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The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lojong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors; see links on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive website.

CHAPTERS

How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

Preface

In 1997 the students of Amitabha Buddhist Centre were blessed to receive teachings from the great master Ribur Rinpoche. Rinpoche visited us twice and stayed for a total of three and a half months, during which time he taught lamrim and lojong (thought transformation). This small booklet is extracted from Rinpoche's teachings.

A Brief Biography

Ribur Rinpoche was born in Kham, Eastern Tibet, in 1923. He was recognized at the age of five as the sixth incarnation of Lama Kunga Osel, a great scholar and teacher who spent the last twelve years of his life in strict solitary retreat. All five of the previous incarnations were principal teachers at Ribur Monastery in Kham.

When Ribur Rinpoche was fourteen he entered Sera monastery, one of the great Gelug monastic universities in Lhasa, to begin intensive studies in Buddhist philosophy, which culminated in his receiving the Geshe degree at the age of 25. During his stay at Sera Monastery Rinpoche also attended many teachings and initiations given by his root guru, Pabonka Rinpoche, the greatest Gelug lama of the time. After receiving his Geshe degree, Rinpoche returned to Kham where he spent many years doing retreat in a small hut he had built in the forest. But after the Chinese Communist invasion in 1950, the situation in Kham became increasingly dangerous, and in 1955 he was advised by one of his gurus, Trijang Rinpoche, to return to Lhasa, where he continued to take teachings and do retreats.

But Lhasa itself soon became unsafe. From 1959 (the year of the Tibetan people's uprising) to 1976, Rinpoche experienced numerous hardships and difficulties such as imprisonment and physical abuse, and being a helpless observer of the terrible destruction of the Cultural Revolution. However, during this time he was able to keep his mind peaceful and even happy by practicing the teachings he had learned. As Rinpoche described his experiences, "I didn't really experience the slightest difficulty during those adverse conditions. This was due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang [Pabongka Rinpoche]. From him I had somehow learned some mental training, and in those difficult times, my mind was immediately able to recognize the nature of cyclic existence, the nature of afflictive emotions, and the nature of karma and so forth. So my mind was really at ease."

Following the Cultural Revolution Rinpoche worked with the Panchen Lama to restore many of the lost spiritual treasures of Tibet as they could. His main accomplishment was recovering the two most precious statues of Shakyamuni Buddha: the Jowo Chenpo and the Ramo Chenpo. These two statues, originally brought to Tibet by the Chinese and Nepalese wives of King Songsten Gampo (ca 617-698), were taken to Beijing during the Cultural Revolution and kept in various warehouses along with thousands of other statues for 17 years, until Rinpoche found them and returned them to their respective temples in Lhasa.

In 1987 Rinpoche left Tibet and traveled to Dharamsala, India, to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then he has lived at Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, where, at the request of His Holiness, he wrote a number of biographies of great lamas and an extensive religious history of Tibet. Rinpoche has also visited and taught in several foreign countries - Australia, New Zealand, America, and around Europe. His warmth, humor, profound wisdom and practical, down-to-earth teachings have endeared him to many students around the world.

Background of the Teachings

More that 2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and then proceeded to teach the path to enlightenment so that others could follow. His teachings have been kept alive to the present day through the great kindness and efforts of an unbroken lineage of practitioners who learned them from their masters, put them into practice, then passed them onto followers. In Tibet, the essential points of Buddha's teachings were formulated into a system known as the lamrim, or stages on the path to enlightenment, which explains all the steps or practices one needs to follow in order to attain enlightenment.

The lamrim consists of three main stages or levels, according to three different reasons or motivations for practicing Dharma. The first level, known as the "small scope," starts from taking an interest in one's future lives. This comes about when we realize that this present life could end at any time, and that after death, we will be reborn in an unfortunate state (as an animal, hungry ghost or hell being), and to achieve a fortunate state (as a deva, titan or human being), by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and by living our lives in accordance with karma, the law of evolutionary actions and their results.

The second or "intermediate scope" involves developing the aspiration to become free once and for all from the cycle of death and rebirth. Within this scope, one focuses on the Four Noble Truths: the sufferings of cyclic existence, the causes of suffering (delusions and karma), the state of freedom from all suffering (nirvana), and the means to achieve it by practicing the three higher trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom.

The third level, the "great scope," involves opening one's heart to consider the situation of all beings. Realizing that all beings experience suffering that they don't want and they fail to find the peace and happiness that they wish for, one develops the aspiration to attain full enlightenment in order to help everyone reach that perfect state as well. That altruistic aspiration is bodhicitta.

This booklet contains extracts of Ribur Rinpoche's precious teachings on how to develop bodhicitta, and how to practice thought transformation through which we become less self-centered and more concerned for others.

Numerous people contributed to this work. Rinpoche's teachings were beautifully translated into English by Fabrizio Pallotti. Several ABC students kindly transcribed the tapes, and I edited the transcript with assistance from Doris Low and Rise Koben.

Any errors in the text are entirely the fault of the editor.

Sangye Khadro
October 1998

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file

CHAPTERS

Conclusion and Books Consulted

A buddha appears but rarely in this world and after his passing away leaves behind three kinds of relics: the remains of his body, the utensils he used, such as his alms bowl, and the edifices and places commemorating events in his life. Of the relics of Shakyamuni, the remains of his body, although widely distributed across Asia, are becoming increasingly inaccessible owing to political circumstances. As for the second type of relic, although the various objects used by the Buddha were preserved for long and were seen by both Fa Hien and Hsuan Chwang, many have since disappeared. Thus the fact that the eight places of pilgrimage and the four great places in particular can still be visited with moderate ease assumes a special importance.

In this account we have described some of the events of the Buddha's life associated with these places. We have also mentioned some of the subsequent developments—the building of stupas, temples and monasteries, and the flourishing practice of the Dharma amongst the resident monks up to the twelfth century. In doing so an attempt has been made to draw attention to the religious significance rather than the mere historical interest of these places.

Now that in recent years new temples and monasteries have been built and there is at least one monk residing in seven of the eight places, it can be said that the practice of the Dharma has been re-established there. The work of the late Prime Minister Nehru in encouraging and assisting this movement should not be overlooked. Nor should the activities of the buddhist orders from the many contributing countries be underestimated. Had these orders not maintained pure lineages over the seven centuries since Buddhism left India, there would be nothing to bring back to these sacred places. Thus the renewal of these sites may be regarded as an indication of the strength and purity of the Order today.

After much discussion of the places themselves, it may be appropriate to say a little about the practice and efficacy of pilgrimage. The Buddha advised those of his followers who could make pilgrimage to holy places to do so with mindfulness of the actions of the enlightened ones associated with them. He further advised them to engage in religious practices in the places of pilgrimage. Buddha himself had shown such respect. For example, at Vajrasana and Sarnath he circumambulated before sitting where previous buddhas had sat.

There are many such practices particularly relevant to the pilgrimage places. In the Tibetan tradition, for example, as well as making circumambulation, prostrations and offerings of flowers, incense and light, a pilgrim is encouraged to offer the "seven branch prayer" and the "mandala of the purified universe," and to recite the mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha and numerous sutras. At Vulture's Peak in particular, where the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, the epitome of the Buddha's doctrine, were expounded, the Heart Sutra is often recited. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has also compiled an anthology of buddhist meditational prayers to be read in all places or times associated with Buddha Shakyamuni. Entitled The Sublime Path of the Victorious Ones, this is available in English translation (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, H.P., India).

The merit acquired through these practices of circumambulation and so forth is greatly increased in the places of pilgrimage through what is referred to as "the power of the object." Illustrating this is the story of the monk who prostrated himself to the Buddha at Nalanda, wishing for birth as a universal monarch. Fulfillment of his prayer was assured because of the power of the object to whom he had made prostration. In a similar but contrary manner, Devadatta and others fell directly to hell because of the power of the object whom they knowingly attempted to harm.

However, in this context it is important to have a proper motivation and to be mindful of both one's actions and the object. His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently admonished pilgrims to Bodhgaya, saying that although circumambulation of the Mahabodhi Temple at Vajrasana could be immensely beneficial, to do it without respect or while continuing to chatter to one's friends and so forth would be as valuable as circumambulating Gaya Railway Station.

The Buddha many times referred to the value of pilgrimage. To give a quotation found in a commentary to the Vinaya Sutra by the First Dalai Lama (1392-1474), which is known in Tibetan as Lung-Treng-Tik:

Bhikshus, after my passing away, if all the sons and daughters of good family and the faithful, so long as they live, go to the four holy places, they should go and remember: here at Lumbini the enlightened one was born; here at Bodhgaya he attained enlightennent; here at Sarnath he turned twelve wheels of Dharma; and here at Kushinagar he entered parinirvana.

Bhikshus, after my passing away there will be activities such as circumambulation of these places and prostration to them.

Thus it should be told, for they who have faith in my deeds and awareness of their own will travel to higher states.

After my passing away, the new bhikshus who come and ask of the doctrine should be told of these four places and advised that a pilgrimage to them will help purify their previously accumulated negative karmas, even the five heinous actions.

With grateful thanks to Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey for his advice, and to the many by whose efforts the eight places of pilgrimage have been restored. May this brief account, despite any mistakes it might contain, contribute to their flourishing further.

Books consulted

  • Tibetan Tradition of Mental Development; Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
  • The Life of the Buddha; A. Foucher
  • A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms; Fa Hien, tr. James Legge
  • On Hsuan Chwang's Travels in India; Thomas Waiters
  • Crystal Mirror V; ed. Tarthang Tulku
  • Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India; Sukumar Dutt
  • Buddha Gaya Temple. Its History (Prajna vols. 1, 2); Deepak Kumar Barna
  • Encyclopedia of Buddhism; ed. G.P. Malalasekara
  • History of Buddhism in India; Lama Taranatha, tr. Lama Chimpa and Alaka Chattopadhyaya
  • The Door of Liberation; Geshe Wangyal

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

CHAPTERS

Kushinagar—where Buddha entered mahaparinirvana

"... and here at Kushinagar he entered parinirvana."

"How transient are all component things!
Growth is their nature and decay:
They are produced, they are dissolved again:
And this is best,—when they have sunk to rest."
Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Last of the places of pilgrimage is Kushinagar, where Shakyamuni entered mahaparinirvana. This was the furthest he had reached on his final journey, which retraced much of the road he had walked when many years before he had left Kapilavastu.

When he reached his eighty-first year, Buddha gave his last major teaching—the subject was the thirty-seven wings of enlightenment—and left Vulture's Peak with Ananda to journey north. After sleeping at Nalanda he crossed the Ganges for the last time at the place where Patna now stands and came to the village of Beluva. Here the Buddha was taken ill, but he suppressed the sickness and continued to Vaisali. This was a city where Shakyamuni had often stayed in the beautiful parks that had been offered to him. It was also the principal location of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma.

While staying at Vaisali, Buddha thrice mentioned to Ananda a buddha's ability to remain alive until the end of the aeon. Failing to understand the significance of this Ananda said nothing and went to meditate nearby. Shakyamuni then rejected prolonging his own life-span. When Ananda learned of this later he implored the Buddha to live longer but he was refused, for his request had come too late.

Coming to Pava, the blacksmith's son Kunda offered him a meal which included meat. It is said that all the buddhas of this world eat a meal containing meat on the eve of their passing away. Buddha accepted, but directed that no one else should partake of the food. Later it was learned that the meat was bad. He told Ananda that the merit created by offering an enlightened one his last meal is equal to that of offering food to him just prior to his enlightenment.

Between Pava and Kushinagar the Buddha rested near a village through which a caravan had just passed. The owner of the caravan, a Malla nobleman, came and talked to the Buddha. Deeply moved by Shakyamuni's teachings, he offered the Buddha two pieces of shining gold cloth. However, their lustre was completely outshone by Shakyamuni's radiance. It is said that a buddha's complexion becomes prodigiously brilliant on both the eve of his enlightenment and the eve of his decease.

The next day, when they arrived at the banks of the Hiranyavati river south of Kushinagar, the Buddha suggested that they should go to the caravan leader's sala grove. There, between two pairs of unusually tall trees, Shakyamuni lay down on his right side in the lion posture with his head to the north. Ananda asked if Rajgir or Shravasti, both great cities, would perhaps be more fitting places for his passing. The Buddha replied that in an earlier life as a bodhisattva king this had been Kushavati his capital, and at that time there had been no fairer nor more glorious city.

The noblemen of Kushinagar, informed of the Buddha's impending death, came to pay him respect. Among them was Subhadra, an 120-year-old brahmin who was much respected, but whom Ananda had turned away from the monkhood three times. However, the Buddha called the brahmin to his side, answered his questions concerning the six erroneous doctrines, and revealed to him the truth of the buddhist teaching. Subhadra asked to join the Sangha and was thus the last monk to be ordained by Shakyamuni. Subhadra then sat nearby in meditation, swiftly attained arhatship and entered parinirvana shortly before Shakyamuni.

Kushinagar: Reclining Buddha in the Nirvana TempleAs the third watch of the night approached, the Buddha asked his disciples thrice if there were any remaining perplexities concerning the doctrine or the discipline. Receiving silence, he gave them the famous exhortation: "Impermanence is inherent in all things. Work out your own salvation with diligence." Then, passing through the meditative absorptions, Shakyamuni Buddha entered mahaparinirvana. The earth shook, stars shot from the heavens, the sky in the ten directions burst forth in flames and the air was filled with celestial music. The master's body was washed and robed once more, then wrapped in a thousand shrouds and placed in a casket of precious substances.

For seven days, offerings were made by gods and men, after which, amidst flowers and incense, the casket was carried to the place of cremation in great procession. Some legends say that the Mallas offered their cremation hall for the purpose. A pyre of sweetly scented wood and fragrant oils had been built but, as had been foretold, it would not burn until Mahakashyapa arrived. When the great disciple eventually arrived, made prostrations and paid his respects, the pyre burst into flames spontaneously.

After the cremation had been completed the ashes were examined for relics. Only a skull bone, teeth and the inner and outer shrouds remained. The Mallas of Kushinagar first thought themselves most fortunate to have received all the relics of the Buddha's body. However, representatives of the other eight countries that constituted ancient India also came forth to claim them. To avert a conflict, the brahmin Drona suggested an equal, eightfold division of the relics between them. Some accounts state that in fact Shakyamuni's remains were first divided into three portions—one each for the gods, nagas and men—and that the portion given to humans was then subdivided into eight. The eight peoples each took their share to their own countries and the eight great stupas were built over them. In time these relics were again subdivided after Ashoka had decided to build 84,000 stupas. Today they are contained in various stupas scattered across Asia.

In later times Fa Hien found monasteries at Kushinagar, but when Hsuan Chwang came, the site was almost deserted. Hsuan Chwang did see an Ashoka stupa marking Kunda's house, the site of Buddha's last meal. Commemorating the mahaparinirvana was a large brick temple containing a recumbent statue of Buddha. Beside this was a partly ruined Ashoka stupa and a pillar with an inscription describing the event. Two more stupas commemorated former lives of the Buddha at the place. Both Chinese pilgrims mention a stupa where Shakyamuni's protector Vajrapani threw down his sceptre in dismay after Buddha's death, and some distance away a stupa at the place of cremation and another built by Ashoka where the relics were divided.

Kushinagar was rediscovered and identified before the end of the last century. Excavations have revealed that a monastic tradition flourished here for a long time. The remains of ten different monasteries dating from the fourth to the eleventh centuries have been found. Most of these ruins are now enclosed in a park, in the midst of which stands a modern shrine housing a large recumbent figure of the Buddha. This statue was originally made in Mathura and installed at Kushinagar by the monk Haribhadra during the reign of King Kumaragupta (415-56 CE), the alleged founder of Nalanda Monastery. When discovered late in the last century the statue was broken but it has now been restored. Behind this shrine is a large stupa dating from the Gupta age. This was restored early in this century by the Burmese. Not far away a small temple built on the Buddha's last resting place in front of the sala grove has also been restored. Some distance east a large stupa, now called Ramabhar, remains at the place of the cremation.

On one side of the park a former Chinese temple has been reopened as an international meditation centre. Next to it stands a large Burmese temple. On the south side of the park is a small Tibetan monastery with stupas in the Tibetan style beside it. Thus also at Kushinagar one can see dharmic activities alive even today.

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

Nalanda—site of the great monastic university

Nalanda, the site of the great monastic university in India.

"'What do you think, householder? Is this town of Nalanda successful and prosperous, is it populous and crowded with people?'
"'Yes, venerable sir, it is.'"
Utpali Sutra

Although Nalanda is one of the places distinguished as having been blessed by the presence of the Buddha, it later became particularly renowned as the site of the great monastic university of the same name, which was to become the crown jewel of the development of Buddhism in India. The name may derive from one of Shakyamuni's former births, when he was a king whose capital was here. Nalanda was one of his epithets meaning "insatiable in giving."

Shakyamuni stayed here on a number of occasions, for a mango grove had been offered to him by 500 merchants. Hsuan Chwang mentions a number of temples and stupas marking places where Buddha had taught. On one visit he preached to men and gods for three months, and a stupa containing his hair and nail clippings of that period was erected. A remarkable tree that had been miraculously produced from a discarded tooth stick of the Buddha stood in this area. Next to a water tank, a stupa marked the place where a non-buddhist, holding a bird in his hand, had challenged the Buddha to divine whether it was alive or dead. The Buddha declined to answer him. Another stupa commemorated the occasion that a foreign monk had prostrated himself before the Buddha, praying for a rebirth as a universal monarch. Shakyamuni sadly told his followers that this monk possessed such vast merit that he might have become a buddha, but because of this action he would be reborn as a universal monarch as many times as there were atoms of earth beneath his prostrate body.

The sitting place of Shakyamuni and the buddhas who had come before him was marked by a stupa, as was the spot nearby where Bimbisara first came to greet the Buddha. In two neighbouring villages, Ashoka built temples and stupas where Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were born and also entered parinirvana.

During his stay at Nalanda, Hsuan Chwang saw a number of temples in and around the monastery. Some contained images of the Buddha, others of Avalokiteshvara and also Arya Tara, whom he describes as having been a popular object of devotion at that time. He also mentions the great temple erected by King Baladitya, which was similar to but slightly larger than the Mahabodhi Temple. The ruins of this are now prominent on the site.

Modern historians have tentatively dated the founding of a monastery at Nalanda as being in the fifth century. However, this may not be accurate. For example, the standard biographies of the teacher Nagarjuna, believed by most historians to have been born around 150 AD, are quite specific about his having received ordination at Nalanda monastery when he was seven years old. Further, his teacher Rahulabhadra is said to have lived there for some time before that. We may infer, then, that there were a monastery or monasteries at Nalanda long before the foundation of the later Great Mahavihara.

It is recorded that Kumaragupta the First, an early Gupta monarch who reigned between 415 and 456 AD, built a monastery. In the century following this his various successors each built a further monastery. Between the years 530 and 535 a king of central India, perhaps Yashodharman, added another, and by building an encircling wall around them all created a mahavihara.

At the time Hsuan Chwang stayed at Nalanda and studied with the abbot Shilabhadra, it was already a flourishing centre of learning. In many ways it seems to have been like a modern university. There was a rigorous oral entry examination conducted by erudite gatekeepers, and many students were turned away. To study or to have studied at Nalanda was a matter of great prestige. However, no degree was granted nor was a specific period of study required.

The monks' time, measured by a water clock, was divided between study and religious rites and practice. There were schools of study in which students received explanations by discourse, and there were also schools of debate, where the mediocre were often humbled, and the conspicuously talented distinguished. Accordingly, the elected abbot was generally the most learned man of the time.

The libraries were vast and widely renowned, although there is a legend of a malicious fire in which many of the texts were destroyed and irrevocably lost. The fire is said to have eventually been put out by a flood of water that poured from the texts on highest yoga tantra, kept in the topmost story.

During the Gupta age the practice and study of the mahayana, especially the madhyamaka, flourished. However, from 750 AD, in the Pala age, there was an increase in the study and propagation of the tantric teachings. This is evidenced by the famous pandit Abhayakaragupta, a renowned tantric practitioner who was simultaneously abbot of the Mahabodhi, Nalanda and Vikramashila monasteries. Also Naropa, later so important to the tantric lineages of the Tibetan traditions, was abbot of Nalanda in the years 1049- 57.

Much of the tradition of Nalanda had been carried into Tibet by the time of the muslim invasions of the twelfth century. While the monasteries of Odantapuri and Vikramashila were then destroyed, the buildings at Nalanda do not seem to have suffered extensive damage at that time, although most of the monks fled before the desecrating armies. In 1235 the Tibetan pilgrim Chag Lotsawa found a ninety-year- old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, with a class of seventy students. Rahula Shribhadra managed to survive through the support of a local brahmin and did not leave until he had completed educating his last Tibetan student.

Nalanda was perhaps most important for its mahayana activities. Under the guidance of Nagarjuna, formulator of the middle way, it eclipsed even the monastery at Bodhgaya. Aryadeva, Nagarjuna's principal disciple, held his famous debate with Maitrichita at Nalanda. Two further disciples of Nagarjuna to attain great fame in India were Chandrakirti and Shantideva, both students of Nalanda.

Nalanda: Monastery ruinsArya Asanga, father of the lineage of extensive teachings and formulator of the mind-only school, also spent twelve years at Nalanda. His brother Vasubandhu, introduced to the mahayana by Asanga, became abbot after Asanga retired and taught to thousands. The great mahayana logician Dignaga, author of the Pramanasamuccaya, was another abbot at Nalanda. His excellent successor Dharmakirti, who defeated the renowned hindu scholar Shankaracharya in debate, also received his training at Nalanda. Also of this lineage, Kamalashila wrote most of his works at Nalanda. He and Shantiraksita, another renowned scholar of Nalanda, were among the very first teachers to carry the Dharma to Tibet.

A pilgrim to Nalanda today finds vast and well-excavated ruins, many of which are more substantial than the mere foundations remaining in other places. It is easier here to imagine the former glory of the monasteries and temples described by Hsuan Chwang. An adjacent museum houses many buddhist and hindu images from different ages, as well as other findings from the site. Nearby is the Nalanda Institute of Pali Studies, where a number of ordained and lay students have re-established a tradition of buddhist knowledge. While the range of study at this Institute is broader than its name might imply, it would be most appropriate if in the future the present holders of the direct traditions of Nalanda were able to reintroduce them there.

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

CHAPTERS

Sankashya—where Lord Buddha descended from Tushita Heaven

Where the Blessed One descended from Tushita Heaven

"Four places are always determined in advance:
where the Buddhas shall attain Buddhahood;
where they shall begin to preach;
where they shall expound the law and refute heretics;
and where they shall descend from the Tushita Heaven after having preached to their mothers.
Other places are chosen according to circumstances."
Fa Hien

The most westward and perhaps most obscure of the eight places of pilgrimage is Sankashya, whose name may derive from a stupa built there by Kashyapa Buddha's father and dedicated to his son. This is the last of the four places common to the buddhas of this world.

Some say that during his forty-first year Shakyamuni went up from Shravasti to the Tushita Heaven and passed the rainy season retreat teaching Abhidharma to his mother, Queen Mayadevi, who had died seven days after Buddha's birth and been reborn as a male god in Tushita. The same happens to the mothers of all the buddhas, and they too later go to teach them, afterwards descending to Sankashya.

Seven days before his descent the Buddha set aside his invisibility. Anuruddha perceived him by his divine sight and urged Maudgalyayana to go and greet him. The great disciple did so, telling the Buddha that the Order longed to see him. This was the time Prasenajit's statue was made. Shakyamuni replied that in seven days he would return to the world. A great assembly of the kings and people of the eight kingdoms gathered. As the Buddha descended, a flight of gold stairs appeared, down which he came. He was accompanied on the right by Brahma, who, holding a white chowny, descended on a crystal staircase, while to the left Indra came down a flight of silver stairs, holding a jewelled umbrella. A great host of gods followed.

The Buddha bathed immediately after his descent, and later a bathing house and stupa were built to mark the site. Stupas were also raised at the spot where he cut his hair and nails, and where he entered samadhi. The Chinese pilgrims describe further stupas and a chankramana where Shakyamuni and the previous buddhas had walked and sat in meditation.

The three flights of stairs disappeared into the ground, but for seven steps of each, which remained above. When Ashoka came here later he had men dig into the earth around the protrusions in order to discover their depth. Although they reached the level of water, they could not find the stairs' end. With increased faith, Ashoka then built a temple over them with a standing image of the Buddha above the middle flight. Behind this temple he erected a great pillar surmounted by an elephant capital. Because the tail and trunk had been destroyed, both Chinese pilgrims mistook this for a lion.

Hsuan Chwang tells that the original stairs had existed until a few centuries before his visit, when they disappeared. Various kings built replicas of ornamented brick and stone, with a temple containing images of Shakyamuni, Brahma and Indra above them. These were within the walls of a monastery, which he describes as excellently ornamented and having many fine images. He further says that some hundreds of monks dwelt there and that the community had lay followers. Two centuries earlier Fa Hien found roughly 1,000 monks and nuns living here pursuing their studies, some hinayana and some mahayana. Both pilgrims tell stories of a white-eared dragon who lived close to the monastery, caring for it and the surrounding area. Fa Hien especially remarks on the abundant produce of the land and the prosperity and happiness of the people.

Little seems to be known about Sankashya after the Chinese accounts. In 1862 General Cunningham identified the spot as being located outside an obscure village west of Farruhabad, above Kanpur, on the Ganges. Not much of the ancient glory of the place remains today. Within a deserted, fenced area stands a large mound topped by the crumbling ruins of a Hindu shrine, in which the former image has been replaced by a small representation of the Buddha. The elephant capital of Ashoka's pillar has been remounted on a ten-foot high pillar beneath a stone canopy. Another small shrine nearby contains a statue of Buddha. The surrounding grounds appear as if they might contain the ruined foundations of former buildings, but if any excavation has ever been done it is buried once more. This is the only one of the eight places of pilgrimage where today there is no temple, monastery or even a solitary monk. Perhaps the wildness of the area is the cause. With or without a dragon's aid, it may be hoped that this will change.

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove

Where the Buddha performed Great Miracles

"When the time came for the contest, the Buddha cast a mango seed on the ground; instantly the seed took root, and a great mango tree arose to shade the hall. After defeating the six philosophers and converting them to his teaching, the Enlightened One performed the Great Miracle of the Pairs.

"Standing in the air at the height of a palm tree, flames engulfed the lower part of his body, and five hundred jets of water streamed from the upper part. Then flames leapt from the upper part of his body, and five hundreds jets of water streamed from the lower part. Then by his magic power, the Blessed one transformed himself into a bull with a quivering hump. Appearing in the east, the bull vanished and reappeared in the west. Vanishing in the west, it reappeared in the north. Vanishing in the north, it reappeared in the south. ... Several thousand kotis of beings, seeing this great miracle, became glad, joyful, and pleased."

Mahavastu

Another of the four places common to the buddhas of this world is Shravasti, the site regarded as their chief residence and the place where the holders of erroneous doctrines are publicly defeated. Indeed, Shakyamuni spent twenty-five rainy seasons there and also performed many great miracles.

When the Buddha accepted in Rajgir the merchant Anathapindika's invitation to spend the second rainy season at Shravasti, it was on the condition that proper facilities for all his monks would be available. Anathapindika and Sariputra examined the area and found only the park of Prince Jeta to be suitable for such a large assembly of monks. However, the prince was unwilling to part with it for less than the number of gold coins that would cover the area. Undismayed, the merchant proceeded to cover all the ground with gold coins. When but a small portion remained uncovered, the prince asked him to desist and announced that he himself would build a vihara on the spot, some say using the gold he had received for the purpose. The merchant also built a vihara, as did King Prasenajit later. These were the principal buildings used by the Buddha on his first visit to Shravasti. The park with its buildings became known as Jetavana Grove.

Hsuan Chwang states that during its most magnificent period, Jetavana had temples, meditation halls, monks' chambers, bathing places, a hospital, pleasantly shaded tanks and a well-stocked library with reading rooms. It was altogether an ideal place for practising the Buddha's teachings, many of which were first given here.

One of the first statues of Shakyamuni originated at Jetavana. Ordered by King Prasenajit, it was made of hardwood. King Prasenajit placed it at his seat in the vihara. Fa Hien tells that when Shakyamuni next visited Jetavana, the statue came out to meet him. He told it to return to its place, saying that it would serve as a model for others after his passing away. The Jetavana vihara which housed this image was once an elaborate seven-storied building. It eventually burned down but the image survived and a two-storied structure was built in its place. At the time of Hsuan Chwang the statue was kept in a brick shrine.

Shravasti: Ananda BodhiAnanda once asked Buddha to allow a tree to be planted at Jetavana because when the Buddha was not present at Jetavana his followers had nowhere to place their offerings of flowers and so forth. Maudgalyayana brought a seed of the bodhi tree and when the tree grew the Buddha is said to have blessed it by spending one night meditating under it. This is now known as the Ananda bodhi tree.

The Chinese pilgrims mention a number of stupas in the park commemorating various events. One marked the occasion when the Buddha found a sick monk unattended and languishing in his own filth. Shakyamuni bathed and nursed the monk himself and exhorted the other monks to care for each other similarly in the future. Another stupa marked the spot where some non-buddhists, wanting to defame the Buddha, murdered a woman and left her body behind the monastery. Others marked the places where Shakyamuni walked and sat.

When Ashoka visited Jetavana he erected a great pillar on either side of the eastern gate, the left surmounted by a wheel and the right by an ox. Near the monastery and beside the well used by the Buddha, he built a stupa enshrining a relic. It is taught that this was one of the mahavihara's most flourishing periods, after which it was somewhat neglected. However, archaeological evidence has shown a revival during the Kushan period of the first century and much reconstruction. Later, during the Gupta period, even when brahmanism was once again ascendent, Jetavana received new support. Many of the present ruins show the styles and ornaments of the Guptas.

Fa Hien found decay evident but was welcomed by resident monks, who were astonished to see a brother from the land of Han. Two centuries later Hsuan Chwang found the place deserted, but soon after his visit another revival occurred, as evidenced by the traces and images from the eighth and ninth centuries that remain. As in other places, the monastic tradition persisted here well into the twelfth century, when the muslim invasions became overpowering. Records show that Vidhyadhara, a minister to King Madanapala of Kanouj, built a vihara in 1119. An inscribed copper plate dated at 1130 found amongst the ruins states that the former king's son Govindacauda made a gift of six villages to Buddhabhattoraka and the monks of Jetavana.

The Jetavana Grove was a short distance south of the prosperous city of Shravasti, the capital of Koshala, which stood on the banks of the Achiravati River. Here Prasenajit had his palace, and close to it built a monastery. Nearby was the vihara of Mahaprajapati, who was Shakyamuni's stepmother and the first woman admitted to the Order. A short distance away is a large, ruined stupa marking the place where Angulimala the murderer attained arhatship and where his body was later cremated. Outside the city was a forest where once lived a community of 500 blind men, all of whom regained their sight when the Buddha came and preached to them.

Apart from these associations, Shravasti is best remembered as the place where Shakyamuni defeated the holders of other doctrines. Some accounts say this was accomplished by debate, others by miracles; perhaps there were both. The leaders of India's six main philosophical schools had challenged the Buddha to a contest of miraculous powers many times as he wandered through the surrounding kingdoms. Finally, in his fifty-seventh year he accepted at Shravasti. King Prasenajit built a hall especially for the event; in it seven thrones were erected. On the first day of spring, the six other teachers took their seats and Shakyamuni came to his, flying through the air. He sent forth fire and water from his body and the hall was destroyed, then reformed as a transparent palace. Planting his tooth-pick in the ground, he caused a great tree to spring up, fragrant and fully laden with flowers and ripe fruit. He multiplied his body infinitely, filling all space with buddhas expounding the Dharma. These and many other miracles he performed and in eight days utterly defeated his opponents, whose followers adopted the buddhist doctrines. For a further seven days he continued to show miracles and give teachings to the great assembly. Both Chinese pilgrims describe a tall temple containing a statue of Buddha, which stood outside Jetavana Grove in commemoration of these events. Nearby is the place where Devadatta, failing in his attempt to scratch the Buddha with poisoned nails, finally went down to hell.

Shravasti: Monastery RuinsFurther south were various places associated with King Vaidraba, successor to Prasenajit, who destroyed Kapilavastu and killed many of the Shakyas within the Buddha's lifetime.

The ruins of Shravasti were rediscovered in 1863 by General Cunningham near the village of Sahet Market. The city ruins lie virtually untouched and are still enclosed by ramparts. The remains of the monasteries and stupas of Jetavana have been well excavated and the many images and other findings are contained in the Lucknow Museum. A new park has been created around these ruins with flowers and trees shading the lawns. In this case restoration has regained some of the qualities that made the place attractive of old; peace and tranquility pervade it. Three new buddhist temples have been built alongside the park, one of which was founded by two Burmese ladies and another by a Ceylonese monk. Both offer accommodation to pilgrims. A fine Tibetan stupa has recently been completed in the courtyard of this latter building.

The third temple has a sad story. It was built many years ago through the efforts of a solitary Chinese monk, who, unfortunately, died before its completion. Now the Chinese temple and a seven-storied pagoda with a number of out-buildings are empty and locked, pending a legal decision of possession and responsibility. Apart from the intrinsic value of these constructions, it would be a fitting tribute to Fa Hien and Hsuan Chwang if they were to be restored and opened.

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

Rajgir—second turning of the Wheel of Dharma

Where the Buddha converted Sariputra and Maudgalyayana

Rajgir, India, the site of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

"King Ajatasatru possessed a very ferocious elephant. Devadatta, hearing that the Buddha was coming to Rajgir, arranged to have the elephant escape. As the Buddha came toward the city, Devadatta went to the palace terrace to see the Buddha killed, but when the elephant came rushing at the Buddha, the Enlightened One tamed the elephant with a few words, and the ferocious beast knelt at this feet."

Mulasarvastivadin Vinaya

When Gautama the ascetic first visited Rajgir on his way to Bodhgaya he was met by King Bimbisara. The king was so impressed by the bodhisattva that he tried every means to persuade him to stay. Failing in this, he received a promise that Gautama would return to Rajgir after his enlightenment. Accordingly, after teaching in Sarnath, the Buddha travelled to Rajgir, the royal capital of Magadha, followed by over a thousand monks of the new order.

King Bimbisara welcomed them all and offered the Veluvana Bamboo Grove. This was to be the first property of the Order and one of the Buddha's favourite residences. The site was ideal for a monastic order, being not too near the city, calm by day and night, free from biting insects and having mild air and tanks of cool water. Thus it was suited to the practice of meditation, and here Shakyamuni passed the first rainy season retreat following his enlightenment. He was to return to this place for several rainy season retreats later in his life. When Hsuan Chwang visited Rajgir he saw a monastery and the Kalanda tank, where Shakyamuni bathed and which still exists. Close to this stood an Ashoka Stupa and a pillar surmounted by an elephant. Not far away King Ajatasatru had built two stupas, one over the portion of the Buddha's relics that he had received, the other over half of Ananda's body. Later Ashoka unearthed the first of these to obtain relics for his 84,000 stupas.

Perhaps the most important event of the Buddha's first visit to Rajgir was the conversion of Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. The story of their conversion is as follows. Ashvajit, last of the five ascetics to be converted by Buddha, was making his alms round one morning and happened to meet Sariputra. Sariputra was greatly impressed by the monk's noble and subdued demeanor, and asked him what teachings he followed. Sariputra immediately attained arhatship, and when he repeated what he had heard to his friend Maudgalyayana, he also instantly achieved the same. Later, stupas were erected at the places associated with these events. The two left their teacher Sanjaya and came with 500 of their former followers to meet the Buddha. Buddha welcomed both as his chief disciples, Sariputra having the greater intelligence, Maudgalyayana wielding the greatest miraculous powers. Both were born near Rajgir and later, retiring to their respective villages, entered nirvana before the Buddha did.

During his stay in Rajgir, Shakyamuni received two significant invitations: one from his father King Suddhodana, the other from a wealthy merchant who wanted him to spend the next rainy season in Shravasti. Accepting both, the Buddha returned briefly to Kapilavastu and sent Sariputra to Shravasti to prepare for his visit there.

Shakyamuni later visited Rajgir on a number of occasions. On several of these, attempts were made on his life. Once a lay follower of the nirgrantha jains concealed a fire-pit in front of his house and invited the Buddha to a meal of poisoned food. However, the pit changed into a lotus pond with a flower bridge and the Buddha proved that one freed of all inner poisons could not be harmed by external means. At another time he predicted the birth of a son to the wife of a jain, who in defiance killed her. But as her body was being burnt, the child came forth from amidst the flames. Stupas marking these places were later seen by the Chinese pilgrims.

Rajgir: Vulture's PeakKing Ajatasatru, who had usurped his father Bimbisara's throne and allowed him to die in prison, came under the evil influence of Shakyamuni's jealous cousin Devadatta, who had tried to force the Buddha to permit him to lead the Order. Failing to achieve this, Devadatta invited the young king to harm the Buddha. Professional assassins were hired for this purpose, yet in the end they fell at the Buddha's feet in devotion. The king then let loose a maddened elephant from his palace, but the animal, affected by the Buddha's presence, fell on its knees out of homage to him. It is also in Rajgir that a young boy later to be reborn as the great king Ashoka came to him and offered him a handful of sand, wishing it were gold.

Yet the most important of all associations of the Buddha with Rajgir is that with Vulture's Peak, a small mountain just outside the city. Here, sixteen years after his enlightenment, he set forth the second turning of the wheel of Dharma to an assembly of 5,000 monks, nuns and laity, as well as innumerable bodhisattvas. This collection of teachings, which extended over twelve years, includes the Saddharmapundarika Sutra and the Surangama Samadhi Sutra, as well as many Prajna-paramita Sutras, which, as the Buddha himself told Ananda, contain the very essence of all his teachings. Mahakashyapa recorded these latter teachings and Shakyamuni placed them in the custody of the nagas until such time as men were ready to receive them. The Buddha's respect for Mahakashyapa was such that when they first met, the two exchanged cloaks. The great disciple now resides within the Gurupada Mountain near Bodhgaya. Here he awaits Maitreya, upon whom he will place the cloak of Shakyamuni.

When the Chinese pilgrims visited Vulture's Peak they found the summit green and bare. Fa Hien mentions a cave and Hsuan Chwang a hall slightly below it, where the Buddha is said to have sat and preached. Here also he once reached through the mountain with his hand to calm Ananda, whose meditation was being disturbed by Mara in the form of a vulture. Before the cave were the walking and sitting places of the previous buddhas, and a stupa where the Saddharmapundarika Sutra was taught.

Rajgir: Vulture's PeakKing Bimbisara built a causeway leading up to the hill. At the foot of the hill was Amaravana, the mango grove offered to the Buddha by the physician Jivaka. The remains of what was once a monastery may still be seen here. According to Hsuan Chwang, at one time on Vulture's Peak there was a monastery occupied by many meditators and several arhats.

The final journey of Buddha's life, which ended with the mahaparinirvana at Kushinagar began at Rajgir. Shortly after this, the First Council—an assembly of 500 monks presided over by Mahakashyapa—met under the patronage of Ajatasatru in the Shrataparna Cave, a short distance southwest of Veluvana Bamboo Park, and compiled the Buddha's teachings into a collection known as the Sthaviranikaya. A stupa once marked the spot where, with great exertion, Ananda achieved arhatship on the night before the council in order that he might attend.

Ashoka later erected a stupa in honour of this First Council at the place a distance west of Shrataparna Cave where at the same time the mahasanghikas, regarded by some as proto-mahayanists, compiled their canon. According to Nagarjuna, an assembly of bodhisattvas also met on Vimalasvabhava Mountain, located to the south of Rajgir, and compiled the mahayana scriptures. Nagarjuna states that Samantabhadra presided over this meeting, while Vajrapani recited the Sutras, Maitreya the Vinaya and Manjushri the Abhidharma.

The sites of many of these events may still be found in and around Rajgir, which is also a flourishing pilgrimage centre of hindus and jains. A Burmese temple offers resting facilities for pilgrims and there is a new Japanese temple near the remains of Ajatasatru's stupas. Vulture's Peak retains a quiet peace, but just as Pa Hien warned of lions and tigers at certain places of pilgrimage during his lifetime, here present pilgrims should beware of bandits.

The Ratna Girl Hill above the Vulture's Peak is now crowned by the beautiful Vishwa-Shanti Stupa, built recently by Japanese buddhists. On four sides golden statues of the Buddha depict his four great actions: birth, enlightenment, teaching and passing away. In a nearby temple, Japanese monks continue their strident practice of resounding sutra and drum.

Lastly, one may remember that the Buddha sent the sixteen arhats to various parts of the world to safeguard his doctrine, and one of them, Kshudrapanthaka came to and still resides on Vulture's Peak.

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

CHAPTERS

Sarnath—first turning of the Wheel of Dharma

"... here at Sarnath he turned twelve wheels of Dharma ..."

"Keep in mind this most beautiful wood,
named by the great rishi,
where ninety-one thousand kotis of Buddhas
formerly turned the Wheel.
This place is matchless, perfectly calm,
contemplating, always frequented by deer.
In this most beautiful of parks,
whose name was given by the rishi,
I will turn the holy Wheel."
Voice of the Buddha

All the 1,000 buddhas of this aeon, after demonstrating the attainment of enlightenment at Vajrasana, proceed to Sarnath to give the first turning of the wheel of Dharma. In like manner, Shakyamuni walked from Bodhgaya to Sarnath in order to meet the five ascetics who had left him earlier. Coming to the Ganges, he crossed it in one step, where King Ashoka later made Pataliputra his capital city. He entered Benares early one morning, made his alms round, bathed, ate his meal and, leaving by the east gate of the city, walked northwards to Rishipatana Mrigadava, the rishi's Deer Park.

There are many legends about the origin of this name. Fa Hien says that the rishi was a pratyeka buddha who had dwelt there but, on hearing that the son of King Suddhodana was about to become a supreme buddha, entered nirvana. Others mention 500 pratyeka buddhas and Hsuan Chwang mentions a stupa marking the site of their nirvana.

The name Deer Park derives from an occasion in one of Shakyamuni's former lives as a bodhisattva, when he was leading a herd of deer. After much indiscriminate plundering of the herd by a local king, an agreement was made with him that one of their number would be offered only when necessary. The turn came of a doe, who was shortly to give birth and wished to delay until then. The bodhisattva offered himself in her stead, which so impressed the king that he not only resolved to refrain from killing deer in future but gave the park to them as their own.

At this place the five ascetics had resumed their austere practices. When they saw the Buddha approaching, thinking him still to be the Gautama who had forsaken their path, they decided not to welcome him. Yet, as he neared they found themselves involuntarily rising and paying respect. Proclaiming that he was the Buddha, Shakyamuni assured them that the goal had been attained. Hsuan Chwang saw a large, dome-shaped stupa on this spot, where a large mound, probably its remains, surmounted by a muslim monument now, stands a short distance south of the park.

During the first watch of the night the Buddha was silent, during the second he made a little conversation and at the third began the teaching. At the spot where all the buddhas first turn the wheel, 1,000 thrones appeared. Shakyamuni circumambulated those of the three previous buddhas and sat upon the fourth. Light radiated from his body, illuminating the 3,000 worlds, and the earth trembled. Brahma offered him a 1,000-spoked golden wheel, and Indra and other gods also made offerings, all imploring the Buddha to teach.

Thus, inviting the gods and all who wished to hear, and saying that he spoke not for the purpose of debate but in order to help living beings gain control of their minds, Shakyamuni began the first turning of the wheel of Dharma. He taught the middle way, that avoids the extremes of pleasure and austerity, the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. Kaundmya was the first of the five ascetics to understand and realize the teaching; Ashvajit was the last. All eventually became arhats.

The teachings included in the collection known as the first turning of the wheel, which began here, extended over a period of seven years. Other teachings, such as those on the Vinaya and on the practice of close placement of mindfulness, were given elsewhere, but the wheel was turned twelve times at Sarnath.

From the time of the Buddha, monastic tradition flourished for over 1,500 years on the site of the Deer Park. Amongst the many ruins, archaeologists have found traces dating from as early as the third century B.C., and the existing inscription of Ashoka's pillar, dating from that time, implies that a monastery was already established during Ashoka's reign. Fa Hien speaks of two monasteries with monks in residence, while two centuries later Hsuan Chwang describes a mahavihara encompassing eight divisions. This contained a great temple with ornate balconies, over one hundred niches containing gilt images in its walls, and a statue of the Buddha in the teaching posture.

The last monastery constructed before the muslim invasion, the Dharmachakra-jina vihara, was the largest of all. It was built by Kumaradevi, queen of King Govindachandra, who ruled in Benares from 1114-1154. Here a surviving fragment of stone inscription records that in 1058 a monk presented a gift copy of the Prajna-paramita Sutra to the monastery: evidence of mahayana activity at that time. The discovery in the area of ancient statues of Heruka and Arya Tara shows that vajrayana was also practised there.

Formerly, two great stupas adorned the site. Only the Dhamekha remains, assigned by its inscription to the sixth century. The Dharmarajika stupa built by Ashoka, some say upon the very place of the teaching, was pulled down in the eighteenth century by Jagat Singh, who consigned the casket of relics contained within it to the Ganges river. Hsuan Chwang describes that Ashoka's pillar, which stood in front of the stupa, was so highly polished that it constantly reflected the stupa's statue of the Buddha.

Benares, which was the second city to reappear following the last destruction of the world, was also a site of the previous buddha's manifestations. Kashyapa, the third buddha of this aeon, built a monastery near Deer Park, where he ordained the brahmin boy, Jotipala, an earlier incarnation of Shakyamuni. Hsuan Chwang records stupas and an artificial platform at the places where several previous buddhas had walked and sat in meditation.

Deer Park was also the location of Shakyamuni's deeds as a bodhisattva in former lives. Hsuan Chwang mentions a number of stupas commemorating these near the monastery: one where the bodhisattva offered himself as the deer; another where, as a six-tusked elephant, he offered his tusks to a deceitful hunter; and a third where the bodhisattva had been a bird, with Maudgalyayana and Sariputra as a monkey and an elephant.

Sarnath: Monastery ruinsAnother stupa commemorated the occasion when Indra manifested as a hungry old man and asked a fox, an ape and a hare (the Buddha in a former life) for food. The fox brought fish, the ape brought fruit, but the bodhisattva hare, having nothing else to offer, threw himself on a fire and offered his roasted body. Indra was so moved by this act that he took the hare and placed him in the moon. Many people in central Asia still refer to the moon as the hare sign, or worship the hare in the moon.

Today the actual site of the Buddha's teaching at Sarnath and the several ruins in the area have been enclosed in a pleasant park. Nearby, a well-planned museum houses a number of unearthed statues, many barely damaged, as well as several other findings from the site. The museum's entrance is dominated by the famous lion capital from Ashoka's pillar, which—an indication of the Indian Government's renewed interest in Buddhism—has been adopted as the national emblem. The wheel design on its base has become the central figure of India's flag.

Adjacent to the park is the Mahabodhi Society's Mulaghandaluti Temple, an imposing building containing certain relics of the Buddha. Close by is the Society's sangharama and a library possessing a rare collection of buddhist literature. Also in the vicinity are Burmese, Chinese and Tibetan temples, as well as a Tibetan monastery and the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, where two hundred young monks practise and study the many aspects of the Buddha's teaching, aspiring to qualify for the degree of acharya. There is also a Tibetan printing press, The Pleasure of Elegant Sayings, which over the last decade has published more than thirty Tibetan texts of buddhist treatises, otherwise hard to find. Thus the wheel of Dharma that Shakyamuni first turned at Sarnath continues to revolve.

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

CHAPTERS
Bodhgaya—site of Buddha's enlightenment

"... here at Bodhgaya he attained enlightenment ..."

"Here on this seat my body may shrivel up,
my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve,
but my body will not move from this very seat
until I have attained Enlightenment,
so difficult to attain in the course of many kalpas."
Voice of the Buddha

The bodhisattva, having renounced the luxurious life of Prince Siddhartha, now as Gautama the ascetic, walked in a south-easterly direction from Kapilavastu and came to Vaishali. Here he listened briefly to the teaching of Arada Kalapa, an aberrant samkhya, but left dissatisfied. Crossing the river Ganges he once again entered the kingdom of Magadha and came to Rajgir, the capital, where he listened to the yogic teachings of Rudraka. Again dissatisfied, he left followed by the five ascetics. Together with them he came to the village of Uravilva on the banks of the Nairanjana river, which is close to the place now known as Bodhgaya. Here they engaged in long, austere practices. For the first two years Gautama ate but one grain of rice a day, and for the next four years he ate nothing at all. He remained sitting in continual meditation despite the almost complete degeneration of his body.

Six years after his initial renunciation he realized that extreme mortification does not yield liberation. He arose and broke the austerities. The five ascetics were disgusted and departed to Benares.

As his former garments had perished, he took a yellow shroud from the corpse of a servant girl awaiting cremation nearby. To help him wash it, the god Indra struck the ground and produced a pond. A local brahmin's daughter, Sujata, approached and offered him a golden bowl filled with rice prepared in the essence of the milk of one thousand cows. Renewed in body and mind, his complexion brilliant as the lustre of burnished gold, the bodhisattva bathed and then walked to a nearby cave to continue his meditation. However, the earth shook and the voices of previous buddhas resounded in the air, telling him that this was not the place of his enlightenment and advising him to proceed to the nearby bodhi tree. The sites of all these events were seen by the Chinese pilgrims in the fifth and seventh centuries, and they record that stupas had been constructed at each. None of these exist today.

As he walked to the tree the graincutter Svastika gave him a bundle of kusha grass. A flock of birds flew around the bodhisattva three times. When he entered the area about the tree, the earth shook. He made himself a seat from the kusha grass on the eastern side of the tree and after seven circumambulations sat down facing the east. He made the great resolve not to rise again until enlightenment had been attained, eve

Bodhgaya: the Animescalocana Stupa stands where the Buddha gazed for a week at the site of enlightenmentn if his skin, bones and flesh should crumble away. Sending forth a beam of light from the hair-treasure between his eye-brows, he invoked Mara, who came to challenge him. Mara dispatched first his horrible armies and next his enticing daughters, but the bodhisattva remained unmoved and defeated him, calling upon the earth and her goddess as his witness. He continued in profound meditation through the three watches of the night and finally realized supreme enlightenment at dawn. The air filled with flowers and light, and the earth trembled seven times.

For seven days the Buddha continued to meditate beneath the tree without stirring from his seat and for six weeks more remained in the vicinity. During the second week he walked up and down, lotus flowers springing from his footsteps, and pondered whether or not to teach. This was later represented by the chankramanar jewel walk, a low platform adorned with eighteen lotuses, which now runs close and parallel to the north side of the Mahabodhi Temple. For another week he sat gratefully contemplating the bodhi tree; this spot was later marked by the animeshalochana stupa, now situated to the north of the chankramanar. Brahma and Indra offered a hall made of the seven precious substances, in which the Buddha sat for a week radiating lights of five colours from his body to illuminate the bodhi tree. Hsuan Chwang describes this site as being west of the tree and remarks that in time the precious substances had changed to stone. However, ratnaghara is now identified by some as a roofless shrine again north of chankramanar.

During a week of unusually inclement weather, the naga king Muchalinda wrapped his body seven times about the meditating Buddha, protecting him from the rain, wind and insects. Hsuan Chwang saw a small temple next to the tank, thought to be this naga's abode. He described it as being somewhat southeast of the bodhi tree and it is now identified with the dry pond in Mucherim village near Bodhgaya.

While the Buddha sat meditating beneath the ajapala nigrodha tree, Brahma came and requested him to teach the Dharma. Hsuan Chwang saw this tree with a small temple and stupa beside it at the southeast corner of the bodhi tree enclosure. It is thought that the site is now within the Mahanta's graveyard near the present eastern gate.

Buddha spent the last of the seven weeks seated beneath the tarayana tree. Hsuan Chwang placed this some distance south and east of the bodhi tree enclosure, near the places where the bodhisattva earlier had bathed and eaten Sujata's offering. All were marked by stupas. Here two passing merchants, Trapusha and Bhallika, offered the Buddha the first food since his enlightenment. Seeing that he needed a vessel to receive it, the four guardians of the directions each offered precious bowls, but he would only accept one of stone from each. He pressed the four bowls together to form one, which survived, and when Fa Hien saw it in Peshawar four rims could be seen in the one.

After thus spending forty-nine days meditating close to the seat of enlightenment, the Buddha left Bodhgaya on foot to meet the five ascetics at Benares in order to turn the first wheel of Dharma. This accomplished, he returned briefly to Uruvela and introduced the three brothers—Uruvela, Gaya and Nadi Kasyapa—to his teachings. They developed faith in the Buddha and, together with a thousand of their followers, became monks and accompanied Shakyamuni to Rajgir.

Bodhgaya: The Vajrasana, the Diamond Throne of the BuddhaThus far we have described Bodhgaya only in connection with Shakyamuni Buddha, but that connection is in no way exclusive. In the same manner as Shakyamuni, all the buddhas who show enlightenment to this world eat a meal of milk rice, sit upon a carpet of grass at Vajrasana, engage in meditation, defeat Mara and his forces and attain supreme enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree (although the species of tree differs with each buddha).

The present bodhi tree is a descendant of the original, for the tree has been destroyed deliberately on at least three occasions. King Ashoka, initially hostile to Buddhism, ordered it to be cut down and burned on the spot, but when the tree sprang up anew from the flames his attitude was transformed. In deep regret for his destruction, Ashoka lavished so much personal care and attention on the new tree that his queen became jealous and secretly had it destroyed once more. Again Ashoka revived it and built a protective enclosing wall, as had previously been done by King Prasenajit of Koshala within the Buddha's lifetime. Later, Nagarjuna is said to have built an enclosure to protect the tree from damage by elephants and, when in time this became less effective, placed a statue of Mahakala upon each pillar.

Records of the third destruction of the tree are given by Hsuan Chwang, who reports seeing remains of these walls, and states that in the sixth century a saivite king of Bengal by the name of Shasanka destroyed the tree. However, even though he dug deep into its roots, he was unable to unearth it completely. It was afterwards revived by Purvavarma of Magadha, who poured the milk of one thousand cows upon it, causing it to sprout again and grow ten feet in a single night.

In addition to human destruction, the tree has perhaps perished naturally several times, yet the pipal is renowned for growing wherever its seeds fall and the direct lineage has continued. General Cunningham offers an example. After showing severe decay for more than a decade, the remains of the old tree fell over during a storm one night in 1876. Young sprouts were already growing within the old tree (which grew into the one we see today).

Bodhgaya: Mahabodhi TempleThe origins of the Mahabodhi Temple, which adorns the site today, are shrouded in obscurity. Various traditions hold that Ashoka erected a diamond throne shrine, which seems to have been a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of Vajrasana. When General Cunningham was restoring the floor of the present temple he found traces that he took to be the remains of the shrine. It is his opinion that the temple may have been built between the fifth and seventh centuries, but this would seem to be based on Hsuan Chwang's detailed description of it, while Fa Hien mentions it not at all. Others propose that because of its resemblance to similar structures in Ghandhara, Nalanda and so forth, as well as other archaeological evidence, its founding could have been as early as the second century AD— Nagarjuna is reputed to have built the original stupa upon the roof, which is more consistent with the latter theory. However, from Hsuan Chwang we can be certain that the temple existed before the seventh century.

Accounts of the builder are no longer clear. Some legends attest that he was a brahmin acting on the advice of Shiva. The statue in the main shrine of the temple, famous for its likeness to Shakyamuni, is said to have been the work of Maitreya in the appearance of a brahmin artisan.

Monastic tradition seems to have been strong in Bodhgaya. Fa Hien mentions three monasteries and Hsuan Chwang describes particularly the magnificent Mahabodhi Sangharama, founded early in the fourth century by a king of Ceylon. Both pilgrims make special remark of the strict observance of the Vinaya by the monks residing there. Some accounts tell that the great master Atisha, who later emphasised pure practice of the Vinaya, received ordination in Bodhgaya.

