others, thinking, “I know more than you do.”

It is important that our actions do not become the conditions for the development of jealousy, competitiveness and pride. These afflictions are harmful and therefore, we must learn how to apply the antidotes to overcome them.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Check the state of your mind day and night

Guntang Rinpoche advises, “If we want to make our days and nights meaningful, we should always check the state of our minds.” No beneficial actions can result from a mind that is under the control of the three mental poisons (ignorance, anger and attachment). Therefore, we should always strive to keep our minds in a positive state, thinking constantly of how to benefit others. When our actions are motivated by a negative mind, it is questionable whether those actions can be beneficial.

It is important to set a proper motivation before we begin any virtuous activities, such as doing our daily commitments. We are advised in the teachings to begin always with the meditation on the breath to bring the mind to a state of equilibrium, especially when we find that our minds are agitated by anger or attachment. Otherwise, it is difficult to generate a positive state of mind while doing the practices.

When the mind is in a state of equilibrium, it is easier to prevent negative thoughts from arising, even though we may not yet be able to eliminate our attachment or anger from the root. It becomes possible for us to consider those we normally think of as enemies or objects of aversion as pleasant and as friends. When engaged in virtuous activities, we should pay heed to the objects of desire and the objects of aversion. We should sincerely dedicate the merit we accumulate from our practices to their welfare from the depths of our hearts. It is easy to habituate ourselves to dedicating our merit in this way compared to giving away material things such as our bodies.

When we dedicate all the roots of our virtue to our enemies, does that mean there is nothing left for us, that we are not going to experience the beneficial effects of those virtues? I don’t think so. So, don’t worry.

When we dedicate our roots of virtue sincerely in this way, it is difficult to say how much benefit will actually be received by the objects of our dedication but, without a doubt, we will benefit and see the improvement in our minds. We will definitely benefit because we can see that all our problems and sufferings arise from attachment and anger in our lives.

When we neglect checking the state of our minds, then no matter how profound or extensive our prayers may be, it is difficult for those practices to be beneficial even for ourselves. When we do not benefit from our practices, then it is difficult for us to benefit others.

Gungtang Rinpoche also said: “If you wish, however, to make your life meaningless and empty, then by all means, please continue to spend your whole life being conceited and arrogant and spend your time partying, gossiping and shopping.”

Developing the virtuous mind 

This is advice from the Kadampa masters: When our minds are virtuous and our motivation positive, then our physical and verbal actions will naturally be virtuous and positive. We will not harm but instead benefit others. Conversely, when our minds are in negative, non-virtuous states, it is very difficult to generate positive behaviour. We are most likely to give problems to others and be harmed by them in return. The Kadampa masters therefore advise us to generate a good heart and develop a positive mind and motivation.

We are now studying the practice of exchanging ourselves for others and developing bodhicitta,  the main point of which is to develop the virtuous, positive mind. A positive state of mind leads to positive and beneficial behaviour that helps us to become good-hearted, virtuous people. It is very difficult to change our minds overnight. We have to start reducing negative physical and verbal actions by reducing our negative states of mind. While we may not be able to completely remove such negativities, we can work towards reducing them.

What are the benefits of being good-hearted people? We will be protected by the worldly gods who delight in virtue and receive blessings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Temporal goals are easily achieved. When death comes, we will move on easily to the next life and achieve enlightenment very quickly.

The internal enemy 

Lama Atisha said, “When we can subdue our minds, then no external enemy can harm us. But if our minds waver, with the external enemy acting as the condition, our internal enemy will burn our minds. Therefore, defeat and destroy this internal enemy.”

We cannot be harmed by external enemies when our minds are loving and compassionate but if we succumb to the three mental poisons, our mental peace is destroyed. It is not the external enemy, who acts only as the condition, but our afflictions which are responsible for the destruction of our mental peace.

It is the very nature of our afflictions to do this, so our real enemies are the internal ones, our afflictions, which are the real trouble-makers. We should therefore put effort into destroying them.

We need both mindfulness and introspection to protect and guard the mind. Mindfulness protects our minds by not forgetting what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, and introspection is the part of our minds that checks to see whether our minds are up to virtue or non-virtue.

It is important to protect and guard our minds because only we know our own minds. No one else does. We are our own masters because only we know what is going on in our own minds. We need to check to see whether our minds are in a virtuous or non-virtuous state because only by protecting our minds will we be able to prevent ourselves from being stained by downfalls and faults and guard our three doors.

Need for constant and persistent effort (1)

The great Indian master, Chandragomin, said that when someone is very sick with a serious disease, e.g., leprosy, but does not take the proper medicine continuously over a period of time, then that patient will never recover from his illness.

