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Webcasts of Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching this year (and in previous years), including the teachings Rinpoche gave during this year’s Light of the Path retreat are available online 24/7 on FPMT’s livestreaming webpage.
Also, all Light of the Path Retreat Resources 2009, 2010 and 2014 are available on the Online Learning Center.
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam.rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.
The development of an awakening mind (bodhicitta) is the framework of the Mahayana path and the foundation and basis of all the great waves of bodhisattva actions. Like an elixir that turns all metals to gold, it transforms all actions into the two collections (of wisdom and merit). It is a treasure of merit that accumulates limitless collections of virtues. Knowing this, the heroic sons of the conquerer, Buddha, adopt this jewel-like development of an awakening mind as their fundamental (practice).
The following is an English rendering of the oral instructions of Gashe Rabten, a Tibetan lama who has been instrumental in bringing the pure teaching of Buddha Dharma to the West, making it clear, and causing it to increase and flourish.
From the time of his own childhood, in Kham province, Tibet, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche had admired the Buddhist “monks in their maroon robes.” At the age of eighteen, he left home to go to central Tibet where he entered the great Sera Monastery and began the twenty-four years of continuous study and personal hardship that would lead, in 1963, to the highest degree award of lharampa geshe.
At Sera, while attending classes with his gurus and memorizing large numbers of root texts and related commentaries, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche spent most of his days, and nights, engaged in debate, the Tibetan learning method for honing the intelligence and deepening understanding. He thoroughly mastered the traditional curriculum leading to the geshe degree: basic logic, mind and its functions, and logical reasoning (pramana); general study of the perfections (paramita); specific study of the nature of existence (madyamika); ethics (vinaya); phenomenology (abhidharma); review of ethics and phenomenology (karam geshe level); and final review of the the great treatises (lharam geshe level—only the two best students per year are awarded the title of lharampa geshe).
During this time Geshe Rabten Rinpoche also studied the graded path to the attainment of enlightenment via sutra practice and tantra. He has received many empowerments, first from the former incarnation of Gonsar Rinpoche, and later from His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his Senior and Junior Tutors, the late Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, and many other lamas.
When, in 1969, a group of Westerners interested in Buddhism wanted teachings, His Holiness the Dalai Lama requested Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to instruct them, as His Holiness knew Geshe-la would be able to present to these students such teachings as the four noble truths and the entire path to enlightenment, clearly and effectively.
Geshe Rabten Rinpoche remained in meditational retreat in the Indian Himalayas until 1974, when he went to Europe to conduct meditation courses. In 1975, at the request of his Western students, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to Europe again, this time to give sustained teachings on the Buddha Dharma. And in 1979, the monastic institute, Tharpa Choeling, was established near Mt. Pelerin, above Lake Geneva in Switzerland. At Tharpa Choeling, a monastic education based on Geshe’s own at Sera is available to serious Western students.
After Lord Buddha achieved supreme enlightenment he gave numerous sermons on the path to enlightenment, varying each teaching according to the mental state of the listener and the occasion. These teachings of the Compassionate One collected together comprise the three paths of Buddhism.
Among the vast quantity of Buddhist scriptures are oral and written teachings that have been passed on from Lord Buddha himself, through Maitreyanatha, Asanga, Atisha and other great gurus up to the venerable Tsong Khapa, in an unbroken line. These particular teaching traditions have been carried on by the great Tibetan teachers so that we fortunate practitioners today still have the chance to be guided by them. The Graduated Path to Liberation is an English rendition of oral instructions of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, whose being and teachings radiate both wisdom and compassion.
May this benefit all beings.
The Graduated Path to Liberation
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam.rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.
Religion (Dharma) is a means to leave suffering and attain happiness.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught four noble truths: The truths of suffering and the cause of suffering, and the truths of cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. We must recognize and remove the first two and realize through practice the second two.
We can understand this deep subject by considering the simple example of physical illness. When we are sick, we suffer, and look for the underlying cause—a disease or other disorder. When we realize that the illness is curable we see that our suffering can cease and seek treatment—the path to the cessation of this suffering.
