Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup, former abbot of Kopan Monastery, gave this teaching on the eighteen root bodhisattva vows at the 20th Kopan Course, held in December 1987. The teaching is translated by Ven. Tsen-la and lightly edited by Sandra Smith.
This is a brief exposition on the bodhisattva vows.
Whether we reflect on things from the point of view of self or from the point of view of others—whatever point of view we have, our main objective is to achieve enlightenment at any cost.
As explained in the lam-rim teachings, the suffering nature of our existence in samsara and its causes are the result of our own selfish attitude or self-cherishing mind. The conclusion or the main essence of the lam-rim teachings is to generate a strong motivation—the strong thought to benefit sentient beings at all costs. The reason for this essential conclusion is that all our happiness, including the smallest, is solely due to the kindness of others.
The benefit we can accomplish is to fulfill what others wish and repay their kindness. What others want at all times is happiness and what they don't want is suffering and pain. Just as it is for others, it is also the same for us, and as it is for us, it is the same for others as well.
We learnt in the teachings on the graduated path to enlightenment that to find happiness and to eliminate suffering, the responsibility belongs to us completely. Although we have complete responsibility for fulfilling all the happiness of others and eliminating all their suffering, we do not have the potential to fulfill this at the moment.
Is it possible for me to actualize or to attain such potential? We can achieve this potential. Is a person with such potential a possible phenomenon in the world? This is also a possibility. Who can we identify as such a person? That would be the Buddha himself. If we put in the effort, we can achieve such a state ourselves, because we can accumulate the causes for this result, enlightenment. In order to achieve the result of enlightenment, we need to train in the methods to achieve it.
The main method to achieve enlightenment is bodhicitta, the altruistic aspiration towards enlightenment generated out of the mind of compassion. Bodhicitta, the altruistic mind seeking solely the welfare of others, needs to be enhanced limitlessly. It is not enough just to habituate our mind, and generate or cultivate the altruistic mind in our meditation—besides generating the altruistic mind, we also need to actually venture into the deeds of such a mind.
The main deeds of bodhisattvas, the beings who have bodhicitta, are the observation of a high code of ethics. How quickly or slowly we achieve enlightenment is solely dependent on how purely we observe the bodhisattva vows. These vows need to be received or taken from a lama and then all the various aspects of the vows need to be observed.
Of these various aspects of the bodhisattva vows, the root vows are this set of eighteen. We must abandon:
1. Praising ourselves and belittling others. If we have received bodhisattva vows and engage in actions such as praising ourselves with the desire to achieve material things or respect and so forth—if we have that kind of intention, and the view of gaining things that glorify our qualities and put down others—when we have bodhisattva vows and undertake such an action, then we break the root vow. This is a very brief explanation of the first vow.
This is one of the most dangerous vows, because we are likely to break this vow very easily due to our strong, self-cherishing mind. There is a danger of breaking this vow very often because of our selfishness, and also because we very easily disparage others, including our guru, when we see the slightest faults or mistakes in them.
2. Not giving material aid and Dharma. This vow is usually broken when we are miserly. When we have an abundance of material things and somebody asks for material aid due to their great poverty or lack of something, but we refuse, then we accrue the second transgression. If we have no sense of miserliness, but refuse to give because it may cause obstacles or hindrances to our Dharma practice, then under these circumstances, not giving is validated.
Secondly, there is miserliness regarding teaching Dharma. We feel miserliness over imparting these teachings and we also feel lazy to explain the teachings sometimes. That's the second way to break the vow. The only circumstances when it is valid not to give teachings is when this would not benefit someone but would cause harm, and in that case we can refuse to give teachings. Generally, in giving Dharma teachings, the kind of people that we should teach are those with much aspiration and enthusiasm towards the teachings.
3. Not forgiving others, and even if someone apologizes, not listening to an apology. The third vow is broken, for example, when we fight with somebody and that person apologizes afterwards or gives us a material present, but we refuse to listen out of anger, upset feelings or hatred. If we hold a grudge and refuse to accept a material gift or listen to an apology, then we break the third vow. So, for these sets of vows it is essential not to hold onto anger or a grudge after we have had a fight or disagreement. If we hold onto a grudge or anger, then it is difficult to accept an apology later on.
4. Abandoning the Mahayana Dharma. The downfall of abandoning the Mahayana Dharma is accrued in circumstances such as when we are engaging in Mahayana practice and later we decide, “I might as well train in the Shravaka path, or the Hearer’s path, which is a faster way of attaining arhatship.” We abandon Mahayana Dharma under these circumstances.
5. Taking offerings which are meant for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This occurs when we take for ourselves offerings made to the Triple Gem. This includes materials to make a statue or to print scriptures or to make clothes for statues. Of the three types of offerings, if we use offerings made to the Sangha for ourselves, no matter how small they are, then the karma is very heavy. It is said that if we take offerings made to the Buddha and the Dharma, the negative karma can be completely purified, but if we take offerings made to the Sangha, even if we purify, some result has to be experienced despite the purification. It can be something as minor as picking a flower, a twig or a leaf from the garden. We are taking that which has not been given to us.
6. Abandoning the Dharma. This means abandoning the practices and teachings belonging to the Hearers’ Vehicle, the Shravakas, the Solitary Realizers’ Vehicle or the Mahayana Vehicle. We see one or other of these teachings as not being suitable for our practice. We may say, for example, “What's the point of meditating on the whole lam-rim? I might as well just do the breathing and contemplate on the mind. That's all!” Even just saying that is abandoning Dharma.
7. Causing an ordained person to disrobe. This vow includes things like, for example, taking away robes that belong to monks, or causing someone else to take the robes away.
8. Committing the five immediate negativities. We commit these “immediate negativities” when we kill our father, mother or an arhat, cause a Buddha to bleed, or cause disharmony within the community of the Sangha.
9. Holding wrong views. Holding wrong views refers to believing in the non-existence of cause and effect, past and future lives, and the non-existence of the three objects of refuge and so forth.
10. Destroying towns, cities or places where many people are living. We break the tenth vow if we intentionally destroy a town or city. Whether we start some sort of fire or use water or other means, we have the intention of destroying that whole town or city.
11. Teaching the profound teachings to those who are not fit receptacles. An example would be somebody who is on the bodhisattva path and when we expound the teachings on emptiness, the person gives up or turns away from the Mahayana path. Instead of helping the person progress, we cause that individual to regress. That would be an example of teaching the profound to someone who is not ready.
12. Turning someone away from complete enlightenment. The twelfth downfall occurs when, for example, somebody has full aspiration towards complete enlightenment and we influence the person by saying that there is not much benefit, and that it is better to work for our self-liberation through either the Solitary Realizer's path or the Hearer’s path. If we influence the person to turn away from full enlightenment through our talk, we incur this twelfth downfall.
13. Encouraging others to abandon the self-liberation vows. The transgression occurs when we tell people that the self-liberation vows, such as the monks’ and nuns’ ordination vows, are not necessary. We tell people to just study the Mahayana Dharma and generate bodhicitta. If we talk and influence people in this way, we incur the thirteenth downfall of abandoning self-liberation vows.
14. Causing others to hold distorted views. We incur the fourteenth downfall when we cause others to hold distorted views. An example of this is when a person has received a lot of material presents and respect through giving teachings, and out of jealousy, we feel that this person’s gains are unbearable. We say, “Why do you listen to his teachings, why do you give him so much respect and so forth?”
To differentiate the first root downfall from the fourteenth, the fourteenth one mainly arises out of a jealous mind, as the other person is getting so many enhancements, and that is causing our own downfall. We are losing out by the other person gaining and we feel unbearable jealousy over that, so it mainly has its base in jealousy.
15. Expressing a great form of lies. This downfall means telling profound lies and saying we have realizations when we don't. An example of the fifteenth root downfall, the expression of profound lies, is when we haven't realized emptiness, but we say, "I have realized emptiness, so I am going to teach you this emptiness out of my experience."
16. Taking material things that belong to the objects of refuge. An example of the sixteenth vow is when we intentionally fine someone who is ordained so that we gain material things. The sixteenth vow refers to any property that belongs to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We either forcefully confiscate or take away property belonging to the objects of refuge, or we influence or cause someone else to take the property away. If we have a fight or a duel, or something like that, we take things belonging to the objects of refuge.
17. Laying down harmful regulations and passing false judgment The next vow is putting together rules or disciplines that are not valid. An example of this downfall is when a gelong is practicing very purely and we make certain rules and regulations that would disrupt his progress. We do this out of jealousy for that person who is doing his practices purely, and in order to distract him away from his meditation.
Lama Lhundrup: How many have we got? Eighteen?
Students: No, seventeen.
Lama Lhundrup: Seventeen? We missed out the fourteenth one, which is disrespecting or criticizing the Hinayana teachings. Then, the other one is abandoning the bodhicitta mind. Does that make eighteen? What happened? No, I think it’s eighteen.
2. Not giving material aid or teaching the Dharma.
3. Not forgiving someone who has previously offended you.
4. Condemning the teachings of Buddha and teaching distorted views.
5. Taking offerings to the Three Jewels.
6. Despising the Tripitaka and saying these texts are not the teachings of Buddha.
7. Causing an ordained person to disrobe.
8. Committing any of the five heinous crimes.
9. Holding views contrary to the teachings of Buddha.
10. Completely destroying any place by means of fire, etc.
11. Teaching shunyata to those who are not yet ready.
12. Turning people away from working for full enlightenment.
13. Encouraging people to abandon their vows of moral conduct.
14. Causing others to hold distorted views about Hinayana teachings.
15. Practicing, supporting, or teaching the Dharma for financial profit and fame while saying that your motives are pure, and that only others are pursuing Dharma for such base aims.
16. Telling others even though you have very little or no understanding of shunyata, that you have profound understanding of shunyata.
17. Taking gifts from others and encouraging others to give you things originally intended as offerings to the Three Jewels.
18. Taking away from those monks who are practicing meditation and giving it to those who are merely reciting texts.
Lama Lhundrup: This is not very good—there are things missing. Are there eighteen now?
Lama Lhundrup: Most are okay, most are correct. Right? These are the eighteen root downfalls. If you observe these eighteen root vows purely, then the forty-six auxiliary vows are already included in these root eighteen vows.
The Four Conditions
There are four main conditions that have to be fulfilled in order to incur the complete transgression of a root vow. The first of these conditions is having broken a vow before and still wishing to break it in the future. Secondly, we are not able to abandon that downfall and we wish to pursue the downfall again. Thirdly, we feel very happy to break the vow and we don’t see any faults or disadvantages to our actions. Lastly, we don’t have any sense of shame or consideration for others. If these four points are present, there is complete transgression of the root vow.
We explained these eighteen root downfalls very briefly, but if we explain them elaborately, each vow branches out into many, many different points.
Two of these eighteen vows do not require the fulfillment of all four conditions in order to incur the full transgression. These two vows are giving up bodhicitta and the generation of wrong views. These two vows do not require all four conditions to be present for complete transgression. The moment you give up or totally disregard bodhicitta, that naturally causes the root downfall, without the presence of any of the four conditions. Also, the generation of wrong views is powerful enough to cut off the continuum of virtue. So, these two vows do not require the presence of the four conditions, but the remaining sixteen require the presence of all four conditions in order to incur the full downfall. If all four conditions are not present, we incur only the shortcoming of breaking that particular vow.
Of these four conditions, if we have one point that says if we don’t see the fault or the harm in that transgression, we have a medium level of contamination. Literally it’s called “medium contamination,” and we have only a partial transgression as opposed to a full transgression.
If we engage in one of these root downfalls and we see the faults or the shortcomings of undertaking that course of action, we incur only a small contamination. If we have this particular condition but do not have the other three conditions, by being aware of the fault in this action, it becomes only a small shortcoming. Having understood these eighteen root downfalls, because they can be so easily accrued, if we constantly familiarize ourselves with the shortcomings, then it helps us to avoid engaging in them so easily.
The fourth condition—having a sense of shame or consideration for others—refers to the fact that if we engage in a particular transgression, we will experience the expected, ripening result, and having that awareness, we try to abstain from that negative action. That is having a sense of shame. Also, if we have consideration for others in the sense that if we engage in a particular negative action, then others will come to know of it and the Buddha will know of it. We abstain from the negative act out of consideration for others. These two points are essential for practicing Dharma. If we have a strong sense of shame and consideration for others, then we do not easily incur the transgression of vows. So, it is essential that we observe this sense of shame and consideration.
Do you have any doubts or questions about these points?
Lama Lhundrup: Yes, it is very easy. When we study and meditate on the graduated path to enlightenment, the first and foremost point is renunciation, in order to realize the shortcomings of cyclic existence. If we are attached to our possessions or the pleasures of this life, there is no way to generate renunciation, and if we do not have renunciation, there is no way to generate compassion, and without compassion there's no bodhicitta.