This is analogous to the situation we are in. We have been controlled by the three mental poisons for a very long time. In order to free ourselves from this bondage, we have to familiarise ourselves with and meditate on the antidotes continuously for a very long time. Meditating occasionally when we feel like it will not work.

We also need to train in the complete path, not just doing the virtuous practices we enjoy and then hoping or expecting those afflictions to just weaken or disappear. It does not work like that. We have to meditate on the complete path.

We do engage in virtuous practices, but sometimes we feel that, despite doing all sorts of practices, we are not getting anywhere, we are not improving. This is how we may feel sometimes. Actually, things are getting better but we should not expect to see instant results. Sometimes, when we engage in certain practices, we expect to see results in a day, a month, a year or even a couple of years. It does not work like that. We may not be able to see very tangible results for quite a while.

Our afflictions are like the very heavy sicknesses of a patient. We have been harbouring these afflictions, the three mental poisons, in our minds for a very long time.  In order to heal ourselves of these afflictions, we need to meditate and rely on the antidotes continuously for a long period of time. If we rely on the antidotes every now and then, as and when we feel like it, then we are not going to reap much benefit from them.

Need for constant and persistent effort (2) 

The great Indian master, Chandragomin, said that the fruits of a fruit tree whose roots are always submerged in a pool of sour muddy water will be sour and not sweet. If we want the fruit tree to bear sweet fruits, fertilising it with just a few drops of sweetener will not work.

In the same way, we have been controlled by the three mental poisons since time without beginning. That being the case, hoping for a major mental transformation by doing a little daily practice and some small virtues, and expecting fantastic results and a huge reduction in our suffering is completely unrealistic.

In order for us to attain the fruit of the state beyond sorrow, the cessation of all our suffering, we need to remove our afflictions from the root. Hoping to achieve this by some small exertions on our part is like expecting a harvest of sweet fruit in the above analogy.

Removing our mental afflictions is extremely difficult and requires reliance on continuous effort for a long period of time. Sometimes, we may feel this  is an almost impossible task. It is natural for us to think in this way because it is true that the negative emotions have been with us since beginningless time, not just a few lifetimes.  We are thoroughly familiar with them. It is as if the afflictions have merged with the very nature of our minds, making it impossible to separate our minds from them.

Although this may be the way we feel and how things appear to us, if we critically analyse the situation, we will find that this is not the case, because if we apply the appropriate antidotes, we will definitely be able to free our minds from these negative emotions.

Look at our lives. What are we doing everyday? Are we actively doing something to weaken our afflictions or are we actually strengthening them? If we are honest with ourselves, we find that not only are we not doing anything to overcome our afflictions but in fact, we are allowing them to become stronger as we encounter the objects and conditions which cause them to arise.

In order to destroy our mental afflictions, the only way is to put effort continuously into weakening and destroying them.  If we do not do this, there is no hope of the negative emotions ever becoming weaker or being destroyed.

Reflection on impermanence 

The great Nagarjuna once said that someone who would put rubbish or vomit into a precious golden bejewelled container would be considered very foolish indeed. We should reflect on how this statement applies to ourselves.

Having achieved the precious human rebirth and met the teachings of the Buddha, we call ourselves Buddhists and take on the different levels of vows and commitments. Yet, instead of accumulating virtue, we spend our time committing negativities. That is both very unskilful and unwise and if that is our situation, we must do something to overcome it. Those negative activities arise due to the three mental poisons in our minds which we must work to subdue.

The stronger the negative emotions – our attachment to friends and loved ones and aversion and hatred towards our enemies - the more powerful will be the resultant negative actions generated by them. It is, therefore, very important that we work very hard to reduce the strength of the three mental poisons. We are not suggesting here that friends or enemies do not exist but we are trying to reduce the negative emotions we generate towards them.

One of the best ways of doing this is to reflect on impermanence. For example, to reduce our hatred towards an enemy, we should reflect on his impermanent nature, how he will definitely die one day and the uncertainty of that time of death. Our enemy will probably be very fearful both at the time of death and during the intermediate state. He may also be reborn in the lower realms because of his own negativities. Reflecting how our enemy is controlled by his own afflictions and negative karma, it becomes possible for us to generate compassion instead of hatred towards him.

We can reflect in the same way to reduce our attachment towards our loved ones. They will also die one day and it is uncertain when death will come. They will experience suffering and fear at the time of death and in the intermediate state and take rebirth in the lower realms.  Reflecting in this way, we substitute our attachment and desire for them with compassion.

We ourselves are also impermanent and we should reflect on the fear that we will encounter at the time of our own death. When we give in to our negative emotions, we create negativities that lead to great suffering and fear in the intermediate state, which will only throw us into the lower realms.

