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

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

Beginning to Understand Karma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Karma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karma, inner strength and life itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karma, Reality and Belief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A commentary on the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

CHAPTERS
Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra

PRELIMINARIES

We should always begin our study and practice at the basic level and slowly ascend the ladder of practice. First of all, we should learn about going for refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and put that into practice. Then we should study and follow the law of karmic actions and their results. Next, we should meditate on the preciousness of our human life, our great spiritual potential and upon our own death and the impermanence of our body. After that we should develop an awareness of our own state of mind and notice what it is really doing. If we are thinking of harming anyone, even the smallest insect, then we must let go of that thought, but if our mind is thinking of something positive, such as wishing to help and cherish others, then we must try to enhance that quality. As we progress, we slowly train our mind in bodhicitta and go on to study the perfect view of emptiness. This is the proper way to approach Buddhist study and practice.

As we engage in our practice of Dharma there will be definite signs of improvement. Of course, these signs should come from within. The great Kadampa master, Geshe Chekawa, states, "Change or transform your attitude and leave your external conduct as it is." What he is telling us is that we should direct our attention towards bringing about positive transformation within, but in terms of our external conduct we should still behave without pretense, like a normal person. We should not be showy about any realization we have gained or think that we have license to conduct ourselves in any way we like. As we look into our own mind, if we find that delusions such as anger, attachment, arrogance and jealousy are diminishing and feel more intent on helping others, that is a sign that positive change is taking place.

Lama Tsongkhapa stated that in order to get rid of our confusion with regard to any subject, we must develop the three wisdoms that arise through contemplation. We have to listen to the relevant teaching, which develops the "wisdom through hearing." Then we contemplate the meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of contemplation." Finally, we meditate on the ascertained meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of meditation." By applying these three kinds of wisdom, we will be able to get beyond our doubts, misconceptions and confusion.

INVESTIGATING OUR ACTIONS

The text advises that we should apply ourselves to gross analysis (conceptual investigation) and subtle analysis (analytical investigation) to find out if we are performing proper actions with our body, speech and mind. If we are, then there is nothing more to do. However, if we find that certain actions of our body, speech and mind are improper, we should correct ourselves.

Every action that we perform has a motivation at its beginning. We have to investigate and analyze whether this motivation is positive or negative. If we discover that we have a negative motivation, we have to let go of that and adopt a positive one. Then, while we're actually performing the action, we have to investigate whether our action is correct or not. Finally, once we have completed the action, we have to end it with a dedication and again, analyze the correctness of our dedication. In this way, we observe the three phases of our every action of body, speech and mind, letting go of the incorrect actions and adopting the correct ones.

We should do this as often as we can, but we should try to do it at least three times a day. First thing in the morning, when we get up from our beds, we should analyze our mind and set up the right motivation for the day. During the day we should again apply this mindfulness to our actions and activities. Then in the evening, before we go to bed, we should review our actions of the daytime. If we find that we did something that we shouldn't have, we should regret the wrong action and develop contrition for having engaged in it and determine not to engage in that action again. It is essential that we purify our negativities, or wrong actions, in this way. However, if we find that we have committed good actions, we should feel happy. We should appreciate our own positive actions and draw inspiration from them, determining that tomorrow we should try to do the same or even better.

Buddha said, "Taking your own body as an example, do not harm others." So, taking ourselves as an example, what do we want? We want real peace, happiness and the best of everything. What do we not want? We don't want any kind of pain, problem or difficulty. Everyone else has the same wish-so, with that kind of understanding we should stop harming others, including those who we see as our enemies. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often advises that if we can't help others, then we should at least not harm them, either through our speech or our physical actions. In fact, we shouldn't even think harmful thoughts.

PRACTICING PATIENCE

The text states that we should not be boastful. Instead, we should appreciate the good actions we've performed. If you go up to people and say, "Haven't I been kind to you?" nobody will appreciate what you've done. In the Eight Verses of Mind Training, we read that even if people turn out to be ungrateful to us and say or do nasty things when we have been kind and helpful to them, we should make all the more effort to appreciate the great opportunity they have provided us to develop our patience. The stanza ends beautifully, "Bless me to be able to see them as if they were my true teachers of patience." After all, they are providing us with a real chance to practice patience, not just a hypothetical one. That is exactly what mind training is. When we find ourselves in that kind of difficult situation, we should just stay cool and realize that we have a great opportunity to practice kshantiparamita, the "perfection of patience."

In the same vein, the text also advises us not to be short-tempered. We shouldn't let ourselves be shaken by difficult circumstances or situations. Generally, when people say nice things to us or bring us gifts, we feel happy. On the other hand, if someone says the smallest thing that we don't want to hear, we get upset. Don't be like that. We need to remain firm in our practice and maintain our peace of mind.

DEVELOPING CONSISTENCY

The text reminds us to practice our mind training with consistency. We shouldn't practice for a few days and then give it up because we've decided it's not working. At first, we may apply ourselves very diligently to study and practice out of a sense of novelty or because we've heard so much about the benefits of meditation. Then, in a day or two, we stop because we don't think we're making any progress. Or, for a while we may come to the teachings before everyone else but then we just give up and disappear, making all kinds of reasons and excuses for our behavior. That won't help.

If we keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to become completely enlightened, then we can begin to comprehend the length of time we'll need for practice. The great Indian master, Chandrakirti, says that all kinds of accomplishments follow from diligence, consistency and enthusiasm. If we apply ourselves correctly to the proper practice we will eventually reach our destination. He says that if we don't have constant enthusiasm, even if we are very intelligent we are not going to achieve very much. Intelligence is like a drawing made on water but constant enthusiasm in our practice is like a carving made in rock-it remains for a much longer time.

So, whatever practice each of us does, big or small, if we do it consistently, over the course of time we will find great progress within ourselves. One of the examples used in Buddhist literature is that our enthusiasm should be constant, like the flow of a river. Another example compares consistency to a strong bowstring. If a bowstring is straight and strong, we can shoot the arrow further. We read in a text called The Praise of the Praiseworthy, "For you to prove your superiority, show neither flexibility nor rigidity." The point being made here is that we should be moderate in applying ourselves to our practice. We should not rigidly overexert ourselves for a short duration and then stop completely, but neither should we be too flexible and relaxed, because then we become too lethargic.

EXPECTATIONS OF REWARD

The next advice given in the text is that we should not anticipate some reward as soon as we do something nice. When we practice giving, or generosity, the best way to give is selflessly and unconditionally. That is great giving. In Buddhist scriptures we find it stated that as a result of our own giving and generosity, we acquire the possessions and resources we need. When we give without expecting anything in return, our giving will certainly bring its result, but when we give with the gaining of resources as our motivation, our giving becomes somewhat impure. Intellectualizing, thinking, "I must give because giving will bring something back to me," contaminates our practice of generosity.

When we give we should do so out of compassion and understanding. We have compassion for the poor and needy, for example, because we can clearly see their need. Sometimes people stop giving to the homeless because they think that they might go to a bar and get drunk or otherwise use the gift unwisely. We should remember that when we give to others, we never have any control over how the recipient uses our gift. Once we have given something, it has become the property of the other person. It's up to them to decide what they will do with it.

KARMIC ACTIONS

Another cardinal point of Buddhism concerns karmic actions. Sometimes we go through good times in our lives and sometimes we go through bad; but we should understand that all these situations are related to our own personal karmic actions of body, speech and mind. Shakyamuni Buddha taught numerous things intended to benefit three kinds of disciples-those who are inclined to the Hearers' Vehicle, those who are inclined to the Solitary Realizers' Vehicle and those who are inclined to the Greater Vehicle. Buddha said to all three kinds of prospective disciples, "You are your own protector." In other words, if you want to be free from any kind of suffering, it is your own responsibility to find the way and to follow it. Others cannot do it for you. No one can present the way to liberation as if it were a gift. You are totally responsible for yourself.

"You are your own protector." That statement is very profound and carries a deep message for us. It also implicitly speaks about the law of karmic actions and results. You are responsible for your karmic actions-if you do good, you will have good; if you do bad, you will have bad. It's as simple as that. If you don't create and accumulate a karmic action, you will never meet its results. Also, the karmic actions that you have already created and accumulated are not simply going to disappear. It is just a matter of time and the coming together of certain conditions for these karmic actions to bring forth their results. When we directly, or non-conceptually, fully realize emptiness, from that moment on we will never create any new karmic seeds to be reborn in cyclic existence. It is true that transcendent bodhisattvas return to samsara, but they don't come back under the influence of contaminated karmic actions or delusions. They return out of their will power, their aspirational prayers and their great compassion.

THE DESIRE TO BE LIBERATED

Without the sincere desire to be free from cyclic existence, it is impossible to become liberated from it. In order to practice with enthusiasm, we must cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the miseries of cyclic existence. We can develop this enthusiastic wish by contemplating the suffering nature of samsara, this cycle of compulsive rebirths in which we find ourselves. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his beautifully concise text, theThree Principal Paths, without the pure, determined wish to be liberated, one will not be able to let go of the prosperity and goodness of cyclic existence. What he is saying-and our own experience will confirm this-is that we tend to focus mostly, and perhaps most sincerely, on the temporary pleasures and happiness of this lifetime. As we do this, we get more and more entrenched in cyclic existence.

In order to break this bond to samsara, it is imperative that we cultivate the determined wish for liberation, and to do that we have to follow certain steps. First, we must try to sever our attachment and clinging to the temporary marvels and prosperity of this lifetime. Then we need to do the same thing with regard to our future lives. No matter whether we are seeking personal liberation or complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, we must first cultivate this attitude of renunciation. Having done that, if we want to find our own personal liberation, or nirvana, then we can follow the path of hearers or solitary realizers, but if we want to work for the betterment of all sentient beings, we should at that point follow Greater Vehicle Buddhism-the path of the bodhisattvas-which leads to the highest state of enlightenment.

The determined wish to be liberated is the first path of Lama Tsongkhapa's Three Principal Paths, which presents the complete path to enlightenment. Tsongkhapa said that this human life, with its freedoms and enriching factors, is more precious than a wish-fulfilling gem. He also tells us that, however valuable and filled with potential our life is, it is as transient as lightning. We must understand that worldly activities are as frivolous and meaningless as husks of grain. Discarding them, we should engage instead in spiritual practice to derive the essence of this wonderful human existence. We need to realize the preciousness and rarity of this human life and our great spiritual potential as well as our life's temporary nature and the impermanence of all things. However, we should not interpret this teaching as meaning that we should devalue ourselves. It simply means that we should release our attachment and clinging to this life because they are the main source of our problems and difficulties. We also need to release our attachment and clinging to our future lives and their particular marvels and pleasures. As a way of dealing with this attachment, we need to contemplate and develop conviction in the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and their results and then contemplate the suffering nature of cyclic existence.

How do we know when we have developed the determined wish to be liberated? Lama Tsongkhapa says that if we do not aspire to the pleasures of cyclic existence for even a moment but instead, day in and day out, find ourselves naturally seeking liberation, then we can say that we have developed the determined wish to be liberated. If we were to fall into a blazing fire pit, we wouldn't find even one moment that we wanted to be there. There'd be nothing enjoyable about it at all and we would want to get out immediately. If we develop that kind of determination regarding cyclic existence, then that is a profound realization. Without even the aspiration to develop renunciation, we will never begin to seek enlightenment and therefore will not engage in the practices that lead us towards it.

MOTIVATION FOR SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT

There are three kinds of motivation we can have for aspiring to attain freedom from the sufferings of cyclic existence. The lowest motivation seeks a favorable rebirth in our next life, such as the one we have right now. With this motivation we will be able to derive the smallest essence from our human life.

The intermediate level of motivation desires complete liberation from samsara and is generating by reflecting upon the suffering nature of cyclic existence and becoming frightened of all its pains and problems. The method that can help us attain this state of liberation is the study of the common paths of the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of teachings, and the practice and cultivation of the common paths of the three higher trainings-ethics, concentration and wisdom. This involves meditating on emptiness and developing the wisdom that realizes emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena. As a result of these practices, we are then able to counteract and get rid of all 84,000 delusions and reach the state of liberation. With this intermediate motivation we achieve the state of lasting peace and happiness for ourselves alone. Our spiritual destination is personal nirvana. The highest level of motivation is the altruistic motivation of bodhicitta -seeking complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. With this kind of motivation, we are affirming the connections we have made with all sentient beings over many lifetimes. All sentient beings are recognized as having once been our mothers, fathers and closest friends. We appreciate how kind they have been to us and we develop the responsibility of helping them to become free from all their suffering and to experience lasting peace and happiness. When we consider our present situation we see that at the moment, we don't actually have the power to do this but once we have become fully enlightened beings, we will have all kinds of abilities to help sentient beings get rid of their pains and problems and find peace and happiness.

THE SUFFERING NATURE OF SAMSARA

If we reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves, we will realize that with so much unbearable pain and suffering, it is as though we were in a giant prison. This is the prison of cyclic existence. However, because of our distorted perception, we often see this prison as a very beautiful place; as if it were, in fact, a wonderful garden of joy. We don't really see what the disadvantages of samsara are, and because of this we find ourselves clinging to this existence. With this attachment, we continue creating karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth in it over and over again and thus keep us stuck in samsara. If we look deep within ourselves, we find that it is the innate grasping at self that distorts our perception and makes us see cyclic existence as a pleasure land. All of us who are trapped in samsara share that kind of distorted perception, and as a result, we find ourselves creating all sorts of karmic actions. Even our good karmic actions are somewhat geared towards keeping us imprisoned within cyclic existence.

We should try to understand that being in cyclic existence is like being in a fire pit, with all the pain that such a situation would bring. When we understand this, we will start to change the nature of our karmic actions. Buddha said this in the sutras and Indian masters have carried this teaching over into the commentaries, or shastras. No matter where we live in samsara, we are bound to experience suffering. It doesn't matter with whom we live-our friends, family and companions all bring problems and suffering. Nor does it matter what kind of resources we have available to us; they too ultimately bring us pain and difficulty.

Now, you might think, "Well, that doesn't seem to be altogether true. In this world there are many wonderful places to visit-magnificent waterfalls, lovely wildernesses and so on. It doesn't seem as if samsara is such a bad place to be. Also, I have many wonderful friends who really care for me. It doesn't seem true that those in cyclic existence to whom I am close bring me problems and sufferings. Moreover, I have delicious food to eat and beautiful things to wear, so neither does it seem that everything I use in cyclic existence is suffering in nature." If such are our thoughts and feelings, then we have not realized the true nature of samsara, which is actually nothing but misery. Let me explain more about how things really are in samsara. The first thing the Buddha spoke about after his enlightenment was the truth of suffering. There are three kinds of pains and problems in cyclic existence-the "suffering of misery," the "suffering of change" and "pervasive suffering." We can easily relate to the suffering of misery, as this includes directly manifested pain and problems, such as the pain we experience if we cut ourselves or get a headache. However, our understanding of suffering is usually limited to that. We don't generally perceive the misery of change, which is a subtler kind of suffering. Even when we experience some temporary pleasures and comforts in cyclic existence, we must understand that these things also change into pains and problems. Pervasive, or extensive, suffering is even more subtle and hence even more difficult for us to understand. Suffering is simply the nature of samsara. When we have a headache we take medicine for the pain or when there is a cut on our body we go to the doctor for treatment, but we generally don't seek treatment for the other two kinds of suffering.

Buddhas and bodhisattvas feel infinite compassion for those of us who are trapped within cyclic existence because we don't realize that our pain and suffering are our own creation. It is as though we are engaged in self-torture. Our suffering is due to our own negative karmic actions, which in turn are motivated by all sorts of deluded thoughts and afflictive emotions. Just as we would feel compassion for a close friend who had gone insane, so are the buddhas and bodhisattvas constantly looking for ways in which to help us free ourselves from these problematic situations. With their infinite love and compassion, they are always looking for ways to assist us in getting out of this messy existence.

None of us would like to be a slave. Slaves go through all kinds of altercations, restrictions and difficulties and try with all their might to find freedom from their oppressors. Likewise, we have become slaves to the oppressors of our own delusions and afflictive emotions. These masters have enslaved us not only in this lifetime but for innumerable lifetimes past. As a result, we have gone through countless pains and sufferings in cyclic existence. Obviously, if we don't want to suffer such bondage any longer, we need to make an effort at the first given opportunity to try to free ourselves. In order to do this, we need to cultivate the wisdom realizing selflessness, or emptiness. In Sanskrit, the word is shunyata, ortathata, which is translated as "emptiness," or "suchness." This wisdom is the only tool that can help us to destroy the master of delusions-our self-grasping ignorance. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all that exists. As such it is the antidote with which we can counteract all forms of delusion, including the root delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger.