Okay, you can use for others. Your motivation is for others, not for your selfish motivation but for others. Eating chocolate “I eat for beneficial all mother sentient beings.” All right? Okay? So then for the whole day if you want chocolate, you have no problem. All right? Yes, it depends on your mind. It looks easy. If you have control of your mind, then okay. Right? Simple.
Student: What happens when vows overlap? For example, walking up to Kopan Hill, many people ask me for one rupee, but the rupees in my pocket are to study the Dharma. How does that work?
Lama Lhundrup: I think, okay.
Student: Which one? To give the rupee or to buy the lessons of Dharma?
Lama Lhundrup: Maybe you can first buy lessons for the Dharma, then later you can give to the world. All right.
Student: So there is a priority?
Lama Lhundrup: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Otherwise, you cannot get opportunity to listen to Dharma. All right?
Lama Lhundrup: Yes, that’s you can see, nuclear, atom bomb.
Lama Lhundrup: Because we have a strong selfish mind. We still have the vows, but there is also that strong selfish mind. So when somebody is destroying, disturbing us and doing very bad things to us, so then we get very angry. So then anger makes us want to do many incredible, bad things. We cannot control ourselves.
Lama Lhundrup: Some beginning ordinary being can take these kind of vows, yes, no problem. Yes, they can take.
Lama Lhundrup: Military, army? Possible. Some people first take the vows, then somebody puts them in the army, but they can do like that.
Lama Lhundrup: If by telling the truth, then you destroy the other person, then maybe you can somehow change the words. The bodhisattva can do this kind of lying, if it is really beneficial. They can tell a lie if it is beneficial for them. With a motivation of compassion we can lie. Otherwise, when we lie we destroy their own peace. Yes, by our motivation, motivation is very important, all right? So then okay, you can say.
Lama Lhundrup: You can say this, but after you have conception, Oh, I told Mum lying, so then after night time you have purification. All right?
Lama Lhundrup: You can try to just have the motivation, to try never to kill any sentient beings. “I don't kill animals”, you just have that motivation, you can say like this. So it doesn’t matter if you can just have this kind of motivation, then if you [accidentally] kill an animal, you don't have the motivation for killing. But if you see a dead animal then you can do something for them such as saying OM MANI PADME HUM. Whatever you do for them is beneficial.
Lama Lhundrup: If you took bodhisattva vows then you can do sessions for whole your life, you become the Mahayana path, yes. This is more comfortable.
Lama Lhundrup: That’s difficult. What example you can tell me? Why giving back? Reasons?
Lama Lhundrup: That kind if you have some good reasons, then you can ask guru and if guru says okay, then you have. Yes.
Lama Lhundrup: Root or what? Maybe you can say what.
Lama Lhundrup: If we have a strong bodhicitta motivation, then these seven nonvirtuous actions of the body and speech2 are allowed in the case of bodhisattvas, who have bodhicitta. They have an exemption over these nonvirtuous actions depending on the circumstances. In this case, we are talking about people who have spontaneous, genuine, intuitive bodhicitta. They have exemption from these seven nonvirtues of body and speech. We are not talking about somebody who just has it verbally or by making effort. It is not an exemption for those who do not have bodhicitta; it is an exemption for those who have bodhicitta. These people are allowed to do these actions under circumstances that will give the most benefit. In our undertaking of a particular nonvirtuous action, we should feel completely tolerant of any result that we might incur.
Lama Lhundrup: There's no harm in that particular one because there is no truly existent Christianity and therefore we can see Christianity and Buddhism as oneness in nature, because the essential point of Buddhism is non-violence, or not giving harm. That is the essential point. It is concordant with Christian philosophy and it is the main point of Buddhism too. So we abide in that nature, in that point.
Lama Lhundrup: If we have a teaching from Christian teachers and it is a way of developing ourselves and developing our bodhicitta, then we can still practice it. If, instead of developing us, it undermines us and degenerates our mind, then we have the wisdom to differentiate.
Student: So, the very broad meaning of practice is simply practicing bodhicitta, practicing to develop your mind? That’s all?
Lama Lhundrup: Yes, true mind, true bodhicitta, true love, that's all. Thank you. Okay, thank you very much.
A teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama prior to a ceremony for generating the mind of enlightenment, Washington, New Jersey, May 7, 1998.
Lightly edited by Sandra Smith, February 2013.
I would like to extend my greeting to all of you.
Yesterday when I arrived here it was raining quite a lot, but today it is quite different and pleasant. Perhaps half of you have come here partly to have a good time, for a holiday, so if you wish to stay for the whole talk or if you wish to walk around and take it easy, please do so.
The teaching that is going to take place here today is preceding the ceremony for taking the generation of the mind of enlightenment and for that I will be doing some preliminary recitations including the recitation of the Heart Sutra.
In the context of giving the teachings, both on the part of the person who is giving the teaching and the people who are receiving the teachings, it is very important to ensure that you have the right motivation. Therefore, for a Buddhist teaching it is very important that you take refuge in the Three Jewels and commit to the ideals of bodhicitta.
So please recite the refuge formula.
[Refuge prayer in Tibetan.]
I have visited this place several times and also I have had the opportunity to give teachings at this place several times. When I look around here today, one thing that I notice is the change in the trees. Some of the trees have really grown; some of them have really spread their roots. So, this points out to us and reminds us of the basic principle of impermanence, the transient nature of life. This is also something that we can remember if we think about the founder of the center, the late Geshe Wangyal-la, who is no longer with us. All of these things point towards the nature of impermanence, the transient nature of life. This transient nature and the process of change that we go through, that everything goes through in time, is something that no-one and nothing can stop. This is a basic fact of reality; a basic fact of existence.
Now what we do, what control we have in our hands, is how we utilize this time, which is constantly going through change. If we utilize our time for a more beneficial and positive purpose, we give our existence some kind of purpose and meaning. If we use it for destructive purposes, we create harm for ourselves and others. If we just lead a life with no mindfulness, we just completely have no sense of direction. So, the only thing that we have in our hands is how we utilize the time. So, wouldn’t it be wonderful to utilize whatever remaining time that we have in our existence, in our life, towards something that is noble and meaningful; something that is purposeful?
However, leading our life in a purposeful and meaningful way does not necessarily mean we have to lead a religious life in the sense of a religious belief or with religious faith. The key or essence is to lead a life which is grounded in the principle of helping others, if possible. If not, at least refraining from harming others. So, that is the key.
If we wish to create a sense of purpose, we can make our existence meaningful on the basis of a religious faith. Of course, on this planet there are so many different major world religious traditions, so we can pursue these paths through different traditions. However, it is important for the followers of these religious traditions to utilize, to implement the essential teachings of whatever religious path we are following in daily life.
If we can integrate the essential teachings of the religious path that we subscribe to and follow into our day-to-day experience, then of course there will be tremendous benefit.
Today, in the context here, the religious teaching that is being given is a Buddhist teaching, because this is a Buddhist center. Although many of you may already be aware of this, the key message of the Buddhist teachings is to try to seek a path to happiness and joy through a method that involves primarily bringing about discipline of the mind. This discipline of mind really brings about a transformation of the mind, which is the key path to obtaining happiness according to the Buddhist approach.
From our own personal experience we know that the more conviction, the more convinced we are of the value of a particular goal that we are pursuing, the greater our commitment and the greater our desire to attain that. In some cases, the commitment to achieving that goal is so strong that even if we are tempted to be distracted or diverted, there is a check, so we can follow the path without distraction.
What becomes important in this context for us here is to ensure that our wish to obtain that goal is grounded in a firm conviction, not only in the value of that goal, but also that our conviction is grounded in some personal experience and some valid reasons. The stronger it’s grounded in such valid reasons and personal experience, the more firm our commitment to that goal will be. Therefore in the context of Buddhist spirituality, the Buddhist religious path, understanding the nature of reality becomes very crucial.
Given that understanding the nature of reality becomes crucial for a Buddhist religious path to achieving the goal of ultimate liberation, what becomes important for Buddhist practitioners is not to be deceived by whatever perception we have. We should not be deceived by the level of appearance. Even from our own personal experience in day-to-day living, we know that appearance does not necessarily always convey the right picture of reality. Often in our day-to-day interaction with life there is disparity or a gap between how things seem to us and how things really are. This is really the basis for the Buddhist emphasis on developing such deep understandings like the nature of the two truths. Understanding the nature of reality is crucial, and in order to arrive at such a proper understanding we need to appreciate that sometimes appearance is not the true picture of reality. Therefore, having the sensitivity to appreciate that there are different levels of reality becomes critical.
The whole purpose of trying to seek a deeper understanding of the nature of reality based on the concept of the two truths is to bring about our ultimate spiritual aspiration of attaining lasting happiness and overcoming suffering, therefore, the teachings of the two truths are directly related to the Buddhist teachings of the four noble truths.
Once we look at the Buddhist teachings from this kind of angle or perspective, then we really appreciate the principal significance of the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths at his first public ceremony. Through teaching the four noble truths, he lays down the whole foundation or framework of the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.
In the second public ceremony, the Buddha’s key teaching was the two truths. Although the two truths as a philosophical concept is something that is found not just in Buddhist teachings but also in non-Buddhist schools, it is in the teachings of the second public ceremony that we find a presentation of the highest level of understanding of the two truths. This addresses the fundamental issue at the heart of our existence as individual human beings or as sentient beings.
Now that we realize that the teaching on the four noble truths presents two sets of causality—one set that deals with the causality of suffering and its origin, and the other set which deals with the causality of cessation, the cause of that cessation, which is the path—we can raise the question, “Why?”
What was the significance of the Buddha teaching the four noble truths to begin with? The significance of that is to address the fundamental issue of our existence as individual human beings or as sentient beings. At the heart of our existence is this instinctual or innate desire to seek happiness and to overcome suffering. So, sentient beings who possess these natural instincts exist.
This suggests that naturally there exist sentient beings who possess this instinctual desire to seek happiness and to overcome suffering, and that really is at the basis. So the question can be raised about the nature of those sentient beings. We find a reference in one of the tantras where Buddha speaks about the beginningless and endless continuum of mind, that is said to be the ever-good or eternally good. The reference to the beginningless and endless continuum of consciousness or mind is that from the Buddhist point of view, there is nothing that exists outside the bounds of causation. Every event and every thing must come into being as result of causes and conditions. This is also true of consciousness, as it is true of the external world. In the case of a material phenomenon, not only must the object have a cause, but also there must be some substance which maintains its continuum from one instance to another. Buddhists call this a substantial cause or material cause—a cause which maintains the continuum.
Similarly, in the case of consciousness—of mind or mental phenomena—there must be a continuum, and not only must there be a continuum, but also that continuum must be maintained on the basis of entities which share the same nature. A physical entity cannot become a continuum for a mental entity or mental phenomena. So it is on that basis, as far as the continuum of consciousness itself is concerned, there is nothing that can really destroy that continuum, therefore, it is also endless.
However, this is not to say that every instance of consciousness or mental event is beginningless or endless. Of course, when we talk about consciousness—mind or mental phenomena—we must appreciate that there are so many different levels of subtlety and coarseness. For example, many of the gross levels of consciousness, such as our sensory experiences and many of our thought processes, are time-bound; they are contingent on that. Many of these aspects of consciousness are contingent upon specific additions, specific organs and so on.
Within the continuum of consciousness, there must be something unique to consciousness, that makes the first instance and the second instance and so on possess that nature of being an experience, which is called the luminous nature. There must be something in the nature of mere experience or in the nature of mere awareness, and it is on that basis that we speak of the beginningless continuum and the endless continuum. That faculty, that quality of pure awareness or mere experience is not contingent upon any physical conditions and neither is it contingent upon any specific time, so it is from that point of view that consciousness or mind is said to be beginningless and endless.
In Buddhism, when we speak about the nature of self—the person or I—that self or I is something that is designated upon the basis of this continuum of consciousness. So, just as the continuum of consciousness is said to be beginningless and endless, therefore in Buddhism, the person—the self or I—that is designated upon that continuum of consciousness is also said to be beginningless and endless.
The method or means by which we can fulfill the aspirations of that self or that person which is designated upon the continuum of consciousness must come about on the basis of some transformation of that mind or consciousness.
This fact is very forcefully demonstrated in the Buddhist teachings on the twelve links in the chain of dependent origination. The teachings say very explicitly that it is our fundamental ignorance that creates the whole chain that eventually makes the cycle of the twelve links. Ignorance leads to volition, volition leads to karmic consciousness and so on and so forth, so it is the fundamental ignorance that creates the whole cycle of unenlightenment.
