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Integrating Lam-Rim into Daily Life
As Buddhists, you should be proud of yourself as you have chosen a path of non-violence and caring for all beings. The intrinsic nature of all beings is that of wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. The benefits received from a guru are no different from that received from the Buddha. Therefore, the guru should be regarded as Buddha because there is no kinder person than the person who introduced Dharma to our life. Geshe Tenzin Zopa who is here giving lo-jong (mind-training) and lam-rim teachings is covering the entire Buddhadharma; therefore, you should put effort to study well. Practicing Dharma is not merely collecting intellectual knowledge but to be practiced from the heart.
I would like to say that from my observations, in this country, there are all sorts of lamas without proper study and lineage, claiming to be lamas. If you follow such persons, you will end up wasting your precious human rebirth. Therefore, think how fortunate you are to be in a center guided by true lamas and where proper teachings are being given – please don’t waste such a precious opportunity.
Many Buddhist practitioners give up Dharma when facing great difficulties. This is solely because of the person herself. The main purpose of Dharma is not about power. It is not about running after initiations and hunting for high-titled lamas. If you do that, you could end up being overwhelmed by your own superstitious thoughts, and when great problems arise, you give up Dharma altogether. Instead, you need to study. You need to understand well the teachings of lam-rim and lo-jong. Even if you take 100 initiations and have 100 ritual implements, as long as you don’t fully comprehend mind-training and lam-rim, you will deceive yourself and you will become disappointed. Therefore, it is very necessary to engage in the study of mind-training and lam-rim.
Why is it necessary to practice mind-training? Because the purpose of learning Dharma is to find solutions in life, to overcome the samsaric aggregates which keep us in suffering.
In ordinary life, gaining wealth, food and shelter brings some pleasure at a physical level but not at a mental level. The worst suffering is mental suffering. Therefore, we have no choice but to learn how to transform such suffering. To do this, one needs to transform the mind. Wealth, rank and position can never handle or deal with mental suffering. Even having a large number of friends or guardians does not help because when faced with mental suffering, nothing can help except for mind-training.
All the sufferings, fears and problems arise due to our hallucinations, wrong concepts, wrong perceptions and therefore, we must subdue our minds through applying Dharma. The root cause of suffering is self-grasping [and the belief in inherent existence]. This gives rise to all sorts of suffering and superstitions. In order to purify the grasping to self and the grasping to phenomena, one must learn about and understand the true nature of existence. Otherwise, there is no way to eliminate suffering.
Since we seek happiness and wish to avoid suffering, it is necessary to investigate where happiness comes from. Every experience is dependent on causes and conditions. Positive experiences come from positive causes and negative experiences come from negative causes. There is nothing existing that is not in the nature of dependent arising. By being able to understand this, one will gain conviction that nirvana is definitely possible.
If we honestly investigate how Buddha revealed his teachings in the various schools of philosophy – in sutra teachings, in tantra teachings – we see that Buddha was teaching according to the mental capabilities of the sentient beings he was teaching to. This in itself shows how Buddha’s teachings themselves are based on interdependence.
For people in contemporary times, it is recommended to follow lam-rim teachings and in particular, the teachings on bodhichitta. To achieve bodhichitta, one needs to first realize all sentient beings as mother. In these times, this idea of sentient beings as mother might appear strange or contradictory. Practices such as exchanging self for others also seem to be difficult practices. It is difficult only because we don’t realize that our happiness is dependent on other sentient beings. Again, the realization of dependent arising is important. Without engaging in the six perfections, it will be impossible for us to gain liberation. Yet, there is no way of gaining realizations in the six perfections without sentient beings.
The self-cherishing mind and self-grasping are reasons why we cannot see others as mother sentient beings. Buddha’s teaching on refuge itself is already emphasizing to us the need to relate our Dharma practice to other sentient beings.
We have reached the 21st century and we are engaging in preliminary practices which is very good. However, we should not expect ourselves to achieve the benefits tomorrow. When you analyze the nature of cause and effect, as well as the nature of dependent arising, you find so much excitement and interest in wanting to study Dharma.