THE SELF-CHERISHING ATTITUDE

Buddha has stated that for Mahayana practitioners, the self-cherishing attitude is like poison, whereas the altruistic, other-cherishing attitude is like a wish-fulfilling gem. Self-centeredness is akin to a toxic substance that we have to get out of our system in order to find the jewel-like thought of cherishing other beings. When we ingest poison it contaminates our body and threatens our very existence. In the same way, the self-cherishing attitude ruins our chance to improve our mind. With it, we destroy the possibility for enlightenment and become harmful to others. By contrast, if we have the mental attitude of cherishing other beings, not only will we be able to find happiness and the best of everything we are seeking, but we will also be able to bring goodness to others.

In order to cultivate the altruistic attitude, we should reflect on the kindness of all other beings. As we learn to appreciate their kindness we also learn to care for them. We might accept the general notion that sentient beings must be cherished, but when we come down to it we find ourselves thinking, "Well, so and so doesn't count because they have been mean or unpleasant to me, so I'll take them off the list and just help the rest." If we do that we are missing the whole point and are limiting our thinking. We need all other beings in order to follow the path that Buddha has shown us.

It is others who provide us with the real opportunities to grow spiritually. In fact, in terms of providing us with the actual opportunities to follow the path leading to enlightenment, sentient beings are just as kind to us as are the buddhas. To use a previous example in a different context, in order to grow any kind of fruit tree we need its seed. However, it's not enough just to have the seed-we also need good fertile soil, otherwise the seed won't germinate. So, although Buddha has given us the seed-the path to enlightenment-sentient beings constitute the field of our growth-the opportunities to actually engage in activities leading to the state of enlightenment.

PRACTICES FOR DEVELOPING BODHICITTA

There are two methods of instruction for developing bodhicitta. The first is the "six causes and one result," which has come down to us through a line of transmission from Shakyamuni Buddha to Maitreya and Asanga and his disciples. The second is called "equalizing and exchanging self for others," an instruction that has come down to us from Shakyamuni Buddha to Manjushri and Arya Nagarjuna and his disciples. It doesn't matter which of these two core instructions for developing bodhicitta we put into practice. The focal object of great compassion is all sentient beings and its aspect is wishing them to be free from every kind of pain and suffering.

We start at a very basic level. We try to cultivate compassion towards our family members and friends, then slowly extend our compassion to include people in our neighborhood, in the same country, on the same continent and throughout the whole world. Ultimately, we include within the scope of our compassion not only all people but all other beings throughout the universe. We find that we cannot cause harm to any sentient being because this goes against our compassion.

Before generating such compassion, however, we need to cultivate even-mindedness-a sense of equanimity towards others-because our compassion has to extend equally towards all sentient beings, without discrimination. Usually, we divide people mentally into different categories. We have enemies on one side, friends and relatives on another and strangers somewhere else. We react differently towards each group. We have very strong negative feelings towards our enemies-we put them way away from us and if anything bad happens to them we feel a certain satisfaction. We have an indifferent attitude towards those who are strangers-we don't care if bad or good things happen to them because to us, they don't count. But if anything happens to those near and dear to us, we are immediately affected and experience all kinds of feelings in response.

In order to balance our attitude towards people and other beings, we should understand that there is nothing fixed in terms of relationships between ourselves and others. Someone we now see as a very dear friend could become our worst enemy later on in this life or the next. Similarly, someone we regard as an enemy could become our best friend. When we take rebirth our relationships change. We may become someone of a different race or some kind of animal. There is so much uncertainty in this changing pattern of lives and futures. As we take this into consideration, we begin to realize that there's no sense in discriminating between friends and enemies. In the light of all this change we should understand that all beings should be treated equally.

As we train our minds in this way, the time will come when we feel as close to all sentient beings as we currently feel to our dearest relatives and friends. After balancing our attitude in regard to people and other beings, we will easily be able to cultivate great compassion. However, we should not confuse compassion with attachment. Some people, motivated by attachment to their own skill in helping or to the outcome of their assistance, become very close and helpful to others and think that this is compassion, but it is not. Great compassion is a quality that someone who hasn't yet entered the path of Mahayana could have. So, after cultivating compassion and bodhicitta, you should combine it with cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness. This is known as "integrating method and wisdom" and is essential to reach the state of highest enlightenment.

I always qualify personal nirvana to differentiate it from enlightenment. In the higher practices, Theravadins cultivate a path that brings them to the state of nirvana, or liberation. These are people who are seeking personal freedom from cyclic existence. They talk about "liberation with remainder"-liberation that is attained while one still has the aggregates, the contaminated body and mind. "Liberation without remainder" means that one discards the body and then achieves the state of liberation. To attain the highest goal within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, one has to observe pure ethics, study or listen to teachings on the practice, contemplate the teachings and then meditate on them. For those of us who are following the Mahayana tradition, however, our intention should be to do this work of enlightenment for the benefit and sake of all other sentient beings. In Mahayana Buddhist practice we also need to follow the same four steps, but we are not so much seeking our own personal goal as we are aspiring to become enlightened beings in order to be in a position to help others.

READINESS FOR RECEIVING EMPTINESS TEACHINGS

Mahayana Buddhism consists of two major categories or vehicles. The first is the Sutrayana, the Perfection Vehicle; the second is the Tantrayana, the Vajra Vehicle. In order for anyone to practice tantric Buddhism, he or she should be well prepared and should have become a suitable vessel for such teachings and practices. Sutrayana is more like an open teaching for everyone. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

Even within the Sutra Vehicle, the emptiness teachings should not be given to just anyone who asks but to only suitable recipients- those who have trained their minds to a certain point of maturity. Then, when the teachings on emptiness are given, they become truly beneficial to that person. Let's say that we have the seed of a very beautiful flower that we wish to grow. If we simply dump the seed into dry soil it is not going to germinate. This doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the seed. It's just that it requires other causes and conditions, such as fertile soil, depth and moisture in order to develop into a flower. In the same way, if a teaching on emptiness is given to someone whose mind is not matured or well-enough trained, instead of benefiting that person it could actually give them harm.

There was once a great Indian master named Drubchen Langkopa. The king of the region where he lived heard about this master and invited him to his court to give spiritual teachings. When Drubchen Langkopa responded to the king's request and gave a teaching on emptiness, the king went berserk. Although the master didn't say anything that was incorrect, the king completely misunderstood what was being taught because he wasn't spiritually prepared for it. He thought that the master was telling him that nothing existed at all. In his confusion, he decided that Drubchen Langkopa was a misleading guide and had him executed. Later on, another master was invited to the court. He gradually prepared the king for teachings on emptiness by first talking about the infallibility of the workings of the law of karmic actions and results, impermanence and so on. Finally, the king was ready to learn about emptiness as the ultimate reality and at last understood what it meant. Then he realized what a great mistake he had made in ordering the execution of the previous master.

This story tells us two things. Firstly, the teacher has to be very skillful and possess profound insight in order to teach emptiness to others. He or she needs two qualities known as "skillful means" and "wisdom." Secondly, the student needs to be ready to receive this teaching. The view of emptiness is extremely profound and is therefore hard to grasp. There are two aspects of emptiness, or selflessness -the emptiness, or selflessness, of the person and the emptiness, or selflessness, of phenomena.

People who are unprepared get scared that the teachings are actually denying the existence of everything. It sounds to them as if the teachings are rejecting the entire existence of phenomena. They don't understand that the term "emptiness" refers to the emptiness of inherent, or true, existence. They then take this misunderstanding and apply it to their own actions. They come to the conclusion that karmic actions and their results don't really exist at all and become wild and crazy, thinking that whatever makes their lives pleasurable or humorous is okay because their actions have no consequences.

Additionally, the listener's sense of ego can also become an obstacle, as the idea of emptiness can really frighten those who are not ready for it to the extent that they abandon their meditation on emptiness altogether. Buddha's teaching on emptiness is a core, or inner essence, teaching, and if for some reason we abandon it, this becomes a huge obstacle to our spiritual development. It is very important to remember that discovering the emptiness of any phenomenon is not the same as concluding that that phenomenon does not exist at all.

In his Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti describes indicative signs by which one can judge when someone is ready to learn about emptiness. He explains that just as we can assume that there is a fire because we can see smoke or that there is water because we can see water birds hovering above the land, in the same way, through certain external signs, we can infer that someone is ready to receive teachings on emptiness. Chandrakirti goes on to tell us, "When an ordinary being, on hearing about emptiness, feels great joy arising repeatedly within him and due to such joy, tears moisten his eye and the hair on his body stands up, that person has in his mind the seed for understanding emptiness and is a fit vessel to receive teachings on it."

If we feel an affinity for the teachings and are drawn towards them, it shows that we are ready. Of the external and internal signs, the internal are more important. However, if we don't have these signs, we should make strong efforts to make ourselves suitable vessels for teachings on emptiness. To do so, we need to do two things- accumulate positive energy and wisdom and purify our deluded, negative states of mind. For the sake of simplicity, we refer to these as the practices of accumulationand purification.

In order to achieve the two types of accumulation-the accumulation of merit, or positive energy, and the accumulation of insight, or wisdom -we can engage in the practice of the six perfections of generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. Through such practices we will be able to accumulate the merit and wisdom required for spiritual progress.

We can talk about three kinds of generosity (dana, in Sanskrit)- the giving of material things, the giving of Dharma and the giving of protection, or freedom from fear. The giving of material help is easily understood. In the Lam-rim chen-mo, Lama Tsongkhapa's great lam-rim text, we read that even if you have only a mouthful of food, you can practice material giving by sharing it with a really needy person. When we see homeless people on the streets, we often get irritated or frustrated by their presence. That is not a good attitude. Even if we can't give anything, we can at least wish that someday we will be in a position to help.

The giving of Dharma can be practiced by anyone, not just a lama. For example, when you do your daily practice with the wish to benefit others, there might be some divine beings or other invisible beings around you who are listening. So, when you dedicate your prayers to others, that is giving of Dharma, or spirituality. Somebody out there is listening; remember that. An example of giving protection would be saving somebody's life.

In his Supplement, Chandrakirti says, "They will always adopt pure ethics and observe them. They will give out of generosity, will cultivate compassion and will meditate on patience. Dedicating such virtue entirely to full awakening for the liberation of wandering beings, they pay respect to accomplished bodhisattvas." In Tibetan, ethics, or moral discipline, is called tsul-tim, which means "the mind of protection." Ethics is a state of mind that protects us from negativity and delusion. For example, when we vow not to kill any sentient being, we develop the state of mind that protects us from the negativity of killing.

In Buddhism, we find different kinds of ethics. On the highest level there are the tantric ethics-tantric vows and commitments. At the level below these are the bodhisattva's ethics, and below these are the ethics for individual emancipation-pratimoksha, in Sanskrit. If we want to practice Buddhism, then even if we have not taken the tantric or bodhisattva vows, there are still the ethics of the lay practitioner. And if we have not taken the lay vows, we must still observe the basic ethics of abandoning the ten negativities of body, speech and mind. Avoiding these ten negativities is the most basic practice of ethics. If anyone performs these ten actions, whether they are a Buddhist or not, they are committing a negativity.

There are three negativities of body-killing, stealing and indulging in sexual misconduct. There are four negativities of speech-lying, causing disharmony, using harsh language and indulging in idle gossip. There are three negativities of mind-harmful intent, covetousness and wrong, or distorted, views. When we develop the state of mind to protect ourselves from these negativities and thus cease to engage in them, we are practicing ethics. Furthermore, we must always try to keep purely any vows, ethics and commitments we have promised to keep.

In addition to these ten negativities there are also the five "boundless negativities," or heinous crimes. These are killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of an enlightened being-we use the term "shedding the blood" here because an enlightened being cannot be killed-and causing a schism in the spiritual community. These negativities are called "boundless" because after the death of anyone who has committed any of them, there is a very brief intermediate state followed immediately by rebirth directly into a bad migration such as the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms.

We have discussed generosity, ethics, patience and the need for enthusiasm and consistency in our practice. Regarding the remaining perfections of concentration and wisdom, even though we may not at present have a very high level of concentration, we do need to gain a certain amount of mental stability so that we don't indulge in negativities. We must also cultivate the perfection of wisdom, which understands the reality of emptiness. We may not yet have developed the wisdom that perceives emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena, but we should begin by developing our "wisdom of discernment" so that we can differentiate between right and wrong actions and apply ourselves accordingly. All these things constitute the actual practice that can help us to attain good rebirths in future.

PURIFICATION

We know that if we create any kind of karmic action-good, bad or neutral-we will experience its results. However, this does not mean that we cannot do anything to avoid the results of actions that we have already committed. If we engage in the practice of purification we can avoid having to experience the result of an earlier negative action. Some people believe that they have created too many negative actions to be able to transform themselves, but that's not true. The Buddha said that there isn't any negativity, however serious or profound, that cannot be changed through the practice of purification. Experienced masters say that the one good thing about negativities is that they can be purified. If we don't purify our mind, we cannot really experience the altruistic mind of enlightenment or the wisdom realizing emptiness.

As we look within ourselves, we find that we are rich with delusions. There are three fundamental delusions-the "three poisons" of ignorance, attachment and anger-which give rise to innumerable other delusions; as many as 84,000 of them. So, we have a lot of work to do to purify all these delusions as well as the negative karmic actions that we have created through acting under the influence of deluded motivation.

Let me tell you a true story from the life of Lama Tsongkhapa, who is believed to have been an emanation of Manjushri, the deity of wisdom. When Lama Tsongkhapa meditated on emptiness in the assembly of monks, he would become totally absorbed and simply rest in a non-dual state as if his mind and emptiness were one. After all the other monks had left the hall, Lama Tsongkhapa would still be sitting there in meditation. At times he would check his understanding of emptiness with Manjushri through the help of a mediator, a great master called Lama Umapa. Through this master, Lama Tsongkhapa once asked Manjushri, "Have I understood the view of emptiness exactly as presented by the great Indian Master, Nagarjuna?" The answer he received was "No." Manjushri advised Lama Tsongkhapa to go with a few disciples into intensive retreat and engage in purification and accumulation practices in order to deepen his understanding of emptiness.

In accordance with Manjushri's advice, Lama Tsongkhapa took eight close students, called the "eight pure disciples," and went to a place called Wölka, more than one hundred miles east of Lhasa. There, he and his students engaged in intensive purification and accumulation practices, including many preliminary practices such as full-length prostrations and recitation of the Sutra of Confession to the Thirty-five Buddhas. Lama Tsongkhapa did as many as 350,000 prostrations and made many more mandala offerings. When making this kind of offering, you rub the base of your mandala set with your forearm. Today, mandala sets are made of silver, gold or some other metal and are very smooth, but Lama Tsongkhapa used a piece of slate as his mandala base, and as a result of all his offerings wore the skin of his forearm raw.

We have a beautiful saying in Tibet: "The life-stories of past teachers are practices for posterity." So, when we hear about the lives of our lineage masters, they are not just stories but messages and lessons for us. The masters are telling us, "This is the way I practiced and went to the state beyond suffering."

During his retreat, Lama Tsongkhapa also read the great commentary to Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamaka called Root Wisdom. Two lines of this text stood out for him-that everything that exists is characterized by emptiness and that there is no phenomenon that is not empty of inherent, or true, existence. It is said that at that very moment, Lama Tsongkhapa finally experienced direct insight into emptiness.

Some people think that emptiness isn't that difficult an insight to gain, but maybe now you can understand that it is not so easy. It is hard for many of us to sit for half an hour, even with a comfortable cushion. Those who are trained can sit for maybe forty minutes and if we manage to sit for a whole hour, we feel that it's marvelous. The great yogi Milarepa, on the other hand, did not have a cushion and sat so long that he developed calluses. This is a great teaching for us. If masters or holy beings have created any negative karmic actions, they also have to experience their results unless those actions have been purified. Even those who are nearing enlightenment still have some things to purify and need to accumulate positive energy and wisdom. If this is true even for great masters and holy beings, then it must also be true for us. We have created innumerable negative karmic actions, so we should try to purify them as much as possible. All of us-old students, new students, and myself included-need to make as much effort as we can to purify our negativities, stop creating new ones and create more positive actions. This should be our practice. Many people might be doing their best to purify the negativities they have already accumulated but feel that they are not yet ready to completely stop creating more. As a result, they naturally get involved in negativities again. This is not good. You must do your best to both purify past negativities and not create any new ones.