The following text is an expanded explanation of these four noble truths, and of how we can follow a path that leads us out of suffering to the attainment of happiness, not only for ourselves, but for all beings.
The countless kinds of suffering can be divided into three:
Suffering caused by suffering
This type of suffering includes the pain, sadness and everyday suffering recognized by all beings. Even the smallest insect can recognize it. No creatures want this suffering. The reason why all creatures are so busy and active is that they are trying to avoid this type of suffering. Ants, for instance, are busy all day and night to avoid suffering from hunger; countries fight each other for fear of suffering from domination (even though this method creates more suffering).
Suffering caused by change
This type starts as happiness and then changes into suffering. Most beings do not recognize this as suffering. Worldly happiness looks like happiness, but in time it too changes into suffering. If we are hot and immerse ourselves in cold water it is very pleasant to start with, but after a while it becomes painfully cold. If we are cold and stay in the sun to get warm we will, after some time, suffer from being burnt. When friends meet after a long time they are delighted, but if they then remain continually together they may quarrel and grow tired of each other.
This type of suffering includes anything that appears to be happiness and changes into suffering. If a person wants to become wealthy, works very hard and becomes rich, suffering is produced from the need for maintaining the wealth, fear of losing it, and desire for more. If one country wants to take over another, the oppressed country reacts, and mutual suffering is caused.
The first of these two types of suffering is easily removable. The second is not, because it is not easily recognized. Thus, it is more deeply harmful. Even small insects can stop the suffering caused by suffering, and so can human beings, who, when they are ill, for example, can get treatment. But most people and animals think that the suffering caused by change is real happiness and spend their whole lives trying to achieve it; for example, people in business who devote their lives to making money and people who fight each other in wars, all in search of happiness.
- All-embracing suffering caused by mental formations 4
This type is even more difficult to recognize than the suffering caused by change. It is the suffering inherent in samsara (the whole round of existence) and the cause of the previous two kinds of suffering. It covers, or embraces, all beings in samsara. As the earth is the foundation of our life, so this type of suffering is the foundation of the other two. If someone cuts us we automatically feel pain simply because we have bodies; our very existence is the root cause of this suffering.
Because all beings exist in a state of causality, all are liable to suffering. This kind of suffering (duhkha) is produced from a harmful cause and all other suffering comes from it. All beings recognize the first kind of suffering; some recognize the second. But this third kind of suffering is very, very difficult to recognize. Without recognizing it, escape from samsara is impossible. This suffering is like a wound that does not give pain until it is touched. It is the ground containing all sufferings. When we remove this suffering we attain nirvana, or liberation.
To practise Dharma, understanding suffering is the first essential. Without this understanding, the will to get out of suffering does not arise. We are like people in prison who don’t recognize where we are or how bad it is, and therefore have no wish to escape. If we are ill but do not recognize it, we have no wish to be cured.
If the first type of suffering is not recognized we can have no wish to escape from suffering. If the second is not recognized we will try to escape from it in the wrong way, only to return to suffering again. If the third type is not recognized, then even if our method is good, we cannot get to the root of all suffering.
Therefore, it is very important to recognize all three kinds of suffering. This recognition is the first door to practising Dharma and also the reason for practising. This is the reason that the Buddha taught suffering as the first noble truth. We can observe suffering directly by looking around us. The suffering caused by suffering is evident in everybody. The suffering caused by change, unreal happiness, is also quite obvious. We can see also that all other sufferings derive from the all-embracing suffering caused by mental formations. Although it is difficult to know what causes these sufferings, we must experience them and see them for what they are; from our experience our belief will be strong and steady. That is why the Buddha said it was important to judge and test his teachings for ourselves, giving the example of assaying gold. When we see that reality is as the Buddha said, our faith in the Buddha will be strong and not be destroyed by what others tell us.
All suffering has a beginning and an end. Things are undergoing change all the time. There are two types of change: coarse, obvious change—as when a table is being made and the changes are plain—and subtle change, such as the molecular changes going on continually inside the table.