As elsewhere, neglect and desolation followed the muslim invasion of northern India. However, extensive repairs and restoration of the temple and environs in the fourteenth century by the Burmese and their further attempts in the early nineteenth century are recorded. In the late sixteenth century a wandering sanyasi settled in Bodhgaya and founded the establishment which is now the math of the Mahanta. When in 1891 Anagarika Dharmapala, inspired by appeals in the press by Sir Edwin Arnold, began the Mahabodhi Society and sought to restore the site as a buddhist shrine, he was obstructed by bureaucracy. The British Government of India decided that the temple and its surroundings were the property of the saivite Mahanta, who only then began to take an interest in it. Nearly sixty years of judicial wrangling followed until the Mahabodhi Temple was legally recognized as belonging to buddhists.

Since the inception of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee and the beginning of its active administration in 1953, vast improvements have been made to both the temple and its grounds. Existing structures have been repaired and new stupas are being erected. With the reintroduction of gilded images in the niches of the Mahabodhi Temple, it begins to regain some of the splendour described by Hsuan Chwang.

The establishment, in the surrounding district, of beautiful temples and monasteries by the people of Tibet, Japan, China, Thailand, Burma and others has brought back to Bodhgaya the varied traditions of buddhist practice that have evolved in those lands. By contrast, the headless, mutilated statues in the local museum present a disturbing reminder of past destruction.

Pilgrims abound in Bodhgaya and in recent years thousands have had the fortune to listen to the Dharma there. Many buddhist masters are again travelling to Bodhgaya to turn the wheel of Dharma. For example, the Kalachakra empowerment given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1974 was attended by over 100,000 devotees. The Tibetan monastery now offers a two-month meditation course annually for the international buddhist community, and meditation courses and teachings are given occasionally in the Burmese, Thai, Japanese and other temples.

A description of the eight places of significance in the Buddha's life
First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file.

CHAPTERS
The Eight Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage
Introduction
Lumbini—birthplace of the Buddha
Bodhgaya—site of Buddha's enlightenment
Sarnath—first turning of the Wheel of Dharma
Rajgir—second turning of the Wheel of Dharma
Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove
Sankashya—where Lord Buddha descended from Tushita Heaven
Nalanda—site of the great monastic university
Kushinagar—where Buddha entered mahaparinirvana
Conclusion and Books Consulted

Lumbini—birthplace of the Buddha

"... here at Lumbini the enlightened one was born ..."

"After taking seven steps,
he speaks with a voice like Brahma’s:
‘The destroyer of old age and death
has come forth, the Greatest of Physicians.’
Looking fearlessly in all directions,
he pronounces these words rich in meaning:
‘I am the first,
the best of all beings,
this is my last birth."
Voice of the Buddha

Lumbini was the birthplace of the Buddha and is now located near the Nepal-India border north of Gorakpur.

Immediately before his birth, the bodhisattva was lord of Tushita deva realm. There he had resolved to be reborn for the last time and show the attainment of enlightenment to the world. He had made the five investigations and determined that this southern continent, where men lived for one hundred years, was the most suitable place and, as the royal caste was then most respected and the lineages of King Suddhodana and his Queen Mayadevi were pure, he would be born as their son, a prince of the Shakya dynasty. Placing his crown upon the head of his successor Maitreya, the bodhisattva descended from Tushita to the world of man.

During the night of his conception, Queen Mayadevi, who is to be the mother of all the thousand buddhas of this aeon, dreamt of a great white elephant entering her womb. The earth trembled six times. It is said that in the manner of all bodhisattvas in their final birth, he remained sitting cross-legged for the whole time within the womb. Furthermore, all buddhas are born in a forest grove while their mother remains standing.

At the appointed time Queen Mayadevi was visiting the Lumbini Garden some ten miles from the Shakya city of Kapilavastu. Emerging from a bath with her face to the east, she leant her right arm on a sala tree. The bodhisattva was then born from her right side and immediately took seven steps—from which lotus flowers sprang up—in each of the four directions. To each direction he proclaimed as with a lion's roar: "I am the first, the best of all beings, this is my last birth.'' He looked down to predict the defeat of Mara and the benefiting of beings in the lower realms through the power of his teachings. He then looked up to indicate that all the world would come to respect and appreciate his deeds.

The gods Brahma and Indra then received him and together with the four guardian protectors bathed him. At the same time two nagas, Nanda and Upananda, caused water to cascade over him. Later a well was found to have formed there, from which even in Fa Hien's time monks continued to draw water to drink. The young prince was next wrapped in fine muslin and carried with great rejoicing to the king's palace in Kapilavastu.

Many auspicious signs accompanied the bodhisattva's birth. Also, many beings who would play major parts in his life are said to have been born on the same day: Yasodhara, his future wife; Chandaka, the groom who would later help him leave the palace; Kanthaka, the horse that would bear him; the future kings Bimbisara of Magadha and Prasenajit of Koshala; and his protector Vajrapani. The bodhi tree is also said to have sprouted on the day of Buddha's birth.

When Ashoka visited Lumbini two centuries later, his advisor, the sage Upagata, perceived by clairvoyance and described all these events, pointing out their sites to the emperor. Ashoka made many offerings, built an elaborate stupa and erected a pillar surmounted by a horse capital. When Hsuan Chwang saw it, the pillar had already been destroyed by lightning. Nevertheless, when discovered at the end of the last century the inscription which remained on the present ruin was sufficiently legible to clearly identify the site as Lumbini.

The prince, now named Siddhartha, spent his first twenty-nine years in Kapilavastu. There he performed three more of the twelve principal deeds of a buddha. Surpassing all the Shakya youths and even his teachers in all fields of learning, skill and sport, he showed that he had already mastered all the worldly arts.

One day while still a child he was left unattended beneath a tree as his father performed the ceremonial first ploughing of the season. He sat and engaged in his first meditation, attaining such a degree of absorption that five sages flying overhead were halted in mid-flight by the power of it.

Lumbini: Ashoka's pillarLater he was married to Yasodhara and experienced a life of pleasure in the palace amongst the women of the court. Yet despite King Suddhodana's efforts to protect him from unpleasant sights, one day when riding in his chariot through Kapilavastu he happened to see a man feeble with age, another struck down with sickness, and a corpse. He immediately realised the suffering nature of men's lives. Then he saw a monk of holy countenance, and recognized his path and vocation.

It is said that a buddha renounces the world only after seeing these four signs and when a son has been born to him. Accordingly, seven days before Siddhartha would have been crowned as his father's heir, a son, Rahula, was born to Yasodhara. Without further delay Siddhartha told his father of his resolve to leave the transient luxury of worldly life and live as a renunciate in order to discover the causes of true happiness and the end of misery.

Suddhodana was reluctant to let him go. Therefore, riding the horse Kanthaka and accompanied by the groom Chandaka, Prince Siddhartha left Kapilavastu with the aid of the gods. Some distance away he performed the great renunciation, cutting off his hair and donning the robes of an ascetic. He sent Chandaka back to the palace with his jewels and horse, and entered into the homeless life.

Some years later, after attaining enlightenment, Buddha returned briefly to Kapilavastu at his father's invitation. The Buddha and his followers were welcomed and treated well by the king and the people, who listened to his teachings. Five hundred Shakya youths became monks at this time, including Rahula, the Buddha's own son, Nanda, his half brother, and Upali, the barber, who was to later become one of the Buddha's most important disciples.

The splendour of Kapilavastu did not last for long, for the city and many of the Shakya clan were destroyed by the rival king Vaidraka even within the Buddha's lifetime. When the Chinese pilgrims visited the area they found nothing but ruin and desolation and merely a handful of people and monks dwelling there. Yet all the sites of the events mentioned in the early scriptures were pointed out to them, and several of these were still marked by stupas. After this, the area was lost in jungle and earlier in this century, was still only accessible by elephant.

Now only Lumbini, the birthplace itself, has been identified with certainty. Kapilavastu has been but tentatively located. At present these sites are still being explored and some ruins have been unearthed. The remains of Ashoka's pillar can be seen, as well as a shrine of indeterminate age dedicated to Queen Mayadevi. A Nepalese buddhist temple was built in 1956 and a Tibetan monastery of the sakya order was completed in 1975, which, as well as possessing a beautiful and elaborate shrine, is well illustrated within by traditional murals. Here many young monks are studying and practising the Buddha's teachings, thereby both aiding the revival of Lumbini as a place of buddhist practice and preserving the great traditions lost in Tibet.

The Nepalese temple, which is cared for by a monk of the theravada tradition, also has rest houses within its grounds, provided by buddhists from Japan and the former U.N. General Secretary U Thant. In cooperation with the Nepalese Government, UNESCO is also helping to improve and develop this first of the eight pilgrimage places.

A description of the eight places of significance in the Buddha's life
First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 1970s. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.

This publication has been translated into Spanish by Ediciones Mahayana, and is now available for download as a pdf file

CHAPTERS
The Eight Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage
Introduction
Lumbini—birthplace of the Buddha
Bodhgaya—site of Buddha's enlightenment
Sarnath—first turning of the Wheel of Dharma
Rajgir—second turning of the Wheel of Dharma
Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove
Sankashya—where Lord Buddha descended from Tushita Heaven
Nalanda—site of the great monastic university
Kushinagar—where Buddha entered mahaparinirvana
Conclusion and Books Consulted

INTRODUCTION

Across the world and throughout the ages, religious people have made pilgrimages. The Buddha himself exhorted his followers to visit what are now known as the four great places of pilgrimage: Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar. Many great teachers of the buddhist tradition maintained the practice of pilgrimage and paying respect to the holy sites. Nagarjuna, father of the mahayana, restored the temple in Bodhgaya and protected the bodhi tree, while the great Indian master Atisha, later on as important as Nagarjuna to the Tibetan tradition, also often visited Bodhgaya and indeed attained many realizations there.

Of the many places in northern India associated with the Buddha, eight in particular have become special objects of pilgrimage: the four great places above, and four others, namely, Rajgir, Shravasti, Sankashya and Nalanda, each of which is regarded as having been blessed by the Buddha. After the Buddha's passing away and the cremation of his body, the relics were divided into eight portions and various beings erected a great stupa over each. So arose the tradition of eight places of pilgrimage.

The actions of the Buddha in each of these places, recalling which is an important aspect of making pilgrimage, are described within the canons of the scriptures of the various traditions of his teaching, such as the sections on Vinaya, and also in various compendia describing his life. The sites themselves have now been identified once more with the aid of records left by three pilgrims of the past. The great Emperor Ashoka, although initially opposed to Buddhism, later became a zealous follower who in the second decade of his reign made a great pilgrimage to numerous buddhist shrines. As well as other buildings, he left inscribed pillars at each site to indicate the significance of each place. Many remains of these ancient structures survive even today.

In the early fifth century AD, the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien walked from China to India in search of buddhist books on discipline, the Vinaya. He was followed two centuries later by Hsuan Chwang. Records of the travels of both, which contain detailed accounts of the holy places they visited, have survived in Chinese. Translated into English in the last century, they are now available in most western languages.

The practice of Buddhism flourished long in India, perhaps reaching a zenith in the seventh century AD, at which time the Buddha's teaching began to be firmly established in Tibet. After this it began to decline because of the invading muslim armies, and by the twelfth century the practice of the Dharma had become sparse in its homeland. Thus, the history of the eight places of pilgrimage from the thirteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries is obscure and they were mostly forgotten. However, it is remarkable that they all remained virtually undisturbed by the conflicts and developments of society during that period. Subject only to the decay of time they remained dormant, waiting for rediscovery.

From the middle of the last century, the Archeological Survey of India, under the auspices of the British Government, and one Englishman in particular—General Sir Alexander Cunningham—unearthed and identified many sites, including the eight places of pilgrimage. Since that time, owing to a renewed Indian interest in Buddhism and the devotion and hardship of many individuals, the pilgrimage sites have been revived. Now, two and a half millennia after the Buddha, there are once more active buddhist establishments and practitioners of the Dharma from many lands resident in all but one of the eight places.

The following account is intended less to present a purely historical record of the places of pilgrimage than to offer some information and perhaps inspiration to other pilgrims, with the wish that this revival may increase.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

The two wings of the bird 

Lama Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path:

Although you practise renunciation and bodhi-mind,
Without wisdom, the realisation of voidness,
You cannot cut the root of samsara.
Therefore, strive to understand dependent origination.

Although there are many inconceivable benefits and advantages to developing the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings, if we do not develop the wisdom that realises selflessness or emptiness, there is no way we can free ourselves or others from samsara (or cyclic existence), to achieve the state of enlightenment. Therefore, developing bodhicitta alone is not enough. We must also develop the wisdom that realises emptiness, because of the reason given by Lama Tsongkhapa in the above verse.

The very root of samsara is the self-grasping ignorance: our grasping at the self of the person, conceiving the person as existing by way of its own character and our grasping at the self of phenomena, conceiving phenomena as existing by way of their own character.

In order to destroy these self-graspings, we must develop a mind that can counter such ignorance, realising how its mode of apprehension is mistaken and wrong. This is the only way to cut the root of samsara.

These two are called the method and wisdom aspects of the path. In order to fly, a bird needs a pair of wings. Having one wing alone is insufficient. In the same way, in order to achieve the state of full enlightenment, we need method and wisdom.

Dependent arising & lack of inherent existence

Lama Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path:

One who sees the infallible cause and effect
Of all phenomena in samsara and nirvana
And destroys all false perceptions
Has entered the path that pleases the Buddha.

First, we need to understand how all phenomena including samsara and nirvana arise dependently, i.e. they came about through depending on something else. Understanding that, we then understand that things do not exist in the way they appear to our minds. When we look at phenomena, we grasp at them as being truly existent. We have to understand that phenomena do not exist in this way. With this understanding, we would have entered the path that pleases the Buddha.

A good understanding of dependent arising enhances our ascertainment of the law of cause and effect - the better our understanding, the greater will be our ascertainment of the law of cause and effect, that when we engage in positive actions, we will experience happiness; when we engage in negative actions, it will lead to suffering.

Through understanding how all things do not exist inherently, we will see how the law of cause and effect work and exist conventionally. It will also help our understanding of dependent arising, that conventionally there is such a thing as dependent origination.

“Not existing inherently,” means that all phenomena exist by depending on something else and on that basis are given labels. This understanding of dependent arising would enhance our understanding of the working of the law of cause and effect. Believing things exist truly contradicts this law, that causes lead to effects.

It is very problematic when we believe phenomena exist inherently from their own side. For example, if the seed exists inherently, then it is very difficult to explain how it can transform into a plant. When we assert that lower realms or good rebirths exist inherently, it is difficult to explain how we can move from one realm to another. When we say sentient beings exist inherently, it becomes difficult to explain how sentient beings can become buddhas. In the same way, if a baby or young person exists inherently, then it is very difficult to explain how that person will age.

We must not leave things at that but really try to figure them out in our minds. For example, when we assert that a youngster inherently exists, it is tantamount to saying that that he will never get old. We have to understand why there is a problem with such assertions and how that problem comes about.

Dedication

Through the merit created by preparing, reading, thinking about and sharing this book with others, may all teachers of the Dharma live long and healthy lives, may the Dharma spread throughout the infinite reaches of space, and may all sentient beings quickly attain enlightenment.

In whichever realm, country, area or place this book may be, may there be no war, drought, famine, disease, injury, disharmony or unhappiness, may there be only great prosperity, may everything needed be easily obtained, and may all be guided by only perfectly qualified Dharma teachers, enjoy the happiness of Dharma, have love and compassion for all sentient beings, and only benefit and never harm each other.

 

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Bodhicitta is the most powerful of virtuous minds

Where is there a comparable virtue?
Where is there even such a friend?
Where is there merit similar to this?
(Verse 30, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

The bodhicitta mind is the most powerful amongst all virtuous states of mind. Nothing is comparable to its strength and power. It can remove all the sufferings of all sentient beings and establish them in the state of bliss. It is able to provide sentient beings joy and happiness and remove the darkness of ignorance from their minds.

When we praise bodhicitta as being the most powerful mind, capable of removing the ignorance that obscures the minds of sentient beings, how does this work?

We should understand that the bodhisattva, with his strong bodhicitta mind, considers our condition. Since we sentient beings are ignorant with regard to what should be abandoned and how to abandon that and what should be cultivated and how to cultivate that, the bodhisattva teaches us these points without mistake. This is how the bodhisattva removes our mental ignorance.

Bodhicitta is also praised as an unequalled virtuous friend. Here, one can understand a virtuous friend to mean a good friend. The bodhicitta mind is praised as the most supreme amongst our virtuous friends because it is able to protect us from all harms and enable us to accomplish benefits, not only for ourselves but for others.

This verse also says that there is no merit comparable to bodhicitta. This means that, by relying upon bodhicitta, one can easily accumulate extensive amounts of merit and will continue to do so, from moment to moment. Having the bodhicitta mind naturally causes us to engage in virtue and to pacify all negativities. It is mentioned that as long as we have the bodhicitta mind, we will continuously generate merit even when we go about doing our usual activities such as sleeping, walking, sitting and so on. Therein lies the power of the bodhicitta mind. Since we aspire to attain buddhahood, we need to accumulate merit and the supreme method for doing this is through the practice of bodhicitta.

Therefore, we should contemplate over and over the inconceivable benefits of bodhicitta, till the aspiration to generate bodhicitta arises in our minds. Realising the need to cultivate bodhicitta, we will be inspired to put in every effort to do so. We should pray continuously to generate bodhicitta within this lifetime and also to rely constantly on effortful and sustained practice.

By remembering that the bodhicitta mind is the most powerful virtue, the most powerful friend and the most powerful merit, we engage in listening to the Buddha’s teachings with the intention to practise and cultivate it. Due to the force of this motivation, we receive infinite benefits from listening to the teachings and are also able to do so with a joyful mind.

Fulfilling the wishes of others

It is like the supreme gold-making elixir,
For it transforms the unclean body we have taken
Into the priceless jewel of a Buddha-Form.
(Verse 10, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

When we achieve the state of full enlightenment, we will be in a position to fulfil all the hopes and wishes of sentient beings and help eliminate all their sufferings. What would enable us to achieve this state? It is generating bodhicitta in our minds.

The bodhisattvas take rebirth in samsara, using their unclean, impure bodies to benefit others, unlike the hearers and solitary realisers, who abandon their bodies to get out of samsara, in pursuit of their personal liberation.

The bodhisattvas are able to take on such samsaric rebirths for the benefit of others due to their great compassion and complete abandonment of self-cherishing. The hearers and solitary realisers are unable to do so because they are not free from their self-cherishing attitude.

When self-cherishing is absent, one is able to work solely for the benefit of others, so the weaker one’s self-cherishing is, the greater will be one’s ability to benefit others. The stronger one’s self-cherishing, the more difficult it will be for one to work for others. Basically, it all boils down to whether one has bodhicitta or not. So, we should try to develop bodhicitta and once it is generated, strive to ensure that it does not decline but work to strengthen that virtuous mind.

Bodhicitta and the practice of the perfections

Should even the myriad beings of the three realms without exception
Become angry at me, humiliate, criticise, threaten or even kill me,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience not to be distraught,
But to work for their benefit in response to their harm.

Even if I must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells of Avici
For the sake of even just one sentient being,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort,
To strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment and not be discouraged.
(Verses 103 – 104, Guru Puja)

These verses from the Guru Puja show that even when all sentient beings turn against us, instead of returning harm for harm, it is actually possible to develop patience when there is bodhicitta in our mental continua. When we train our minds in the method of exchanging ourselves for others, we develop loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, which then enables us to behave in the manner mentioned in these verses.

When we look at such verses, we find it very difficult to comprehend that such a thing is possible; it is just beyond our mental capacity. We think in this way because we have yet to develop bodhicitta in our mental continua. Once we have generated bodhicitta, instead of being disturbed, our minds will remain very calm and we can work for the benefit even of those who harm us.

With bodhicitta, we will also be able to develop the kind of joyous perseverance that is mentioned in the Guru Puja. We will have the courage, determination and the joyous perseverance needed to benefit other sentient beings.

Whether the practice of the perfection of patience and joyous perseverance can be cultivated in our minds depends on whether we can develop the altruistic intention, bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a mind that cherishes others more than oneself, forsaking one’s own purposes and placing others’ welfare before one’s own.

Because the bodhisattvas have such unbearable compassion for sentient beings, they have tremendous determination and are able to work with a happy mind for countless oceans of eons to help just one sentient being. We find it difficult now to work for the benefit of even one sentient being because we do not have such a mind and we become easily discouraged. The opposite happens when we have bodhicitta. Then, even if we had to spend an eon to benefit a single sentient being, we would happily do so.

There are six perfections:

  1. The perfection of generosity
  2. The perfection of ethics
  3. The perfection of patience
  4. The perfection of joyous perseverance
  5. The perfection of concentration
  6. The perfection of wisdom

Whether we are able to develop these perfections depends on whether we are able to develop bodhicitta in our minds. Until that time, even when we do practise generosity, it will not become the perfection of generosity.

Bodhicitta as medicine and wish-fulfilling jewel 

The panacea that relieves the world of pain
And is the source of all its joy
(Verse 26, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

Shantideva said that bodhicitta is the cause of happiness and joy and is like the great medicine for all sentient beings of the six realms. When we are able to develop bodhicitta in our own mental continuum, we can obtain the higher rebirths of humans and gods and progress from there towards liberation and full enlightenment.

Bodhicitta is also like the medicine that eliminates all our sufferings. Once bodhicitta is generated in our minds, our mental sufferings will definitely be reduced. In the same way, when bodhicitta arises in the minds of other sentient beings, they will also be able to reap the benefits of gaining higher rebirths of humans and gods, and the opportunity to achieve liberation and enlightenment as well.

You may wonder, “What are the benefits of developing bodhicitta?” The benefits of bodhicitta are inexpressible. In short, bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling jewel. It is stated in one sutra that if the benefits of bodhicitta were to take a physical form, the entire space of the three thousand great world systems would not be able to contain it.

Bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling jewel because it is able to eradicate the poverty of all sentient beings. Our own sufferings will be reduced as we will no longer become the causes for others to generate negative karma and by our causing others to develop bodhicitta, they too can be freed from their sufferings.

More qualities of bodhicitta 

The bodhisattvas constantly train in the practice of bodhicitta and are not discouraged when they encounter hardships, such as famines, financial difficulties or sickness. Instead, they use these conditions to remind themselves to refrain from engaging in negativities and creating negative karma. They are able to transform whatever negative conditions they meet with into the path of reinforcing and strengthening their practice of bodhicitta. Regardless of the level of hardship, the bodhisattvas will not resort to negative actions or creating negative karma to make things easier for themselves, eg. they will  not lose their temper just to get some temporary relief from their suffering.

The bodhicitta mind of the bodhisattva is therefore called an extremely precious holy mind. In general, there are different kinds of virtuous minds that we can cultivate or practise. However, this bodhicitta mind is praised as being like a wish-fulfilling jewel that can remove the poverty of impoverished sentient beings. Samsara and the lower nirvana of the arhats are extremes that the bodhisattva tries to avoid.

Bodhisattvas are praised as worthy objects of refuge because they are, “that source of joy/Who brings happiness even to those who bring harm.” The true bodhisattva does not retaliate or take revenge against those who harm them. Instead, the bodhisattva makes every effort to establish that person on the path to liberation and omniscient buddhahood. Therefore, the bodhisattva possessing the mind of bodhicitta is praised as the “source of joy” and all happiness.

By understanding how bodhisattvas transform all negative circumstances into the path, how they never return harm for harm and how they only strive to place beings in the state of buddhahood, we can see the qualities of the bodhicitta mind. When we are able to generate the bodhicitta mind, we will be able to receive the same benefits as those associated with bodhisattvas.  Our bodhicitta becomes the supreme basis for naturally restraining ourselves from creating negative karma. Because we have yet to generate such a mind, presently, we find ourselves creating negative karma all the time.

The enemy, our self-cherishing attitude 

The moment an Awakening Mind arises
In those fettered and weak in the jail of cyclic existence,
They will be named a ‘Child of the Sugata,’
And will be revered by both humans and gods of the world.
(Verse 9, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

As soon as bodhicitta is generated in one’s mind, one’s status becomes exalted, regardless of whether one is young or old, male or female. As a bodhisattva, one acquires a different name (a child of the Sugatas) and becomes an object worthy of homage, prostrations and respect by all humans and worldly gods.  This happens because of the generation of bodhicitta and not because one had a better rebirth, lineage or gender or was born wealthier than others. One becomes a bodhisattva primarily because of one’s state of mind.

The whole purpose of engaging in mind training is to develop bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings. There are two ways of doing this; one is by following the seven-fold cause and effect instructions, and the other is by following the instructions on exchanging oneself for others. The Wheel-Weapon text presents the latter system and gives instructions on developing love and compassion through the practice of tong-len, the practice of giving and taking.

The main obstacle that prevents us from developing bodhicitta is our self-cherishing attitude. Until that is abandoned, there is no way we can develop bodhicitta. What we are trying to do here is to learn these instructions for developing bodhicitta because when we achieve this, we can overcome our self-cherishing attitude that is the source of all our problems and sufferings.

We should pray, “May I and all sentient beings develop bodhicitta. I will cause this to happen by myself alone. Please, guru deity, bless me to be able to do this.” We are adapting the prayer of the four immeasurables and substituting the words for developing bodhicitta.

When we pray, “May I and all sentient beings develop bodhicitta,” that is only at the level of prayer. Although it is important to pray for this, we will never get anywhere by leaving it at this level. It is impossible to develop bodhicitta in this way.

So, then, we have to go on to the next line that says, “I will cause this to happen by myself alone.” Here, not only are we generating the aspiration to develop bodhicitta, we are actually saying, “I am going to do something about it. I am going to develop bodhicitta.”

But even that is still not enough because when we try to develop bodhicitta, we will meet with all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. Therefore, we have to seek the blessings of the guru; we recite the last line of the prayer, “Please, guru deity, bless me to be able to do this.”

We should remember this motivation and aspiration when listening to the teachings on the instructions for developing bodhicitta. When we do this, it will be of great benefit.

When you finish your work or as soon as you are about to set off for class to listen to the teachings, you should immediately generate this motivation. Quickly generate the thought, “I am going to class to learn about the instructions to develop bodhicitta.” With this motivation, each and every single step we take towards the centre causes us to accumulate an immeasurable amount of merit.

When you are in class, you should again generate this motivation, “I am listening to these teachings because I want to learn how to develop bodhicitta.” As you listen to the teachings, pay attention and keep this motivation very close to your heart. As mentioned in the first chapter of Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, when it comes to purifying any kind of negative karma, even the heaviest karma, there is nothing more powerful than developing the mind of bodhicitta.

Most of the verses in The Wheel-Weapon state that the real problem is our self-cherishing attitude. Whatever problems we experience are the results of the karma we have created in the past under the influence of our self-cherishing attitude. If you are looking for someone to blame, blame the self-cherishing attitude. The instructions say that other people are actually very precious and kind. If there is a problem, then it is our own self-cherishing attitude.

Most of the verses also point out how the different kinds of sufferings are the results of our own karma, “It is the weapon of my own evil deeds turned upon me.” We try to take all these unfavourable conditions into the path and throw them at our self-cherishing attitude to try to reduce the strength of this self-cherishing attitude.

The mistake of not having a bodhicitta mind 

When we read the text, The Wheel Weapon, we may feel that everything we have been doing had been inappropriate or wrong. It is natural to feel this way because the purpose of this text is to point out our faults, the mistake of not having a bodhicitta mind.

We should understand that what this text is trying to tell us is that, without the mind of bodhicitta, naturally we would always remain sentient beings with faults. Therefore, when we read mind-training texts that seem harsh in this way, we should not feel discouraged or depressed. We should understand that it is natural for us sentient beings to have faults. However, we should move beyond just seeing our faults to understand the true purpose of having our faults exposed in this way. We should strive to generate bodhicitta because, as long as the bodhicitta mind is not present, our faults will remain.

This text explains the practice of bodhicitta. Since we are not bodhisattvas yet, it is only natural that, at our level, the practice seems to be very difficult. The main purpose of this text is to inspire us to work for the generation of bodhicitta. This text tells us over and over again that the more powerful our egoistic mind, the more faults we incur. Therefore, it advises us to be inspired to reduce the intensity of that egoistic mind and, instead, to nurture the mind that cherishes others.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Main obstacle to generating a good heart

The main obstacle to becoming a good-hearted person is anger. Anger is the opposite of the good heart and is very harmful. It has harmed us in the past, it is harming us now and it will harm us in the future.

We can see how anger harms us in this life, disturbing our mental peace, making our relationships difficult. But it does not stop there. The results of anger will also harm us in the future as we accumulate very powerful negative karma, which will propel us into lower rebirths in our future lives. Anger harms in the past because all the roots of virtue accumulated in the past are destroyed when we get angry.

Mental unhappiness causes anger to arise in our minds and it arises when:

  1. others create problems for our loved ones and ourselves, or
  2. we and our loved ones are prevented  from getting what we want, or
  3. we see that everything is going well for people whom we dislike.

Is there any point in becoming unhappy with these conditions? It is not going to make our problem disappear. On top of that, it makes us miserable. If matters can be changed for the better, there is no reason to feel unhappy. If we cannot do anything about the situation, again, we have to stop our minds from becoming unhappy since that serves no purpose at all but only generates additional suffering for ourselves. The point here is to keep the mind happy.

For the other party who is creating difficulties for us, our unhappiness does not rid us of this person or make him change his mind towards us. It is even possible that our unhappiness will make him happier.

Some of the reasons we have mentioned can be reflected upon in meditation, which helps us to familiarise ourselves with these lines of reasoning. There is no better meditation than familiarising ourselves with the antidotes to anger. Then, when anger arises in our minds, we can recall them and apply them immediately. Of course, we may not be successful in the beginning, but if we persevere, and with greater familiarity with such thoughts, we will improve.

You should do this on your own by spending some time – maybe 15-20 minutes – thinking about these points in stages, sorting them out in your own mind while reflecting on your own experiences.

Meditation exercise (I)1

First, recall a time when anger or hatred arose in your mind. Did you feel happy or was the feeling unpleasant? When you encounter some problems and you are feeling upset and angry, or there is a lot of hatred in your mind, examine that feeling and experience. Is it good or bad?

It is very obvious when we look at our own experiences. We can conclude that when we are angry, there is a lot of unhappiness in our minds which we neither want nor need. That being the case, we have to think of ways and means to get rid of such mental unhappiness.

It is very beneficial when we have faith in the Buddha’s teachings and the workings of karma. It is obvious that anger disturbs and makes us unhappy. Worse still, anger destroys a thousand eons of virtue that we have accumulated in the past.  It is also obvious that as soon as we are angry, or when the anger has been festering in our minds for a long time, it blocks the generation of a virtuous state of mind, making it very difficult for the mind to be positive and virtuous. Anger also harms us in the future, by causing us to take rebirth in the lower realms. We should reflect deeply on how anger harms us in these different ways.

Next, we examine the causes of anger. What makes us upset – a person, an incident or a situation? As mentioned in the text,2 the cause of anger or hatred is mental unhappiness. Do our experiences accord with what is said in the text?  Is it true that anger is experienced when the mind is unhappy in some way? It becomes clear that first we feel unhappy, then that mental unhappiness leads to anger or hatred.

We then have to examine what is causing our unhappiness. The text points out that the main cause of mental unhappiness is attachment to the eight worldly dharmas. For example, we feel unhappy when someone behaves in an unfriendly or abusive way towards us. Because the “I” or “me” is harmed, we get angry and unhappy.

Let us take as an example the experience of being verbally insulted by someone. We first become unhappy, then anger and hatred follows.  The condition for that mental unhappiness and anger is hearing those unpleasant words.

At that point we should reflect: “The words have already been said. Can my anger change what has already occurred? Sooner or later, my critic will finish what he has to say.” So think: “Are we able to change the situation by remaining angry? Can the insults be retracted if we continue to be angry?” Thinking in this way, it becomes clear that getting angry serves no purpose at all. The insults have been uttered. The words cannot be taken back. Our anger is useless as we are unable to change the situation. Furthermore, our anger only disturbs and makes our minds unhappy.

There would be some purpose to our anger if it could eliminate the situation that is upsetting us. But we can see that is not so. Our anger also has no effect on the other party who is insulting us. Instead, we are the ones experiencing the mental unhappiness and disturbance.

After examining this from every possible angle, the conclusion has to be that anger does not serve any beneficial purpose whatsoever. It only harms and makes us unhappy. Based on this conclusion, we should be convinced that anger is bad for us and be determined not to give in to it in the future: “I must try to stop my anger from arising.” We must remember, “I have to be very careful to take care of my mind, especially when anger is about to arise.”

We should not think like this only occasionally but we should rely on our mindfulness and vigilance all the time. When we become habituated to this way of thinking, together with our application of mindfulness and vigilance, it will become easier to stop anger from arising.

Everything we see or experience seems to exist very solidly from its own side.  Anger arises based on that appearance. At the present moment, we may think there is no way we can curb our anger. It is very difficult to subdue anger completely, but even then we can familiarise our minds with the antidotes, by meditating on some of the points I have mentioned. With greater familiarity, we will definitely be able to stop anger from remaining in the mind for long and even when it arises we will be able to stop it quickly. This is definitely achievable.

If we do not train our minds in this way, we will continue to live with our anger, becoming angrier with each passing day. The days become months, the months become years. When we do nothing about our anger, we spend our whole lives like that.

It will not take you longer than 10 minutes a day to reflect on these points. You should reflect on them daily for at least a week. This is not optional. This is something you must do. After a week, if you find it beneficial, then, of course, you can continue with the reflection. But you must try this out for at least a week. 10 minutes is not a long time. It is your responsibility to put aside those 10 minutes. When you see its usefulness, you will be motivated to do it and you will be able to make the time. But if you do not want to do it, you will not be able to find any time, even if you are not working, and free the whole day.

Some students wonder what our studies have to do with their lives. They do not see its usefulness or benefit. That is understandable. We can study and listen to many teachings, but when we do not reflect on them and try to apply them to our daily lives, we always remain the same. Therefore, we have to critically analyse how our studies can be integrated into our lives. When we do not meditate in this way, the teachings will never benefit the mind. This is my way of persuading you to do this homework.

You may have a lot of daily commitments but it remains to be seen whether the mind changes as a result of merely reciting prayers and doing sadhanas alone. I think it is very difficult for the mind to improve when you simply spend all your time doing prayers without doing any reflection. But when you spend just 10 minutes every day, continuously for, say, a month, thinking about how to stop anger, you will be able to assess its usefulness at the end of the month.

Whether this happens or not depends on you experiencing it for yourself. Please do not misunderstand; I am not saying that you should discard your commitments and stop your daily prayers. Since you have made the promise to do so, you have to continue with your prayers, but do them happily.

Meditation exercise (2)

This is another piece of meditation homework for you to reflect on for the next couple of weeks. Put aside 10 to 15 minutes every day and reflect on the following points. If you can, reflect on all of them in the sequence given. If you do not have the time, then choose and meditate on the points you find most useful.

1. Visualise on the crown of your head your meditational deity and root guru. Remember that your meditational deity is inseparable in nature from your root guru.

2. Next, generate the motivation for doing this practice: “In order to achieve the enlightened state of my guru deity, I must perfect my practice of patience.”

3. Visualise that you are surrounded by all sentient beings, including your enemies who are in front of you, and make a mental pledge: “Even if all sentient beings were to rise up as my enemies, I will not be angry with them.” Making this kind of mental promise is particularly beneficial and helpful if you can sustain this mental commitment for the duration of your meditation session. You can promise to keep this commitment for 10 minutes, a longer period of time or even for a whole day, like the way you observe the eight Mahayana precepts.

4. In dealing with anger, it is imperative to reflect on the faults and disadvantages of anger. It is mentioned in the text, “There is no transgression like hatred.”

Anger not only destroys merits accumulated in the past, present and future but when anger is present in the mind, there is no room for virtuous states of mind to arise. For instance, when we dislike and are angry with someone, we are unable to rejoice even when that person is doing a virtuous action. Due to the presence of anger in our minds, we are unable to see the good qualities of that person. It also becomes difficult to generate positive thoughts towards the people who are close to our object of anger, such as their friends and relatives. It is also said that anger prevents the generation of higher spiritual qualities.

The opposite of anger is the practice of patience. As mentioned in the text, there is “no fortitude like patience.” With patience, we have the mental space to generate positive thoughts even towards our enemies.

5. Anger arises when we are harmed in some way, be it our bodies, possessions or reputation. Focusing on our enemy, we should check (1) whether it is the nature of that person to harm us, or (2) whether that tendency to harm us is adventitious (i.e., not inherent)?

If it is the nature of that person to cause problems for us, then there is no reason to be angry with him. Such anger would be like begrudging fire for having the nature to burn. When you put your hand in the fire, your hand is burnt. It would be foolish to be angry at the fire.

Different people have different natures. If the object of our anger is a troublesome person who usually speaks harshly, understanding that that is his nature, we will be less likely to become angry when he behaves badly. Even if anger arises, we would be able to stop it quickly and not be so bothered. We can see this from our own experience.

We may know that person to be good-hearted but due to certain causes and conditions coming together, he/she gets angry and harms us. This would be an adventitious fault on the part of the person. It would be good to find out why that person is behaving in such a way and not be angry or upset with him.

6. Now focus on ourselves. We want happiness and do not want suffering yet we allow ourselves to get angry with other people. Our behaviour contradicts our wishes and is completely inappropriate.

We are unable to bear being harmed in little ways and become angry, but our negative response means that we are accumulating the propelling /throwing karma for ourselves to be reborn in the lower realms. We destroy our own roots of virtue. We should realise how extremely foolish we are. Why? Because we are choosing to not sacrifice small sufferings to ward off the greater suffering of rebirth in the lower realms. When we endure small sufferings (by not becoming angry), then we do not have to experience the greater suffering of rebirth in the hells. So we need to correct our foolish behaviour.

7. Next, let us focus on our bodies, which are the bases for experiencing the pain of being harmed by weapons and so forth.

Our bodies are as fragile as a water bubble, unable to bear even the prick of a thorn. When attacked, besides the attacker and the weapon he uses, our bodies also contribute to the experience of pain. The very existence of this body lends itself to suffering. If we did not have such a body in the first place, we would not be harmed when attacked. Therefore, both the external conditions and our bodies are equal in contributing to our experience of pain when we are attacked. Since that is so, there is no reason for us to be angry only at the attacker or his weapon.

We tend to place the blame entirely on the attacker and never blame our own bodies. We need to stop thinking like this by understanding that the mere existence of our bodies plays a part in our experience of suffering and pain.

We have looked at some of the ways to weaken anger by focusing on :

  1. our enemies,
  2. ourselves, and
  3. our bodies.

Many reasons are given in the text, but they can be condensed into these three points above.

8. In addition, if you can, reflect on how the enemy has no freedom but is controlled by other factors. He gets angry and engages in harmful activities because he has no choice. But this is not how the enemy appears to us. We see him as being very solid, existing inherently without depending on causes and conditions, and we react by getting angry with him. We can stop this by reflecting on how he does not exist independently but is also subject to causes and conditions. We should see the enemy as an apparition or a dream. As long as the causes and conditions come together for the production of an event, that event will happen.


Notes

1  This meditation was set as a piece of homework to be done by the students.  [Return to text]

2  Chapter 6 of Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds by Shantideva. [Return to text]

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Generating joyous effort

In The Placement of Mindfulness, Buddha said that laziness is one of the bases for the generation of all our mental afflictions. Anyone who has laziness in their mental continua will find it difficult to engage in virtue. In order to overcome laziness, we have to rely on joyous effort.

To develop joyous effort in our minds, we have to eliminate its obstructing factors by relying on the favourable conditions for generating this quality. We also need to generate the four powers that are conducive conditions for its development.

What are some of the obstacles that prevent us from developing joyous effort?

We understand the need to practise Dharma and we know that we can practise but nothing gets done at the end of the day. Why does this happen?

  1. We procrastinate and postpone the practice to some time in the future, thinking, “I still have time and I will do it later.”
  2. We are completely overwhelmed by our attachment to worldly activities.
  3. Due to our low self-esteem, we think, “I can’t do this” and become discouraged.

To overcome the laziness of procrastination, we should reflect on how our bodies are disintegrating quickly as we move towards death. When death occurs, due to our failure to engage in any positive actions, we will fall into the lower realms. We should also remember how difficult it is to obtain this human life of leisure and opportunities.

To overcome the laziness of attachment to worldly activities, we should reflect on how Dharma practice is the source of happiness in both this and our future lives. The meaningless pursuit of reputation and worldly goals will only cause our virtue to degenerate and generate more suffering for us.

The other obstacle that prevents us from developing joyous effort is the thought, “I can’t do this. It is beyond me.” To overcome this, there are three different antidotes.

Some people become discouraged, thinking, “The Buddha was an exceptionally capable person. How can I ever hope to achieve his limitless qualities?” In this instance, we should reflect on how the Buddha attained buddhahood. In the beginning, the Buddha was like us. But he worked very hard and improved himself from life to life till he finally attained enlightenment. All the past buddhas were once ordinary beings like us. Buddha points out that if inferior beings such as animals and insects can achieve enlightenment, then obviously we can achieve enlightenment if we exert ourselves.

Others are discouraged at the thought of the extensive practices of the bodhisattvas such as the sacrifice of one’s limbs, in order to achieve enlightenment.  But the Buddha never expects us to make such sacrifices. In fact, he stipulates we should not do so until we have perfected our practice of giving - when giving away our bodies would mean no more to us than giving away a plate of food. We will not experience any difficulties then. By reflecting like this, we will be able to overcome this form of discouragement.

Yet, there are still others who are discouraged by the thought of how the bodhisattvas have to take rebirth repeatedly in cyclic existence and suffer there in order to benefit sentient beings. But when the superior bodhisattvas (who have achieved the direct realisation of emptiness and have abandoned all their afflictions) take rebirth in cyclic existence, they do not experience any physical suffering. Because of their direct perception of emptiness, all samsaric sufferings appear illusory to them and they do not experience any mental unhappiness. These superior bodhisattvas are, therefore, both physically and mentally happy when they are abiding in cyclic existence. Again, there are no grounds for this form of discouragement.

By depending on the various antidotes, we can overcome all the different forms of discouragement.

We also have to cultivate the four powers conducive to the development of joyous effort. We rely on the power of aspiration to generate joyous effort for the first time. Then, we rely on the power of stability (or steadfastness) to prevent this joyous effort from degenerating, rendering it irreversible. When engaging in virtuous work, we should do so with great delight and enthusiasm by cultivating the power of joy, which is like the joy of a child completely engrossed in play.

Having developed joyous effort, we also have to be skilful in its application. In the process of cultivating virtue, we may overtax ourselves and our health may deteriorate. We then need to cultivate the power of relinquishment and suspend our activities, either temporarily or completely.

Some texts mention two additional powers that are also included in the root text though they are not explicitly named. These are the power of earnest application and the power of mastery. We need to generate very powerful antidotes to overcome our negative emotions. In order to do this, we have to generate the power of earnest application where we apply ourselves to the cultivation of mindfulness and vigilance. Through such application, we gain mastery over our bodies and minds, which can then be employed for virtue as and when we wish. Negative emotions are easily subdued. This is the power of mastery.

Developing joyous effort makes it easier to accomplish calm abiding. On the basis of calm abiding, we can then cultivate special insight focusing on emptiness. This becomes the direct antidote to our negative emotions, which can be removed from the root.

Why joyous effort does not come easy

Gyalsab Je said that those of us interested in seeking liberation need to develop joyous effort in order to enter into and bring the path to completion. Entering the path alone is not enough. Once we embark on the path, we need to apply joyous effort to bring the path to completion. In order to develop joyous effort, we need to rely on the four powers:­

  1. the power of aspiration
  2. the power of stability (or steadfastness)
  3. the power of joy, and
  4. the power of relinquishment

The reason why joyous effort does not come easily for us and we are unable to develop the four powers is due to our lack of clarity with regard to what we really want. We are not clear about our own goals and what we are looking for. We are stuck in this confusing situation. Therefore, joyous effort does not arise in us. In order to develop joyous effort, first, we need to have the stable faith of conviction in karma. This is what the first power, the power of aspiration, means. This power is developed on the basis of having this stable faith of conviction in karma. We have to reflect on karma: its nature, its causes and its effects and generate a stable faith in its workings. Only then will we have the basis for developing joyous effort.

Advice from the Kadampa masters

The great Kadampa masters said: All sentient beings possess buddha nature, but when they do not make the effort to awaken it, there is no way they can obtain a higher rebirth, liberation or enlightenment.”

Butter comes from milk but simply staring at the pot of milk will not turn it into butter. The milk must be churned. The same applies to our aspiration to higher rebirth, liberation and enlightenment for the sake of sentient beings. Although we have the potential to achieve all these, we must put in the effort to awaken that potential by practising the Buddhadharma. Otherwise, nothing happens.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

The Buddha said that the body is, by nature, unclean and arises from impure causes. Our bodies are appropriated, contaminated physical aggregates which have to experience the sufferings of old age and death. At the very end, they only become food for vultures and worms.

We foolishly see our bodies as pleasant, as objects of attachment and we accumulate so much negative karma in order to sustain them, using them for meaningless activities. But, when the time of death comes, the Lord of Death will take them away from us against our wishes. When the great practitioners examine the body, they see no reason to be attached to it.

How should we sustain our bodies then? Remember the analogies of giving the servants wages when the servants work, or seeing the body as a boat for coming and going? We should sustain our bodies with the motivation of using them to engage in virtue.

Guntang Rinpoche said the same thing in his collection of advice. He described the body as like an autumn flower which deteriorates a little with each passing day. Therefore, there is no point in being attached to it and it is a mistake to sustain it out of attachment, as we will only accumulate negative karma by doing so.

No one is saying we should not take care of or sustain our bodies but we should not do so out of attachment. We need to sustain the body and we should know how to sustain the body. We should ensure that our bodies become supporting conditions for us to engage in virtue. That is how we should care for our bodies.

Grasping at unclean phenomena as clean

An example of our attachment to unclean phenomena is sexual desire. Our strong desire for the bodies of others is due to our erroneous conception grasping at them as clean when, in reality, they are unclean. Once we understand the filthy nature of the body, there is no basis for the arising of attachment.

The Buddha mentions in the sutras that our bodies are filth-making machines. We know this is true when we analyse this further. Our whole body is filled with so many unclean, unpleasant substances that it seems to be no more than a filth-producing factory. Yet, we have strong attachment to our own bodies. We need to meditate on this and when done well, it can definitely reduce our attachment to our bodies.

The sutras mention that the childish, grasping at unclean things to be clean, will even eat snot and pus, just like maggots who consume pus produced by the body due to their attachment. The sutras also mention that, when we leave our bodies alone – if we didn’t wash our bodies – they would stink. Yet we remain attached to our bodies as bees to honey.

One of the commentaries says that it is one of the greatest signs of our confusion and ignorance that we are attached to the bodies of others. This attachment is like someone taking refuge at the foot of a tree at night. In the darkness, he cannot see that the tree is surrounded by piles of dirty things and he may even sleep on top of this filth. At sunrise, when he can see clearly what he had slept on, he will be disgusted at the sight. In the same way, when we reflect and meditate on and realise the unclean nature of our bodies and the bodies of others, we will also be repelled and disgusted. Our attachment will then be reduced.

Our bodies are like hotel rooms

Gungtang Rinpoche reminds us that our bodies are like hotel rooms which we stay in for a limited period of time. Yet, for the sake of this “borrowed” body, we do many things to protect, improve and make it happy. At the end of the day, what does this “I,” the guest of this hotel room that we cherish so much, get in return? How much real happiness has this guest experienced? What about the suffering and the problems encountered by this “I”? We need to think about this.

We grasp at the body as being the “self” or belonging to the “self.” Based on these conceptions, we engage in many activities to ensure its happiness and freedom from suffering. But the suffering and problems persist and we never experience any everlasting happiness. Therefore, by understanding that our bodies are like hotel rooms, we should overcome our attachment to them.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche 

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “We can see with our own eyes that, at the time of death, there is no difference between the young and old. One has to go on to the next life.

"When people die suddenly, even though we may witness this with our own eyes, our minds remain unmoved. We continue to believe that we will live forever and that we will not die soon.  We have to overcome this mistaken conception.

" Until we are convinced, 'I will definitely die one day,' there is no way we can generate the path or any realisations in our minds. If we are unable to generate deeply from our hearts the realisation that death is certain and the time of death is most uncertain, our Dharma practice will remain only at the level of words.”

In other words, it is only when we have generated the realisation of our impending death and the uncertainty as to when it will happen will we be motivated to engage in wholesome activities and direct our minds towards virtue. Whatever practices we are doing – be it cultivating conscientiousness or trying to defeat our negative emotions – when we meditate on death and impermanence, we will definitely be able to do those practices.

We may be interested in the profound teachings on emptiness and the generation and completion stages of tantra. However, when we do not train our minds gradually in the proper way, when we do not put effort into the preliminary practices, such as this essential meditation on death and impermanence, then we will remain in a rut and never progress in our Dharma practice. Without this realisation of death and impermanence, we can forget about the subsequent realisations of the path, as they will not happen.

Reflecting on death and impermanence does not mean seeing how people are dying but using these experiences as examples for ourselves. The main thing is to reflect on how we will definitely die one day and how this is the very nature of our existence.

Without meditating on death and impermanence, even when we engage in virtue, that virtue will be imperfect and impure, as it will be mixed with the negative emotions. Our virtue will not become Dharma and, instead, become one of the eight worldly dharmas.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Advice that is to be hammered like a nail into the mind 

A faithful student went to his guru, a high lama, for advice that would be “hammered like a nail into the mind” i.e., advice which goes directly to one’s heart and brings about some real transformation. This is what his guru said:

First, we pay homage, “I prostrate to the venerable lamas.” If you have the desire to practise the Dharma, listen to these words.

This precious human rebirth that can fulfil great purposes is difficult to obtain and can easily be lost as the time of death is uncertain. Nothing else except the Dharma can benefit us in our future lives.

There is no point in just listening to the words – you must put them into practice. Don’t you regret all the precious time that you have already wasted in this life?  Having accumulated so many negativities, you will be reborn in the lower realms. Once born there, it will be difficult for you to endure the inexpressible sufferings there.

If you want to practise the Dharma, you have to do it now. You are now sitting on the border between happiness and suffering. If you only accumulate negativities, you are opening the door to the lower realms. If that happens, it is not due to the fault of external demons or spirits.

When you live your life according to and not against the law of cause and effect, then taking refuge in the Three Jewels will be an infallible source of protection. From now on, go for refuge from your heart to the Three Jewels. From now on, whatever you do, let karma be your witness. If you knowingly jump over the cliff and expect someone to pull you up again, that is a vain hope. Renunciation, bodhicitta and the correct view are the essence of all the scriptures of the Conqueror.

The essence of the above advice is that if one knowingly accumulates negativities, that can only result in rebirth in the lower realms. Once there, we will find the suffering unbearable. Despite knowing this, we continue to hope that the Triple Gem will protect us by making prayers, “May I be reborn in Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Amitabha.” This is wishful thinking.

Having taken a human rebirth, all the favourable conditions are assembled now and it is important to place as many imprints as possible in our mental continua. From this very moment, we should try to make sure that virtuous imprints are placed in our minds. If we are unable to meditate and  unable to place many imprints in our mental continua, at the very least, we can make aspirational prayers. But, instead of moving our minds towards the Dharma, we expect the Dharma to come to us. This is a very arrogant way of thinking.

The guru is the source of all the excellent collections, morality or ethics is the foundation of all the qualities, and keeping pure vows and samaya is the source of all attainments. It is not sufficient to leave it at that. One must actually make these conditions come about for oneself. While we have all the favourable circumstances, we should practise right now. When the Lord of Death catches us, it would be too late.

At the time of death, we will have frightful visions of the messengers of death. By then, it will be too late to do anything. We talk about and listen to the Dharma but it is very rare for us to put the Dharma into practice. If we practise whatever we know, even if it is a single piece of advice or a single word, we benefit. But if we know a lot but do not practise, then it is useless.

The worst kind of self-deception 

Reflect on this: For most of our samsaric existences, we had been circling in the lower realms.  This time, however, we have achieved a human rebirth. Not only that, we have even met the Mahayana teachings and, on top of that, we have the opportunity now to study this very wonderful, perfect text by the bodhisattva Shantideva  that talks about the deeds of the bodhisattvas. Whether we understand everything in the text or not, we should rejoice at the mere fact that we have this opportunity to simply look at the text. So be happy and rejoice.

Listening to the teachings should be done joyfully and enthusiastically from your own side and not out of a mistaken sense of obligation, “Since other people are going for class, I should go too.” This is not beneficial at all. When we engage in virtue, we should be able to decide for ourselves as it would be meaningless for us to depend on others for this.

When we know how to think, we should be able to uplift our minds to make ourselves happy. Then, just listening to the teachings alone is, in itself, a joy. On top of that, if we can reflect or meditate on the teachings, then there is even more reason to be happy and to rejoice.

We should try not to waste our human rebirth. As mentioned in chapter 1, when we misuse and waste our human lives, there is nothing more foolish than this. It is the worst kind of self-deception.

Taking the essence 

Understanding that the precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once,
Is greatly meaningful, and is difficult to find again,
Please bless me to generate the mind that unceasingly,
Day and night, takes its essence.
(from The Foundation of all Good Qualities by Lama Tsongkhapa)

We should reflect on this regularly and, day and night, strive to take the essence of this meaningful opportunity that we have. Not only have we obtained a human body but our faculties and senses are all complete. We have the opportunity to listen to and study Dharma teachings. When we reflect deeply on this, we will be amazed at and rejoice in our good fortune.

While all the conditions for us to study and practise exist, it remains up to us to study or practise the teachings.

It is questionable whether we will obtain such a rebirth again in our next lives. As the prayer says, “The precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once, is greatly meaningful and is difficult to find again.”  Since we have obtained such a rebirth, it is important that we do something meaningful with it. We already find it difficult to practise with all the conducive conditions we have. There is no guarantee that our faculties or senses will be complete or perfect even if we were to obtain another human rebirth.

Practice will become even more difficult then. So, we need to study and practise right now.

I know many of you recite this prayer, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, on a daily basis but you should not leave it simply at that level. You should reflect on the meaning of the verses, especially the one dealing with the precious human rebirth. By doing so, it encourages you to practise the Dharma.

Every day, we can see for ourselves the instability of this human life. We are not immune to sickness. Many people are well one day and sick the next and within a short time, they die and move on to the next life. While we are still healthy, we should not postpone our Dharma studies and practice, as it will be too late to do so when we suddenly fall ill. We may wish to practise the Dharma then but our bodies will not allow us to do so.  The same applies to our studies. They should not be postponed. When we have the time, it is good to continue to come to class to listen to the teachings and to apply and put into practice, as much as we can, whatever we have learnt.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

The purpose of Dharma practice 

The purpose of engaging in Dharma practice is to remove suffering and to improve our minds. When our Dharma practice leads to suffering, then I do not see the point in doing it. Dharma practice is essentially performed with our minds and should be done willingly from one’s own side and should contribute to the removal of suffering.

When one understands the purpose, one would not feel forced to practise. Instead, the practice will be done with great enthusiasm.

Creating obstacles for ourselves 

We should not be lazy when it comes to our Dharma practice or studies. Sometimes we think, “I am getting old, I am not intelligent enough to understand this, I do not have enough time” and so forth and we put ourselves down. Thinking in this way, we are hindering ourselves from taking advantage of the opportunity for Dharma studies and practice. Because of this way of thinking, we do not study and practise and become lazy.

We should not stop ourselves from our fair share of Dharma practice and studying. All of us are different. Some are predisposed towards anger, others towards mental distractions. The angry ones may think, “I am the angry type. There is no hope for me. It is impossible for me to meditate on compassion. Forget about it.” Thinking in this way, they do not give themselves the opportunity to improve. Others may think, “My mind is so distracted. There is no way I can meditate and develop concentration.” Again, thinking like this, they stop themselves from being able to change.

The point here is not to create obstacles for our own Dharma practice. Instead, we should open the door to our Dharma practice and studies. We have already discussed the human life of leisure and opportunity. We should reflect on this. All the good conditions are gathered together to enable us to study and practise and we also have the ability to do so. Remembering this, we should encourage and persuade ourselves to study and practise Dharma.