The practice of purification, or confession, must include the "four opponent powers," or the "four powerful antidotes." The first opponent power is the "power of contrition," or regret. If we happen to accidentally drink some poison then we really regret it because we feel so terrible. This feeling motivates us to go for treatment to detoxify our body, but we also make a kind of commitment or determination not to make that same mistake again. So, we also need to generate what is known as the "power of resolution"-the firm determination not to repeat the negativity.

The other two opponent powers are the "power of the object of reliance" and the "power of the application of antidotes." Taking refuge in the Three Jewels and generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment constitutes the power of reliance. Cultivating any general or specific meditation practice (such as meditation on the equality of self and others) constitutes the power of the application of the antidote. There is no negativity that can stand up to these four opponent powers.

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.

You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta

For practitioners of great scope, the main point is the method of meditating on or practicing bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. What does this mean? Bodhicitta is a primary mind associated with two aspirations— the first, its cause, is what we practice to generate bodhicitta, the aspiration to benefit all sentient beings; the second, which accompanies and is similar to bodhicitta, is the aspiration to achieve enlightenment.

So, bodhicitta is a primary mind accompanied by the aspiration for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are three kinds of enlightenment—those of the hearer, solitary realizer and bodhisattva. Bodhicitta aspires to the highest form of enlightenment, that of the bodhisattva—the great, or Mahayana, enlightenment. When we understand that bodhicitta is the aspiration to attain the highest kind of enlightenment and that hearers and solitary realizers do not have it, we should feel strongly motivated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings because of the many unbearable sufferings they experience within cyclic existence.

We should also recognize that we are impermanent, changing from moment to moment, and must eventually leave this life, as we cannot stay here forever. Furthermore, when we do leave this life, even though we might have accumulated enough wealth and possessions to completely fill the whole Earth, we can take absolutely nothing with us and have to leave it all behind. Even if we have a huge family with hundreds of thousands of relatives, we will have to relinquish them all; not one can accompany us. Even this body, which we have inhabited since we entered our mother’s womb and have taken so much care of all our life, will not help us but will be left behind. Understanding all this should encourage us to practice and try to generate bodhicitta right away.

Of course, generating bodhicitta will not protect us from death, but if we do generate this attitude—or even if we simply practice it—we will not die a normal death; we will die with joy. That’s the difference bodhicitta makes. Normally, as we age, we find it difficult to stand up—we have to haul ourselves up on a stick or push against something solid—and when we sit down we just flop down into the chair. It’s difficult to do anything. But if we have developed bodhicitta, we’ll at least know that death is going to bring us a nice new body and will feel very positive about dying.

I speak from personal experience about the suffering of old age. I tell you, if you went to bed one night and woke up the next morning old, with all its attendant sufferings, you’d find it totally unbearable. However, the special sufferings of old age creep up on us gradually, and those who have had plenty of positive experiences from practicing bodhicitta are quite happy to die because it’s a chance to get rid of their rubbishy old body and move into one in which it will be much easier to practice. People who die without having practiced Dharma feel very afraid.

There are two kinds of bodhicitta—conventional and ultimate. Certain earlier presentations of how to generate it explained how to develop ultimate bodhicitta first and then moved on to conventional bodhicitta, but some recent masters have said that this is incorrect and that instead we should begin with conventional bodhicitta and then practice the ultimate. This is the order of the version presented here; the tradition that put ultimate bodhicitta first was taught for practitioners of extremely sharp intellect.

The training in conventional bodhicitta is explained here principally by way of the technique of equalizing and exchanging self and others. The other method, the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, is partly relevant, but equalizing and exchanging self and others is what is mainly explained. In his Compendium of Training, Shantideva says that our bodhicitta will be much firmer if we develop it by practicing equalizing and exchanging self and others from the outset.

Equalizing self and others

What exactly does equalizing self and others mean? Specifically, what is it that is supposed to be equalized? For example, is it that self and others are equal in being selfless, lacking in self-existence? Although this is true, it’s not what is meant here. Is it that self and others are equal in suffering in cyclic existence? Again, although this is true as well, neither is that our focus here. Perhaps the meaning is that self and others are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering? The answer here is yes, self and others are indeed the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, and this is what we are talking about here.

When we talk about equalizing self and others in order to generate bodhicitta, what we mean by the equality of self and others is that we all want happiness and none of us wants suffering.

Since time without beginning we have harbored the selfish attitude that continually makes us afraid of getting cold, hungry, thirsty and so forth or suffering in other ways. We always worry about what will happen to us. This continual worry is the selfishness that’s called the self-cherishing mind—the tendency to focus on our own happiness while neglecting the welfare and needs of others—and we have been under its influence since beginningless time.

Exchanging self and others means switching these two so that instead of being primarily concerned about our own happiness we become more concerned for that of others, and instead of neglecting others we neglect ourselves and strive for enlightenment for their benefit.

There is a connection between the self-cherishing mind and self-grasping, or grasping at true existence. The self-grasping mind is the actual root, or fundamental cause, of all samsaric suffering but it is very closely followed by the self-cherishing mind, which arises on the basis of self-grasping and itself serves as the basis for all the other delusions.

There are said to be 84,000 delusions, each of which arises as a result of the self-cherishing mind. Motivated by these delusions, we engage in harmful actions such as the ten non-virtuous actions, 9  the five immediate negativities 10 and other kinds of negative activity and, as a karmic consequence of doing so, have to undergo all kinds of unbearable suffering.

Thus the very root, the fundamental cause, of all our delusions, negative minds and suffering is self-grasping, the mind that thinks we are completely self-existent, inherently-existent; that we exist in a way that is totally independent of any causes or conditions, utterly independent of anything.

And if self-grasping is the king, then self-cherishing is his most powerful minister, the one who tries to achieve all kinds of objectives on his behalf. Selfishness itself does not conceive of or believe in the self as existing from its own side because that is not its job. However, the selfish mind does act as a protector or helper for the self that is conceived of by self-grasping as existing from its own side.

In order to get nice things for the self, self-cherishing causes us to develop attachment; to protect the self from harm, self-cherishing causes us to generate anger; in other situations it stimulates jealousy, pride and other delusions. Then, by following these negative minds, we engage in negative actions, create negative karma and suffer. Thus selfishness is just like a minister that the king can order around to get whatever he wants done.

Therefore, we should think repeatedly about how self-cherishing creates all our suffering and problems until we see it as our main enemy. Then, instead of allowing selfishness, whose main aim is our own happiness, to lead us around by the nose, we should switch everything around and start thinking about how we can benefit others, how their happiness is more important than our own.

If we think about it correctly we can easily understand how important others are and how all our happiness and fortune definitely and completely depend on them.

I mentioned before that one way of developing bodhicitta is through the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, which, based on equanimity, is as follows:

(a) recognizing that all beings have been our mother,

(b) recollecting their kindness as mother,

(c) thinking how to repay their kindness,

(d) developing love,

(e) developing compassion,

(f) generating the special intention of benefiting all beings by oneself alone, and then

(g) generating bodhicitta itself.

The only way we can gain these realizations is by depending on others.

Likewise, the only way we can develop the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom is by depending on others. Take, for example, the practice of generosity, the mind wanting to give away all our possessions and even our body in order to benefit others. Obviously we can do this only in dependence upon others; it is only thanks to them that we can develop a generous mind.

Then there’s morality, which means abandoning the ten non-virtuous actions—killing, stealing, lying and so forth. Abandoning killing means giving up taking the lives of others; we can do this only by depending upon others; again, it is only thanks to them that we can do it. Similarly, we abandon stealing by regarding others as important and therefore not taking their possessions; it is only thanks to others that we can do this, too. The same applies to all other beneficial qualities of mind—we can develop them only through the kindness of others.

We should think, therefore, that we must definitely attain the state of complete enlightenment as soon as possible for the sake of all sentient beings, and for that reason determine to spend all our time from now on working towards that goal without wasting even a moment. We must resolve to practice like this in particular for whatever remains of this life—studying, thinking, meditating and practicing as well as we can—especially this year, this month, this week and particularly this day. We must generate the strong determination to not waste time but spend every moment practicing whatever we have to do to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible.

Meditation on equalizing self and others is done by way of nine reasons, of which six work on the conventional level and three on the ultimate. With respect to the six conventional ones, three relate to self and three to others. This is how we should meditate on the equality of self and others.11

The shortcomings of self-cherishing

The fourth paragraph of the text says,

Banish the one to blame for everything,
Meditate on the great kindness of all beings.

The first line means that we should blame the self-cherishing mind for all our negative experiences. Why? Because every problem and fault we experience is a result of our own selfishness. Therefore we should blame ourselves for every unpleasant experience that befalls us, no matter how bad it is; we should grab hold of our own selfish mind and view it as the culprit.

As the great Shantideva wrote in his Guide,

All the suffering in the world
Comes from the desire for one’s own happiness.12

Every problem we experience comes from wanting and thinking of only our own happiness; all our suffering—everything that goes wrong, every kind of fault, everything fearful or unpleasant and all violence—comes from this selfish mind. Furthermore, it all comes equally from the self-grasping mind that conceives everything to exist from its own side.

Shantideva then compares selfishness to an extremely harmful spirit that continuously harms us.

If all the harm, fear and suffering in the world
Occur due to grasping onto the self,
What use is that great demon to me?13

Thus we’re encouraged to ask ourselves, “Why do I hang on to this selfish mind, which is such a harmful entity?”

As the Indian master Padampa Sangye told the people of Tingri, where he had decided to stay because he felt he could help them, whenever things go wrong we always blame others but we should instead point the finger of blame at ourselves, where the root of all problems lies.14

And, as the mind training text The Wheel-Weapon Mind Training says, if we develop this understanding it is marvelous, because by so doing we identify the real enemy that continuously gives us harm—beginning, middle and end. It says, “So now I’ve identified you, you thief.”15

But self-cherishing is not the ordinary kind of thief, who robs people by beating them up and forcibly taking their possessions. Self-cherishing is the type of thief that sneaks in surreptitiously at night and steals on the sly.

The Wheel-Weapon also says, “So now I’ve understood you for what you are, you unfaithful friend!”16 From the point of view of our own selfishness it seems to be our greatest friend, but in practice it does nothing but trick and deceive us. The selfish mind creates all the suffering we experience in this life, such as people being horrible to us, hitting and attacking us with weapons, but more especially, it is the cause of all the unbearable sufferings we’re going to experience in the lower realms in our future lives.

As Shantideva also said, look at the difference between the buddhas and ordinary worldly people like ourselves.17 Because we have not yet discarded our selfishness, we are still suffering here in cyclic existence, not even free from rebirth in the lower realms. Even arhats, who have completely transcended the suffering of cyclic existence, have reached only a limited degree of perfection because they have not relinquished their selfishness. They have not devoted themselves to benefiting others; therefore they have not been able to achieve the state of full enlightenment.

The Buddha, on the other hand, gave up all selfishness and totally devoted himself to benefiting others. As a result, he reached a state of complete freedom from suffering and to this day remains incredibly beneficial to and highly regarded by many beings. By seeing the difference between him and us, we will understand how important it is also to renounce the selfish mind and totally devote ourselves to benefiting others.

Originally, the Buddha was exactly the same as us. When water is boiling, the water on the top goes to the bottom and the water on the bottom comes up to the top, and it keeps on going round like that. Similarly, in many previous lives we were together with the Buddha—sometimes as best friends, sometimes as worst enemies, all the time changing, changing, changing. Then, unlike us, at a certain point he decided to enter the path by renouncing selfishness and devoting himself to others, and kept on developing spiritually until he attained enlightenment.

The kindness of all sentient beings

Furthermore, Shantideva pointed out that everything good—every form of happiness, all positive qualities and so forth—comes through the kindness of others. Therefore, the mind devoted to their welfare is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, the source of all happiness and everything good and useful in the world. Just as a farmer who possesses an extremely fertile field, where everything he plants always grows, is very happy to have it and cherishes and takes great care of it, we should feel the same way about other sentient beings—that they are extremely valuable, and cherish and take care of them.

It is interesting that, whether we are Buddhist or not, if we think about the great kindness of all beings it will be evident that all our happiness does indeed depend upon them.

It is also said that the buddhas and sentient beings are equally kind. The buddhas’ kindness is obvious—through following their teachings and advice we can attain enlightenment. However, we do so only by meditating on love, compassion, bodhicitta, the six perfections, the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and doing these practices obviously depends upon others. Therefore, they and the buddhas are equally kind and it is wrong to dismiss sentient beings while holding the buddhas in great esteem.

This does not mean that we should make prostrations, offerings, prayers and requests to sentient beings to be able to generate realizations and so forth but that they and the buddhas are equally important and kind in the genesis of our happiness and we should therefore appreciate and respect them both equally.

Having understood that all happiness, especially the many qualities we are trying to develop on the Mahayana path to enlightenment, results from the kindness of not just the buddhas but also all sentient beings, from this point on we should always remember how all beings are kind. This is what “meditate on the great kindness of all beings” means.

When we think about self and others, self refers to just the one person whereas others are utterly uncountable. Nevertheless, we normally take tremendous care of that one self and basically ignore most of the others. If we think about the difference in numbers here, it seems disgraceful to ignore the numberless in favor of just the one whereas neglecting the one in favor of the countless others doesn’t seem so bad.

As soon as we start meditating on all beings as most kind, even though we can concentrate on love and compassion—wanting all beings to be happy and free from suffering—for only a very short time, it is still a very powerful way of building up an extraordinary amount of merit. That’s why meditation on qualities such as love and compassion is so valuable.

Of course, it is inevitable and to be expected that we beginners meditating on the kindness of all sentient beings will occasionally create negative karma by getting angry at some of them, therefore we also need to know how to purify immediately any negativity we create.

According to the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, above, when we meditate on the four immeasurables, which include love—wishing all beings to be happy—and compassion—wishing them to be free from suffering—and on bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings—we start by recognizing all beings as having been our mother, recollecting their kindness and resolving to repay this kindness, and then go on to meditate on love, compassion, the special intention and finally the mind of bodhicitta itself. All these recognitions and qualities arise through the kindness of others because it is only by meditating on others that we can generate them.

Once we have entered the path to enlightenment we develop it further by practicing the six perfections and so forth. Again, each of these depends on the kindness of others. When we finally achieve enlightenment we spend all our time benefiting others because of the strength of our compassion, which cannot bear to see or ignore others’ suffering. So again, even when we become buddha, all our enlightened activity depends upon others and their kindness.

A mother’s kindness

Simply by looking at our present life we can see the kindness of others. From conception we were completely reliant on our mother’s kindness for survival. For the nine months we were in her womb she underwent many difficulties carrying us and then faced the hardships of giving us birth. Then, when we were very small, there was no way we could look after ourselves—we were always in danger of falling or getting hurt in various other ways, and when we got a bit bigger we were again in danger of running into traffic, falling from high places and so forth.

Parents constantly have to think about their children, protect them from danger and work to feed and educate them and so forth. Thus when we were small we completely depended on the kindness of our parents for everything.

This is also true for animals. We can see how ducks and geese, for example, look after their young—and while there is actually very little they can do to protect them from predators they will nevertheless defend them with their lives.

As we get older and go to school, our education depends upon the kindness of our teachers and our fun depends upon the kindness of the other children we play with. Later on, when we get married, start a family, live together and so forth, our enjoyment of all this going smoothly and happily depends upon our partner and the other members of our family. And when we become old and find it difficult to sit or stand and can’t cook or take care of ourselves properly, we again need somebody to look after us.

Thus, it’s clear that from the beginning of our life to its end, even our mundane happiness depends entirely upon the kindness of others, and not only the kindness of other human beings—we use animals’ bodies for food, shoes and clothing and so forth and they keep us company, protect us and help us in our work. Therefore we should also appreciate the kindness of animals.

With respect to other kinds of food, consider how grain used for food starts off in dependence on the kindness of others. Somebody plants the seeds in a field; somebody tills the earth; somebody removes the weeds; many people harvest the crop and make it ready to cook; others mill the flour and make bread; somebody else prepares our rice. Thus everything we eat depends on the kindness of the many others who bring it to us. Furthermore, the roads that bring us our food and help us get from place to place were built by the hard work of many people.