The changes in human life are obvious—people start small, grow larger, and age. But it is not so obvious that in the time it takes to snap your fingers everything has changed. If you pour water from a pot, the stream appears to be one unit, but in fact, at each moment, the stream has moved and become something else.
Not only sentient beings but also the whole environment—trees and so on—are undergoing change. All beings in samsara are suffering all the time. If we do not recognize suffering fully we will not practise what is necessary to get out of it.
The Cause of Suffering
All suffering has a cause. If the cause is not removed, escape from suffering is impossible. If rain is coming in through a hole in the roof, there is no use sweeping the water out of the house without blocking the hole as well. If we are sick and take medicine for the symptoms alone, we may be able to stop them for a time, but we cannot be sure they will not recur. If, however, we eradicate the cause of suffering we can prevent its recurrence forever.
Although we can do nothing about the suffering of the past, we must close the door of future suffering. If a thorn tree outside our house pricks us every time we pass, it is no real solution to cut off odd branches; we must uproot the tree completely. We need to find the real cause, not an illusory one. If we make a mistake about the cause of suffering, real progress will be impossible. So we must know the second noble truth, the cause of suffering.
The cause of suffering has two divisions: karma (action) and klesha (mental defilements).
At this time we are experiencing much suffering, whose cause we ourselves created in past existences. Therefore we ourselves have to do the work to escape from it. A teaching about the cause of and escape from suffering is useless if we do not practise it. If we are sick and go to the doctor, who gives treatment, we must follow the doctor’s instructions in order to be cured. In school a student needs the teacher’s instruction, but the most important thing is the student’s own work. Up to now we have never practised the path, so we are still in samsara. Those beings who have practised it, such as Milarepa, have passed out of samsara. This passing was not easy. Milarepa’s buttocks were covered in sores from sitting for so long in meditation. When Lorepa was meditating in the mountains, no-one brought him food, so he lived by gradually eating his shoes. Lama Tsongkhapa meditated in the high mountains, always offering mandalas on a stone slab. The skin on his right forearm was rubbed away from polishing the stone. Escape from samsara depends on ourselves alone; if it depended on only the Buddha, there would be no one in samsara, because that was his great wish. As a good mother loves her children, he has equal love for all beings. In one sutra the Buddha taught:
The Buddha cannot wash away the delusion of beings with holy water;
Neither can he take away the suffering of beings with his hand.
He can not give wisdom to beings if they do not practise. The Buddha’s responsibility is to show the true path. In another sutra it says:
I am my own lord and my own enemy.
” Lord” because if we practise Dharma, we can look after ourselves and bring ourselves much happiness; “enemy” because if we do not practise properly, we build up more and more suffering for ourselves.
The Buddha teaches the way; we practise it. This combination brings happiness.
There are many kinds of karma, but all are included within the categories of karma of body, karma of speech and karma of mind. Each of these categories includes actions of that particular faculty. Generally, karma is divided into skilful and unskilful, but here we are concerned only with unskilful karma—the karma that produces suffering. That which gives us real happiness and takes us to the goal is quite different.
Unskiful karma of body
Killing is the action that destroys the life of any being. It is the greatest malpractice of the present time. No one wants suffering, but by fighting to avoid it people create it. This action has the opposite effect to that which is desired. The action need not be done by physical attack with sword, gun, etc.; the person who gives the orders (the president or the general) also acquires the karma-fruit. When a person orders a bomb to be dropped and a thousand people die, though their deaths have roots in their own past karma, the person giving the order is the immediate cause. That person acquires worse karma-fruit than those who actually drop the bomb. If a hundred people are killed by a hundred soldiers, each soldier may receive the karma-fruit of one death, but the person who gave the order receives the fruit of the one hundred deaths. Such people may think themselves very great, but they do not realize the suffering that they are bringing upon themselves.
When the world is in peace, deep as well as immediate benefits result. But to be really peaceful we must decide by ourselves to be peaceful by practising Dharma. Even if a person does not actually kill anyone or order anyone to be killed, if one approves of killing as a good thing or rejoices in it, the karma-fruit is also acquired.