Time management

It is your responsibility to manage your time and to adjust your lifestyle in such a way that Dharma practice and studies can fit into your life in a comfortable and nice way without your feeling stressed. It is pointless to force and push yourself too hard. Then you become depressed and end up feeling that your Dharma practice and studies are making you suffer even more. It is pointless if you end up like that.

One has to expect some difficulties when it comes to practising and studying the Buddhadharma. Everything is difficult. The moment you move your body to start doing anything, the difficulties begin.

Ours is a materially advanced and progressive society.  But there are also many instances of mental frustration, stress, anxiety and mental suffering. These sufferings already exist. So we should not create more suffering with our Dharma practice and studies. That is never the point. The point here is to do things at a comfortable pace.

Our motivation 

Whether the outcome of a course of action is positive or negative depends on the originating intention or motivation. A virtuous intention produces positive results and a negative intention produces bad results. Therefore, we should always rely on mindfulness and vigilance to keep our minds in a virtuous state. We assert that attending teachings is a virtuous act. However, if the motivation for listening to the teachings is not virtuous, then being present and listening to the teachings is not necessarily virtuous.

A beneficial motivation would be to think, “Whatever knowledge I get in class, I am going to blend it with my mind and try to practise it as much as possible.” When we make the effort to practise, we can have positive experiences that will give us the understanding and confidence that the Dharma we are studying and practising really works. What is the result of such positive experiences? Faith in the Dharma will naturally arise and faith in our virtuous friend and guru will be generated from the depths of our hearts.

The problem is that people attend but do not apply the teachings in their daily lives. When the teachings we hear remain simply at an intellectual level for us, without our practising them, it is very difficult for us to generate faith in the Dharma. We do not taste the Dharma. Without such faith, it becomes very difficult to talk about generating faith in our guru who gives us the teachings. But when we blend the teachings with our minds and try to practise them, then over time, the quality of our minds will improve; we become more good-hearted and so forth. Our faith in the Dharma and our guru also increase.

Therefore, it is important that before engaging in any action, we should ask ourselves, “Am I motivated by a positive or negative state of mind?”

The practice of offerings 

When making unsurpassable offerings, we should think, “Just as the great bodhisattva Samantabhadra emanated countless replicas of himself, making offerings filling the entire space, to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, I shall make offerings in the same way.”

Samantabhadra is not only a bodhisattva but an arya bodhisattva abiding in the grounds. Bodhisattvas like Samantabhadra made such extensive offerings in order to complete the accumulation of merit. Relying on the factor of wisdom is not enough to enable them to achieve the final goal of enlightenment, because they still have the obstructions to omniscience, and removing these obstructions require vast stores of merit.

If such a bodhisattva makes such extensive offerings to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, it goes without saying that we ordinary beings, who are bound by our afflictions, must do likewise.

We need to make extensive offerings “in order to seize that precious mind” of bodhicitta. It is very difficult to generate bodhicitta especially when our minds are not purified of their obscurations and negativities. We need to accumulate the collection of merit so that the favourable conditions for generating bodhicitta can arise.

Prostrations

Prostrating with our speech means we offer praises to the buddhas with a melodious voice. Prostrating with our minds means reflecting on the qualities of the Buddha and generating faith towards him.  Prostrating with our bodies involves touching the five points of one’s body to the ground or performing the full length prostration.

Our prostrations should always be preceded by reciting the prostration mantra, Om Namo Manjushriye Namo Sushriye Namo Uttama Shriye Soha. There are inconceivable benefits to doing this. By reciting this mantra, every prostration performed is equivalent to one thousand prostrations and the benefit is comparable to hearing and reflecting on the meanings of the three scriptural collections. It is said that when we prostrate continuously after reciting this mantra, we can achieve the path of seeing in this very life itself.

Whether we benefit from our prostrations depends on how well we perform them, our ability to sustain our visualisation and keep our minds focussed on what we need to do with our bodies, speech and mind throughout the prostration. The quality of the prostration is most important, the quantity less so.

There is much to contemplate as we perform each stage of the prostration, placing our palms on our crowns, throats and hearts. We are also advised to visualise countless replicas of ourselves when prostrating. The main thing is to generate faith in the Three Jewels. We will reap the benefits if we reflect properly during the prostration.

Usually, our bodies are prostrating but our minds are distracted. Although we can still accumulate merit from performing such physical prostrations, obviously the merit we accumulate is far greater when our speech and minds are also engaged in the practice.

We are performing prostrations everyday and even if we cannot do many of them at the moment, we can, at least, make a commitment to make three prostrations in the morning and at night as a daily minimum. In this way, we accumulate six prostrations every day.

We should not feel this is a burdensome chore but, instead, we should contemplate and understand the benefits and prostrate voluntarily from our own side to the Three Jewels. Even with six prostrations a day, multiplied by whatever number of days we have left in this life, by the end of this life, we will have accumulated thousands of prostrations.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field 

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “In these degenerate times, when sentient beings have very little merit and our minds are so weak and degenerate, it is very important to make strong requests to our personal deities for blessings. We should work very hard at accumulating merit and purifying our minds of obscurations. It is important to make offerings, prostrations and engage in the practices of the seven limbs.”

Generally speaking, our motivation determines whether our actions are virtuous or not. When our motivation is virtuous, then our actions are also virtuous. But all actions performed in relation to the merit field or to the holy objects are exceptions to this rule. Even when we make offerings or prostrations to the merit field or holy objects with an incorrect motivation, we still accumulate a great deal of merit. This is due to the power of the merit field and the holy objects.

You should therefore grasp the opportunity to rely on holy objects and the merit field to accumulate merit and purify your karma, especially those of you who really want to study the Buddha’s teachings and complete your studies.

It is very difficult to complete your studies, no matter how hard you study, if you do not strive to do this.  This is my own experience from my life in the monastery. There is no guarantee that those who are naturally more intelligent or who do well in their studies can complete them. Generally, those who work at accumulating merit, purifying their negative karma, and making whole-hearted requests to their gurus and special deities are the ones who make it in the end and successfully complete their studies. Those who are more intelligent tend to take things easy and do not work as hard, whereas those who are not so intelligent realise that they have to work harder.

Supplication to the guru-deity 

When we look at the example set by Lama Tsongkhapa in his life story, we see how extremely important it is to make requests continuously to one’s deity and  to strive in accumulating merits and purifying obscurations in order to have some success in our practice, especially if we aspire to realise emptiness. Therefore, when we recite the Heart Sutra, the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa, the prayer, Dependent Arising - A Praise of the Buddha and so on, we should recite them with the motivation of creating the causes for us to complete our studies and to accumulate merit.

When we make requests to our personal deity, we should do so by seeing the deity as inseparable from our root guru. This supplication should be made with single-pointed devotion as shown in the Guru Puja:

You are my guru, you are my yidam,
You are the dakinis and Dharma protectors.
From now until enlightenment I shall seek no other refuge than you,
In this life, the bardo and all future lives,
Hold me with your hook of compassion;
Free me from samsara and nirvana’s fears,
Grant all attainments,
Be my constant friend and guard me from interferences.
(Verse 53)

We see here that the supplication to the guru-deity is not only to be cared for in this life but also in the intermediate state and all future lives to come.

In the monasteries we recite many prayers, sometimes doing so for one to two hours. The purpose of doing so many prayers is to accumulate merit for success in our debating and studies. Sometimes, we even recite the Praises to Twenty-one Taras 70 to 80 times. By comparison, therefore, what we recite in class is nothing as the duration is very short. I thought it is good to give you some perspective. There are some students who may wonder why we are reciting so many prayers and they may feel bored. There are others who think reciting mantras is more beneficial than reciting prayers. Reciting prayers is definitely beneficial. There are only two possibilities: Recite mantras or prayers or do both. When you hold the position that one does not benefit, then you have to say that the other is also useless. This is my own view on this matter. I think that reciting mantras or reciting prayers brings the same benefit.

Focussing on three things 

When we study the Great Treatises in our quest to understand and realise dependent origination, we have to focus on three things:

  1. Making whole-hearted requests to our  guru-deity
  2. Continuously studying and analysing the treatises and
  3. Accumulating merit and purifying obscurations

Some intelligent students may think, “I have sharp faculties. I will be able to study these Great Treatises without accumulating merit.” Such students, who focus only on studying and do not perform any purification practices or work at accumulating merit, may learn something but they will never be able to complete their studies. Instead, they will encounter many obstacles and find it difficult to understand the treatises, especially the teachings on emptiness.

Then there are those who do not study at all thinking, “Studying is not important. I will concentrate on accumulating merit and purifying my negative karma. That is enough.” There is no way such people can realise emptiness without Listening to, studying and reflecting on the great treatises, especially the presentations on dependent origination.

Can we realise emptiness and the meaning of dependent origination simply by making requests to the guru-deities? This is also impossible. We may supplicate our guru-deities with single-pointed faith, “Please grant me blessings to realise emptiness.” But that alone will not bring the realisation we seek.

So, the three things must go together hand-in-hand: supplicating our guru-deities, studying and analysing the great treatises, accumulating merit and purifying negativities. This is what Lama Tsongkhapa did and we should follow his example.

Doing our own Dharma practice 

Whether we are prostrating or reciting OM MANI PADME HUM it is our responsibility to make this beneficial for our minds by doing this happily and willingly from our hearts. It is a mistake to think that studying or listening to the teachings is purely to accumulate information and knowledge, leaving our hearts and minds untouched.

We have to do our own Dharma practice. We should mind our own instead of other people’s business, focus on our practice and check our progress to see how far we have been able to apply what we have learnt. Dharma should be used to check up on ourselves, not others. It is not hard to find examples of good practitioners. When we look at the examples set by the holy beings, we should be inspired to strive and pray to be like them one day.

Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga 

And please remain stable, without separation from my body, speech,
And mind, until I attain enlightenment.

This is an important prayer from the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice we have just recited. It is important for us to think and pray that Lama Tsongkhapa is in our hearts all the time. It makes a definite difference to our sense of being taken care of by him in all our future lives by being able to meet his teachings again. Meditating on the inseparability of the great Lama Tsongkhapa at our hearts is also one of the best ways of doing the protection wheel meditation to protect ourselves from spirit harms and the different kinds of obstacles.

We benefit from visualising with faith, Lama Tsongkhapa abiding in our hearts, as he embodies the protectors of the three lineages, Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani. This visualisation helps in developing a good heart since Lama Tsongkhapa is inseparable from Chenrezig. We also develop our wisdom because Lama Tsongkhapa is the manifestation of Manjushri and since he also embodies Vajrapani, it helps us to overcome our problems and obstacles. So if we do this practice with faith, we enjoy all these benefits. Furthermore, it will help us to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings again in all our future lives.

There is also a great difference when we meditate on guru devotion conjoined with entrusting ourselves to Lama Tsongkhapa abiding in our hearts. This is because Lama Tsongkhapa, embodying the protectors of the three lineages, is the definitive spiritual master. Relying on him as our protector, with strong faith and with the determination to accomplish all his wishes and advice, he becomes our ultimate object of refuge.

There are many different kinds of prayers we can do on top of the many commitments we may have. But it will be very beneficial if we can do this visualisation with this short practice of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga.

Increasing our happy thoughts 

Gungtang Rinpoche advises, “Even if you owned mountain-high piles of gold, enough to cover the entire country, at the time of death, you will not be able to bring along a single atom of it with you. On the other hand, by reciting a mantra like OM MANI PADME HUM just once, that can open the door to a good rebirth in your future life. Simply reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is very beneficial.”

Analysing our situation more deeply, we can understand that material wealth cannot really benefit us, even in future lives. In fact, the more we own, the more we grasp at these things, increasing our self-cherishing and attachment which only create more negative karma that will not benefit us in our future lives.

Sometimes, we think, “I will definitely achieve something and I will be happier and more satisfied if I am rich in this life.” But if we profess to attach greater importance to the happiness of our future lives, then having this kind of worldly goal is incorrect. If we are concerned with this life alone, then that is a different matter. Otherwise, our goal should not be like that.

Reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is just an example. We should engage in our meditation practice and daily prayers or a single recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM with the conviction and single-pointed faith that we will definitely achieve happiness in our future lives. We need to generate that faith of conviction and be happy with whatever we are doing. Rejoice that we are doing this wonderful practice. It would be very good if we can do this.

The whole point of practising the Dharma is to remove suffering and misery. Some people think like this: “I am just a nobody in this life. I am poor and will probably stay that way. I will never amount to anything.” Thinking like that only brings unhappiness.

Practising the Dharma is to increase whatever happy thoughts we may have. We need to know how to be happy. We should think: “Even if I do not become rich, at least now I have the opportunity to study and practise the teachings and I am creating the causes for happiness in my future lives.” We need to generate this belief, to have this faith of conviction and to feel happy doing our practices by seeing the purpose in what we are doing. In his advice, Gungtang Rinpoche is telling us to practise the Dharma because it creates the cause for our happiness. As the lam-rim says, at the time of death, only the Dharma helps.

Practice of nyung-nä  

I have been requested to talk a little about the nyung-nä practice, especially on how to mix it with what we have learnt so far about generating the altruistic intention. Gungtang Rinpoche says that if someone were to ask this question: “If there is a very evil person who has accumulated a great deal of negative karma, what is the best and fastest way for him to create the cause for and to achieve enlightenment?” His reply would be, “The best practice for such a person would be the nyung-nä.”

It was mentioned in the previous lesson that a single recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM definitely becomes a cause for us to experience happiness in our future lives.

Gungtang Rinpoche says that amongst all the mantras, the best one is OM MANI PADME HUM and reciting it with the nyung-nä practice has skies of inconceivable benefits.

His Holiness often says that reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is a very good practice. He points out that when we recite the mantras of Medicine Buddha, White Tara or Dzambala, our motivation for doing so is somehow connected to the affairs of this life. We recite the Medicine Buddha mantra for good health or to get rid of sicknesses. We recite the White Tara mantra to clear life obstacles and for longevity and we recite the Dzambala mantra for wealth.

But when we recite OM MANI PADME HUM we do so solely with the motivation to benefit others and to develop a good heart. His Holiness said that it is a very good thing to recite OM MANI PADME HUM because the motivation is very good. That is why we can say that OM MANI PADME HUM is probably the best of all the mantras.

Whatever we do, when it is mixed with the affairs of this life, it is difficult for these activities to be Dharma. For anything to be Dharma, it cannot be mixed with grasping at the happiness of this life. All the valid texts say the same thing.

In the nyung-nä sadhana, there is the practice of the self and front generation of the deity. If you have received the Great Chenrezig initiation, on the basis of holding divine pride, you generate yourself as Chenrizig with clear appearance and you proceed with the rest of the practice.

The most important things to do in a nyung-nä practice are:

  1. Generating divine pride of oneself as the deity with clear appearance.
  2. Seeing one’s fellow retreatants as the deity one has self-generated.

In this way, there is no basis for jealousy, competitiveness, pride, anger and so forth to arise. This is the ideal way of doing nyung-nä.

The motivation for doing nyung-nä should be to benefit others. The motivation should not be purely to purify sicknesses or spirit harm nor should it be to fulfil a commitment, so that one is only doing it out of obligation. Rather, the motivation for doing the nyung-nä should be to purify our minds of obscurations and negative karma in order to quickly achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others. We usually do not think in this big way but only consider limited worldly goals. But when we focus on the big picture, then all the small obstacles will be eliminated along the way, without our having to even think about them.

Since the nyung-nä is a Mahayana practice, it has to be done with the Mahayana motivation of benefiting others, without any self-interest. When we have the thought, “I am doing this to get rid of my obstacles,” that is a selfish motivation. When the nyung-nä is done with such a motivation, it is questionable whether the practice is Dharma. When the motivation is insincere and does not come from the heart, the whole practice is no longer Dharma. Not only is it not Dharma, you have to spend two or three days suffering with no food and water, feeling tired and, perhaps, even generating anger.

So it is very important to try, as far as possible, to have the correct motivation for doing the practice. Of course, that is not easy because our self-cherishing is very strong. But the point is to try to have a good motivation as far as possible.

Relating the nyung-nä to what we have studied so far, you should take the opportunity to reflect on the faults of the self-cherishing attitude. You should investigate from every angle how your self-cherishing attitude is the source of all your unwanted experiences, problems and suffering. You should also examine how cherishing others is the source of happiness.

During the nyung-nä, you can start by practising with the persons sitting on your left and right, thinking how you are all equal in the sense of wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Even if there had been some misunderstanding or conflict in the past with these people, think: “That person wants to be happy just like me. Like me, that person does not want to suffer.”  On that basis, try to remove those feelings of resentment and aversion and try to help one another.

When you engage in the nyung-nä practice, you do so with your body, speech and mind. Physically, you will probably be making many prostrations. You will be using your speech to recite the prayers and mantras. When you are reciting the mantras, it is not like ordinary speech. You should remember the power and the benefits of reciting the mantra of Chenrezig. Mentally, you guard against the arising of anger and attachment for the duration of the nyung-nä. The essential thing is to do the practice, as far as possible, always with the thought to benefit others and to try to minimise the thoughts of jealousy, competitiveness and so forth.

Generating oneself as the deity and also seeing the other participants as deities during the retreat means there would be no basis for anger to arise, since we should not be angry at a deity. Instead, you should cultivate mutual respect and consideration for one another. If you can do this, then the practical benefit will be that you can continue to be friends with that person even after finishing the nyung-nä.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Why faith is crucial 

All the different sutras and commentaries are the same in that they all point to faith as the very root of all virtuous activities.

It is extremely important to have this single-pointed faith in the presentation of the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels and in the law of cause and effect and so on because then mental transformation and improvement become possible.

Faith is important in all religious traditions. Look at our Christian friends. Because of their faith in God, their understanding of and conviction in God’s work, they engage in so many beneficial activities to help others. In essence, they become better people.

It is the same with Buddhists. Those who have the faith of conviction in the Buddha’s teachings also engage in virtuous activities such as practising generosity and so forth. Whatever religion we are talking about, it all boils down to faith.

When we have the single-pointed faith of conviction in the Three Jewels, we would naturally try to live our lives in accordance with Buddha’s advice. Similarly, when we have faith in the law of cause and effect, we would live our lives according to those principles, striving to abandon that which should be abandoned and cultivating that which should be cultivated.

With faith, the aspiration for the goal of liberation and enlightenment would naturally arise and joyous perseverance in putting in the effort to achieve our goal would also arise of its own accord. We would not need someone to coax, force or encourage us. Laziness, the state of mind disinterested in virtue, would stop.

In dependence on joyous perseverance, we can then investigate: What are the things we should abandon and cultivate? Based on this analysis, after having ascertained what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, the result is belief in that.

Leaving matters at the level of belief is not enough. Having ascertained this knowledge, we should remember and familiarise our minds with it. By using what we have ascertained as the object of our mindfulness, we can then develop single-pointed concentration.

The object of our single-pointed concentration becomes the basis for us to develop a special kind of exalted wisdom, which enables us to ascertain the nature of reality. This wisdom realising emptiness is the very tool we can use to cut the root of cyclic existence, i.e., the self-grasping conception, together with its seeds. This is the way to achieve liberation.

Before we can generate this exalted wisdom realising emptiness, we must first develop single-pointed concentration. In order to develop this concentration, we must first have the special kind of mindfulness that does not forget its object. What are we mindful of? We are basically mindful of an object that we have already ascertained.

To be mindful of an object, we have to first understand or realise that object. Before developing that kind of mindfulness, we need to have belief, i.e., the mind that comes about after the valid cognition that has ascertained its object.

Before we can develop that kind of belief, we must first have the aspiration that is the impetus for us to realise that object in the first place. Where does this aspiration come from? We need to have faith. Without faith, we cannot generate aspiration. We can see then how faith is the root of all good qualities.

There are many different kinds of faith. There is the faith in the minds of those with sharp faculties and those with dull faculties. There are those who have blind faith and those whose faith arises only after analysis and reasoning.

We must have faith in the Buddha’s teachings but before that can happen, we must first understand what those teachings are. We must study, listen, read, think and so forth and on the basis of such activities, we can generate irreversible faith. Irreversible faith can only be generated on the basis of investigating the teachings and understanding them using logic and reasoning.

We should then generate this motivation for listening to and studying the teachings: “Faith is the source of all the higher qualities, all virtuous actions. Since that is the case, in order to develop this irreversible faith in the teachings of the Buddha, I am listening to and studying the teachings.”

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Don’t be like a hopping rabbit! 

Guntang Rinpoche said once we are able to generate stable faith, then joyous perseverance for virtue would naturally arise. But if our faith is unstable, like a hopping rabbit - sometimes strong, sometimes not there at all – then even our prostrations, for example, will merely serve to whip up dust from the ground.

It is also important that we have strong and stable faith in our spiritual masters or gurus.

We also need to develop a strong and stable faith of conviction in the need to analyse and study the teachings of the Buddha. Having such faith in the importance of studying the teachings will help us to complete our studies. Then, no matter how busy we may be, we will always set aside time for our studies.

We will not accomplish or complete our studies if our faith in its importance is like that of a hopping rabbit – sometimes studying, and at other times, slacking off.

Once we have decided, from the very depths of our hearts, that this is something that is very good for us and we must do it, then naturally we will put effort into pursuing our studies. This is because we see for ourselves the need for and the purpose of studying all these subjects. It all boils down to whether we are able to generate in our own minds this determination from the heart. This will then determine whether the effort will spontaneously arise from our side or not.

Our faith in our studies should not be like a hopping rabbit. At the beginning of each module, we feel, “I must study as this is very important.” As the course progresses, however, so does our boredom. When that happens, nothing will be accomplished. The point here is that effort must be applied continuously.

We must keep this in mind. This is not to say that we will not encounter any difficulties during the course of our studies. It is not easy. But when we have this determination from the depths of our hearts thinking, “This is something I must do in this life and I should not miss out on this opportunity,” we will put aside time and the effort will come.

Without this determination from our own side, from the depths of our hearts, no matter how perfectly all the most favourable conditions come together for one to study, everything will be very difficult.

Developing faith depends on us 

It is very important that we begin with studying extensively and then reflecting on and analysing what we have learnt. Only then can we gain firm ascertainment of the teachings, which should be followed by constant meditation on them. In this way, realisations can come and extraordinary faith in our teachers and in the great composers of the treatises will arise.

Different levels of faith are generated in this process. When we first listen to and have some understanding of the teachings from our guru, we develop some faith in him. Our faith in our guru deepens when we reflect on and ascertain the teachings we have received from him. Then, when we meditate and develop some realisations based on his instructions, we will generate extraordinary faith in our guru. From there, we can generate irreversible faith in the lineage lamas going all the way back to the Buddha himself.

We can see from this that the power of our faith depends on whether we have done extensive studying, reflection and meditation. The greater the faith in our teachers, the greater will be our effort to put the teachings into practice. Then, we will definitely be able to pacify and remove our suffering.

The sutras say that faith is the foundation of all our virtue. A mind without faith cannot generate virtue just as a burnt seed is unable to produce a plant. When we strongly develop the correct kind of faith, our virtue will increase. For such faith to arise in our minds, we have to study, reflect and meditate on the teachings. We must understand the reasons for and the importance of studying in order to generate the determination to apply ourselves to our studies. We should aspire to be like Lama Tsongkhapa.

Our minds will not change or improve when our faith is weak and unstable and we do not practise properly. Faith comes when we taste and experience the teachings for ourselves and that experience can only come from reflection and meditation. Whether we develop faith or not depends on us.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Pure perception and the importance of respect for the Sangha 

It is difficult to say who is or is not a buddha or bodhisattva. The supreme method to avoid the pitfall of generating negative thoughts and actions towards them is to cultivate pure perception of all sentient beings, seeing everyone as pure. The best advice is to cultivate the attitude that all sentient beings are buddhas and to regard them as buddhas, to show respect with our bodies, speech and minds.

Even when we see faults in others, we should remind ourselves that these faults are conditioned phenomena and can be eradicated upon the application of the correct antidotes.

When practicing pure perception, we pay respect with our bodies, speech and minds, first, to our spiritual master followed by the Sangha community and then to all sentient beings.

There are many reasons why we should practice such pure perception:

  1. We are from the same centre and should have mutual love and respect for  one another.
  2. We are all followers of the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa.
  3. We are all followers of the Buddha’s teachings.
  4. We are all human beings and part of humanity.
  5. We all have consciousnesses and are sentient beings.

When we practise pure perception by reflecting on these different levels of commonality, our ability to interact with others will be enhanced and we can make more friends. Our anger towards others will also be reduced.

In Singapore, the Chinese Mahayana community is extremely respectful to ordained people, often spontaneously bowing down at the feet of the monk or nun.

As long as someone bears the signs of ordination, that person is an object of homage and showing respect with our bodies, speech and minds is important, beneficial and necessary. When I mention this, people may misunderstand that I am asking them to show me more respect. That is not the point.

At this centre, we have had the opportunity to study the Buddha’s teachings and practices in some depth and we have some ability to explain those teachings using logic and reasoning. Our external behaviour therefore should reflect whatever knowledge we may have. When we fail to show respect in the proper way, then there is a disparity between our knowledge and behaviour, isn’t it? We need to close that gap.

We will accumulate negative karma when we criticize the Sangha but we will create positive karma and generate merit for ourselves when we are respectful and relate to them in the proper way.

Sangha members are not perfect. But what makes them special is the vows they hold. It is not because they are free of faults.

When we say we should not criticize an ordained person, it does not mean that even when they engage in inappropriate activities, we are not allowed to comment. One can respectfully approach the ordained person and ask, “I don’t understand why you are doing this. What is your reason for doing this?”  One can discuss the matter and seek a solution. That is the meaning of not criticizing and belittling an ordained person.

Having mutual respect applies to everyone. All the students and members within the centre should have mutual respect for one another. When that is absent, we would go on to show disrespect to the Sangha and once that happened, one would carry on to show disrespect to the gurus. If that were to happen, then we would be the ones to suffer the loss seriously.

Advice from the Kadampa masters: Never seek out faults of others but always look at one’s own mistakes 

The Kadampa masters advise that we should always look at our own faults, treating them as our enemies and never seek out the faults of others. Before we can positively influence and change others, we first have to change ourselves. Without improving our own minds, it is very difficult to change other people in a positive way.

“The faults” refers to our three mental poisons and our physical and verbal negativities. When we find ourselves doing inappropriate things that are not beneficial, we should correct ourselves by remembering, “This is not good and is unproductive. I should not do this.”

We cannot change other people by looking at their faults and we cannot influence them in a positive way until we have improved ourselves. Looking at other people’s mistakes only causes our anger and negative mind to increase.  Even if we have been in a positive state of mind, once we start finding  fault, we feel agitated and unhappy, harming ourselves and subsequently others in the process.

When we point out their faults, people become irritated and angry. Their response may be, “Who are you to correct me? I can do whatever I want.” We hurt them by instigating their anger and there is no benefit.

The masters also advised that we should hide whatever good qualities we may have, praising the good qualities of others instead. This means we should not be boastful, e.g. telling others, “I have studied for so many years; I am good-hearted; I have clairvoyance, you know.” Why should we hide our qualities? Because boastfulness only increases our arrogance, conceit, pride and attachment. These are all negative emotions which will only hurt us in the end.

We should praise and concentrate on the good qualities of others instead of looking at their faults. When a person has a good heart, we should say so, “That is a good-hearted person.” We should also proclaim those qualities, for by doing so, we will be able to see and recognise those good qualities more clearly ourselves. This benefits us in our development of bodhicitta and the good heart. There is a connection; the more we are able to see the good qualities of others, the easier it will be for us to respect them and develop the mind that cherishes them. These are the benefits.

When we consider the advice of the great Kadampa masters, we find it is really wonderful and beneficial. We are supposed to check our minds continuously day and night, but we do the exact opposite. Day and night, we appear to be practising virtue and physically doing recitations but we do not check our minds. This is a mistake that must be changed.

Instead of seeing our own faults as our enemies, again we do the exact opposite; we always think we are in the right and we pick at the faults of others. In the same way, instead of hiding our qualities and praising others, we are boastful and we forget to praise the qualities of others, only seeing their faults instead.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

“There is nothing to fear other than my mind” 

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

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

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

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

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

Realising the nature of our minds 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing the virtuous mind 

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

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

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

The internal enemy 

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

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

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

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

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

Need for constant and persistent effort (1)

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

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

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

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

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

Need for constant and persistent effort (2) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection on impermanence 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our narrow-minded outlook 

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

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

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Placing imprints in our mental continua

The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is summarised in the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta and the correct view.

Since we now enjoy the favourable conditions of having obtained this precious human rebirth and meeting the teachings, even if we cannot generate the realisation of the three principal aspects of the path in our minds, at the very least, we should put effort into placing stable imprints of these teachings in our mental continua.

Imprints can be placed in our mental continua through hearing, reflecting, meditating and familiarising ourselves with the teachings. How does this work? Imprints that come from hearing arise from the activity of listening to the teachings on the three principal aspects of the path. Without listening to these teachings, we would not receive any imprints through hearing. In the same way, this applies to reflection and meditation as well.

The strength of those imprints of the teachings would vary in power in dependence on the manner in which we engage in the activities of listening, reflection and meditation.

It is very arrogant of us to expect the teachings to come of their own accord into our minds, without our exerting any effort to familiarise ourselves with them. When we do not put in the effort from our own side to receive and familiarise ourselves with the teachings on the three principal aspects of the path, and to secure imprints of these teachings in our mindstreams, nothing will happen.

We need to remember that we have obtained this human rebirth now and we have some knowledge of what is to be abandoned and cultivated. Capitalising on this opportunity, we must place strong imprints of the teachings in our minds and keeping this in mind, we must then engage in the act of listening to the teachings.

Reaping benefit from the teachings depends on us

Whether the teachings will benefit us or not does not depend on the teachings. It depends on how we apply them, whether we reflect on them and mix the teachings with our minds.  We cannot expect the teachings, from their side, to change our minds if we do not do anything with them. There are some people who think, “What is the use of coming for teachings? The Dharma is not benefiting me.”  This is not the fault of the teachings but rather reflects their failure to relate the teachings to their minds.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often mentions that there is a noticeable difference between someone who accepts and practises the Dharma and someone who does not. Why? The person who practises the Dharma is a happier person who is more able to handle difficulties and problems when they arise, as compared to someone who has no faith or Dharma. Someone who accepts the teachings should have the ability to apply the teachings for a beneficial purpose and to use them to deal with problems and difficulties.

Taking the medicine 

The Buddha said in the King of Concentration Sutra:

I have explained this very good teaching.
Yet if you, having heard it, do not practise correctly,
Then just like a sick person holding on to a bag of medicine,
Your illness cannot be cured.

This verse applies to us because we may have listened to many teachings but we still find it difficult to reflect on their meaning and are unable to put them into practice. That is why we do not see any improvement in ourselves.

In fact, it sometimes seems that we are experiencing even more mental unhappiness and suffering than before. This is the fault of not having reflected properly on the meaning of the teachings that we have heard. We are just like the patient who carries around the bag of medicine without taking any. When we do not take the medicine, there is no way that we can recover from our sickness.

We need to reflect on the meaning of the teachings that we have heard, in order to remove our problems and the suffering which have been with us, and which we have endured for a very long time.

We need to understand that the Buddha is actually referring to us when he talks about the patient carrying the bag of medicine. We need to put down the bag of medicine, open it and start taking the medicine. It is not enough to just hear the teachings. We must start reflecting on them.

We are now studying the text, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, which contains many wonderful pieces of advice and teachings. It may be difficult to put the teachings into practise immediately but, at the very least, we should reflect on the meaning of the words found in the text. We should not simply leave it at the level of listening or looking at the words. We have to try to reflect on the meaning of the words themselves.

It is important to reflect on, as much as we can and to the best of our abilities, what we have learnt, and the meaning of whatever prayers we may be reciting.

Why is it that we remain as we are and do not seem to change and improve? It boils down to the fact that we did not reflect on what we had heard.

All of us have to try our very best to reflect on the meaning of the words of the teachings that we had heard and try to improve our own minds, because improving the state of our minds is an individual responsibility.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s holy wish for the centre is to produce good-hearted human beings, not simply students with some intellectual understanding of the teachings. That is his real wish. We should all try our very best to make this happen. It is not easy. It is difficult but we have to try our best.

Advice by Gungtang Rinpoche: Our sad situation

It is important to reflect daily on whatever you have heard and found beneficial from the teachings. Use whatever you have  heard and apply it in your daily life. If you do not  use the teachings in this way,  you  accomplish little by merely listening.

This is advice from the teachings of Gungtang Rinpoche called Songs of Expressing Sadness. In one of these songs, he laments that although, in reality, it is the guru who shows us the path and protects us in this life and all our future lives, in practice, we make our own decisions without relying on him.

We may think or even say that there is a need for us to rely on the instructions of our teachers  and recognise  that our guru is the embodiment of the three refuges. But, in our daily lives, we do not pay any heed to his advice or consider our teacher’s instructions to be important.

Gungtang Rinpoche points out now we have attained this precious human rebirth of leisure and opportunities that is very difficult to achieve and which gives us the opportunity to accomplish so much. We know this and can even explain it to others. Yet when we examine our lives carefully, most of the time we are spending them doing meaningless things. When we reflect in this way and realise this, it is a cause for regret and something to be very sad about.

Rinpoche’s advice is  very good and beneficial especially if we are able to remember it in our daily lives. For example, when we can explain to others the benefits of this perfect human rebirth, but do not put it to good use ourselves, then we are in fact wasting our own precious human rebirth.

In our daily lives we treasure our possessions and wealth and take great care to protect them  from thieves and robbers. But we are not very careful with our life span, which is being exhausted and stolen every moment by the Lord of Death. We should be very sad about this also.

We also pursue and hanker after teachings and instructions on hidden phenomena, which are not perceivable or manifest, such as emptiness, bodhicitta, tantra and so forth. But we do not pay any attention to those instructions that deal with subjects that are very obvious and accessible, such as death and impermanence. Again, this is a very sad situation.

I am quoting some extracts from this set of advice as they are short and would be most beneficial if you can remember them in your daily life.

Proper reliance on the words of the texts 

Just as an elderly person needs a walking stick to walk properly, we need to rely on and memorise the words of the texts in order to understand the meaning of the teachings. In order for us to really learn the teachings, first, we must have a really good grasp of the words of the text that we would have memorised.1

But memorising the words alone is not enough when we do not pay any attention to or reflect on the meaning of those words. For example, if we sit in a puja, reciting the prayers without reflecting on their meaning, we are no better than parrots. This is not the correct way to do pujas. If we teach a parrot to recite OM MANI PADME HUM it can recite that 108 times quite easily. But that is about it.

Without reflection on the meaning of the words of the teachings that we have received, we will be unable to correct any wrong or mistaken understanding on our part. The teachings should be investigated in depth.

In order to study the scriptures of the Buddha, first, we must rely on the words. We must know the words of the text. But that alone is not sufficient. We must also reflect on the meaning of those words.

That way of studying is not done here due to the lack of time. In the monasteries, we memorize all the root texts that we are studying and read the commentaries. But here, when the different verses are being explained, at the very least, we can check whether we are able to understand the meaning of each of those verses.

The quality of the meditation 

The difference between a Buddhist who has studied and reflected on the teachings extensively (hereinafter referred to as ‘A’) and a Buddhist who has done neither (hereinafter referred to as ‘B’) can be seen in the quality of their meditation. ‘A’ will be able to meditate in a very extensive way while ‘B’ will find difficulties in sustaining his meditation.

When reciting the refuge prayer, at the mere mention of “Sang gyä” (Buddha in Tibetan) ‘A’ will be able to reflect in the following way: “Who is the Buddha? He is in the entity of the four holy bodies2 and is someone who has eliminated all faults and perfected all his good qualities.” Being familiar with such reflections, ‘A’ is able to recall many different aspects of the refuge practice instantly and his faith in the Buddha increases.

When ‘B’ recites, “Sang gyä” however, he may only recall the Buddha as the historical figure who achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree over 2,500 years ago. It would be difficult for someone like ‘B’ to have any deep sense of faith. If this is so for a person like ‘B,’ then obviously there would be even less faith in someone who has not even heard of the historical Buddha.

When ‘A’ recites “chhö” (Dharma in Tibetan), he will immediately understand that there is conventional and ultimate Dharma, and the object of refuge here is not merely the physical scriptures themselves, but their  contents, which clarify the true path3 and true cessation.4

Understanding that the Dharma is the actual refuge and thinking that, “This is what protects me,” will definitely increase ‘A’s’ faith. He will then generate the faith of aspiration, which is the mind that aspires to actualise the Dharma.

When ‘B’ recites “chhö,” he may only recall the physical texts and he is unlikely to have the same level of faith as ‘A.’

When ‘A’ recites, “Tshog kyi chhog nam la” (I go for refuge to the Supreme Assembly), he understands immediately that the Sangha Jewel refers here to all the arya beings, including the hearer superior beings, the solitary realiser superior beings and the bodhisattva superior beings.

He knows the inconceivable qualities of these holy beings, and in particular, how the superior bodhisattvas practise at each level, actualising all the ten perfections and how they achieve the higher realisations on the path. Based on such understanding and knowledge, irreversible faith will arise in ‘A’s’ mind towards these arya beings and he will aspire to emulate their example. ‘A’ will never give up his faith in the Three Jewels regardless of whatever conditions he may encounter.

When ‘B’ recites, “Tshog kyi chhog nam la,” he will only remember that the Sangha refers to the ordained community and he is reminded to be respectful towards them.  With such limited understanding, it is very difficult to have real faith in the Sangha Jewel because it is difficult to see all ordained persons as pure and perfect and one may end up criticising them or questioning the benefit of ordination.

The difference between ‘A’ and ‘B’ is very clear from simply examining the quality of their refuge practice. The Buddhist who has studied will have stable and irreversible faith while the Buddhist who does not study will give up his faith easily when faced with the smallest obstacle.

We should put into practice, familiarise ourselves with and reflect upon whatever we have learnt. Even if we engage in extensive listening and reflection, it would not be beneficial without such mental familiarity.

Using the earlier example of refuge, we can apply it to other topics and see the difference between engaging in practice with understanding and with little or no understanding. When we realise the benefits of studying and reflection, the aspiration to do so will arise naturally from our own side. When this happens, no matter what difficulties we encounter, we will try our best to come to class and listen to the teachings.

Lama Tsongkhapa said, “At the outset, seek extensive teachings. In the middle, reflect on whatever you have learnt. In the end, day and night, put into practice the understanding of the teachings that you have ascertained. This is what I have done. You who want to follow after me should do likewise.”


Notes

1 This advice was intended for those studying in the monasteries.  [Return to text]

2 The four holy bodies of the Buddha are the Truth Body (made up of the Wisdom Truth Body and the Nature Body) and the Form Body (made up of the Enjoyment Body and Emanation Body).  [Return to text]

3 The antidotes to our afflictions.  [Return to text]

4 What we achieve once all our afflictions are abandoned.  [Return to text]

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Seize this precious opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Take the essence of your life 

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

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

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

Perfect conditions do not last 

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

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

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

Benefits of studying the Buddhadharma 

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

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

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

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

Advice from the Kadampa masters 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The teachings as a mirror 

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

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

Studying out of a sense of obligation 

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

Respect for the teacher 

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

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

Qualities of a proper student

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Need for consistent effort 

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

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

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

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: The thief of forgetfulness

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

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

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

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

Advice from the Kadampa masters: Warding off procrastination 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with difficult topics 

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

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

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

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Practising contentment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Importance of recitation and preliminary prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field 

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

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

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

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Relying on valid texts 

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

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

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


Notes

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

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

What is more important - the happiness of this life or future lives?

“What am I looking for - the happiness of this life alone or the happiness of my future lives?” This is a very important question that we must ask ourselves every day. When we are more concerned with the happiness of this life, whatever Dharma practices we engage in become impure because the mind is controlled by the three mental poisons of anger, attachment and ignorance.

If we are more concerned about our future happiness, then we have to think: “What can I do now that will definitely benefit me in my future lives?”

If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that instinctively, we are looking for the happiness of this life alone. As this is our main motivation for everything we do - whether we are reciting our daily prayers, listening to teachings, receiving initiations or consulting our gurus -all our actions are motivated by the afflictions and are only expressions of our desire to achieve the happiness of this life.

Because of this attitude, the Dharma practices we engage in may look like Dharma but in reality do not become Dharma and they will not benefit us in our future lives.

We need to shift our emphasis from focussing on the happiness of this life alone to placing greater importance on the happiness of our future lives. As Buddhists, we should accept the law of karma. Consider our lifespan. Maybe we can live till we are 60 years old, but compared to the duration of our future lives, we have to take rebirths for many eons to come. Based on this comparison alone, the happiness of our future lives is clearly far more important.

Whether we end up with good or bad rebirths depends on what we do in this life. If we end up with bad rebirths in our future lives, we will have to suffer for eons. Compared to the suffering we will have to endure then, this life’s suffering no longer seems so unbearable. Happiness in our future lives is definite, provided we create the causes now.

When our goal is the happiness of our future lives, then our actions will all become Dharma. Once they become Dharma, these activities will definitely benefit us in our future lives. Therefore, it is very important that we consider this very carefully: “Am I doing this for this life or for my future lives?” Whatever our answer may be, we then have to ask, “Why am I doing this for this life/my future lives? Which is more important - this life or my future lives?”

We should have the confident attitude: “What I am looking for is the happiness of my future lives.” What is the benefit of having this attitude? Because we place more importance on our future happiness, the three mental poisons will naturally weaken and we will experience more mental peace and happiness. Otherwise, when our motivation is focussed on the happiness of this life alone, the afflictions only become stronger, leading to more unhappiness, problems and suffering.

From my side, it is my responsibility to tell you this. But whether this advice benefits you depends on you. Just listening to the advice does not help. You need to think about it, not just once but every day until you have some feeling or experience in your heart.

The purpose of the Buddhadharma  

There are only two goals for studying and practising the Buddhadharma - either the temporal goal of higher rebirth or the ultimate goal of liberation and full enlightenment.

There are no other reasons for studying and practising the Dharma. It is not for improving one’s business, removing health obstacles or solving other worldly problems. The main reason is either to achieve a good rebirth or ultimate happiness, since we want happiness and not suffering. Obviously we also want the best form of happiness, which is liberation and full enlightenment.

It is so important to remember this and to remind and ask ourselves all the time, “Why am I engaging in these studies and practices?” We should not be mistaken and confused about our goal. When people come to the Buddhadharma with the expectation that it will solve their worldly problems and things do not turn out according to their wishes, they become disappointed and lose faith in the Buddhadharma, abandoning and criticising the teachings. This happens because of the lack of clarity about what one is working for, and being too short-sighted with regards to what one wants to achieve.

Working for a good rebirth as a human being or a god is a bigger goal than just being concerned about this life.  When we work at cultivating the causes for such a rebirth, this means avoiding negative actions and engaging positive actions. Such behaviour will naturally bring us fewer problems in our daily lives.

What is Dharma practice?

This is very important - we must ensure that whatever practice we do becomes Dharma practice. Often, we seem to be practising Dharma, but most of the time, that practice does not actually become Dharma.

There is a historical account of a conversation between Dromtönpa - Lama Atisha’s heart disciple - and a practitioner. One day, Dromtönpa saw this practitioner circumambulating a stupa and he said to him, “It is good that you are circumambulating the stupa, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?”

Upon hearing this, this practitioner thought that he should do something else. So, the next time Dromtönpa saw him, he was reciting a sutra.  Dromtönpa said, “It is good that you are reciting this sutra, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?’

This practitioner then thought that maybe Dromtönpa was referring to meditation. He decided to go to his room and began to meditate. When Dromtönpa saw this, he said to him, “It is good that you are meditating, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?”

This practitioner was now thoroughly confused. He could not think of any other  Dharma practices to do, so he went to Dromtönpa and asked him, “What should I do? What is Dharma practice?” Dromtönpa replied, “You have to give up this life.”

What is the significance of Dromtönpa’s reply?

  1. It shows that Dharma practice is primarily done with the mind and not with the body or speech.
  2. It shows that, in order to practise the Dharma, we have to give up our preoccupation with the happiness of this life, i.e., giving up the eight worldly dharmas because failing to do so means that our actions may look like Dharma but are not Dharma.

How do we give up our preoccupation with the happiness of this life? We have to reflect on how this human life of leisure and opportunity that we have is finite and will not last forever. Death will come. By reflecting on this repeatedly, we will be able to reverse the attraction to the preoccupations of this life.

Lessons from Lama Yeshe 

I was twelve years old when I went to Kopan monastery. Lama Thubten Yeshe was still alive then and he taught us by making us memorise questions and answers he had written and pasted on the wall.

There were many questions but one I can still remember was, “Why do we need to practise the Dharma?” The questions were in Tibetan, and at that time, I was more familiar with my native dialect, Sherpa. Still, I memorised the question even though I did not understand its meaning. The answer was: “We all desire happiness and do not want suffering. The only way to abandon all suffering is the practice of the Dharma. Therefore, we have to practise the Dharma.”

Another question was, “Just beating the drum, ringing the bell and performing the rituals – are these actions Dharma?” The answer to that was, “Beating the drum, ringing the bell and reciting mantras alone are not necessarily Dharma. Why? Because you can also teach animals to do these things.”

At that age, the young monks were all preoccupied with games and playing, but since we had to pass our examinations and memorisation tests, we had to memorise the questions and their answers even though we did not fully understand their content.

I am telling you this story to emphasise that Dharma practice is performed primarily with our minds and not our bodies or speech. Reciting mantras, doing our daily commitments and prayers, knowing how to do some rituals - these things are not necessarily Dharma.

Practising the Dharma means improving our minds and weakening our afflictions, the nature of which is to disturb our minds, leading to suffering and unhappiness. Until the afflictions are eliminated, we will continue to experience problems and difficulties. The Dharma is the only way to eliminate afflictions.

The distinction between Dharma and non-Dharma

The way to make our practice Dharma is to reflect on lam-rim topics such as the difficulty of obtaining a precious human rebirth and the nine-point meditation on death. These contemplations will gradually weaken our attachment to this life and also help us set a larger, more far-sighted goal. Gradually, all our actions will become Dharma.

Dromtönpa was once asked, “What separates Dharma from non-Dharma?” His answer: “When the activity you are engaged in becomes an antidote to your negative emotions and afflictions, that activity is Dharma. When your activities are not an antidote to your afflictions, then it is not Dharma.”

We need to remember and reflect on these special instructions of the great Kadampa masters, especially the advice on the distinction between what is Dharma and what is non-Dharma. Whatever we do in our daily lives – our daily commitments, coming to class to listen to teachings and so forth – we must check to see whether these activities are Dharma or not.

If we find that we have been practising for years but are not getting anywhere, it is because our practice has not been Dharma. They have not been antidotes to our afflictions and the result is that we are stuck and unable to make any progress.

Beginning to overcome our afflictions 

The advice of the great Kadampa masters, especially the advice pertaining to the differentiation between what is real Dharma practice and what is not Dharma, is extremely important. In a nutshell, Dharma is any action that is an antidote to our negative emotions. You must keep this in mind.

From the moment you consider yourself to be a Dharma practitioner, you should always relate the teachings to the state of your mind and check if you are working to defeat your afflictions. Whatever you do – be it listening to the teachings, doing your daily commitments, practising generosity and so forth -you should check: “Will doing this help to weaken or even destroy my negative emotions?” and set the motivation, “I am doing this so that I can subdue my afflictions.” By sincerely setting such a motivation, the process of destroying our afflictions has already begun. Overcoming our negative emotions does not happen overnight. Although the realisation of emptiness is the direct antidote to them, we can start fighting them now with our determination and motivation.

When you listen to the teachings and find the advice useful or inspiring, try to put it into practice. Even if you are unable to apply the advice immediately, at the very least, think, “May I be able to do so in the very near future.”

Integrating the Dharma with our minds 

Gyalsab Je’s message is: “If you are someone who seeks liberation or enlightenment, you need to exert joyous effort especially when you have this human life of leisure and endowments; your faculties are complete; you are free of obstacles to your Dharma practice and you have the necessary conditions for your spiritual development. Having found this opportunity, you should not waste it but use it to engage in something beneficial for your future lives.”

Our problem is that we do not integrate the Dharma with our minds. For example, we have heard countless teachings on the precious human rebirth but our minds remain unmoved. Instead of reflecting on the topic, we feel bored, thinking “I have heard this so many times.” There is no feeling for and little interest in this subject. We should not allow ourselves to end up in this state.

It is important that we do not simply look like a practitioner from the outside – doing our commitments, prayers and practices – but feeling empty inside. If our minds don’t change, we will encounter many problems and much suffering at the time of death. It would be ridiculous if we finally ended up in the lower realms.

Therefore, whatever Dharma we engage in, make sure it becomes Dharma. Whatever virtuous actions we do, make sure they are virtue. We should check our minds all the time.

Transforming our minds for the better 

The Kadampa masters said: “The purpose of all the Buddha’s teachings, the great treatises and commentaries that clarify the meaning of those teachings is to help us transform our minds for the better. When the mind does not improve, then even if we strive for eons to accumulate virtue with our bodies and speech, it is very difficult for those practices to become causes for liberation.”

This advice reminds us of the purpose of attending class and listening to the teachings, that is, to improve the quality of our minds. Regardless of the nature of our virtuous activities, we should always ask ourselves, “How does doing this help to improve my mind?”

Relying on mindfulness and vigilance when we engage in our Dharma practice, we should check to see if the practice is beneficial for our minds. If the mind does not change, it is like immersing a stone in water. No matter how long it stays there, the stone doesn’t change.

It is important to generate a pure and correct motivation for attending these classes. We should always remind ourselves why we are here, that we are here to learn how to improve our minds. The purpose of studying the Dharma is not to use it to check the minds and actions of others. Using the Dharma against other people is a mistake. That is not why we study the Dharma.

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

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Editorial Team / Singapore
October 2007
Updated 2011

 

Biography of Khen Rinpoche Geshe Chonyi 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

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

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

Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lojong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors; see links on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive website.

CHAPTERS
How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

The second method of generating bodhicitta is that of exchanging oneself with others. The practice of equalizing and exchanging oneself with others combined with the practice of tonglen, or giving and taking, is known as "training the mind" (lojong). If we look at the lineage of these instructions, they began with Buddha Shakyamuni and Manjushri and were handed down from them in an uninterrupted lineage of great masters including Shantideva. The great master Atisha received the lineage from Lama Serlingpa. When Atisha went to Tibet, he taught the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction publicly, and gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to Dromtonpa, because he felt that his other disciples were not fit vessels for such instructions.

Dromtonpa himself kept this lineage very secret—among his many disciples, he gave it only to his spiritual disciple, the foremost Kadampa virtuous friend, Geshe Potowa. Geshe Potowa also kept this instruction very, very secret. Although he too had many disciples, he gave these instructions only to the great Langri Tangpa and Geshe Sharawa. Geshe Langri Tangpa, on the basis of having received and realized these instructions, composed the renowned text, Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. Because these instructions had been put into writing, they became more widespread and many people were able to learn and practice them. Later, the great master Chekawa came to know them. Geshe Chekawa was a scholar learned in all the five sciences but was not satisfied with his knowledge and wished to learn the Dharma. One day he heard two lines of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, which said,

Give to others all gain and fortunes,
And take on yourself all loss and defeat.

Geshe Chekawa was intrigued by these lines and wanted to understand how to actually practice giving to others whatever victory and goodness there is and taking upon oneself all loss and defeat. Thus he went in search of these instructions. He traveled to the region of Penbo in Tibet, where Geshe Langri Tangpa lived, but discovered that this great master had already passed away. Fortunately, he met a disciple of Geshe Langri Tangpa, the master Geshe Sharawa, who gave him the complete instructions on exchanging oneself with others. By practicing these instructions, Geshe Chekawa gained the full realization of bodhicitta in his mind. He taught these instructions to many lepers, who were able to cure themselves of leprosy by practicing exchanging oneself with others and tonglen. These instructions thus came to be known as "the Dharma of lepers." Meditating extensively on tonglen, with clear and powerful visualization, is actually the supreme treatment for leprosy.

Geshe Chekawa, thinking that it would be a great loss if these instructions were kept secret, began to teach more publicly the practices of exchanging oneself with others and giving and taking.

The practice of tonglen, giving and taking, is indeed an inconceivably wonderful practice. In the past, when someone was sick, or had a spell cast on him, or was experiencing obstacles of some kind, he would seek the help of a Kadampa lama. The Kadampa lama would do the tonglen practice, taking upon himself both the suffering of the one who was being harmed and the one who was causing the harm, meditating on compassion especially toward the harm-giver. The lama would take upon himself all these sufferings with great compassion, and with great love would give away all virtues and benefits. The Kadampa lamas considered this practice to be the best remedy against spells, obstacles, sickness and so forth.

The instructions on exchanging oneself with others consist of five main points:

1. Equalizing oneself with others
2. The disadvantage of cherishing oneself
3. The advantages of cherishing others
4. The actual thought of exchanging oneself with others
5. The meditation on giving and taking (tonglen)

Equalizing Oneself with Others

At what point should you begin to meditate on the first subject, equalizing oneself with others? Prior to this meditation, you should meditate on the first five steps in the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction: equanimity, recognizing all beings as your mother, remembering their kindness, wishing to repay their kindness, and the affectionate love which sees them as beautiful. Thus you begin to meditate on equalizing yourself with others after having gone through these five steps, which I already explained.

How should you equalize yourself with others? First of all, you need to understand what you mean by "self", when you think in terms of yourself. When we think "myself and others", this "myself" has a sense of great importance, whereas "others" has a sense of much less importance.

So when you think in terms of "me" or "myself", there is a much greater sense of importance than when you think in terms of others. Whatever concerns you becomes extremely significant—whether you feel good or bad, whether you are cold or hot—it is always more important than how others feel. Also, everything related to you—"my body, my possessions, my friends, my family, my kids," everything which is part of your life, yourself—has a much greater sense of importance than the same things related to others—"their bodies, their families," and so forth.

Thinking in this way you can see how you do not regard self and others as equal—you esteem yourself much more than others. However, consider it from the point of view of numbers: you are just one, whereas others are countless. So there is a discrepancy in the way you regard yourself and others: although there are so many more others than yourself, you regard yourself as more important than others. This is completely wrong.

You should decide that your objective in this meditation is to correct this discrepancy and learn to equalize yourself and others. The way to do this is by thinking that you and all other beings are exactly the same in wanting to be happy and free from suffering. You need to think over and over again about the fact that there is not the slightest difference between yourself and others in terms of wanting to be happy and wanting to be free from suffering. In this regard, you and others are exactly the same.

If you compare the instructions of the seven points of cause-and-effect and exchanging oneself with others, the five points of recognizing all beings as mothers, remembering their kindness, wishing to repay their kindness, the extraordinary intention and bodhicitta, are the same. However, there is a difference when we come to the two points of affectionate love and great compassion. The strength of these feelings is different in the two practices. How is that? It is because when you meditate on the kindness of sentient beings according to the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction, you recollect how kind they were when they were your mother, whereas when you meditate according to the instructions on exchanging oneself with others, you recollect their kindness not only when they were your mother but also at other times, when they were not your mother. This meditation is more extensive. Therefore, when you train your mind in the instructions of exchanging oneself with others, the strength of your affectionate love and great compassion will be greater than when training the mind in the seven-point technique of cause-and-effect.

The aim of these instructions is to train your mind in actually exchanging yourself with others, and the way to push the mind in that direction is by contemplating both the faults of cherishing oneself and the advantages of cherishing others. Therefore the next step in the meditation is contemplating the many faults or disadvantages of cherishing oneself.

The Disadvantages of Cherishing Oneself

The sources of these instructions on recognising the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought or egoism are texts such as Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life), and the Guru Puja. There is a verse in the Guru Puja which says:

This chronic disease of cherishing ourselves
Is the cause giving rise to our unsought suffering;
Perceiving this, we seek your blessings to blame, begrudge
And destroy the monstrous demon of selfishness.