However, it is through the elimination of ignorance that we reverse the cycle and thus create a process towards enlightenment. When Buddha taught the twelve links of dependent origination, we were never given the impression that although fundamental ignorance lies at the root of the whole cycle, we can eliminate ignorance simply through a prayer or simply through adopting certain physical discipline or some form of physical behavior. We are taught that we can begin the process of reversing the cycle only through cultivating the right insight that sees through the delusion created by ignorance. So in brief, ignorance lead to unenlightenment and knowledge, the opposite of ignorance leads to...
[At this point, the Dalai Lama interrupts the interpreter, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, and speaks briefly with him.]
Geshe Thupten Jinpa: Sorry...Ignorance leads to suffering, unenlightenment. [The Dalai Lama laughs] The opposite of ignorance, which is knowledge, leads to happiness or enlightenment.
His Holiness is saying he realizes that it is not only him who sometimes uses the wrong word.
His Holiness: Using the wrong word, not only me alone, but some people also there.
Geshe Thupten Jinpa: If you look at some of the epistemological texts, these texts speak of different fruits of valid knowledge or valid cognition, and in these texts, attainment of liberation or enlightenment is identified as the long-term fruit of cultivating knowledge or valid cognition. So what seems to be true is that if we examine this carefully, much of our experience of suffering and confusion really comes from states of mind which are ultimately deluded, and much of our experience of joy and liberation and enlightenment really comes from stages of thought or states of mind which are not deluded, which have their roots in some kind of valid experience or valid knowledge.
What becomes evident through all of this discussion is the fact that even for our spiritual path, cultivating the right knowledge and insight seems to become really crucial and critical. In some sense, we are aware of this fact, because even conventionally speaking we all appreciate the value of education and knowledge. The higher the level of education of the person, the better informed that person will be to cope with the challenges of life. In some sense, we do appreciate this basic point.
So we can raise the question, how does cultivating the knowledge and the insight help us eliminate fundamental ignorance? Here, when we talk about opposing forces and how one expels the other, we can use the analogy of light and darkness—illumination and darkness. The moment the illumination, the light, is switched on, the darkness is dispelled, so here we have an analogy.
Similarly, when we think about the different forms of mutual exclusivity, for example, in the case of our thoughts, if we know that something is a tree or that something is not a tree. If we know that something is not a tree, then so far as our thoughts relate to that particular object of concern, we can at that very instant never have the possibility of thinking, “That is a tree.” One thought, by the simple fact of its occurrence, by definition excludes the possibility of other.
There is a similar kind of relationship between ignorance on the one hand and wisdom or insight on the other. Ignorance here is not a case of mere unknowing, but rather it is an active case of perceiving things in a way that they do not exist. So when we cultivate the opposing thought, which is true knowledge or insight, given that these two thoughts oppose each other, the only difference is that insight is grounded in valid cognition. Just as we have insight that things and events do not possess some kind of independent existence, this also corresponds to the actual reality, because things do not possess an independent existence.
On the other hand, fundamental ignorance misperceives things as possessing an independent existence, but this does not have any validity—it does not have any ground or any support. So, when we compare two opposing thoughts which are directly opposed to each other, whichever has the validity and whichever has the support grounded in our experience is going to be more powerful. So, it is in this way that ignorance will have to be eliminated.
These reasons make it very important in Buddhism to cultivate an understanding of emptiness, and this is why emptiness becomes important in the Buddhist path. Of course, depending upon different interpretations, there are different ways of understanding what emptiness really means according to the Buddhist teachings. We understand that the emptiness as taught by Nagarjuna—where in the final analysis, emptiness is understood in terms of dependent origination—that is the highest level of understanding of the teachings on emptiness.
Dependent by nature suggests that things are devoid of independent reality, or intrinsic reality. They are devoid of inner existence and identity, and this is what is meant by the Buddhist teachings on emptiness. It doesn’t mean that things do not exist. It simply means that things do not exist with some kind of independent identity or existence. So the nature of dependent origination is used as the final proof that things are empty, in the final analysis.
The thought which believes in the independent, intrinsic reality of things and events is known in Buddhism as the self-grasping thought or attitude. This we know is one source of much of our confusion and much of our ignorance. We also know that there is another element which is also one of the major origins of much of our suffering and problems. We are not only grasping at some kind of true existence of things and events and also at oneself, but we also have an attachment to the self which the Buddhists call the self-cherishing thought. This is a thought which cherishes one’s own self-interest and is completely oblivious to the well-being of others.
However, this is not to say that any form of self-regard is a source of suffering, because we do need a sense of self and also we do need our thoughts to have an element of self-regard. It is on the basis of a strong sense of self that we can proceed with many of the methods for attaining liberation: salvation, helping others and so on.
Now there is a problem when this form of self-regard becomes extreme to the point where we are prepared to exploit others; we are prepared to totally sacrifice others’ well-being in pursuit of that self-interest. In that form of extreme self-regard, a sense of self is a powerful problem.
His Holiness is making the point that if you don’t have any experience of caring for yourself, how can you even begin to care for others, because there is no real basis from which you can engage with others.
How do we overcome this excessive form of self-cherishing, that is prepared to sacrifice and exploit others’ well-being? The effective way to overcome this is through cultivating thoughts that cherish the well-being of others.
We can say that these two forces—the certain grasping at the self-existence of things and the self on the one hand, and also this excessive form of self-cherishing attitude —these two are said to be like two poisons that pollute from within. We could almost say that these two are poisonous trees that are growing in us.
Through this we can appreciate that the essence of our spiritual path should be the practice of cultivating compassion and love, which counteracts the self-cherishing, and also the practice cultivating correct insight into emptiness—the knowledge of emptiness which counteracts the other force. These two should not only be the essence of the teaching, but the key elements of our individual practice.
The day before yesterday I participated in a symposium on neuro-science and Buddhist meditation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. One of the speakers made a presentation where he showed an empirical study that was done, which seems to suggest quite conclusively that those people who have a tendency to use more self-reference terms, such as “I”, “me” and “mine” in a much higher proportion than the average person, have a much higher degree of self-involvement. Those people tend to have more health problems and also have much more hyper- kind of personality, and they are more prone to aggression and so on, including a much higher possibility of an earlier death.
This seems to suggest that not only Buddhist meditation on selflessness and counteracting the self-cherishing thoughts through cultivation of thoughts cherishing others’ well-being; not only do these kinds of practices have the benefit of leading to Buddhist liberation, nirvana, but even within this lifetime, even in immediate terms, there seem to be visible, beneficial effects. Because of this, just before the teaching, I told one of my friends, that if this is true then maybe many of the ritual practices that are aimed toward longevity—visualizations and meditations which involves prolonging one’s life, through focusing on one’s life—perhaps these may be counterproductive because the focus is on oneself whereas the focus should be on the others.
If we think carefully, it seems that the more self-involved we are, the more self-absorbed we are, thinking, “Oh yes, me, my problem, my this and my that,” it seems to have an immediate effect of narrowing our focus down to some tiny spot and reducing everything to that. It’s almost as if our vision is blurred, even to the point of being burdened, being pressed down by some heavy load. If we shift our focus from ourselves to others and think more about others’ well-being and welfare, immediately it has a liberating effect, because of that shift of focus. It gives rise to some kind of strength and also it makes us feel more expansive. Even if we are facing problems and we are aware of our own problems, somehow that very shift in the focus provides the space so the problem that seemed enormous earlier, now seems to be much more manageable. It seems to be less significant than it was before. This is the truth.
Since the main actual teaching here is the generation of the mind for enlightenment you should cultivate the right attitude, which is to put the focus on others, not on oneself and spread it out, extending it to all sentient beings, if possible. For the benefit of all sentient beings, make a strong commitment that you will ensure that this altruistic mind never degenerates.
As usual, for the ceremony of generating the mind of enlightenment, you should visualize here in your presence, the Buddha, the teacher, and all the bodhisattvas of the past and also the great masters of India and Tibet, such as Nagarjuna, Asanga and so on, and focus on them. Cultivate strong faith and admiration in them and then imagine that you are surrounded by all sentient beings and then focus on them. You should reinforce within you a strong sense of empathy and compassion towards their suffering and their problems, and then cultivate the thought, “For the benefit of all these sentient beings, I shall generate the mind of enlightenment in the presence of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the great masters of the past. As a preliminary to that generation of the mind of enlightenment, I need to overcome all obstacles, therefore I shall engage in the preliminary practices, such as the purification of negativities, accumulation of merits and so on.”
This will be performed through the recitation of the preliminary practices, which will be done in Tibetan. When the recitation is being done, on your part, you should imagine that you are going through these practices of purification and accumulation of merits.
[His Holiness recites prayer in Tibetan.]
I believe that a small sheet has been distributed to all of you with three verses in English. The first verse deals with taking refuge and the second verse deals with the generation of the mind of enlightenment. I believe that they are citations from one of the tantras.
The first verse basically states that, motivated by the wish to free all beings, “I will go for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha, until I attain full enlightenment.”
The second verse states that this is reinforced with compassion and is grounded in true insight or wisdom, “I shall generate the mind for enlightenment in the presence of all the buddhas here today.”
The wisdom of emptiness, the insight of emptiness, reinforces compassion because through the cultivation of the right insight, the wisdom of emptiness, we will gain the awareness or the knowledge that grasping at true existence is a form of delusion. Because it is a form of delusion it is something that can be corrected—it is something that can be removed or eliminated. Once you gain the conviction of the possibility of eliminating that delusion from within, then your compassion toward sentient beings who continue to be deluded, who continue to be deceived by such forms of delusion will increase ever more, because you know that there is a way out. Sentient beings continue to be chained in the cycle, so of course this true insight into emptiness will reinforce your compassion towards other sentient beings.
The mind for enlightenment, or bodhicitta, is a state of mind that is altruistic and is derived on the basis of true aspirations. One aspiration is to fulfill the welfare of all other sentient beings, and the other aspiration is to seek full enlightenment for the sake of fulfilling the objective of helping others. So it is on the basis of these two wishes that we cultivate the mind that seeks full enlightenment. This is called bodhicitta or the mind of awakening.
The third verse is really a verse of dedication and also an aspirational prayer. This is from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Bodhicaryavatara.
When you recite these three verses, you should dwell on their meaning. In the first verse, you are taking refuge in the Three Jewels; in the second verse, you are cultivating generating the mind for enlightenment; and in the third verse, you should have a strong sense that, “Now that I have generated the mind of enlightenment, I shall follow in the footsteps of the great bodhisattvas, and share in the powerful sentiments expressed in this verse, as long as space remains.”
We will do the recitation in Tibetan and while the Tibetan recitation is being done, you should read it all together in English.
With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.
Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
Today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.
I think whenever you have spare time, it would be very effective and beneficial to recite these three verses and reflect on their meaning. In that way you can experience the benefit. There is a Tibetan expression which states that the mind follows familiarity. So it is through constant familiarization and constant practice that something becomes more natural, easier and more applicable. So with that, today’s teaching is over. I would like to ask all of you to be happy.
His Holiness [in English]: Of course I believe the ultimate source of happiness is within ourselves. I think it is very important that our mental state remains calm, peaceful, then the external disturbances will not much disturb our internal peace. So therefore while we are earning money or some other things, I think it is equally important to pay more attention to our inner values, to be somewhat balanced. We should not be a slave of money. So, I think a happy balance. Of course, money is very important, hmm? [Laughter.]
Geshe Thupten Jinpa: You may be interested to know that Tibetans have a nickname for money; it is called, “that which by which all the wishes are fulfilled.” [Laughter.] So, the Tibetan expression translates as, “that which makes everybody happy and that which makes all the wishes fulfilled”.
His Holiness [in English]: So, as I mentioned before in the beginning, I think it is very, very important to be a warm-hearted person, a good-natured person, with more sense of caring for others. Ultimately, you get more happiness.
So, as I think—our old friends, I think you often heard before, I’m always telling people—I myself feel that if you are going to be selfish, you should be wise-selfish rather than foolish-selfish. So I think that’s very important. If you take care more of others, ultimately you get the benefit. That’s all. Thank you very much.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at a refuge ceremony held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, on April 1, 1995. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.
In this teaching, Rinpoche discusses the purpose of our life, how to make this precious human rebirth meaningful and how to actualize refuge in our own mind. The teaching also contains extensive advice on experiencing illness such as cancer for the benefit of others and how to establish a bodhicitta motivation in daily life. Rinpoche concludes with advice on the power of the objects of refuge.
First I would like to say thank you very much, I’m very happy to meet you. From the heart, I would like to thank you for coming to Nepal, to Kopan, from very far away. You have come to learn meditation, the teachings of the Buddha, which is learning about your own life, your own mind, or to put it another way, to learn what is false. What is the truth and what is false; to learn these two things. Anyone who is learning or attempting to learn something, it is either to benefit others, to obtain happiness for others or to benefit oneself. So the goal is either to benefit the world, to bring happiness and peace to others or if that is not the goal then, at least to benefit oneself, to obtain happiness for oneself.