Stealing is taking anything belonging to someone else that has not been given. It can be done secretly, by force, by cunning words, by cheating, and so forth. It includes laying claim to something that does not really belong to one, as when a country lays claim to another. If the stealing is done indirectly through someone else, it has the same karma-fruit. Its object can be any property, any people, and so forth, taken by any means. If we mistakenly take something that belongs to someone else, it is not stealing. Stealing requires not only the action but also the intention to take something that is not our own. Our mind must be aware that we are stealing.
This action occurs when a married person goes after another sexual partner, or has intercourse even with the right partner at inappropriate times such as on full moon or new moon days or in the daytime, in unsuitable places (such as holy places), or with inappropriate organs. This action includes having intercourse with monks or nuns. Whereas killing and stealing, even when performed indirectly, have the same karma-fruit, this is not the case with sexual misconduct. The first two actions harm others who are innocent; sexual misconduct concerns the people involved. For bhiksus and bhiksunis (Buddhist monks and nuns) any kind of sexual indulgence is forbidden.
Beating other people, attempting unsuccessfully to steal, putting people in prison for the wrong reasons, improper behavior on holy days, and any other bodily deeds that are harmful or provoke mental defilements are also unskilful karma of body.
Unskiful karma of speech
Lying includes anything spoken with the intention of deceiving others, with selfish motivation.
Speech that creates enmity between friends, out of some motive such as jealousy of their relationship, is slander. The speech may be either true or false, but for it to be slanderous the desire to bring discord must be in the speaker’s mind. Slander can take place between countries as well as between individuals. If a person says something false in order to break up a friendship, this is both lying and slander.
This includes angry words against another, or swearing by the name of some holy person or object for evil ends such as the reinforcement of a lie, or the use of words to make people sad or angry. The Tibetan for this is zig.tsup meaning “rough word.” Just as a rough stone rubbed against the body creates pain, so harsh words hurt the mind.
Any kind of talk that provokes delusion—talk of violence, pornography and so forth—is considered irresponsible or gossip.
Unskilful karma of mind
This term refers not to desire for beneficial things such as knowledge or wisdom, but to the insatiable desire for illusory possessions and sensory experiences. Greed is seen in the poor person who sees big, shiny cars and expensive possessions, and is always running after them, or in the rich person who is surrounded by possessions yet wants even more. Greed is born from desire. Other unskilful actions of body and speech, such as stealing, cheating, and so forth result from the mental action of greed.
This wish to harm others includes taking pleasure in their misfortunes. It can apply to all categories of life, from nations to small insects. At first glance this action of mind may appear more harmful than greed, but in fact greed is more harmful because it does not apply to just a single situation; greed is persistent and brings no satisfaction.
Any kind of thinking that denies the truth of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, rebirth, the law of karma, nirvana and so forth constitutes wrong views.
Unskilful karma of mind is the worst kind of karma because actions of body and speech arise from mind. For instance, to kill an animal, first the wish to do so must arise in our mind. After so wishing, we may do the action on our own (body), or tell someone else to do it (speech). All actions of the body and speech must be preceded by the wish of mind. The mind forces body and speech to follow it; if we can control the mind, then other kinds of bad action can be avoided. Mind is very difficult to control, because its actions are so quick—many unskilful actions of mind are possible in one minute. For instance, if we want to harm someone else we can think of many different ways of doing so in one brief moment. Unskilful actions of mind happen so quickly that they cannot be counted; unskilful actions of speech are slower, and unskilful actions of body are the slowest of all. The first essential is to practise control of the mind If we don’t control our minds and just follow desires and instincts, we will not lead a good life.
All the sufferings of all beings in samsara are produced by mind. Beings out of samsara, in permanent bliss, are in that state because they developed their minds. Body and speech are only servants of the mind.