A verse from the Bodhisattvacaryavatara says: "All the suffering in the world comes from the desire for one's own happiness" and so forth. In the root text of The Seven-Point Thought Transformation, it says: "Banish the one to blame for everything." This means that all suffering—whatever unwanted problems, obstacles, shortcomings, and sufferings that exist—should be blamed on the self-cherishing thought alone. "All suffering" includes not only the problems that you yourself experience in your life, but from a larger point of view, it also includes wars between countries, disagreements between the leaders of different countries, disagreements at work, arguments within a family such as husband and wife fighting or parents and children fighting, and so forth. All these unwanted experiences come from egoism, the thought of cherishing oneself, and thus they should be blamed on the self-cherishing thought.

As another example of the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought, let's say you eat too much and get indigestion, and maybe even die from indigestion. Although it may seem that the cause is some kind of digestive ailment, in fact the real cause of the problem is that your self-cherishing mind was not satisfied but wanted more and more food. So you died not from indigestion but due to the self-cherishing thought.

Even in situations where it seems you are not responsible—for example, you are falsely accused of having done something wrong, or you are robbed of your possessions or killed—even in these situations, the cause is the self-cherishing thought. These experiences are the result of your past evolutionary actions [karma] which were motivated by the self-cherishing thought. In past lives, due to egoism, wanting happiness just for yourself, you harmed others, robbed and killed. In this life you are experiencing the results of those actions, therefore those sufferings are to be blamed only on egoism, the self-cherishing thought.

In the past, you were born countless times in the three lower realms, and this too is due to self-cherishing. The self-cherishing thought motivated you to create the causes to experience the sufferings of rebirth as a preta [hungry ghost], as a hell being and as an animal. For example, being born as a preta is the result of miserliness, which in turn comes from egoism, cherishing yourself more than others. Also, if, out of self-cherishing, you point out the physical faults of someone, saying that his face resembles that of an animal, you create the cause to be born as an animal. Therefore, all the sufferings you experienced in countless rebirths in the three lower realms come from nothing other than the self-cherishing thought.

Even from an ordinary point of view, the egoistic self-cherishing thought causes us so much harm. For example, because of holding yourself in high esteem, feeling that you are so great, when you meet someone who seems better than you, you become miserable with envy. When you meet someone who is equal to you, you will want to compete with that person. For example, you could be a businessman who always wants to be on top—that competitive attitude leads to so many problems. Then, when you meet people who are lower than you, you bully them, put them down and point out their faults. All this comes from the self-cherishing thought, feeling that you are so important, so high, so good. Because of these actions you create a great deal of problems in the present as well as the causes for future suffering. Actually, if you really think about all the disadvantages of egoism, the self-cherishing thought, they are inconceivable.

In brief, all the sufferings and difficulties you have encountered from beginningless time until now, all the unwanted experiences in cyclic existence are caused by egoism, the self-cherishing thought. In fact, all the sufferings of cyclic existence are caused both by self-grasping ignorance and the self-cherishing thought. From the philosophical point of view these are two different things, but in the context of mind training they are considered to be the same. On the one hand there is self-grasping—grasping at a true identity, a true I—and on the other hand there is a mind that, instead of letting go of the I, cherishes it, thinking, "I want to be happy, I need this, I need that." That is the self-cherishing thought, and on that basis all suffering, all unwanted experiences and all negativities are generated. Therefore it is the one to blame for everything.

Those of us who practice the Dharma must think continuously over and over again, about the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought and the advantages of cherishing others—taking care of others rather than oneself. We also need to consider the disadvantages of taking care of this life and the advantages of preparing for the next life. These are things that we need to do.

The Advantages of Cherishing Others

The next point is contemplating the advantages or qualities of cherishing others, or altruism.

This point is clearly stated in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara by Shantideva, which says, "All the happiness of the world comes from altruism." Also, there is a verse in the Guru Puja which says,

I see that cherishing these beings, my mothers,
Is the thought that leads to happiness
And the door leading to infinite qualities.

The root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation says, "Meditate on the great kindness of all sentient beings."

On the basis of these quotations you should realize the advantage of cherishing others. For instance, all the happiness of the human rebirth and other fortunate rebirths—having perfect wealth, surroundings, relations and so forth—comes from altruism, cherishing others. Why? Due to cherishing others' lives you abandon killing, and the result of abandoning killing is a fortunate rebirth and also a long life. So having a long life and a fortunate rebirth come directly from having abandoned killing because of cherishing others' lives. Also, having perfect wealth and surroundings is the result of abandoning stealing and practicing generosity, both of which are done on the basis of cherishing others.

In brief, as it says in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, "There is no need to elaborate more than this; just look at the childish beings who work for their own benefit, and the Buddhas who work for the benefit of others." And there is a verse in the Guru Puja which says, "In short, childish beings work only for their own welfare, while Buddha Shakyamuni acted solely for the benefit of others."

Childish beings act solely for themselves, thinking of their own happiness, in the same way that a child thinks only about himself. On the other hand, the Buddhas became enlightened by cherishing others. Without needing to go into detail, just by looking at the differences between these two types of beings and their actions, we can clearly recognize the differences between self-cherishing and cherishing others.

Consider Buddha Shakyamuni—in the past, since from beginningless time, Buddha Shakyamuni had been like us, trapped in cyclic existence. Then, at some point, He began to cherish others and on the basis of practicing altruism, was able to fulfill the two purposes [of attaining enlightenment and leading others to enlightenment]. Now look at ourselves—because of continuously caring for ourselves alone, cherishing ourselves, we haven't been able to achieve even our own purpose but have been wandering in cyclic existence and the three lower realms again and again since beginningless time. We don't need to go into much detail, just compare the results of Buddha Shakyamuni's actions and our own—one comes from cherishing others and the other comes from egoism, cherishing ourselves. Therefore, by following the self-cherishing thought, no good will come about—only the three unfortunate rebirths.

At this point, Lama Dorje Chang Pabongka would tell stories from the life of Drukpa Kunley, a great meditator of the Drukpa Kagyü tradition who was famous for having an unusual way of speaking which made people laugh.

One day Drukpa Kunley went to Lhasa and paid a visit to the Jokhang, the main temple of Lhasa where you find the Jowo, a very famous statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Normally, you enter and pay homage to the Jowo, then you circumambulate and take blessings. Drukpa Kunley did this—he circumambulated the statue and took blessings—but then he stood directly in front of the Jowo and said, "In the past you and I were the same, but then you began to practice altruism and to take care of others, so you have become a perfect Buddha. I have been taking care only of myself and I'm still in samsara. Indeed I should now prostrate to you."

Drukpa Kunley was an unconventional yogi; he would express the Dharma truth in a very humorous way. It is said that he once visited the Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal, which has an unusual shape, unlike other stupas which are built in one of eight standard designs. When he arrived at the stupa, he prostrated and said "Although you look like a round heap and unlike one of the eight stupas gone to bliss, I still prostrate to you."

Another time he said, "I've lost three important, precious things." When asked what it was he had lost he said, "One precious thing which I lost is called ignorance, another one is called desire, and the third is called aversion. I have lost these three things which others regard as important and cherish so much." This shows his achievements, but it was expressed in an unusual, funny way. At any rate, Drukpa Kunley was a great adept, and I think that there is a translation of his biography containing all these stories.1

Therefore, we should consider what Buddha Shakyamuni achieved by cherishing others and compare this with the difficulties we are still experiencing because of cherishing ourselves alone. It is very useful to read the stories of Buddha Shakyamuni's previous lives when he was still practicing on the path as related, for example, in the Jataka Tales. These stories show how he performed many incredible deeds in order to cherish others, and thus they can inspire us to practice thought transformation.

It is at this point in the meditation that you reflect on the kindness of sentient beings, both when they were your mothers and when they were not. This reflection becomes very helpful because you realize even more reasons to cherish others rather than to cherish yourself. To give an easy example of the kindness of others when they were not your mothers: the simple fact that we are able to gather in this room and enjoy listening to the Mahayana Dharma is completely due to the kindness of others. Many people put in a great deal of effort so that we can be here. First of all, there may have been another building here that had to be torn down, and that required a number of workers. Then other people worked to design the new building and buy the materials such as bricks, cement and so forth. Other people were needed to operate the machines, since machines don't work by themselves, and to do the actual construction work on the building. Then, when the building was finished, people worked on decorating the interior and collecting the representations of the Buddha's Body, Speech and Mind to place on the altar. Therefore, the fact that we can enjoy coming together here today and listening to the Mahayana Dharma is entirely due to the kindness of others, isn't it?

The same applies to your own home, your belongings, the things you enjoy—all of these are due to the kindness of others. You might say, "No, this is not true. I bought my house with my own money; I bought my clothes with my own money." Yes, that is true, but you earned your money on the basis of others. "Okay, I got the money from others but this is because I worked hard: I did something to receive this money in return." Yes, but the fact that you are able to work is because of others, isn't it? If you think about it carefully, you will see that whatever happiness you now enjoy comes exclusively from the kindness of others.

When you reflect on the advantages of cherishing others, it is very effective to incorporate all these different thoughts. You can also contemplate that all the benefits right up to the attainment of Buddha's state come about because of cherishing others. How is this? If you want to become a Buddha, you must generate the precious mind of bodhicitta, because without bodhicitta, there is no Buddha. The generation of bodhicitta comes about because of the wish to benefit others: "I must achieve the state of Enlightenment in order to benefit others." Also, the exceptional cause of bodhicitta is great compassion, and great compassion comes from cherishing others. Therefore, it is because of others that you generate great compassion.

Furthermore, the practice of the six perfections depends on others. For example, you practice morality in relation to others, and in order to practice generosity and patience you need an object, and these objects are others. It is so true what Shantideva taught in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, when he says,

Both the Victorious Ones and sentient beings are indispensable to achieving the supreme enlightenment, and since I pay homage to the victors, why don't I pay homage to sentient beings as well?

This is saying that the achievement of supreme enlightenment is half due to the kindness of the Buddhas and half due to the kindness of sentient beings. When we give so much importance to honoring the Buddhas, why don't we give the same importance to honoring the sentient beings who are equally indispensable to our achievement of enlightenment? As the great master Langri Tangpa says in his Eight Verses of Thought Transformation,

I can achieve the supreme state of enlightenment due to the kindness of sentient beings, therefore they are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel and I should cherish them to that extent.

There are so many heart-warming instructions on the kindness of sentient beings.

This great master Tangri Langpa was so exceptional, he was truly a superior being. (By the way, he is in the line of the previous incarnations of the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.) It is said that Langri Tangpa was always very serious and smiled only three times in his whole life, so he was known as "Langri Tangpa of the black face" (in Tibetan the term "black face" means "serious"). He spent all of his time meditating on the disadvantages of cyclic existence and bodhicitta, and that is why he didn't find many occasions to laugh.

I'll tell you the story of one of the three occasions when Langri Tangpa laughed and what made him laugh. This story is about his mandala set. In the Kadampa tradition and in the tradition of Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, the practice of offering the mandala is very much emphasized. When I was young in Tibet, most of us would bring our mandala sets to teachings, so that at the point of offering the mandala very few would be without one. In the row of the tulkus [reincarnated lamas], each tulku would have his own beautiful mandala set—some made of gold, some of silver—but the top would always be of gold. It was quite a scene when all the tulkus offered their mandalas! But that was in the past, and then at a certain point everything was taken away. My own mandala set was taken away. There is also a particular implement used to offer the hundred tormas, which is a kind of flat container decorated with symbols. I had one of these because the Kadampa tradition places so much emphasis on the practice of offering tormas, but that was taken away as well. By "taken away" I mean confiscated by the Communists. Nowadays, I use something very simple.

Anyway, one day Langri Tangpa was meditating, and he had his mandala set on the table next to him. It was probably a simple mandala set, not a beautiful or elaborate one. As he was meditating, he noticed that a mouse had come and was eating some of the grains of his mandala. Among the grains was a big turquoise and for some reason, the mouse was attracted to the turquoise and started to pick at it, trying to get hold of it, but it was too big for him. Then another mouse came and began helping the first one, so both of them were trying to get hold of it. Pretty soon there were five mice and they devised a way to get the turquoise: one mouse laid on his back and held the turquoise on his stomach, and the other four mice held his head and legs and were pulling him along. Langri Tangpa had been watching the mice and when he saw this he broke into a slight laugh. Why did he laugh? Because he thought that in cyclic existence when it comes to fulfilling one's needs, animals are more clever than human beings. It's true, sometimes animals can be smarter than human beings in taking care of the needs and happiness of this life.

The Actual Thought of Exchanging Oneself with Others

So now we come to the fourth step in the meditation, which is the actual thought of exchanging oneself with others. What is meant by exchanging oneself with others? Prior to this, we contemplated deeply the disadvantages of cherishing oneself, realizing that all unwanted experiences and bad things come from egoism. Like a chronic disease which slowly, gradually destroys your health and physical form, the self-cherishing thought has, from beginningless time, been the source of all your suffering and problems. On the other hand, all the good things—good qualities, happiness, advantages and so forth—derive from cherishing others, from altruism. Realizing this, you now begin to train your mind in exchanging the thought which cherishes oneself and disregards others for the thought which cherishes others and disregards yourself.

Until now we have been disregarding others and taking care of ourselves, but from now on, we have to take care of others and disregard ourselves. Exchanging oneself with others doesn't mean that you take others in your place and put yourself in others' place. Instead it means that you exchange the mind which cherishes oneself and ignores others with the mind which cherishes others and ignores oneself. You need to meditate on this again and again, continuously, and in this way train your mind in exchanging yourself with others.

The Meditation on Giving and Taking (Tonglen)

On the basis of the thought of exchanging oneself with others, you practice the meditation on giving and taking. What is giving and taking? With the mind of compassion you take on the suffering of others and with the mind of love you give them happiness. The root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation says, "giving and taking should be practised alternately." In the Tibetan term, tonglen, giving comes first—tong means "giving" and len means "taking"—but in actual practice, you first train your mind in taking—taking upon yourself the suffering of others—and leave aside the practice of giving.

Taking

You begin the practice of taking by contemplating the sufferings of the precious mother sentient beings until an unbearable sense of compassion arises within you. Then you visualise that suffering in the aspect of black light, which separates from the sentient beings in the same way that hairs separate from your skin when you shave. You visualise that this suffering in the aspect of black light comes and absorbs into the self-cherishing thought which is at the centre of your heart.

You can do the meditation in an elaborate way, going one by one through all the different realms of the sentient beings, starting from the hells. For example, you can think about the sufferings of sentient beings in the hot hells—sufferings due to the intense heat, fire and so forth—and then take upon yourself this suffering in the form of hot fire, visualising that it absorbs straight into the centre of your heart, into the egoistic, self-cherishing thought.

You continue to meditate in this way, gradually progressing through all the different levels and kinds of sentient beings all the way up the bodhisattvas of the tenth bhumi, taking all their suffering into the centre of the self-cherishing thought in your heart. You take on not only their sufferings but all the obscurations and negativities as well, wishing that they actually ripen upon you, and feel that in this way, all these negativities are completely purified.

For some individuals, it may be difficult immediately to visualise taking the sufferings of others, such as those of the hell beings, pretas and so forth—upon yourself. If that is the case, you need to first train your mind in taking on your own suffering. As mentioned in the root text, "You should begin by taking from yourself." The way to do this is to consider the sufferings that you will experience tomorrow, and take these sufferings upon yourself in the aspect of black light as I explained before. Then take on the sufferings you will experience the day after tomorrow, and so forth—contemplating and taking on all the sufferings of the coming month, the coming year, the rest of your life, the next life, and all the future rebirths—you gradually take on all these sufferings in the aspect of black light, and they absorb into the self-cherishing thought in your heart.

Once you have trained your mind in this meditation and become familiar with taking upon yourself all the sufferings you will experience in the future, from tomorrow through your future lives, then you train in taking on the sufferings of loved ones: your parents, relatives, friends and those who are close to you. Then, when you are familiar with this, train in taking on the sufferings of strangers, those for whom you feel neither attachment nor aversion. Then you switch to your enemies. In this way, meditating with the thought of compassion, you gradually widen your scope to include all sentient beings, taking upon yourself their sufferings in the aspect of black light that ripens in the centre of your heart, the self-cherishing thought.

Giving

Taking is practiced on the basis of intense compassion, and giving is practiced on the basis of love. The way in which you meditate on giving is as explained in the verse, "In order to benefit sentient beings, may my body turn into whatever they wish for." You emanate replicas of your body and visualise that these bodies transform the environment and sentient beings. Let's say you start with the hot hells: you first send out countless bodies which become a cooling rain that completely extinguishes the fires of the hells. Due to the soothing rain, the bodies of the hell-beings transform and they achieve precious human rebirths, with the freedoms and endowments. The bodies you send out also transform into pleasant, enjoyable things such as the objects of the six senses, and in this way you completely fulfil their wishes. Then you again emanate countless bodies which take the aspect of spiritual masters teaching Dharma to those beings who then practice Dharma and gradually achieve enlightenment.

Next, you move on to the sentient beings in the cold hells. This time the bodies you emanate become bright sunlight which completely warms up the freezing environment, and you provide the sentient beings with warm clothes. Again, the beings of the cold hells transform and achieve precious human rebirths, and by emanating countless bodies in the aspect of spiritual guides, you teach them the Dharma and they all reach enlightenment.

You progress through the meditation on each type of sentient being in the same way. For the pretas, the bodies you emanate become food and drink; for the animals, they become wisdom that clears away their ignorance; for the titans, they become armour to protect their bodies; for the devas, they become enjoyments of the five senses; and for human beings, who have such strong desire, they become whatever people need or desire. For the Buddhas and spiritual masters, when you train in giving, you emanate inconceivable clouds of offerings and make prayers for their long lives.

While you are training your mind in the practice of taking and giving, you should also practice the following advice given in the root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation: "The instruction to be followed, in brief, is to take these words to heart in all activities." This means that in your meditation and in all your activities, you should use the special words of the tonglen practice as a way to recollect and empower your meditation. For example, you can use the verse from the Guru Puja which says:

O venerable, compassionate Guru, bless me.
May all the sufferings, negative actions and obscurations
Of all beings, who were once my mothers,
Ripen on me now, without exception.
May I give all my happiness and virtue to others
And may all beings have happiness.

So while you are training, in your actual meditation and throughout all your daily activities, you should continuously recite this verse. These words from the Guru Puja are so powerful, so full of blessings, that it is indeed very important to recite them all the time. There is even a practice of accumulating one hundred thousand repetitions of this verse while meditating, and this would be an excellent practice to do.

In the prayer, you first entreat the lama by saying, "O venerable, compassionate Guru," and then you say, "bless me—may all the sufferings and negativities of all the precious mother sentient beings ripen on me right now, without exception. And bless me to give all my roots of virtue and goodness to others, so that these may ripen upon them." The verse concludes with the prayer: "may all sentient beings have happiness." This is really an exceptional, powerful prayer.

It has become a tradition that when the Guru Puja is recited, this verse is repeated three times. This tradition was initiated by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang. Before his time, the Guru Puja would be recited straight from the beginning to the end, but because he placed so much importance on this verse, he began the practice of reciting it three times. So the fact that this tradition has continued up to now is due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang.

Practicing Giving and Taking with the Breath

The next verse in the root text says, "These two, taking and giving, should be made to ride on the breath." This means that after you have become familiar and proficient with the meditation as explained, then you should combine the meditation with your breathing. The way to do this is as follows: while you are breathing out, think that you breathe out all your goodness, and this transforms into whatever is needed for the benefit of sentient beings. You breathe whatever goodness there is within you—your body, virtues, richness, and so forth—and this transforms into whatever benefits all sentient beings.

Then, when you breathe in, think that along with the flow of your breath come all the sufferings of all sentient beings in the form of black light. These sufferings in the aspect of black light enter you and go straight to the source of all the negativities and sufferings you have experienced since beginningless time—your egoistic, self-cherishing thought—and they ripen right there, in your heart. Your see, the mind and the breath are inseparable. The mind rides on the breath, so this visualization that combines giving and taking with the breathing becomes a powerful cause for generating bodhicitta. It's also similar to the vajra recitation which is found in the practice of highest yoga tantra.

It is very beneficial to do this practice as you are going to sleep. Before you go to sleep, generate the thought of love and do the visualization of giving while breathing out; then with the thought of compassion do the visualization of taking while breathing in. If you go to sleep doing this practice, then the whole time you are asleep, especially if you like to sleep a lot—until eight or nine in the morning!

As for myself, the more i progress in years, the more I need to sleep, and also my sleep gets deeper. But when I was young and studying at Sera Monastery, I had the habit of staying up all night. The night is very long and you can do so many things—you can do prayers, read texts, whatever you want to do. In the early morning, at dawn, I would feel so happy. My mind would feel very fresh and I would rejoice from the depths of my heart, thinking, "How lucky I am! I was up all night and was able to do these things while the majority of the people around me were asleep." I would consider myself so fortunate to be able to stay up all night and practice. This is something Venerable Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche does. But now, as I grow older, I need more sleep, so I am unable to stay awake all night even if I want to.

I really want to stress the importance of transforming sleep into virtuous practice because if you calculate the way you spend your life, almost half of it is spent sleeping. Therefore it becomes very crucial that the time you spend sleeping becomes virtuous practice, doesn't it?

In his Songs of Experience, Milarepa said, "At night, sometimes I sleep, and when I sleep I practice merging sleep with the clear light, because I have received instructions on the clear light of sleep. Other people do not have these instructions—how lucky I am!" There are very few people who are actually able to merge sleep with the clear light practice, so for the majority of us who are beginners, it is extremely practical and useful to go to sleep while meditating on giving and taking. In this way, the entire time you spend sleeping becomes the actual practice of tong-len, and thus becomes virtuous.

Practicing in Daily Life

Actually it is extremely important that all the actions we do—sitting, walking, going, coming and so forth—become Dharma. If you divide twenty-four hours into two parts, almost the whole of one part is spent sleeping, and if your sleep is not transformed into virtuous practice, then it becomes empty and even non-virtuous. That means that half the day has disappeared in non-virtue. Then you wake up and, even if you generate a very strong motivation to practice virtue during the day, it is extremely difficult to maintain it. When you sit down to do your prayers, sometimes your mind is so distracted and goes in so many different directions that you're not even sure whether or not you have done all the prayers up to the point you've reached in your recitation. So you have to go back and recite those prayers all over again to make sure that you have at least completed all your commitments.

If it is difficult to generate a pure, virtuous state of mind when reciting prayers, how much harder it is to do so during the day when we are engaged in social activities, especially when most of our time is spent gossiping. Whenever we have the chance to talk, right away we start talking and then we spend so much time gossiping, which is a non-virtuous action, isn't it? Therefore it is extremely crucial that we transform as many of our actions during the day and night as we possibly can into virtue, into Dharma practice.

If we transform our actions into Dharma then we will make our life meaningful. The most important thing is to begin in the morning, as soon as we open our eyes, by generating a very strong motivation. We should think, "I'm still alive this morning, so I'm very fortunate. Due to the kindness of the Three Jewels, I didn't die last night. Therefore I must make this coming day as meaningful as possible by practicing Dharma."

After generating a strong motivation in the morning, you should carry it through the day, reminding yourself of it again and again, in all your activities. Normally, the first thing you do after getting up is to jump into the shower, so while taking a shower you can practice the yoga of washing together with the ablution mantras, or do a purification practice. Following that, if you don't have to go to work, you can sit down and begin your daily meditation commitments. Otherwise, if you have to go to work, you can use your time at work to create virtue. If your job mainly involves physical activity, then you can turn your speech and mind to virtue—the mind especially can be made virtuous by recollecting again and again the motivation you generated in the morning.

Then you come to lunchtime. We normally eat at least three times a day, and when eating we can practise the yoga of taking food, which is part of deity yoga. There is a quotation from the great yogi Drogchen Lingrepa which says, "All the holy places are in your body—in your chakras. You don't have to go away. If you want to make pilgrimage, visit there. If you want to do the practice of purification and collecting merit, do it there, in your chakras, in your holy places." According to the practice of deity yoga, the assembly of deities resides in the subtle body of the psychic channels and chakras. Therefore, when you practice the yoga of eating, you visualise the deity's holy body or the body mandala and use the food to make tsog offering. Lama Dorje Chang used to quote this verse—it's very nice.

As you continue with your usual daily activities, remind yourself again and again of the motivation you generated in the morning. Then at night, before going to sleep, think over what you did during the day and check whether or not you have acted in accordance with your motivation. If you realise that you did any negative actions, confess and purify them, but if you realise that your actions were completely compatible with your motivation, then rejoice in all the virtues you created throughout the day.

The Kadampa lamas of the past used to keep count of their virtuous and non-virtuous actions. They kept two piles of stones, one black and one white. Whenever they noticed a delusion or a disturbing thought in their mind, they would add a black stone, and whenever a virtuous thought rose, they would add a white stone. At the end of the day they would count the black and white stones. They would confess and purify the delusions and negativities they had created, and generate the strong intention to keep their mind free from those negativities the following day. They would rejoice in whatever virtues they created and resolve to create even more the next day. Then they would go to sleep doing the practice of merging sleep with the clear light. This may be very difficult for us to practice, so it is important for us to go to sleep merging our sleep with the practice of tonglen.

The Eleven-Point Meditation of Developing Bodhicitta

As I mentioned earlier, when you actually undertake the practice of training the mind in bodhicitta, there is a way of combining the two sets of instructions—the seven-point technique of cause and effect and exchanging oneself with others—into eleven steps. This is according to the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa. By meditating on either of the two techniques alone, you will definitely generate bodhicitta. However, this uncommon way of merging the two and meditating on the eleven points enables you to generate bodhicitta more quickly and with less hardship.

How do we merge the two techniques into eleven steps?

(1) First of all you meditate on equanimity, visualising a friend, enemy and stranger.

(2) The second point is to recognize all sentient beings as your mother, by using the reasoning of the beginningless nature of the mind and by reflecting on different quotations.

(3) Third is recognizing the kindness of sentient beings when they were your mother, just as your mother of this life is kind to you in the beginning, middle and end.

(4) Next is the uncommon point of recollecting the special kindness of sentient beings when they were not your mother.

Then you meditate on:

(5) the equality of self and others,

(6) the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought; and

(7) the advantages of cherishing others.

(8) Following that, with a mind filled with compassion, you do the meditation of taking upon yourself all the sufferings of sentient beings, and later incorporate this meditation with the breath.

(9) Then with a mind of incredible love, you give all sentient beings all your goodness and roots of virtue, sending these out with the breath as you exhale.

10) At this point you generate the extraordinary intention by thinking, "I have been meditating on taking upon myself the suffering of all sentient beings and giving them all my goodness and roots of virtue, but this has been only on the level of visualization—it hasn't actually happened, but I am definitely going to make it happen in reality. I myself will definitely take on the suffering of all sentient beings and give them all the roots of virtue and happiness that they wish for." Thinking this way you generate a very special sense of responsibility.

11) In order to fulfill this responsibility, you generate bodhicitta: "I am going to become a Buddha in order to help all sentient beings."

At this point you take the result of bodhicitta into the path by visualizing that you transform into the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni, emanating countless rays of light which purify all sentient beings and lead them to the state of the Buddha. Visualize that they all transform into Buddhas, and stabilise your meditation on this. Conclude the meditation session by rejoicing that you have actually been able to bring all sentient beings to the state of enlightenment.

Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path to Enlightenment

The next section of the root text, the Seven-Point Thought Transformation, deals with transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment. This practice is absolutely crucial, especially for the present degenerate time in which we live. In this degenerate age there are so many obstacles, especially for Dharma practitioners. This practice enables the practitioner to take all the obstacles, all the adverse circumstances, and transform them into conducive circumstances and even into the actual path to enlightenment. In fact, it enables the practitioner to not have any obstacles at all.

This section is divided into two points: transforming adverse circumstances by way of thought and by way of action. The first, transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment by way of thought is further divided into two: by using reasoning and by using the view.

With regard to the first, using reasoning, the root text says, "When the environment and its inhabitants overflow with unwholesomeness, transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment." And the commentary quotes from the Guru Puja:

Should even the environment and the beings therein be filled
With the fruits of their karmic debts
And unwished-for sufferings pour down like rain,
We seek your blessings to take these miserable conditions as a path
By seeing them as causes to exhaust the results of our negative karma.

For example, when we get sick we tend to think that it is because of the food we ate, or because of spirits or obstacles, or because someone had cast a spell on us. These are the reasons that come to our mind. This is a clear indication that we are not able to recognise the real root of the sickness and to understand why we are experiencing that particular problem. We need to go back and look at [the section in the lamrim on] the training for the individual of the small scope, which explains the teachings on evolutionary actions and results. Here it clearly explains that results are experienced due to karma, due to actions which we created in the past. It does not explain that a result such as sickness comes from eating a particular kind of food, or because someone has cast a spell on us, or because we are possessed by spirits. It explains that the results we experience are due to evolutionary actions created in the past. Therefore it really is indispensable to know how to transform adverse circumstances such as sickness into circumstances conducive to the attainment of enlightenment.

If you pay very careful attention to the advice of the old Kadampa lamas, it is so beneficial for the mind. They said, "Sickness and pain are the broom which sweeps away negativities." If you think about this advice, it is really powerful. It means that what bring the results of sickness, pain and suffering are the negative evolutionary actions which you accumulated in the past. By experiencing the result, that particular negative karma is cleared away, swept away by the broom of suffering. The advice of the old Kadampa lamas is so powerful.

This advice must be practised continuously. We should think in this way whenever we experience physical or mental suffering. In particular, we should think that up to now we have meditated so much on tonglen, giving and taking, and have made many prayers that all the suffering of all sentient beings without exception may ripen upon us. Now our prayers are bringing some result—we are getting what we wished for—therefore we should rejoice. We should even wish for more suffering to come—the more suffering, the better. Why? Because the more suffering we experience, the more accumulated negativities are cleansed. We can actually get to the point where we wish for more suffering to ripen upon ourselves because we understand that that is what cleanses the negativities.

There is nothing more beneficial that the practice of lamrim and thought transformation at times of experiencing physical and mental suffering. This is something I have experienced myself. For instance, there were times when I experienced incredible hardships, incredible sufferings of body and mind. At those times, I was able to think that all these sufferings and hardships were the result of past evolutionary actions and that by experiencing them, the negativities will be completely purified. Then in my mind came the thought that the more suffering that comes, the better it is, because in that way more negativities will be purified. It is due to the kindness of my gurus—having received the teachings of thought transformation from Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang and also many times from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche—that when I went through incredible pain, suffering and hardships of body and mind, I experienced the thought of not wishing the suffering to end. When difficulties come, I don't need to be afraid. In Tibetan the word for "existence" is sipa, which also means "possible". In existence, anything is possible, anything can happen. However, on the basis of practicing the teachings of lamrim and thought transformation, you can reach a point where no matter what hardships or difficulties occur, your mind is unshakeable. Your mind cannot be shaken by suffering, hardship or adverse circumstances.

The sayings of the Kadampa lamas are so true. For example, they say, "Adverse circumstances are an incentive for practice," and "Sprits and possession are manifestations of buddhas, and suffering is the manifestation of emptiness." Another saying goes, "I don't like happiness, but I like suffering." Why did they say this? When we experience happiness, we consume the merits accumulated in the past; when we experience suffering, we purify negativities accumulated in the past. Therefore it is much better to experience suffering that happiness. As for ourselves, we like happiness and don't like suffering, but the advice of the Kadampa lamas is completely opposite: "I don't like happiness because in that way I consume merits, but I like suffering because in that way I purify negativities."

Another advice of the Kadampa lamas is, "I don't like a high position, I like a lower position." For us it is completely the opposite: we always like to be on top and don't like to be down below. However, the lower position is the position of the Victorious Ones, which allows one to proceed to become a Buddha. The Kadampa lamas also said, "I don't like praise, but I like criticism." Why is this so? Although we feel uneasy when we receive it, criticism is actually very beneficial because it allows us to see our faults and to change on the basis of that. If we receive nothing but praise, the only thing that increases is our pride. Praise is therefore not beneficial, and it is even damaging because it increases our delusions. Criticism on the other hand allows us to identify our faults and work on them.

Transforming Adverse Circumstances by Way of the View

So now we come to the thought transformation practice of transforming adverse circumstances into the path by way of the view. This is done by reflecting again and again on the fact that if you search for the actual entity of what an adverse circumstance appears to be, if you search in depth, you cannot find a single atom which exists on its own, by its own nature. Instead, what you find is just what is merely labeled. It is completely unfindable in nature; ultimately it is not there. You have to bring this thought into your mind again and again.

However, if you are not proficient in analyzing the nature of phenomena with the view, then you should think in this way, "Whatever happens to me in this very short life, whether it is happiness or suffering, at the end of this life all those experiences will be just memories. They are like dreams, completely insubstantial, so there is absolutely no reason to grasp at them with attachment or aversion. There is not even a single atom of them that I can grasp with attachment or aversion."2

The Importance of Bodhicitta

In conclusion, the most important thing is to apply one's energy as much as possible towards the development of bodhicitta in this life. The significance of bodhicitta was shown by the way Lama Atisha greeted people. When we meet people we usually say, "How are you?" or Ni how ma? Lama Atisha, however, would greet people by asking, "Do you have a good heart?" or "Has the good heart arisen within you yet?" This showed the importance he gave to the practice of bodhicitta.

As I mentioned earlier, the great master Shantideva said that just as we churn milk to extract its essence, butter, we should extract the essence of the 84,000 heaps of teachings given by Buddha Shakyamuni—this essence is bodhicitta. Therefore, as bodhicitta is the essence of the entirety of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings, we must definitely make an effort to develop bodhicitta in our mind in this very life.

Notes

1. See Keith Dowman & Sonam Paljor, The Divine Madman—The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley. London, 1980. [Return to text]

2. Earlier Ribur Rinpoche mentioned that one can also transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment by way of action, but he did not elaborate on the point. As found in Advice from a Spiritual Friend (Geshe Rabten and Geshe Ngawang Dargyey; wisdom Publications, London, 1986, pgs. 68-69), this includes the practice of accumulating merit, purifying negative karma, and making offerings to harmful spirits and dharma protectors. [Return to text]

Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lojong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors; see links on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive website.

CHAPTERS
How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

Bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, is something that is truly inconceivable, truly splendid and marvelous. One of the great gurus of Lama Atisha told him that an attainment such as clairvoyance, or a vision of a deity, or concentration as stable as a mountain is nothing compared to bodhicitta. For us, these attainments seem amazing. If we ourselves, or if someone we heard of, had a vision of a deity, achieved clairvoyance, or through practicing meditation attained concentration as stable as a mountain, we would think this to be unbelievably wonderful. However. Atisha's guru said to him: "These are nothing compared to bodhicitta. Therefore, practice bodhicitta."

Even if you practiced mahamudra or dzogchen or the two stages of highest yoga tantra [generation stage and completion stage] and even if you achieved the vision of many deities, these are not beneficial if you do not have bodhicitta.

As the great Bodhisattva Shantideva said, "If you churn the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their essence is bodhicitta." By churning milk we get butter, which is the very essence of milk. In the same way, if we examine and churn all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their very essence is the practice of bodhicitta. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to strive to achieve the uncontrived, effortless experience of bodhicitta. At the very least, we should try our best to generate the contrived experience of bodhicitta, the bodhicitta that arises through effort.

There are two main lineages of instructions on the basis of which you can practice and generate bodhicitta. The first is the seven-point cause and effect instruction and the second is the instruction on exchanging oneself and others.

The first, the seven-point cause and effect instruction by which you generate bodhicitta on the basis of developing affectionate love towards all sentient beings, is a practice which was used by such great Indian pandits as Chadrakirti, Chandragomin, Shantarakshita and so forth. The second, the instruction on exchanging oneself with others, comes mainly from Shantideva. Whether you choose to train your mind in the seven-point cause and effect instruction or in exchanging oneself with others, the result is that you will generate bodhicitta in your mind.

The great saint Atisha showed extraordinary interest in bodhicitta. In order to obtain the complete instructions on the practice of bodhicitta, he embarked on a long journey to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to study with the great master Serlingpa, not caring about the many hardships he endured on the way. Today we can travel to Indonesia by a very fast ship or by airplane, but at that time it took Atisha thirteen months to reach Indonesia. Once he arrived, he received the complete experiential instruction on both the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others from the master Serlingpa. He then practiced for twelve years at his master's feet, until he fully developed bodhicitta. Thus Lama Atisha came to possess both instruction lineages: the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others.

Although he held both lineages, Atisha would teach only the seven-point technique in public, to large assemblies of disciples, and would teach instructions on exchanging oneself with others secretly to a select group of qualified disciples. When Atisha went to Tibet, he gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to his principal disciple, Dromtonpa.

Later, the great Lama Tsongkhapa, the Protector of all beings, incorporated the two sets of instructions into a single practice consisting of eleven points. When you are receiving teachings on bodhicitta, you receive the two sets of instructions separately, but when you are actually meditating on bodhicitta—training your mind—then you combine both instructions and meditate on the eleven points. Combining the two instructions into a single practice for the purpose of training the mind in meditation is said to be a particular greatness of the Gelugpa tradition.

In a prayer composed by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang requesting to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa, he wrote: "By merging the practices of the seven-point mind technique and exchanging oneself with others of the precious mind, this greatness which is not shared by others, may I thus be able to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa." "Not shared by others" means that this merging of the two practices devised by Je Rinpoche is a unique approach, which is not found in other traditions.

I first received these teachings from the holy mouth of the incredibly kind Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, when he taught the eight great lamrim texts over a period of four months at Sera Monastery in Tibet. At that time I was very young. When he reached the point of explaining exchanging oneself with others, he gave teachings on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation. Later I received these teachings twice from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.

The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction

As for the seven points of the cause and effect instruction, one begins by meditating on equanimity and then proceeds through the following steps:

1. Recognizing all sentient beings as one's mother
2. Recognizing the kindness of mother sentient beings
3. Repaying their kindness
4. Affectionate love
5. Great compassion
6. The extraordinary intention
7. Bodhicitta

The first six points, recognizing all sentient beings as one's mother and so forth, are the causes which give birth to the result, bodhicitta.

The way in which these realizations come about, step-by-step, is that bodhicitta, the thought of attaining enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, arises from and must be preceded by a sense of responsibility. In Tibetan the term is lhagsam, which is sometimes called "extraordinary intention", or "exceptional attitude, or "universal responsibility"—it is a feeling of responsibility to benefit all sentient beings. For this intention to come about you must have a powerful wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering—that is great compassion. For that to arise you must have developed affectionate love towards all sentient beings. At the moment we have affectionate love for our dear ones, but we don't have affectionate love for those who are not dear to us. In order to generate this affectionate love for everyone, you must develop a deep sense of closeness toward sentient beings, and the way to do that is by recognizing all sentient beings as your mother, recognizing their kindness and generating the wish to repay their kindness. This instruction is called the cause and effect technique because the later points arise after generating the preceding points.

You should not approach this practice with a shortsighted mind, thinking, "Oh, this practice is too advanced for me. It will require so much time and energy. I will not be able to develop such a precious mind." This is not the right attitude. You should not have such fears because these instructions are very profound and powerful. If you continuously train your mind, step-by-step, with persistence, there is no doubt that you will succeed. Generally speaking, all the instructions from the old Kadampa tradition are very powerful and effective. On top of that, there are the instructions combined by the great Lama Tsongkhapa, whose experience was based on his special relationship with Manjushri, with whom he had direct communication. These instructions are extremely powerful and effective, so you should not think they are too advanced for you and that you will not be able to develop bodhicitta.

Equanimity

Before beginning to train your mind in the first step, recognizing all sentient beings as your mother, you should develop the thought of equanimity. It is similar to painting a picture: if you want to paint a picture on a surface, you must first make sure that the surface is smooth and even and has no rough or uneven spots on it. In the same way, before you can train your mind in the meditation on recognizing all sentient beings as your mother, you must make your mind even with equanimity towards everyone. In other words, you must learn to stop discriminating among sentient beings, feeling close to some and distant from others, and the way to do this is by developing equanimity.

Now I will explain the way to meditate in order to develop equanimity. Those who are familiar with these instructions, please meditate while I am explaining. Those who are new please pay special attention and try to retain the instructions in your mind. All of you please try to have the intention to develop bodhicitta, thinking that you must generate this realization in your mind. As I mentioned before, these instructions of the Kadampa lamas are so powerful and effective, especially the instructions on merging the seven-point cause and effect technique and exchanging oneself with others as taught by Lama Tsongkhapa. So please be attentive and generate this strong intention: "I am definitely going to practice and develop bodhicitta in my mind."

Visualize in front of you three people: first, someone who upsets you—just by seeing or thinking about him or her, your mind becomes unhappy. Next to him or her, visualize someone you love and are close to—just by seeing this person your mind becomes happy. And next to that person, visualize a stranger, someone who is neither beneficial nor non-beneficial. When you think about these people, you feel aversion towards the person you dislike, attachment towards the person who is close to you, and indifference towards the stranger.

Now, thinking about the person you dislike, ask yourself, "Why do I dislike this person? What is the reason I get so upset? What has he done to me?" You will realize that this is because he has harmed you a little bit in this life. At this point you should think about the uncertainty of friends and enemies as explained in the lamrim, in the section for the person of intermediate scope. This is one of the disadvantages of cyclic existence: you cannot be sure of friends and enemies; sometimes a friend becomes and enemy and sometimes an enemy becomes a friend. Think in this way: "Although this person has given me a small amount of harm in this life for a very short time, in many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, this person has shown me great affection and has been very close to me for a very long time. The harm he has given me in this life is so small compared to the closeness and affection we have had since beginningless time, yet I treat him like my ultimate enemy, the ultimate object to be avoided. This is completely wrong!" You need to think in this way again in order to subdue your feelings of aversion for this person.

Next to him is the person you feel close to, who makes you feel so happy as soon as you see him or her. You regard this person as your ultimate friend, the person who is closer to you than anyone else. You have so much attachment for this person you may feel that you don't want to be separated from him or her for even a moment. If you examine the reasons why this is so, it is because in this life he has benefited you in some way such as with resources and so forth. On the basis of some very small benefits and for very limited reasons, your mind becomes so happy and excited. However, you should think, "Although in this life he has benefited me a little, he has not always been my friend. In many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, he has been my enemy. He harmed me so much that just by seeing him I felt very strong aversion. It is not reasonable for me to have so much attachment and desire for this person just because he has benefited me, is beneficial to me and will benefit me, because he has also been the opposite." By thinking in this way over and over again, you can subdue your feelings of attachment.

Now turn to the stranger. The attitude you have toward this person is: "I don't know this person and I don't care about him. He hasn't connected with me in the past, he is not connecting with me now and he will not connect with me in the future, so who cares." This attitude is also completely wrong, so you should think, "In this life, this person is neither an enemy nor a friend, but in previous lives he was my enemy many times, and also many times he was my dearest friend, someone I was very close to. Therefore, it is completely unreasonable to be indifferent to this person." Just as you equalized your feelings towards the friend and the enemy, you should equalize your feelings towards the stranger by thinking this way again and again.

Therefore when you meditate, you first think that there is absolutely no reason to be so upset and feel so much aversion towards the enemy who has been your dearest friend so many times. You need to think about this again and again in order to subdue your aversion and equalize your mind towards this person. Likewise, think that there is no reason to be so attached to the person you are close to, your friend, because he has been your enemy so many times. Think about this again and again to subdue your attachment and equalize your mind towards this person.

When we perceive these three different people, we perceive them in terms of these three categories: friends, enemies and strangers. However, none of them exists in this way forever—no one is a friend, enemy or stranger for all time. Therefore, they are all the same. There is absolutely no reason to feel attachment towards one person, to feel aversion towards another, and to feel detached and indifferent towards yet another.

If we examine what they actually are, from their side, they are sentient beings. And they are all exactly the same in that they all wish to be happy and free from suffering. Thus there is not the slightest reason to discriminate between them with attachment, aversion and indifference. They are all exactly the same. You must come to this conclusion and meditate on it again and again. By meditating on this over and over again, you will reach the point where you actual develop equanimity towards all sentient beings. You will feel that they are all the same to you; your feelings towards them will be equal. This is the result that should come about.

Although you might recite every day the prayer of the Four Immeasurable Thoughts "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes" and so forth—until you have actually developed equanimity, in reality it will be as though you are saying, "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes—but only those I like and not those I dislike." No matter how frequently and fervently you recite the Four Immeasurable Thoughts, until you have developed equanimity, they are only words. They don't become the actual Four Immeasurable Thoughts. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop equanimity, and even if you spent months and years meditating solely on equanimity in order to develop this realization, it would be an extremely worthwhile method of practicing meditation. If you can pacify your feelings of attachment and aversion towards friends and enemies, it will be very beneficial to your mind.

Recognizing All Sentient Beings as One's Mother

The next point, recognizing all sentient beings as one's mother, is actually the first step in developing bodhicitta. Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang said that this point is not easy and takes quite a long time to develop. However, it is crucial and indispensable, because only on the basis of this recognition can you develop the following steps. We cannot progress without it, so it is very important to give it a lot of attention.

In general, when you meditate you use perfect reasoning as well as quotations. Here, with this point of recognizing all beings as your mother, it is very important to use reasoning. Although you can also develop the same understanding on the basis of quotations, there is a difference in the way the mind is activated on the basis of quotations and on the basis of reasoning—it is more powerful on the basis of reasoning. The specific reasoning to be relied upon here is the beginningless continuity of mind.

First you have to establish that the continuity of the mind is beginningless. Start by thinking that your mind of today is the result of the mind of yesterday. And yesterday's mind came from the mind of the day before yesterday. In that way, you go back, day by day. Each day's mind is the result of the mind of the preceding day. Also, the mind of each moment is the result of the preceding moment.

Continue to go back, all the way to the moment of conception, and think about how the mind of the newborn baby is also a continuity which needs a preceding moment of mind in order to be generated. The mind of the newborn baby is the continuation of the mind of the fetus which was in the womb of the mother. And if you go back in this way, you will not be able to find a beginning.1 You cannot find a moment which you can point to as the beginning of the mind and say, "The mind began there." This is because any moment of mind would need a preceding moment in order to be generated. In this way you can establish that the continuum of the mind is beginningless. There is no single moment of mind which you can point to as being the first.

Following these reasons, you conclude that the number of times you have taken rebirth is countless. Not only that, but in all those rebirths, just as in this life, you needed a mother. For one hundred rebirths, you would need one hundred mothers; for one thousand rebirths. You would need one thousand mothers, and so forth. Since you have had countless rebirths, you have had countless mothers.

So if you think very carefully about these points, you will realize that not only have you had countless rebirths, you have also had countless mothers. Furthermore, although sentient beings are also countless, the number of sentient beings that exist is fewer than the number of mothers you have had. You have taken rebirth countless times in all different types of bodies, and the number of sentient beings you need to have been your mother is greater than the number of sentient beings in existence. Therefore, since the number of times you have taken rebirth and the number of mothers you have had is greater than the number of sentient beings, it means that every single sentient being has been your mother not just once, but countless times.

Start with your own mother, thinking that your mother of this life was your mother countless times in previous rebirths. When you have gained some experience of this idea such that your mind is transformed towards your mother, then think about it in relation to your father—that your father has been your mother countless times. Following that, think about how your friends have been your mother countless times. Then think about your enemies—even your enemies have been your mother so many times. Finally, widen your scope to include all sentient beings—meditate on how all sentient beings have been your mother.

You have to meditate on this subject again and again over a long period of time. While you are training your mind in this subject, you should rely on different lamrim scriptures which explain various points and ways of meditating and can give you a lot of inspiration. You should request your spiritual teacher to give you explanations to help clarify your mind, and you should also discuss the subject with your Dharma friends. By thinking in this way again and again, you will reach the point where you realize that all sentient beings have been your mother, even down to a tiny insect like and ant. Even when you see a tiny insect you will feel certain that many times this being has been your kind mother, who took the greatest care of you and in whom you placed your trust. It is said that the great Atisha—who completely realized this point —would be immediately filled with a deep sense of respect whenever he met any sentient being. He would fold his hands and say, "Precious sentient being, so kind."

Recognizing the Kindness of Mother Sentient Beings

The next step in the meditation is recognizing the kindness of mother sentient beings. It is not enough just to recognize that all sentient beings have been your mother, you must also recognize the depth of their kindness. For example, your mother of this life was so kind, carrying you within her for nine long months from the time of conception, always being very careful about what she ate and drank, and doing everything with the sole thought of taking care of you. Even the fact that you are alive and are able to learn and practice the Dharma is completely due to the kindness of your mother, who carried you in her womb and took such good care of you since the time of conception.

She took care of you while you were in her womb, and also after you were born. When you were born you were completely helpless, like a little bug, unable to do anything. Nevertheless, your mother treated you as if you were a priceless jewel—continuously taking the greatest care of you, day and night, with no other thought in her mind than concern for your welfare. She fed you, bathed you, dressed you in soft clothing, took you here and there to make you happy, and even made funny faces or gestures to make you smile. Because of her constant feeling of love and concern for you, her mind was always full of worry that you might get sick or hurt—so much so that she would have difficulty sleeping at night.

You learned how to walk because of the kindness of your mother—she would help you stand up and take your first step, then the second step, and so forth. You also learned how to pronounce your first words because of the kindness of your mother and also your father. As time went on, you were able to study and learn many other things, but only on the basis of knowing how to walk and speak, which you learned because of the kindness of your mother.

In the preceding step you realized that all sentient beings have been your mother, and with this meditation you realize that not only has your mother of this present life been incredibly kind to you, but all the countless sentient beings have been just as kind.

Repaying Their Kindness

The next step is generating the wish to repay the kindness of all mother sentient beings. Ask yourself, "Am I able to repay their kindness?" Then think, "I should be able to repay their kindness because I'm in such fortunate circumstances: I have met the Dharma, I have met perfect teachers, I have met the path, and I have all the right circumstances to practice. Therefore I must do as much as I possibly can to liberate them from their suffering and to bring them the happiness that they wish for. I must do this in order to repay their kindness."

Of course, repaying the kindness of sentient beings includes helping them on a conventional level, by doing as much as you can to give food to those who are hungry, drink to those who are thirsty, clothing and other material things. But the most important way of helping is by completely relieving all sentient beings of all their sufferings and giving them all the happiness that they could wish for. You should bring this thought to your mind again and again.

Affectionate Love

The next step, affectionate love, is the kind of love that a mother feels when looking at her only child. When a mother looks at her child, he appears to her in a very beautiful way, and she feels great love for him. Here, you generate this same kind of affectionate love towards all sentient beings, perceiving all beings in a beautiful, glowing way.

Actually, if you generated to previous step of recognizing all sentient beings as your mother, recognizing their kindness and wishing to repay their kindness, then you won't need extra effort or extra thought in order to develop affectionate love. It will arise spontaneously, due to the force of the preceding realizations.

When you meditate on affectionate love, you also need to reflect on the fact that all sentient beings, although wishing to be happy, are completely devoid of happiness, especially pure, uncontaminated happiness. By meditating in this way, you generate the strong wish that all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes, and that they actually abide in happiness. On top of that, you should also generate the wish that you yourself will make that happen. From the depths of your heart, request your lama to grant you blessings to be able to do this.

Great Compassion

The next step is great compassion. This is one of the special characteristics of the Buddha's teachings, and Lama Tsongkhapa in particular placed a great deal of emphasis on it as a very special cause that gives rise to very special effects. Also, the great Chandrakirti, in the introduction to his Entering the Middle Way, pays homage to great compassion, saying that it is extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. At the beginning, it is the seed which enables you to enter the Mahayana path. In the middle, while you are engaging in the bodhisattva's practice of the six perfections, it is the very soul of your practice. At the end it causes the result, Buddhahood, to ripen and makes possible all the Buddha's wonderful deeds for the benefit of sentient beings. Therefore, great compassion is praised as being extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.

It is said that in the beginning, in order to develop great compassion, it is very beneficial to observe and reflect on the way a butcher slaughters an animal—cutting the throat, ripping out its insides, pulling off its skin. Using this as an example is an easy and powerful way to meditate on great compassion. Here in Singapore, there is a market where we go to buy animals to liberate. It would be extremely beneficial to go there and observe the situation, reflecting both on the animals which are being slaughtered and those who are slaughtering them.

Once you have started to generate great compassion, then you reflect on the same meditations that you used while training your mind in the small scope section of the lamrim, by thinking in detail about the sufferings of the three lower realms, the hells and so forth.2 However, this time you generate compassion by thinking of the sufferings of the specific sentient beings: the sufferings of extreme heat and extreme cold of the hell-beings, the sufferings of extreme hunger and thirst of the pretas, and the sufferings of the animals.

What is the measure or sign of having generated great compassion in your mind? It is that you feel towards all sentient beings the same wish for them to be free of suffering that a mother would feel for her only child. When a mother sees her child going through intense suffering, she feels an unbearable wish for the child to be completely free from this suffering. Feeling this same strong wish towards each and every sentient beings is the sign that you have generated great compassion.

The Extraordinary Intention

The next step is the extraordinary intention. This is when you have the feeling that you yourself, alone, have the responsibility of eliminating all the sufferings of all sentient beings and bringing to them all the happiness that they wish for. It is the same sense of responsibility that a child would feel towards his or her mother—feeling responsible to make her happy and free from suffering. So when you feel that way towards all sentient beings and feel that you yourself alone will achieve this goal, then you have generated the extraordinary intention. It is "extraordinary" because it is more exceptional or supreme than the intention of the Hearers and Solitary Realizers, those who practice the individual vehicle.

The extraordinary intention is similar to being in the position of saving someone from falling off a cliff, where you feel responsible to save the person. In the same way, when you feel a deep sense of responsibility for eliminating the suffering of all sentient beings and for giving them all the happiness they wish for, that is the extraordinary intention. It can also be called the "exceptional attitude" or "universal responsibility".

Bodhicitta

The next step is the actual generation of bodhicitta, also called "the generation of the mind". This comes by reflecting, "Do I really have the capacity to accomplish this goal of eliminating all the suffering of sentient beings and bringing them to happiness? Actually, at this point I can't accomplish that even for one sentient being. And if I check who does have the complete capacity to accomplish this goal, it is only the Buddha. Only the Buddha has the right qualities, because of his power, his knowledge, and his capacity to accomplish spontaneously the benefit of all sentient beings." At this point you have to reflect on the qualities of Buddha as a worthy object of refuge, as you did in the lamrim meditation of the individual of the small scope.

Following this, you generate the thought that you will accomplish the benefit of all sentient beings by achieving the qualities of the Buddha yourself. This means that you generate the mind of bodhicitta, thinking, "I must achieve the supreme enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings." This wish to become a Buddha is not just to abandon whatever has to be abandoned in order to achieve the complete purpose for yourself. Previously you generated great love and great compassion in order to achieve the benefit of all sentient beings, therefore it is for that purpose that you now generate the wish to become a Buddha.

You must also check: "Am I actually able to do it?" Yes, you are definitely in a position where you can become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, there is no better situation than the one you are in now. You have a precious human rebirth, and you have met perfect teachers and the Mahayana path. This means you are actually in the best situation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Furthermore, you have met the perfect teachings of the great Lama Tsongkhapa. By relying on these incredible teachings, many practitioners of the past, on the basis of having achieved a precious human rebirth, were able to achieve the supreme realization in that very lifetime. Some individuals, such as the omniscient Gyalwa Ensapa, were able to achieve this realization in an even shorter period of time—twelve years or even three years. These practitioners had the same basis—the precious human body and other conditions— that you now have. Therefore you should feel a sense of confidence in having the basis that enables you to become a Buddha.

The contrived form of bodhicitta—the experience of bodhicitta which arises through effort—is known in Tibetan as "the bodhicitta which is like the outer layer of the sugarcane". The uncontrived form of bodhicitta is when the thought of wanting to achieve supreme enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings arises spontaneously in your mind as soon as you meet any sentient being, no matter who he or she is. Having the uncontrived, effortless experience is the sign that you have achieved the actual realization of bodhicitta. And once you have generated the realization of bodhicitta, you earn the name "Child of the Victorious Ones".

This concludes the explanation on how to generate bodhicitta by way of the seven-point cause and effect instruction.

Notes

1. The implication here is that the mind of the newly-conceived child is the continuation of the mind of a previous life, which in turn came from another life, and so on without beginning.  [Return to text]

2. In the small scope section of the lamrim, one imagines being reborn in the lower realms so as to generate a healthy fear and the determination to avoid such rebirths by taking refuge and living in accordance with the law of karma.  [Return to text]

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

Chapters
Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

Namo Maha Karunikaya

I bow to Great Compassion, the seed, the refuge which eliminates all suffering of the six kinds of beings and whence all happiness and benefit springs. For those who take joy in the exercise of compassion I shall express a few thoughts on eating meat.