We might think that we paid for all this, but where did we get the money? It came from our job, but we only got that because somebody gave it to us.

Therefore, all we have comes from the kindness of others. We came into this world completely naked, without a stitch of clothing or anything in our hands. All we have accumulated since then has come from others.

We must reflect from our own experience on all the other ways in which others have been kind to us. The more we think about this, the more embarrassed we’ll be at thinking of ourselves as important and precious, and the more we’ll realize that in fact it is others who are important and precious. If we don’t think deeply about all this, it won’t make much sense, but if we want to follow the spiritual path we must develop this awareness. Meditating on the kindness of others is priceless.

Giving and taking

The next line of the text says,

Practice a combination of giving and taking.

This means that we should alternate giving and taking [Tib: tong-len]. I’ve been talking about the kindness of others—the more we think about this the more we’ll realize the extent of their suffering and will come to think that it’s so terrible that we must do something about it. Eventually we’ll feel compelled to take their suffering on ourselves and give them our happiness. This is what giving and taking means—giving happiness to all beings and taking on all their suffering—and we practice it in an attempt to destroy our self-cherishing mind.

We might think that since the suffering of others does not hurt us, why even consider taking it on? In response, the commentary reminds us that even in their dreams all beings want happiness and do not want suffering.

We might also think that while it is true that we all want happiness and freedom from suffering, nevertheless, the best thing is simply to take care of our own happiness and eliminate our own suffering. Moreover, we might wonder whether it is even possible to give happiness to others and alleviate their suffering, arguing that, since each of us has our own individual mind stream, we can of course create happiness in and remove suffering from our own mind, but how can we possibly do this for others? After all, their minds are completely separate from ours; surely they must be responsible for creating their own happiness and eliminating their own suffering?

While it is true that our minds are separate, it still makes sense that one person can help another find happiness and freedom from suffering. For example, a mother and her child are responsible for helping each other find happiness and eliminate problems. Now, we might argue that even though mother and child have different mindstreams, because they are so close and have great affection for one another it’s possible to talk of their doing this but not other sentient beings. The answer is that although it is true that in this life we have only one mother and father and don’t have that special connection with other sentient beings, before this life there was a previous one, and before that there was another, and before that another and so on—in fact, there is no beginning to the lives we have had in cyclic existence.

Furthermore, in many of those lives we were born from a womb, just as we were in this one, and if we think deeply about this we will see that every single living being has been our mother and father and has therefore been extremely kind to us. Through reflecting on the kindness of our present mother and father we should understand that in past lives, when other beings were our parents, they were similarly kind and affectionate towards us. Perhaps they were even kinder, sometimes even giving up their very life for our sake.

Thus all sentient beings have helped us in countless ways and saved us from innumerable harms and have even given their life for us on numberless occasions. However, the selfish mind says that while all this might be true, it happened so long ago that it’s all forgotten by now. Moreover, it also says that many of these beings have actually done their best to harm us as much as they can, so caring for all beings is out of the question.

However, the commentary points out that it is only our own selfishness that is raising these objections and denying the need to think so much about others and describes this way of thinking as a debate between selfishness and the altruistic mind dedicated to benefiting others. It’s like a dramatization, which is actually how to reflect and meditate. It discusses potential objections our mind might raise when we think about these issues, several of which will ring true to our experience. When the selfish mind comes up with these objections we have to find a way to respond.

For instance, when the selfish mind asserts that many other people are intent on harming us, the altruistic mind retorts that this is unreasonable because since beginningless time, over countless lifetimes in cyclic existence, others have been extremely kind to us. We cannot possibly measure how kind they have all been or count how many times they have protected and helped us. They have shown us this kindness since beginningless time and now, because of some minor problem, we’re branding certain people worst enemies undeserving of help. This is completely unreasonable and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even thinking it. Don’t we feel even a little embarrassed by our reaction?

Our ways of thinking and behaving are profoundly ignorant and particularly unpleasant because they completely disregard the untold help we have received and merely remember the little harm. It’s as if our parents, having taken care of us all our life, have become old and sick and gone into hospital and then said just one unpleasant thing to us, and we have reacted with anger and attacked them. If our family and friends would come to know how we have completely forgotten our parents’ kindness and reacted with hatred just because of this one comment they would be disgusted at our behavior.

Moreover, we may wonder why we meditate on the kindness of others and take on their suffering because neither we nor they seem to be affected by this practice. To this we can reply that of course no immediately visible, direct effects arise from such practice, any more than they do when we make offerings, prostrations and so forth to the buddhas, which also bring no immediate result. It is different when we give food or drink to those who are hungry or thirsty because such actions bring immediate benefit. But when we do this, do we really experience no benefit? Do we ourselves derive no benefit at all? We might feel that we do not benefit personally from giving to others in this way, at least not directly or immediately, but that doesn’t mean there’s no result at all. Likewise, if we see no immediate, visible result from practicing morality, does that mean that moral conduct has no benefit at all?

With respect to the karma created by various actions, some actions bring results in this life, some in the next and certain others in a more distant future life. Therefore, the altruistic mind has to respond to the selfish mind’s objection above by saying, “You are rather stupid in failing to recognize that the good you do might not bring immediate results. For example, farmers plant various kinds of seed, some of which ripen that very year, others the following year and some only several years later. The fact that they don’t all bring immediate results doesn’t stop the farmer from planting them.”

Likewise, when we try to generate, meditate on and practice bodhicitta, we don’t necessarily experience immediate, visible results like those of eating when we’re hungry, but nevertheless, the future good results that will eventually ripen are endless.

Just as when we see a high quality crop we can infer that its seeds must have been excellent, in the same way, when we see any good result we can confidently infer that it must have had a good cause. The principle that good results must be preceded by good causes applies to the state of enlightenment itself.

The exalted state of enlightenment—in which all good qualities are fully developed and from which all faults and obscurations are totally absent—is a good result. We can therefore infer that it must have been preceded by many good causes, such as the practice of the six perfections and the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and we can speak of all such practices along the path, over an extremely long period of time, as the good causes that bring the great result of enlightenment.

Thus we can see that by using our wisdom and intelligence to understand the difference between right and wrong and gradually working at eliminating wrong, harmful states of mind and actions and developing correct, beneficial ones, over time, we can attain enlightenment. Once we have done so we will be able to benefit many, many beings extensively—ripen on the path those not yet ripened, liberate those not liberated and completely free from all obscurations those not yet free. How will we be able to do that? How do enlightened beings do that? While on the path they gradually develop the mind wanting to benefit others, practice actions beneficial to others and abandon all thoughts and actions harmful to others, thereby gradually acquiring the power to attain the omniscient mind of a buddha.

That is the ultimate result, but the benefits of the actions that bring it are not seen immediately, unlike those of eating and drinking to get rid of hunger and thirst. In response to this, the selfish mind might reply, “That’s OK, ultimately there might be such a result, but for the time being I’m not interested in trying to benefit all sentient beings because it’s evident that however much I look at it, I see little benefit to either my body or my mind.”

However, this thought is also a mistake because, even in the short term, there are many benefits from helping others and not harming them. When we live trying to be as helpful to others as we can and avoiding aggressive, negative mental attitudes and actions towards them, our companions and the people with whom we live really appreciate us because our behavior makes them happy and we in turn enjoy being appreciated, popular and well-liked.

Although the selfish mind does not understand and appreciate all this, the buddhas, bodhisattvas and other holy beings do. Similarly, those of us who are trying to develop, practice and meditate on love, compassion and so forth also understand and appreciate it, as do the people with whom we spend our lives, as I’ve just said. Even strangers with whom we’ve just come into contact will appreciate and take a liking to us. They feel something right away, just as we immediately feel uncomfortable and afraid the moment we encounter a vicious, violent person, even somebody we’ve never seen before, or a scorpion or poisonous snake.

The selfish mind might further object that there’s no point in meditating on love or compassion because there’s no direct personal physical or mental benefit. The reply to this is, “Normally you, the selfish mind, say all sorts of unpleasant things to people—perhaps you should give up doing this because it harms neither their bodies nor their minds; so why bother? Moreover, you are normally so full of malevolent thoughts and covetousness towards others—perhaps you should give these thoughts up as well; since they neither help nor harm anybody directly, physically or mentally, just forget them.” It’s only when you take action on the basis of your ill will or covetousness that you actually harm others physically, so since those attitudes themselves neither harm nor help others directly, why not just drop them?

Such objections can arise when we think deeply about the various disadvantages of the selfish mind and begin to gain experience in this area. One lama explored this issue in his writings and, although it wasn’t in relation to the text we’re studying here, I’ll use what he said to illustrate the following point. Debating with the selfish mind about these things until it has nothing left to say is extremely helpful.

To continue the argument, then, the selfish mind objects: “I don’t want to practice altruism or give up selfishness because doing so has no direct benefit.” The reply to this is that we readily accept the benefits of saving money and other things for our old age but since doing so has no direct or immediate benefit us, why bother? Similarly, if we get a thorn in our foot, our hand removes it; since this does not benefit our hand in any way, why should it bother to help the foot?

If we do not abandon selfishness and devote ourselves to the happiness and welfare of others we will never achieve the perfect happiness of enlightenment and will forever be stuck with changeable, unreliable kinds of happiness.

How to practice giving and taking

The text then goes on to say,

Giving and taking should be practiced alternately.

First we were told to practice a combination of giving and taking; now we’re being told to practice them alternately. Finally,

And you should begin by taking from yourself.

Thus these two lines tell us how to practice giving and taking, the second being for those of us who lack the courage to practice taking in its fullest form—taking on all suffering of all beings—straight away. We build up to it gradually by taking on our own suffering first. How do we do this?

We can start by meditating each morning on taking on, in advance, the suffering we’re going to experience that day. On that basis we gradually build up to taking on the suffering of the next day as well, then the day after that, and so on until we’re able to take on all the suffering of this life and finally, the suffering of all our future lives.

Once we can do this we extend the taking to all our friends and relatives, then gradually build up to include all the people to whom we feel neutral, those who are neither friends nor enemies, and when we’ve mastered that we add in our enemies, those who harm us, thus extending our practice to include all sentient beings. Of course, if we have the courage and strength of mind to practice this most difficult technique from the outset we don’t need to train our mind in the gradual method that begins with taking on our own suffering first.

Briefly, in a simplified way, the meditation on taking is as follows.

Reflect on the six realms of cyclic existence: the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, demigod and god realms.18

Within the hell realm lie the hot and cold hells. The hot hells have eight levels with progressively increasing suffering, as do the cold hells. After the first level, the second has more suffering, the third still more, and so on. Then there are the surrounding hells like the hell of the shalmali tree, the swamps of rotting corpses and so forth, and then the temporary hells as well. However, the main sufferings that we take from the hell beings are those of the intense heat and cold they endure.

The worst sufferings in all of cyclic existence are those of the hell beings. The hungry ghosts experience slightly less and the animals’ sufferings are somewhat less again. The principal sufferings that the hungry ghosts undergo are those of hunger and thirst; they can go millions of years without finding even a gob of spit to eat.

With respect to the animals, if we look at those who live among us, especially in the West compared to Asia, they seem quite well cared for. Sometimes it can look as if pet dogs and cats, and even livestock, have an enjoyable life. They get a pleasant place to sleep and their food is prepared for them; it’s often better than that of humans in many parts of the world. The animals that live among us—pets, livestock and so forth—are referred to as “scattered animals” and compared to other animals actually suffer less than the majority, who live in the oceans.

Nowadays films give us a glimpse of how sea creatures live in water teeming with different species of fish; thousands, even millions, of different creatures living there together. They have more suffering than most land animals.

The general suffering of animals is that of not being aware and of eating and being eaten by each other. The big ones prey on the smaller ones or sometimes the smaller ones gang up on the big ones and kill and eat them instead. This goes on all the time and causes great suffering.

When taking suffering from humans, think about the three, six or eight sufferings. For example, the eight include the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death; of not being able to get what we want; of being separated from things and people we love; of all sorts of unwanted unpleasant things happening to us; and of our physical and mental aggregates, which are under the control of delusion and karma.

The main suffering of the demigods is that of fighting. Out of jealousy, they constantly fight with the gods, who eat the fruit of a tree whose roots are in the realm of the demigods but ripens in the realm of the gods.

The gods live for millions and millions of years, enjoying themselves greatly, experiencing extraordinary pleasure with their divine friends, but at the end of their lives, a week before they die, they hear a sound like an announcement in space, telling them that they will die on such and such a day. From that point on their splendor fades, they start to smell and their friends no longer want to come anywhere near them. Furthermore, they become aware that they have exhausted their merit and will soon be reborn in the lower realms.

Therefore, in that final week of their lives, they experience dreadful suffering, which is made more intense by seeing that all their pleasure is coming to an end and that they are about to experience great suffering. Moreover, even though a week might not sound like much, a week in the life of a god is like billions of years in the human realm.

The three lower realms are called bad realms because their inhabitants create nothing but bad actions and experience only bad results, while the three upper realms are called good realms because their inhabitants experience good results of good actions.19

When we practice tong-len 20 we begin by imagining the hell realms, thinking about the terrible sufferings the hell beings experience, and visualize taking it all on, completely relieving them of it all. Once we have done this we imagine giving the hell beings all our possessions, happiness and merit, the receipt of which brings each hell being to complete enlightenment. We then gradually work our way up in a similar manner through the other realms.

The way to practice taking is to concentrate on our breath and imagine that the sufferings of the beings in the particular realm we’re focusing on leave through their right nostril and enter us through our right. Visualizing our selfish-cherishing mind as a dense blackness at our heart chakra in the center of our chest, the sufferings we inhale descend dissolve into it, completely destroying this selfish mind.

The way to practice giving is to imagine sending out through our left nostril our entire body and all our possessions, happiness and merit from the past, present and future to each and every sentient being in the realm we’re focusing on. All this enters their left nostril, as a result of which they develop all the realizations on the path and become fully enlightened.

After taking on all the sufferings of the hell beings and using them to harm our selfish mind and then giving them all our happiness and so forth, bringing them to complete enlightenment, we move on to the hungry ghosts. We likewise take all their suffering from their right nostril into our right nostril; it too dissolves into and destroys our self-cherishing mind. We then send out all our happiness, merit and so forth through our left nostril; it enters their left nostril and brings them to enlightenment.

When giving, we should feel as if we’re turning on a light in a dark place. It might have been dark for thousands or even millions of years, but no matter how long the darkness has been there, as soon as we turn on the light it’s immediately dispelled. In the same way, when we send our happiness and merit from our left nostril into the beings in the realm we’re focusing on, even though all their obscurations and so forth might have been there for a long time, they are totally eliminated and those beings are established in the state of complete enlightenment.

Thus, we gradually go through this process with all six types of sentient beings up to the gods, taking on their suffering, using it to destroy our selfish mind.

We can sometimes add another visualization to this practice: after bringing all beings to enlightenment we receive back through our left nostril the blessings of their enlightened body, speech and mind. These blessings completely eliminate our self-grasping mind—which resides in our heart and has always believed that everything exists from its own side, independent of all causes and conditions—like switching on a light instantly dispels darkness from a room or a powerful jet of water immediately sweeps away a pile of dirt.

Meditating like this is a way of taking action. Instead of merely generating the aspirational love that wishes all beings to be happy and the compassion that wishes them all to be free from suffering, by practicing tong-len we’re actively doing something that creates an extremely powerful, positive force within us.

Again, the selfish mind will raise arguments against this practice: “It’s just too tiring and difficult,” “What’s the point? It benefits neither others nor myself” and so forth. The objection that it does not benefit us is easily refuted: it clearly strengthens our love and compassion and when we engage in this practice we can see that it creates a tremendous positive force in our mind.

With respect to the objection that this practice does not help others in any way either, once more the selfish mind is considering that the only way to help others is directly; for example, by giving them food or drink when they are hungry or thirsty. It’s true that tong-len does not benefit others in that way but there are many ways in which we do benefit beings through this meditation, albeit neither directly nor immediately.

Anyway, although helpful, the benefits of giving food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty are very limited. Tong-len, by contrast, is incredibly beneficial because it is only through practicing it and similar meditations that we can become enlightened, and when we do we’ll be able to benefit numberless beings in a single moment. So, looking further ahead, the practice of this meditation offers enormous benefits to both ourselves and others.