By reflecting on these different points, we develop renunciation. Of course, it will be very difficult for us to remove our afflictions from the root now, but by reflecting on these points, we can at least reduce the strength of those afflictions when they manifest. This is something we must do.

At this time, we have achieved this precious human body and the opportunity to listen to and discuss the Mahayana teachings. We understand that if we were to engage in negative actions, we would have to take rebirth in the lower realms. We accept the existence of the hells and the lower realms. We also accept the possibility of higher rebirths as humans and gods. Therefore, we are more knowledgeable than those who have no exposure to such teachings.

In spite of having such knowledge, when it comes to the actual practice of working to overcome our afflictions, instead of our reducing them, they actually become stronger. If this happens, we will be exactly as Nagarjuna said – very foolish and stupid. We must do something about this situation.

When we meet with difficulties, we should try to apply and reap some benefit from our Dharma knowledge.  It seems that, sometimes, we are unable to do this, so that when problems come, our suffering seems to be even more intense and the bad experiences seem much more difficult to handle. This should not be the case.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Overcoming the stubborn mind of self-cherishing 

Guntang Rinpoche points out how we always cherish ourselves. It is this evil mind of self-cherishing that is our downfall. Only when we are able to overcome this very stubborn self-cherishing mind, which is as hard as wood, then enlightenment will not be very far away.

In the same way, we are always controlled by our three mental poisons which only lead to misfortune and our downfall. We desperately want happiness but our afflictions bring only problems and suffering.

The essence of Rinpoche’s advice is that enlightenment can only be achieved when we are able to subdue our stubborn minds. Whatever virtues we do with our bodies and speech, they must ultimately lead to subduing our minds. If this does not happen, then there is no way we will achieve enlightenment.

There are students who say they have been practising for a long time – for 10, 20, 30 years – but they do not see any progress. This is the fault of not transforming their virtuous actions of body and speech into methods that will help them to subdue their negative minds. It boils down to this failure to transform their minds.

Our narrow-minded outlook 

Mental suffering can only be reduced through adopting the correct mental perspective. The more we are able to think from different perspectives, the better equipped we will be to deal with our mental difficulties. Our mental unhappiness can never be solved by wealth, possessions or medication.

The reason why we experience mental unhappiness is because of our narrow-minded outlook. We tend to fixate on some small aspect of the problem. When we think in such a way, the mind will always remain narrow, tight and stressed. We need to widen our minds, make them bigger, more expansive and relaxed, by considering the problem from multi-faceted angles. Although it is difficult to experience immediate benefits from the mind-training techniques given in the text we are now studying, when we continue to listen, critically analyse and familiarise ourselves with the teachings, we will definitely experience some benefits and be able to reduce our mental suffering over time.

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

3. How Things Exist

"Dependent arising"1, "empty" and "the middle way"  all have the same basic meaning involving the same kinds of thought processes. Just as the word "middle" normally means the middle between right and left, likewise dependent arising is said to be the middle way or the middle, with the connotation of being between two extremes. The path of the middle which goes through the central way is the one free of two extremes. These two are the nihilistic and the permanent/eternalist extremes. If something were inherently or self-existent, existing in and of itself by its own nature, this would be the permanent extreme because the permanent or eternalist extreme basically means inherent existence.

That things (phenomena) exist means they have their own particular function to accomplish or perform. Within this context of things being able to perform a function, refuge exists. We assert that there is refuge, and also that karma (action) and its results exist. Although everything which exists can perform actions or functions, there is nothing which is inherently existent or self-existent.

Therefore one should distinguish between statements that things exist and that they inherently exist. They exist but they do not inherently exist - they are not self-existent. If they were self-existent, existing by their own nature, existing inherently or intrinsically (these are different ways of expressing the same point) they could exist completely independent of any action they perform, and of any other phenomenon. However, we know things exist and the way they exist because they can perform actions. They each have specific actions and functions they perform - that is the level on which they exist.

If things were self-existent, they would exist independent of the capacity to perform any action or function. Therefore there is a big difference between saying things exist and that they are self-existent. To repeat, things do exist, but they are not self-existent - they do not exist inherently.

We must distinguish between existing and being self-existent. These are complete opposites because existing means coming into being through depending on various other factors. However, something self-existent would be completely independent of anything else.

We must also distinguish between not existing inherently and not existing at all. Things are not inherently existent - they do not exist inherently - but that is very different from not existing at all. One should recognise that things are existent without being self-existent. When realising things are not self-existent, one should not think they do not exist at all.