Now the obstacle, from where the obstacle arises to achieve happiness, either for oneself or for others, is by not knowing what is false and what is the truth. By not knowing this, then from this ignorance, not knowing this point, not having correct wisdom—knowing what is false and what is the truth. From ignorance the obstacle arises to obtain peace and happiness for oneself, and not only temporary, but ultimate happiness, everlasting happiness, which includes temporary happiness. In this way we can bring peace and happiness toward others.
This can be as much wisdom—knowing what is truth and what is false—as much wisdom as we can achieve and put into practice, put it into action. This is the solution to obtaining peace and happiness for oneself and to cause this for other sentient beings. Therefore, we must study the teachings of the Buddha. Another way of presenting this, another way of understanding this, another way of looking at it, is to discover what is false. Believing that reality is true causes problems for ourselves and others, including the fundamental problems, the suffering of rebirth, the suffering of death, and all the problems in between, death and rebirth, old age, sickness and so forth.
Then by learning what is the truth, what is the unmistaken path, what is the right method to achieve happiness, to find satisfaction in our life and to overcome the problems, the more we learn, the more we put into action, then we are able to overcome that and even to have control over the death. We are able to overcome even those heavy, unbearable problems of life, the suffering of rebirth and death and so forth. So we can overcome these. We can gradually overcome these, we can be free from these problems forever. We don’t have to experience this anymore. Not only are we able to achieve satisfaction in our day-to-day life, not only that, for ourselves alone to find some peace and happiness, some satisfaction in the heart, not just only that. Just to be happy, content, having peace in our own mind, not just that.
The Purpose of Our Life
One most important thing that we have to know—whether we are practicing meditation, whether we like to meditate or we don’t like to meditate—the most important thing to discover or to know, is the purpose of life, the purpose of why we are living, why it is so important to live the life, to live every day, why it is so important to survive, what is the purpose of living. Each day, each hour, each second, the purpose of our living. It is extremely important to have the correct understanding of that. That is the most important meditation, that understanding. Then living the life with that wisdom, with that thought to benefit others, with that thought to benefit other sentient beings. This is the best way to achieve happiness in the life, the best way to find peace and satisfaction in our own heart, by having the correct wisdom of the purpose of our life, the attitude to obtain benefit for other sentient beings.
So now, the purpose of our life is not just to solve our own problems and to obtain happiness only for ourselves, not just that. This attitude, just living the life only with this attitude doesn’t fulfill the purpose of why we have this precious human body. You might have already studied this meditation subject, the graduated path to enlightenment, which comes in three divisions. The graduated path of the lower capable being talks a lot about how this human body that we have now is so precious, how it is so important, all the qualities that it has, all the advantages, all the benefits, what we can achieve with this precious human body. The benefits that we can achieve from this for our own happiness and especially for other sentient beings who are numberless, who want happiness and do not want suffering. With this precious human body, we can offer infinite benefit to the numberless other sentient beings. We can cause all the happiness—any temporary happiness, any ultimate happiness—we are able to give that to everyone, every other sentient being, who are equaling the limitless sky.
The Nature of the Mind
Not only that, our mind also has buddha nature, the fully enlightened being’s nature, which is the clear light nature of the mind, which is pure, it doesn’t exist from its own side and is not oneness with mistakes. The nature of our mind is not oneness with the defilements.
That is not the only reason. It is not only because of this—that in our mental continuum there is buddha nature, which gives all the hopes, all the possibilities that we can be liberated, that we can free from any problems, from any sufferings of samsara and never have to experience all those unimaginable sufferings of the hell beings or hungry ghosts, those beings’ sufferings, animal sufferings, human beings’ suffering, all those different beings. We can be liberated, so we never have to experience those sufferings forever once we are liberated from that. We can be liberated completely from the cause, the reason. We can be completely liberated from the whole entire cause of these sufferings, karma and the disturbing thoughts—the karma, the action and the disturbing thoughts, all the defilements.
Because we have buddha nature in our mental continuum, this gives us all the hope, all the possibilities, that we can cease, we can be liberated from all the suffering and causes. This gives us hope, no matter how much we believe we have the heaviest problem, even if we are missing limbs or have TB, cancer or whatever; or that nobody is helping us, that nobody loves us; seeing, having these appearances in the life that nobody loves us or nothing is working in the life, everything got stuck, in business or whatever we try, that nothing is working, there are always constant problems or constant problems of health, disease coming or whatever. Whatever the heaviest problem we experience, because of our buddha nature, no matter how much we think that all these problems are so heavy, so unbearable, in reality they are all temporary, just as the sky is not oneness with the fog, with the fogginess.
The sky itself is not oneness with the fog, therefore due to wind and so forth, due to causes and conditions, the fog goes away. The clear sky is obscured by heavy fog that blocks seeing the stars, the moon or the sun; due to cause and conditions it is collected there. Due to causes and conditions it happened there, it arose, but due to other causes and conditions the heavy fogginess that makes everything very gloomy or very dark goes away. During that foggy time it looks as if it is impossible for it to go away. It is very heavy, very dark, however in the next hour, due to other causes and conditions, then the sky becomes clear. We can see the sun or the moon; it becomes very clear. So what is happening is not forever because the nature of the sky is not oneness with this heavy fogginess, like that.
It’s the same thing with our life experience, all our problems, whatever it is, even the suffering of death, AIDS and all these things, all these sufferings; so, you see, due to cause and conditions this happened, we experience these problems, we go through that, but because we have buddha nature, if we put together another cause and conditions then we can eliminate or we can cease all these unbearable, heavy problems of life. Our sufferings can be completely ceased and we can make it impossible to experience them again.
Buddha nature is clear light, the nature of the mind is clear light. This is the basic reason, the fundamental reason which gives us all the possibilities, all the opportunities for good things, all the hopes for good things.
This Precious Human Body
On top of that, this time we have this precious human body, qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, so that we can achieve happiness in future lives. The reason why we bring up the happiness in future lives is because that happiness is long-term happiness. It is not a question of one year’s peace and happiness, it is not a question of one month or one day of peace and happiness. It is long-term happiness, the happiness of future lives. I am talking about long-run happiness.
The happiness of this life, even if we did succeed in achieving this, is just a question of a few years at the longest, or a few months, a few weeks or some days, not sure. Anyway, it is very short; it’s a very short-time happiness. Any happiness of future lives, whatever we wish for, we can achieve with this precious human body. Even if we wish to receive the precious human body again, a human body or a deva body—those other beings who are living on the higher planets, who have much greater, much longer lives than human beings in this world and who have hundreds, thousands of times greater sense enjoyments than us human beings. Even if we wish to reincarnate in those realms after our death, to reincarnate in those deva realms, those worldly gods or devas, we can achieve that with this precious human body. Even if we wish to have perfect surroundings in our future life, so that all our wishes get fulfilled, so that we get a lot of support, so that people are harmonious with us, their mind is harmonious with our mind, they are happy with us and they support us; they don’t make us upset, they don’t become our enemy. If we wish to have perfect surroundings in the future, we can achieve that with this perfect human body, because we can create the cause for all these things.
To receive the body of the happy migratory being in the next life, we can achieve any of those things, because with this precious human body we can create the cause by practicing morality. We can practice morality. It doesn’t mean we have to become a monk or nun; it means that whatever we can do—morality, whatever vows we can take—we can practice. We can also practice charity, we can dedicate the merits to receive the result. Then to receive perfect surrounding people in the next life, with this human body, we can create the cause for that by practicing patience in this life. That is a cause. Then, if we wish to receive a perfect human body, a human body that is qualified in the eight freedoms and ten richnesses in the next life, again to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment, again to continue to develop the mind in the path to liberation, to enlightenment, we can create the cause. With this perfect human body that we have now, we can create the cause for that.
At the time of death, even if we wish to be born in the pure land of Buddha, where once we have reincarnated there we never have to reincarnate in samsara, where we don’t have the suffering of rebirth, sickness, such as AIDS and those things, all the problems. If we are reborn in those pure lands, we never have to reincarnate in samsara, to experience all the problems again. That’s it, that’s the end; we don’t have to reincarnate in samsara and experience all the problems again. If we wish to achieve that, to reincarnate in a pure land, and not only that, not only not having to reincarnate back in the suffering realm and experience all the problems again, not only that, in certain pure lands of Buddha, there we are able to complete the path and become enlightened, to free the numberless suffering sentient beings from all the obscurations, all the sufferings and lead them to full enlightenment. We can lead them to the peerless happiness, full enlightenment.
If we wish to achieve this, we can do it with this perfect human body that we have received, that we have now. We can create the cause to reincarnate in this pure land of the Buddha, those certain deities or buddhas’ pure land. Once we reincarnate there, we never have to reincarnate again in samsara and experience the problems of life, all those unimaginable sufferings. Not only that, but we are able to develop the mind in the path, complete the path and become enlightened there. Then we are able to do perfect work for numberless other sentient beings without the slightest mistake. Naturally, spontaneously manifesting out of compassion, with perfect power and with the omniscient mind, with complete wisdom. Even in each second, liberating many sentient beings from the sufferings, leading them, guiding them to happiness, from happiness to happiness, to full enlightenment, which is the cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and completion of all the realizations.
So we can create the cause for that. If we wish to achieve that, with this perfect human body we can create the cause, on the basis of practicing morality and the good heart, bodhicitta, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings. There are particular practices to create the cause to reincarnate in the pure land, meditations, things like that.
Also, the other thing is, without reincarnating in the pure land, then again being reborn as a human being, taking a human rebirth, but a human rebirth which is much more qualified, having the eight ripening qualities. Having a human body which has the eight ripened, not ripening, qualities. If we are able to achieve this, then it becomes very powerful to have quick success actualizing the path to enlightenment. It’s very powerful, very powerful in order to have the realizations of the path to enlightenment, it’s very powerful to benefit. Then we are able to offer extensive benefit toward other sentient beings.
As Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned in the lam-rim, in his teaching called Lines of Experience of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment. This was from his own experience, Lama Tsongkhapa’s own experience. In this lam-rim, Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned that, in order to have great success, to complete the realizations of the path to enlightenment, to have great success. Also to be able to offer extensive benefit toward others. Also if we wish, we can achieve the eight ripened qualities, such as a long life, and having control, having a powerful body and mind so that we can bear the hardships. Because the body and mind is very powerful we can overcome the problems, the obstacles to actualize the path, to meditate, to practice Dharma, We can overcome these easily, we can bear the hardships, not being small-minded, but with a brave heart. We can be like those many great yogis, like Milarepa.
We can achieve enlightenment within a number of years, in this life, within a brief lifetime of degenerated time. This means a very short time. With a brave heart, not a small mind, not a weak mind, but a brave heart, and also physically not weak, but powerful, strong. Therefore we are able to succeed, to overcome the obstacles and succeed in actualizing the path, to complete the realizations of the path and so forth. So there are eight qualities, like that. These are necessary qualities to be able to extensively benefit to others. We are able to extensively benefit others, and also to easily develop our mind in the path to enlightenment. These are the qualities that we need for that.
Also having a perfect body or precious body which has four Mahayana Dharma wheels. It means in the next life. We prepare in this life for the next rebirth, we prepare in this life, we make arrangements, we create the cause for the next life to be born in the place where there are Mahayana teachings existing. We are born in the right place, in a conducive environment, with parents, the family, those having the faith to follow the teachings, who have faith in these teachings. To be born where the Mahayana teachings exist, so where there are all these perfect conditions, again to meet Mahayana teachings; then to be able to continue to develop our mind in the path, which we haven’t developed in this life. So to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. We can create the cause, we can achieve this with this perfect human body because we have created the cause.
Then if we wish to achieve ultimate happiness, be free forever from the whole entire sufferings of samsara, which comes in the three: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change—those which are called pleasures but in reality they are suffering, which are labelled pleasures and we believe are pure happiness but in reality are only suffering. Those sufferings, those samsaric pleasures, are called the suffering of change. That is why those pleasures don’t last. The more we put effort, the pleasure decreases. Instead of continuing, increasing the pleasure, it doesn’t last, it decreases. Then pervasive, compounding suffering, which is the fundamental suffering of samsara. So you see, being free forever from the whole entire suffering and the cause, karma and delusions. If we wish to, we can achieve this, because with this precious human body we can actualize the path, we can create the cause.
The fundamental path to achieve this, the higher training of morality, on the basis of refuge, having refuge in the heart, relying upon the fully enlightened being and the Dharma, the path, the method which liberates ourselves and others from the whole entire suffering and its causes. In reality that which does this, which liberates, which eliminates the whole entire suffering and causes is Dharma. In reality, it is our own mind. It’s our own healthy mind, it is our own positive mind, it’s our own wisdom, it’s our own compassion.
Taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
The basic path is this, the basic Dharma that we are taking refuge in is our own mind. We are trying to achieve happiness by transforming our own mind from the disturbing thoughts into peaceful thoughts which produce satisfaction, peace and happiness, both temporary and ultimate. By relying upon our positive thoughts, trying to achieve happiness, that is Dharma, that is taking refuge in the Dharma, and that is the only way to achieve happiness. By relying upon that, with this Dharma wisdom, understanding, the happiness has to come from our own mind. It doesn’t come from outside, it has to come from our own mind. And how? From the positive mind, by relying upon our positive mind, our healthy mind, the thought which brings satisfaction, peace and happiness in our own mental continuum.
By relying upon this and transforming our mind into this, then through this we achieve all the happiness up to enlightenment, the highest happiness, enlightenment. This includes day-to-day peace in our life, from there up to enlightenment. This comes from Dharma, which is our own mind. This is how we should realize what it means taking refuge in Dharma. It doesn’t mean surrendering to something that gives us no freedom, something which suffocates us or which doesn’t give freedom to us. It is not that. That is a misunderstanding of what taking refuge means. Thinking we surrender to something which doesn’t give us freedom. If the freedom that we want is for happiness, if it’s for peace and happiness, not suffering, then this way of taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha only gives us the freedom to achieve what we want. We can achieve the peace and happiness in our heart, including liberation, enlightenment, all those things, including day-to-day satisfaction and peace of mind. But if what we want is suffering, not happiness, the opposite to peace, then it is different. We don’t achieve suffering from this. We don’t achieve suffering by taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
Taking refuge in our own Buddha, our own Dharma, our own Sangha, it is our own mind; it is that which is called result time Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. That is what we are looking for; what we are looking for is our own Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. That is the achievement. But in order for this to happen, in order to actualize our own Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the result refuge, in order for this to happen, then this has to be created, this has to be actualized with the support of others, with others’ help. We need the help of other beings, who are separate from oneself, by depending on others’ support. To be completely cured of a disease, we must rely upon a doctor, medicine and nurse. To completely recover successfully from this severe disease that we have, then we must rely upon doctor, medicine, nurse. With this support, this help, then we can become completely healthy. We can be completely cured of the disease.
To know all the treatment, to be able to diagnose and recognize all the sicknesses, to diagnose that and to know all the treatment to cure the disease, we have to study by relying upon a wise doctor. We have to rely upon somebody, to see somebody outside, like a wise doctor who knows everything. By relying upon that, by studying, then we can become the wise doctor who can help ourselves and others. It’s the same as that. Not only to achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from the whole entire suffering and causes for ourselves, not only for that, but to be able to become a perfect guide, to liberate the numberless other suffering beings from all the suffering and its causes, to lead them to peerless happiness, full enlightenment. To do that, we have to become a buddha by actualizing the Dharma, the refuge Dharma, all the realizations of the path. Then we have to become Sangha to be able to do perfect work, service for other sentient beings, to guide other sentient beings.
We are practicing Dharma, practicing meditation and actualizing the path in order to become the result refuge, Buddha, the Sangha and to actualize the Dharma within our own mental continuum. This is the ultimate taking refuge. We are practicing meditation, practicing Dharma for this, so that we can become a perfect guide, able to do perfect work for all sentient beings.
As I gave those examples, then we need others’ help and support for this to happen. we need to rely upon other beings, the buddhas, and their realizations, the Dharma that they have, the scriptural understanding and the realizations, their experiences that are unmistaken. We need to trust and rely upon that. We also need the help of the Sangha. We need the support of the Sangha, the inspiration from the Sangha for practicing the path, we need inspiration from them. For example, all these things, we have to have examples; we have to follow their example. Therefore there is a need to rely upon Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
Oour main goal is to become Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. It’s like becoming a professor, a doctor or professor, to be able to do that we have to learn from another professor; we have to get all the qualifications by relying upon somebody.
Now I think that is on the basis of the three higher trainings, the higher training of morality, concentration, and wisdom. “Higher” means on the basis of refuge, by having refuge in the mind, then morality, practicing morality and concentration, wisdom. These are the fundamental paths to achieve everlasting happiness and liberation forever, to be free from the whole entire suffering, the cycle of death and rebirth, all the sufferings and causes. With this perfect body we can practice this and we can achieve liberation from samsara if we wish to.
The Ultimate Goal
How do we achieve the highest goal, the full enlightenment? With this perfect human body we can practice bodhicitta and follow the bodhisattvas’ deeds, such as the six paramitas to ripen our own mind and there are four practices to draw others, which is to ripen the mind of others. However, with this perfect human body we can practice bodhicitta. In this human continent, this particular continent where we are, this is a suffering continent. There is the eastern continent, the human world, the northern continent, the western continent and the southern continent. There are different human worlds like this, and where we are now is the southern continent. In this southern continent, there are all kinds of lives, suffering and pleasure. We ourselves go through this, we see so much suffering and also, comfort, pleasures, all sorts of lives. However, because of this it is very easy to generate renunciation of samsara and because of this, it is very easy to generate compassion. For us, it is very easy, we who are born in this world, the southern continent, it is very easy to develop compassion toward others because it is easy to see the suffering of others.
It is very easy to generate compassion, to develop compassion, therefore it is very easy to generate bodhicitta. If there is no bodhicitta realization, there is no enlightenment, then we cannot perfectly guide all other living beings from happiness to ultimate happiness, full enlightenment. We cannot perfectly guide others, we cannot do perfect service for others.
The ultimate goal of our life is to free all sentient beings from all the sufferings and to lead them to happiness, especially full enlightenment, the peerless happiness. That is the ultimate goal of our life. To be able to achieve this goal, to be able to do this perfect service for others, we need to achieve the omniscient mind, knowing all the past, present and future, being able to see everything directly. Being able to see directly and being able to read the numberless other sentient beings’ minds, all the different characters—being able to see the different wishes that they have, their intelligence, the different levels of karma, their potential and the various methods that can fit to them. We have to know everything; we need to know the numberless methods to benefit other sentient beings and we need to have perfect power to reveal the various methods. Not only that, we need to have completed the mind training in compassion toward all living beings. We should have all these qualities. These are the basic qualities and there are also many other qualities. We should have all these qualities to be able to do perfect work, service for all sentient beings.
Without bodhicitta realization all this is not possible. Without bodhicitta we cannot enter the Mahayana path and without entering the Mahayana path we cannot achieve all these qualities. In this particular human world where we are born now there is suffering, therefore we can easily generate very strong renunciation of samsara, renunciation of samsaric suffering. Then because of that we can generate very strong compassion easily and because of that, we are able to actualize bodhicitta very easily and strongly. Because of that very easy, very strong and very powerful bodhicitta, we are able to achieve enlightenment very quickly. The conclusion is that with this human body in this southern continent we can achieve enlightenment easily and quickly.
In the six realms—the sura, asura and human realms and the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms—the only realm which has the opportunity to become enlightened within one life is this human realm. Not even in other human worlds, but only in this one, our human world, this southern continent. This is the only one. Human beings in the southern continent are the only ones with the opportunity to achieve enlightenment within one life. In one lifetime we can achieve enlightenment, therefore, we are extremely fortunate that we are born as human beings and we are born in this southern continent where we receive this human body. This human body that we have received in this southern continent is regarded as very precious because it has so many qualities and so much opportunity.
With this human body we can achieve liberation from samsara and we can achieve full enlightenment for sentient beings. These two are ultimate happiness. Not only in each day, but even in each hour, each minute and each second, with this perfect human body we can achieve any of these happinesses, any happiness of future lives, the temporary happiness, such as reincarnating in a pure land and so forth. Also, we can achieve any of those ultimate happinesses. We can create the cause with this perfect human body, even in each second in our everyday life.
Therefore this precious human body, which is qualified with eight freedoms and ten richnesses, is extremely, highly meaningful. Even in each second it is very precious, even in each second in our everyday life. So like that. Maybe short break.
As I mentioned before, if the attitude is just seeking happiness for oneself, to resolve our own problems; if we live our life with this attitude it doesn’t transcend, it doesn’t make our life anything special. Our life is nothing special, it is nothing higher than ants, insects or worms, or those very vicious animals, tigers or poisonous snakes. It is nothing special from them, nothing special from their attitude. Even those tiny insects and even those very vicious animals live their life with this attitude, only seeking happiness for themselves. They are constantly looking for protection, constantly looking for food and constantly only looking for happiness for themselves. That’s it. There is no thought of obtaining happiness for others, to benefit for others.
Without bodhicitta we do nothing special from them. Externally we have the human body, which is something very precious, but internally we do nothing special. Just having that attitude doesn’t give meaning to this life. It doesn’t give the special purpose why we have taken this precious human body at this time and why we have not taken the body of a crocodile, a lobster, a frog, a spider, a scorpion, a jelly fish or an octopus.
Anyway, there has to be a special purpose for having this precious human body. That attitude doesn’t fulfill the purpose of why we have taken this precious human body. In other words that attitude only becomes an obstacle to making this life, this precious human body, beneficial even for oneself, leave aside making it beneficial for other sentient beings. This attitude becomes an obstacle blocking even that this precious human body could be beneficial to achieve happiness for oneself. This attitude becomes a blockage for making this human body useful to achieve happiness even for oneself. Like that, as I mentioned before.
The ultimate goal of our life or the real purpose of our life is to eliminate the sufferings of others, to obtain happiness for numberless other sentient beings. To free others who are numberless, to free each and every one of them from all the sufferings and to lead them especially to the peerless happiness, full enlightenment. That is the ultimate goal of our life. That is the purpose of our living.
Therefore, it is an extremely good practice for the twenty-four hours to keep the mind in this attitude, from when we wake up in the morning. Think, “My life is to benefit others, the numberless sentient beings without discrimination, without leaving even one exception, including the enemy who harms me, including that.”
Think, “I am here to serve others, to cause happiness to others.” Live the life with this thought. Also feel the responsibility, the universal responsibility, that, “I have the responsibility to obtain happiness for all sentient beings. I am responsible for all sentient beings’ happiness.” Usually the reasoning is that if we have compassion toward other sentient beings, then they will not receive harm from us. They will receive peace and happiness from us and on top of that, by developing compassion, by having compassion, we benefit others. Not only do we stop giving harm, but also we benefit, we do something for others, we cause happiness to others.
All the peace and happiness that numberless other sentient beings receive from us, that is dependent on us and that is in our hands. Whether we want to offer this happiness and peace to others or not, it is in our hands. Why? Because it’s up to our mind, what we do with our mind, what kind of attitude we have toward others, whether we have compassion, the thought to benefit others; whether we have this attitude toward others or not. Whether all the numberless other sentient beings receive happiness, what they receive from us, depends on our having compassion toward them. Therefore, it’s very logical that each of us clearly has universal responsibility. We have responsibility for their happiness, to obtain happiness for every living being.
Bodhicitta Motivation in Daily Life
In twenty-four hours of our life, day and night, we should live the life with this thought, this purpose of life, the thought to benefit others, the thought to obtain happiness toward all sentient beings. This is the purpose of life, and the other thing is to feel the responsibility. When we get up in the morning, when we are waking up, getting up in the morning, if we get up with this thought, that means naturally the purpose of getting up is to serve others and to obtain happiness for other sentient beings. When we are dressing, if we are dressing with this thought, that naturally we are wearing our clothes in order to serve other sentient beings, in order to obtain happiness for other sentient beings, to benefit other sentient beings, then it naturally becomes that.
The same thing when we eat breakfast, if we practice mindfulness, if we eat breakfast with this attitude, then naturally eating breakfast doesn’t become just for ourselves, for our own happiness. Having breakfast becomes an action to benefit others; even eating breakfast becomes an action benefiting other sentient beings. Naturally it is dedicated for others, so our actions are benefiting other sentient beings. When we are washing every morning, if we wash with this attitude, then naturally all the washing does not become for our own happiness; it doesn’t become ego. Even washing becomes a beneficial action toward other living beings. It becomes for others. Even washing, cleaning the body, becomes a beneficial action toward numberless other sentient beings.
The same thing when we go from home to work, to our job, we should go with this thought, which is the purpose of life, the thought to benefit numberless other sentient beings, if possible. Not only to benefit the employer who employed us, not only to benefit those people who own the company; not only that we are causing happiness, not only to benefit the people who receive the goods, not only the thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands of people who receive the goods. Not only the thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands of people who receive the goods, the materials that are made in the company factory, including our own effort. Not only those people, the hundreds of thousands of people who receive those things and get comfort and pleasure from that. Not just this, but if we can think of the numberless other sentient beings, to benefit them. When we include these people—the employer, the owner of the company, and so many hundreds of people who receive the things that we are making, who we are sending letters to, or manufacturing, making things for—think that other people are receiving comfort, including them.