Does eating meat go against the practice of compassion? If one eats the meat of a creature that has died a natural death—for health reasons and without any desire—this is not a harmful action. On the other hand, if someone kills living beings for the sake of money or purchases and eats the meat out of a desire to indulge, this goes against the practice of compassion. Both these actions are harmful.

In the Kalachakra tantra and its elaborate commentary it says that if we consider the harmful actions committed by the butcher and the meat eater, those committed by the meat eater are worse. Some people hold that while the butcher acts harmfully, the meat eater does not. However, in the Lankavatara Sutra it says:

He who murders beings for money's sake and he who buys their meat for money—both have the genuine link between doer and deed.

If the buyer were without vice, then no merit would be accrued by the sponsor of stupas, scriptures or holy images either, as they are also produced by someone else.

A sponsor of stupas accumulates great merit, although he does not actually build them with his own hands. Likewise, a meat eater accumulates great negativity, although he does not normally slaughter the animals he eats. In fact, there are hardly any snuff sellers left in Europe, because hardly anyone takes snuff these days. Similarly, there would be no meat trade if there were no meat eaters.

With regard to Buddhist teachings, three principles are of utmost importance: 1) exploring reasons and reaching valid conclusions through correct logical analysis, 2) establishing the true nature of reality, and 3) making sure not to go against the practice of great compassion. These three principles are the corner stones of Buddhist theory and practice.

Now, what are the characteristics of so-called great compassion? It views its object—all the living beings of the six types, humans, gods, demigods, animals, ghosts and hell beings—without classifying them as friends, enemies or those to whom one is indifferent. Its particularity consists in seeing how they all suffer and wishing to eliminate this suffering or protect them from it. This special attitude, the persistent urge to eliminate suffering and protect others from it is called "great compassion". The suffering to be eliminated is manifest suffering, the suffering of change as well as the suffering pervading all cyclic existence. Great compassion is what wishes to protect beings from these three kinds of suffering. It is very important to be clear about those three kinds of suffering. Rather than repeating their names in a superficial manner, we should try and come to a thorough understanding of what they signify.

From the Buddhist point of view we ourselves desire happiness and we do not want the least suffering. Incapable of patience in the face of adversity like pain, we accept as fact that others, whether human or animal are the same in that respect. Our own sensations of happiness and suffering are what we can understand directly. The happiness and suffering of other humans and animals may be known from signs. For example when other beings, humans or animals, undergo terrible suffering they squeal with pain, tremble and moan. From signs like these we can clearly know that they undergo unbearable suffering.

As Buddhists we say: “this is the reality of the situation.” That is something we can know from an analysis based on signs. For that reason we meditate on the fact that the wish for happiness is the same in ourselves and others, whoever they may be. We also need to recognize and meditate on the fact that we ourselves and others, whoever they may be, are the same in not wanting the least suffering. We must realize that it is necessary and equally important to eliminate suffering, regardless of whose it may be, our own or that of others.

This way of looking at things is fundamental for the development of great compassion. It is the perspective of a truthful path, an honest path. Nobody, be they gods or scholars or other humans will be able to demonstrate that this perspective is untrue or dishonest. It is necessary to develop great compassion by training the mind in this perspective.

However, it is not enough simply to meditate on great compassion. It is also necessary to put it into practice by actually applying it. It is of utmost benefit to see, hear and consider how cows, buffalos, goats, sheep, chicken, fish, yaks, horses and other animals undergo unbearable suffering while being slaughtered for human consumption and thereupon to avoid eating slaughtered meat out of compassion. As compassion is actually being applied, this application is of the greatest benefit for the purification of negativities accumulated previously. This can be understood from the story of Noble Asanga and other reports.

Compassion may also be put into practice directly by purchasing animals meant for slaughter and saving their lives. The effect of this action will help extend one's own life span and increasingly bring about happiness as well as purify negativities. It is also taught that nursing the sick, giving medicine and the like, too, are actions resulting in a long life span.

Beautiful animals such as parrots and other birds are not killed but locked up in cages. You can observe that some will kill themselves trying to get out of their prisons. Therefore it is also an act of compassion to buy them and release them. Such an action will result in the attainment of lasting freedom and a happy life. Even as a human you thus accumulate the karma for miraculous powers such as flying and so forth. There are even reports of cases where miraculous powers were achieved in this very life.

Incidentally, castrating horses, cattle, goats, sheep, dogs or cats—cutting their male or female energy channels is also clearly presented as a negative action in Buddhist scriptures. If you save the animals out of compassion, the effect of that wholesome action may ripen in this life. In this regard the commentary on chapter four of the Treasury of Knowledge relates the following story from a sutra concerning a eunuch, the body guard of some King Kanika's spouse. At the time it was customary to pay eunuchs a big salary for guarding the queen while the king was away at war. This eunuch had thus grown rich guarding the queen over many years. At some point his eye-sight deteriorated, he turned blind, could not guard the queen anymore and returned to his native town, a rich man. One day, when out walking he heard the loud lowing of a buffalo. "What are they doing to the buffalo?" he asked. His assistant told him that they were castrating it. The blind man felt such strong compassion imagining how the buffalo was now to undergo the same suffering he had undergone—for he obviously knew it from experience—that he bought some 500 buffalos to save them from this misfortune. This action undid his castration and also had the effect that he could see again with both eyes as before. This story is quoted in the commentary on the Treasury of Knowledge to illustrate the accumulation of karma ripening in the same life. The action described in it is also a way of applying compassion.

To deprive beings of their male or female organs is a cruel negative action. Its effect ripens in the form of healthy energy channels, energies and body essences lacking in this life or a future one. In one of the tantras, Buddha says:

As you yourself do not want to be harmed, likewise, others do not want to suffer harm. Therefore, don't harm others.

All sentient beings cherish life more than anything. They all consider their own limbs, vital organs, sense organs and, last not least, sexual organs most important. I am well aware of Western arguments to the effect that animal populations need to be controlled, that there may be a shortage of food or space and that, therefore, it may be necessary to castrate animals. However, from a Buddhist point of view castrating animals is not good at all. I think this position also makes sense in the context of religions that hinge on a creator god and condemn as sins acts going against His creation. After all, the sexual organs would also be seen as God's creation allowing His creatures to multiply. In the context of religions teaching the law of karma castration is definitely not considered good.

Some people think that attachment and desire may be eliminated by removing the sexual organs. However, this is a misconception. Attachment cannot be overcome by destroying the objects of attachment or the organs associated with it. It takes practice in wisdom and concentration rather than a surgical intervention to overcome it. Attachment and desire, which are deluded states of mind, need to be eliminated by wisdom and concentration.

Apart from that, in Buddhist monasticism it is a requirement for obtaining monk's or nun's vows that one’s male or female organs are healthy and intact. It is taught in the Vinaya that otherwise the vows cannot be effective. For the attainment of the concentration of calm abiding and special insight it is also necessary that the organs, energies and channels are fully functional. The reason for this is that the achievement of stability and clarity of mind is intimately linked with the energies, channels and (reproductive) organs.

In the two texts Treasury of Knowledge and Compendium of Abhidharma it is set out that if someone has committed extremely negative actions such as killing his own mother and the like they will be unable to achieve meditative stability until the karmic obscuration is purified and that no meditative concentration arises in hermaphrodites and eunuchs due to their unstable minds and dominant mental afflictions. It is clear that healthy channels, energies and body essences are all the more indispensable for attainment of the completion stage in highest yoga tantra.

After the loss of one's male or female organs it is impossible to overcome desirous attachment. In Buddhist texts it is explained clearly that for giving up desirous attachment it is necessary to develop the union of wisdom and meditative concentration as an antidote. Does that mean beings whose male or female organs have been removed, eunuchs and hermaphrodites cannot apply the teachings? Nobody should lose courage—there are lots of things one can do, e.g. train in love and compassion, generosity, patience and wisdom, observe the ten types of religious activity46 as well as carrying out fasting meditations (nyung-nä). The question of whether or not those whose male or female organs have been damaged can practice the completion stage is hard to settle. The teachings say: "For a human being to be definitely able to reach buddhahood within one life through the application of the paths of highest yoga tantra, he or she has to be endowed with the so-called six constituent elements of a being born from a womb. These six elements comprise the components of bone, marrow and reproductive substances obtained from the father and flesh, skin and blood obtained from the mother.

According to the presentation in the Treasury of Knowledge, the human beings of the first eon who descended from some kind of light gods, arose through supernatural birth like gods and are referred to as children of Manusha—i.e. the mind. Therefore they were not meat eaters by origin47. The texts explain how their behaviour degenerated gradually. According to the scientific manner of explanation, humans have evolved gradually from apes. I believe that those early humans may not have been meat eaters. Anyway, there are many accounts of the origin of humans, that of the Treasury, that of scientists, that of Bön shamans etc.

However, what indications are there to suggest that it is not the inborn nature of humans to eat meat? The human body has neither teeth nor claws like lions or tigers. Just like monkeys it can be sustained on a diet of fruit and grains, which is well suited to its physical requirements. I think this is easy to see, however, still we should examine it.

In Western countries there are hundreds of thousands of people with a natural aversion to eating meat. There are numerous advantages resulting from not eating meat: it is beneficial for one's health and prevents negative actions. From the Buddhist point of view, however, the wholesome effect is stronger if eating meat is abandoned with the motivation that compassion for the painful experiences of the slaughtered animals has arisen.

In India there are millions of vegetarians such as Mahatma Gandhi and meals without meat may be found everywhere—in thousands of vegetarian restaurants. This is one of the best signs for the fact that the Dharma exists in India. All these vegetarian restaurants are run by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. All the Tibetan restaurants serve meat. All the Tibetans say: we are Buddhists. These restaurants with their meat cuisine go against the Buddhist teachings. They disregard the teachings on the link between actions and their effects and are in stark opposition to taking refuge,48 compassion, equanimity, and non-violence, the Mahayana and Hinayana sutras as well as the four classes of tantra. Apparently, some of those restaurants are run by monasteries. They do damage to the Buddhist teachings.

Obviously, this is not nice to look at and undermines the devotion others have to Buddhism. In fact one may well ask why such restaurants serving meat exist in monasteries. Their existence is being justified by saying that it generates a lot of money. "This so-called money sucks the blood from our bodies", said Mahatma Gandhi. To be bitten by money is worse than to be bitten by a snake, he goes on to say in his advice. This statement is certainly especially meaningful. To be sure your own life becomes a money making machine, if you are overcome by the disease of discontentment with regard to money. It is as though you had sold your human life for money. Examine that for yourself!

In the English language it is called "money". In Tibetan one word used is gyu nor—an ambiguous word, gyu meaning "cause" and nor signifying "wealth" but also "error". So you could also understand it in terms of causing rebirth in lower realms—those of hungry ghosts, animals and hell beings—rather than becoming a cause for higher existences such as birth in the human or divine realms and therefore it could be considered an "erroneous cause".

If the love of money is too strong, a country will be lost, cultural and religious values deteriorate and individual human values and abilities degenerate. For instance when the Chinese communists first came to Tibet they distributed a lot of money among Tibetans and those Tibetans with a predilection for money sang songs with lyrics like: "Chinese communists are like benevolent parents, they cause a rain of coins to fall". The Tibetans were cheated at the time, in any case they ended up losing their country to the Chinese and wholesome values, the precious Buddhist religion and culture deteriorated—an experience that Tibetans of future generations will not forget.

If the desire for money is excessive, disadvantages will ensue. Even today a lot of people do not finish their education but rather chase after money. For the sake of earning money some do not even care whether they act harmfully. As a means to an end meals with the meat of countless chicken, cattle and sheep are sold every day in restaurants. When the people responsible for this die, in particular, they will have caused themselves serious problems: Someone with lots of money will be attached to it even on the threshold of death and die in a corresponding state of mind.

Nowadays most people consider money to be the source of happiness and well-being. That is a misconception. One's well-being, a pleasant physique, a long life, health and a happy mind are the results of wholesome actions born from compassion and the desire to help in former lives. There is evidently no guarantee for people with lots of money to be happier. If we go on analyzing we can see that people with a lot of money often suffer all the more and that the situation in rich countries is often more difficult.

As regards the root of happiness and well-being it is therefore taught in the sutras that the various types of wholesome actions as causes give rise to the various types of happiness as effects. For example the act of saving animals meant for slaughter out of a compassionate motivation is a cause for living a long life, nursing the sick and giving them medicine for having a healthy body and mind, the development of patience for having a pleasant physique and being well liked by everyone, trying to save humans and animals from imprisonment for always enjoying freedom, giving up castrating animals for not being born as a hermaphrodite or becoming a eunuch, and compassion along with wholesome actions the root of happiness and well-being in general. The root of suffering is harmful action. In highest yoga tantra it is set out that the most harmful thing is to give up compassion for all beings.

From the Buddhist perspective India is a blessed country where many buddhas, bodhisattvas and arhats have wandered and which the Buddha himself prophesied to be an important place where the Buddha Maitreya and some thousand other future buddhas as well as many bodhisattvas and arhats would wander. Unfortunately, in some old religious rites it is still customary to make blood sacrifices on special Indian and Nepalese holidays. That goes against the practice of compassion and non-violence. Those offering ceremonies do more harm than good. Great gods such as Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Sarasvati—by virtue of being gods—do not accept blood sacrifices. Gods are not beings feeding on impure substances like meat and blood, but rather care for utmost purity. Foreigners also find these blood sacrifices repulsive and Buddhists do not take pleasure in them at all.

Sakya Pandita gives an account of the earlier Hindu sage Eta who rejected blood sacrifices. There are also stories about the Buddhist siddha Birvapa visiting many temples were these customs were practiced and putting and end to them. He did this by manifesting signs of his attainments and encouraging the devotees to sacrifice so-called white offerings.

The Dalai Lama put an end to meat offerings in 1973 on the occasion of the Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya telling his disciples from the Himalayas: "From now on abandon the custom of making red offerings. If the spirits accustomed to it cause you trouble tell them: the Dalai Lama has told us to stop it and if you want to cause problems because of this you should turn to the Dalai Lama."

The great texts of the Buddhist tenet systems explain that in the Hindu system, Buddha Shakyamuni is revered as the ninth emanation of Vishnu. It is taught quite clearly that the development and attainment of calm abiding, special insight, the four levels of worldly meditative stabilization and the worldly concentrations of form and formless realms are practices shared by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

Specifically, Buddhist practices are associated with the four noble truths, the two truths, renunciation, great compassion, the attitude of conventional and ultimate bodhicitta and the practice of the ten perfections. The attainment of the five paths and the ten levels as well as the ability to achieve arhatship and buddhahood are their special effects. All of this is made clear in the great Buddhist texts.

The eight great powers common to Hindu and Buddhist tantra such as the ability to fly, to move about at supernatural speed, to cause a rain of grain to fall, to be able to tell the future through prophecies, to display various miraculous powers and similar abilities are taught as worldly attainments.

Special attainments in Buddhism concern healing, extending life spans up to a thousand years, increasing wisdom and purifying negativities and many other achievements brought about by the power of mantra recitation combined with Buddhist deity yoga—kriya, charya and yoga tantra—as well as the attainment of buddhahood in the same body within a single lifetime through developing the generation and completion stages of highest yoga tantra.

The root of all those methods is great compassion. All wholesome actions performed with the motivation of compassion can ripen as wholesome effects. If the motivation of compassion is lacking, even the highest practices will come under the influence of selfishness and thus their wholesome effect cannot ripen. The spiritual master Padmasambhava said:

With kleshas49 exhausted - no reason for Dharma practice.
Without compassion the root of Dharma rots.
Consider samsara's sufferings again and again!
Lord and subjects, do not postpone the Dharma!

The protector Nagarjuna taught:

The fact that nothing is ever born—
if it is deeply known by the mind,
compassion arises easily
towards those sunk in the bog of samsara.

The siddha Saraha said:

Whoever engages in emptiness lacking compassion
will never discover the highest most excellent path.

However, the root of Buddhist teachings is unbiased great compassion. Thus the main rule of vows for laypeople, novices, monks and nuns in the vehicle of hearers consists in giving up harming anyone. This giving up of harmful action occurs motivated by compassion. If compassion is lacking, the ethical discipline of giving up harmful actions towards others does not come about. For those belonging to the Mahayana path compassion is even more important. In the Mahayana the main thing being taught is that over and above giving up harmful actions it is necessary to benefit others–"perfect enlightenment is born from the attitude of benefiting others", as it says in the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva.50 In the Commentary on Valid Cognition it says: "That which enables it51 is to develop compassion."

When applying the Buddhist teachings, from among faith and compassion, the latter is more important. Engaging in Bodhisattva Behaviour gives the reason:

Between the Jinas52 and sentient beings
if you respect the Jinas, but not
sentient beings–how would you
accomplish something like Buddha Dharma?

In his Explanation of Bodhicitta Nagarjuna also describes the connection: From benefiting beings happiness arises as a result. From causing harm to beings, suffering arises as a result. The state of buddhahood can also be attained only in dependence on living beings.

Geshe Chengawa, a scholar of the Kadam tradition, said: "In order to attain the state of buddhahood, one has to learn something that is unusual in the world. Among their own interests and the interests of others worldly beings put their own first and consider it more important to honour buddhas than living beings. We have to do it the other way round."

Buddha Shakyamuni states in the Stream of Mineral Nutriments Sutra:

To benefit sentient beings is the highest offering you can make me,
to harm sentient beings is the greatest harm you cause me.

In his Essence of Good Explanations on the Interpretable and Ultimate Meaning the great spiritual master Tsongkhapa describes how the three types of striving–regarding compassion for beings, faith in the Buddha and the wish that his teachings may last for a long time–reinforce each other.

Dromtonpa said: "Compassion is the root of a helpful attitude. All the characteristics of bodhicitta come about in dependence on compassion."

And the spiritual master Atisha: "If you feel unbearable compassion for living beings, you'll abandon everything and undertake anything that is of benefit to beings."

In the Sutra Requested by Sagaramati it says: "The one teaching for bodhisattvas is this: great compassion that does not crave for one's own happiness."

The Sakya master Jetsun Dragyen said:

Abandon alcohol because, if you drink alcohol, your presence of mind will deteriorate.
Meat should be abandoned because, if you eat meat, your compassion will deteriorate.

In his Explanation on the Three Types of Vows Kedrub Je, a great pundit of the Gelug tradition, writes: "We certainly do not say that the rules of ordination permit eating meat under the power of attachment to the taste of meat. We would not even dream of saying that something like that isn't a fault."

Chankya Rimpoche, a great Gelug master, also said:

Into piles of flesh, blood, bones of beings
you dig your knives and drool in a rush to devour them—
as if about to subdue hostile troops and foes
compassionate beings behold this sham of a Sangha!53

I should like to turn to the members of the Sangha, persons training in the asceticism of pure conduct, with a little remark. How come people capable of resisting the temptation of what seems like the greatest happiness to the conventional worldly mistaken consciousness—the happiness of being with a woman—are incapable of resisting the enjoyment of eating meat from murdered animals? I wonder. But how could I possibly capture everyone's interest making statements about the harmful effects of eating meat ? Even if one said that meat is poison—the persistent habit of indifference would continue to exist and they would go on eating meat.

The teaching that it is harmful to eat meat does not apply to monks only. It was given to laypeople and monks equally. The ten negative actions like killing, stealing, sexual misconduct etc. as well as negative actions relevant here—eating meat and the like—are not harmful for monks only, but for all the beings of the six realms as well. The rules that apply specifically to monks are those they have vowed to abide by before the Sangha represented by their abbot and master: not to enter into intimate relations with women, not to drink alcohol, not to eat in the evenings, not to hoard possessions and many other particularities. If they transgress any of those rules, this constitutes a negative action in the sense of a breach of the promise they have made as monks. These kind of negative actions do not exist for laypeople.

In the edicts of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen it says:

In line with the rules of the ordination masters
act as explained in the three collections of teachings:
Drink tea and what is proper for Sangha members,
for food take grains, molasses and creamy cheese,
for clothing wear plain saffron-coloured robes,
for lodging live together in a temple.
Do not indulge in drink, meat, rotten food.

People wishing to make offerings are not allowed to offer the ordained meat nor alcohol—such offerings are also mentioned explicitly in the sutras among the 32 impure offerings. Venerable Milarepa said:

This way of eating meat food—famished, without thinking of future lives for even a second... When I see these people I get frightened. Rechungpa, are you mindful of the holy Dharma?54

If you do not just pay lip service to the existence of future lives and karmic causes and effects but rather consider, from the bottom of your heart, how these hold together, you may develop enthusiasm about giving up meat. If you are not convinced that future lives exist, it will be even more difficult to gain conviction about the karmic effects of actions. However, if you examine whether or not there are former and future lives the reasons in favour weigh more heavily and there is only little negative evidence. Not only Buddhists accept the reality of former and future lives. Hindu yogis who have attained the concentration of calm abiding and thereby achieved supernormal cognitive powers also accept them.

In addition to that the Hindu tenet systems posit a permanent self, holding that this self exists in all former and future lives. They also accept cyclic existence and liberation as well as wholesome and unwholesome actions. We must not disparage the Hindu religion saying: this is a non-Buddhist system. In the tantra Vairocana's Perfect Enlightenment it says:

Do not disparage the tirthikas.55
If you disparage the tirthikas,
you'll distance yourself from Vairocana.56

With this in mind a famous scholar from Arig57 said: "I have faith in non-Buddhists58, too."

However, Buddhists do not accept a permanent self but rather an uninterrupted impermanent continuum of self. Although the self accepted by Buddhists is an uninterrupted impermanent continuum, there is no true self such as it is conceived by our inborn grasping for an "I": the Buddhist view is that it does not exist by its own nature.

Among those who are convinced that there are former and future lives, again, there are various attitudes. For example some feel undivided compassion for all living beings. They may be fully committed to finding ways and means to eliminate their own and others' difficulties in this life.

Others who do not accept former and previous lives have a biased kind of love and compassion. They may benefit a lot of beings while also harming many. One example for this would be a person taking pity on a hungry dog and feeding it a fish killed for that purpose. The action may be motivated by compassion for one animal, but it causes great harm to another one.

Yet others are not convinced about former and future lives nor about the fact that happiness is the result of wholesome actions and that suffering is the effect of harmful actions. These kind of people who are very self-centred and unfamiliar with love and compassion may well be endowed with worldly knowledge and skills. If they obtain power and high positions they can do great damage to world peace—please check for yourselves!

The Buddhist teachings explain rebirth, i.e. the reality of former and future lives and the fact that wholesome actions bring about happiness and harmful actions bring about suffering. As all beings are the same in wanting happiness rather than suffering, there are the teachings on great compassion—the desire to protect all the beings of the six realms from the temporary suffering of this life and ultimately from all the suffering of cyclic existence—as well as the teachings on the six perfections, patience etc., and the view of emptiness as an antidote to ignorance, attachment, anger, wrong views, concepts and misconceptions. Through study involving listening and contemplating as well as the development of this wisdom realizing the view of emptiness combined with great compassion, through combining the concentration of calm abiding and special insight into one union, through recognizing the ignorance associated with mental afflictions, concepts and misconceptions will decrease more and more, and the nature of mind will gradually become clearer and clearer. The mind will achieve liberation and the state of buddhahood. The profound and vast path leading there is taught in authentic scriptures.


Author of this text is the ordained Geshe Thubten Soepa of Sera monastery. He composed this advocacy of animal rights in Germany after about 2550 years had passed since the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni and about 648 years after the birth of Lama Tsongkhapa in the year 2005 according to the Western calendar. May this text be like a cloud of offerings gladdening the buddhas, bodhisattvas and all those possessed of compassion. May it also further the wishes for health and a long life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso so that his wholesome activities for the benefit of living beings may continue for hundreds of eons. Also, may all masters of the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana have a long life. May all their wishes come true. May the holy masters of religions believing in a creator god and religions with faith in the law of karma interact in harmony and continue to develop mutually beneficial relations now that this is of vital importance. May all their shared practices of non-violence, compassion and love be allowed to increase and deepen more and more.

Sarva mangalam


Scriptural References

Arya-Lankavatara-Sutra Q775 ngu 165a7-ngu 172b6
Arya-Angulimala-Sutra Q879 tsu 133b2-tsu 214b8
Vinaya-Vastu Q 1030 khe 260a4-nge 47b6

Acknowledgements

The Tibetan original of this book was initially translated into German by Conni Krause. The first English version by Philip Quarcoo was based on her German text. For a second English version Philip retranslated—from Tibetan—my poems as well as the versified quotations I had used, and made various changes that proof-readers had suggested.
I discussed this second version with my current interpreter, Karina Reitbauer, who made numerous insightful comments causing me to add various explanations, clarifications and notes. They have now resulted in this third version by Philip and Karina.

I dedicate all the merit accumulated through the publication of these two texts to the liberation of living beings. May all living beings be free from the suffering of being killed.


Notes

46. Writing down the teachings, making offerings, practising generosity, hearing the teachings, retaining and understanding them, teaching others, reciting sacred texts, contemplating and meditating. [Return to text]

47. The point being made here is that early humans were very much like the gods they descended from who only subsist on mental activity rather than impure physical food. [Return to text]

48. As you take refuge to the Three Jewels, one of the practice instructions you commit yourself to is to give up causing harm to any living beings. That is why it would go against the practice of refuge to harm living beings. [Return to text]

49. Delusions, afflictions. [Return to text]

50. By Togme Sangpo. [Return to text]

51. I.e. the attainment of Buddhahood. [Return to text]

52. "Victors"–designation of the buddhas. [Return to text]

53. In other words: "Monks, rather than taking delight in killing and eating animals, please think about what you are doing and develop compassion!" [Return to text]

54. The question might be paraphrased in these terms: "Rechungpa, do you keep thinking of death, impermanence and your future lives while others fail to do so?" [Return to text]

55. Tirthika (Tib. mu stegs can) literally means "one belonging to a tirtha or holy place", i.e. a worthy and holy man, a Brahmana. However, the word came to take on a pejorative meaning and was used by Buddhists, Jainas etc. to signify a "heretical" adherent of a religion or philosophy other than one's own. [Return to text]

56. I.e. along the path, you will find yourself further removed from the goal of becoming Vairocana. [Return to text]

57. Area in North-Eastern Tibet. [Return to text]

58. The Tibetan reads phyi rol pa–apparently, what he meant are followers of other religions who nevertheless share certain essential tenets with Buddhists. [Return to text]

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

Chapters
Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

The above booklet about eating meat was read through, cover to cover, by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He told me: "It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read". I cannot express how pleased I was at these words. I would like to complement my composition by a few questions and answers concerning the topic.

Question: Don't you need some meat for the sacrificial tsog ceremony? What do you do about that?

Answer: In Dza Patrul Rimpoche's lam-rim text it says: To that end it is appropriate to use meat from an animal that has not been slaughtered for eating. However, if you introduce meat that does not conform to this requirement into the mandala of offerings, all the deities and wisdom beings will vanish, that is what Gampopa said.

In the autobiography of the siddha Kunleg you will find the statement: "Now, when you make offerings, you should bear in mind the following points concerning the recipient of the offerings, the offerings themselves and your motivation: Each of the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) is fit as a recipient for the offering. The object to be offered should not be associated with theft, violent appropriation or killing and the motivation should consist in the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Offerings made in a different manner with masses of meat and alcohol are found among the earlier non-Buddhist religions, but not among Buddhists."

The Dalai Lama's statements regarding this point have already been presented above.

Question: What is the right approach to the so-called meat and blood tormas in protector rituals?

Answer: That is evident from Patrul Rimpoche's lam-rim text. It describes the protest of Guru Rimpoche, Shantarakshita and all the pundits contemporary with the Dharma King Trisong Detsen, at the Tibetan practice of sacrificing meat and blood according to the Bonpo custom: 'If you continue this custom we shall go back to India', they said. They stopped partaking of food and refused to give any more teachings.

It follows that these so-called meat and blood tormas should not be made up of real meat and blood. If you really make offerings of meat and blood, no deities and wisdom beings will come. You will only attract ghosts. As they feast on such offerings, they may become friendly and bring you short term benefits. If you then fail to continue giving them meat and blood, they will harm you. However, if you go on making offerings of meat and blood, you will be reborn among such ghosts or you will find yourself among wolves and birds of prey. That is what Patrul Rimpoche said about this topic.

These so-called meat and blood tormas symbolize the ignorance, harmful intent, selfishness and self interest in one's own mind and that of others. These characteristics are meant to be visualised as tormas and offered in this form—not as external substances made up of real meat. The meaning of the secret mantra is not to be taken literally. It only opens up through an understanding of the six alternatives and four modes of explaining vajra expressions.

Question: How about offerings of the five kinds of meat and nectar mentioned in the texts of highest yoga tantra?

Answer: A yogi practising highest yoga tantra needs some kind of realisation substance for giving up dualistic concepts of pure and impure. As Patrul Rimpoche makes clear in his lam-rim, this also requires meat from an animal that has died a natural death and rather than having been slaughtered. As a matter of fact this is not meant for people who carelessly indulge their craving for meat, but exclusively for yogis who can transform the five kinds of meat such as dog meat and human flesh as well as the five substances like feces and urine into nectar through the power of concentration. It is not meant for people like you and me.

Question: Are you suggesting that someone who has received empowerments for Highest Yoga Tantra should not offer meat and alcohol as part of a tsog offering practice?

Answer: Many lamas do not really care and offer meat. However, some more considerate ones only offer meat of animals that have died from natural causes. During a teaching he gave in Bodhgaya, His Holiness stated that it is not nice if thousands of monks come together for tsog practice offering huge amounts of meat. Instead they should offer tea, water, fruit juice, coca cola and the like. Furthermore, Lama Atisha, during his stay in Tibet, used to offer molasses or honey instead of meat and milk or yoghurt instead of alcohol. Apart from that I found a quotation to the effect that Go Lotsawa was extremely pleased that many other masters i.e. Drigung Jigten Gonpo, Drigung Chenga Rimpoche, Taglung Tangpa, Pagmo Tugpa, Togme Sangpo41 used to substitute molasses or honey for meat and milk or molasses for alcohol.

Question: Is it true that offering meat to a monk results in merit being accumulated and that there is a benefit for the dead animal?

Answer: Gelug Shamar Pandita, tutor of the 13th Dalai Lama, said in his lam-rim text: "some people of blind faith think it is beneficial to slaughter sheep and goats for the soup of monks or the food of gurus, however, in fact it is a grave harmful act due to confusion and wrong views and it is important to be clear about this." He goes on to say in his lam-rim: "To buddhas each and every living being is as valuable as if it were their own child and to all beings, life is the most important thing. You, who dare inflict unbearable pain on such beings out of greed for a mouthful of meat, you think of yourselves as followers of the Buddha and call yourselves lamas and monks! Shame on you! You should judge yourselves harshly."

Question: Monks and nuns have to accept meat that benefactors give them, don't they? After all it says that you should eat whatever you are given when going on your alms round.

Answer: In Panchen Deleg Nyima's commentary on the Vinaya it says: If a monk is offered meat dishes by a donor on his alms-round, he should ask whether or not the meat has been obtained through killing. And in the commentary on the Vinaya called Rays of the Sun: "You have to ask whether or not the offering has been obtained through an action against the rules." Numerous Vinaya scriptures point out that you should make sure the gift that is being offered does not contradict the rules of monastic discipline. They also mention 20 types of meat and other foods that must not be eaten at all, even though the creature may have died a natural death, for instance human flesh, the meat of monkeys or that of vultures.

Therefore, if in doubt about the origin of meat, you should definitely ask and decline anything inappropriate. Even if the gift is appropriate, it is important to ask whether eating or drinking it may have any drawbacks or deleterious effects on one's health, for instance, if you are diabetic, whether it contains any sugar etc.

Apart from that, offering food containing meat constitutes impure giving: In the Sutra to Rishi Gyepa Buddha Shakyamuni taught about how the 32 types of impure giving should be abandoned and how to perform correct giving. Impure giving is divided into four categories: impure with regard to the motivation, the object given, the recipient of the gift and the manner in which it is given. In this sutra, giving meat originating from killed animals, alcohol offered to the careless, as well as weapons, poison and the like are enumerated as cases of impure giving with regard to the object.

Question: In Buddhism eating meat is allowed as the Buddha himself ate meat: The cause of his death was eating poisoned pork that an evil-doer had given him.

Answer: This story circulates, however, looking at statements contained in the authentic scriptures it does not seem very plausible. As far as I know there is no reliable source for it. On the other hand indications that the Buddha rejected meat can clearly be substantiated with the above passages from the Lankavatara Sutra, the sutra Vinaya Foundations of Medicine and the Angulimala Sutra.

The reason why the Buddha could not easily be harmed by poison is that he did not manifest himself in an ordinary aspect. He appeared in the aspect of a buddha, both in essence and in his individual characteristics, which is why poison could not have harmed him. In the Kangyur we find a story where the householder Pelbe, belonging to a different religious group, offered poisoned meat to the Buddha, thinking he was not clairvoyant as he ate it. However, as the poison did not have any effect on the Buddha he deeply regretted his deed and confessed it. Afterwards he became a monk and attained arhatship.

There are also accounts in the sutras about how Devadatta set a wild, maddened elephant on the Buddha in order to kill him, but did not manage to do so, about how he shot at him with a sling-shot, but could not do him any harm. If the Buddha had indeed been as easy to kill as a normal being, dying from swallowing poison, I think he would have hardly been able to manifest one of his 12 deeds, such as the taming of Mara.

Apart from that the Hinayana presentation of the Vaibhashika abhidharma also deals with the 18 extraordinary qualities—exclusive features of a buddha's body, speech and mind—and the 43 additional ones shared with arhats and pratyekabuddhas which include the 10 powers as qualities of the mind. In this context, the term "power" implies that whoever possesses it cannot be harmed by anything and that, on the contrary, such a person will overcome everything. The Buddha could not be harmed by either mental afflictions or the four Maras and the like.

As for his ability to overcome adversity, Vasubandhu makes clear in the seventh chapter of his Treasury of Knowledge that the Buddha's powers over the physical realm arise from his mental powers and correspond to them. Consequently, poison cannot do any harm to the body of a buddha. Furthermore, in the Mahayana texts we find presentations regarding the attainment of the vajra body42 from the eighth bodhisattva ground and descriptions of the vajra body itself in the mantra system. The story about harm through poison does not take all these qualities of a buddha into account. In the Buddhist scriptures of sutra and tantra, eating meat of animals that have been killed especially is rejected. If you have eaten such meat, you should try to purify the harmful effect.

Question: Is food that contains meat suitable for offerings or not?

Answer: If it is the meat of slaughtered animals it is not. If you offer meat that has been obtained through killing, you will be hard put to give a reason for not calling this a "red sacrifice".43 As we learn from both sutras44 and commentaries, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all those whose nature is compassion are filled with sorrow rather than joy at such sacrifices. Therefore, instead of reciting the offering prayer before eating food containing slaughtered meat, it would be better to recite the Akshobhya mantra or other mantras such as OM MANI PADME HUM and blow on the meat, as this might bring about a little bit of benefit.

And try to find methods for redressing the harm caused by eating meat. The best means of purifying it is to save the life of animals. We should strive to employ any available means to benefit beings, we should pray for that intention and do anything else we possibly can.

Two points should be considered over and over again: 1) the difficulty of redressing the negative action of taking the life and meat of others and 2) the fact that this is not a law that has been decreed by anyone, but a natural process of cause and effect. It really is of great benefit to realise this and reach a point where, moved by compassion, one gives up eating meat, liberates beings and saves their lives.45


May the life of His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, be long. May this cause peace to spread on earth, the harmonious practice of all religions to be strengthened, the difficulties between Tibet and China to be resolved peacefully and the Buddhist teachings to bring universal benefit. May love and compassion grow. May all masters and holy beings of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana have a long life and see the fruition of all their endeavours. In particular, may Lama Zopa Rimpoche, spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, live long and achieve all his goals, such as the successful completion of the Maitreya Project. May all sentient beings be freed from the suffering of being killed.


Notes

41. 'bri gung 'jig rten mgon po, 'bri gung spyan snga rin po che, stag lung thang pa, phag mo gru pa and thogs med bzang po. [Return to text]

42. The term "vajra body" is used both in the general Mahayana and in the Vajrayana, but with different meaning: In the Vajrayana it signifies the inseparability of body, speech and mind, a meaning that is not implied by the general Mahayana (sutra system). [Return to text]

43. Blood sacrifice which involves the killing of animals—not accepted in Buddhism. [Return to text]

44. I.e. the Lankavatara and Angulimala sutras. [Return to text]

45. Liberating beings is of the greatest benefit because it results in the purification of negativities due to eating meat and the accumulation of karma for a long life in good health. [Return to text]

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is available in ebook format from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and can be freely downloaded as a pdf file.

CHAPTERS
Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat

In Honour of Guru Shakyamuni

With faith in the teacher, the conqueror, who truly appeared,
directly perceived the ultimate mode of existence,
through meditation, exhausted the two obscurations
and turned the wheel of Dharma truthfully:

who am I to fathom or describe
your qualities of wisdom, love and power.

Yet if I were to express them in only four lines
it would be these:

Possessor of skilful means
who led even those full of hate like Angulimala,
those overcome by desire – the likes of Nanda,
and ignorant beings like Lamchung to arhatship.

Praise to His Holiness

Praise also to His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso,
who in our times, just like a second Buddha,
performs enormous deeds of love and peace1
to further your teachings and foster the roots of virtue2
of all the world's beings—a life-protecting lord.

I have written down here, with reference to my sources, what the Buddha said about eating meat. It will surely raise the interest of those who have trust in valid teachings and their teacher. I intend to give some explanations of how eating meat is presented in the lesser and greater vehicles including tantra.

The great Indian scholar Shantideva wrote:

Even though they intend to give up suffering
they run into the arms of the causes of suffering.
Although they wish for happiness, out of ignorance,
they ruin their own happiness like a foe.

In full accordance with what is being expressed here, we clearly realise in our daily lives that all sentient beings from humans down to ants wish for happiness and try to avoid suffering. As this attitude, the desire to seek happiness and avoid suffering, is a quality of mind, it would seem evident that there are minds at work here. The continuum of all sentient beings is in fact endowed with a mind characterised by certain qualities. This mind constitutes the true basis for transformation into the omniscient truth dharmakaya and the cessation of the two types of obscuration, including their imprints left on the consciousness. However, as we ourselves and other sentient beings are under the influence of obscurations due to confusion and ignorance, we do not know how to create the correct causes for the happiness we all desire. Likewise, we do not know how to get rid of the causes of the suffering we wish to avoid. We can even recognise the truth of this at the manifest level of our experience. Therefore, it is imperative to look for correct methods that will bring about happiness, as well as correct methods for giving up suffering. In fact those methods consist in 1) learning about the two truths, 2) meditating on ultimate truth, thereby giving up the two obscurations, and, ultimately, 3) reaching buddhahood.

However, this is not the place to discuss the possibility of finding and applying such faultless methods by examining the words of the Buddha through listening, thinking, and meditating and developing the corresponding three types of wisdom. The words the Buddha addressed to the three types of disciples3 due to his limitless capacity of love and compassion and which were laid down in 84,000 heaps of teachings are vast and profound. They are the words of an authentic person who realized the ultimate nature of phenomena as they are, meditated on the path according to that ultimate nature and managed to completely give up the two kinds of obscurations. All I can hope to achieve here is a clarification of one important aspect of those teachings: Shakyamuni Buddha rejected the consumption of meat both in the words of the lesser and the great vehicles - both in sutra and tantra. In each case he presented different reasons and types of rejection laying particular emphasis on the object of rejection i.e. meat. However, the rejection of meat procured by means of killing innocent creatures with the specific intention of eating them is stated equally clearly in the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras as well as in the scriptures of tantra. I will present the reasons and sources systematically.

In the seventh chapter of the Angulimala Sutra, a Mahayana sutra as rare as the Udamwara flower4, Manjushri asks:

"Is it true that the buddhas do not eat meat due to Buddha nature?"5 The Buddha said: "It is exactly like that, Manjushri. In the sequence of lives during our beginningless and endless coming and going in samsara there is no being that has not been our mother, that has not been our sister. Even dogs have been our fathers before. The world of those lives is like a play6. Therefore, since our own flesh and that of others is the same flesh, the buddhas do not eat meat7. Furthermore, Manjushri, the sphere of all beings is the dharmadhatu. As this would constitute eating flesh of the same sphere, the buddhas do not eat meat."

I should like to give a brief explanation of this sutra passage. We find three reasons here why buddhas do not eat meat. The first reason is expressed in terms of the Buddha's affirmative answer to Manjushri's questions as to whether this has to do with the fact that the Buddha nature8, characterised by the three natural features9, is present in the mental continuum of all beings. "It is exactly like that." The second reason is this: As there is no single being that has not been our mother or father in this process of beginningless and endless coming and going in samsara, and as we ourselves and others are of the same flesh, the buddhas do not eat meat10. And the third reason: the sphere of all beings is the dharmadhatu11 and eating flesh of the same sphere is inappropriate. In this sutra eating meat is thus being rejected through reasoning.

However, eating meat is also rejected with reference to its disadvantages. Again in the Angulimala Sutra the Buddha says:

Purna12, beings that have previously been cats, constantly attached to eating meat, and beings that reject Buddha nature will all become rakshas13 resembling cats. In the future, too, beings that have taken the form of cat-like rakshas and find killing others and eating their meat irresistible, will be the same as beings that have turned away from Buddha nature.

Here eating meat is rejected with reference to disadvantages resulting from it. Some humans, just like cats, love killing for food and eating meat. How does this desire come about? It is the result of karmic imprints from previous lives where they did not acknowledge Buddha nature and act upon it. The karmic imprints bring about the desire to kill animals and eat their flesh in this life. If they fail to acknowledge Buddha nature yet again in the present life, they will accumulate more negative karma and thereby take unfortunate rebirths under conditions where they will experience more suffering. If you acknowledge Buddha nature, you will also respect the beings of all six realms and you will be incapable of eating their flesh. Otherwise you may kill and eat them and turn into a raksha in the future.

As regards the rejection of meat based on advantages, it says in the Angulimala Sutra:

The Buddha said: "Angulimala, in countless lives, out of respect for the millions of living beings, I have given up fish, meat, fat, in fact any food associated with killing and have also caused beings to do the same. Due to this my body has become the excellent body of a buddha, characterised by the special marks. Angulimala, in countless lives I have caused millions of beings, gods and humans, to purify all the million mental afflictions. Due to that my body has become a body free from elaborations."14

In this sutra, eating meat is thus rejected with reference to the corresponding benefits.

Moreover, in the Mahamegha Sutra (Great Cloud Sutra) the rejection of meat and alcohol is presented in the context of qualities characterising the meditative concentration of bodhisattvas on the tenth level:

The Bodhisattva Mahasattva Mahamegha (Essence of the Great Cloud) asked the Buddha: "Lord, I ask for the 400 gates of meditative concentration to be explained in detail by the exalted Tathagata." The Buddha replied: "...Mahamegha, a bodhisattva mahasattva who has attained the concentration of the deep, calm ocean15 demonstrates the signs of obstacles in order for beings to renounce killing animals and eating their meat by appearing as a meat seller in places where pigs are sold. In order to bring beings to spiritual maturity he also appears as a beer drinker among beer sellers and in order to clearly show the disadvantages of drinking beer, he will even become chief among them and serve beer to beings without being attached to that activity."

This sutra rejects meat and alcohol noting the qualities that a bodhisattva attains in the context of the 400 gates of concentration, achieving the meditation of the deep, calm ocean.

In the Hinayana sutras we also find quotations relating to our subject like the following passage from the latter part of Foundations of Medicine, a text contained in the Vinaya section of the Kangyur:

The Buddha was dwelling in a multi-storey building by the monkey pond at Vaisali. In Vaisali there lived a captain called Sengge and whenever the people living nearby brought him meat, he ate it. One day he learnt from the Buddha what is true, and he did not eat meat any more. Nevertheless meat was still brought to him but it was given to the bhikshus, and in fact the bhikshus did eat it. Now the tirthikas16 made remarks about this, made fun and clapped their hands: "Knowledgeable ones, captain Sengge does not eat the meat that has been prepared for him, so it is given to the bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas. And the bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas eat the meat that was meant for captain Sengge." When they heard this loose talk the bhikshus asked the Buddha and the Buddha replied: "I have stated that meat which is not appropriate from the three points of view17 should not be eaten."

Thus the Hinayana sutra containing the Vinaya text Foundations of Medicine also rejects meat, i.e. meat that is not appropriate for eating on three counts. Nowadays, unfortunately, some intelligent and not so intelligent commentators have made the presentation of purity according to the three aspects18, namely "not having seen, not having heard and not suspecting that a being has been killed for ones own consumption" into a rule which is as well-known as a famous quotations. As far as the presentation in the Vinaya sutra Foundations of Medicine is concerned, there can be no doubt that it is inappropriate to eat meat that has been killed for oneself. However, the fact that the Buddha, referring to meat meant for someone (i.e. captain Sengge) other than those who actually eat it (i.e. the "bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas"), states "that meat which is not appropriate from three points of view should not be eaten" shows very clearly that eating meat which has been killed for others is also not pure according to the three aspects or inappropriate for eating on the three counts. To good logicians this is clearly evident at closer examination.

The fact that the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for oneself and the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for others is equally impure according to the three aspects or equally inappropriate for eating on the three counts is thus made clear by the Vinaya sutra Foundations of Medicine. Relying on this sutra we can therefore see that it is unnecessary and pointless to take the statement from the extensive commentary on the Vinaya, "not having seen, not having heard and not suspecting" that a being "has been killed for ones own consumption" and make it suit our own interests in a narrow-minded fashion by drawing clever conclusions from it.

Similarly, the threefold rejection of meat as impure set out in the 14 major infractions and 25 rules of conduct of the Kalachakra system has to be applied to meat of animals that have been slaughtered for either oneself or others as impure according to those three aspects. The Kalachakra is a Dharma system comprising all the points of sutra and tantra in their entirety and is therefore in agreement with statements from the Vinaya.

Now, some sceptics may still be concerned about karmic consequences from eating any kind of meat, even for health reasons—for instance the meat of water buffaloes, sheep or goats that have died in accordance with the Dharma19. They may suggest that such meat should also be abandoned. The response to that would be that, from a Buddhist point of view, this position resembles Devadatta’s understanding of what constitutes renouncing meat as presented in his Five Instructions20.

According to the Vinaya Sutra fully ordained monks are allowed to eat meat as medicine when ill. This meat has to originate from an animal that has died from natural causes. In autumn, many monks used to get ill, so Ananda asked the Buddha what to do about it. The Buddha replied that four substances, including meat and alcohol, were permissible as medicine. The monks had to find meat that was pure in the three above respects and feed it to their ill companions. In case they were not able to eat it, they were blindfolded and spices were used to cover up the unpleasant taste. This tradition strongly suggests that at the time of the Buddha, fully-ordained monks did not normally eat meat, for otherwise such special measures would not have been necessary.

Furthermore, in the context of shramana21 Dharma practice exemplified by one of the main disciples of the Buddha, the Sthavira Mahakaskyapa, who did not eat meat and did not accumulate even the tiniest bit of wordly wealth, it says in the Angulimala Sutra:

Angulimala said: "Indra, you have strayed away from the teachings. In fact it is like this: he who abandoned jewels, pearls, lapis lazuli, gold, kunda stones and the like, 80,000 vases filled with jewels, grains of gold and other precious things, cast away priceless clothes as if they were drops of spittle, renunciate of the shramana Dharma, Sthavira Mahakasyapa, main follower of the Tathagata who took up residence in the forest and also upheld the conduct of physical restraint in accordance with the twelve qualities of ascetic practice—why did the great Sthavira (Maha)Kasyapa not wear precious clothing, why did he renounce his households and uphold the conduct of physical restraint purely, giving up foods like nectar and meat dishes?

He went from house to house and whenever the householders feigned stupidity and said: 'We have nothing at all to spare, neither in front nor at the back nor on either side' or berated him, he answered 'May you be happy' and returned with an easy mind. Likewise whenever they said 'we have something for you', the Sthavira answered without attachment 'May you be happy' and returned with an easy mind.

Now if through each of (Maha)Kasyapa's own treasure vases future shramanas could have enjoyed food, drink and delicacies till the end of their lives, why did he not bequeath such enormous wealth to the Sangha? Giving up the sense of 'mine' and letting it go, making it the inexhaustible treasure of hungry ghosts, of those in need, of miserable ones and of beggars that is the Dharma of shramanas, Indra. Accumulating wealth if only the size of a sesame seed is not the Dharma of shramanas.

Who would deny—with this sutra in mind—that it would be appropriate for us who have renounced household life and taken vows of ordination, to look up to Sthavira Mahakasyapa as an unequalled model to be emulated? Although he owned the full gamut of worldly possessions, he gave up everything, realising that even the tiniest possession viewed as 'one’s own' is no Dharma of shramanas and renounced food from dead animals, thereby upholding the pure conduct of vegetarian discipline in accordance with the twelve qualities of ascetic practice! According to tradition, Kasyapa's body is still hidden in a mountain recess in India. In the future, Buddha Maitreya will reveal the exact location and point him out as a model bhikshu. May we then have the good fortune to be reborn in India and come face to face with the great Kasyapa.

As far as the use of honey22, leather shoes, white conch shells (employed as ritual implements) and silk worms is concerned, we also have the telling response to a question by Manjushri. Since what matters within worldly things is a 'reality of methods', wearing leather shoes is appropriate if the buffalo whose skin was used to make them died in accordance with the Dharma23 and inappropriate if the leather has come from an animal that was killed. The use of honey, conch shells and silk is also said to be appropriate if the material was derived from animals that died in accordance with the Dharma i.e. that were not killed especially. In the Angulimala Sutra it says with regard to this point:

Manjushri asked: "Are not honey and conch shells and shoes and silk worms like the meat of the same sphere?" The Buddha answered: "Do not speak thus, Manjushri. Having given up all worldly bodies the buddhas are not dependent on material things and therefore do not need any substances of attachment. The reality of the world is the use of material things. Materials pass from one to the other as they are used—you should not use whatever materials are at hand indiscriminately. That which has been passed on but did not originate from a killing hand is fit for use."

Manjushri asked: "If a shoemaker in the market has made leather shoes and offers them to the Tathagata, Arhat, perfectly enlightened Buddha, will he accept that which has passed through several hands?" Manjushri went on to ask: "If a buffalo has died in accordance with the Dharma and the owner has it skinned by a slaughterer, visits a shoemaker to have the leather fashioned into shoes and then gives them to someone following the rules of discipline would that be 'something passed from one to the other'?" Thus he asked and the Buddha said: "If the buffalo died in accordance with the Dharma, and the owner has shoes made and gives them to someone following the rules of discipline, then they should be accepted. Would it be fitting for a monk not to accept them? This would show a lack of compassion and the rules of discipline would be harmed."

On this occasion, in the sutra, Manjushri asks the Buddha three questions: one about honey, conch shells, shoes and silk worms, one about a shoemaker offering shoes to the Buddha whose leather has passed through several hands so that the origin is not clear, and one about another person offering shoes made from the hide of a buffalo that died naturally. The first and the last questions are being answered, but not the middle one. There is no need for that, as the answer to the last question implies that it is inappropriate to accept the gift referred to in the middle question.

Some people who fail to distinguish between intentional and unintentional actions put forward the argument that if it is inappropriate to eat meat, it would be equally inappropriate to eat rice. However, this is not the same because to give up eating meat and reduce the number of animals being killed is an act that is well within the bounds of possibility. During the cultivation of rice and vegetables there is no intention to kill beings while planting the seedlings, irrigating the fields etc. However, since there is no way of preventing insects being killed unintentionally - as this is not currently within the bounds of possibility - it is still not the same as killing on purpose. The answer to a question posed by Manjushri may serve to clear up any doubts on the part of those critics who, based on this kind of comparison, conclude that one would consequently have to do the impossible. In the Arya Angulimala Sutra Manjushri asks whether or not it is appropriate to dig up the soil and sand, till fields and cook one’s food because of unclean water. The answer is as follows: Manjushri says:

"Digging and tilling is not appropriate. Food that has been cooked because the water was contaminated should not be accepted24–in this situation, monks have to act accordingly." Thereupon the Buddha said: "That is what is called the worldly view. If there are upasakas25, stick to clean water and food. Wherever there are upasakas, there should be no digging and tilling. Where there are no upasakas, what should even buddhas do there? There are also creatures in the grass, as well as in the water and in the air. If it were like this, would there not be negative karmic effects from altogether pure actions? The question as to how you purify something that cannot be completely pure while living in the world and without giving up the samsaric body is a futile question."

The main significance of this sutra passage is that if there is a chance of giving up harming other beings, you should always make use of it. On the other hand, actions committed where there is no such possibility are not altogether free from negative karmic consequences, but, due to the absence of harmful intent, those consequences are far weaker.

To further clarify this point: one may well wonder whether predators such as tigers, lions or crocodiles live on something free of negativity. In the above quotation the Buddha suggests that this question is purely speculative. As long as those animals have their predator bodies they cannot but eat meat. With such bodies it is impossible to avoid killing. As they cannot help eating meat, the question arises whether, in this context, eating meat is indeed a negative action. The answer is: yes. Whoever kills or harms other living beings commits a negative action.

However, there are varying degrees of negativity. The force of a negative action is determined by the motivation or intention and the awareness of the one committing it–whether that agent knows the action is bad. Lions and tigers are not aware that killing prey and eating meat is bad, so the degree of negativity is less.

As they have a strong habit of killing and eating meat they cannot possibly rid themselves of negativities in their present lives. Due to their bodies, there is no way for them to overcome negativities in their present lives, however, they may overcome them in future lives. Likewise, we find it very difficult, at present, to perform any pure actions because of our bodies which are the result of karma and afflictions. So it becomes all the more evident that we need to strive for methods to attain the eighth bodhisattva level–to achieve the vajra body which exists uncontaminated by any harmful action.

In the Lankavatara Sutra meat is rejected from three points of view, i.e. 1) impurity, 2) the fact that the animals from whom the meat has been procured used to be our fathers and mothers in earlier lives, and 3) the fear that all living beings share of being killed:

Since it used to be our dear ones
since it is mixed with what's base and impure–
a mess that has evolved from blood–
as everyone is scared by killing
yogis always give up meat […26]
and drinks27 inducing inattention...

The Lankavatara Sutra also denounces the disadvantages of excess and overstatement of the advantages of eating. It says:

From eating inattention is born,
from inattention concepts are born,
from concepts desirous attachment is born,
desirous attachment dulls the mind,
Through dullness attachment to being is born–
and you will not break free from samsara.

In the same sutra, eating meat is also rejected with reference to unpleasant effects on future lives:

Killing beings for profit's sake,
trading possessions to purchase meat–
those with the karma of these two evils
wail and lament as they fall after death.

There may be no sense of causing to kill–
still the meat is not pure in three ways,
as there's no action without a cause–28
that is why yogis give it up.

All the Buddha Bhagavans,
denounce it in all ten directions:
One devours the other, falling
among the predators after death,
always born among the lowly,
smelly ones and idiots,
frequently among the outlaws:
hunters, butchers, cannibals
and among ghosts in human form,
among the various eaters of meat: as
in the wombs of cat rakshasas.

In the Elephant and the Great Cloud,
in the Angulimala Sutra,
in the Lankavatara Sutra,
I've strongly rejected eating meat.29
buddhas, bodhisattvas and the
shravakas revile it all and
those who impudently eat meat
will always be reborn as fools.30

Before I taught you to abandon
meat that was seen, heard or suspected...31
Thinkers failing to understand this
are born in places where meat is consumed.32

The arya path of liberation
is thus veiled through the fault of attachment.
Meat, alcohol, onions and garlic cause
obstacles on the arya path.
In the future proponents of ignorance,
mitigate eating meat and claim:
" As meat is appropriate, free from evil,
the buddhas have permitted it."

Food should be viewed like medicine: accordingly
yogis well versed in the Dharma eat
the gifts from their alms-round regretful as if
it were the meat of their own dear sons.
Whoever is steeped in compassion feels
that sorrow–thus have I explained.