Dependent Arising, Empty and Emptiness

How are dependent arising and empty connected? They come to the same thing and have the same import. Therefore one should understand something as empty, in such a way as to see it as dependent. Moreover, one should understand something as dependent, in such a way as to see it as empty.

When something is empty, what does "empty" mean? It does not mean empty of existing - not existing at all. "Empty" means empty of self-existence which means being independent of anything else. Thus it means dependent. An empty thing exists depending on various other factors.

Knowing something to be empty leads one to recognise that it exists as a dependent arising. The opposite is also true. Knowing something to be dependent, one knows it depends upon various other factors and is not independent. Independent meaning self-existent, and not independent meaning not self-existent, one knows something dependent to be empty of self-existence and therefore "empty". This demonstrates that "empty", "dependent arising" and "the middle way free of the two extremes" come to the same thing, are synonymous, having the same meaning or import.

Everything which exists is empty - of self-existence - but not everything is emptiness. There is a difference between "empty" and "emptiness", because emptiness is the quality of a thing's being empty, or the characteristic that an object has of being empty. Everything which exists is empty, but not everything is that quality of being empty, so not everything which exists is emptiness. One must distinguish between empty and emptiness.

Emptiness is the ultimate way of being of phenomena and is described as an exclusive negation.2 It is neither a positive phenomenon nor an implicative negation.3 It is a negation, and out of the two types of negation it is an exclusive negation. Not everything which exists is this exclusive negation, emptiness, but everything which exists is empty.

There is a difference between being empty and being emptiness. There are two types of truth, namely conventional truth and ultimate truth. Emptiness means ultimate truth, and not everything which exists is ultimate truth. Everything which exists is empty because of being empty of self-existence. Not everything is emptiness because not everything is an ultimate truth. There are also conventional truths.

Some texts seem to use the words "empty" and "emptiness" indistinguishably, suggesting that there is little difference between them. However, there is very definitely a distinction between them because emptiness is ultimate truth, and empty is not ultimate truth. Not everything which is empty has to be an ultimate truth, but everything which is emptiness has to be an ultimate truth. Although absolutely everything which exists is empty, it is not the case that everything which exists is emptiness, because emptiness is an ultimate phenomenon and not everything which exists is an ultimate phenomenon.

Just as dependent arising and empty are synonymous, also the appearances of dependent arising and empty are synonymous. "Dependent arising appearance" and "the appearance of dependent arising" mean conventionally existent. All that exists, exists conventionally and is also empty. Thus all that exists and appears is both a dependent arising and also empty. Things exist and appear but are also empty, so although they exist, things are not self-existent, but are empty of self-existence.

First is the idea of conventional phenomena appearing to be and being dependent and second the idea of them as empty and free from assertions. When these two ideas seem different and separate, one has not yet understood Buddha's teaching of emptiness. On the other hand if one recognises that things both appear to be and are dependent, and that they are simultaneously empty, knowing these two without any conflict, one has correctly understood the definitive teaching of the Buddha.

Everything is both empty and dependent. Distinguishing between empty and emptiness, one should maintain the knowledge of everything's being simultaneously empty and dependent.

When recognising something as dependent, can one eliminate the sense of it existing in either of the two extremes? In other words, can thinking of things being dependent eliminate the two extremes? It is not hard to see how dependent arising eliminates the extreme of non-existence (the nihilistic extreme). All four Buddhist philosophical systems4 accept that. However, does recognising a thing as dependent, a dependent arising, also eliminate the permanent or eternalistic extreme, which is the extreme of things being self-existent?

When thinking how something is dependent does that bring to mind an idea of its being self-existent or does it bring to mind how in order to exist the thing depends on the coming together of various different factors? Reflection on how something is dependent certainly stops one from thinking it does not exist at all, but on the other hand does it stop you from thinking the thing is self-existent?

Recognising something as dependent implies that it is not self-existent and therefore stops both extremes It stops the extremes both of thinking a thing does not exist at all and of thinking it is self-existent. This insight into how the understanding of dependent arising can eliminate both extremes is one of the unique and very difficult to understand points of the Consequentialist system.

Furthermore, recognising a thing's being empty stops the extreme of believing it to be self-existent, which is the permanent or eternalistic extreme. When recognising something as empty, one recognises that it is empty of self-existence. That self-existence means existence independent of anything else.

Thinking something is empty of self-existence, involves thinking that it is not independent. This is seen through recognising that it is dependent. So something's being empty means it depends, and therefore exists dependently. "Empty" stops both extremes. Thinking of something as empty stops both extremes in your mind, and thinking of it as a dependent arising also stops both extremes.