With respect to alternating taking and giving, if meditating on taking makes you feel uncomfortable and you can’t handle the idea of taking on the evil actions, bad karma and negativities of others, you can leave that part out and just do the giving. Imagine all your merit, good qualities and so forth leaving you in the form of white light, going to all sentient beings, entering them and purifying them of all their delusions and negative karma. Imagine that all this is completely purified, washed out and cleansed, leaving their body in the form of frogs, scorpions, all kinds of other insects and dirty liquid and completely disappearing into the ground.

Actually, when taking, there’s no reason to feel that you’re being polluted because all the negativity, bad karma and obscurations you take is poured onto your selfish mind, thereby reducing its power. So you shouldn’t feel that it’s polluting you. It’s like peacocks eating poison— it doesn’t harm them but actually enhances the brilliance of the colors in their feathers.

The text continues,

These two should be made to ride on the breath.

The two referred to here are taking and giving. Although the text says “giving [tong] and taking [len],” the actual order in which we practice is taking and giving. We first take on their suffering and then give them happiness because while sentient beings are suffering, happiness is of little immediate use to them. Therefore we take away their suffering first and then give them happiness.

When we have had some experience in this meditation we combine it with our breath. Since we are always breathing, when we breathe in we imagine we’re inhaling all others’ suffering and when we exhale we imagine that we’re sending them all our happiness and so forth on our breath, as described above.

When Khädrub-je, one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s main disciples, praised him for being so helpful to others that even his breath helped them, he was referring to this practice, where high level practitioners can combine even their normal breathing with taking and giving.

Concerning the three objects, three poisons and three virtues,

The three objects are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral objects, the three poisons are attachment, aversion and ignorance and the three virtues are the opposites of the three poisons.

For example, when we come into contact with pleasant objects we experience pleasure and as a result generate attachment to those objects. When we come into contact with unpleasant objects we generate hatred, anger or aversion. And when we come into contact with neutral objects we generate a kind of neutral mental stupidity in relation to them.

It’s the same in our relationships with people. We feel attached to our friends, hatred for our enemies and, towards neutral people, “strangers,” our normal ignorance simply continues unabated. If whenever we notice these delusions arising in our mind we can think to ourselves, “May all the attachment, hatred and ignorance that sentient beings experience ripen on me,” we generate the three virtues.

The instruction to be followed, in short,
Is to be mindful of the practice in general,
By taking these words to heart in all activities.

In brief, the way to practice is to constantly remind ourselves of these instructions in all activities, which we can do by always remembering and reciting the words of Nagarjuna mentioned before,21

May the negativity and suffering of others ripen on me
And may all my virtue and happiness ripen on them.

Just as an old person needs to lean on a stick to move around, similarly, reciting words such as these helps remind us of the main points of the Mahayana mind training and keeps us going. By leaning on these words we can remember to practice taking and giving in all our daily activities.

So far this has been a commentary on the section of the text that explains how to meditate on conventional bodhicitta—how to generate the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are two methods for developing bodhicitta: the sevenfold cause and effect instruction and equalizing and exchanging self and others. This has been a brief explanation of the latter, making some basic points about equalizing and exchanging self and others.

Ultimate Bodhicitta

Now let’s look at the next section of the root text.

When stability has been attained, impart the secret teaching:

Stability refers to the method side.22 When we have gained stability in the practices of conventional bodhicitta our teacher can give us the highly secret teaching on ultimate bodhicitta.

Ultimate bodhicitta refers to the direct realization of emptiness, so explaining it means explaining emptiness, which here means that everything is empty of true, or inherent, existence. Nothing is truly existent; everything is empty of true existence. That is the emptiness that we must realize.

Generally speaking, all phenomena that exist can be classified as either mind, which knows objects, or objects, which are known by the mind.

The next line of the text says,

Consider all phenomena as like dreams

When external objects appear to our mind, even though they appear to be truly existent, self-existent, existing from their own side, this is not at all the case. Therefore they are likened to dreams, which also seem to be real at the time but are seen to be unreal on awakening.

Both outer and inner objects are actually empty, but still, everything appears to be truly existent. However, if something were truly existent, if it truly existed the way in which it appears, it would have to be completely independent of anything.

For example, external objects like mountains, trees and forests are simply combinations of different particles or atoms; periods of time, such as years, months, weeks and so forth, are likewise combinations of moments. Therefore, none of these things—external objects, time or anything else—is independent of its constituent particles, periods of time and other factors. To be truly existent they would have to be completely independent of everything else.

When we talk about something being truly existent that means it’s independent of everything else. But since there’s nothing like that, there’s nothing that’s truly existent. The reason that there’s nothing completely independent, or truly existent, is because everything exists in dependence upon other factors.

Take a glass of water, for example. When we think about it, of course we know that it is dependent upon this and that, such as the various causes and conditions that have gone into producing it. If, however, instead of thinking about it we examine how it looks when it first appears to us, we’ll see that it has this vivid appearance, an appearance as if it were totally independent of any causes, conditions or, indeed, anything at all. That is how the glass of water appears—truly existent; completely independent of everything else; totally self-existent (which are just different ways of saying the same thing).

If the glass of water were truly existent the way it appears to be, it would have to be completely independent, but when we think about it we know that it depends on many different factors and is therefore not truly existent, independent or self-existent—and neither is anything else we can think of. Since this applies to everything that exists, all existent phenomena are empty of true existence.

Examine the nature of unborn awareness.

This next line refers to the fact that not only its objects but also the mind itself is empty of true existence. Mind, here, refers to the six kinds of primary consciousness—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental; all completely lack any true existence.

Where it says “unborn awareness,” awareness refers to consciousness. Consciousness itself is produced in dependence upon causes and conditions and is therefore not truly existent. That means a truly existent consciousness is not produced, so a truly existent consciousness is unborn.

You can understand this by examining its very nature of being completely empty of independent existence. This shows that it is neither truly existent nor produced by or dependent upon truly existent causes and conditions. Thus we have only to examine the nature of the six consciousnesses to understand that they’re unborn.

The remedy itself is released in its own place

This line refers to the fact that the wisdom understanding everything to be empty of true, independent or self-existence is the remedy to all of cyclic existence and everything that produces it.

Place the essence of the path on the nature of the basis of all

This means that because everything is empty of true existence, things are produced only from particular causes and conditions and come into existence depending upon specific factors. If things were not empty—in other words, if everything were truly existent—phenomena could not possibly come into being in dependence upon certain specific causes and conditions.

Moreover, because we can see and explain how each event is produced dependent upon its own specific causes and conditions, we can see that it is also impossible to assert that any event is truly existent.

Therefore, “essence of the path” refers to an understanding of the relationship between emptiness and dependent arising, the knowledge that because everything is empty, the various manifestations of dependent arising—things arising dependent upon various causes and conditions—are possible, and because such arisings occur, everything must be empty.

In the period between sessions, be a creator of illusions.

A creator of illusions is a conjuror who can make illusory objects appear due to a special arrangement of sticks and stones together with mantras and various other substances. When he makes things appear to his audience he also sees them but since he knows that he himself has simply conjured them up he knows that they’re illusory. In the same way, even when we have directly realized emptiness, when we come out of meditation, despite our knowing that nothing exists truly, everything will still appear to be truly existent. We’ll see things as truly existent but will know that in reality, they’re not; due to the force of our experience in meditation we’ll have the certainty in the post-meditation period that nothing exists truly, the way it appears.

I mentioned earlier that the self-cherishing mind completely depends upon the self-grasping mind—the consciousness that conceives or apprehends that everything is truly existent and therefore completely independent.

For example, we can figure out that a cake is not truly existent because we know it cannot be made without ingredients—fruit, butter, flour and so forth—but still, the self-grasping mind sees the cake, like everything else, to be completely truly existent and independent of any causes and conditions. This is in total conflict with the knowledge that everything exists depending upon causes and conditions and in this way, the self-grasping mind completely prevents the arising of any awareness of cause and effect, such as happiness resulting from virtue and suffering from non-virtue.

All the problems we experience in life and, indeed, all our beginningless suffering in cyclic existence, can be traced back to our self-cherishing mind and if we delve even deeper we’ll find that beneath this lies the very root of all our problems, the self-grasping mind.

Those with less experience of Buddhist teachings should try hard to understand this important point—the self-grasping mind that conceives everything as being completely independent is the support for the self-cherishing mind, which produces the various delusions that cause us to create negative actions, which, in turn, lead to our experiencing suffering in cyclic existence.

An alternative translation has

In between meditation sessions, be like a conjuror.

This refers to the period subsequent to the meditation session—how to practice in between meditation sessions—and how even though things are empty, they still appear.

An example of how everything is empty yet still appears is the way our face appears in a mirror. When we see our face in a mirror we know that there’s no actual face in the mirror even though there appears to be one there. There’s a reflection that exists there and it appears to be a face, but we know that the reflection is empty of being a real face. However, despite the fact that it is empty of real face, at the same time all the various features of a face appear.

Notes

9 Three of body (killing, stealing and sexual misconduct), four of speech (lying, slandering, speaking harshly and gossiping) and three of mind (covetousness, ill-will and wrong views).[Return to text]

10 Killing father, mother or an arhat, drawing blood from a buddha and creating a schism in the Sangha community. They are called immediate because those who create such actions are reborn in hell in their very next life. [Return to text]

11 Transforming Adversity Into Joy And Courage, pp. 167–171. This entire book, especially chapters 10–12, augments Geshe Tegchok’s thoughts on the development and practice of bodhicitta. [Return to text]

12 A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 8, verse 129 (p. 106, note 297). [Return to text]

13 Ibid. Chapter 8, verse 134 (p. 106, note 300). [Return to text]

14 “You say such clever things to people, but don’t apply them to yourself; People of Tingri, the faults within you are the ones to be exposed.” Dilgo Khyentse. The Hundred Verses of Advice of Padampa Sangye. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2002, verse 89. [Return to text]

15 Peacock in the Poison Grove, p. 83, verse 49: “I seize the thief who ambushed and deceived me.” [Return to text]

16 Ibid. Same verse: “The hypocrite who deceived me disguised as myself.” [Return to text]

17 Op. cit. Chapter 8, verse 130: “Enough of much talk! Note the difference between the fool who seeks his own benefit and the sage who works for the benefit of others.” [Return to text]

18 See the relevant sections of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand for details of all these.[Return to text]

19 The three upper realms are still fraught with all kinds of samsaric suffering (like the three, six and eight) but are relatively happier than the lower realms, therefore they are called “good.” [Return to text]

20 For a highly detailed description of this practice see Meditation Seven in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun on the LYWA website. [Return to text]

21 See note 6 above. [Return to text]

22 There are two streams of practice in the Mahayana: method—the development of bodhicitta—and wisdom—the development of the wisdom directly realizing emptiness. Like a bird needs two wings to fly, we need both method and wisdom to reach enlightenment. [Return to text]

 

A commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa's text which covers the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.
A teaching on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path by Ven. Denma Lochö Rinpoche at  Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London, in early October 2001.

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path is a text by Lama Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) which covers the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

CHAPTERS
Part 1: Renunciation
Part 2: Renunciation
Part 3: Bodhicitta
Part 4: Correct View of Emptiness

Part 2: Renunciation

So to begin the teaching, let us correct our attitude, and contemplate - as far as space extends are existing countless sentient beings in a state of dissatisfaction or suffering. In order to separate or liberate each and every one of those sentient beings, I myself must achieve the highest unsurpassable enlightenment and in order to do that I am now going to receive the commentary on the unmistaken path in the form of The Three Principles of the Path.

The Benefits of Hearing the Teaching

So again to reflect upon the benefits of listening to the teaching - if we use a quotation from a text called 'Wisdom', then the first line of this reads that 'listening is the lamp which dispels the darkness of ignorance'. So here the example is quite clear - in a worldly sense, if we walk into a dark room holding an oil lamp, or if we just turn the light on, through having light in that room we are able to see what previously we couldn't see because the room was dark. So in the same way, if we think about the things which are to be taken up, the things which are to be abandoned, or the karmic law of cause and effect, or the view of suchness (that is to say the correct view of reality) as the objects to be seen in a room, then the light which will dispel the darkness of ignorance with regard to those particular objects which are to be seen in the room is the hearing of the teaching. So through hearing then we are able to dispel ignorance about what objects are to be known (for example, the karmic law of cause and effect), and what is to be taken up and what is to be abandoned with regard to our behaviour. Then when we reflect upon this practice of hearing, it's not just hearing the teaching; the way we make the lamp blaze forth is through hearing the teaching and then contemplating the meaning of that and then meditating upon that in a single-pointed fashion. For example if we take thusness, then through initially hearing the teaching on that, contemplating the meaning of that and then single-pointedly meditating upon that, we are able to achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. Again then the root of this liberation is hearing the teaching. It is like wanting to do something within a room and then carrying in an oil lamp to then be able to see what forms, what objects, are in that room and then getting to grips with those objects, or working with those objects. So hearing the teaching initially then is something very important as it is like the lamp which dispels the ignorance with regard what is to be taken up and what is to be abandoned ie the karmic law which for us as practitioners is something that is extremely important and something that we should become very familiar with; and then with regard to suchness, or the ultimate mode of phenomena, if we don't understand this correctly then there is no liberation. So if we talk about two kinds of darkness, or two kinds of ignorance, both of which because their nature is darkness, are removed by the lamp of hearing the teaching. So then the 'hearing is the lamp which dispels the darkness of ignorance'.

The second line of the stanza from the text 'Wisdom' reads 'hearing is like the weapon which destroys the enemy of the destructive emotions'. So here then if we think in ancient India what was meant by weapons, it was like throwing-stars, daggers, swords and so forth. However in these modern times there are various other kinds of weapons but whatever the weapon is, it is an object which is used to destroy something else. In this case, the weapon of listening is used to destroy the enemy of the destructive emotions. For example, if we are a person who has a lot of anger, through meditating on its antidote, love, we are able to overcome that enemy of anger and thoroughly destroy it so it is no longer any burden upon our being. In the same way, if we are a person who has a lot of attachment, either for our own physical form or for another's physical form or for some other object like a precious jewel, then we can reverse that attachment by thinking about the repulsiveness of that particular object. Through this meditation we can lessen and then thoroughly remove and destroy this enemy of the destructive emotions which one has in one's mental continuum, or mind. Initially then one must come to recognise what is actually meant by an enemy, what an enemy is, then after having that recognition we must apply the antidote or the weapon. The weapon here which we are going to apply is something that we can only have gained through engaging in the practice of hearing the teaching. So thus in the second line, the actual thing which destroys the enemy of the destructive emotions is like a weapon, and this weapon is brought about, or manufactured, through hearing the teaching. So hearing then is like a 'weapon which destroys the enemy of the destructive emotions'.

The third line says that 'hearing the teaching is the best of all possessions'. What we usually mean by possessions are various things which we might have in our house and which cause us a great amount of anxiety, or worry. That is to say, the more possessions we seem to gain, they just seem to add to our burden of anxiety, that is to say, we worry that they might be carried away by thieves, or we worry about fire in the house, or these days, flooding in the house, destroying the wealth or possessions which we have striven so hard to gain. So in the same way, when we think about the possession of hearing the teaching and the wisdom which arises through that - if we have that in our mindstream it is not something which can be destroyed by the four elements - water, fire and so forth; it is not something that can be carried off by thieves and bandits; it is rather something that is continually with us and which there is no danger of losing. So the third line of this stanza from the text 'Wisdom' instructs us that wisdom is the best of all possessions for those very reasons.

So the last line of this stanza then describes hearing as 'the best of associates or friends'. So we can understand this from our own experience - when fortune is with us then we seem to have a lot of friends or associates around us. However when circumstances change for the worse, we do seem to find that these close, or seemingly close, friends or associates seem to go farther and farther away from us, abandoning us in our time or hour of need. With regard then to the practice of hearing and the knowledge we have gained through that, then in difficult situations or in positive situations, that friend continually remains with us in all circumstances. In a worldly sense then when circumstances are good, we seem to have a lot of friends and then when circumstances are bad, our friends seem to keep a distance and then finally disappear from sight. So actually if we compare ourselves - a person who has heard the Dharma teaching and has contemplated the Dharma teaching and has that kind of friend, with somebody who doesn't have that kind of friend, then during the good times there is not really that much difference between us. However in the difficult times when circumstances change for the worse, we find that through contacting this friend, that is to say bringing to mind the teachings we have heard - like if we lose wealth for example, we can contemplate on the changing nature of the cycle of existence; if we have various sicknesses or illnesses befall us or bereavements and so forth, we can again contemplate on the suffering nature of the cycle of existence; if we are harmed by other human beings or perhaps various snake spirits and so forth - whatever the harmer - we can reflect upon how we might have harmed that particular individual in a previous existence, thus we can contemplate on the karmic law; we can also then expand our view to include others, thinking that this is just a small difficulty when compared with the difficulties of all other sentient beings which are around me and in the world system. Thus we can utilise this friend, we can chat with this friend which is the friend of initially hearing the teaching - this excellent associate which doesn’t abandon us during our hour of need but is continually there for us. Thus hearing the teaching and the knowledge gained therefrom is like the 'best of friends or associates'.