Fruition of karma
Many different kinds of fruit are possible from one deed. If in this life we were to kill someone, our immediate rebirth would probably be in a hot hell. Life in hell is much longer than on earth, and there is constant suffering from heat or cold. Hell beings and humans are completely different kinds of creature, and the particular properties of one existence are limited to that existence. Even in this world there are many kinds of spirit not normally visible to humans (although sometimes we may be aware of them), and they too have their own special properties.
Between one life and the next we experience the bardo. 8 We cannot see most bardos, but at a certain high stage of development, through special practices and meditations, we can. In order to strengthen all our qualities and not just one isolated faculty, we should practise both Dharma and those techniques that lead to special powers.
Some beings have the karma to be reborn in a state of such continual suffering that humans would not be able to survive. In some bells, for instance, there is no distinction between the fire itself and the beings living in the midst of it. Those who have killed in their past lives, even if reborn human, exist in a state of uninterrupted suffering from afflictions such as chronic illness. Treatment that preserves life and health cannot help them. When we suffer sickness, pain, and trouble, there is always an immediate cause, but the underlying reason is our karma. Two people may have the same disease and receive the same treatment, but one will progress better than the other because of different karma. If we attribute the difference to luck, we have only a superficial understanding of the situation.
Some people have bad tendencies from childhood; these are also karma-fruit. Parents may raise their children in the same way, yet they develop differently because of karma. Past lives produce inborn tendencies. The actions of past lives determine all factors such as the place of birth and type of death of future lives One is born in a dangerous or strife-torn place because of one’s past karma. If a person murders another in this life, in the next life the victim may become the murderer and the murderer the victim. Each of our actions is a link in a chain with no beginning, for samsara has no beginning; it can, however, have an end.
To understand this chain, it is necessary to understand the relation of mind to body. Mind is like a river passing through different countries (bodies). A river takes different names (forms) according to the different countries. In this way the mind passes on, carrying the accumulated karma with it. When a being dies, the body decays and the mind passes on, to continue in another bodily form, according to the type of body that it inhabits in that life.
Because they do not distinguish between mind and body, people think that both arise together from the parents and disappear together after death. After death the body does remain in a decaying state, but if the body and mind were the same, the mind should also remain in this state. In a living being, body and mind do have an immediate relationship, but when the being dies, this relationship becomes more and more remote. As the mind becomes further detached from the body, bodily feelings and functions gradually fade out until they finally cease. Some people think that the functions of the mind are dependent on breathing, but advanced yogis are able to live and concentrate for years without breathing. Because the mind and body are absolutely different, their causes must be absolutely different. The cause of the human body is the sperm-ovum union of the parents; thus children are physically similar to their parents. This immediate physical cause cannot produce the mind of the child, and could only do so if there were no difference between mind and body.
There are also some mental states that can be passed from parent to child. Some forms of madness, for instance, are caused by imbalance in the elements of the body, which can be passed on genetically. Mind usually follows the incoming and outgoing air; therefore imbalance in these airs can create mental disturbances.
Doctors can alter the temperament of a person by operating on the brain. Because the brain is the centre of the nerves carrying the airs that influence the mental processes, all the airs themselves are centralized in the brain. This is why we sometimes develop a headache when we concentrate too strongly; this overly strong concentration puts pressure on the brain. Although the mind is influenced by the nerves localized there, the mind itself is formless, not physical, and its cause must be of the same nature. Each mind- within-a-body causes the next. Bodies have a beginning; mind does not. Karma continues along with the mind.
The minds of beings in samsara are always covered with delusion. If, through the practice of Dharma, delusions can be removed and a high spiritual level reached, the mind can occupy more than one body; incarnate lamas (tulkus) can take several bodily forms simultaneously. When a person attains the high spiritual level of arhatship, he or she is then completely out of samsara. An arhat (foe destroyer) is not necessarily a bodhisattva, but the highest arhat is a buddha. Before buddhahood there are different levels of mind, but the minds of all buddhas are equal.