The Two Truths

What we hear, smell, taste, touch and wear are examples of conventional truths. For an example of emptiness analyse the person, to seek a self-existing person in the aggregates - the form, feeling, discrimination, the conditioned phenomena and the consciousness aggregates. Investigate, searching for a self-existing person in each of those aggregates. At a certain point having looked everywhere and not having found it, there is an empty appearance, almost a feeling of having lost that self-existing person. What is then appearing to our mind is the emptiness of the person, which is an example of ultimate truth.

Having recognised that things appear to one as if self-existent the mind investigates whether or not what appears to be self-existent is genuinely so. The mind which analyses and searches for a self-existent thing eventually realises there is no such thing. This is called a valid mind experiencing ultimates or engaging in an ultimate analysis. That valid mind finally realises emptiness, the object found by a valid mind engaging in an ultimate analysis or experiencing ultimates.

Visual forms, sounds, tastes and so on, are not objects found by a mind performing an ultimate analysis, but they are objects found by a mind engaging in a conventional analysis. For example, the visual consciousness that realises (sees) visual form is a valid mind; the nose consciousness that smells various odours, so realising those odours is also a valid mind. These are examples of valid minds experiencing conventionalities.

Ultimate truth is not found by a valid mind experiencing conventionalities but is generally defined as the object found by a valid mind experiencing ultimates. This mind is a valid mind experiencing ultimates with respect to this object. Moreover, just as in general, things like emptiness are the objects realised by a valid mind performing an ultimate analysis, conventional phenomena or truths such as smells, tastes and so forth are objects found by a valid mind performing a conventional analysis.

Student: I have always thought that all phenomena are like coins with two sides, with conventional reality on one side and ultimate reality on the other. But am I mistaken, does emptiness not apply to all phenomena?

Khensur Rinpoche: One may say that a thing's empty and dependent aspects are like two sides of a coin. However emptiness is something else. It is correct to think of the two truths as being like two sides of one coin, because you are thinking of how the thing is empty rather than how it is emptiness.

Conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear, whereas ultimate phenomena do. This statement requires one to identify to what they are appearing. To which type of mind do conventional phenomena not exist as they appear? To which type of mind do ultimate phenomena exist as they appear?

Two types of valid mind are being discussed here. To one of them conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear and to the other ultimate phenomena do exist as they appear.

The mind to which conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear is the valid main mind5 realising them. For example for visual form, it means visual (eye) consciousness, the valid main mind6 realising visual form. Visual consciousness is a valid mind experiencing conventionalities. That valid mind experiencing conventionalities is the main mind realising visual form. Visual form does not exist in the way it appears to that valid mind since it appears to be self-existent but is not. Therefore although that is a valid mind, visual form does not exist as it appears to it. It is the same with other conventional phenomena like smells, tastes, sounds and so on.

What appear to visual consciousness and what it realises are shapes and colours. Shapes and colours appear to visual consciousness as self-existent, whereas they are not. They are dependent, existing only through dependence, and not at all self-existent. In this sense, shapes and forms do not exist the way they appear to the valid mind realising them.

There is a difference between sense consciousnesses - visual consciousness realising visual form, shapes and colours and so on; ear consciousness realising sounds, and so forth - and the innate I-grasping mind. The innate I-grasping mind is a type of true-grasping or self-grasping mind that grasps or apprehends the "I" in one's own continuum as being self-existent. There is a difference between the inborn I-grasping mind which thinks of and believes the "I" to be self-existent or inherently existent, and the mind which thinks, “I'm coming, I'm going, I'm doing this, I'm doing that”, which are minds realising the conventionally existing "I." Those minds thinking, “I'm coming, I'm going, I must do this and I must do that,” are conventional minds and are not true-grasping, so are certainly not the innate I-grasping mind.

Notes

"Dependent arising" means arising in dependence on other things. [Return to text]

 This means that in its act of negation it excludes any positive implications. [Return to text]

Phenomena can be either positive or negative (e.g. "body" or "nobody"). Negations may be implicative or exclusive. An implicative negation would imply something in place of the negation. [Return to text]

The four Buddhist systems are the philosophical schools of the Vaibhashika (Particularists), Sautrantika (Sutra-followers), Cittamatra (Mind-only) and Madhyamaka (Middle Way). [Return to text]

Mind can be divided into main minds and mental factors. An example of a main mind is the visual consciousness. An example of a mental factor is feeling. So if you see something you like, you have a visual consciousness as a main mind and pleasure as a feeling.  [Return to text]

 Valid means that the visual consciousness has correctly ascertained its object, so if it is seeing a sunflower, it is not mistaking it for a lotus, as it is actually a sunflower that is being seen. [Return to text]