Contemplation on Suffering

So now we come to the text which we are going through. Initially then let us contemplate on dissatisfaction or suffering; the reason for this is that we have to know what suffering is in order to turn away from dissatisfaction or suffering. Through trying to achieve liberation we need to remove this grasping attachment so we have to understand the faults of what we are attached to, and then through understanding those faults, we can turn away from them. At present our mind is infatuated and continually holding on to, or stuck to, the cycle of existence. Through thinking of the faults then of the cycle of existence, we can turn our minds away from the cycle of existence, or the cycle of pain. So this is mentioned by Lama Tsongkhapa in his writings when he says that the more we are able to contemplate on the faults of the cycle of existence, or dissatisfaction, then the stronger our yearning for liberation will become. So this we can see from an example: If we are a prisoner in a prison and we just sit in our room thinking 'well, they give us food, there's good lighting here, I think I'll just stay here' - then for that individual there is no hope, there is no way that that person is going to even take a step outside of his or her prison cell. So in the same way, if an individual is in a prison cell and he or she thinks 'I must get out of this predicament' - through thinking about the benefits of being released from jail - thinking about being able to work in various places, being able to travel to various countries, being able to enjoy various kinds of scenes and enjoyments and so forth; and then thinking about how bound one is in the prison cell - thinking that 'I can't move, I have no freedom to do what I want, I have no enjoyment through staying here' - through thinking thus, the faults of staying in the prison and the benefits of leaving the prison kind of naturally increase. So like this, if we think about the faults of the cycle of existence, the difficulties therein, our yearning for liberation from this cycle of existence will increase naturally; and the stronger our yearning for freedom from the cycle of existence, the stronger our Dharma practice and so our practice of turning away from the cycle of existence, or renunciation (the first of these three points) will become.

The Four Noble Truths

So this reflection on dissatisfaction or suffering cannot be over-emphasised. For example (I forgot to translate from before), when the Buddha first taught the Four Noble Truths in Varanasi, at that time, the first thing he said to his five disciples was 'this is the truth of dissatisfaction' (or 'this is the truth of suffering'). So the reason for saying that initially was to get his disciples to recognise the truth of suffering, or the fact that everything within contaminated existence, that is to say, within the cycle of existence is in and of itself or by its own nature -

[end of side - tape breaks here] …existence and our experience, and through that, through contemplating the Four Noble Truths we can turn away from the cycle of existence. So this is why the teaching of the Four Noble Truths was given initially - in order to jar the disciples into recognising the dissatisfaction inherent in the cycle of existence. So if we then have a quick look at the Four Noble Truths (that is the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation and then the path leading to the cessation); if we emphasise or go a little bit vaster in our explanation of the first truth, that is to say, the truth of suffering, then we will just whizz through the latter three. Through the understanding of the first, this will imply the understanding of the latter three - this can be seen in an example from the text known as 'The Uttaratantra of Maitreya'. In this text it says that the truth of suffering is like the crop, and the cause of suffering is like the seed of that crop, then the cessation is the non-existence of that crop and the path leading to that cessation is the fire which burns the seed which renders it barren and unable to produce its crop. So that is very clear, isn’t it - if we have a crop which we do not want, we need to uproot or prevent the seed of that crop from producing its fruit or its crop, so the way to do that is to make the seed barren and through that it cannot produce or give rise to its fruition, that is to say, the crop. So in the same way then, through recognising the lot, or the 'crop' of dissatisfaction which we have, we can set about burning or removing the causes for that, and the way to do that is through contemplating the cause which will eliminate that result, that is to say, the truth of dissatisfaction, and naturally bring about the truth of cessation.

Three Kinds of Suffering

So with regard to the first noble truth, that is the truth of dissatisfaction, or suffering, with this there are various ways we can divide it - a division into three is presented, four, six, seven and so forth. However as we are only giving an abbreviated commentary, let us just dwell upon the division of suffering into three. Through dwelling upon these three and contemplating them in relation to our experience, we can derive great benefit. So let us go through the division of the truth of suffering into three: that is then the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and the all-pervasive suffering. So with regard the first of this threefold division (the suffering of suffering), this is what everybody understands to be dissatisfaction - whether it be a physical ailment, or whether it be that one is feeling a little bit depressed or a bit tired or a bit run down - these feelings of dissatisfaction, be they physical or mental, are what everybody understands as dissatisfaction or suffering, whether they be a practitioner or not.

The Suffering of Change

The second then is the suffering of change; this is what the majority of people in the world do not want to recognise as dissatisfaction or suffering. The reason for this is because of the way we view pleasurable experiences in the world - we view them as being nothing other than pleasurable experiences, that is to say, only bringing about pleasure, not bringing about the slightest discomfort or dissatisfaction. So if we contemplate this - what is meant by the truth of the suffering of change, we will come to understand how all experiences, when brought about in a contaminated way, that is to say, under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma are all in this nature of dissatisfaction, they do not give any lasting satisfaction. For example if we are in a cold place and we go out into the sunshine - for the first moments we are sitting or lying there in the sun, it seems only to bring bliss and joy to the mind. However, the longer we stay in the sun, what we find is that this joy, this bliss which we achieve from going out of the cold room into the sun, suddenly changes. What happens is that we get very hot, very bothered or flustered, we might get sunburn, and then through this our whole perception of being in a warm place changes - far from being something which has brought us this seemingly inherently existing bliss or joy, it is rather something which has brought us a feeling of dissatisfaction, or a feeling of suffering. So then we might want to reverse this - so we go back into an air-conditioned room, a cool room. When we arrive there, again this feeling of great joy arises in the first moment of entering such a room and it appears as nothing but bliss and joy coming from going into that room or being under that fan. But as time goes on, then we get really, really cold, we start to freeze, and then again, we have to move on to a different place, we have to get out of that room, or turn the fan off, and relieve ourselves of what appeared previously as a self-existing joyful object. We find that we need to remove ourselves from such an object in that it is not producing the joy and happiness which we previously achieved from that.

So then this is what is meant by the suffering of change; momentarily bringing bliss - this is not being denied, however it is not an everlasting bliss which is being brought about through change. The first moment is blissful because you've moved from a cold area into a warm one or from a warm area into a cold one - so it does bring about a kind of happiness, but that happiness is only the happiness of moving from one state into another - it's not a kind of self-existent or autonomously-existent joy that comes from contact with that object; rather it has the nature of change because it is brought about through contaminated action and karma. It is therefore what we call a 'contaminated' experience - contaminated through being brought about by these destructive emotions and karma. So the second moment then, or later on in one's experience of that either warmth or cold, this changes into something other than what it initially was, and through that change, brings about dissatisfaction. So it is this changing nature - changing from a momentary pleasure into something which is quite the opposite of that - which one needs to recognise in all of one's experiences, through which we will come to understand that all of our experience, whether grossly unpleasant or seemingly pleasant, have this nature of dissatisfaction, or not really delivering in the long run.

Another example we could use is if we sit down for a long time it seems very pleasant and then perhaps we get a little bit uncomfortable and we want to move around. When we get up - we stand up and stretch perhaps - we feel great joy at having stood up; but again, this is only the joy which comes about through ending the sitting down, through changing our position. Moving a little bit brings joy to the mind - we perhaps go for a walk and this movement of going for a walk again seems to be self-existing joy that is coming through the object, that is to say, walking. However, the more we walk, the more tired we become, and then eventually we want to sit down - if we are old, perhaps we have bad knees, but even if we are young, we cannot go on walking forever, eventually we become tired and we want to sit down or we want to lay down. So when we sit or when we lay down, again this brings great joy to the mind but this is a joy that is coming from engaging in that particular object, that is to say, sitting down, rather it is just a joy which comes about through plain and simply sitting down - it is not something the contact with which is going to bring everlasting joy. So this is the important point with the suffering of change - to recognise that no experience in and of itself is going to bring about everlasting joy; rather, it is in the nature of contamination, therefore it is eventually going to change into something that is quite the opposite of what we initially perceived it to be.

All-Pervasive Suffering

So then we come to the third of this threefold division, that is the all-pervasive suffering. What is meant by this the all-pervasive suffering? If we talk about the three realms of existence (that is to say, the desire, the form and the formless realm), within the desire realm (within which we find the division of the six different types of individuals), we find that there is the gross suffering of suffering. However through the form and the formless realms we find that there is not this gross suffering but up to and inclusive of the third concentration, we find that there is the suffering or the dissatisfaction, of change, but not in the fourth state of concentration. But without going too deeply into what is meant by these various states of concentration - if we just take the desire, the form and the formless realm - if one is born under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma, that is to say, in a contaminated way, within any of these three realms, then one is bound into the state dissatisfaction and suffering. So what we can understand here then by 'all-pervasive' - 'all' refers to the three realms, and 'pervasive' means that if one is born into these three realms under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma, then one is in the predicament of a contaminated existence, and then through that very nature one's lot is just that of dissatisfaction.

With regard then to this all-pervasive dissatisfaction or suffering - this is brought about through not particularly positive or negative actions but rather through neutral actions, or equanimitous actions. So what is meant here then is that this is not a gross feeling like the feeling of joy or the feeling of dissatisfaction in a manifest way, but rather is a very subtle or latent tendency to undergo such difficulties which is brought about through these karmic seeds of equanimity. So then through having been born under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma in any one of these three realms, one doesn't have any freedom to do what one wishes, that is to say, one is bound by the destructive emotions and karma. As the great master Sakya Pandita said 'freedom is joy, whereas being bound is suffering' (or 'dissatisfaction'). So if we contemplate these words by Sakya Pandita, although few in number, there is a great deal of understanding to be gained. For example we all like the word 'freedom' - if one has freedom, one can do exactly what one wants - one can go where one wants, one can eat what one wants and so forth. If one is under the influence of another, that is to say, bound by another, we have no freedom, we cannot do what we would like - we cannot go where we like, we cannot sit where we would like. This being the case then, it is not a pleasant situation to be in. Through contemplating this, we see that through being bound by the destructive emotions and karma, we do not have the freedom to do exactly what we want. Surely then we should turn our attention towards removing these fetters, or bonds, and then giving ourselves the freedom to do exactly what we would like to do. So it's good to contemplate those words of that particular master with regard to the various different kinds of suffering which we've gone through.

Four Wrong Views

So as practitioners, we should strive to understand this all-pervasive suffering. In essence we can say that the all-pervasive suffering comes about just through having contaminated aggregates ('contaminated' here referring to being under the control of the destructive emotions and under the control of the karma issuing therefrom). With regard then to the first of the Four Noble Truths of suffering, there are what is known as four aspects, or four different parts to that particular truth of suffering. With regard to the whole of the Four Noble Truths and with regard to each of the truths, they each have four different aspects; here we are just going to go through the four aspects with regard to the truth of suffering. So within this truth of suffering, we find that there are four wrong views which ordinary beings perceive and then through this perception we undergo various forms of dissatisfaction, or suffering. These four wrong views are - perceiving dissatisfaction as satisfaction; grasping onto what is impermanent as permanent; grasping onto something of a dirty nature as being clean; and then grasping onto an inherently existent self or I where such a self-existent self or I does not exist. Then through contemplating these four aspects of this first truth, we can reverse our attachment towards the truth of suffering, that is to say, we can turn our mind away from the cycle of existence.

So then if we put these four into syllogisms, then we can really clearly see how our aggregates, that is to say, our body and mind in this contaminated state are in the nature of dissatisfaction or suffering, and through this we can come to understand that wherever we are born in this state (ie a contaminated state) within any of the realms of existence, we are going to have dissatisfaction, and nothing other than that, as our lot. So with regard to the second one if we go through this first, we can say that the subject, which is our aggregates, are not something which is permanent ie they are something which is impermanent because they come about through relying upon causes and conditions; in an ordinary sense, as they rely on something else to come into existence, they cannot exist permanently, therefore they must be something other than that and the only opposite of that is something that is impermanent. Therefore our aggregates, our contaminated mind, are something that is impermanent because of being brought about through causes and conditions. Then with regard to the first of these four aspects, the subject - again, our aggregates, contaminated body and mind - are something which is in the nature of dissatisfaction because they have no freedom. And so again we can see - we are under the influence of the destructive emotions and karma, and through being bound by destructive emotions and karma, we have no freedom to do what we would like to do in our existence. Therefore the second syllogism is the subject - one's aggregates - is in the nature of dissatisfaction through being under the influence and control of the destructive emotions and karma. Then with regard to the third, again the subject is the same - viewing our contaminated aggregates - then seeing them in the nature of something which is undesirable or dirty. Then through contemplating the nature of those particular objects, we can come to this realisation and understanding. And then lastly (this is the most important one) the subject - again, the contaminated objects of body and mind - are something which is empty of a self-existence or autonomous existence because a naturally existing, or existing from its own side, self is not something which exists, ie it is completely fictitious.

So here then through this contemplation, what we come to find is that within all the different schools there are presentations of this selflessness, or this lack of an inherently existing self. So through all the different schools we can gain a greater picture of what is meant by an inherently existent self, and what the lack of that means; but in essence, and what every philosophical school agrees upon, is that this self-existent self or this autonomous I is something which cannot exist in and of itself, therefore the subject (our contaminated body and mind) lacks an inherently existing self because such an inherently or autonomously existing self is not something which exists. So these then are the four aspects of this first truth (that is the truth of suffering) and by contemplating the faults of grasping onto something as joyful which is in the nature of suffering, grasping at something as permanent which is actually in the nature of impermanence, grasping at something as clean which is actually in the nature of being dirty, and grasping at something as inherently existent, when in actual fact, it doesn't exist in such a way - through contemplating the faults of those four false views, we can reverse them and through reversing them we can put a stop to the first of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of suffering.

Fully Qualified Renunciation

So going back to our root text we read:

Leisure and opportunity are difficult to find,
there is no time to waste.
Reverse attraction to this life, reverse attraction to future lives,
think repeatedly of the infallible effects of karma and the misery of this world.

So we have just gone through the misery of this world (this can also be translated as 'samsara', or 'the cycle of contaminated existence'), and then through the contemplations we have just gone through we can slowly begin to turn our minds away from this life and put them towards thinking about future lives, and then finally, turn our attention away from our future lives and think more of achieving liberation from the cycle of existence. So through our contemplations on the misery of the world (as it is translated here) what is the sign that we have actually generated the mind striving for liberation? So we read the next stanza:

Contemplating this,
when you do not for an instant wish for the pleasures of samsara,
and day and night remain intent on liberation,
you have then produced renunciation.

So here then through contemplating the truth of suffering, and then 'when you do not wish for an instant the pleasures of samsara'. So here it's important to understand what is meant by 'do not for an instant wish for the pleasures of samsara'. What we can undergo is a strong feeling of renunciation and wishing to be free from the cycle of existence, and then in the next moment we want to do something which is very much within the cycle of existence, or very much concerned with the pleasure of cyclic existence, or samsara. So this is a sign that we haven't gained the fully qualified wish to achieve renunciation, or the fully qualified wish to achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. The next two lines read 'and day and night remain intent on liberation, you have then produced renunciation'. So when we are continually thinking of achieving liberation from the cycle of existence, it is at that moment that we have generated the fully qualified renunciation; at any time during a twenty-four period, we are always concerned with liberation from the cycle of existence - it's at that point we have generated the fully qualified renunciation. As is mentioned in the Letter to a Friend, we should be like a person whose hair has caught fire; if a person's hair has caught alight, whatever they are doing - whether it be important work or some kind of hobby - that all gets thrown to one side, and one's whole attention and one's whole time and action is concerned only with one thing, that is putting out the fire on one's head. So in the same way, we should have renunciation like that, within which all other work apart from work which is going to lead us out of the cycle of existence can be easily left aside, and we remain single-pointed and steadfast in our attitude of striving for liberation from the vicious cycle of existence. So it is at that point that the fully qualified mind - wishing to go forth from the cycle of existence, or renunciation, has been developed in our being, or mind.