If a person steals, the immediate fruit is rebirth in a cold hell. Such beings are born in ice and their bodies are indistinguishable from the ice itself. The cracking of the ice produces much suffering. After birth in a cold hell, these beings may be reborn as animals living in very bad conditions, such as the pariah dogs of India. Even when finally reborn into human form, those who have stolen find themselves in conditions of extreme poverty. People with this type of karmic background may become children with a persistent tendency to steal, or may be born in a place where it never rains and there is famine. Whatever the fruit produced, it is related to the previous deeds. Any difficulties connected with property, lack of food and so forth are the fruit of stealing. Karma affects the environment as well as the body and mind.
The heaviest fruit produced by sexual misconduct is rebirth in a hell. More usual is rebirth as an animal. A being cannot practise sexual misconduct in hell. If the being is reborn human, he or she will experience such marital trouble as adultery. Sometimes even small children like perverse sexual acts; this tendency is the result of past misconduct. Because of these types of past action, the person may be reborn in a very dirty environment.
If a person tells a harmful lie, rebirth can also be in a hell. If the being is reborn human, then he or she will have neither faithful friends nor enjoy the good faith of others. Such a person, from childhood, will have the tendency to lie. The environment itself may be a very deceptive one.
A person who slanders with murderous intention may be reborn in a hell. If reborn human, friends will be lost through slander, and from childhood there will be a tendency to slander others. Rebirth may be in a dangerous place, with earthquakes and so on.
If a person uses harsh words, rebirth in a hell may result. If reborn human, the person will be a slave, beggar, or someone who is always being scolded. The person may be born as an ill treated dog. There will be the tendency to abuse others. This karma can also produce a bad environment. For instance, some people in Tibet always live in places where the conditions are unpleasant, the ground is covered with thorns, and so on. These people realize how bad the place is, but for some reason cannot separate themselves from it, saying, “This is my country, I cannot leave it.” If by irresponsible talk people produce sufficient delusion, their rebirth may be in a hell. If human, they might be surrounded by friends with scattered minds much given to chatter. Even if they want to break free of this superficiality and delusion, the environment will prevent it. From childhood there will be a fondness for idle talk. Rebirth may be in a place where many useless weeds but no crops grow. Idle talk does not appear to be very harmful, but it can be the worst kind of unskilful action of speech because if we encourage the tendency toward it, it occurs again and again, wasting our lives.
Greed, if it has extreme ill effects, may produce rebirth in a hell. If the person is born human, the fruit that results may be of the same sort as that resulting from stealing—a constant lack of property. Even if no unskilful physical action was performed in the past life, the bad fruit will be produced because of the person’s actions of mind. The person will have just the opposite of what was wanted. Greed causes other unskilful acts, such as stealing, lying, slander, etc. Greed itself is also produced in the next life.
If wishing to harm others leads to killing, or if the mind-action is strong and harmful enough, rebirth in a hell can result. Mental action is the strongest and most persistent kind. If someone kills an animal, this involves only one unskilful action of body, but many unskilful actions of mind. A person can be sitting in a meditation posture, appearing to be very pure, but performing many unskilful actions of mind. If someone who in the past has wished others much harm takes birth as a human, that person becomes the recipient of harmful intentions and has only treacherous friends. A person who in the past entertained harmful thoughts toward others will have that same tendency even from childhood in a later birth. It is ironic but the fruit of greed is that the person does not receive what is desired, and the fruit of wishing to harm others is that the person receives what is not desired.
Wrong views prevent spiritual progress. A person who believes that actions such as killing, stealing, etc. are not wrong and practices these actions may be reborn in hell. Even though the person believes that such actions are morally right, bad results are produced. Consider the following for example: There is some fruit to eat on top of a mountain; a man is looking for the fruit and three people deceive him. One sends him round by a very long way, the second sends him or, a very dangerous route, and the third tells him that there is no fruit to be had at all. By following the advice of the first two, it may take him a long time, but he will reach the fruit. However, the third has deceived him worst of all; if he believes from the start that there is no fruit, he will have no chance of obtaining it. Holding wrong views closes the door to happiness. If it does not cause birth in hell, it can cause birth as an animal (a state of ignorance) or as a human in a place where Dharma is unknown or forbidden. Wrong faith also opens the door to all unskilful deeds.