Others33 will always dwell in the company
of wild beast such as tigers and wolves.
Whenever meat is eaten, beings are
terrified and that is why yogis,
out of compassion do not eat it.
Eating meat lacks compassion and wisdom,34
it means turning away from freedom,35
it goes against the aryas' victory banners,36
Therefore eating meat is folly.

To be reborn in the houses of Brahmins,
or in places where yogis dwell,
in homes of families rich in wisdom–
those are results of abandoning meat.

This is written in the Lankavatara Sutra. Apparently, some people have misinterpreted this sutra to the effect that it is only directed to a certain assembly of raksha men and women and does not apply to the rest of us. However, this interpretation is quite untrustworthy. Any sensible person should be able to tell from the answers to Manjushri's questions in the Angulimala Sutra and similar quotations, whether or not such arbitrary statements and distortions of Buddha's valid words should be given credence.

Futhermore, everyone familiar with logic agrees that you would have to be someone like the great forerunners Nagarjuna and Asanga–foretold by the Buddha himself–to be able to tell definitive statements from interpretable ones by relying on the criteria of special intention, contextual necessity and contradiction with reality. It would take an expert authenticated by the Buddha himself to establish any intentions at variance with his literal statements, not some arbitrary sophist expounding all kinds of interpretations.

It is not up to us or biased scholars to settle how the Buddha's teachings should be interpreted. Otherwise one might arrive at the above conclusion that eating meat has been prohibited only for rakshas. Also, if anyone were able to interpret the Buddha's teachings correctly, there would have been no need for him to predict that Nagarjuna and Asanga in particular would elucidate his teachings correctly. The above prediction from the Lankavatara Sutra already anticipates this:

In the future proponents of ignorance
mitigate eating meat and claim:
"As meat is appropriate, free from evil,
the buddhas have permitted it."


Although it is unlikely
that Dharma talk by fishermen37 like myself
can bring about any benefit, nevertheless,
how could the words of the Tathagata
fail to bring about benefit?

—with these words of relief I shall sit back for a moment now that the main body of this text is completed.

I would like to add a point His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, made at the Kalachakra initiation in Mundgod suggesting that in the past, at the time of the Great Dharma kings of Tibet, eating meat was also rejected. He said the old edicts of the Dharma kings were quite clear on this: "The monks shall learn the behaviour of the pundits and the great abbot (Shantarakshita): drinking alcohol, eating meat and the like are inappropriate."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said: "None of the visitors coming to Bodhgaya from all over the world offer alcohol and meat, it is only the Tibetan pilgrims that spread out their pieces of meat and liquor saying 'we are doing our offering ceremony'—I do not think this is nice, I have often said that. I also do not like the fact that during the big assemblies at the major monasteries platters full of meat are set up with the words 'we have performed an offering ceremony'. I have said again and again that it is better to set up substances like nectar pills, blessed water or black tea. And if some people claim that, according to anuttarayoga tantra, you have to take meat, the only reason that may be quoted in support of this claim is the statement about the acceptance of the five kinds of meat and the five kinds of nectar. There is no other reason. Quite apart from the fact that this refers to a very high level of realisation,38 if indeed you postulate the need for eating meat based on the statement about accepting the five kinds of meat and the five kinds of nectar, then you should be consistent and insist on the need for eating horse meat, dog meat as well as human flesh, drinking urine and eating feces."39

At the time I noted down the Dalai Lama’s words precisely: Once we accept the statement about the five kinds of meat and nectar, the claim that we must eat meat would clearly and logically imply that we must eat dog meat and human flesh, too.

The main point of the sutras quoted here is to demonstrate that the Buddhist Dharma is a teaching of non-violence. As this fundamental principle, i.e. not to harm, constitutes the core and root of the Buddhist teachings, it is important to apply and implement it. It is good to rely on statements by the Buddha when it comes to deciding what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Is the main point of the teaching of non-harmfulness not lost, if you try and substantiate your own desires with tortuous arguments, carelessly eating the meat of killed animals?

The Buddha drew a distinction between actions that are "unwholesome by nature" and actions that are "unwholesome because of vows". As far as the latter are concerned he made certain modifications taking differences in time and place into account. For instance, he rejected daily baths for monks in some countries, but permitted them in hot countries. Likewise, he generally prohibited touching women under the influence of attachment, making nevertheless clear that, under a number of circumstances, it would be correct and necessary to touch them—for instance when a woman is in danger of drowning and has to be pulled out of the water. While allowing for such modifications considering a given situation in the context of actions "unwholesome because of vows", there was no way a licence for actions "unwholesome by nature" such as killing and stealing could be given. The latter are harmful actions regardless of time and space and even a buddha cannot change harmful karma into wholesome karma. The aspect of non-violence in the teachings of the Buddha is demonstrated by the unanimous rejection of harmful actions such as killing, stealing and the like in all the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana scriptures and therefore I rejoice in the fact that all the successors of the Buddha in the traditions of Hinayana and Mahayana, of Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu and Nyingma continue to explain and practice this teaching in accordance with the fundamental idea of non-harmfulness.

Thus I have scooped a jug of the nectar of Buddha's words from the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, from the Angulimala Sutra and other scriptures, on the issue of giving up and accepting meat, without exaggeration nor understatement, and I have embellished it with the fresh white lotus flower of statements by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. May this offering, too, become a cloud of offerings that pleases the buddhas.

One's flesh and that of others are no different
But making a difference and eating it we have long roamed.40
The Buddha taught: everyone's realm is the dharmadhatu
one must not eat the meat of one's own realm.

Composed in the year 2620 after the Buddha's birth, the year 1995 according to the Western calendar, with the wish to benefit by Geshe Thubten Soepa.

Mangalam


The above booklet about eating meat was read through, cover to cover, by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He told me: "It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read". I cannot express how pleased I was at these words. I would like to complement my composition by a few questions and answers concerning the topic.


Notes

1. For example. love, compassion and non-violence. [Return to text]

2. Love, compassion and non-violence are those very roots of virtue. [Return to text]

3. With the dispositions of hearers, solitary realisers and buddhas. [Return to text]

4. A flower only found at the time a buddha is born. [Return to text]

5. Manjushri is actually asking two questions that may be paraphrased in these terms: 1) Why don't you eat meat? 2) I think the reason may be that all sentient beings have Buddha nature – it that correct?. [Return to text]

6. For example, a play with changing parts. The main emphasis is on the impermanence and instability of life with its ever-changing relationships between sentient beings, not on the illusion-like nature of life. [Return to text]

7. The line of argument here is: 1) it is inappropriate to eat one's own flesh 2) one's own flesh and that of others is the same – therefore it is also inappropriate to eat the flesh of others. [Return to text]

8. All sentient beings have the potential to get rid of suffering. This is referred to as Buddha nature. It is the foundation for all good qualities such as compassion, love, and wisdom. [Return to text]

9. Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha) is attained by the power of reality. It stems from the mental continuum which goes on from one life to the next and constitutes the seed of unpolluted wisdom. [Return to text]

10. This second reason may be framed as a short dialogue: Q: Why don't you eat your own flesh? A: Because it hurts. Q: If so, is it not the case that it will hurt other sentient beings, if you eat their flesh? A: Yes, it would. Q: Then how can it be proper to eat someone else's flesh? [Return to text]

11. The dharmadhatu is the ultimate nature of mind, which is purity. The minds of buddhas and all sentient beings have this quality of natural purity. As all beings partake of this ultimate purity of mind, they all have the capacity to attain buddhahood. [Return to text]

12. Important monastic disciple of the Buddha, arhat of the Abhidharma tradition. [Return to text]

13. A kind of cannibal or blood-thirsty creature. [Return to text]

14. For example, a body which–unlike that of sentient beings–is not the result of afflictions and karma. [Return to text]

15. The concentration of the deep, calm ocean is one of 400 concentrations described in that sutra. Someone who has attained this level of concentration is able to engage in activities curbing the consumption of meat and alcohol. For the benefit of beings they will send out emanations discouraging others from killing animals, eating meat and drinking. [Return to text]

16. Followers of certain non-Buddhist philosophies. [Return to text]

17. In case one has seen or heard that the creature was killed to be eaten or if one suspects this to be the case. [Return to text]

18. The opposite of the above three aspects. [Return to text]

19. Without harm to oneself or others, which–in this case–implies that the animal has not been killed to be eaten and that its meat has no deleterious effects (on one's health). [Return to text]

20. Devadatta stipulated that 1) milk, 2) meat, and 3) salt should not be eaten, that 4) monastic robes should not be patched together from bits and pieces and that 5) monasteries should not be located in remote places but close to lay communities. Generally speaking, Buddhists do not accept these rules as valid. [Return to text]

21. Spiritual practitioner, especially one having taken monastic vows. [Return to text]

22. Although bees are only killed accidentally in the process of getting at their honey, honey is usually included in lists of unwholesome animal products as it is the result of stealing something very precious from animals. [Return to text]

23. For example, not killed for the purpose of using its parts. [Return to text]

24. According to the rules of monastic discipline bhikshus are not allowed to cultivate crops. [Return to text]

25. Buddhist householder without monastic vows. [Return to text]

26. What was left out concerns the avoidance of onions and garlic. [Return to text]

27. The Tibetan sutra text reads chang which is barley beer, but also alcohol in general. [Return to text]

28. That is the meat does not go on sale without causes, i.e. without an animal being killed. That should be clear to the buyer. [Return to text]

29. In other words: the Buddha rejected eating meat before in the Elephant Sutra, the Great Cloud (Mahamegha) Sutra, as well as the Angulimala Sutra. On this occasion in the Lankavatara Sutra he is rejecting it yet again. [Return to text]

30. To be more precise: such a person accumulates the causes for being reborn as a fool in the future. [Return to text]

31. To have been obtained by means of killing animals. [Return to text]

32. Not only will they be reborn in a country where meat is consume–they do not avoid eating meat and will therefore be reborn as beings eating meat. [Return to text]

33. Other meat eaters. [Return to text]

34. For example, eating meat causes compassion and wisdom to decrease or degenerate. [Return to text]

35. Meaning the path to liberation will take longer. [Return to text]

36. Meaning the robes of ordination. [Return to text]

37. Fishermen kill animals for a living and are not in a very good position to teach anyone about the holy Dharma–neither am I. [Return to text]

38. In fact the ability to transmute them. [Return to text]

39. That is what the five kinds also refer to. [Return to text]

40. We have long been caught in samsara and failed to break free from it. [Return to text]

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

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

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

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

Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfection of Giving

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

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

Perfection of Morality

The perfection of morality has three aspects:

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

Perfection of Patience

There are three types of patience:

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

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

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

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

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

Perfection of Energy

This means energy for Dharma. There are three kinds:

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

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

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

The Perfections of Concentration and Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are five successive paths on which a bodhisattva develops:

  1. The path of accumulation (sambharamarga)
  2. The path of training or preparation (prayogamarga)
  3. The path of seeing (darshanamarga)
  4. The path of intense contemplation (bhavanamarga)
  5. The path of liberation or no more training(vimuktimarga)

When bodhicitta has been developed until it is natural and intrinsic, the bodhisattva has completely obtained the sambharamarga (which has lower levels before this point). Then many spiritual powers (rddhi) are attained, such as psychic power (mahabhijna), which enables the bodhisattva to know other people's thoughts, to know the past and future events of other beings' lives, to fly, to have multiple bodies, and so forth. A bodhisattva does not concentrate on these techniques specially to get a particular power; these powers come naturally. But the bodhisattva is able to put them to good use because these powers aid greatly in seeing the karma, spiritual development and potentialities of other beings, and whether or not they are in a state where they can be helped escape from samsara. The bodhisattva can see at which place beings can receive teachings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the various buddha-fields. 14 Many other virtues also accrue to the bodhisattva.

At this point the most important thing for the bodhisattvas is to meditate on emptiness, which is still not perceived clearly. When emptiness becomes clearer the second path, the path of training, is attained; this stage immediately precedes becoming an arya-bodhisattva.

Then, after much meditation, the feeling arises within the bodhisattva that the mind that meditates and emptiness are one, like water poured into water; (this feeling, though, is deceptive). This signifies the attainment of the path of seeing and the becoming of an arya-bodhisattva. Although the arya-bodhisattva still retains old karma as well as some defilements, no new karma is produced from this level of attainment onwards, and there is a great increase in psychic powers. For instance, the arya-bodhisattva begins obtaining the power to eradicate past karma and even deeper defilements. Because there are many different layers of avarana, they have to be removed one by one; as the psychic powers grow stronger, the bodhisattva can remove more and more layers.

Due to the first direct perception of emptiness on the path of seeing, the bodhisattva removes the first layer of obscuration of defilements (kleshavarana). The bodhisattva now has greater wisdom because there are fewer layers of defilements covering or hiding reality. On the first two paths, the obscurations are suppressed but are not truly eradicated and therefore they can still rise again. But on the path of seeing, one layer is actually removed forever. In all, there are ten layers of defilement-obscurations; they are like ten cloths which hide reality and have to be peeled or washed away. The practitioner removes the veils covering reality in the same way that one washes clothes, by using the strength of washing soap appropriate to the amount of dirt.

There are ten levels 15 of arya-bodhisattva:

  1. The joyous (pramudita)
  2. The stainless (vimala)
  3. The light-maker (prabhakari)
  4. The radiant (arcishmati)
  5. The very hard to conquer (sudurjaya)
  6. The turning-toward (abhimukhi)
  7. The far-going (durangama)
  8. The unshakable (acala)
  9. The good mind (sadhumati)
  10. The cloud of dharma (dharmamegha)

"The joyous" level, pramudita, is reached on the path of seeing, and all the other nine on the path of intense contemplation. At each of the ten levels, the bodhisattva has increasingly greater virtue and has overcome more defilements. In several scriptures, the amount of increase in virtue is given for each level; at some levels the virtues are innumerable. All these levels are a connected stream. One layer of defilement-obscuration is removed at each of the first seven levels; at the eighth, "The unshakable," the remaining three are removed so that the bodhisattva is then free entirely from kleshavarana. With respect to the removal of defilements, the bodhisattva is equal with the lower arhats, but in terms of the virtue amassed through such practice, the bodhisattva is much higher. These defilements are all removed by meditation on emptiness; at the level of the unshakable there is particularly strong growth in the strength of this meditation on emptiness.

At the ninth level, "The good mind," the bodhisattva begins at last to remove the wisdom-obscuration— jneyavarana. This is very subtle and difficult to perceive. If we put some garlic or onion into a pot and then remove it, the smell still remains. In the same way, although the defilement has gone, this obscuration still remains. At the level of "good mind," the bodhisattva is out of samsara but the wisdom is not quite perfect. At this point the bodhisattva can recognize and begin to remove the only remaining factor obscuring reality: the wisdom-obscuration, Without the removal of the wisdom-obscuration, the bodhisattva cannot help beings to the extent that a fully enlightened buddha can. The degree to which we can help others depends on the depth of our own wisdom.

While defilement-obscuration is like a cut that gives pain, the wisdom-obscuration is like the painless scar that remains when the cut has healed but not finally disappeared. "The cloud of dharma" is the level immediately before buddhahood, on which the last traces of the wisdom-obscuration are taken away. The removal of obscurations is like removing increasingly fine and wispy veils. The development of greater spiritual power is like having stronger and stronger binoculars to see more and more clearly. At the buddha stage, all obscurations are gone. Even a small part of a buddha's mind can see all things clearly at the same time. If there is even a tiny cloud in the sky there is still a small shadow on the earth, but when this cloud has disappeared the sun can shine everywhere. At the level called "The cloud of dharma," the bodhisattva meditates on emptiness with perfect concentration. Although emptiness can be seen clearly and completely, the tenth level bodhisattva cannot perceive both emptiness and phenomena simultaneously; a buddha, however, can see both at the same time. Things are empty of independent self- existence, but they themselves are not emptiness. The moment this final trace of the wisdom-obscuration disappears, phenomenal existence and emptiness suddenly appear together. At this moment a buddha can see phenomenality and emptiness simultaneously, not only with eye-perception, but also with the other sense-perceptions. At the time of becoming a buddha, not only is knowledge of the deepest nature of everything attained, but also the final virtues of body—such as easily multiplying the body an infinite number of times—and speech—such as being able to give teachings to any being without difficulty.

The virtue of a buddha's speech is unlimited. If, for instance, a thousand people each ask a different question in a different language at the same time, a buddha, by saying just one word, can answer all their questions immediately. We do not have the inner power to do this kind of action because of our avaranas. In all, there are sixty-four virtues of a buddha's speech: sweetness, softness, an attraction that makes people want to listen, a quality that gives a feeling of peace to those who hear it, and so forth. The different virtues of the body, speech and mind of a buddha can be found throughout many different sutras, and are presented collectively in a work by Lama Tsongkhapa. 16

There are one hundred and twelve different virtues of a buddha's body. The duty of a buddha is to help sentient beings; if it is helpful, in one second he can multiply himself as many times as there are beings, or can manifest as any kind of being or object such as trees, water, and so on. The buddha performs this type of miraculous action always and only to help beings find release from samsara.

To receive such help, we must also contact the buddha from our own side. At night, when the moon is shining on the surface of a lake that is clear and smooth, the light can shine on all parts of it, but if the surface is disturbed or overgrown the moon cannot penetrate or be reflected; when it is smooth and clear, the moon is reflected clearly in it, the reflection being just like the moon in the sky. In the same way, the buddha's help goes out to all beings equally; it is the beings' receptivity that varies. We must, for our part, make contact with the buddha; if it were not necessary for us to act from our own side, the buddha would have already taken us all out of samsara. A buddha has the ultimate mahakarunika, so he would not leave beings in suffering if by his own efforts alone he were able to take them out of it. If you clap your left hand with your right, your left hand must be there to receive the blow, otherwise there is no sound.

Once all coverings are removed and the power of the virtue that has been built up is at its full height, there is nothing we cannot do. We can multiply our bodies infinitely and can give teachings on all levels, from the beginning of the path to the goal; the virtue of a buddha's mind is that even a small part of it knows the reality of everything. This buddha stage is the effect of many causes, achieved through an enormous amount of Dharma practice.

After the historical buddha, Shakyamuni, had finished his teaching on earth, all the beings there at the time who had the karma to see and hear him had done so, and so he went to continue his work in other realms. Although this form has disappeared, he can still help beings in other forms. Buddhas can take ordinary forms such as a friend, guru and so forth.

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

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

Yana 11 is not the carrier or what is carried—it is the carrying. Thus Hinayana means "carrying the smaller load," and Mahayana, "carrying the great load."

Hinayana practitioners are those who find samsara unbearable and want to escape from it into the state of nirvana. They help others enormously by renouncing the world and striving to obtain freedom, but their main thought is personal liberation from samsara. An arhat—one who has completed this path of personal liberation—has many spiritual powers, and can give spiritual teaching and aid to many beings, but still has to remove jneyavarana. The attainment of nirvana will prove not to be sufficient and the arhat will then have to enter the bodhisattva path and progress through the ten levels to the final, complete buddhahood.

Those who practise Mahayana also renounce samsara and want to escape from it. But because they identify with all other beings in samsara, Mahayanists do not want merely personal liberation. Through their great concern for others, Mahayanists' all-motivating wish is to give complete happiness to all beings. They understand first that all beings in samsara—insects, devas and the rest—are equal in that they all want happiness and do not want suffering. They also perceive that none of these beings has the satisfaction of complete happiness. For this reason, they develop the great wish to take all beings out of suffering. This wish, which is also a kind of caitta, is called mahakarunika, "the great compassionate one." Mahayana practitioners realize that all beings in samsara, though they may have transitory happiness, do not have true, lasting, happiness.

The next wish, that of giving all beings the ultimate happiness of buddhahood is called mahamaitreya, "the great wish of active love." These wishes are stronger than the dissatisfaction of the Hinayana follower. Before this stage of aspiration is reached, there are many other practices that have to be developed so that Mahayanists can fully realize the suffering of beings.

At first they want to bring all beings to enlightenment without any help. This is called adicinta, "the first thought." Then, when they examine themselves to see if they have enough power to do so alone, they find that the same defilements that other beings have exist within themselves as well. Thus they try to find who does have the power to help others in this way. Through this they find that only a buddha can do so, and develop the wish to reach the buddha stage quickly. This is bodhicitta 12, "the mind dedicated to enlightenment."

When one has practised this a great deal, mahakarunika, mahamaitreya, adicinta and bodhicitta become part of the person's very nature. At this point the practitioner becomes a bodhisattva, though not yet an arya-bodhisattva—a very advanced bodhisattva, who has seen emptiness clearly. When the practitioner reaches the high state of a bodhisattva, all the devas pay respect. Once bodhicitta has arisen, the seed of Dharma will continue to grow whether the person is awake or asleep, and even very harmful karma can be prevented from ripening.

Usually, people can remove mental defilements only by meditation on emptiness. Bodhicitta makes meditation on emptiness much more powerful. When a soldier is fighting an enemy he needs to use his weapon, but he also needs to have good food; bodhicitta is like this food.

To reach the final goal we need two instruments: prajna (wisdom), and upaya (right means), which contains both compassion and compassionate activity. 13 Mahakarunika, mahamaitreya, adicinta and bodhicitta are all included in upaya. Prajna is seeing things as they really are. A bodhisattva must have both of these. Arhats, who have completed the Hinayana path, are out of samsara and have attained the lowest level of nirvana, are strong in prajna—in the realization of emptiness—but weak in upaya. They have compassion (karuna), but not the great compassion of mahakarunika. They have active love (maitri), but not mahamaitreya. The main difference between their path and that of the Mahayana is on the side of upaya. Eventually, arhats will have to develop it.

Pandit Shantideva, in his Bodhicaryavatara, mentioned all the different virtues of bodhicitta, for those interested in knowing more about the mind dedicated to enlightenment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffering

The countless kinds of suffering can be divided into three:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cause of Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • I am my own lord and my own enemy.

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

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

Karma (action)

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

Unskilful karma of body

Killing

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

Stealing

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

Sexual misconduct

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

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

Unskilful karma of speech

Lying

Lying includes anything spoken with the intention of deceiving others, with selfish motivation.

Slander

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

Harsh words

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

Irresponsible talk

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

Unskilful karma of mind

Greed

This term refers not to desire for beneficial things such as knowledge or wisdom, but to the insatiable desire for illusory possessions and sensory experiences. Greed is seen in the poor person who sees big, shiny cars and expensive possessions, and is always running after them, or in the rich person who is surrounded by possessions yet wants even more. Greed is born from desire. Other unskilful actions of body and speech, such as stealing, cheating, and so forth result from the mental action of greed.

Malice

This wish to harm others includes taking pleasure in their misfortunes. It can apply to all categories of life, from nations to small insects. At first glance this action of mind may appear more harmful than greed, but in fact greed is more harmful because it does not apply to just a single situation; greed is persistent and brings no satisfaction.

Wrong views

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

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

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

Fruition of karma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klesha (mental defilement)

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

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

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

Desire

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

Aversion

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

Ignorance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignorance regarding the ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways of looking at the ego:

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

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

Ignorance regarding outer phenomena

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

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

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

Part One: Introduction

MOTIVATION

I personally feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to teach the Heart Sutra, otherwise known as the Perfection of Wisdom or the Wisdom Gone Beyond. I also feel that you, too, as participants in this teaching, are very fortunate.

Why should we feel fortunate to be able to participate in this teaching? Firstly, this human life is extremely precious and very hard to achieve. Secondly, it is very rare that a buddha, an enlightened being, manifests as an emanation body in our world. Lastly, it is very difficult to come into contact with the Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle, teaching of Buddhism. Even though it is only under exceptional circumstances that all these factors come together, somehow we have been able to achieve it. We have this wonderful life with all its freedoms and potential for liberation and we also have the opportunity to follow the Greater Vehicle teaching of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.

The Heart Sutra is special because by putting its teaching into practice it is possible for us to attain liberation from samsara, the cycle of existence, and to become enlightened within our own lifetime. Even though this is a short sutra, its meaning is extremely profound and we find a wealth of information within just a couple of pages. Take the time to reflect upon and contemplate the meaning. When we recite the HeartSutra, we shouldn't rush our recitation as if skating on ice. Instead, we should try to understand what each word means and should not be afraid to ask those who know more than we do when our understanding fails us.

We will not gain much from the teachings if we listen with the sense of being coerced by some external force or authority. Only if we listen with our own inner spiritual enthusiasm can we listen fully. This enthusiasm flows from our understanding of the true value of the Dharma. When we ask, from the depths of our minds and hearts, what it is that we are truly seeking, then we can begin to realize the enormous value of spiritual practice in our present and future lives. Remember that meditation practice is far more important than simply reading Dharma texts. We shouldn't spend too much time reading books, but should try to meditate as much as possible so that we can internalize and actualize the meaning of the teaching within our mind-stream. It is primarily through meditation that deep experiences and realizations come. A poor person doesn't gain much simply by knowing how much a rich person owns. In the same way, an intellectual understanding of emptiness does not benefit us much if we don't put it into practice and meditate on it.

Let us cultivate our altruistic intention, seeking enlightenment for the sake of liberating all sentient beings, who pervade limitless space. It is with this kind of motivation, the motivation of bodhicitta, that we should participate in this teaching.

OUR BUDDHA NATURE

We have within us two types of buddha nature, or buddha lineage- our "naturally abiding buddha nature" and our "developable buddha nature." The naturally abiding buddha nature refers to the emptiness of our mind. As we engage in Dharma practice, we purify our negativities and accumulate wisdom and positive energy. It is through this practice that each of us can become a buddha. It is the emptiness of our infinite, all-knowing, or omniscient, mind that becomes the natural truth body of a buddha. This occurs when our mind is completely pure, free from defilements such as anger and pride and even of the imprints, or seeds, of those defilements.

Our developable buddha nature is the infinite potential of our mind to grow and develop spiritually through listening to, contemplating and meditating on the teachings. When our mind is completely free of the two obscurations-the obscurations to liberation (deluded emotions, such as anger and desire) and the obscurations to knowledge (ignorance born from dualistic perceptions)-it transforms into the all-knowing mind of a buddha.

BACKGROUND TO THE HEART SUTRA

Shakyamuni Buddha was born in India over two thousand five hundred years ago. After generating bodhicitta-the altruistic mind of enlightenment-for three countless aeons, he then thoroughly perfected the two types of accumulation that constitute the fruition of the entire Mahayana path, the accumulations of merit, or positive energy, and wisdom, or insight. Eventually, he became an enlightened being-a fully awakened person.

Buddha performed twelve great deeds, but the most important deed of them all was turning the wheel of Dharma. Buddha gave the three great discourses that are known as the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma. The first wheel was turned in Sarnath and concerned the Four Noble Truths (aryasatyas). This teaching was primarily aimed at those who have the mental dispositions of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, practitioner. The third turning of the wheel was at Shravasti and concerned the characteristics of buddha nature.

It was on Vulture's Peak, a mountain near Rajgir in the present day state of Bihar, where Buddha turned the second wheel of Dharma. His discourse concerned the Wisdom Gone Beyond (Prajnaparamita) sutras, which include the HeartSutra. Sutras and treatises deal with two types of subject matter-emptiness and the various levels of realization. The Heart Sutra explicitly presents emptiness as its subject matter and implicitly presents "the hidden levels of realization." The Heart Sutra is one of the most important of the Mahayana Prajnaparamita sutras. It is in the form of a dialogue between Shariputra, one of the Buddha's two closest disciples, and the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The most extensive version of the Prajnaparamita sutras contains one hundred thousand verses; another contains twenty-five thousand verses, and there's also an abbreviated version eight thousand verses long. But the most concise version of the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutras is the Heart Sutra, which contains the innermost essence of them all.

RECORDING THE SUTRAS

The sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha were not written down during his lifetime. However, when Buddha passed into parinirvana, final nirvana, there were many highly realized arhats and bodhisattvas who had great powers of mental retention, and they recorded everything the Buddha had taught about the Wisdom Gone Beyond.

Buddha passed into parinirvana, the state of solitary peace, during a spring full moon, on the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar. It was later, during a summer retreat, that the great council was held, where as many as five hundred arhats assembled together to write down Buddha's teachings. During the great council, the three master narrators of Buddha's works collected all of the teachings together. They are now found in the three divisions of the Buddhist canon, called the Three Baskets (Tripitaka). Mahakashyapa recalled all Buddha's teachings on higher knowledge (abhidharma). Then Upali narrated all the teachings given by Buddha on moral, or ethical, discipline (vinaya). Finally, Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant, recalled and narrated all Buddha's teachings on the discourses (sutras).

When they had gathered for the great council, all the arhats folded their yellow robes (chö-gö) together and placed them one on top of the other to make a throne. The principal narrators sat on this throne of robes and recalled all the teachings given by Buddha. When it was Ananda's turn to sit upon the throne, he faced in the direction where Buddha had taught the Prajnaparamita and the other sutras. He remembered Buddha so deeply that he wept as he began to narrate the sutras. Thus, when you read the words at the beginning of sutras such as the Heart Sutra, in "Thus I have heard...," the "I" refers to Ananda.

THE MEANING OF THE TITLE

In Sanskrit, the Heart Sutra is called Bhagavati Prajnaparamitahrdayam. The Tibetans retained Sanskrit titles in their translations for two reasons. Firstly, it is believed the buddhas of the past, present and future give their teachings in Sanskrit, so by reading the title in Sanskrit, we plant the seeds of the source language of Dharma in our minds. The second reason is to help us remember the great kindness of the lotsawas, whose name comes from the Sanskrit term meaning, "eye of the world"-the great translators who originally translated this and other sutras from Sanskrit into Tibetan.

In order to understand the meaning of the Sanskrit title it is also helpful to know the Tibetan translation: Chom-den-de-ma she-rab kyi pa-rol-tu chin-pay nying-po. This line is actually an extremely concise statement of the doctrine of emptiness. It is regarded as the heart essence of the vast Prajnaparamita literature. Chom-den-de-ma relates to the word bhagavati in the title. Chom literally means "to destroy"; den means "to be in possession of remarkable qualities and realizations"; and de means "to go beyond." The Tibetan suffix -ma also relates to bhagavati and denotes that of the two aspects of Buddha's teaching, method (upaya) and wisdom (jnana), the Heart Sutra belongs to the mother-like, wisdom aspect.

The first part of the title signifies the state of nirvana beyond the two types of obscuration, which I mentioned before. Prajna means "wisdom" and paramita means "perfection" or "gone beyond." Thus Bhagavati Prajnaparamita can be translated as "the possession of the wisdom gone beyond." The Sanskrit word hrdayam relates to the Tibetan nying-po, which means "essence," translated here as "heart." So, the meaning of the title suggests that this sutra is the heart of all other Wisdom Gone Beyondsutras.

THE WISDOM THAT PERCEIVES EMPTINESS

There are many kinds of wisdom but the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutra refers to the essential wisdom. This wisdom perceives the emptiness of true existence and thus the ultimate nature of all phenomena. It is with this wisdom that we can transcend ordinary levels of reality. Some other forms of wisdom include that arising from listening to teachings, the wisdom that arises from contemplating the teachings and the wisdom that arises from meditating on the teachings. These wisdoms can themselves be divided even further, but they are all only complementary or auxiliary wisdoms to help us generate and cultivate the wisdom that perceives the emptiness of true existence. Buddha said that it is because sentient beings have not realized that emptiness is the true nature of phenomena that they wander in the various states of cyclic existence. It is our delusions, particularly our ignorance, that keep us here in samsara.

The root of all ignorance is our continual grasping at a self and it is this grasping that perpetuates our suffering. The wisdom that perceives emptiness is the direct antidote to this self-grasping and, as such, is essential in order for us to become liberated from the compulsive cycles of existence. Once we directly and nakedly realize the final and ultimate mode of existence of phenomena, we case to create new causes to return to samsara.

The great Indian master, Aryadeva, in his treatise the Four Hundred Stanzas, clearly stated that even if one is not able to gain direct insight into the emptiness of all phenomena, merely by developing some positive doubt about the nature of reality, one can create a state of mind so powerful that it can shatter samsara. At the very least, if we think about and meditate on the meaning of emptiness every day, it will be of tremendous help in our spiritual growth. So, the Wisdom Gone Beyond refers to the wisdom that perceives emptiness, which itself is the very heart of wisdom.

INTRODUCTION TO EMPTINESS

This teaching focuses on the profound view of emptiness (shunyata), which we find in the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutras. This kind of teaching is meant for both those who have not yet realized the emptiness of true existence and those who have, to help them further their understanding. It is difficult to fully understand emptiness, but we must make every effort to do so. It is only through gaining this understanding and experience that we can liberate ourselves from the suffering of samsara, particularly the suffering of the three bad migrations, the unfortunate realms of rebirth.

If anyone thinks that by merely reciting a mantra they can liberate themselves from samsara, they are very mistaken. Likewise, simply cultivating great love, compassion and bodhicitta is not enough to completely remove delusion. Certainly, by reciting mantras and cultivating bodhicitta we can temporarily overcome manifest forms of delusion, but in order to eradicate delusion entirely, we must realize emptiness.

The way to generate an unmistakable understanding of emptiness in our own mind is by studying and listening to teachings on emptiness from qualified spiritual masters. However, the text states that emptiness is beyond words, expression or thought. How can we study something that is beyond words, expression or thought? What this statement means is that emptiness cannot be explained or even talked about without taking into consideration conventional phenomena as a basis or reference. There is no way to speak about emptiness directly, so we speak about it through its relation to certain phenomena.

Emptiness cannot be taught in the way that it exists for aryas in a state of meditative equipoise. Even they themselves cannot explain their experience to others. In the Sutra of the Ten Spiritual Grounds of Bodhisattva Realization (Dashabhumisutra), it is written that when aryas watch a bird fly they can see and understand the trail that it leaves in the sky. Most people can see only the bird, but aryas can somehow see the path that the bird is following. Similarly, aryas can see the trail-like emptiness of all phenomena.

We cannot deal with emptiness in isolation. We have to talk about the basis upon which emptiness is established. For example, a wave is empty of true existence. When we focus our mind on the wave we see that the wave and the ocean cannot be differentiated. We see that they are dependent upon one another. The wave has no truly separate existence. In the same way, the experience of emptiness is non-dual, and in this state of non-duality our mind does not see the wave, only its emptiness. The wave then becomes the basis upon which emptiness as its ultimate characteristic is established.

Everything exists dependently upon everything else. Nothing exists independently in and of itself. Therefore, everything is empty of inherent existence. Every phenomenon is empty of true existence, therefore emptiness is the ultimate nature of everything that exists.

Emptiness is a characteristic that all phenomena share. Like the wave, the self, or "I," is also a basis, and emptiness is its characteristic. Emptiness is a very profound reality. We can understand this from the life story of the great master Lama Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug school of Buddhism. When he was in Central Tibet, he was deeply involved in intensive meditation. I mentioned before how once, while meditating on emptiness in the assembly of monks he was so absorbed that he didn't notice the other monks leave the assembly hall. I also explained how Lama Tsongkhapa reached such a high level of attainment that he was able to meet with the tantric deity of wisdom, Manjushri, and receive teachings directly from him. Remember how Manjushri informed Lama Tsongkhapa that he had not yet fully realized emptiness and that in order to do so he needed to accumulate more positive energy, so Lama Tsongkhapa went into retreat at Wölka and practiced intensive purification and accumulation, doing innumerable prostrations and mandala offerings.

Realizing emptiness is no easy task. Even if we spend our entire life practicing meditation and reciting mantras, if we do not understand emptiness we cannot be liberated. We must realize that all the suffering we experience comes from the delusions in our minds. To cut through these delusions, we need the weapon of the wisdom that perceives emptiness.

Lama Tsongkhapa has stated that when we have made ourselves suitable recipients through cultivating the common paths or practices, we will be able to enter confidently into the tantric vehicle-the point of entry for the achievement of enlightenment. Before we receive a tantric empowerment, there are three conditions that are required of us. First, we must have the sincere wish to be liberated. Second, we must have generated the altruistic mind of enlightenment. And third, we must have the wisdom that perceives emptiness.

Part Two: The Meaning of the Text

THE QUALITIES OF THE TEACHER

"Thus I have heard. At one time the Lord was sitting on Vulture's Peak near the city of Rajgir."

It was out of Buddha's own deep experiences and realizations and his infinite compassion for all sentient beings that he gave his teachings. Buddha is an incomparable master. His body, speech and mind are completely pure of defilements and even the imprints of defilements. His body, speech and mind are the result of completion and perfection in the process of the accumulation of excellence, that is, of positive energy and wisdom. It is our knowledge of Buddha's qualities and realizations that helps us develop unshakable faith, confidence and trust in him and his abilities.

The English translation of the text refers to the Buddha as "Lord." In the original Sanskrit this word is bhagavan, but it is more profound in the Tibetan translation, chom-den-de. As we mentioned earlier, the word chom literally means "to destroy." It is saying that Buddha has destroyed all defilements and the imprints of defilements. Den means "to possess excellent qualities and realizations"; de means to "go beyond" or "transcend." What this tells us is that in his enlightenment, Buddha has transcended the two extremes, which can refer to either the two types of obscurations or the two extremes of cyclic existence and solitary peace. This is why the Buddha is called chom-den-de. He is the destroyer of defilements, the possessor of excellent qualities and one who has gone beyond ordinary levels of reality.

The honorific term bhagavan is also used to refer to other holy people, so the translators added the word de to the original Sanskrit to indicate that this wasn't just an ordinary bhagavan but a truly transcendent one.

The city name of Rajgir literally means "the king's palace." This was where King Bimbisara, one of the Buddha's great royal patrons, lived. There are two interpretations given to the origin of the name of Vulture's Peak. Some people thought that the rock formations at the site looked like a flock of vultures. Others say that when Shakyamuni Buddha was teaching the Prajnaparamita sutras, the great bodhisattvas took the form of vultures when they came to receive the teaching.

THE QUALITIES OF THE STUDENT

"He was accompanied by a large community of monks as well as a large community of bodhisattvas."

This tells us something about the excellent assembly, those who were witnesses to Buddha's teaching. This teaching was explicitly intended for bodhisattvas and those with bodhisattva inclinations, even though there were also shravakas (pious hearers) as well as ordinary monks among the gathering.

Emptiness cannot be taught to everyone, simply because not everyone has the capacity to understand it. As we find mentioned in the great Indian master Chandrakirti's work, Supplement to the Middle Way, a suitable recipient of the teaching of emptiness is someone who has already acquainted himself or herself with emptiness or teachings on emptiness and who is especially enthusiastic. There is an inner sign, an inner joy of the heart, which is sometimes expressed by tears rolling down the cheeks or by goose-bumps on the skin. Such a person has the right kind of mind to be able to comprehend the emptiness of true existence. Furthermore, based on their acquaintance with the subject of emptiness, such persons can grow spiritually to understand even deeper levels of realization.

The English translation of the text simply refers to a large community of monks and bodhisattvas. "Monk" is the common translation of the Sanskrit word bhikshu, but bhikshu can refer to people of varying levels of spiritual accomplishment. It can mean a person who has received full ordination, who relies upon the food that is given in alms and who enthusiastically engages in the practices of abandonment and meditation. There are also arya, or superior, bhikshus- those who have gained direct experience of emptiness. This third kind of bhikshu is one who is already in a state of liberation and has become an arhat-a full destroyer of delusion. The core disseminators of Buddha's teaching were this third kind of member of the community of bhikshus-bhikshus who had already attained this profound realization.

In the eight thousand verses of the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutra, we find that in the last community of monks before Buddha's death, all except one were arhats-completely free from contamination, defilement and delusion. The one exception was Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant. Fortunately, Ananda achieved arhatship shortly before the great council was held.

The text states that the Buddha was also accompanied by "a large community of bodhisattvas." The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word bodhisattva is jang-chub sem-pa." Jang literally means "pure of faults and defilements." Chub means "internally realized." Sem-pa is Tibetan for sattva. Sem means "to think" and pa means "to be brave." Taken together, the term literally translates to "hero." So a bodhisattva is a pure, realized person who thinks about the welfare of others and who works courageously towards the attainment of enlightenment for the sake of all, bravely cutting through the forces of negative actions.

Another interpretation of the word sattva is "one who is heroic, courageous and patient in contemplation of the two truths-the conventional truth and the ultimate truth." In his Abbreviated Sutra, Buddha himself explained that sattva means "one who is generous, has great wisdom, is full of energy, has entered the path of Greater Vehicle Buddhism and has put on the armor of patience and tolerance and thereby combats the defiled states of mind."

In the Tibetan text we find the phrase thab-chig-tu zhug-pa. This has been translated as "accompanied by" and refers to how people are seated or gathered together. Zhug-pa means "to sit" or "be together," while thab-chig-tumeans "a form of discipline." Thus, the termthabchig- tu zhug-pa means that the assembly was sitting together in the same disciplined state.

THE PROFOUND APPEARANCE

"On that occasion the Lord was absorbed in a particular concentration called the profound appearance."

The words "on that occasion" are not simply a casual reference to the time when this teaching was given. It means an auspicious confluence of events-a point in time when everyone's positive energy ripened and they became fully prepared to receive this teaching.

"Profound" refers to profound emptiness and "appearance" here refers to the wisdom that perceives emptiness. Therefore, Buddha was involved in single-pointed concentration on the ultimate nature of reality, which was free from both coarse and subtle forms of laxity (drowsiness) and excitement (distraction). There isn't a single moment when Buddha isn't absorbed in this kind of meditative state. Lama Tsongkhapa said that this is because Buddha is constantly aware of everything that exists. In him, mindfulness is ever-present.

However, Buddha is described as doing all sorts of other things such as eating, sleeping and so on. So, what is his state during these activities? It is said that a buddha doesn't need sleep. Nor is he ever hungry or thirsty. When a buddha appears thirsty, it is just because of the nature of our own perceptions. When Buddha went begging for alms, he wasn't really in need of food but was trying to inspire benefactors to create positive energy by giving and thus increase their own merit (punya). A buddha doesn't need to eat food because he already enjoys the food of concentration.

AVALOKITESHVARA

"Meanwhile the bodhisattva, the great being, the noble Avalokiteshvara was contemplating the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom. He came to see that the five aggregates were empty of any inherent nature of their own."

The sutras were not necessarily spoken word by word. There are different kinds of sutras-blessed sutras, permitted sutras and spoken sutras-composed of words blessed, permitted or spoken by Buddha. These three kinds of teaching are not seen as contradictory and are all considered as teachings of Buddha. The Four Noble Truths constitute actual words spoken by Buddha himself, as do most of the teachings in the Prajnaparamitasutras.

The Heart Sutra is generally considered to be a sutra presented through Buddha's permission and so it is a permitted sutra. But within the text we find passages that seem to dwell within the two other kinds, as when Buddha says, "well said, well said" to Avalokiteshvara. It is also a blessed sutra in the sense that Buddha blessed Shariputra and gave him the confidence to ask his question.

We find innumerable bodhisattvas among the ten levels of bodhisattva realization. There are the eight close bodhisattva disciples of Buddha, for example. But of them all, it is Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Manjushri who are considered to be the most important. Manjushri is the embodiment of the highest form of wisdom-that which perceives the emptiness of all phenomena. The unique quality of Vajrapani is that he is the embodiment of the enlightened power of all the buddhas.

The word "noble" used in reference to Avalokiteshvara is a translation of the Sanskrit word arya, which has often been translated as "superior" or "transcendental" being. Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of the compassion of all the buddhas, always keeps his eyes open to all sentient beings in order to liberate them from suffering and the causes of suffering and to endow them with happiness and the causes of happiness. Bodhicitta is the altruistic mind of enlightenment and the bodhicitta of Avalokiteshvara is said to be cowherd-like. Just as a cowherd doesn't rest until all the cows are safe in their shelter, so too has Avalokiteshvara promised that he will not rest until he has established all sentient beings in the mind of enlightenment. He is special because he represents compassion in its most intense and ultimate form.

Avalokiteshvara's compassion is extended infinitely to all sentient beings. To him, all are equal rather than being separated into friends, adversaries and strangers. He is able to manifest simultaneously in innumerable forms. His mind is omniscient, understanding precisely and distinctly each and every aspect of phenomena and the qualities and characteristics of the paths and grounds leading to liberation and enlightenment. The text demonstrates that Avalokiteshvara understands that the five aggregates-the principal faculties that make up a sentient being-are all empty of true existence.

SHARIPUTRA'S QUESTION

"Through the power of the Buddha, the venerable Shariputra approached the noble Avalokiteshvara and asked him, 'How should a son of the noble lineage proceed when he wants to train in the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom?'"

Thus, absorbed in meditative concentration, Shakyamuni Buddha blessed and inspired his disciple Shariputra to ask Avalokiteshvara this question; that is, how should a person who wishes to follow the Mahayana path leading to enlightenment train his or her mind? "A child of the noble lineage" means someone who has the inclination of a bodhisattva or of Mahayana Buddhism. A Mahayana practitioner with keen intelligence and sharp mental faculties realizes emptiness first and then cultivates love, compassion and bodhicitta, the altruistic mind of enlightenment. One with slightly lower faculties cultivates love, compassion and bodhicitta first, and then studies and realizes emptiness.

AVALOKITESHVARA'S S ANSWER

"The noble Avalokiteshvara replied to the venerable Shariputra, 'Whatever son or daughter of the noble lineage wants to train in the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom should consider things in the following way. First, he or she should clearly and thoroughly comprehend that the five aggregates are empty of any inherent nature of their own....'"

Avalokiteshvara's answer tells us that from the Buddhist point of view, men and women are equal in being able to follow spiritual practice and gain spiritual realizations. Furthermore, every phenomenon-the house in which we live, the environment, in fact everything around us-has two truths, conventional and ultimate. When we shift the focus to ourselves, we see that we also have conventional and ultimate aspects. Once we know about the emptiness of forms, we can apply the same reasoning to the other four aggregates that make up our psycho- physical personality-feeling, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness, which are also empty of true or inherent existence.

The crucial word here is "inherent." Of course the aggregates exist in a conventional sense but they do not exist in and of themselves. That is, they do not possess an objective existence. The line of philosophical reasoning is as follows. If a phenomenon were to exist in and of itself, it would not depend upon causes and conditions. If things did not depend upon causes and conditions, it would mean that results could occur without causes, which is impossible.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF EMPTINESS

"Form is empty but emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form and form is not other than emptiness. Similarly, feelings, discernments, formative elements and consciousness are also empty. Likewise, Shariputra, are all phenomena empty. They have no defining characteristics; they are unproduced; they do not cease; they are undefiled, yet they are not separate from defilement; they do not decrease, yet they do not increase."

In the text we find that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In other words, form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form. In his answer to Shariputra, Avalokiteshvara says that all phenomena are empty. This does not mean that nothing exists. What it does mean is that all phenomena are empty of something. That "something" is inherent, or objective, existence. The Heart Sutradoesn't explicitly mention inherent or objective existence-it simply states that "form is empty"-but this is the true meaning of emptiness.

The text describes eight characteristics of emptiness, one of these being that phenomena have no defining characteristics. What this means is that phenomena have no inherently existing defining characteristics. So, when we contemplate this section of the Heart Sutra, if we conclude that nothing is produced and nothing ceases to exist, we are mistaken. The reality of phenomena is created by our perceptions and consciousness. Phenomena do exist and we cannot deny them. It is only inherent existence that does not exist. We know this because inherent existence is not apprehended to exist by any valid perception or state of mind. It is from this point of view that we speak of the self of phenomena and the self of a person as not existing.

"They are undefiled" means that even afflictive emotions and the afflictions of delusions do not inherently exist. This is precisely the reason why we can rid ourselves of them. Everybody who is not free of defilements possesses delusions, which means that all of us are defiled. But where are these defilements? Do they have form or are they formless? If they had form it would be easy to take them out and remove them, but our defilements do not have form. We can't throw them away because they are a part of our consciousness. Yet these defilements cannot contaminate the absolute nature of our mind. If they did, then when we removed them we would also be removing our mind. Then, when we reached enlightenment, we would be without consciousness altogether.

Therefore, we must understand that our defilements and our consciousness are not inseparable. When our clothes get dirty, the dirt is not the same as the cloth. When we wash our clothes it is the dirt that comes out. Our clothes remain intact. So remember, when we get rid of defilements we are not getting rid of our mind. When we engage in the activities of accumulating positive energy and wisdom, thus purifying our defilements, what we are really doing is purifying defilements onthe mind rather than inthe mind.

In the line "yet they are not separate from defilement," we see how even the liberated side of phenomena, the freedom from defilements, does not inherently exist. Where it says "they do not decrease," we see that we have to work to develop qualities to decrease defilements or negativities. They do not diminish in and of themselves. The eight characteristics of emptiness presented here describe the "three doors to liberation." The first one presents emptiness as the door to liberation. The next five characteristics represent what we call "signlessness" (tsen-ma me-pa) as the door to liberation. The last two characteristics represent "aspirationlessness" (mön-pa me-pa) as the door to liberation.

THE FIVE BODHISATTVA PATHS

In Mahayana Buddhism, we present five progressive levels, or paths, of spiritual realization by which an aspiring bodhisattva travels towards enlightenment-the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing (insight), meditation and no more learning.

On the first two paths, those with bodhisattva inclinations are primarily engaged in listening to and contemplating the teachings on emptiness. As they progress along the paths of seeing and meditation, they begin cultivating the awareness of emptiness that arises through meditation. The obscurations to liberation and the obscurations to omniscience are the two main types of mental affliction that obstruct one's attainment of buddhahood and each of the five paths acts as an antidote to these obscurations.

The path of accumulation. Within the path of accumulation we find three levels-the great, the intermediate and the initial, or small. At first, practitioners simply listen to the teachings. They do contemplate to some degree, but mainly they just listen. On the great, or advanced, level of the path of accumulation, it is possible for certain practitioners to actually ascertain or realize emptiness, at least conceptually. It is on this path that one gains the two collections of merit (virtuous actions) and wisdom. Although one has not yet gained any real clarity in relation to emptiness, one is clearly accumulating the necessary causes for that clarity.

The path of preparation. There are four levels on this path-heat, peak, patience and supreme mundane qualities, or supreme Dharma. On these levels, practitioners comprehend emptiness conceptually. At the heat level, the meditator attains a clear conceptual awareness of emptiness within a meditative stabilization. The peak level marks a point at which the virtuous roots that have been cultivated previously will no longer decrease or be lost. At the patience level the meditator develops familiarity with the concept of emptiness and overcomes fear of it. When practitioners have reached this level and beyond, they are safe from falling into the three bad migrations, the unfortunate states of rebirth. At this stage, based upon their own valid reasoning, their conceptual understanding of emptiness is so powerful that they gain a deep understanding of the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and result. Even though they may have already-accumulated negativities, they cease to create fresh ones. At the level of supreme mundane qualities, the cognizing subject no longer appears while one is in meditative equipoise. Subject and object do appear, but the meditator no longer consciously perceives them. The path of preparation is also called the connecting path, as it connects us to the path of seeing.

The path of seeing. As one progresses on the four levels of the path of preparation, one moves onto the path of seeing. It is while the meditator is on this path that he or she directly experiences emptiness for the first time. Here, one does not create any new karmic actions to cause rebirth in samsara. There is a quote-"seeing the truth, there is no precipitation"-which means that when one sees the ultimate truth of emptiness, just as a person with good eyesight will not walk off a cliff, one does not create any new karmic action that will precipitate one to be reborn into cyclic existence. The path of seeing is the first of the ten spiritual grounds of the bodhisattva, the remaining nine of which lie within the path of meditation.

The path of meditation. On the path of meditation, when practitioners are in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness, they experience it directly, with no duality whatsoever.

The path of no more learning. This means that we literally have no more to learn. We have reached the state of perfection. We have reached enlightenment.

THE OBJECT OF NEGATION

The first thing with which we have to deal in our meditation on emptiness is identification of what is called in Buddhism "the object of negation" or "the object of refutation." The object of negation is the concept of the inherent existence of phenomena and the subsequent grasping at the existence of phenomena. As we find in the great bodhisattva Shantideva's Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life, "Without coming into contact with the inherent thing, one cannot comprehend the absence of that thing." This means that without precisely identifying and recognizing the concept that you are refuting (the object of negation), you are not going to understand emptiness. After all, emptiness is established by way of refuting something. That something is inherent existence.

The main purpose of meditating on emptiness is to be able to counteract grasping at inherent existence. This grasping is the other object of negation. If we don't understand what is being refuted, then even if we try to meditate on emptiness, our meditation will not counteract our grasping. We will be shooting an arrow without knowing where the target is.

When we talk about the object of negation we are speaking of two kinds-one that exists and one that does not. To be able to identify the two types of object of negation, we have to check our perception and the habitual way we perceive things. For example, how do we perceive the self to exist? We perceive it to exist in and of itself. This idea of the inherent existence of the self is what we call a "non-existent object of negation"; our grasping at self is an "existent object of negation." We perceive and then we grasp. We use two different methods to deal with these two types of object of negation. We use authentic scriptural quotations to deal with the object of negation that does exist and valid reasoning to deal with the one that does not. Thus, we should try to imagine how we individually perceive the self to exist and where we perceive it as existing. Once we recognize the fallibility of the idea of a self, it is easy to recognize how we grasp at other phenomena. But in order to be able to understand the nonexistence of the self, we first have to know what we mean by the term "inherent existence." What are the criteria by which we judge whether something exists inherently? First, it should exist independently; second, it should not rely upon causes and conditions. Does the self exist this way? Upon analysis we can see that it does not. The self exists dependently. It is dependent upon the collection of our five physical and mental aggregates. This is the first level of how to meditate on emptiness.

EMPTINESS OF THE AGGREGATES

"This being the case, Shariputra, in terms of emptiness there exist no forms, no feelings, no discernments, no formative elements, no consciousness..."

Remember that Avalokiteshvara is explaining how to train the mind in the perfection of wisdom. The key point is that while we are on the path of meditation, what exists for us in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness is just emptiness and nothing else. Conventional phenomena do not exist for that kind of wisdom. We do not even perceive the basis upon which emptiness is established. We perceive emptiness directly, nakedly and non-conceptually.

When one first begins to meditate on emptiness, one also perceives the conventional phenomena that are the basis upon which emptiness is established. Eventually, our perceptions become like "water poured into water"-undifferentiable from one another. We no longer experience any duality existing between our perceptions and they become of "one taste." This is why we say that all conventional phenomena have been exhausted for aryas in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness.

What Avalokiteshvara means when he says "in terms of emptiness there exist no forms" is that conventional forms do not exist in this state. It is common for people to fall into the extreme of nihilism and misinterpret this as meaning that forms do not exist at all. This is as mistaken a view as the extreme of absolutism, or eternalism. If a person is not receptive or "ripened" they can easily misconstrue the meaning of emptiness.

There is a story of a mahasiddha, a great Indian master, who took shelter from the midday heat in the carcass of an elephant. The elephant's insides had been eaten by worms and its body was empty like a cave. The mahasiddha meditated here and gained direct experience into emptiness. One day, the local king invited the mahasiddha to his palace and asked him to teach about emptiness. The mahasiddha entered a deep meditative state and started pointing at things saying, "That doesn't exist, this doesn't exist, they don't exist." He wasn't denying the existence of phenomena; what he meant was that nothing exists inherently, in and of itself. But his audience completely misunderstood him. The king became very angry and sentenced the mahasiddha to death.

Some time later, the king invited another great master to his palace. This master first spoke about basic things, such as the practice of refuge and the law of karma and its results. Eventually, he began to guide the king and his attendants into an understanding of emptiness. Because of his great merit, the king was able to gain direct insight into emptiness through these teachings. But when he entered into meditative equipoise on emptiness, he couldn't help repeating the first mahasiddha's statements, "That doesn't exist, this doesn't exist, they don't exist." It was then that he understood how truly realized the first mahasiddha had been. (Now, you might ask, if the mahasiddha was so realized why did he have to die in such a miserable way? This has something to do with the infallible law of karmic action and result. When unwanted problems come to us we must understand that this is the result of our own negative karmic actions, but we should not conclude that the practice of Dharma doesn't work.)

Just as forms do not exist for an arya's wisdom in meditative stabilization on emptiness, so the remaining aggregates-feelings, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness do not exist for such wisdom. When we read this statement we must understand that we are not denying the conventional existence of the five aggregates but just their inherent existence. We can see that the aggregates exist dependently, arising as they do from certain causes and conditions.