Bodhi-Mind

The next stanza then reads:

Renunciation without the pure bodhi-mind does not bring forth
the perfect bliss of unsurpassed enlightenment.
Therefore the wise generate the excellent bodhi-mind.

So here, even if one has generated the fully qualified renunciation (that is to say, wishing to escape from the vicious cycle of existence), if one doesn't contemplate the dissatisfaction of others, one's kind mother sentient beings, then no matter how much renunciation one has, this is not going to bring about the state of having abandoned the most subtle abandonments, and having gathered together all the most excellent qualities, that is to say, the state of buddhahood, or unsurpassed enlightenment. Therefore the wise, seeing that being without the bodhi mind (that is to say, bodhicitta) is not going to bring about this state of unsurpassed or highest enlightenment, strive to generate within their existence, or within their mind, this wish to achieve buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, this mind of bodhicitta.

So then in order to achieve the state of buddhahood, or unsurpassed enlightenment, one needs two factors - method and wisdom. So as is quoted in the sutras, method without wisdom is bondage and wisdom without message is again, bondage. So what this tells is that we cannot achieve buddhahood through just one, either wisdom or method - we need both of them in union to achieve unsurpassed enlightenment. This is also echoed in Chandrakirti's book The Entrance to the Middle Way where he gives the analogy of the crane - so when a crane flies through the sky, he does so in dependence on both wings; if there is a fault with either of the wings, then the crane will not be able to fly from the east to the west or wherever. So in the same way, in order for the crane-like individual to 'fly' to the state of omniscience, one needs both 'wings' of method and wisdom unified together in one practice.

This is again mentioned in the Abhisaymamalankara where it says that the final, or ultimate, peace is brought about not through just contemplation on the nature of existence (that is to say, on selflessness), but rather is brought about through a dual practice of wisdom and method. We can here see a fault in those foe-destroyers of the hearer lineage in that they practise fully qualified renunciation and in addition to that meditate single-pointedly upon selflessness or suchness, and through that they achieve a lesser state of emancipation, or lesser nirvana. So then as we are not striving for this lesser nirvana but rather for a higher nirvana, we need to add something else to our practice, and this additional practice which we need to utilise is this mind of great compassion or 'the great lord of the minds'. This practice, in dependence upon which the welfare for all sentient beings is brought about, can thus take us to the end of the path of peace, that is to say, to the highest state of enlightenment. And if we look at the resultant state, then the various emanation bodies which come forth through the Buddha's activities, again, these solely come about through familiarisation with this mind striving to bring about benefit for others, the great mind which strives to remove others' pain or this great mind of bodhicitta. In this resultant stage, the Buddha can emanate various emanations for the benefit of others; so this is a result of training oneself in the bodhi mind.

So then we need to generate this bodhi mind. So there is a quote from the Mahayana sutra Alankara which says: ...[end of side - tape breaks here]

…colours and lights going here and there, we think 'oh, that is a nice, magical being, I want to become just like that magical individual'. So this is not the bodhi mind, the correct attitude for achieving full enlightenment, rather, this is just a selfish wish to become something rather odd! However, as individuals striving for buddhahood we need to have two qualities. The first quality is viewing all sentient beings with a mind of great compassion, wishing to free them from the predicament of suffering in which they find themselves, and it is said that the stronger one's compassion, the easier it is to bring about this bodhi mind. So the first cause, or first necessity, is bringing about this bodhi mind. The second one is a mind which is bent on achieving full enlightenment to be of maximum use to other sentient beings. So one needs to have these two contemplations together in order to achieve buddahood, these are the two crucial points which one must have - the mind wishing to liberate sentient beings from their suffering, and then a mind which is determined to achieve full enlightenment in order to bring this about in the best possible way.

The Predicament of Sentient Beings

In order to bring about this feeling of wishing to liberate sentient beings from their predicament, or their lot, of suffering, then we need to understand what is meant by their dissatisfaction or suffering. Then the next line of our root text reads:

Swept by the current of the four powerful rivers,
tied by strong bonds of karma so hard to undo,
caught in the iron net of self-grasping,
completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance.

So here then if we use the first analogy 'swept by the current of the four powerful rivers'. So if we use this imagery of four really strong rivers flowing very fast, then caught within the combination of those four rivers. Here the 'four rivers' are four factors which hold sentient beings in the state of dissatisfaction, or suffering. So these are desire, views (wrong views), existence in and of itself, and then ignorance. So if we look at these four - ignorance is the initial cause of all the other destructive emotions. So it is said the first moment is ignorance - conceiving something in a wrong way - and that confusion brings about all the other destructive emotions and thereafter all the actions that are entered into through the force of those wrong thoughts and then thereafter the various karmic results of those actions. As for desire then, there are various kinds of desire - there is the strong desire which makes one's mind change from something peaceful to something which is completely intent on one object, there is the desire of carefully planning how to gain an object which one wants and so forth. Then with regard to the various views, what is meant here by 'view' is wrong view. Wrong view here can be divided into five, such as the general wrong mind, or wrong consciousness, and so forth. Then with regard the third, existence in and of itself - here, what is meant by existence can also refer to the cycle of existence, or samsara, and can also refer to karmic actions in the dormant and also in their fully ripened states. So those four rivers combined as one are what is carrying our kind mother sentient beings along. So if we imagine somebody who has fallen into a fast-flowing river or fallen into the rapids - if they are able to shout for help then that is one thing, and if they are able to swim then there is every possibility that they will be able to reach the banks of the river and get out of this fast moving current.

However, this is not the case because as the next line of the root text tells us - 'tied by strong bonds of karma so hard to undo'. So not only are these kind mother sentient beings swept along in this rapid, but in addition, their hands and feet are tied up, they are completely bound up with very tough ropes and cannot possibly move. And you would think then that even if this is the case they might be able to get out of these bonds by contortion or suchlike, but this again is not the case because in addition to being bound, (as the third line reads) they are 'caught in the iron net of self-grasping'. So here 'iron net' can also be translated as 'cage'. So not only is one bobbing along completely bound by the strong bonds of karma, but one is also wrapped in this chain-mail of self-grasping. And you would think then that as this is the case, if one was fortunate enough to come into contact with a fisherman sitting on the riverbank, by calling out to him, if he is a kind-hearted individual, he might throw us a line or try to hook us out. However, this is again not the case because as the fourth line reads - 'completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance'. So if we look at this example - someone has been throw into a rapid, is being swept along by this powerfully moving water, not only are they bound up but they are wrapped in chain-mail and it is the middle of the night, so there is no chance even to come into contact with somebody on the riverbank who one could call to and request assistance because it's in the middle of the night, it's very dark, and nobody goes to the riverbank at that time. So in the same way there are the four powerful rivers which we have just gone through (the four causes of the cycle of existence), then fettered by bonds of karma, wrapped in this chain-mail of self-grasping, completely enveloped in the darkness of ignorance - that is the pitiful state of one's kind mother / father sentient beings.

Physical and Mental Suffering

So as is mentioned in Aryadeva's book The Four Hundred Verses, the aristocrats are beset with mental suffering whereas the ordinary person is beset with physical suffering. Whatever kind of suffering one is engaged in, one should daily try to put an end to such suffering. So here then we can divide dissatisfaction grossly into two, that is to say, dissatisfaction, or suffering which is physical and then that which is mental. Then those kind of aristocrats, those who have very fine jobs, they are individuals who do not suffer so much physically - they have nice places to live, nice food to eat and so forth; however they have a lot of mental torment - thinking about the various businesses which they are involved in, the various meetings they have to go to and so forth - that is their lot of suffering. Whereas for an ordinary working person there is not so much mental worry about rushing to meetings, buying and selling stocks and so forth, but there is physical suffering in that one has to work for one's living so therefore one engages in various strenuous activities. This is not something which is easily seen in the West, but in India if you look around building sites there are no cranes or lifting devices - bricks are carried by the local people stacked high on the head and the cement is carried on the back by the coolies and so forth. So if you see the very low-paid, low caste people in India you will see that they go through immense physical difficulty, but when they sit down there is not so much mental dissatisfaction or suffering, but rather their lot is that of physical difficulty. Then as the text goes on to say, whatever kind of suffering it is - whether mental or physical, one should daily engage in a practice which is going to bring about the thorough removal of that dissatisfaction.

So using that quote from The Four Hundred Verses then, a person who has wealth when viewing how poorer people live might think 'living such an aristocratic life is not all it's cracked up to be - living in the open, living a pauper's life is something that is quite delightful. I think I'm going to give up everything and go and live as a pauper!' And then the paupers, or the working people, when viewing the aristocrats, or the wealthy individuals, think 'oh, we have such a hard time - all this work we have to do but those guys are just sitting around, they have nice food to eat, servants to wait upon them, nice comfortable beds and so forth. How great it would be to achieve such a status!' However, if we look at that with a vaster view, we see that both kinds of individuals are undergoing dissatisfaction, and the dissatisfaction which they are undergoing is same in essence but different in aspect; different in aspect in the sense that for a poorer individual it is physical but for a wealthy individual it's mental. But the contaminated actions which have brought about their very existence are ones within which one can never find any permanent peace; rather as we mentioned earlier, the first moment can be somewhat peaceful or joyful, but then as soon as that is over with, the experience changes into something other than what it initially was. So viewing the cycle of existence, or samsara, as the product of contaminated actions, contaminated destructive emotions and so forth, then we should strive to put an end to all dissatisfaction and the causes of that dissatisfaction, not just one particular kind of those various kinds of dissatisfaction. We should strive to abandon the whole of the cycle of existence, and this is echoed in the prayer to the lineage gurus of the Lam-rim genre of teachings by Tsongkhapa when he says that one should strive to abandon the cycle of its existence through seeing its faults, through seeing how it is impermanent and through seeing how it is not something that is very stable.

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.

6. Liberation from Cyclic Existence 

Cutting the Root of Cyclic Existence

Khensur Rinpoche: When we say "cyclic existence", because we often talk about the ocean of samsara or the ocean of cyclic existence, what do you understand by that expression, "cyclic existence"?

Student: The process of birth, aging, sickness and death?

Khensur Rinpoche: So you are saying that cyclic existence is birth, aging, sickness and death?

Student: Yes, shaped by ignorance.

Khensur Rinpoche: Ignorance forces us to appropriate or take a set of aggregates. So, to be precise, cyclic existence refers to the aggregates which are taken under the control of ignorance. In more general terms the aggregates are taken under the control of karma and the mental afflictions.

The aggregates are characterised by birth, sickness, aging and death. Cyclic existence implies circling, and we are circling in the stream or continuity of the four or five aggregates.1 With the aggregates come birth, aging, sickness and death which occur under the influence or control of karma and afflictions.

This means that the only way to be free of cyclic existence and achieve liberation is through the wisdom realising emptiness. We are in cyclic existence because of karma and mental afflictions, in particular the latter. From amongst these mental afflictions the specific root cause compelling us to take birth again and again in cyclic existence is ignorance - self-grasping, true-grasping. The only way to be rid of that is by realising emptiness.

No matter how powerful one’s love, compassion and bodhicitta, without wisdom realising emptiness, there is no way to achieve liberation from cyclic existence. No matter how strong one’s altruistic attitudes are, without that wisdom one cannot sever the root of cyclic existence which is the true-grasping mind. What binds one to cyclic existence is ignorance. In order to sever that bondage one needs the wisdom realising emptiness.

Beyond such realising, one is tied to the peace of personal liberation by the self-cherishing mind. To cut through that bond the altruistic attitudes of love, compassion and bodhicitta are required.

The two types of mental obscurations are the afflictive obscurations and a subtler set of obscurations called knowledge obscurations. Hearer and Solitary Realiser Arhats, the Foe Destroyers2, are amazing because, through having thought about, understood and meditated on emptiness deeply, thereby realising it, they can destroy the foe - the mental afflictions. Of the two obscurations they can eliminate the afflictive obscurations.

However, they are not free of all faults. Not having overcome all obscurations, they still retain the knowledge obscurations. This is because they have not taken full responsibility for benefiting others. Not having developed a sufficiently powerful sense of love and compassion towards others, they still have that fault or obscuration in the mind.

Because they can improve themselves further the arhats have not yet completely accomplished their own welfare. Theirs is not the most perfect experience a person can achieve. This is because of the self-cherishing mind. They experience only their own liberation and have not accomplished the ability to perfect the welfare of others. They remain in their own peace. The peace of that freedom from cyclic existence is much like a person that has gone to sleep. They cannot accomplish the welfare of others, or benefit others greatly because of still having the self-cherishing mind. They have not generated the altruistic attitude.

Both extremes must be overcome. The extreme of cyclic existence is vanquished by meditating on and realising emptiness while the extreme of remaining in one’s personal peaceful liberation is defeated by generating the altruistic mind.

The Importance of the Wisdom Side

Wisdom without the method side of bodhicitta and compassion binds one to the peace of personal liberation. This is the situation of the Hinayana arhats - the Hearer and Solitary Realiser Foe Destroyers, who are bound to the peace of their own liberation because of not having engaged in the practice of the perfections based on bodhicitta, which is in turn based on the altruistic attitudes of love and compassion.

Depicting the position of the Hinayana arhats like that does not mean denigrating them. Nevertheless, when the arhats are compared with the Buddha it becomes evident that they have become sidelined in the extreme of personal peace. Thus they are unable to benefit others extensively as can bodhisattvas and enlightened beings. They have not reached even their full personal potential.

Furthermore, one is tied down, bound or fettered with either wisdom divorced from method or method divorced from wisdom. In the latter case one is bound to cyclic existence. practicing the method side without wisdom leaves one unable to escape from cyclic existence. With only the first five perfections of generosity, morality, patience, enthusiasm, and concentration, but without the sixth perfection of wisdom, no matter how much one practises one cannot possibly achieve liberation.

A scriptural passage gives the example of a group of blind people who can reach their destination only with a sighted guide, whereas without one they are stuck. Similarly, the first five perfections can take one beyond cyclic existence to reach enlightenment only with the practice of wisdom. Without the practice of wisdom, which is like their eyes, the first five are unable to reach their destination.

To get somewhere you need legs to carry you and eyes to see where you are going. The first five perfections are like legs and the sixth perfection, wisdom, like eyes. [Walking is used to illustrate this point because when these scriptures were taught there were no cars and aeroplanes to travel by.]

With a complete set of eyes and legs operational one can go wherever one wishes and can even undertake a very long journey which would be impossible without them both. With all six perfections, one may handle the long journey to enlightenment. On the other hand, Hearers and Solitary Realisers with the practice of wisdom, but without the other perfections, lack the method side, like having no legs. Therefore they simply cannot manage the long journey to enlightenment which is too difficult for them.

These are some of the benefits of the practice of meditation on emptiness. It is very useful to reflect on these benefits because it gives one the energy to put into the practice of understanding, meditating on and thereby realising emptiness.

A sutra called, The Door of Entrance into Faith says that if a person were to provide each sentient being in the three realms - the desire, form and formless realms - everything needed for their whole life until death, there would certainly be a huge amount of merit or benefit. It is hard to grasp (if it were possible) how much merit there would be from that, yet there is even more merit in meditating on emptiness even for a short while. This does not mean even to have realised it.

Of course if one has realised it and meditates on it for one session, there is certainly far greater merit. However, even in the case of not having realised it but seriously thinking about, reflecting and meditating on it, there is far more merit than from providing all sentient beings of the three realms with everything they need for the rest of their lives.

To understand this it helps to look at another of Buddha’steachings which states that even though one kept pure morality and meditated one-pointedly for tens of thousands of eons, there is no way one could achieve liberation. This is because only with pure morality and stable concentration but without the realisation of emptiness, even meditating for tens of thousands of eons does nothing to harm ignorance, the root of cyclic existence. Despite having meditated with such stability for such a long period, one would finally have done nothing to harm ignorance, the true-grasping mind which is the root of cyclic existence. Hence, one would still be a samsaric being, meaning a person in cyclic existence just as before.

Although such a long period of meditation would not even touch that self-grasping mind of ignorance, it is said that even having doubts about self-existence in the sense of thinking "maybe things are empty of self-existence", completely undermines cyclic existence and inflicts very heavy damage on its root. The teachings use the image of reducing a piece of cloth to rags or tatters, making it very weak, so that were one to just pick it up it would fall to pieces.