When we go from home to the job, if we go with this thought, and also while we are working, eight hours or six or seven hours, however many hours we are doing the job, then also remember that. Even if the mind gets distracted again by ego, working for self, for our own happiness, if our motivation becomes ego, the selfish mind; even if it becomes that, then again try to transform it into the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, which is the purpose of life. Also, try to feel the responsibility, thinking that “I am responsible for all sentient beings’ happiness, therefore this is what I am doing here.” So, with a good heart, the thought of benefiting others. Same thing, when we have lunch and dinner, or when we go to bed, the same.
When we go to bed, also do it with that thought of benefiting other sentient beings. Think, “In order to serve, to obtain happiness for all sentient beings, to do this service I need a long life, I need to be healthy, therefore I am going to sleep.” Same thing with food and all these things.
Also, when we make parties, when we are doing things, making parties, giving food and drink to others, the same thing. Do it with the thought of bodhicitta, to benefit others, to obtain happiness for other sentient beings. In this way, it blocks the attachment, there is no motivation of attachment, which makes the action become non-virtue, the cause of suffering. The mind which makes the action the cause of suffering, non-virtue—that non-virtuous motivation is the attachment to this life, clinging to this life’s happiness—so that is stopped.
Not only that, in this way all the activities that we do in our daily life—eating, walking, working, sitting, sleeping and so forth, all these activities—we don’t allow a nonvirtuous motivation to arise. We don’t allow the attitude for all these activities to become a nonvirtuous motivation, such as attachment clinging to this life, clinging to our own happiness, even just for this life. That is nonvirtue, that motivation is nonvirtue.
Why is this nonvirtue? Because the nature of this thought and the effect that we get by letting this arise and the effect that we get back, the effect that we receive from that to your mental continuum is disturbing. The nature of that thought is disturbing. It’s not a peaceful thought, the nature of that is not a peaceful thought. The nature of that thought is pain. By letting it arise, it affects what we get, it affects our mental continuum. It disturbs us, it’s not peaceful. That is one reason why this thought is nonvirtue.
The other reason is, because this is a nonvirtuous thought, the action motivated by this thought becomes nonvirtue. The effect of this action or the result of this action is only suffering. The result or the effect of this action is only suffering, therefore this motivation receives the label nonvirtue and the action motivated by this thought receives the label nonvirtue because the result, the conclusion, is only suffering. So, it’s like this.
A plant which causes life danger by smelling or by eating it—if it makes us get sick and endangers our life, it receives the label poison. And something which cures disease by taking it, which has the effect, the result of curing the disease, then that receives the label medicine. It is just like that. It is exactly the same thing with our attitude and action. This is similar. They receive these labels according to the nature of that and the effect, the kind of result which comes from that.
Therefore, try to live the life with this thought of benefiting others all the time. This is the purpose of our life, feeling responsibility for others. That does not allow our motivation of twenty-four hours’ life to become nonvirtue, thus we are protected in our everyday life, we are protected. We are saved, we are protected, because our mind is protected from these disturbing thoughts which are the cause of the sufferings. Therefore we are protected from the sufferings. In this way, by protecting the mind, we are protected from the sufferings of this life and the life after this; we are protected from the sufferings of samsara. We are always guided on the path to happiness by living the life with this special thought, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, of obtaining happiness for other sentient beings.
The other thing is ego. This thought of benefiting other sentient beings, the good heart, is completely against the ego. The motivation of our life is not stained by ego, the self-centered mind, therefore our motivation becomes very pure. Not only that, there are no nonvirtuous thoughts, no anger or attachment and so forth, not even ego, the self-cherishing thought. Our mind becomes very pure, very healthy, and this mind is the thought cherishing others, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings. This is a very content, very satisfied, very happy mind, and there is very deep peace, we are happy in our heart, it’s very enjoyable. With this thought our life becomes very enjoyable. With this thought even if we are in prison, we see meaning in our life. Even if we are living in prison, no matter wherever we are, no matter whether we are doing a retreat, doing meditation or in a place where we practice Dharma, meditation, or wherever we are.
If we live the life with this thought, with this attitude, bodhicitta, the good heart, the thought of benefiting others, then wherever we are, whomever we are with, whether we are healthy or whether we are unhealthy; whether we have AIDS or whether we don’t have AIDS; whether we have cancer or whether we don’t have cancer; whether we are dying or whether we are living; whatever life experience is happening, whether there is material receiving or whether there is no material receiving; whether there is criticism or whether there is praise; whether there is bad reputation or good reputation; whatever is happening, if we live the life with this thought of bodhicitta, cherishing others, the thought of benefiting others, with this thought, wherever we are, whomever we are with, whatever life we experience, healthy, unhealthy, even dying, living or dying, it always has meaning with this thought. This thought gives meaning to our life.
Somebody who is poor, by having these thoughts it makes their life very rich, it gives meaning to the life, they see there is meaning in the life. Even somebody who is very wealthy, somebody who is a millionaire, no matter how much the person has wealth, no matter how rich the person is, by having this thought it gives meaning having all this wealth, because everything is to benefit for others, all the wealth is to benefit others, with this thought. Therefore, it makes sense, it gives meaning to our whole entire life.
Without this attitude, then however much wealth the person has, their whole life has no meaning. The wealth doesn’t fulfill the purpose of life, that alone doesn’t fulfill the purpose of life. In other words, without this bodhicitta, this good heart, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, then how much wealth we have, with that alone, it becomes an empty life. It doesn’t give purpose, it doesn’t give meaning to the life. Our life becomes empty.
Without this thought or without this attitude in life, this special attitude or thought of benefiting other sentient beings, then however much education we have—even if we have all this intellectual understanding, even of the Buddha’s teachings of sutra, tantra, the whole entire teachings; even if we have the understanding of the whole entire teaching—without this special attitude, the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, without this, then even with that much education, that alone doesn’t fulfill the purpose of our life. Even if we have that much intellectual understanding of Buddhadharma, the Buddha’s teachings, our life becomes empty.
No question about others, how much power we have, how much reputation we have in this world, how much power we have achieved in this world, then no question, without compassion, without the thought of benefiting others, no matter how much of those other things we have, our life becomes empty. Without this special attitude, this special way of thinking, which is the purpose of life, the thought to benefit others, without this, even if we lived for thousands of years, if we had a long life and lived for thousands of years, it is nothing, it is empty. It becomes an empty life, even if we are able to live a healthy, long life for thousands of years.
Experiencing Cancer For All Sentient Beings
By having this special thought, this thought of benefiting other sentient beings, then whatever happens—whatever experience, whatever happiness or suffering, whatever circumstances we are experiencing, whatever is happening—everything becomes beneficial, everything becomes meaningful, beneficial for others. Even if we have cancer we can make that experience beneficial for all sentient beings. With this thought we can experience the cancer on behalf of all sentient beings who have cancer, who have the potential, who have the karma to experience cancer. With this thought we can experience the cancer on behalf of all sentient beings. This way of thinking about our experience of cancer becomes the most powerful healing and purification. It becomes the most powerful healing because in this way, by experiencing it for others, then it purifies the cause of the cancer which is the mind, our own mind, the disturbing thoughts, including the ego. The cause of the cancer is our own mind, those impure thoughts which are on the mind, the imprint of negative karma. By manifesting that, then the cancer happened, due to the imprint left by the past negative karma.
With this bodhicitta, with this thought of benefiting other sentient beings, by living the life with this, then we experience cancer on behalf of all sentient beings. That purifies the cause of the cancer. It becomes the most powerful purification and it becomes the best healing. Experiencing the cancer itself becomes the healing. That itself, with this thought experiencing the cancer itself becomes healing. We use the cancer to heal the cancer. How? By purifying the cause of the cancer. That becomes the most powerful purification, purifying the cause of the cancer. It affects the mind. So, like this.
Experiencing the cancer with this thought, with this bodhicitta mind, for the benefit of other sentient beings, experiencing cancer for the sake of all sentient beings, that itself accumulates infinite merit, because we experience the cancer for the sake of numberless other sentient beings who are experiencing cancer now and who have the potential, who have the karma, to experience cancer in the future. They are numberless. Because of that we are creating numberless merit, good karma, like skies of merit. Each second when we experience cancer on behalf of all sentient beings, we are accumulating merit like the limitless sky. We are collecting that many numberless merits. That means each time we are becoming closer to enlightenment. Each time we are becoming so much closer to enlightenment, the peerless happiness, the cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and the completion of all the realizations. We become closer to enlightenment each time.
This itself becomes the quick path to achieve enlightenment, like tantra, the quick path to achieve the enlightenment. Why? Because it is the most powerful purification, it purifies the defilements and it is the most powerful, it becomes the method to accumulate skies of merit, good karma. The more we finish the work, accumulating merit, and the more of this work we get done, that much quicker we achieve enlightenment. This is achieved when we have completed the work accumulating merit; when we have finished the work accumulating merit—the merit of wisdom and the merit of method, or the other way of saying it is the merit of fortune. There are two types of merit to achieve enlightenment, to achieve the completely pure holy body of rupakaya and the completely pure holy mind of dharmakaya. Achieving these two depends on how quickly we achieve this, and how quickly we achieve this depends on whether we accumulate these two types of merit, how quickly we finish the work accumulating these two types of merit.
With this thought of bodhicitta, we experience cancer, we do the meditations and experience the cancer on behalf of all sentient beings. So we collect limitless merit like the sky. Experiencing the cancer itself becomes the quickest path to achieve enlightenment. In other words, experiencing the cancer itself becomes the cause of happiness for all sentient beings. Because we are doing it with this thought, naturally it is dedicated for other sentient beings, we are experiencing this on behalf of numberless other sentient beings. How many hours, how many days, how many years, how many months, how many hours, minutes or seconds we are experiencing cancer with this thought, all this becomes the cause of happiness for numberless sentient beings. One reason is, after we have achieved enlightenment through this practice, through this bodhicitta practice, then we are able to do perfect work to guide sentient beings from happiness to happiness, to the highest enlightenment. That is how each second we are experiencing the cancer, how it becomes the cause of happiness, with this bodhicitta, experiencing the cancer in each second, it becomes the cause of all happiness for numberless other sentient beings. So, like that.
This is how we transform the suffering into happiness. It becomes the best method to cease, to purify the cause of cancer, to not experience cancer, to have the happiness of not having cancer. This way, there is no emotional mind, no fear or worry, these emotional minds. There is only a content mind, a joyful mind, a happy mind, a satisfied mind, because with this bodhicitta we experience cancer for the sake of all sentient beings. By having cancer, it is giving meaning, having the cancer is giving meaning to our own life. We see it this way. Having these sicknesses is giving meaning to the life, giving a purpose to life. It gives a special meaning, a special purpose of life, to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings.
To conclude, the ultimate goal of our own life is to obtain happiness and benefit for all sentient beings. There are different levels. The first is causing happiness of this life toward others, causing this life’s comfort and happiness toward others. A more important service than this is causing the happiness of future lives, because the comfort of this life, even if we should attempt to achieve that as much as we can in our everyday life, even causing others the happiness of this life, it is a very short period of happiness, as I mentioned before. Therefore, causing others to have happiness in future lives, the long-term happiness, that is a more important service to offer others from our own side, because it’s long-term happiness.
An even more important service than that is to cease, to end the sentient beings’ samsaric suffering, to bring that to an end, to cease all their suffering, including the cause, karma and delusion, and to bring them into ultimate liberation. This becomes a more important service to others, for us to offer or to cause, than the previous ones. The most important service is to bring sentient beings to the peerless happiness, full enlightenment, which is the cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and the completion of all the realizations. The cessation of all the mistakes of the mind, the disturbing thought obscurations, the gross mistakes of the mind. Then there are subtle obscurations which interfere with the sentient beings’ mind to be completely pure, to be omniscient mind, to become a fully knowing mind. To bring the sentient beings into the full enlightenment, which is the cessation of even the subtle mistakes of the mind, the defilements. To bring them to that state which is the completion of the happiness, the peerless happiness. There is nothing higher to achieve. To bring sentient beings into this peerless happiness, the full enlightenment, becomes the most important service. This is what is missing and this is what they really need to achieve.
Now to be able to do all this service perfectly without any mistakes, then first the method of that, first we must achieve the state of omniscient mind, full enlightenment. For that we must actualize the path, the graduated path of the higher capable being. That depends on actualizing the preliminary, the graduated path of the middle capable being in general. And actualizing that depends on actualizing the preliminary, the graduated path of the lower capable being in general.