OBJECTS, FACULTIES AND PERCEPTIONS

"...no eyes, no ears, no noses, no tongues, no bodies, no minds; no visual forms, no sounds, no smells, no tastes, no tactile sensations, no mental objects. There exist no visual elements, no mental elements, and no elements of mental consciousness."

As you recite the Heart Sutra and come across these lines, you must understand that what is being stated here is that none of these things exist for the wisdom of an arya in a state of meditative equipoise on emptiness-especially on the path of meditation. In the Heart Sutra, we find eighteen elements of phenomena. There are six objects, six faculties and six perceptions, all of which are empty of true existence. Emptiness pervades all phenomena. For example, when we are directly perceiving the emptiness of the true existence of eyes, we are only perceiving the basis upon which the eyes exist, but not the eyes themselves.

Visual forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and mental objects are the six objects, or objective conditions, of the six faculties. The six faculties are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Visible form is an object of eye consciousness, sound is an object of ear consciousness, smell is an object of nose consciousness, taste is an object of tongue consciousness, touch is an object of tactile consciousness and thought is an object of mental consciousness. The six faculties are the basis for the arising of a particular consciousness. For example, the eyes are the basis for the consciousness that perceives visual forms.

Sometimes we speak of the twelve sources. These refer to the six objects and the six faculties combined. The twelve sources give rise to the six perceptions of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and thinking. "Source" is the English translation of the Tibetan word kyeche, meaning "that which gives rise to" and "door through which things are perceived," as well.

THE TWELVE LINKS OF DEPENDENT ARISING

"There exist no ignorance and no exhaustion of ignorance, no aging and death and no exhaustion of aging and death."

This sentence refers to the chain of twelve dependent links, or the chain of dependent origination. This describes the process by which we are continually falling into cyclic existence. This chain or sequence of events begins with 1) ignorance and follows with 2) karmic formation, 3) consciousness, 4) name and form, 5) sensory fields, 6) contact, 7) feelings, 8) attachment, 9) grasping, 10) becoming, or existence, 11) birth and 12) aging and death.

Buddha has pointed out the need for us to understand and meditate on the twelve dependent links in both sequential and reverse order. In sequential order we are seeing the afflictive side of phenomena -that which pulls us into cyclic existence, or samsara. In reverse order we see the unafflictive side of phenomena-that which liberates us from cyclic existence. Contemplating the twelve links in sequential order, we gain insight into the limitations of cyclic existence; contemplating them in reverse order, we learn how to liberate ourselves from cyclic existence.

1) Ignorance. The first link is ignorance (ma-rig-pa). Ignorance is the root cause of cyclic existence. It misperceives the self of a person and the reality of all phenomena and causes us to grasp at ego and material things. But the wisdom that perceives selflessness sees the emptiness of the self and all other phenomena. Ignorance and selflessness contradict each other. It is very important to individually focus on our own ignorant grasping at self and to know that this root delusion gives rise to all others.

All problems stem from this root-the ignorant grasping at self, or I. This is the real troublemaker in our lives. To be able to fight the tendency to grasp at a self we have to prepare our minds through study and practice of the three higher trainings-training in higher ethics, higher concentration and higher wisdom.

Training in higher ethics lays a firm, solid foundation on which to build our other practices. Monks and nuns have their own ethics to keep, but even people who haven't taken any vows should refrain from engaging in negative actions, particularly the ten negative actions.

Having laid a foundation of ethics, one can then practice in the higher training of concentration. Just as a woodcarver needs strong arms to cut wood, we need to develop the strong arm of concentration through mindfulness and introspection. Without mindfulness and introspection, our meditation will be very weak and ineffectual. Once we have cultivated concentration, we need to cultivate wisdom, particularly the wisdom perceiving emptiness. This is our superior weapon; with it we can cut through the grasping at self. It is our woodcutter's ax, with which we can chop through our dense forest of ignorance. All of our spiritual activities, no matter what they may be, should be geared towards destroying our habitual grasping at self and cultivating the wisdom perceiving emptiness so that we can experience ultimate reality.

In the pictorial representation of the wheel of life, ignorance is depicted as a blind man, walking without any guide. Such a person is always uncomfortable and confused wherever he or she goes. Ignorance prompts us to create karmic actions that then become the cause of all our problems and suffering. Just as a blind person moving towards a precipice is certain to fall, whatever actions spring from ignorance are bound to bring about problematic results. Buddha made the statement, "Because this exists, that arises." In the same way, because ignorance exists, karmic formation naturally follows.

2) Karmic formation. The second link is karmic formation (du-che kyi lä). Karmic actions arise out of ignorance and are capable of precipitating our rebirth into samsara. There are two kinds of ignorance, that pertaining to the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and result and that pertaining to the ultimate reality of phenomena. Ignorance of the law of karma motivates us to do negative, or nonmeritorious, actions. These actions ripen in cyclic existence, especially in the three unfortunate states of rebirth-the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms.

Ignorance related to misunderstanding the ultimate nature of reality can make us do karmically positive or neutral actions. Positive actions stemming from this type of ignorance can ripen within fortunate states of rebirth-in the human, demigod or deva realms. In the drawing of the wheel of life, this link is depicted as a potter rotating his wheel. It is karma that spins and molds us in cyclic existence.

3) Consciousness. The third link is consciousness (nam-she). There are two kinds of consciousness-causal and resultant. Causal consciousness exists with the performance of a karmic action. As that action- good or bad-comes to an end, it leaves an imprint on our consciousness. The consciousness that receives that imprint is the causal consciousness. Resultant consciousness is activated by an imprint, or latency, that was deposited earlier on. The consciousness that enters the womb of a mother is an example of this. It is the consciousness that arises as a result of certain karmic actions in the past.

Say, for example, that out of ignorance we kill someone and don't purify that action. The action leaves an imprint on our consciousness, which thus becomes a causal consciousness. Some day this imprint will precipitate an unfortunate rebirth; the consciousness that goes towards that conception is the resultant consciousness.

In the wheel of life, consciousness is shown as a monkey. When a monkey inside a house with windows on all four sides looks out each window it sees different views, but it is still the same monkey.

Similarly, it is our single consciousness upon which imprints of our karmic actions are deposited and then activated at different times to bring about certain results. This is how we are born into various states in cyclic existence.

4) Name and form. The fourth link is called "name and form" (mingzug). Those born from the womb (as opposed to those born through miraculous power) possess the five aggregates that constitute the psycho-physical personality. The first aggregate is "form." The remaining four-feelings, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness-are called "name" because they do not have the concrete quality of form. Form is considered to begin when the consciousness enters the womb and absorbs into the mixture of sperm and egg. In the wheel of life, the dependent link of name and form is depicted as a boat. Just as we need a boat to cross a river, in order to cross over into a physical being in cyclic existence we depend on name and form.

5) Sensory fields. The fifth link is called "origination" or "sources" (kyeche). As I mentioned before, there are twelve sense fields altogether- one for each of the six senses and one for each of the objects of the six senses, including mind. There are eye and visual forms seen, ear and sounds heard and so forth. In the wheel of life, this dependent link is represented by a fortress because our senses encompass and concretize our experience of the world.

6) Contact. The sixth link is called "contact" or "touch" (reg-pa). It refers to the interaction of an object, a sense faculty and a consciousness. Before this contact, although our faculties are fully developed, we cannot perceive anything or distinguish one thing from another. Only when there is a union of these three things can perception or discriminative awareness occur. When there is a meeting of attractive object, sense faculty and consciousness, a pleasant feeling arises. Similarly, when there is a contact of unattractive object, sense faculty and consciousness, an unpleasant feeling is experienced. In the wheel of life, contact is depicted iconographically by a man and woman in sexual union.

7) Feelings. Contact naturally gives rise to the seventh link of feeling (tsor-wa). We talk about three types of feelings-pleasant, unpleasant and neutral-all of which arise from some kind of contact. When we see something, there follows a sense of attraction or aversion and a value judgment about what we are seeing, which stimulates these feelings further. In the wheel of life, feelings are represented by a man with an arrow stuck in his eye. This describes our sensitivity and how, when feelings arise, we notice them immediately.

8) Attachment. Feelings precipitate the eighth link, attachment, craving or desire (se-pa). When we experience a pleasant feeling, we desire to not be separated from it. When we feel trapped in a problem, we experience the desire to be free from it. In our everyday life we experience all sorts of feelings. It is possible to have feelings without attachment, but the feelings we are talking about here are the kind that stem from ignorance. If we eliminate ignorance, we will experience feelings without attachment. Not surprisingly, attachment is depicted in the wheel of life as a person indulging in intoxicating liquor. In some treatises, attachment is likened to someone scratching an itchy skin irritation-it feels pleasant at first, but it is actually creating the conditions for more and more itching.

9) Grasping. Attachment gives rise to the ninth link, grasping (len-pa), which is an intensified form of attachment. There are four kinds of grasping-grasping at sense objects (forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile objects); grasping at wrong, or distorted, views; grasping at improper ethics and disciplines, seeing them as worthy; and grasping at the inherent existence of the five aggregates. In the wheel of life this dependent link is depicted as a person picking fruit.

10) Becoming, or existence. Grasping gives rise to the tenth link, becoming, or existence (si-pa). A karmic action leaves an imprint on our mental consciousness. At the time of death, that imprint is activated by craving and grasping. In this way, the karma becomes fully prepared to precipitate the next rebirth and a being about to be reborn feels a powerful attraction towards its future parents, who are about to engage in sexual union.

11) Birth. The eleventh link is rebirth (kye-wa). It occurs from this fully ripened karmic action. In Buddhism, rebirth is considered to have taken place when the consciousness enters the womb of the mother at conception and later culminates in the act of physical birth.

12) Aging and death. The final link is aging and death (ga-shi). Aging begins from the moment of conception. Death is technically defined as the complete exhaustion of the aggregates, when the life energy, or life force, comes to an end. The dependent link of birth necessarily gives rise to aging and death, and if one dies under the power of karmic actions and delusions one is necessarily born under their influence. Yet, if someone born from delusions and contaminated karmic actions becomes an arhat and attains liberation, such a person does not die under the influence of delusion, and his or her rebirth is not influenced by them.

Summary: Ignorance is the cause of all karmic formation, which gives rise to consciousness. Consciousness allows for name and form and the sensory fields, which prepare the way for contact. Contact elicits feelings that stimulate attachment and create grasping. Grasping is the condition that brings about existence, which in turn precipitates rebirth and leads to aging and death. The twelve dependent links can be brought under four headings:

  • Precipitating causes—ignorance, karmic formation and causal consciousness. These are the links that instigate our rebirth into cyclic existence. Ignorance is like a farmer, karmic formation is the seed sowed by the formation of ignorance and causal consciousness is likened to a field.
  • Accomplishing causes—craving, grasping and becoming. Just as water, manure and sunlight prepare the seed for growth, in the same way, craving, grasping and becoming activate the karmic action and prepare it to bring about its result.
  • Precipitated results—resultant consciousness, name and form, sources, contact and feelings are brought about by the accomplishing causes.
  • Accomplished result—aging and death. When we study the twelve dependent links in reverse order we are really trying to reverse the entire process. We are trying to put an end to aging and death by preventing birth and trying to put an end to ignorance, which stops the whole cycle from repeating. What uproots ignorance is the wisdom realizing emptiness, and when ignorance is eliminated, karmic formation does not arise. The whole purpose of studying and meditating on emptiness is to break this chain of twelve dependent links.

THE EMPTINESS OF SUFFERING

"In the same way there exist no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation, no path, no wisdom, no attainment and no lack of attainment."

Neither suffering, the path, attainment nor the lack of these things truly exist for an arya's wisdom in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness. Even the wisdom that realizes the Four Noble Truths does not exist for this wisdom. We must not misinterpret "no attainment" to mean that we cannot attain buddhahood or the qualities of a buddha. We can. It simply means that this attainment does not exist for an arya who is in a state of meditative stabilization because in this state he or she sees only emptiness and not conventional phenomena. There also exists no lack of attainment, so neither does failure appear for this kind of wisdom.

THE NATURE OF BODHISATTVAS

"Therefore, Shariputra, since bodhisattvas have no attainment, they depend upon and dwell in the perfection of wisdom; their minds are unobstructed and unafraid. They transcend all error and finally reach the end point: nirvana."

This passage deals with the path of meditation in general and the meditative stabilization of a bodhisattva on the final stage of the tenth ground in particular. This vajra-like state of meditation becomes an antidote to the last obstacle to enlightenment. What is meant by "they depend upon and dwell in the perfection of wisdom" is that bodhisattvas are completely free from any fabrications when absorbed in the nature of emptiness, being completely engaged in that state. When we talk about purifying negativity, we find two kinds of defilement-coarse, or gross, and subtle. Just as the coarse dirt on our clothes is easier to wash away, coarse defilements are easier to get rid of. Subtle stains penetrate our clothes more deeply and are harder to clean away; the final obscurations to omniscience, even though the smallest in magnitude, are the toughest to eradicate. We need the most powerful weapon to destroy them. This weapon is the vajra-like meditative state.

"Their minds are unobstructed and unafraid" tells us that such bodhisattvas, having trained their mind in stages, from the path of accumulation all the way up to the final stage of the tenth bodhisattva ground, have abandoned many of the obscurations along the way, including fear.

Then comes the phrase, "They transcend all error." We talk about four kinds of error, sometimes called the "four distortions"-perceiving that which is impure as pure; perceiving that which is painful as pleasurable; perceiving impermanent phenomena as permanent; and perceiving that which is selfless as having self. Bodhisattvas are free from these errors and also from the error of the two extremes-solitary peace and cyclic existence.

When we emerge from the vajra-like meditative state, we achieve the liberated path and attain the final enlightenment of buddhahood. This state is described by the Sanskrit word nirvana, which means, "beyond distress" or " beyond sorrow." These are the sorrow and distress of the solitary peace of personal liberation and the sorrow and distress of cyclic existence. Nirvana refers not just to personal liberation but to complete enlightenment as well.

Buddha's great compassion prevents him from falling into the extreme of solitary peace. If he did, he wouldn't be able to work continuously for the benefit of other beings. Like the bodhisattvas, he also has the fully developed perfection of wisdom and is thus free from cyclic existence. Foe destroyers, arhats of the Lesser Vehicle, who have liberated just themselves from samsara, are still trapped in solitary peace and, unlike bodhisattvas, cannot work for the welfare of other sentient beings.

THE UNIVERSAL PATH

"All the buddhas of the past, present and future have depended, do and will depend upon the perfection of wisdom. Thereby they became, are becoming and will become unsurpassably, perfectly and completely awakened buddhas."

From this we understand that the perfection of wisdom is the universal path trod by all the buddhas of the past, present and future. The perfection of wisdom is also referred to as the Great Mother because it gives birth to the buddhas of the three times. In both Buddha's sutras and tantras we find skillful means, or method (upaya), referred to as father-like and wisdom (jnana) as mother-like. This wisdom gives birth, metaphorically speaking, to the three different states of liberation-those of the hearers, solitary realizers and bodhisattvas.

THE MANTRA OF THE PERFECTION OF WISDOM

"Therefore, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom is a mantra of great knowledge; it is an unsurpassable mantra; it is a mantra that is comparable to the incomparable; it is a mantra that totally pacifies all suffering. It will not deceive you, therefore know it to be true!"

In both sutra and tantra, the word mantra has the same connotation -protecting the mind. Practitioners who practice mantra are protecting their minds from fears and danger. The perfection of wisdom fulfills the same purpose. It is called a mantra here because when we cultivate the wisdom gone beyond, this practice also works to protect us from fear and danger.

The perfection of wisdom is "a mantra of great knowledge" in the sense that of all the various kinds of wisdom, it is the greatest-the real antidote to ignorance. The mode of apprehension of ignorance is incompatible with the mode of apprehension of the wisdom of emptiness, which directly contradicts the grasping at self. It is "unsurpassable" inasmuch as we cannot find any other wisdom that has such power to free us from both suffering and its causes. The perfection of wisdom leads us to the non-abiding state of enlightenment, and because of this it "is comparable to the incomparable."

Another interpretation of this passage can be related to the five paths. "Therefore the mantra of the perfection of wisdom" relates to the path of accumulation; "Is a mantra of great knowledge" relates to the path of preparation; "It is an unsurpassable mantra" relates to the path of seeing; "It is a mantra that is comparable to the incomparable" relates to the path of meditation; and "It is a mantra that totally pacifies all suffering" relates to the path of no more learning, or enlightenment. The five paths of the Greater Vehicle are differentiated from one another from the point of view of wisdom, or insight, not from the point of view of method, or skillful means. The way in which everything actually exists-the ultimate nature of phenomena -is the way that it is perceived by the perfection of wisdom. It is this perception that can take us to the state of enlightenment. As we train our minds in the perfection of wisdom, we should do so together with the practices of the other five perfections, or the skillful means of method. We should not isolate wisdom from method or method from wisdom. If we do not practice the two together, we will never achieve enlightenment. The integration of method and wisdom is essential.

The importance of this was expressed well by the first Dalai Lama in his praise to Lama Tsongkhapa when he said, "Integrating method and wisdom together, you have actualized the three enlightened bodies. Most glorious spiritual master, please bless me." By practicing method and wisdom on the five paths, we can abandon all obstacles and finally reach the state of non-abiding enlightenment.

THE MEANING OF THE MANTRA

"I proclaim the mantra of the perfection of wisdom, TAYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA. Shariputra, it is in this way that the great bodhisattvas train themselves in the profound perfection of wisdom."

The Heart Sutra can be condensed from a Mantrayana or tantric Buddhist point of view into the one-line mantra, TAYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA.

The word TAYATHA means, "it is like this." GATE means "go" as an exhortation. So GATE GATE means "go, go," meaning that we should go onto the path of accumulation and then go further onto the path of preparation. PARAGATE literally means "go beyond" and PARASAMGATE means "go thoroughly beyond." It is telling us to go beyond the paths of accumulation and preparation and onto the paths of seeing and meditation towards supreme enlightenment.

The first GATE or "go" is for beginners with Mahayana inclinations, those practitioners who haven't yet entered the Mahayana path but who are cultivating compassion and the perfection of wisdom. It means go to the path of accumulation of the Greater Vehicle. When practitioners spontaneously and naturally experience bodhicitta, they have already entered the Mahayana path of accumulation.

The second GATE also means "go." When practitioners have gone to the path of accumulation they should go on to the next path, which is the path of preparation. It is on this path that practitioners can conceptually understand emptiness. Practitioners who have traversed the paths of hearers or solitary realizers may have already realized emptiness directly when they enter the path of Mahayana. When we have reached the path of preparation we should go beyond to the path of seeing. When we reach the path of seeing we are already on the first spiritual ground of bodhisattvas. We are then told to "go thoroughly beyond." We should not get stuck on the path of seeing but go higher up onto the path of meditation. BODHI is enlightenment and SVAHA means to become stabilized in the state of enlightenment. So the meaning of the entire mantra is, "It is this way: Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, go to enlightenment and become stabilized there."

CONCLUSION

"At that moment the Lord arose from his concentration and said to the noble Avalokiteshvara, 'Well said, well said. That is just how it is, my son, just how it is. The profound perfection of wisdom should be practiced exactly as you have explained it. Then the tathagatas will be truly delighted.' When the Lord had spoken these words, the venerable Shariputra and the bodhisattva, the great being, the noble Avalokiteshvara, and the entire gathering of gods, humans, asuras and gandharvas were overjoyed, and they praised what the Lord had said."

When Avalokiteshvara and Shariputra finish their dialogue, Buddha rises from his meditative state. He authenticates the words of Avalokiteshvara and congratulates him on his presentation of the perfection of wisdom. His explanation delights not only Buddha himself but all the enlightened beings of the ten directions and the buddhas of the three times. After the teaching, everybody in the gathering committed themselves to following the perfection of wisdom, while others who were not yet ready made fervent prayers that they would soon be able to do so.

Part Three: Great Compassion

The life stories of Buddha and other enlightened teachers shouldn't be regarded as just interesting tales but should be seen as practices for us to follow and paths by which we can grow spiritually. Buddha stated that compassion is the core of his teachings. This compassion should be all-pervasive and non-discriminatory. We should minimize harmful actions towards others and try to increase the scope of our compassion to bring more and more people and sentient beings into its fold. We also need to cultivate the determined wish to be liberated and develop a true aspiration for enlightenment.

It is not so hard to aspire to be liberated from the problems of cyclic existence, but we need also to have the same wish in reference to samsara's prosperity and happiness. Pain in cyclic existence does not last but neither does pleasure, so we should not cling to samsara's temporary marvels. To be true Dharma practitioners, we must consider our future lives to be more important than the present one. We should consider others to be more important than ourselves and spiritual activity to be more important than worldly activity. Of course, all these things will come to us gradually. We need to train our mind in stages before we can experience this kind of change in attitude. Remember that all good things happen to us through the kindness of others. It is only in relation to other sentient beings that we can do our practice. If sentient beings didn't exist, we couldn't practice at all or create the positive energy and positive actions through which we receive peace and happiness. Thinking in this way, we can see the kindness of all sentient beings.

As Dharma practitioners, our practice involves two things- purifying our negativities and accumulating positive energy and wisdom. You can do these things in relation to the Three Jewels, sentient beings or both. Therefore, experienced lineage masters who have deep spiritual understanding tell us that sentient beings are as kind to us as Buddha himself. This might seem inconceivable at first, but in terms of the inspiration for our practice there is little difference between them. Normally, although we may accept certain sentient beings as being kind to us, we also become selective. We exclude those who have been bad to us and include only those whom we consider worthy. But if we exclude some beings, then logically all others should be excluded as well. We must create a sense of equanimity, a balanced attitude, in relation to all sentient beings-friends, adversaries and strangers.

If we really want to work for the benefit of others, it is essential to cultivate great compassion. For those who wish to pursue the path of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, it is as important to cultivate great compassion and altruism as it is to cultivate the perfection of wisdom. It is not very difficult to generate compassion for ourselves, but it is a great deal harder to cultivate the same compassion for others. Yet this should be our goal, however hard it may be.

Part Four: Dedication

Let us dedicate our positive energy to the flourishing of Buddhadharma throughout the world.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. May his sacred mandalas of body, speech and mind be unharmed by negative intentions and actions. May he and other great masters be successful in fulfilling their dreams and visions for benefiting all sentient beings.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to all spiritual communities throughout the world, so that they may flourish in their study, contemplation and meditation.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to the elimination of the problems in our world, such as famine and war. May everyone in this and other world systems experience peace, happiness and harmony. Let us dedicate our positive energy to ourselves and to other Dharma practitioners, so that we may overcome all obstacles to spiritual development.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to ourselves and to all sentient beings, so that we can purify the obscurations to liberation and omniscience and quickly reach enlightenment.

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

PERFECT ABANDONMENT AND PERFECT REALIZATION

To become a completely enlightened person, a buddha, we must fulfill two levels of achievement-the "level of perfect abandonment" and "the level of perfect realization." In order to achieve perfect realization we need to travel the structured spiritual path. We begin by cultivating great compassion. When great compassion arises in our mind, the Mahayana seed has been activated within us. We are then able to generate the altruistic mind of enlightenment, or bodhicitta, which we can also call the bodhisattva spirit. As we progress through the five spiritual paths-the path of accumulation, the path of preparation, the path of seeing, or insight, the path of meditation and the path of no more learning-we also progress through what are known as the "ten spiritual grounds of bodhisattvas." When we complete the five paths and ten grounds, we reach the state of highest enlightenment. We keep on discarding what are known as the "objects of abandonment" along the way-the things we must get rid of in order to progress-and we continue accumulating realizations. Eventually, we will have what is known as "omniscient wisdom," the all-knowing wisdom of a buddha. That is the perfect realization.

Perfect abandonment is something we can accomplish by way of eliminating the two major mental obscurations-the obscurations to personal liberation and the obscurations to the omniscient state. We should slowly try to purify the negativities we have already accumulated and try not to create new ones. We are not able to remember our past lives but we should try to understand the existence of former lives through inference from our present one. In this life, we do not find it difficult to do the wrong things. It seems so natural and easy to engage in negativities that it's as if we are magnetically drawn to them. From this we can infer that in many previous lifetimes we created and accumulated tremendous negativities that we need to purify.

If we just keep on repeating negative actions without purifying them, after some time we might lose all hope and think that nothing can save us. It all feels too much. It seems impossible to purify our negativities and to stop creating more because it has become a way of life. Let's say we have taken out a loan. If we don't pay back anything, the interest keeps on accumulating and after some time the debt becomes totally unmanageable. The wise thing to do is to pay the loan back slowly in small installments. If we do this, then one day we will have paid back all the money we borrowed and we won't need to worry any more.

In the same way, we need to purify our old debt-like negativities and not acquire new loan-like negativities. If we don't do that, but let them go on piling up, they become so powerful, so intense and captivating, that we may lose faith in our ability to purify them. These negativities then precipitate our rebirth in any one of the three unfortunate states, where we remain for eons. It is better not to fall into that kind of state in the first place. Strive instead for perfect abandonment and perfect realization.

INTEGRATING BODHICITTA AND THE WISDOM OF EMPTINESS

If your goal is just to be liberated from cyclic existence, then the wisdom that perceives emptiness is the essential realization because that is the liberating path. If you don't have that wisdom, this cycle of compulsive rebirths will keep on spinning like a wheel and you will just keep wandering around within it. However, in order to follow the complete path that can lead to perfect abandonment and perfect realization, you have to integrate bodhicitta with the wisdom of emptiness.

Bodhicitta is even more essential than the wisdom of emptiness for reaching buddhahood. Cultivating the wisdom that realizes emptiness is certainly wonderful and powerful, but if that kind of wisdom is not integrated with the altruistic mind of enlightenment, you won't be able to fulfill the two types of collection-the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom-or to attain the two enlightened bodies-rupakaya and dharmakaya.

You must learn how to cultivate bodhicitta, the bodhisattva's attitude, and you must follow and meditate on this way. It is not enough just to pray and hope that you may some day be able to experience bodhicitta. Nor is it enough to simply recite mantras and do your daily prayers. Of course, by doing prayers, reciting mantras and making such aspirational wishes, you are no doubt creating positive energy or merit, but if you don't cultivate the techniques for actually generating bodhicitta, you will never ever experience it. If you don't have the experience of bodhicitta, you must make every effort to cultivate it, and those of you who do shouldn't just stop there-you must make every effort to enhance this mind of enlightenment further.

At the same time, you must remember that the wisdom realizing emptiness is the only antidote to all your delusions, and without getting rid of your delusions, enlightenment is just a daydream. Again, simply making prayers, reciting mantras and sitting in a beautiful posture is not going to do the job. Until you achieve the paths of the transcendental beings-the path of seeing and beyond-you cannot stop creating new karmic actions that precipitate your rebirth in cyclic existence. When you have gained direct experience and realization into emptiness, you will be able to see the law of karmic action and result as if it were functioning right under your nose.

Someone with excellent eyesight is not going to make the mistake of falling off a cliff. Likewise, when you have direct experience of and realization into emptiness, you will no longer create any new negative karmic actions that send you over the cliff's edge into bad rebirths. This is not something that you should just keep at the back of your mind. It is something that you must clearly understand and in which you must develop confidence.

In an abbreviated version of the Wisdom Gone Beyond, or the Perfection of Wisdom, we find that of the six perfections, it is the perfection of wisdom that liberates us from our delusions. If the perfection of wisdom is eliminated, the remaining five can no longer be called perfections. The other perfections of giving, ethics, enthusiastic perseverance, patience and concentration are like auxiliary practices that enable us to develop this wisdom. The perfection of wisdom is likened to someone with perfect eyesight, while the other five are compared to five blind friends. The perfection of wisdom is the guide that can lead the others to their destination.

PREPARING TO MEDITATE ON EMPTINESS

The wisdom realizing emptiness as the final mode of existence ultimately arises through meditation practice, so we need to learn the techniques of meditation. When we enter this spiritual path, it is not enough just to study and listen to teachings. It is more important to do our practices. This also includes the practice of purification and the practice of the two accumulations of merit and wisdom. To be able to meditate on emptiness, we must first study or listen to teachings on the subject. Another important part of the process is to cultivate the causes and conditions that will prepare us to be suitable practitioners of emptiness. We have already reviewed the preliminaries that are covered in Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun. In particular, there are four preliminaries that we must understand and cultivate before proceeding with our study and meditation on emptiness.

  • We should contemplate the preciousness of our human life, which is characterized by all kinds of freedoms and enriching factors.
  • We need to contemplate the inevitability of our own death and the impermanence of all phenomena.
  • We have to study the infallible law of karmic actions and their results.
  • Based upon all these contemplations, we should cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the repetitive cycles of existence.

Of these preliminaries, perhaps the most important is cultivating the determined wish to be liberated from cyclic existence. Having studied and practiced these to a certain extent, we should then focus on the practice of emptiness. We always need to reconnect to our spiritual goal; remember that the reason we are studying and trying to engage in spiritual practice is because we want to become buddhas for the sake of all other sentient beings. As we have seen, even if we have the wonderful attitudes of immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable equanimity and immeasurable joy, without the wisdom realizing emptiness, we cannot eliminate our root ignorance. Only this wisdom can cut through our innate self-grasping. Some people may think, "Maybe if I go for some profound tantric empowerments, that will do the magic for me." However, simply attending and receiving initiations is not going to do the job either. When we take empowerments we commit ourselves to certain practices and vows that we are required to keep. If we break these commitments, we will take a bad rebirth. Therefore, if we are unprepared, receiving empowerments can become an obstacle instead of a benefit.

Let's say there is a source of water but the amount of water is far greater than you need and you lay a pipeline to drain off enough for yourself. Keeping the commitments of empowerments or initiations is as important as keeping that pipeline intact. If any cracks, holes or blockages appear in the pipe-in other words, if you break your commitments -you may think that you have maintained the connection to the source, but you are not going to receive any benefits or blessings from it. These will all seep out of the cracks and holes or simply not get through at all. Although it is good to receive tantric empowerments, keeping the accompanying commitments is much more important.

OBSTACLES TO MEDITATION-LAXITY AND EXCITEMENT

There are two major obstacles to meditation-laxity, or mental dullness, and excitement, or distraction. It is very important to learn to recognize laxity and excitement in both their coarse and subtle forms. If you don't, you can end up doing the wrong kind of meditation. Many Buddhist meditators have failed to recognize subtle laxity as an obstacle and have thought their meditation to be very advanced, thus wasting a lot of time. In his lam-rim text, the Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Tsongkhapa emphasizes the importance of recognizing precisely what the subtle forms of both laxity and dullness are.

Our mind should have clarity as well as a good grip on the object of meditation. If we don't have clarity, coarse laxity sets in. Sometimes we may have good clarity but our grip, our mental hold, on the object of meditation is loose. This means that our problem is subtle laxity. Laxity can be caused by many things, and as we identify these causes we can make the necessary adjustments to deal with them. For example, we experience coarse laxity if we eat too much food. The result is that we feel heavy and start to fall asleep. Eating at improper times or eating foods that are too rich can also cause laxity, as can depression or disappointment.

At such times we need to inspire ourselves not to get stuck in this state. One of the ways to do this is by remembering the pre-eminent qualities of the enlightened beings and how much effort they have made to become what they are and to help us, who are still trapped within samsara. In this way, we are reminded how much harder we need to work in our practices. Another way of dealing with laxity or mental sleepiness is to try to bring what we call the "brilliance of light" into our mind-to switch on the internal light of illumination. If that doesn't work, we should go and wash our face or take a walk. In short, to deal with laxity we should refresh ourselves.

Excitement or distraction happens when our mind is not really staying on the object of meditation. When we are sitting on our meditation cushion, we may begin to think about many things, either good or bad. There is a mental agitation that churns out all kinds of thoughts and ideas, such as all the things we have to do that day. When we do a good meditation we notice pins and needles in our feet and pain in our knees, but when we are distracted for the whole session, we don't feel any pain at all. When our mind wanders in this way, ego, pride and arrogance emerge and become a cause of excitement. Our minds become totally distracted and we are no longer meditating. We may begin to think about how other people see us or about our own personal history. We should not let such discursive thoughts enter our mind. We should not think about our profession or family matters, or about food, drink or gossip. It is better to think about these things before we start our meditation and take care of them then. If any such thoughts arise during meditation, we should stop them then and there and not allow them to function in our mind.

MEDITATING ON EMPTINESS

In his concluding verse of a stanza in the Three Principal Paths, Lama Tsongkhapa writes, "Just like that, when you have understood and realized the vital points of the three principal paths, you should seek solitude, generate your power of enthusiasm and strive for the ultimate goal." The three principal paths are:

  • The determined wish to be liberated, sometimes simply described as "renunciation."
  • Bodhicitta, the altruistic mind of enlightenment.
  • The wisdom perceiving emptiness.

We must study these points, contemplate the teachings on them and then cultivate them through meditation. It takes time to gain spiritual realizations. When you study or listen to the teachings you don't get experience. You can only get experience through meditation. Without meditation you can never experience the wisdom of emptiness, and without this wisdom you can never counteract your delusions. The whole purpose of meditation is to achieve stability of mind, to enhance its potential and to gain freedom from difficulties and unwanted problems. Basically, there are two types of meditation- single-pointed, or stabilizing, meditation and analytical, or insight, meditation. Meditation means familiarizing our mind with whatever the object of meditation is. In order to practice meditation we must have an object to focus on. As we focus on this object, we try to keep our mind unperturbed and undistracted. In this way, we cultivate some intimacy and familiarity with the object of meditation. As I mentioned earlier, you can't simply sit keeping your mind free from all thought and imagine you are meditating. You are never going to achieve anything out of a blank mind.

Calm abiding, or single-pointed meditation, is where you simply try to set your mind on a chosen object. You can use anything you like as your focus and you then try to concentrate on that object without getting distracted by anything else. Calm abiding (shamatha) meditation is a very stabilized state of mind. In itself, it is not a really great achievement. You might attain some higher level of consciousness or develop some psychic abilities through calm abiding, but that's about it. In Buddhist practice, we don't feel complacent when we have calm abiding but use it more like a vehicle in which we can ride to the state of enlightenment. Our purpose for cultivating singlepointed concentration is not just to have a calm mind, but to use this mental stability to be able to practice much higher things and ultimately reach the state of enlightenment.

Calm abiding alone cannot counteract our afflictive emotions, our deluded states mind. We have attained calm abiding many times in previous lives. In this present life, we should try to use it in a more meaningful way-to deeply penetrate the ultimate nature of reality, the way in which everything actually exists. With this stable mind, we use analytical meditation to cultivate insight into and realization of emptiness. Calm abiding is very helpful for this, because our mind is so stable and firm that it can really focus on emptiness without distraction. Lama Tsongkhapa states that "riding on the horse-like calm abiding and using the sharp weapon of the middle way, you can cut through the net of distorted perceptions and grasping."

This example comes from ancient times when warriors would ride into battle on horseback. They had to have a good horse, sharp weapons and a strong, healthy body. Thus equipped, they could win battles. Putting this into a spiritual context, we need to ride on the good horse of calm abiding; if you're riding a bad horse, it will throw you off. The sharp, sword-like wisdom realizing emptiness is the real weapon we need. As well, we have to maintain the healthy body of pure discipline, or ethics. With these qualities we can overcome our actual enemy-the delusions within ourselves.

In the text, we find three major outlines dealing with selflessness and illusory perception. First we have to establish the view of the selflessness of a person. Then we have to establish the selflessness of phenomena. Once we have directly perceived both types of selflessness in meditation, when we come out of the meditative state we can see all persons and everything else that exists as illusions.

With respect to emptiness, we should practice analytical meditation more than calm abiding, especially at the beginning. We need to establish what emptiness is-what it is that we're going to meditate upon-so we start with analytical meditation. We have to go through a process of reasoning in order to establish what emptiness of inherent, or true, existence actually is. We do this by developing an understanding of dependent arising. We then use this understanding to establish what emptiness is. We then fix our mind on emptiness as our object of meditation and concentrate single-pointedly upon it. If we try to concentrate on emptiness without first understanding what it is, our meditation will not work.

We do meditation for a purpose, and we must try to bring that purpose to mind when we meditate. Some people think that meditation is simply a good way to relax from the everyday stresses of life. That is not what meditation is for. At the very least, our motivation should be to gain freedom from the pains and problems of samsara. If you want to have a higher kind of motivation, then based upon your own experience of not wanting pains and problems and wishing for peace and happiness, you should think about how all other sentient beings have the same wish. You should then practice meditation in order to liberate all sentient beings, yourself included, from all forms of suffering and bring lasting peace and happiness to all.

It doesn't matter what kind of meditation you are going to do, if your mind is excited and distracted, you must first try to bring it to a peaceful level. This is why we need calm abiding. We all have to breathe. So, based upon the natural vehicle of breath, try to contain your mind and deal with its excitement. When you breathe out, remain aware of the exhalation of breath and when you breathe in, remain aware of the inhalation of breath. One exhalation and one inhalation constitute what is known as one round of breath; count from seven to twenty-one rounds to calm your mind.

Use your own natural rhythm. Don't exaggerate the process by breathing more heavily or strongly than normal. That would be artificial. When you breathe in and out, that gentle or natural breath should be through your nostrils not through your mouth. If you mess up in your counting, it means that your mind got distracted. If you try to do this focused meditation on your breath right after you return home from work, it might prove a little difficult, but you should be able to do it after taking a little rest. Through this kind of focused meditation on your natural process of breathing, you are basically trying to bring your mind back to whatever is your object of meditation. Once your mind is brought to a certain relaxed state, you can begin your actual meditation. Maybe you want to meditate on the impermanence of life, on death and dying or on the infallible workings of the law of karmic actions and results. Maybe you want to do guru yoga meditation, where you visualize your guru or teacher. The same preparation should be done for any other kind of meditation including meditation on bodhicitta or the perfect view of emptiness.

Many people have the notion that meditation is easy, that you just close your eyes, sit properly and put your hands in a certain gesture.

Sitting like that is just a posture. It's not meditation. We must know how to meditate. The Indian master, Acharya Vasubandhu, in his Treasury of Knowledge, states that you should be abiding in ethical discipline and should have received teachings on the practice you are trying to do and contemplated their meaning. When you have really understand the practice, you are ready for meditation. It's a process. If you do it that way, you won't go wrong.

BETWEEN SESSIONS

The text states, "In between meditation sessions, be like a conjurer." How can we be like a conjurer? Our usual perception of things is that they appear to exist from their own side. They seem to have a kind of solidified and fixed nature. However, there is a disparity between the way phenomena appear to our perception and the way they actually exist. So, between sessions, we should try to understand that the way things appear to us as fixed and independently existent is like a magician's trick. We must also understand that we ourselves are the magician who created this trick, for it is our own faulty perception that sees things as existing independently. We should always try to see through this illusion, even as we interact with it. Most people perceive all things as if they existed inherently and grasp at and cling to that perceived inherent existence. There are other people who perceive the appearance of inherent existence but don't grasp at it-things appear to them as if they existed in and of themselves, but they are aware that things don't really exist in that way. Then there are people who are free of both appearance and grasping. Not only do these people not grasp at things as if they existed independently but to them, things don't even appear to exist in that way. The difference between these kinds of people is illustrated in the following example.

In ancient India (and still today in some parts), there were magicians who created optical illusions to entertain people. Using only rocks and sticks, they could create beautiful magical illusions of horses and elephants. The spectators, whose visual perception was influenced by the magician's incantation, would actually see horses and elephants and believe them to be real. The spectators are like those people to whom phenomena appear as inherently existent and who also grasp at things as if they existed in that way. The magician himself would also see the horses and elephants, but the difference was that he knew the tricks he was playing; he knew he had created them. The magician is like those people to whom phenomena appear as inherently existent but who know that things don't actually exist that way. There would also be people whose consciousness had not been affected magical incantations-they wouldn't see any horses or elephants, so they wouldn't grasp at them. They are like people for whom there is neither the appearance of nor the grasping at the inherent existence of phenomena.

Ordinary people like us-ordinary in the sense that we have not realized what the ultimate nature of phenomena is-experience both the appearance of and the grasping at true and inherent existence. Things appear to us as if they exist truly, objectively and independently and we grasp at this perceived mode of existence because we think that things really do exist in this way. On the other hand, those who have gained direct insight into emptiness may also experience the appearance of inherent existence of phenomena, but they don't grasp at this appearance because they know the truth of how things actually exist. Then there are the aryas, transcendental beings who have directly and non-conceptually experienced what emptiness is. When they are in meditative equipoise on emptiness, neither does inherent existence of phenomena appear to them nor is there grasping at such existence.

The reason you keep going round and round in this compulsive cycle of rebirths is that you do not understand ultimate reality. When you engage in your practices, you shouldn't do so with the idea that maybe, in some mysterious way, your practice is going to make you enlightened in the far distant future or that perhaps it will help ward off some negative influence. You must do your practices for the purpose of cultivating bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness.

When you make offerings, recite mantras or help the poor and needy, you should dedicate the merit of such actions to gaining these realizations. To really understand emptiness, you must meditate consistently over a number of years and continually do purification and accumulation practices. But don't let this dishearten you. Through constant effort and with the passage of time, you will definitely come to understand emptiness.

DEDICATION

We need to properly dedicate the merit we have gained through studying this teaching. Let us dedicate our collective merit for the flourishing of Buddhadharma, the source of benefit and happiness for everyone throughout the universe, and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the other great masters from any spiritual tradition. May they live long and be successful in fulfilling their visions and dreams for sentient beings.

May spiritual communities throughout the world and spiritual practitioners of all kinds remain healthy, happy and harmonious and be successful in fulfilling their spiritual aspirations. May this and other world systems be free from all kinds of unwanted pains and problems, such as sickness, famine and violence, and may beings experience peace, happiness, harmony and prosperity.

Last, but not least, let us dedicate our collective spiritual merit for all sentient beings to be free from the fears and dangers of the two types of mental obscuration and from all kinds of pains and problems and may we all quickly reach the state of highest enlightenment.

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

THE WISDOM THAT PERCEIVES EMPTINESS

We have already dealt with training our mind in cultivating conventional bodhicitta, or the conventional mind of enlightenment. We now need to look at how to cultivate ultimate bodhicitta-the mind of enlightenment that deals with emptiness. The mind training text we are studying presents actual instructions for cultivating the ultimate awakening mind. In certain texts such as this one, you will find that the conventional mind of enlightenment is presented first and followed by the ultimate mind of enlightenment. In other texts, the order of presentation is reversed. The reason has to do with the mental faculties of Mahayana practitioners. For those with sharp faculties, emptiness is presented first. For those with relatively less sharp faculties the conventional truth is taught before the ultimate.

There are four major traditions within Tibetan Buddhism- Gelug, Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya. We may find differences between them in terminology or the emphasis of certain practices, but they are all authentic Buddhist traditions. The Kagyu and Gelug traditions use the term mahamudra-"The Great Seal"-to talk about emptiness, whereas the Nyingmapas use the term dzog-chen-"The Great Perfection"-to refer to the same thing. In the Nyingma tradition, there is a tantric practice called atiyoga, which means the pinnacle, or topmost, vehicle. This could be compared to dzog-rim, the completion stage practice of the Gelug tradition, which is the most exalted practice of highest yoga tantra.

When people hear about The Great Perfection of the Nyingmapas they may think that this tradition has something that other Tibetan Buddhist traditions do not, but this is not the case. Each of these traditions is talking about the ultimate nature or reality, which we also call the profound Middle View, or Middle Way. Also, some people might think that because dzog-rim practice is said to be very profound, it must be a quick and easy way to reach enlightenment without having to do meditation. It is never like that. Meditation is as essential in Tantrayana as it is in Sutrayana. It's not as if in tantric practice you just do some rituals, ring the bell-ding! ding! ding!- and then you get enlightened. No; you have to meditate.

As the great Atisha tells us, the way to conduct one's studies of meditation and contemplation in order to realize the true nature of emptiness is by following the instructions of Nagarjuna's disciple, Chandrakirti. Lama Tsongkhapa elucidates the view of emptiness in accordance with the system of Arya Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. It is within Lama Tsongkhapa's mind-stream that we find the presence of the buddhas of the three times, and I am going to explain emptiness in accordance with Lama Tsongkhapa's way.

WHY DID THE BUDDHA TEACH EMPTINESS?

The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, taught the profound middle path-the way of the wisdom perceiving emptiness, or selflessness- in order to liberate us from samsara. It is by way of perceiving and experiencing emptiness that we will be able to counteract our basic sense of ignorance, or grasping at self.

There is a passage from the sutras: "Thus, not being able to realize that which is known as emptiness, peaceful and unproduced, sentient beings have been helplessly wandering in different states of cyclic existence. Seeing this, the enlightened one has revealed, or established, emptiness through hundred-fold reasoning." What this tells us is that we ordinary sentient beings, who are unable to see the ultimate nature of everything that exists, create all kinds of negative karmic actions for ourselves and face unwanted problems and sufferings as a result. All the teachings Buddha gave either directly or indirectly point to what emptiness is. This is because the sole purpose of Buddha's teaching is to free all of us from the causes of suffering.

TRUTH AND FORM BODIES

For us to reach the state of enlightenment we need to understand the basis, the path and the result. The basis consists of the two truths, the conventional truth and the ultimate truth. The path is method and wisdom, or skillful means and awareness. The result consists of the two enlightened bodies-the form body, or rupakaya, and the truth body, or dharmakaya. First we must study the view of emptiness as presented by enlightened beings. This is our basis. Then, as trainees on the path, we need to integrate method and wisdom. We must never separate method and wisdom from one another. If we focus on one and forget the other, we are going to get stuck. Eventually, as a result of this practice, each of us will reach the enlightened state and be able to realize the form body and the truth body.

Although nominally different from each other, these enlightened bodies actually share the same nature. For example, Avalokiteshvara, whom Tibetans call Chenrezig, can manifest in innumerable ways to work for sentient beings, yet all these manifestations are Avalokiteshvara. When we become buddhas we will do so in the form of the buddhas of the five families, the five dhyani buddhas. So, you may ask, what happens when I become a buddha, a completely awakened being? Having actualized the form and truth bodies, you will be working solely to help others become free from cyclic existence. You will be constantly working for their benefit until samsara is empty of all sentient beings.

The primary cause for accomplishing the enlightened form body is the practice of method, the collection of positive energy, or merit. The primary cause for accomplishing the truth body is the collection of wisdom, or insight, particularly the wisdom realizing emptiness. This does not mean that accumulating either merit or wisdom alone will allow us to reach the state of enlightenment. When we understand that the wisdom realizing emptiness is the primary cause for the truth body, implicitly we should understand that in order to accomplish that body we must practice method as well.

THE MUTUAL DEPENDENCE OF SUBJECTAND OBJECT

Everything that exists can be classified into objects or subjects. There isn't any phenomenon that doesn't belong to one of these two categories. However, object and subject-the observed and the observer -are actually mutually dependent upon one another. If there is no object, there cannot be an observer of that object. This is what Chandrakirti states in his Supplement to the Middle Way: "Without an object, one cannot establish its perceiver."

There is a line from the mind training text that says, "Consider all phenomena as like a dream." This does not mean that everything that exists is a dream, but that it can be compared to a dream. If you miss this emphasis, then when you read in the Heart Sutra, "no ear, no nose, no tongue" and so forth, you will interpret this passage to mean that those things don't exist at all, which is a totally bizarre notion. This is the position of the nihilist-someone who rejects even the conventional existence of phenomena. We know that the things in our dreams don't really exist, that they are dependent upon our mind. Also, for us to experience a dream, the necessary causes and conditions must come together. First we have to sleep, but if we go into a very deep sleep then we're not going to dream. Just as a dream occurs as a result of certain causes and conditions, such is the case with everything that exists. Every functional phenomenon depends upon causes and conditions for its existence. This is a fact of reality. Nothing exists in and of itself, inherently, or objectively. Everything exists dependently, that is, in dependence upon its parts, and so we say that things are emptyof inherent, or objective, existence.

The next line in the stanza reads: "Analyze the nature of unborn/unproduced awareness." What this means is that this subjective mind, or consciousness, is not born or produced inherently, in and of itself. As much as objective phenomena are to be seen like dreams, which arise from their causes and conditions and are empty of inherent existence, subjective phenomena, too, exist dependently and are empty of inherent existence. We must analyze the non-inherent nature of our awareness, or mind.

With the line, "Consider all phenomena like a dream," we are primarily dealing with the observed, or the object. When we discuss awareness we shift our focus onto the observer, or the subject. If you perceive that objects don't exist independently, or inherently, then what about their subjects? Do they exist inherently? Again, the answer is no. Just like the object, the subject does not exist inherently, in and of itself. Just as objects and their perception exist dependently, so does the person who is experiencing and interacting with the objects and perceptions. The observed and the observer are both empty of inherent existence.

INTELLECTUAL AND INNATE FORMS OF IGNORANCE

Ignorance is the grasping at inherent existence, especially the inherent existence of the self. There are two forms, the intellectual and the innate. The intellectual form of ignorance-grasping at the inherent existence of "I," or self-is found in those whose minds have been affected by some kind of philosophical ideas, but the innate form exists in the mind of every sentient being.

The type of grasping at inherent existence that is presented in the Abhidharmakosha, the Treasury of Knowledge, and its commentaries is the intellectual form. If this were to be taken as the root cause of samsara, then our position would have to be that only those whose minds have been influenced by philosophical concepts could possess the root cause of cyclic existence. According to this view, birds and other animals couldn't have this cause of cyclic existence because they can't study or be influenced by philosophy. It is certainly true that yaks and goats don't sit around discussing philosophy, so they don't have the intellectual form of grasping at self. However, the root cause of samsara exists in the mind-streams of allsentient beings who are trapped in cyclic existence.

The text provides a quote from the Supplement to the Middle Way to clarify this point. "Even those who have spent many eons as animals and have not beheld an unproduced or permanent self are seen to be involved in the misconception of an I." What this passage is telling us is that beings who remain in the animal realm for many lifetimes do not possess the intellectual grasping at self but they do have the innately developed form of ignorance. Therefore, the root cause of cyclic existence cannot be intellectual but must be the innately, or spontaneously, developed ignorant conception that grasps at the self.

INNATE IGNORANCE IS THE ROOT OF CYCLIC EXISTENCE

We need to ask ourselves what the original root cause of cyclic existence is. How did we get here in the first place? Having discovered this cause, we can then apply the method to counteract it. Due to our ignorant attachment to self, we grasp at and get attached to everything that we perceive as being ours and at anything that we think will help to make us happy. This is the root delusion. When we discuss the process of coming into and getting out of cyclic existence- taking rebirth and becoming liberated-we talk about what are known as the twelve links of interdependent origination. In the mind training text, there is a quote that spells out three of these twelve links, which are the main reasons we remain in samsara.

Our innate self-grasping ignorance is the root cause of samsara, so ignorance is the first link. It is because of this ignorance that we create karmic actions, therefore the second link is called karmic formation. This refers not only to bad karmic actions but also includes positive and neutral ones as well. These karmic actions then deposit their latencies upon our consciousness, or mind-stream. Our minds carry the imprints of all the good and bad karmic actions we have created, and when any of these karmic imprints get activated, they can precipitate all the other links and lead to our rebirth either in either a positive or a negative state.

There are six types of sentient beings in cyclic existence. Of these six, three are relatively fortunate types of rebirth and three are unfortunate. Under the influence of ignorance we could create positive karmic actions and, as a result, take one of the good rebirths as a human being, a demigod (asura) or a god (sura). For a positive karmic action to lead to a fortunate rebirth it must be activated by positive conditions. However, even someone who takes a good rebirth is still bound to cyclic existence.

Similarly, under the influence of the delusions of ignorance, attachment or aversion we might create negative karmic actions. These leave imprints on our mental consciousness such that when they are activated by other negative actions or conditioning factors, we can be reborn in one of the three bad migrations. Great negativities precipitate rebirth in the hells. Negativities of medium intensity precipitate rebirth as a hungry ghost. Small negativities can still cause us to be reborn in the lower realms as some kind of animal. Karmic formations connect us to our next conception in our mother's womb, which is the tenth dependent link of existence. These three links of ignorance, karmic actions and existence are very important. To substantiate this point we have a quote from Arya Nagarjuna's Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness, "Actions are caused by disturbing emotions." In other words, the karmic actions we create can be traced back to our innate self-grasping, which is the origin of our disturbing emotions, or delusions. Nagarjuna continues, "Karmic formations have a disturbed nature and the body is caused by karmic actions. So, all three are empty of their own entity." This means that because ignorance, karmic formations and existence all interact with one another to cause our rebirth, they are therefore all empty of inherent existence.

We should train ourselves to clearly ascertain the way in which we enter cyclic existence because then we can work to reverse this process. Once we have put an end to our delusions and contaminated karmic actions we will achieve the state of liberation. This is what Nagarjuna refers to in his Fundamental Wisdom Treatise when he says, "You are liberated when your delusions and contaminated karmic actions are exhausted." We must all understand that any situation we go through is nothing but our own creation-the results of our karmic actions. Usually when things go wrong we find someone else to blame as if others were responsible for our wellbeing. If we can't find other fellow beings to blame then we blame inanimate objects like food. Either way, we always view ourselves as pure and separate from things.

Again, we can use the example of a seed to understand karma. If the seed is not there in the first place, then even if all the other conditions needed for growth are present, we are not going to see any fruit.

MIND TRAINING, DEVELOPING EMPTINESS

In the same way, if we ourselves do not create any good or bad karmic actions, conditioning factors alone cannot bring us any good or bad results. However, once we have created these actions, they can be activated or ripened by other conditions. It is in that sense that other people can act as conditioning factors to activate our good and bad karmic actions. Even the kind of food we eat can be a conditioning factor to activate certain karmic actions we have created. Even so, it is the karmic actions themselves that are the most important factor in bringing good and bad situations upon us. We should adopt positive actions and abandon negative ones because it is us who will experience their results. We should feel that every good and bad experience is the result of our own seed-like karmic actions. This is a very good subject for meditation.

We should understand that the ignorance of grasping at self, which all of us have within our mind-stream, is the very ignorance that locks us like a jailer within the walls of samsara. In the diagram of the wheel of life, which depicts the twelve dependent links, a blind person represents ignorance. We are blind with regard to what we need to abandon in our lives-to what we should not be doing-and also blind to what we need to cultivate in our lives-to what we should be doing. Just as an untrained blind person will create a big mess around himself or herself, so we make a mess of our lives. And we continue doing this, repeating the whole process of samsara and perpetuating a cycle that is very difficult to stop.

We all wish for happiness, but the happiness that we experience is very small. We don't want any kind of pain or problem, but innumerable pains and problems befall us. Deep down we are motivated by the ignorance of grasping at self and engage in different kinds of karmic actions, which bring forth all kinds of experiences. The wisdom that realizes selflessness is the direct antidote to our ignorant self-grasping.

All of us who want to reach the state of highest enlightenment must combine the practice of the two aspects of the path-skillful means, the extensive aspect of the path, and wisdom, the profound aspect of the path-as presented by the two great pioneers of Buddhadharma, Arya Asanga and Arya Nagarjuna respectively. First, we must recognize that the innate ignorance of self-grasping is the root cause of cyclic existence, or samsara. Then we have to deal with the presentation of selflessness, or emptiness, which is the antidote to this ignorance. The Tibetan word, rig-pa, literally means "to see," and ma-rig-pa means "to not see." Ma-rig-pa is translated as "ignorance" while rig-pa is translated as "wisdom." In other words, wisdom directly opposes, or counteracts, ignorance. Rig-pa doesn't just mean any kind of awareness or wisdom-it refers specifically to the awareness, or wisdom, that realizes emptiness.

GRASPING AT SELF AND PHENOMENA

There are two kinds of objects of this ignorant grasping-the grasping at the self of persons and the grasping at the self of phenomena. Both kinds of grasping are misconceptions because the focus of both is non-existent. The grasping at the self of persons means perceiving a person to exist inherently and objectively. This grasping is an active misconception because it is projecting something that doesn't actually exist. The self does not exist in and of itself-it is not inherently existent -however, our innate self-grasping perceives the self, or I, to exist in that manner. Our self-grasping, or ego-grasping, (dag-dzin in Tibetan) actually serves to fabricate the way that the self appears to exist for us. Similarly, grasping at the self of phenomena means that a person perceives phenomena to exist inherently and objectively. There isn't a self of phenomena but our grasping makes one up. It exaggerates and fabricates a self of phenomena and then grasps at its supposed inherent reality. So, we can talk about two kinds of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena. When we refute the inherent existence of a person, we are dealing with the selflessness of a person, but when we refute the inherent existence of anything else we are dealing with the selflessness of phenomena.