The importance of practicing wisdom is illustrated towards the end of the three Mother Sutras where Buddha presented a section called "the complete entrustment". At that point in the Perfection of Wisdom teachings the Buddha said to Ananda that even if he were to forget everything else Buddha had taught, as long as Ananda could retain, memorise and remember all he had taught concerning the words, content and meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, he would not feel that Ananda in any way disrespected him as his teacher. However, were Ananda to remember absolutely everything else the Buddha had taught, but were to forget just one word or a single aspect of the meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, the Buddha would not even consider Ananda to be his disciple. In that case, the Buddha said, Ananda should not consider himself to be his student, nor consider the Buddha to be his teacher. Furthermore, were he to forget any element of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, the samaya3 between Buddha Shakyamuni and Ananda would have been completely destroyed.

This underlines how important the Buddha himself considered the Perfection of Wisdom to be. Of course it is so important because without wisdom, there is absolutely no way of going beyond the suffering of cyclic existence.

We consider Ananda to be very important in Buddhism; such beings are considered to be most precious. Similarly the seventeen pandits of Nalanda, the six "ornaments" of India and the two sublime beings are considered to be highly important and precious. The reason for this is that it is due to them that the teachings the Buddha gave so many centuries ago still exist in a pure and complete form for us to use today.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the importance of wisdom is that none of us sentient beings could possibly gain liberation from cyclic existence without the wisdom realising emptiness. Therefore it is highly praised and many scriptures describe the importance of this practice in various ways. One scripture says that were one to seriously meditate on the actual meaning of emptiness for only a minute or two, again not necessarily having realised it, the merit would be far greater than spending eons either listening to teachings on or reciting the Perfection of Wisdom, or practicing the other five perfections of generosity, morality, patience, enthusiasm and concentration. Therefore, although practicing the first five perfections for eons would create a huge amount of merit, meditating on emptiness for just one or two minutes would make far more merit.

The main reason why there would be so much more merit is that even if you spent eons engaged in listening to or reciting the Perfection of Wisdom or practicing the first five perfections you would still be in cyclic existence. Being tied down in and bound to cyclic existence, you would still be compelled to take birth repeatedly in cyclic existence. You would not have escaped cyclic existence at all.

I am sure you know that you cannot expect to be able to practise perfectly right from the beginning. practicing in general and specifically here thinking about and trying to understand emptiness is something that will get better and better but only if you apply yourself to it. As Shantideva says, there is nothing that will not get easier with familiarity. Therefore, if one keeps trying, it will get more and more familiar, and as that happens it will become easier and easier.

Unlike in the past, we now have a great many texts translated into English. So much hard work by so many people has been done to make the teachings available in English. We are able to read. We have the intelligence to pick up these books, to read them through and to go back and forth to compare what it says earlier in the book with what it says later and so on. Thus we definitely have the means to improve our understanding.

It is well worth getting, and spending time on reliable books such as those written or based on teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Other books by certain extraordinary beings are also worth buying and reading and if one cannot judge for oneself it is worth asking around and finding out other people’srecommendations.

Having reflected on the advantages of emptiness, do not think it unimportant to meditate on love, compassion and bodhicitta and so on. On the contrary, you should also maintain efforts to understand and practise these.

Notes

Most sentient beings in cyclic existence have the five aggregates of form, feeling, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness. However, those in the formless realms have only four aggregates since they lack form. [Return to text]

The "foe" they have destroyed is the afflictions. [Return to text]

The bond or personal pledge of commitment. [Return to text]

 

By Geshe Lama Konchog in Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore

Geshe Lama Konchog discusses the application of right effort to our practice. This teaching covers a range of topics including suffering in this life, generosity, the fasting retreat, the hungry ghost realm and bodhisattvas in cyclic existence.

The teaching was given by Geshe Lama Konchog at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore in 1995. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Thubten Konchog, who accepts responsibility for all errors and omissions. Second edit by Sandra Smith, February 2013.

This teaching is also available for download as a free e-book from Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore.

Suffering in this Life

Lama Tsongkhapa has said the superior thought, or bodhicitta, is like a sail to a ship. If the sail is not blown by the wind, the boat cannot move or travel anywhere. So, although we may have this superior thought or bodhicitta, if it is not blown by the wind of effort, the ship of hearing and contemplation cannot move. Therefore, without right effort, sentient beings cannot cross the ocean of cyclic existence and reach the city of liberation or enlightenment.

Effort is the best amongst all the friends and listlessness is the worst of all the enemies. If the force of effort is applied, even the tiniest insects and animals can attain the state of full enlightenment. We are human beings, so we have the power of wisdom to be able to discriminate between what is to be abandoned and what is to be practiced. We know the benefits of virtuous actions and the faults of non-virtuous actions.

We have discussed this kind of power, this potential, so we should never become discouraged by thinking, “I won’t be able to reach enlightenment.” Instead we should think, “I can definitely attain enlightenment. I have the power, I have that potential.” By thinking this way, we can generate the courage to be able to work in a better way towards the attainment of enlightenment.

Even the smallest insect can attain enlightenment if it generates the force of effort. While we are human beings, we should not think that we can’t gain enlightenment or generate that force. We should always think, “I can gain enlightenment and I can generate the force of effort. I can then have a mind that delights in the performance of virtuous deeds.”

We may think that this is just too difficult, but it is possible to reach enlightenment. However, there are many hardships to overcome along the way. This could mean that we have to make sacrifices, even of our body. If we are afraid to do this, it will be most difficult to attain enlightenment, because we are unable to discriminate between heavy and light sufferings.

From beginningless lifetimes we have taken many types of form. We have taken a life where we were tortured daily, or where our limbs were cut and injured or maybe even sliced into many pieces. However, compared to the sufferings that we have experienced in the hell realms, the sufferings or problems we are encountering now on the way to the state of enlightenment are nothing, or perhaps they are only very small.

All the sufferings that we have experienced in the past have been completely wasted. If those sufferings had been a cause for enlightenment for ourselves and others, then they would have been meaningful, but they did not help us to attain enlightenment, or even to awaken our minds, so they were completely wasted.

The sufferings that we experienced in the lower realms, such as the hells, were very intense and had to be experienced for a very long time compared to the sufferings that we are experiencing now.

By abandoning the purpose of working only for this life and instead, working for the attainment of enlightenment, the hardships and difficulties that we encounter along the way to enlightenment are nothing compared to the sufferings of the hell realms.

The sufferings that we experience now are very small and they can be endured. In fact, they are very easy to endure. An example of this is a doctor who treats his patients for serious illnesses. In order to remove the illness he might have to take blood from the body and test it. Some doctors might use a fire to burn a part of the body, or they may give injections. All of these kinds of treatments bring some form of harm or suffering, yet they will result in the relief of the severe illness in the long run. So, even though we know we are suffering now, we can endure it by thinking that we will benefit from it.

The sufferings that we encounter on the way to enlightenment are the sufferings of hardship, but they are comparatively small compared to the sufferings of the hell realms. In order to remove the sufferings of cyclic existence, we have to bear them.

If we can endure the suffering we are experiencing now—the suffering of travelling on the path to enlightenment—then we will eventually be able to eradicate the immeasurable suffering, not only of ourselves, but also of others.

Some very skillful doctors are able to treat their patients without causing them any pain. The Buddha also gives many different methods for us to be freed from suffering and from encountering many difficulties. Sometimes we encounter so many difficulties that we cannot bear another minute. Now, if you are unable to endure such hardships, I want you to stop for one minute.

Generosity

If we are not familiar with the practice of giving, we should not do it right away. We should not give away things that will cause us to endure suffering. First of all, we should give away small things until we have become familiar with giving and then gradually start giving bigger and bigger things. Later, when we become comfortable with giving, we can give even of ourselves—our limbs and flesh. This will be just like giving somebody a portion of food.

In order to attain the state of enlightenment, we must apply the right methods. The Buddha said that these are not the methods used by ordinary doctors who cause pain to relieve diseases, but rather he showed us methods that free us from the sufferings of cyclic existence. These are the methods of abandoning the two extremes and abandoning the delusions, both of which cause us to wander in cyclic existence.

There are not too many hardships that we will encounter while we travel on the path to enlightenment, so there is no need to be frightened or to feel fear while travelling along that path.

In the beginning, it is a very difficult path to travel along. To engage in the deeds of the bodhisattvas we may be asked to sacrifice our limbs, our heads or our hands. To have fear of these hardships would make it very difficult for us to ever attain enlightenment.

Shantideva says that we do not have to undergo such hardships. If we are not familiar with suffering and are unable to bear it, then we should not have to do so. We can stop until we become completely familiar with a practice, then we will be able to do it easily. In this way there will be no hardships at all.

Initially, if we are unable to make big sacrifices, such as giving away big and valuable things, we should start with small things, such as a small portion of food, or things that are not held so importantly. Then very gradually we can progress to where we are totally familiarized with giving and then we can offer anything easily—even our own flesh.

Fasting Retreat

When the Buddha gave teachings on using effort, he said that when we apply right effort there is no hardship. By applying right effort, the mind is then able to do things very gently and with great delight. For example, if we apply right effort when doing the sessions in the fasting retreat, we will experience no hardship.

However, if we apply no effort and we do not have the mind that delights in performing virtuous deeds, then just doing one session will be the cause for much hardship. If there is no effort, there will be hardship, but if there is right effort, it will be very easy. For example, if while doing the session we think, “Oh, my visualization is not very good. I cannot sit straight and I feel very sleepy,” and so on, there will be many hardships during that session. If we apply right effort and try to do everything with delight, then it will not feel like a hardship.

When we do the fasting retreat, we are told we will incur the karma to be reborn in the pure realm of Amitabha. Just thinking this way should be enough to stop any difficulties from arising, for example, by remembering this, how can we feel upset about not eating any food for one day?

However, this all depends on our state of mind. It is only from our mind that we experience suffering or happiness. For instance, during the fast in the retreat we should not stretch out our legs or arms, nor should we sleep with outstretched legs or arms.

If we go back and sleep after finishing a session, we will feel hunger later on and will have difficulty sleeping that night. This can bring other problems such as headaches, fever or it can even be a cause for hepatitis. Sleeping in between sessions can bring many problems. If we really are very tired, we can lie down for awhile, but then we should stand up and walk around. If we think that we will sleep only for a very short time, then that is OK. However, if we just lie down and go to sleep after every session, then that is no good at all.

If we go to sleep during the daytime, we will feel very bad when we finish the fasting retreat and will never want to do it again. However, if we do not sleep in the daytime, at night we will have a very nice sleep and in the morning we will feel very refreshed and then we will feel quite happy about continuing on.

Hungry Ghost Realm

As I said before, the Buddha was very skillful when he taught us how to practice generosity. He taught how to give away the small things that we do not hold so much attachment to. We should do this because if we give with miserliness we can’t give delightfully and then there is no right effort, as well as no generosity .

Miserly people can be taught to practice giving, for example, even if we cannot give to others, we can give to ourselves. For instance, if we have a thing in our right hand, we can give it to our left hand and then the left hand can give it to the right hand, and so on. This creates no problems because we are not really losing that thing. Even though we are giving, we are still receiving. However, doing this causes us to feel the delight and happiness of giving and receiving; the practice of generosity.

We may very well think that it is not too difficult to give to ourselves, but for some people this is very difficult. Some people just cannot give anything at all. Some people cannot even give away the things that they cannot use themselves, they keep them at all times. There are some types of beings who find it very difficult to give even a cup of water to others.

These kinds of people will take rebirth in the hungry ghost realm. The hungry ghosts have three kinds of knots in their throats and it is very difficult for them to swallow food or water. They have been born as hungry ghosts because they could not give anything to other people and they could not even use those things for themselves either.

Some people cause trouble by telling others who are trying to give something: “Oh, you should not give so much. That is far too much!” Or even: “You should not give anything at all!” By saying these things to others, we will take rebirth in the hungry ghost realm with the three knots in our throat.

Only one drop of water can go down the throat of a hungry ghost, because of the three knots. When lamas make torma offerings to hungry ghosts, they say: “...and I give you one drop of water,” because they can only swallow one drop of water, and if they take more it will cause many problems in their stomachs.

These hungry ghosts always say: “Don’t give a lot; give a little.” They recite this every day, just as we recite mantras.
If we are not skillful in practicing the Dharma or in actualizing the path, things will become very difficult and we will have to endure many problems. However, if we practice with right effort, we will have no difficulties at all. When we know how to do the fasting retreat, we will have no problems and we will do it very happily. Therefore it is most important to know how to do it in the right way.

Bodhisattvas in Cyclic Existence

Bodhisattvas actually reside in cyclic existence, but this does not upset them. They do not feel any suffering, because they know how to live very gently. There is no rebirth for them while they reside in cyclic existence. They are not born into cyclic existence by the force of karma and delusions; they are here by the force of compassion.

Their birth is very different from ours and they do not have any regrets about being in cyclic existence, so it is for this reason that the bodhisattvas of the Mahayana path are superior to the hearers of the Hinayana path, as the hearers do not have this compassion.

Whenever the hearers take birth in cyclic existence, they do so out of karma and delusion. They have fear of undergoing the suffering of cyclic existence, so they cannot be encouraged to travel on the path of the bodhisattvas.

When bodhisattvas sacrifice their bodies out of compassion, they do not feel any form of suffering. They have abandoned all unwholesome actions of the three doors, so they have no suffering in their mind.

Bodhisattvas are those beings who have reached the higher level—they have reached the third ground of the third bhumi. They experience no suffering, even when their bodies are cut into pieces. This is true also for the high tantric practitioners. Even if somebody beats them with a stick, they do not experience any pain. This all depends on the mind.

Here I am explaining the application of right effort. Bodhisattvas make this kind of sacrifice and experience no suffering, because they do it all very happily and joyfully. The reason they experience no pain is because they do not hold the misconception of grasping at the self and they have not incurred any negative actions such as killing, etc. They do not have the concept of “my” body.

Once there was a bodhisattva called “The Always Crying Bodhisattva.” He wanted to go and receive teachings from another bodhisattva, who was his teacher. This bodhisattva was teaching on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.

The Always Crying Bodhisattva did not have any offerings to make to his teacher, so finally he decided to sell his body to collect the offerings. He shouted out in the middle of town: “Is there anybody who wants to buy my limbs or my body?” Nobody came to buy, but finally, an incarnation of Brahma came in the form of a human being and said: “I would like to buy your flesh and bones.”

When he heard that, the Always Crying Bodhisattva felt so happy and went down to the corner to start smashing his bones, for the sale. However, while he was doing this, some girls saw him and asked him why he was doing such a thing. They said: “It is very stupid to do that. Why are you torturing yourself?”

He said to them: “I am doing this so that I can sell this body and collect enough money to bring offerings to my teacher, so I can receive the teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.” Then the girls asked him: “What are you going to do with this teaching?” He said: “By receiving this teaching, I can attain the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks of a buddha.”

While he was doing this, he did it with such joy and also with great compassion, by thinking it would help him attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Therefore, he did not feel any suffering or any regret because he possessed the realisation of bodhicitta and great compassion.

The Always Crying Bodhisattva always seemed to be very poor, because he did not have any material things. Actually, he was not poor; he was very rich with the realization of emptiness and bodhicitta. The reason he was always crying was because of not being able to see his teacher, not because he did not have any material things.

Milarepa also used to stay in a very poor condition. When people looked at him, they would feel most upset for him, thinking that he had a very ugly form. His condition was caused by eating too many nettles; his body had become green like the nettles. People thought that he was very skinny and very ugly and they thought he did not own anything, so they felt very sorry and upset for him. But Milarepa felt very sorry and upset for them, because they thought he was very poor and skinny.

Milarepa felt most upset for sentient beings, because he thought that sentient beings incur so much negative action just for the clothing and food of this life, and for that amount of negative action, they have to wander endlessly in cyclic existence.

Due to the power of bodhicitta, bodhisattvas can expel the non-virtues that they have incurred in the past and they can store the accumulation of merit and wisdom easily. This is why the bodhisattva path excels over the path of the hero.

By Lati Rinpoche in New York, New York, 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Break)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question: How does one cultivate proper motivation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer: Yes, you can do that.

Question: Why does ignorance arise?

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

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

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

Question: What is the special importance of guru yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

Question: Could you say more about the Illusory Body?

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