I mentioned before the whole talk, that the purpose of life is to obtain happiness for all sentient beings, the best thing is to bring them to full enlightenment. To be able to do that is the purpose of life, the ultimate goal of our life. Now to be able to do that, we should be qualified, we should achieve full enlightenment. For that we need to actualize all these three levels of the path. To be able to do the job, to teach in the university, to become a doctor or a professor, to educate others, to teach others to become a doctor, all these things, then we ourselves have to become a doctor or professor. To do that we need to have all that education. First of all, we have to start with kindergarten, then primary school, then college, all those things. It’s the same thing here. In order to achieve full enlightenment, we have to actualize the graduated path of the higher capable being, the middle capable being and the lower capable being.
All this is based on refuge, having refuge in the mind, relying upon Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Whenever we see the benefit of learning Buddhadharma, the Buddha’s teaching, when we see the benefit of learning it and practicing it; from the time when we like to meditate on the path; from that time, wanting to meditate on the path, on the lam-rim, the path that, including Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the numberless buddhas who actualized and liberated themselves from all the sufferings of samsara, all the delusions and karma, the cause of the sufferings, all the mistakes of the mind, and then were able to do perfect work, to enlighten numberless sentient beings, to liberate numberless sentient beings, even in each second. So, the path which is experienced by them and taught by them. From the time that we generated the wish to meditate, from that time we wanted to learn, we wanted to meditate, we wanted to experience, from that time, refuge is taken already in Dharma. In our heart, refuge is already taken in Dharma. From that time we have already taken refuge in Dharma. And that means somebody has to reveal the path, so naturally we have taken refuge in Buddha, the enlightened being who reveals the path. Since we are relying on that path, somebody has to reveal the path and it is revealed by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the fully enlightened being. So naturally the refuge is taken in Buddha.
That needs support from the Sangha to actualize this. The actual refuge, Dharma, the path, which is our own mind, is like medicine. Therefore refuge in the Sangha is taken there. In this way, the refuge is already taken; in our heart the refuge is already taken.
But the refuge now here is taking refuge with a ceremony. This makes it more definite, there is more certainty and this involves the refuge precepts, certain practices. Even if we cannot take those five lay precepts or any of those five, even if we cannot take these, within the refuge there are certain practices, certain negative karmas, certain disrespect, certain actions which are harmful to stop, which become an obstacle to developing our own mind to achieve the path, which become obstacles for the happiness of this life and the happiness of future lives, including enlightenment. So, to stop those things.
Even the holy objects, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, like the statues, stupas, scriptures and so forth; even those symbolic holy objects, to respect them and things like that. By respecting holy objects, it creates much good karma, much merit and that helps us to develop our mind in the path to enlightenment. Even if we are not taking any of the five lay precepts, within the refuge there are certain actions which become harmful, which become dangerous to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment. Therefore we try to stop those things and offer respect and things like that. This creates, this helps our own mind, this creates the cause and conditions to develop on the Mahayana path. Taking refuge in a ceremony, this is what is contained in this ceremony. Like that, it makes it more certain.
I think maybe I will stop here. I think maybe refuge is going to be given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. [Rinpoche laughs] Maybe I will stop here and those who are taking refuge, you are not leaving tomorrow? Then it can be done tomorrow. Maybe we can do it tomorrow morning, or we can do it now.
At the time of death, just to not get reborn in the lower realms—the hell and hungry ghost, and animal realm. At the time of death, not to get reborn, for the consciousness to not migrate to those realms, to those suffering realms. Do you understand my words? Do you understand what I am saying? Do you understand my speech, what I’m saying now? What I’ve just said now, what I’ve just said before?, At the time of death, to not be reborn in the hell realm or in the hungry ghost or animal realm, just remembering Buddha is enough. Just by remembering Buddha we don’t get reborn, the consciousness cannot migrate to the lower realms.
At the time of death, even remembering the mantra, like Guru Shakaymuni Buddha’s mantra, TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA, or the Heart Sutra, the Essence of Wisdom, the short teaching which contains emptiness or some Dharma texts that we recite during our lifetime. If we remember that and if we die with that thought, we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. If we remember the mantra or even that Dharma text, even remembering the Dharma text. Even just remembering some Sangha, some ordained person whom we have faith in, whom we have devotion to. If we remember one ordained person, somebody whom we have faith in. When we are dying, if we die with that thought, we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. So just by taking refuge in one ordained person, it can protect us from reincarnating in the lower realms, from falling down into the lower realms.
Now here, I often used to tell like this. I was trying to compare, for example, all the knowledge, the scientific technology, all that knowledge, of course the development of that is very good; as long as it is used to benefit others, it is beneficial. I am comparing normally. You see at the time of death, all that knowledge, having all that knowledge, at the time of death that knowledge will protect the mind, as if there is no connection to the death, no benefit at the time of death, to make it impossible to reincarnate in the lower realms. All that knowledge when we die to stop the mind migrating to the lower realms. At the time of death, it’s like there is nothing that we can use, at the time of death there is nothing to apply to protect our mind, to protect ourselves from reincarnating in the lower realms.
Now, just remembering, not all Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, but remembering just one object of refuge, it protects definitely, one hundred percent, that we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. Just relying on even one object of refuge, then we don’t get reborn in the lower realms. Normally I compare the power of that much knowledge and the power of one object of refuge. We are able to protect ourselves from experiencing those unimaginable heaviest sufferings for an incredible time, for eons or for unimaginable time. So we are protected from that.
There are many stories of how someone was saved just by remembering the text. That person was immediately liberated, even if they didn’t have refuge. At the time of death that person is already born in the hell realm or something, but the person remembers all of a sudden the text that they have been reciting, whatever it is, the Diamond Sutra or a short text that they have been reciting, they remember it. As soon as that person remembers that Dharma text, immediately it changes the realm, it immediately changes. Immediately the consciousness is transferred from that realm, it left that realm, and then was reincarnated in the deva or human realm. The consciousness left that hell realm. Immediately everything changed, the appearance changed from that unimaginable suffering due to the power of the object of refuge. There are many stories.
Now here, why we have to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all three, is to not only be free from the lower realms, but from the whole entire samsara. To be free from all the sufferings: the suffering of pain, which includes heat and cold, hunger and thirst, all the sufferings that even the animals do not want to experience; and then the suffering of change, the samsaric temporary pleasure which in reality the feeling is only suffering but we label it pleasure and it appears as pleasure, which doesn’t last, which does not increase. To be free from the first suffering, the second suffering and the third suffering, the pervasive compounding suffering: these aggregates which are the contaminated seed of disturbing thoughts and create the future samsara again, which become the cause of future samsara, which continue to, which circle to the next life’s samsara. To be free from the third suffering, to be completely free from all these sufferings, to be liberated completely from all these three sufferings, then just taking refuge in Buddha alone is not enough. We should also take refuge in the Dharma. Even that alone is not enough; we also need to take refuge in the Sangha. So, all three. We are like very heavy, severely ill patients, so we need the doctor, the medicine, and the nurse. It’s the same here, taking refuge. To be completely free from the whole entire suffering and the cause, karma and delusions, it is necessary to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all three.
Please make three prostrations to Buddha, the Buddha statue, by thinking that is an actual living buddha. Make three prostrations. Then after that, make three prostrations to the lama who gives refuge.
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.
The Buddha said that when we meet to teach, listen to or discuss the Dharma it is very important that we have the best possible motivation for doing so. Whether what we do is good or bad depends almost entirely on our reason for doing it—in other words, our motivation. And while this is true in general, it is especially important to have the purest possible motivation when teaching or listening to the particular thought transformation practice we are discussing here. From the side of both teacher and student a virtuous motivation is critical, otherwise they risk putting much effort into something that has no chance of a positive result.
It is extremely negative if the teacher is teaching to enhance his or her reputation, win new followers, receive many offerings or become highly venerated or the student is listening with competitive thoughts or to gain fame, a good reputation, wealth or a big following. The great Indian practitioner and scholar Atisha said that anything done merely for this life is not a Dharma practice. Moreover, while the motivations to avoid rebirth in the three lower realms or achieve complete personal liberation from cyclic existence are not negative, they are still not the best.
When your motivation for giving or listening to teachings, meditating, helping others and so forth is simply to avoid rebirth in the lower realms it is called small scope motivation. When it is longer term and greater than that and aimed at complete liberation from the whole of cyclic existence it is called middle scope motivation.
When your motivation is even greater than that and aimed at benefiting every single sentient being and if, in order to do that, you are determined to achieve the state of full enlightenment—which is completely free of all faults and has all good qualities fully developed to their highest potential—it is the supreme motivation and called that of the great scope. When this is your motivation, every activity in which you engage—giving, listening to or meditating on teachings and so forth— becomes a practice of the great scope and is the best and highest kind of practice you can possibly do.
What about practices associated with deities such as Medicine Buddha, Tara or Saraswati? For example, certain Medicine Buddha practices can help you overcome obstacles and illness and have a long life. Are such practices considered spiritual? It depends on your motivation.
If you genuinely feel that a long life will help you be of greater benefit to others and with that kind of attitude engage in practices for overcoming obstacles, ill health and so forth, they will definitely be spiritual because you will not be doing them merely for this life.
Engaging in such practices after you have recognized that you possess the many characteristics and supportive conditions needed for engaging in meaningful and powerful spiritual practice in this life is completely different from simply doing them for worldly purposes. A life completely free from adverse conditions that prevent such practice provides exceptional opportunities. Therefore, not only should you engage in practices that allow you to keep your life conducive to Dharma practice but you should also abandon any urge to waste it and, instead, feel compelled to use your life to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others.
In fact, the kind of life we presently have is so exceptional that even the gods, who appear to have extraordinarily good fortune, actually have nothing like the good fortune that we do because they have no opportunity to practice Dharma.
Therefore, we should use this opportunity to pursue enlightenment for the sake of others because not only is it the very best way of using our life, it’s also because all beings are basically the same as us in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering.
We all want the greatest, longest lasting and best possible happiness; we utterly dislike suffering, problems and even the slightest difficulty. That we abhor even one or two problems let alone many shows that we all want happiness and freedom from suffering, and the best way of getting what we want and avoiding that which we don’t is the practice of Dharma.
We might think that even though it’s important to practice Dharma, it’s not essential to do so just yet because we can always do it in future lives. However, that’s a very mistaken way to think because our present human life has exceptional opportunities and attributes. There are eighteen advantages to this human life—the eight freedoms and the ten richnesses—and a life like this is very difficult to find.
The perfect human rebirth is difficult to find because its causes are very difficult to create. Furthermore, it combines many different characteristics, attributes and qualities that very rarely come together and therefore there’s no certainty that we’ll be able to enjoy this kind of opportunity again in future. Certain things almost never happen3 and this human life is even more difficult to acquire than those. Therefore we should definitely practice Dharma in this very life.
We might also think, “Yes, I should practice Dharma in this life but not right now—maybe next month, next year or some other time in future.” This, too, is a big mistake because there’s no guarantee that we’ll be around that long. Our lifespan is not fixed. If we could be sure of living for, say, a hundred years, it might be reasonable to put things off for a while, but in fact our time of death is totally unfixed. We have no idea at all when we’ll die. Therefore we should resolve to practice immediately.
As long as we’re ignorant of such things it’s quite understandable that we don’t feel responsible for our future but once we do know, it’s vital that we start making our life meaningful. As the Buddha taught, we are our own protector; the responsibility is ours. Nobody else can practice for us. We have to practice and take responsibility for ourselves, especially for our future lives. It’s the same as when we’re ill—the doctor makes the diagnosis and prescribes the appropriate medicine but it’s our responsibility to actually follow the advice given and take the medicine prescribed. Nobody else can do it for us.
Over the centuries many practitioners from all four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have attained enlightenment in a single lifetime but it’s not easy to do. It takes hard work and great intelligence. Therefore we should expect it to take many lifetimes for us to do so. But if we devote our life to developing qualities such as love and compassion and avoid actions that harm ourselves and others as much as we possibly can there’s reason to hope that in our next life we’ll be able to continue from where we left off. In this way, over a series of lives, we’ll gradually progress to buddhahood.
The Buddha said that all he could do was to teach the path to liberation and enlightenment and that it was then up to us whether or not we reached those states. To do so, therefore, we have to follow his advice and live according to his teachings. There’s no other way. He said, “I can’t pour my wisdom and compassion into your mind, wash away your negativities or remove your suffering by hand, like pulling out a thorn. All I can do is to explain what you have to do to achieve the freedom from suffering, realizations and qualities that I did.”
Therefore, please generate the highest motivation for studying these teachings by thinking, “I must help all sentient beings as much as I possibly can. In order to do so, I must attain enlightenment. Then I will definitely be able to benefit others in the highest possible way.”
Even if you don’t have an extensive understanding of Buddhism, if you generate that kind of motivation you will ensure that your time is not wasted, and as you discover and read more about the Dharma, your understanding will gradually increase.