There is no miracle to enable one to change one’s life, but there is a solution: to know the right cause to gain the right result. After all, even in the case of machines, without the right causes and conditions, the machines cannot function. Therefore, similarly with happiness, even though we do understand lam-rim and chant prayers, without dedicating our lives to carrying out what is taught in the lam-rim [and creating the right causes], we will continue to trigger all our problems.
There are various ways of accumulating merit and virtue, but one of the greatest ways of doing this is to learn about and understand the true nature of existence. As long as one cannot eliminate self-grasping – thinking of “I, I, I” all the time – it will be difficult to gain lasting happiness. The stronger the self-grasping, the greater the suffering.
Going after physical comforts, serving the self-grasping mind brings only insecurity. Why not fight with this trouble-making self-grasping mind instead? Be more contented. Be more renounced.
Through my visit to various countries, I noticed that there are many self-appointed lamas providing initiations. They do this because they don’t know how to teach, and just confer initiations by ringing bells and say “goodbye” without even giving a proper teaching on refuge. There is even the danger of their giving commitments to people to recite powerful mantras, but a person receiving such a commitment [without proper understanding and motivation] can end up having enhanced anger, attachments and other delusions which cause them to end up in the lower realms. To really learn Dharma, one has no choice but to learn lam-rim and lo-jong. Thus in daily life, the transformation of delusions can only happen by applying mind-training. If one meditates without understanding Dharma, one might gain the benefit of some relaxation but otherwise, the meditation is wasted.
The actual power of Dharma is its ability to help us subdue our minds and therefore enables us to handle samsaric life better and equip us to cope with the pressures of daily life. Since delusions are not always active in our mental continuum, it means that we have the opportunity to meditate on antidotes and we should do so. In any situation, including in family situations, there will be more harmony, less fights, less problems if we understand dependent arising, by understanding that care and respect must be mutual.
In short, try your best to gain the understanding of emptiness through the knowledge of dependent arising. Actualize bodhichitta through practicing non-harmful thoughts. Reduce anxiety, fear and insecurity in your daily life because these bring out problems and suffering in your daily life. As long as one has proper refuge, the blessings of the guru and one puts effort in understanding and applying Dharma [happiness can be gained].
I am just an ordinary woman lacking in knowledge and thus it may be impolite of me to give you advice. But whatever I have advised you here is based on my own life in building a sense of security, fearlessness, contentment and unshakeable faith in the Dharma, my gurus, karma and dependent arising. My life changed due to my little understanding of dependent arising, due to the inspiration that came from learning about dependent arising.
Question: Seeing how difficult Khadro-la’s life was before and now, how does Khadro-la feel about life now?
Answer: I don’t cling to past experiences because life in this contaminated body will naturally have all forms of difficult experiences and changes. So I don’t dwell on the past.
Question: Women seem to have more difficulties in practicing Dharma – temperament, jealousy, tendency to idle-talk. What advice does Khadro-la have?
Answer: In Dharma [potential], there is no difference between men and women. The nature of delusions, the nature of clear light and the antidotes to be applied are the same for men and women. In physical aspects, there are differences, but, in Dharma practice, both have the same capabilities. I would say that women are more suited to being leaders of countries because they have an innate sense of care and would more willingly embrace other countries. For the practice of bodhichitta, women have a quicker potential to actualize that because of this deep sense of caring and sacrificing for others. Whether the men support women or not, the buddhas and bodhisattvas support us! (laughter) And when the Buddha taught, he taught by referring to mother sentient beings and not father sentient beings! (more laughter). But yes, some women do have narrow thinking and cling to small issues. Better to be broad-minded and think at a higher level.
Teaching given by Khadro-la at Losang Dragpa Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 16, 2009. Lightly edited for inclusion in Mandala.
An exclusive interview with Khadro-la can be found in the January/March 2009 issue of Mandala.
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If we want to understand how we are ordinarily misled by our false projections and how we break free from their influence, it is helpful to think of the analogy of our dream experiences. When we wake up in the morning, where are all the people we were just dreaming about? Where did they come from? And where did they go? Are they real or not?
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