What we mean by "a person" is a projection, or label, that is placed onto the collection of someone's five physical and mental aggregates of form, feeling, discriminative awareness, conditioning factors and consciousness. When we take a person as our basis of investigation and think that this person exists in and of himself or herself, that is what is called "grasping at the self of a person." If we grasp at the inherent existence of the aggregates, that is, at any part of a person, whether it be a part of body or mind, that is called "grasping at the self of phenomena." This is described as including all things from "form to omniscient mind." In Nagarjuna's Precious Garland, it is stated, "So long as the aggregates are misconceived, an I is misconceived upon them. If we have this conception of an I, then there is action that results in birth." What this passage is saying is that as long as we grasp at the physical and mental constituents, or aggregates, as being truly and inherently existent, then we will have the misconception of a truly existent I. Due to this grasping we create karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth and cause us to become trapped again and again within cyclic existence.

The object of our grasping at the self of a person is an inherently existing self. This is something that doesn't exist at all, yet our grasping makes it feel as if that kind of self truly exists and we cling to it in this way. Similarly, the object of the grasping at the self of phenomena is an inherently existent self of phenomena. From these two innate forms of grasping come attachment to the happiness of I. Attachment to one's own happiness actually depends upon the concept of "my" and "mine"-my feelings, my possessions, my body, my family etc. As Chandrakirti states in Supplement to the Middle Way, "At first there arises the conception of and attachment to I, or self, and then there arises the conception of and attachment to mine." We experience the grasping at the self of a person, and this grasping then induces the grasping at the self of phenomena, which is the grasping at mine. Due to the strength of our clinging to these feelings of I, my and mine, we are not able to see the fallacy of seeking self-happiness. This attachment obscures our mind and we are unable to see what is wrong with it.

From being attached to ourselves we become so attached to our things and different parts of our bodies that some of us even change our appearance through plastic surgery. If we weren't attached to our I, we could be totally liberated and free, like Milarepa. He turned a strange greenish color from eating nettles, but this didn't matter to him because he wasn't attached to his appearance. As we look into this mirror of teaching, we can see a different kind of reflection of ourselves-one that shows us how we grasp at things and how attachment arises within us.

It is important for us to understand that "I" and "mine" are not identical. If we can't differentiate between these two, we will have problems later on. The object of our innate grasping at self is the "I" not the "mine," because mine includes the physical and mental aggregates. Chandrakirti explains that if the aggregates of the person were the object of our innate grasping at the self of a person, then we should be able to perceive our aggregates as being I, which we are not able to do. Also, if the aggregates are taken to be the self, then we have to assert that there are five selves because there are five aggregates. The kind of conception that arises with regard to the aggregates is not the conception of I but the conception of mine. We do not think about our ears or our nose as our self, but as things belonging to our self. In the same way, when we investigate our mind, we don't find any part that is I.

We should examine, investigate and analyze the mode of apprehension of our innate grasping at self. In other words, how does our innate grasping perceive the self to exist? What does our innate ignorance perceive? What does it grasp at? We should always focus upon our own condition and not point our finger at someone else's ignorance. Having discovered this, we must then find the means of generating a different kind of perception, one that directly contradicts the mistaken one that grasps at self. This perception is the perfect view of emptiness, or selflessness. However, in order to realize this view, we first have to be clear about what this view actually is. We need to establish the correct view of emptiness.

USING A BASIS TO DESCRIBE EMPTINESS

There is no way to reveal emptiness nakedly or directly because we must use words and terminology. It is only through conventional terms that emptiness can be revealed. In other words, there is no way to discuss emptiness without using something as a basis. For example, when we talk about the emptiness of forms, these forms constitute the basis upon which their emptiness is then established. This is also

the case with any other phenomenon-sound, smell, taste and so forth. Everything around us is characterized by emptiness and so our body or any other phenomenon constitutes the basis upon which we can then understand its emptiness.

In the Heart Sutra we read that "Form is emptiness and emptiness is form." This means that the ultimate nature of form is emptiness and that emptiness relates to form. Emptiness is not the same as form, but in order to understand emptiness we have to take form into consideration as our focal object. Without dealing with a form, we cannot understand its emptiness. There is a line of a prayer that states, "The wisdom gone beyond (emptiness) is beyond words and expression." The Tibetan translation suggests that it is also beyond thought. This means that without depending upon a basis you cannot even conceptualize what emptiness is.

The same thing is stated by Arya Nagarjuna in his Root Wisdom Treatise, where we read, "Without depending upon conventional terms or terminology, one cannot reveal the ultimate truth or reality." When we deal with emptiness, however, it may have nothing to do with form at all. In certain mental states, for example, we don't perceive forms; for instance, when we are in a deep sleep. Even so, it is empty.

When we deal with the selflessness of a person, the basis for that selflessness is the person. Therefore, it is in relation to the person that we establish the person's emptiness. When we deal with a person's aggregates (body, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and so forth), we are dealing with a different kind of basis, one that is the selflessness of phenomena. The text tells us that with regard to what is being refuted, there is no difference in subtlety between establishing the selflessness of a person and establishing the selflessness of phenomena. So, once we understand the selflessness of a person, we don't have to repeat our reasoning over again to understand the selflessness of phenomena. We can simply shift our focus onto another object while remembering the same reasoning with which we realized the selflessness of a person. This is what the great Indian master Aryadeva was saying in his Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle View when he stated, "The view of an object is the view of everything else."

THE OBJECT OF NEGATION, OR REFUTATION

In order to realize what selflessness or emptiness is, we must first understand its opposite. What is the antithesis of selflessness? What is it that we are trying to refute, or negate, in order to establish what emptiness is? What we are refuting is the way that our innate selfgrasping perceives the self as existing truly, inherently and objectively. Therefore, we say that inherent, objective or true existence of the self is the "object of refutation" or the "object of negation." The object of refutation, or negation, is the thing that we are denying exists. There are a few terms that may sound different from one another but which, in the context of Prasangika-Madhyamaka (the school of philosophy that we are studying here), all mean the same thing. They are "existing by way of its own characteristic," "existing from its own side," "existing in and of itself," "inherent existence," "objective existence", "independent existence" and "true existence." Also, the terms "I," "self" and "person" all mean the same thing.

We can speak about the object of refutation on two levels-the object of refutation by reasoning and the object of refutation by scriptural authority. Inherent existence is the object of refutation by one's own valid reasoning, because nothing exists in and of itself without being imputed by terms and concepts. The object of refutation according to scriptural authority, however, is the grasping at that object, such as the grasping at the inherent, or true, existence of the self. Even though it is an object of refutation, that grasping actually does exist. There is no inherently existent self; however, there is grasping at the self's inherent existence as if it existed inherently. Therefore, the object of refutation by reasoning (inherent existence) refers to something that does not exist, but the object of refutation according to scriptural authority (grasping at inherent existence) refers to something that does exist.

Let us say that we want to investigate the emptiness of a particular form, such as a vase. As we analyze the vase, we must remember that we cannot perceive its emptiness by negating its very existence. Perceiving the vase's emptiness is not the same as concluding that the vase does not exist at all. If we refute, or negate, the conventional existence of the vase, then we have fallen into the extreme position of the nihilist. We have annihilated the vase's very existence and, as a result, we are not going to discover its emptiness. So, if we are not refuting the conventional or nominal existence of form in our search for emptiness, what is it that we are refuting? What is it that doesn't really exist? What we are refuting and what does not exist is the inherent existence of form. If we want to hit a target with an arrow we need to be able to see exactly where that target is. In the same way, to understand what emptiness is, we must be able to precisely identify what it is that is being refuted.

REFUTING TOO MUCH AND NOT REFUTING ENOUGH

If we overestimate the object of negation then we will be refuting too much, but if we underestimate the object of negation we won't be refuting enough. An example of refuting too much is when we take conventional existence and inherent existence to be one and the same, concluding that because phenomena don't exist inherently they must not exist at all. When we take this position we are denying the existence of everything and have become nihilists. Remember, conventional existence and true existence do not mean the same thing.

If we deny the existence of everything then we won't be able to assert the distinction between the two types of phenomena-deluded phenomena (which includes our contaminated karmic actions and delusions, or afflictive emotions) and the liberated aspect of phenomena (which includes the spiritual paths, the true cessation of suffering and so forth). We won't be able to talk about the infallible law of karmic actions and their results because we will be asserting that its existence is merely a hallucination. If we cannot present the existence of both contaminated and uncontaminated phenomena, then we cannot present the complete structure of the path leading to spiritual liberation.

On the other hand, if we underestimate the object of negation and don't refute enough, that is as much of a problem as refuting too much. Certain schools of Buddhism assert only the selflessness of a person and not the selflessness of phenomena. Other schools assert both types of selflessness. Within each of the four schools of Buddhist thought-Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka- we find sub-schools. In the Madhyamaka, or Middle Way, school we find two major sub-schools, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, or Inference Validators, and the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, or Consequentialists. The Prasangika-Madhyamaka school's presentation of emptiness is considered the most authentic and it is this presentation that we are studying. The schools of Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka all present an assertion of deluded states of mind that we find in Jamgon Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso's Treasury of Knowledge, the root text of which is the Abhidharmakosha.

The Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, however, presents in addition to these delusions, a subtle form of delusion that the other schools have not been able to identify-the conceptual grasping at inherent existence. Except for the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, all the other Buddhist schools assert the inherent existence of phenomena. They assert that if things don't exist inherently, they can't exist at all. The Svatantrika-Madhyamikas, who are in the same school as the Prasangikas, make a distinction between the true existence of phenomena and the inherent existence of phenomena. They say that things do exist inherently, from their own side, but that they do not exist truly. Their explanation for this distinction is that things exist from their own side as well as being posited by thought, or concept. According to them, a phenomenon exists as a combination of existence from its own side and of the mental thought imputed onto it.

They don't include the conceptual grasping at inherent existence as a subtle delusion. Therefore, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and other Buddhist schools, apart from the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, have not been able to refute enough in order to establish selflessness or emptiness. In other words, the object of negation identified in their schools is inadequate.

There are many people who try to meditate on emptiness, but I believe that those who really know such meditation are very few. If you overestimate the object of negation and refute too much, you are off track, and if you underestimate the object of negation and don't refute enough, you again miss the point. It's like a mathematical equation. The text cautions us that we have to be very precise in identifying what is to be refuted and refute exactly that amount-no more and no less.

HOW INNATE IGNORANCE PERCEIVES SELF AND PHENOMENA

We have seen how the innate form of ignorance is the root cause of our being in samsara, therefore, we must study how this ignorance perceives or apprehends its object, be it a person, a person's thoughts or a physical thing. Naturally, ignorance apprehends its object in a distorted way, yet how exactly does our innate ignorance perceive things? It perceives things to exist in and of themselves, from their own side, by way of their own characteristics and without being imputed by terms and concepts. However, this is not the way in which things actually exist. In fact, this kind of existence is a complete fabrication.

There is a popular Tibetan children's story that illustrates this point. A lion was always bothering a rabbit, so the rabbit began to plan a way to get rid of him. The rabbit went to the lion and said, "I have seen another beast even more ferocious than you." The lion was outraged by this notion because he felt that he was the king of all the animals. The rabbit said, "Come with me, I'll show you," and took the lion to a lake and told him to look into the water. The lion looked carefully into the water and when he saw his own reflection, he thought it was actually another lion. He bared his teeth at his own reflection but it did exactly the same thing back at him from the water. The rabbit said, "You see that dangerous animal down there? He is the one who is more ferocious than you and if you don't kill him, you won't be the strongest guy in the forest." The lion became even angrier and jumped right into the water. He struggled and splashed for a while but could not find the other lion, so he crawled out onto the bank. The poor lion looked really confused and bedraggled, but the rabbit, laughing to himself, said, "I think you didn't dive deep enough; try again." So, the lion went even deeper into the lake and eventually drowned trying to fight with his own reflection. We have seen that the ignorance of self-grasping is of two kinds- an intellectual form and an innately developed form, and we have established that it is the innate ignorance, the innate self-grasping, that is the root cause of all our problems. So, how does this innate form of ignorance perceive or grasp at I? Without knowing this, even if we try to engage in analytical meditation on selflessness we will never understand it. If a thief has run into a forest, his footprints will be in the forest. If we look for his footprints in the meadow, we will never find the thief.

Also, we must have a clear idea or picture of what inherent or selfexistence is. If the I were inherently existent then how would it exist? Until we can precisely identify the inherent existence of I, we will never be able to realize the absence of the inherently existing I, that is selflessness. It is for that reason that the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, states in his Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, or Bodhisattvacaryavatara, that until you identify the object of grasping at true existence you won't be able to understand its non-existence; its lack of inherent, or true, existence. Therefore, we need to make a great deal of effort to identify how the I appears to our innate form of ignorance. It is relatively easy for us to understand that we do have this innate grasping at our self but we have difficulty seeing exactly how this grasping perceives the I to exist. Once we are sure that we have found the object of refutation, then in order to realize what emptiness is, we have to refute that object.

We all know that snow is white but it is possible that someone with certain sensory defects will perceive snow as yellow. That is an example of a distorted perception that misconceives the true color of snow. In a similar way, our grasping at self is a distorted perception that misconceives the self to exist in and of itself. The valid perception of snow as white invalidates the perception of snow as yellow. In the same way, our grasping at I is invalidated by the wisdom that perceives selflessness. When we actualize and experience this wisdom, then the grasping at self must leave because we understand that the way in which the self actually exists is the opposite of the way that our self-grasping perceived it.

Through this reasoning, we are trying to establish that the self could not exist in and of itself. As we refute the inherent existence of I, what we are establishing on the other hand is selflessness. If the self does not exist inherently, then how does it exist? It exists being empty of inherent existence. This is how we establish selflessness. We will deal with this topic from different perspectives and angles so that we can really understand it.

The self is apprehended as existing objectively, in and of itself. The example given in the text is a person who is completely ignorant about the fact that the reflection of a face in the mirror is not the real face. Like the lion in the story, such a person cannot tell what is real from what is not real.

WHAT IS SELF?

When someone calls you by your name, by the time you respond there is some kind of concept or picture of yourself that has emerged in your mind. You may not get a very clear or lucid concept of this self, but you do experience some kind of rough imagery of yourself before you answer. This self is something that seems to exist independently of anything else. It's a sort of solid point, a fixed entity that is just there by itself. It's very important for each of us to personally find out where this image of self or concept of I comes from. Does it come from the collection of our body and mind? Or does it come from a single part of our body or mind?

If an I exists then we should be able to find it within either our body or our mind. We have to analyze each part to find where the sense, concept, or image of I comes from. Let's say that your name is John. Who or what is John? You should investigate from the hair of your head down to your toes whether or not any particular part of your body is John. When you have eliminated one part, go on to the next. Then do the same kind of analytical meditation on your mind. Like your body, your mind also has many parts, so you should try to find out whether any one part of the mind can be identified as I. There are many levels or kinds of mind and every one has its preceding and subsequent moments. You have to look at every minor detail and ask yourself, "Is this moment responsible for the sense of I?"

Westerners love to do research; this is a good topic to research. If you feel that your concept or image of I comes out of a particular part of yourself, be it body or mind, then that is what you identify as being your self. You might think, for example, that your sense of I comes from your brain. However, because each aspect of your body and mind has multiple parts, then logically, you must have that many I's or selves within you. Mind is a whole world in itself, with many states and levels. So which one is the self?

At the end of your analytical meditation, you will not be able to pinpoint any part of your body and mind as being an inherently existent I. At this point you might get scared because you haven't found yourself. You may feel that you've lost your sense of identity. There is a vacuity-an absence of something. However, when you really develop certitude of the absence of an inherent I, you should then simply try to remain in that state of meditation as long as you can. As your understanding of the absence of self improves, then outside your meditation sessions you will be able to realize that although the self seemed to exist inherently, this perception was simply the result of your innate grasping. Next time someone calls your name, try to do this examination.

The mind training text states that when we investigate how our innate conception of I apprehends the self to exist, we must make sure that our investigation is not mixed up with the intellectual grasping at self. The text reads, "Detailed recognition of this comes about through cultivating a close relationship with a spiritual friend of the Great Vehicle and pleasing him for a long time." Thus, if we want to comprehend every detail and subtlety of this issue, it is essential that we consistently rely upon a qualified Mahayana guide.

DEPENDENT ARISING

At the end of your analysis it may seem as though no conventional realities or phenomena exist, including the law of karmic actions and results. However, they do exist-they just don't exist in the way that you thought they did. They exist dependently; that is, their existence depends upon certain causes and conditions. Therefore, we say that phenomena are "dependently arising." All the teachings of Buddha are based upon the principle of the view of dependent arising. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his Three Principal Paths, "…it eliminates the extreme of eternalism." This means that because things appear to your perceptions to exist only conventionally or nominally, their true, or inherent, existence is eliminated. The next line says, "...it eliminates the extreme of nihilism." So, when you understand emptiness you will be able to eliminate the idea of complete nonexistence. You will understand that it is not that things are completely non-existent, it is just that they exist dependently. They are dependent arisings.

In Arya Nagarjuna's Root Wisdom Treatise, he says that there isn't any phenomenon that is not dependently existent, therefore there isn't any phenomenon that is not empty of independent, or inherent, existence. Dependent arising is what we use to establish emptiness. Everything exists by depending upon something else, therefore everything is empty of inherent existence. When we use the valid reasoning of dependent arising we can find the emptiness of everything that exists. For example, by understanding that the self is dependently arising, we establish the selflessness of a person.

An example we could use is the reflection of our own face in the mirror. We all know that the reflection is not the real face, but how is it produced? Does it come just from the glass, the light, the face? Our face has to be there, but there also has to be a mirror, enough light for us to see and so on. Therefore, we see the reflection of our face in the mirror as a result of several things interacting with one another. We can investigate the appearance of our self to our perception in the same way. The self appears to us, but where does this appearance come from? Just like the reflection of the face in a mirror, it is an example of dependent arising.

This is quite clear in the case of functional things such as produced, or composite, phenomena, but there are other phenomena that are not produced by causes and conditions. However, they too exist dependently, that is, through mutual dependence upon other factors. For example, in the Precious Garland, Nagarjuna talks about how the descriptive terms of "long" and "short" are established through mutual comparison. "If there exists something that is long, then there would be something that is short." This kind of existence is dependently arising, but it is not dependent upon causes and conditions. So, dependent arising can mean several things. As we practice analytical meditation on emptiness we need to bring these different meanings into our meditation.

Dependent arising also refers to how everything is imputed by terms and concepts. Everything is labeled by a conceptual thought onto a certain basis of imputation. There is the label, there is that which labels things and then there is the basis upon which the label is given. So, phenomena exist as a result of all these things and the interaction between them. In his Four Hundred Stanzas, Aryadeva says, "If there is no imputation by thought, even desire and so forth have no existence. Then who with intelligence would maintain that a real object is produced dependent on thought?" In the commentary, Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, we read, "Undoubtedly, those that exist only through the existence of thought and those that do not exist when there is no thought are to be understood as not existing by way of their own entities, just as a snake is imputed onto a coiled rope." The example I gave earlier is how perceiving snow as yellow is a distorted perception. The example of distorted perception given here is mistaking a coiled rope for a snake.

Several conditions and factors need to come together for a person to misapprehend a coiled rope as a snake. It's not enough just to have a coiled rope in a corner on a bright day. No one is going to be fooled by that. There has to be some obscuration or darkness and distorted perception in the mind as well. Only then can the misapprehension take place. Even if we analyze every inch of that coiled rope we will not find a snake. In the same way, even if we analyze every aspect of self or phenomena we will not find inherent existence.

In the mind training text we find the following explanation. "An easier way of reaching a conviction about the way the innate misconception of self within our mind-stream gives rise to the misconception of self of persons and phenomena is that, as explained before, when a rope is mistaken for a snake, both the snake and the appearance of a snake in relation to the basis are merely projected by the force of a mistaken mind. Besides this, from the point of view of the rope, there is

not the slightest trace of the existence of such an object [as a snake], which is merely projected by the mind. Similarly, when a face appears to be inside a mirror, even a canny old man knows that the appearance in the mirror of the eyes, nose and so forth and the reflection is merely a projection. Taking these as examples it is easy to discern, easy to understand and easy to realize that there is not the slightest trace of existence from the side of the object itself." The moment that a person thinks that there is a snake where the coiled rope lies, the appearance of a snake arises in that person's mind. That appearance, however, is nothing but a projection.

Similarly, although there isn't a self that exists independently and objectively, our grasping misapprehends the self to exist in that way. So then how does the self exist? Like any other phenomenon, the self exists imputedly. It exists by labeling, or imputation, by terms and concepts projected onto a valid basis of imputation. We must be able to clearly distinguish between the imputed self that is the basis for performing karmic actions and experiencing their results, and the inherently existent self that is the object that needs to be negated. When we consider our own sense of self, we don't really get the sense of an imputed self. The feeling we have is more as if the self were existing inherently. Let me explain how the labeling, or imputation, works. People use names for one another but those names aren't the person. The words "John" and "Francis" are merely labels for a person. Just as the reflection of a face in a mirror does not exist from the side of the face, in the same way, the names John and Francis don't exist independently. The names are applied to a valid basis of imputation -that is, the person. When you apply a label onto any base of any phenomenon, it works to define that thing's existence-a vase, a pillar, a shoe and so forth. They are merely labels applied to their respective valid bases of imputation.

There is a common conceptual process involved in labeling things. Things don't exist from their own side, but they are labeled from our subjective point of view and that's how they exist. Let's take the example of a vase that we used earlier. In order to understand the selflessness, or emptiness, of the vase, we need to refute its inherent, true or independent existence, just as we have to refute the inherent, or true, existence of a person in order to understand the selflessness of a person. We must also be able to establish what a vase is conventionally or nominally because we cannot annihilate the conventional reality of a vase.

Conventionally, a vase exists. It is made out of whatever materials were used to create it. It has hundreds and thousands of atoms and then there is its design, the influence of the potter and so forth. All these factors contribute to the production of a vase. So, a vase exists as a mere labeling, or imputation, onto the various factors that form its conventional existence, that is, its valid basis of imputation. If we look for what is being imputed, if we look for "vase," we cannot find it. Just as we cannot find the imputed vase through ultimate analysis, we cannot find the imputed person through ultimate analysis.

The person, self or I is neither the continuity nor the continuum of a person, nor his or her collection or assembly of aggregates. So, what is a person? Chandrakirti gives the example of how the existence of a chariot depends upon the collection of its various parts. In today's terms we could use the example of a car. When we examine a car we discover that no single part is "car." The front wheels are not the car, the back wheels are not the car, neither is the steering wheel or any other part of it; there is no car that is not dependent upon these individual parts. Therefore, a car is nothing but a mere imputation onto its assembled parts, which constitutes its valid basis of imputation. Once the various parts of a car have been put together, the term "car" is imputed onto it. Just as a car is dependent upon its parts, so too is everything else.

Chandrakirti continues, "In the same way, we speak of a sentient being conventionally, in dependence upon its aggregates." So, we should understand that a person also depends upon his or her collection of aggregates. No one aggregate is the person, self, or I, yet there isn't a person who is not dependent upon their aggregates. A person or sentient being is nothing but a label projected onto his or her valid basis. As we find stated in the mind training text, "Such a technique for determining the selflessness of the person is one of the best methods for cognizing the reality of things quickly. The same reasoning should be applied to all phenomena, from form up to omniscient mind."

REFUTING INHERENT EXISTENCE THROUGH VALID REASONING

We need to use our intelligence to establish that the way in which our innate ignorance perceives the self to exist is not really the way that the self exists at all. This is what we call "refuting inherent existence through valid reasoning." It is not enough to say, "Everything is emptiness" or "Things don't inherently exist." We need a process of sound reasoning to back up this viewpoint. Once we have that, we will understand that there isn't anything that exists objectively. However, this is still only an intellectual understanding. We have to develop an intimacy between our perception and the true understanding of emptiness.

When we gain what is known as "definite ascertainment"-certitude with regard to the absence of inherent existence-we will be able to realize emptiness experientially. To substantiate this point, the mind training text offers a quote from the Indian master Dignaga's Compendium of Valid Cognition. "Without discarding this object, one is unable to eliminate it." This is telling us that once we have discovered the object of apprehension of our self-grasping-that is, the inherently existent self-we then need to train our mind to get rid of the idea of this object from our perception.

We must be aware of three examples of mistaken approaches to emptiness. The first example is of people who don't even allow their minds to investigate what self and selflessness are. They just never engage themselves in these questions. People with this kind of attitude will never be able to cultivate the wisdom realizing emptiness because they haven't made any kind of connection with the concept. Again we find a quote from Dignaga's Compendium: "Since love and so forth do not directly counter ignorance, they cannot eliminate that great fault." What this tells us is that even if we cultivate any or all of the four immeasurables-immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy and immeasurable equanimity-we still will not be able to understand selflessness. However wonderful these attitudes may be, they do not directly counteract the way in which our innate grasping perceives the self to exist.

The second example is given in another quote from the text: "We acquaint ourselves with a non-conceptual state in which thoughts about whether things are existent or non-existent, whether they are or are not, no longer arise." This refers to people who remain in a blank state of mind during their meditation, without investigating the nature of existence. They stop all kinds of conceptual thoughts. It's almost as if they are in a state of nothingness. Such people also will not understand selflessness, for they have exaggerated the object of refutation and refuted too much. They consider every conceptual thought as if it were the object of refutation; as if to allow a conceptual thought to enter one's mind would be to accept the inherent existence of that thought. They view all thought processes as something to be abandoned. Therefore, they don't think about anything at all. They have confused what is being refuted through valid reasoning-the inherent existence of the self, or I-with something that actually conventionally exists, that is, a thought. In other words, they have taken conventional existence as being identical with inherent existence.

If the wonderful attitudes of love, compassion, joy and equanimity cannot directly counteract our innate self-grasping, how can thinking about nothing achieve this aim? If we stop thinking about anything, that is not a meditation on emptiness because we are not allowing the wisdom understanding emptiness to arise. If we could ever reach the state of enlightenment by this method we would be buddhas without omniscient wisdom or compassion, because we would not have let anything arise in our minds. I encourage you to investigate this for yourselves.

The next example of this mistaken approach to emptiness is, "If, in meditation, following analysis of the general appearance of what is negated, our analytical understanding differs from the meaning intended or we meditate merely on a non-conceptual state in which we do not recognize emptiness, no matter how long we do this meditation, we will never be able to rid ourselves of the seed of the misconception of self." What this is saying is that if we refute inherent existence through valid reasoning and then meditate on something else, our meditation is not going to work. The text continues, "The third mistaken approach is to have established something other than the view of selflessness through analytical awareness so that when we meditate, our meditation is misplaced." We will never realize selflessness with this approach either, because we have disconnected the focus of our valid reasoning from the focus of our meditation. This is, as the text describes, "like being shown the racetrack but running in the opposite direction."

INTERPRETATIONS OF EMPTINESS BY EARLIER MASTERS

In order to realize what selflessness is, we have to understand the self that does not exist. Different schools of Buddhist thought have different interpretations in regard to this. The commentary on one of Lama Tsongkhapa's greatest works, The Essence of Eloquent Presentation on that which is Definitive and that which is Interpretable, tells us that Tsongkhapa asserted that many earlier Tibetan masters, although endowed with many great qualities, somehow missed the true meaning of emptiness. By "earlier Tibetan masters" Tsongkhapa is referring to the period after the eighth century when Acharya Padmasambhava and Abbot Sangharakshita were invited to Tibet and also to the period after the eleventh century, including the arrival of Atisha up until the time of Tsongkhapa in the fourteenth century.

What Lama Tsongkhapa meant was that in terms of the aspect of the path, which has to do with method or skillful means, these masters had innumerable great qualities such as bodhicitta. They had perfected the method aspect of Buddhism, but somehow many of them had missed the view of emptiness. They couldn't quite grasp it completely. Then, in the eleventh century, the great Indian master Atisha was invited to Tibet. He composed a very beautiful text called Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, and with this work Atisha refined the complete teachings of the Buddha, including both sutra and tantra.

In the fourteenth century, Lama Tsongkhapa realized the view of emptiness with the help of the deity, Manjushri. Tsongkhapa said that in order to understand emptiness, our understanding must be free from the two extremes of refuting too much and refuting too little. Some earlier Tibetan masters did not precisely identify the object of refutation. They asserted that the ultimate truth is findable under ultimate analysis. This is a case of underestimating the object of refutation. They have not refuted enough and, in so doing, have missed the view of emptiness. We need to purify much negativity and accumulate great merit in order to realize emptiness. If such great masters can miss it, we can easily miss it as well.

EMPTINESS INDIFFERENT BUDDHISTS CHOOLS

There are four essential points of Buddhism called the "four seals"- every composite phenomenon is impermanent; everything that is contaminated or deluded is suffering in nature; everything that exists is selfless, or empty; and nirvana, or liberation, is peace. All Buddhists accept these four points as definitive teachings, but in regard to the third point-that all phenomena are selfless, or empty-different Buddhist schools have different interpretations.

Theravadins interpret the third seal as meaning only that there is no self of a person. This Buddhist tradition does not accept the selflessness of phenomena. Within the four major tenet schools of Buddhism-Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka -we find different assertions and presentations with regard to selflessness, and also in regard to the object of refutation. The two lower schools are the Vaibhashika-sometimes called Particularists or Realists-and the Sautrantika-Followers of Sutra. Like the higher schools, the tenets of these schools say that there isn't a self-sufficient and substantially existent self of a person. However, they also only assert the selflessness of a person and not the selflessness of phenomena.

As we go higher in Buddhist philosophy we find the Cittamatra, or Mind Only, school of thought. Their presentation is different. They talk about two types of selflessness, the selflessness of persons and the selflessness of phenomena. According to the Mind Only school, it is the "duality between subject and object" that is the object of negation or the thing that one is denying exists. They establish the selflessness of phenomena by saying that the subject and its object have the same nature and that it is the division between subject and object as being separate entities that is the object of negation. In other words, the subject and object are empty of being dual and separate entities.

The Mind Only school talks about three different categories of phenomena -"imputed phenomena," which do not exist by way of their own characteristics, and "thoroughly established phenomena" and "dependent phenomena," which do exist by way of their own characteristics.

As mentioned before, in the Middle Way school we find two subschools -the Prasangika-Madhyamaka and the Svatantrika- Madhyamaka. These two philosophical schools present selflessness differently. The Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school also talks about two kinds of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena. They agree with the Mind Only school that the selflessness of a person is easier to understand than the selflessness of the phenomenal world. They agree with the Mind Only School and the other two Buddhist schools as far as the selflessness of a person is concerned, but their selflessness of phenomena is different.

Most Buddhist schools assert that if something does not exist from its own side or by way of its own characteristics, it does not exist at all. The Svatantrika-Madhyamikas, however, assert that things do exist by way of their own characteristics but do not exist truly. So, according to this school, the terms "true existence" and "existing by way of its own characteristics" are not synonymous. The Svatantrika- Madhyamaka school asserts that everything exists as a combination of projection and inherent existence. They believe that things exist partly as a result of our mind's conceptual projections, or imputations, and partly from their own side. They believe that nothing exists in and of itself without labeling, or conceptual imputation, and this assertion is their object of negation, but they believe that things do exist from their own side to some degree. In other words, phenomena possess a characteristic that we can call objective existence.

In the highest Buddhist school of thought, the Prasangikas, it is said that nothing exists from its own side, even to the slightest extent. Everything is imputed, or labeled. Unlike other schools, they assert that the selflessness of a person does not simply mean that there is no self-sufficient or substantially-existent person. They talk about a person not existing inherently, or in and of itself. According to the Prasangikas, the "emptiness of true existence" and the "emptiness of inherent existence" mean the same thing. Like the Mind Only and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka schools, the Prasangikas assert two types of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena.

However, in terms of what is being refuted, they assert that there isn't any difference between them. One is just as easy to understand as the other because the process of discovering them is the same. Supposing that you as the meditator want to focus on the selflessness of I, using the person as the basis. When, through reasoning, you perceive the selflessness of I, as you shift your focus onto any other object or phenomenon you can understand the selflessness of that phenomenon by the power of the same reasoning. You don't need to re-establish the selflessness of phenomena using some other method.

For the Prasangika school, there is not even a subtle difference between the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena.

When we realize that a person exists through mere labeling by terms and concepts and does not exist in and of itself we have realized the selflessness of a person. Taking phenomena as our focus, when we realize phenomena as mere labeling by terms and concepts and not existing in and of themselves, we have realized the selflessness of phenomena. There is a difference with regard to the basis of imputation, but there isn't any difference between the two types of selflessness in terms of what they actually are. It is for that reason that Chandrakirti states that "selflessness is taught in order for sentient beings to be liberated from cyclic existence. The two kinds of selflessness are simply posited on their bases of imputation." When we take a person as the basis of imputation, we are dealing with the selflessness of a person. When we take any other phenomenon as the basis of imputation, we are dealing with the selflessness of phenomena.

According to the Svatantrika-Madhyamikas and the three schools below them, phenomena are not just names or labels. They assert that phenomena should be findable under what is known as "ultimate analysis." When things are found under this type of analysis, they say we can validate the existence of these phenomena. When something is not findable under this kind of analysis, they are not able to assert its existence.

The assertion of the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school is totally different. According to the Prasangikas, nothing should be findable under ultimate analysis. If something is found then that thing must truly exist, and it is true existence, or findability under ultimate analysis, that is the object of refutation according to this school. Arya Nagarjuna said, "Knowing that all phenomena are empty like this and relying on actions and their results is a miracle amongst miracles, magnificence amidst magnificence." So, even though we understand the emptiness of all phenomena, we still rely upon the understanding of the infallible nature of cause and effect.

According to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, the terms "existing by way of its own characteristic," "inherent existence" and "true existence" all mean the same thing. For the Prasangikas, all these terms describe the object of negation-the kind of existence that is being refuted or negated. For that reason, our innate grasping at the inherent existence of the self (that is, the innate grasping at the self, existing by way of its own characteristics) is a distorted perception. It is exactly that distorted perception that needs to be cut through and eliminated by cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness.

THE MEANING OF I, OR SELF, INDIFFERENT BUDDHIST SCHOOLS

All Buddhist schools of thought agree that the I, or self, constitutes the focus of our innate grasping. Where they differ, however, is in terms of what a person is. Certain lower Buddhist schools assert that a person is their five physical and mental aggregates. Other schools say that it's just the mind that is the person and not the other aggregates. In the Mind Only school there is one sub-school that follows a sutra tradition and another that follows reasoning. The sutra followers of the Mind Only school assert that the mind is the person.

The majority of Buddhist schools assert six consciousnesses-the five sensory consciousnesses (eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness and body consciousness) and mental consciousness. In addition to these six consciousnesses, however, the sutra followers of the Mind Only school talk about "deluded mental consciousness" and "mind basis of all," sometimes translated as "store consciousness." According to them, the mind basis of all is the person and as such it is the focus of the deluded mental consciousness. Those who assert this position say that all our karmic actions deposit their imprints on this particular consciousness.

According to Bhavaviveka, the great Indian master of the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school, the person is a stream of mental consciousness. So, according to these two schools, when we create karmic actions, the imprints of these actions are stored or deposited on this mind-stream. The reason that the sensory consciousnesses don't store any of these imprints is because they only function here and now. When we die they cease to exist. They are confined to this existence and so cannot become connected to our future lives. Bhavaviveka has presented his position or assertion of what a person is in his work called Blaze of Reasoning.

Now, all the Buddhist schools of thought agree that the person, or self, is an imputed phenomenon-something that is imputed onto its aggregates. Yet, when you ask many of them to pinpoint what that imputed self is, the examples they give are some kind of substantially existent self, or person. Such is the case with some of the assertions we have just been considering. According to the Buddhist school of thought below the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school, in order to know whether something exists, its existence must be proved by a valid cognition. According to these schools, when we look for a phenomenon it should be findable under analysis. When you find something under such analysis, that thing is said to exist by way of its own characteristics. If you don't find something, then that means that thing doesn't exist at all. However, according to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, things should not be findable under ultimate analysis. If you find something, you've gone wrong. That is how the Prasangika position totally opposes that of these other schools.

According to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, when you investigate self, you will not find anything such as a person existing from its own side at the end of your analysis. A person is merely a projection that is imputed onto the aggregates. If you do find a person existing from its own side, it should be inherently existent, existing in and of itself, which is impossible because things exist dependently.

THE DIFFICULTY OF UNDERSTANDING EMPTINESS

These are very technical points and you need to take time to think about them. After contemplating the profundity of these teachings, you may simply come to the conclusion that the wisdom realizing emptiness is too difficult to achieve. It is important to understand that however difficult it is, with perseverance and the passage of time, you will be able to see progress within yourself and gain this wisdom. This is simply the law of nature. If we keep doing something, through the power of familiarization, it gradually becomes easier to do.

You may find it very hard even to conceptualize the view of emptiness, especially at the beginning, but think positively and make continuous effort. If you keep inspiring yourself, you can develop what is called an "affinity" with the view of emptiness-an inkling of what it all means, even if you don't yet have a full understanding. You develop a positive doubt about the nature of reality, a question as to whether things actually exist in the way that they normally appear to you. Such positive doubt is somewhat in tune with what we might call the "music" of emptiness and is said to be very beneficial and powerful. The text states that, "Buddha, the transcendent subduer, prophesied that the protector, Nagarjuna, would establish the unmistaken, definitive and interpretable meaning of emptiness as the essence of his teaching." The commentary given on these lines explains that before he spoke on emptiness Buddha knew that ordinary people would find it difficult to understand these concepts. So, even though you may find it very difficult to follow this teaching, you must never give up hope. Determine that you are going to make every effort to understand and please remember that it is better to put your effort into these matters by trying to understand them slowly. After all, if you don't want to suffer any more, you have no choice!

DEFINITIVE AND INTERPRETABLE TEACHINGS

All the teachings of the historical Buddha are contained in the sutras and can be classified into two groups-definitive teachings, which need no elucidation, and interpretable teachings, which require explanation. A definitive teaching is one that can be accepted literally, in the way that Buddha presented it. An interpretable teaching is one that, if it were accepted as it is literally presented, would cause misunderstanding. The Buddha predicted the coming of two great spiritual pioneers, Arya Nagarjuna and Arya Asanga, who would illustrate the real meaning of his teachings and distinguish both their definitive and interpretable nature.

There is a sutra passage that states, "Father and mother are to be killed. The subjects and the country are to be destroyed. Thereby you will attain the state of purity." This passage is obviously an example of Buddha's interpretable teaching, as it requires interpretation. The background to this passage is something that took place in the ancient Indian city of Rajgir, in the present state of Bihar.

Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha who was always trying to compete with him, befriended a young prince named Ajatashatru. Devadatta poisoned the prince's ears, saying that his father the king was clinging to the throne. He plotted with the prince to have the king assassinated so that Ajatashatru could take his place. Devadatta also plotted to kill the Buddha because he was jealous of Buddha's spiritual attainments. Devadatta told the prince, "I have a beautiful plan. Your father often invites the Buddha and his followers for alms, so you should ask the Buddha and his entourage to lunch. Dig a big fire pit right before the entrance to your palace and cover it so that it's well hidden. Buddha always walks ahead of his monks so, when he steps onto the pit, he will fall in and burn to death." The prince argued that the Buddha was too clever to be deceived, but Devadatta told him that, to be certain, he should poison Buddha's food in case the first plan didn't succeed.

One day, when the king was not at home, the young prince invited Buddha and his monks to the palace for lunch. He constructed a fire pit and poisoned the food just as Devadatta had instructed him. However, when Buddha placed his foot on the hidden fire pit, it instantly turned into a beautiful lake covered with lotus flowers. Buddha and the entire sangha walked safely across the lake on these flowers and entered the palace. The young prince was totally amazed and immediately confessed to Buddha that he wouldn't be able to serve the lunch because it was poisoned. Buddha told him to go ahead and bring the food anyway. When his meal arrived the Buddha blessed it and ate it without any harm coming to him. Meanwhile, the assassins who had been sent by the prince had caught his father.

Before they killed him, the king asked them to take a message back to his son. The message read, "By killing me you have committed two heinous crimes of boundless negative karma because I am your father and an arhat, having already achieved the state of freedom." When Ajatashatru received this message he felt tremendous remorse for his actions. The emotional burden was so great that he felt he would die right then and there. He decided to go to the Buddha and tell him everything. Buddha wanted to give the prince more time to do confession and purification and so he told him, "Father and mother are to be killed and if you destroy the king and his ministers and subjects, you will become a pure and perfect human being."

Of course, at that moment the prince didn't understand the meaning behind the Buddha's statement, but later on when he had given it more thought he realized that the terms "father" and "mother" stood for contaminated karmic actions and delusions and that these were to be killed, or destroyed, within himself. The remainder of the passage meant that other negativities associated with negative karmic actions and delusions also needed to be destroyed in the sense of being purified, and by doing that the prince would be able to attain the state of pure and perfect liberation.

The Heart Sutra is another example of an interpretable sutra, because it contains many statements that require explanation. For example, it doesn't make any sense to say "no ear, no nose, no tongue," and so forth. We know all these things exist. We need to understand that what Buddha really meant by these terms is that the ear, nose and tongue don't exist inherently.

An example of Buddha's definitive teaching is the sutra that presents the "four seals" of Buddhism. As I mentioned before, the four seals are that every composite phenomenon is impermanent, that which is contaminated is suffering in nature, everything that exists is empty, or selfless, and nirvana is peace. This teaching doesn't require any additional interpretation.

When we don't know how to differentiate between the definitive and interpretive teachings of Buddha, we get really confused. The Tibetans say that we make porridge of our misunderstanding. There is a very popular statement from the sutras: "O bhikshus and wise men, you should analyze and investigate my teaching just as a goldsmith analyzes gold. Just as a goldsmith tests gold by cutting it, rubbing it and burning it, so should you examine and investigate my teaching. Do not accept my teaching just out of devotion to me." So, just as a goldsmith tests gold in three ways, so should we examine and analyze the validity of Buddha's teaching through what are known as the "three types of valid cognition."

First, there is "direct valid perception." Then there is "inferential valid perception," which is not direct but based on reasoning. Finally, we use another form of inferential valid perception, which is more like a form of conviction based upon authentic reasoning. Having applied these three kinds of investigation, when we discover the refined goldlike teaching of Buddha, we should then adopt and practice it.

Buddha taught different things to different people at different times and under different circumstances. So, one thing we must do is understand the context of the situation in which he gave the teaching and to whom it was addressed. Without taking all these factors into consideration we cannot understand Buddha's intention. This is why it is important to study both the definitive and the interpretable teachings.

Another reason we talk about the three types of valid cognition, or perception, is that we find three different types of phenomena in the world. There are manifest objects, or obvious phenomena-those we can directly perceive with our senses. Then there are other kinds of phenomena that are hidden or concealed-we cannot perceive them directly and so we need to use inference in order to understand them. These phenomena need to be realized through valid reasoning and that is why we talk about inferential valid cognition. Third, within these concealed phenomena, there are those that are even more subtle and obscured. In order to perceive these, we need to rely upon authoritative or what are called "valid statements" by an unmistaken enlightened being. This is how we develop the conviction to perceive more obscured phenomena. For example, the text mentions that the great Indian master Atisha follows the elucidation of Arya Nagarjuna in terms of presenting emptiness. Therefore, Atisha's presentation of emptiness is authoritative and valid and the author advises us that we can feel confident in following it.

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 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

Part One: Introduction

MOTIVATION

Please take a moment to cultivate the altruistic motivation of seeking complete enlightenment for the sake of liberating all sentient beings throughout space. It is with this kind of motivation, which we call the motivation of bodhicitta, that you should participate in this teaching. It is very important that you don't read or listen to teachings simply because someone else coerces or expects you to do so. Your involvement should spring from your own wish to practice the teachings with the aim of accomplishing enlightenment for yourself as well as for others. As you apply yourself to this mind training practice, you should do so full of sincerity and whole-heartedness. If you have a wavering or doubting mind, it will negatively affect your practice.

In the lam-rim—the treatises on the graduated path to enlightenment—the great Tibetan master Lama Tsongkhapa states that if our mind is positive and wholesome we will attain positive and wholesome results. Cultivating a good attitude motivates us to engage in positive actions and these return positive results to us. If our attitude and motivation are negative, however, we will create negative actions that will bring us unwanted pains and problems. Everything depends on the mind.

This is why the teacher or lama always advises the audience to cultivate a proper motivation at the beginning of every teaching. The historical Buddha often advised his disciples that they should listen well, listen thoroughly and hold the teachings in their minds. At the beginning of the lam-rim, there is an outline that states that one should be free from what are known as "the three faults of the container." When Buddha said, "Listen well," he meant that when we participate in the teachings we should do so with pure motivation. We should be like an uncontaminated vessel-a clean pot. When he said, "Listen thoroughly," he meant that the listener should not be like a container or pot that is turned upside-down because nothing will be able to enter it. And when Buddha said, "Hold the teachings in your mind," he meant that the listener should not be like a leaky pot, one that does not retain its contents; in other words, we should try to remember the teachings that are given.

The simple reason we all need spirituality, especially Dharma, in our lives is because it is the source of true peace and happiness for ourselves as well as for others. It is the perfect solution for the unwanted problems and pains we face in this cycle of existence, or samsara. For example, we all know that if there were no food or drink in the world, then our very existence would be threatened because these are the basic necessities of life. Food and drink are related to the sustenance of this earthly life, but Dharma is much more important because it is through Dharma that we can remove the misconceptions and ignorance, which cause all our deeper problems. The Tibetan word for Dharma is nang-chö, which means "inner science" or "inner knowledge." This tells us that all of the Buddha's teaching is primarily aimed at subduing the inner phenomenon of our mind.

In this way, we begin to understand the significance and necessity of Dharma in our lives. As we learn to appreciate the Dharma more and more it enables us to do a better job of coping with the difficulties we encounter. With this understanding and appreciation we will then feel enthusiastic about applying ourselves to spirituality. We will find ourselves cherishing the Dharma as if it were a precious treasure from which we wish to never part. For example, if we possess some gold we are naturally going to cherish it. We're not going to dump it in the trash because we know its value and what it can do for us. Yet the value of gold is limited to only this existence; when we die we can't take even a speck of gold with us. But spirituality is something that follows us into our future lives. If we don't practice Dharma then our spiritual life, which exists forever, will be threatened.

Having become an enlightened being, Buddha showed us the complete path leading to liberation and enlightenment. He did this out of his total love and compassion, without any kind of selfish motive. The kind of love we are talking about is the wish that everyone will have true peace and happiness and the best of everything. Compassion means the wish that everyone will be free from all kinds of suffering. The best way to follow the Buddha's teachings is to do our own practice with this kind of attitude and motivation.

It may seem that this world is filled with people who generally don't appear to care about spirituality at all. So why should we care so much? But the fact that these people don't care for spirituality doesn't mean that they don't need it. Every sentient being needs spirituality, from humans down to the smallest insect living beneath the earth. The wish for lasting peace and happiness and the wish to be free from any kind of suffering is not something exclusive to us; it is something that is shared by all sentient beings. However, many people don't realize the value of spirituality and do not have access to the Dharma. In his Ornament for Clear Realizations, Maitreya states, "Even if the king of divine beings brings down a rain upon the earth, unsuitable seeds will never germinate. In the same way, when enlightened beings come to the world, those who do not have the fortune to meet them can never taste the nectar of Dharma."

So, we shouldn't look down on those who don't engage in spirituality or consider them to be bad people; it is just that they have not been fortunate enough to encounter spirituality and put it into practice. This is a good reason to extend our compassion to them. Like us, they seek true peace and happiness, but unlike us, they do not have the means to find what they desire. Basically, there is no difference between us and them-we are all in the same boat-but at the same time, we should appreciate our own great fortune in having the opportunity to participate in the Dharma. Understanding this, we should develop the strong determination that in this lifetime we will do our best to study and practice spirituality in order to take the best care of our future lives. We should try to remind ourselves of these points as often as possible.

It is important for us to understand that all our Dharma actions are very valuable, whether we are studying or listening to spiritual teachings, giving spiritual teaching to others or engaging in our practice. Whatever Dharma teaching we practice we must be sure that it is helping us to transform our state of mind for the better. We have to integrate the Dharma with our own mental state. If, as we study, we leave a gap between our mind and the Dharma, we defeat the purpose of spiritual practice. We wear the Dharma like an ornament and, like an ornament, it might look attractive, but it does not affect us on the inside.

If we want to grow a tree, we need to water the soil around the seed. It's not enough just to fill a bucket with water and leave it near the field. This is sometimes the case with our practice. Burying ourselves in all kinds of Dharma books and other publications and collecting intellectual knowledge about the Dharma is not sufficient. What is required is that we apply the Dharma to our own lives so that we bring about positive changes in the actions of our body, speech and mind. Then we get the true benefit of the Dharma and manifest such changes as can be seen by other people.

Let's examine where our unwanted pains and problems come from. For example, most of you work all day and keep yourselves busy mentally and physically. You would probably rather relax, so what is it that makes you rush about leading such a busy life? What is it that makes you work like a slave, beyond trying to pay the rent or feed your family? Maybe you get upset over some disagreement or maybe your mind becomes disturbed and as a result you also become physically tense. Or perhaps, due to some kind of sickness, both your mind and body become unsettled. You have to find the root cause of all such problems and difficulties of daily life.

The fact of the matter is, eventually all of us must die. After we die, we have to take rebirth. We need to discover what precipitates our rebirth in "bad migrations"—the negative situations of the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. Even when we take a very good rebirth, we still experience many problems related to work, health, aging, dying and death. We have to determine the underlying cause of all these difficulties.

First, what is it that experiences all these problems? Is it only beings with a mind or do even inanimate objects experience them? Secondly, what creates these problems-mind or inanimate phenomena? The answer to both questions is the mind. Only mind can experience and create all the kinds of suffering that we and others go through. Is it another's mind that creates our problems and puts us through all this hell or is it our own mind that creates them? The minds of others cannot create the difficulties that we as individual people go through, just as the karmic actions of others cannot cause our problems. You cannot experience the karma created by others. That is simply not part of the law of karmic action and result. You don't have to take this on faith; it is a good idea to investigate this matter from your own side.

If we continue to study and practice, one of these days we will be able to see the kind of problematic situations we create for ourselves. We will see that motivated by delusion, we engage in all kinds of wrong karmic actions, which cause us pain and difficulty.
Now I am going to comment on a text called Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, which is Namkha Pel's commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training text composed by the great master, Geshe Chekawa. It belongs to a special category of Buddhist texts called lo-jong, which means "mind training" or "thought transformation." The mind training system provides methods to train and transform our minds and focuses on how to generate great love (mahamaitri), great compassion (mahakaruna) and the altruistic mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta).

When we read different Buddhist treatises or listen to different teachings on the same topic, we should try to bring together our understanding from many different sources. When we work on a project we use both hands. Our left and right hands don't clash but rather complement each other and work in unison. In the same way, we should bring whatever understanding we gain from studying different texts concerning a specific topic, to augment and complement our practice.

WHAT IS A BUDDHIST?

The Tibetan word for Buddhist is nang-pa, which literally means "one who is focused on inner reality." This refers to someone who concentrates more on his or her inner world than on external phenomena. This is perhaps the most important point regarding Buddhist practice. Our primary goal is to subdue and transform our state of mind-our inner reality. In this way, we seek to improve all our actions of body and speech, but especially those of mind.

I occasionally observe that some people modify their external actions while internally there isn't any kind of positive change going on at all. Things might even be deteriorating. Even as we try to practice the Buddhist teachings, our delusions of ignorance, attachment, anger and so forth become more rampant. When this happens, it is not because there is something wrong with our spiritual path. It is because our own faulty actions contaminate the teachings and therefore we cannot experience the complete results of our practice. When such things happen, it is very important not to let go of our practice. Instead, we should understand that in some way we are not properly applying the teachings to ourselves.

How do we distinguish Buddhists from non-Buddhists? A Buddhist is someone who has gone for refuge from the depths of his or her heart to what are known as the Three Jewels or the Triple Gem-the Jewel of Buddha, the Jewel of Dharma and the Jewel of Sangha. Having gone for refuge to the Jewel of Buddha, we should be careful not to follow misleading guides or teachers. Having taken refuge in the Jewel of Dharma, we should not harm any sentient being no matter what its size. Furthermore, we should cultivate compassion, the wish to ensure that all beings are free from unwanted mental and physical problems. And having taken refuge in the Jewel of the Sangha, or the spiritual community, we should not participate in a club, group or organization that brings harm to ourselves or other beings.

We need to try to discover the source of our own and others' suffering and then find out what path or method we can use to destroy it. The next thing is to apply ourselves enthusiastically and consistently to this method. If we do that, we will be able to free ourselves from all kinds of suffering, which means that we will free ourselves from samsara, help others free themselves from samsara and eventually attain the state of highest enlightenment.

WHAT IS BUDDHA NATURE?

Buddha nature is the latent potentiality for becoming a buddha, or enlightened being-it is the seed of enlightenment. There are two kinds of buddha nature—"naturally abiding buddha nature" and "developable buddha nature." According to Theravada Buddhism, there are certain beings that do not have buddha nature, but from the Mahayana perspective, every sentient being down to the smallest insect has both seeds of enlightenment within them. Even a person who is incredibly evil and negative still has these two buddha natures, both of which can be activated sometime in the future.

This does not mean that people who are making a great effort to accomplish enlightenment and those who do no spiritual practice at all are no different from each other. For those who don't practice, realization of their buddha nature is only a mere possibility and it will take them an unimaginably long time to become enlightened. Others, who are striving for enlightenment, will reach that state much faster because what they are practicing is actually contributing towards the activation their buddha nature.

There are three levels of bodhi, or enlightenment. There is the enlightenment of hearers, or shravakas; the enlightenment of solitary realizers, or pratyekabuddhas; and the enlightenment of the Greater Vehicle, or Mahayana. It is the latter that we are discussing here-the highest form of enlightenment, the enlightenment of bodhisattvas. It is a unique characteristic of Mahayana Buddhism that each of us who follows and cultivates the path as a practitioner can eventually become a buddha, or enlightened person. We may doubt our ability to become an enlightened being, but the truth is that we all share the same potential.

Developable buddha nature and naturally abiding buddha nature are posited from the point of view of potencies that can eventually transform into enlightened bodies. Our naturally abiding buddha nature eventually enables us to achieve the truth body of enlightenment, the state of dharmakaya. The form body of enlightenment, or rupakaya, is called "developable" buddha nature because it can be developed, eventually transforming into rupakaya. If all the favorable conditions are created then these buddha natures, or seeds, will germinate on the spiritual path and bloom into the fruit of enlightenment. However, if we just keep on waiting around thinking, "Well, eventually I am going to become a buddha anyway, so I don't have to do anything," we will never get anywhere. The seeds of enlightenment must be activated through our own effort.

COMPASSION AND BODHICITTA

Bodhicitta is the altruistic mind of enlightenment. There is conventional bodhicitta, or the conventional mind of enlightenment, and there is ultimate bodhicitta, or the ultimate mind of enlightenment. Bodhicitta is the bodhisattva's "other-oriented" attitude-it is the gateway to Mahayana Buddhism. The wisdom perceiving emptiness is not the entrance to Mahayana Buddhism because it is common to both Theravada and Mahayana. Hearers and solitary realizers also cultivate the wisdom of emptiness in order to realize their spiritual goals.

Before we can actually experience bodhicitta we must experience great compassion. The Sanskrit word for great compassion is mahakaruna. The word karuna means "stopping happiness." This might sound like a negative goal but it is not. When you cultivate great compassion, it stops you from seeking the happiness of nirvana for yourself alone. As Maitreya puts it in his Ornament for Clear Realizations, "With compassion, you don't abide in the extreme of peace." Wha