3The teachings mention such things as stars shining at noon and rice grains thrown against a wall adhering to it. See also Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, p. 319 ff. [Return to text]
Geshe Lama Konchog discusses the application of right effort to our practice. This teaching covers a range of topics including suffering in this life, generosity, the fasting retreat, the hungry ghost realm and bodhisattvas in cyclic existence.
The teaching was given by Geshe Lama Konchog at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore in 1995. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Thubten Konchog, who accepts responsibility for all errors and omissions. Second edit by Sandra Smith, February 2013.
This teaching is also available for download as a free e-book from Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore.
Suffering in this Life
Lama Tsongkhapa has said the superior thought, or bodhicitta, is like a sail to a ship. If the sail is not blown by the wind, the boat cannot move or travel anywhere. So, although we may have this superior thought or bodhicitta, if it is not blown by the wind of effort, the ship of hearing and contemplation cannot move. Therefore, without right effort, sentient beings cannot cross the ocean of cyclic existence and reach the city of liberation or enlightenment.
Effort is the best amongst all the friends and listlessness is the worst of all the enemies. If the force of effort is applied, even the tiniest insects and animals can attain the state of full enlightenment. We are human beings, so we have the power of wisdom to be able to discriminate between what is to be abandoned and what is to be practiced. We know the benefits of virtuous actions and the faults of non-virtuous actions.
We have discussed this kind of power, this potential, so we should never become discouraged by thinking, “I won’t be able to reach enlightenment.” Instead we should think, “I can definitely attain enlightenment. I have the power, I have that potential.” By thinking this way, we can generate the courage to be able to work in a better way towards the attainment of enlightenment.
Even the smallest insect can attain enlightenment if it generates the force of effort. While we are human beings, we should not think that we can’t gain enlightenment or generate that force. We should always think, “I can gain enlightenment and I can generate the force of effort. I can then have a mind that delights in the performance of virtuous deeds.”
We may think that this is just too difficult, but it is possible to reach enlightenment. However, there are many hardships to overcome along the way. This could mean that we have to make sacrifices, even of our body. If we are afraid to do this, it will be most difficult to attain enlightenment, because we are unable to discriminate between heavy and light sufferings.
From beginningless lifetimes we have taken many types of form. We have taken a life where we were tortured daily, or where our limbs were cut and injured or maybe even sliced into many pieces. However, compared to the sufferings that we have experienced in the hell realms, the sufferings or problems we are encountering now on the way to the state of enlightenment are nothing, or perhaps they are only very small.
All the sufferings that we have experienced in the past have been completely wasted. If those sufferings had been a cause for enlightenment for ourselves and others, then they would have been meaningful, but they did not help us to attain enlightenment, or even to awaken our minds, so they were completely wasted.
The sufferings that we experienced in the lower realms, such as the hells, were very intense and had to be experienced for a very long time compared to the sufferings that we are experiencing now.
By abandoning the purpose of working only for this life and instead, working for the attainment of enlightenment, the hardships and difficulties that we encounter along the way to enlightenment are nothing compared to the sufferings of the hell realms.
The sufferings that we experience now are very small and they can be endured. In fact, they are very easy to endure. An example of this is a doctor who treats his patients for serious illnesses. In order to remove the illness he might have to take blood from the body and test it. Some doctors might use a fire to burn a part of the body, or they may give injections. All of these kinds of treatments bring some form of harm or suffering, yet they will result in the relief of the severe illness in the long run. So, even though we know we are suffering now, we can endure it by thinking that we will benefit from it.
The sufferings that we encounter on the way to enlightenment are the sufferings of hardship, but they are comparatively small compared to the sufferings of the hell realms. In order to remove the sufferings of cyclic existence, we have to bear them.
If we can endure the suffering we are experiencing now—the suffering of travelling on the path to enlightenment—then we will eventually be able to eradicate the immeasurable suffering, not only of ourselves, but also of others.
Some very skillful doctors are able to treat their patients without causing them any pain. The Buddha also gives many different methods for us to be freed from suffering and from encountering many difficulties. Sometimes we encounter so many difficulties that we cannot bear another minute. Now, if you are unable to endure such hardships, I want you to stop for one minute.
If we are not familiar with the practice of giving, we should not do it right away. We should not give away things that will cause us to endure suffering. First of all, we should give away small things until we have become familiar with giving and then gradually start giving bigger and bigger things. Later, when we become comfortable with giving, we can give even of ourselves—our limbs and flesh. This will be just like giving somebody a portion of food.
In order to attain the state of enlightenment, we must apply the right methods. The Buddha said that these are not the methods used by ordinary doctors who cause pain to relieve diseases, but rather he showed us methods that free us from the sufferings of cyclic existence. These are the methods of abandoning the two extremes and abandoning the delusions, both of which cause us to wander in cyclic existence.
There are not too many hardships that we will encounter while we travel on the path to enlightenment, so there is no need to be frightened or to feel fear while travelling along that path.
In the beginning, it is a very difficult path to travel along. To engage in the deeds of the bodhisattvas we may be asked to sacrifice our limbs, our heads or our hands. To have fear of these hardships would make it very difficult for us to ever attain enlightenment.
Shantideva says that we do not have to undergo such hardships. If we are not familiar with suffering and are unable to bear it, then we should not have to do so. We can stop until we become completely familiar with a practice, then we will be able to do it easily. In this way there will be no hardships at all.
Initially, if we are unable to make big sacrifices, such as giving away big and valuable things, we should start with small things, such as a small portion of food, or things that are not held so importantly. Then very gradually we can progress to where we are totally familiarized with giving and then we can offer anything easily—even our own flesh.
When the Buddha gave teachings on using effort, he said that when we apply right effort there is no hardship. By applying right effort, the mind is then able to do things very gently and with great delight. For example, if we apply right effort when doing the sessions in the fasting retreat, we will experience no hardship.
However, if we apply no effort and we do not have the mind that delights in performing virtuous deeds, then just doing one session will be the cause for much hardship. If there is no effort, there will be hardship, but if there is right effort, it will be very easy. For example, if while doing the session we think, “Oh, my visualization is not very good. I cannot sit straight and I feel very sleepy,” and so on, there will be many hardships during that session. If we apply right effort and try to do everything with delight, then it will not feel like a hardship.
When we do the fasting retreat, we are told we will incur the karma to be reborn in the pure realm of Amitabha. Just thinking this way should be enough to stop any difficulties from arising, for example, by remembering this, how can we feel upset about not eating any food for one day?
However, this all depends on our state of mind. It is only from our mind that we experience suffering or happiness. For instance, during the fast in the retreat we should not stretch out our legs or arms, nor should we sleep with outstretched legs or arms.
If we go back and sleep after finishing a session, we will feel hunger later on and will have difficulty sleeping that night. This can bring other problems such as headaches, fever or it can even be a cause for hepatitis. Sleeping in between sessions can bring many problems. If we really are very tired, we can lie down for awhile, but then we should stand up and walk around. If we think that we will sleep only for a very short time, then that is OK. However, if we just lie down and go to sleep after every session, then that is no good at all.
If we go to sleep during the daytime, we will feel very bad when we finish the fasting retreat and will never want to do it again. However, if we do not sleep in the daytime, at night we will have a very nice sleep and in the morning we will feel very refreshed and then we will feel quite happy about continuing on.
Hungry Ghost Realm
As I said before, the Buddha was very skillful when he taught us how to practice generosity. He taught how to give away the small things that we do not hold so much attachment to. We should do this because if we give with miserliness we can’t give delightfully and then there is no right effort, as well as no generosity .
Miserly people can be taught to practice giving, for example, even if we cannot give to others, we can give to ourselves. For instance, if we have a thing in our right hand, we can give it to our left hand and then the left hand can give it to the right hand, and so on. This creates no problems because we are not really losing that thing. Even though we are giving, we are still receiving. However, doing this causes us to feel the delight and happiness of giving and receiving; the practice of generosity.
We may very well think that it is not too difficult to give to ourselves, but for some people this is very difficult. Some people just cannot give anything at all. Some people cannot even give away the things that they cannot use themselves, they keep them at all times. There are some types of beings who find it very difficult to give even a cup of water to others.
These kinds of people will take rebirth in the hungry ghost realm. The hungry ghosts have three kinds of knots in their throats and it is very difficult for them to swallow food or water. They have been born as hungry ghosts because they could not give anything to other people and they could not even use those things for themselves either.
Some people cause trouble by telling others who are trying to give something: “Oh, you should not give so much. That is far too much!” Or even: “You should not give anything at all!” By saying these things to others, we will take rebirth in the hungry ghost realm with the three knots in our throat.
Only one drop of water can go down the throat of a hungry ghost, because of the three knots. When lamas make torma offerings to hungry ghosts, they say: “...and I give you one drop of water,” because they can only swallow one drop of water, and if they take more it will cause many problems in their stomachs.
These hungry ghosts always say: “Don’t give a lot; give a little.” They recite this every day, just as we recite mantras.
If we are not skillful in practicing the Dharma or in actualizing the path, things will become very difficult and we will have to endure many problems. However, if we practice with right effort, we will have no difficulties at all. When we know how to do the fasting retreat, we will have no problems and we will do it very happily. Therefore it is most important to know how to do it in the right way.
Bodhisattvas in Cyclic Existence
Bodhisattvas actually reside in cyclic existence, but this does not upset them. They do not feel any suffering, because they know how to live very gently. There is no rebirth for them while they reside in cyclic existence. They are not born into cyclic existence by the force of karma and delusions; they are here by the force of compassion.
Their birth is very different from ours and they do not have any regrets about being in cyclic existence, so it is for this reason that the bodhisattvas of the Mahayana path are superior to the hearers of the Hinayana path, as the hearers do not have this compassion.
Whenever the hearers take birth in cyclic existence, they do so out of karma and delusion. They have fear of undergoing the suffering of cyclic existence, so they cannot be encouraged to travel on the path of the bodhisattvas.
When bodhisattvas sacrifice their bodies out of compassion, they do not feel any form of suffering. They have abandoned all unwholesome actions of the three doors, so they have no suffering in their mind.
Bodhisattvas are those beings who have reached the higher level—they have reached the third ground of the third bhumi. They experience no suffering, even when their bodies are cut into pieces. This is true also for the high tantric practitioners. Even if somebody beats them with a stick, they do not experience any pain. This all depends on the mind.
Here I am explaining the application of right effort. Bodhisattvas make this kind of sacrifice and experience no suffering, because they do it all very happily and joyfully. The reason they experience no pain is because they do not hold the misconception of grasping at the self and they have not incurred any negative actions such as killing, etc. They do not have the concept of “my” body.
Once there was a bodhisattva called “The Always Crying Bodhisattva.” He wanted to go and receive teachings from another bodhisattva, who was his teacher. This bodhisattva was teaching on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
The Always Crying Bodhisattva did not have any offerings to make to his teacher, so finally he decided to sell his body to collect the offerings. He shouted out in the middle of town: “Is there anybody who wants to buy my limbs or my body?” Nobody came to buy, but finally, an incarnation of Brahma came in the form of a human being and said: “I would like to buy your flesh and bones.”
When he heard that, the Always Crying Bodhisattva felt so happy and went down to the corner to start smashing his bones, for the sale. However, while he was doing this, some girls saw him and asked him why he was doing such a thing. They said: “It is very stupid to do that. Why are you torturing yourself?”
He said to them: “I am doing this so that I can sell this body and collect enough money to bring offerings to my teacher, so I can receive the teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.” Then the girls asked him: “What are you going to do with this teaching?” He said: “By receiving this teaching, I can attain the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks of a buddha.”
While he was doing this, he did it with such joy and also with great compassion, by thinking it would help him attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Therefore, he did not feel any suffering or any regret because he possessed the realisation of bodhicitta and great compassion.
The Always Crying Bodhisattva always seemed to be very poor, because he did not have any material things. Actually, he was not poor; he was very rich with the realization of emptiness and bodhicitta. The reason he was always crying was because of not being able to see his teacher, not because he did not have any material things.
Milarepa also used to stay in a very poor condition. When people looked at him, they would feel most upset for him, thinking that he had a very ugly form. His condition was caused by eating too many nettles; his body had become green like the nettles. People thought that he was very skinny and very ugly and they thought he did not own anything, so they felt very sorry and upset for him. But Milarepa felt very sorry and upset for them, because they thought he was very poor and skinny.
Milarepa felt most upset for sentient beings, because he thought that sentient beings incur so much negative action just for the clothing and food of this life, and for that amount of negative action, they have to wander endlessly in cyclic existence.
Due to the power of bodhicitta, bodhisattvas can expel the non-virtues that they have incurred in the past and they can store the accumulation of merit and wisdom easily. This is why the bodhisattva path excels over the path of the hero.