This is a simplification into ten general categories of unskilful karma and the respective fruits. If we sow wheat there will be many different results—stalk, leaves, grain, etc. Similarly, one deed has many different kinds of fruit—types of birth, environment, tendencies, and so on. This is why Buddhists say that everything comes from karma; karma structures all things that happen in the world. All events have two causes—an immediate cause and a deep karma-cause.
Klesha (mental defilement)
Karma results from klesha—mental defilement. Karma and klesha are both considered avarana. Avarana literally means “covering”—an avarana covers the mind, obscuring the realization of nirvana. Karma and klesha together make up kleshavararna. There is also another kind of avarana, which remains even in the arhat stage after karma and klesha have disappeared. This is called jneyavarana, “the covering of what can be known,” or obscuration to omniscience.
Klesha is the immediate cause of karma; karma causes suffering. If we can remove klesha, we can stop the flow of karma, prevent suffering from arising, and reach nirvana—though not the ultimate nirvana. Jneyavarana still remains in varying degrees in both arhats and bodhisattvas, and is finally removed only when the buddha stage is attained.
In the scriptures, kleshavarana is said to have eighty-four thousand different forms. They can be simplified into three main categories, from which the others come or in which the others are included: desire, aversion, and ignorance. 9
Desire is easily distinguishable from aversion. Desire must have an object and it makes the object seem more beautiful and attractive than it really is. Desire causes unskilful karma in any of the following ways. If we desire to eat meat, we kill animals; if we desire property, we are inclined to steal it; if we desire intercourse, we may commit, sexual misconduct. In the desire to create a false impression, we may lie; to obtain a desired object or goal, we may slander others; although aversion is more usually the cause, desire too may cause us to speak harsh words; in the grip of attraction to foolish things, we waste ourselves in irresponsible talk. Desire is the direct cause of greed; desire for the possessions of others can produce harmful thoughts. In brief, then, if any being, from a human down to the smallest insect, desires something and this desire produces an unskilful action, that action has arisen from the klesha of desire.
Aversion is the opposite of desire: it makes its object seem worse than it is. Aversion can easily produce killing, and out of spite or the wish to deprive someone, it can cause stealing or sexual misconduct. Lying and slander are commonly caused by aversion, and harsh words usually arise from it. Irresponsible talk too can be the result of aversion, as when a person talks at length in a derogatory manner about another. Although greed is not produced by aversion, malice usually is.
When we have desire it is not as painful as aversion. It can bring temporary happiness with it, and this makes us want to be very close to the object. Aversion always produces pain immediately; we want to be very far from its object. In the scriptures, desire is likened to a flower, which is very beautiful at first but soon changes and becomes ugly, while aversion is likened to a wasp, which only stings. The face of a person filled with desire is bright and shining; the face of a person filled with aversion is grim and dark.
All unskilful actions except wrong views, which are always produced by ignorance, can result from desire and aversion. Although we can be misled by the ignorance of our teachers, wrong views are, fundamentally, the result of our own ignorance. Desire and aversion are active, making things seem better or worse than they are; ignorance is the failure to realize the nature of things. If we kill, not out of aversion or desire, but because we don’t think it wrong or perhaps even think it good, this is the direct result of ignorance. Any unskilful act that arises from not knowing that it is unskilful is partly rooted in ignorance. For instance, people who make animal sacrifices think that they are doing something good—they have no ill-will toward or desire for the animal; they simply believe that killing the animal will please their god.
Fear can be good, bad or indifferent. If we have done a bad deed and repent out of fear of the karma-fruit, the fear is reasonable and wholesome in its effects. That very fear can lead us to practise Dharma and thence toward enlightenment. If we are afraid to practise Dharma because we are afraid that the practice will prove harmful in some way, this fear is the fruit of ignorance. When children are afraid of the dark, fearing ghosts and so on, this is neither good nor bad. Similarly, while the fear of death is produced by our desire of clinging to life, the fear itself is neither good nor bad.
Desire and aversion are both produced by ignorance. We experience them because we do not know the real nature of things.
The reason for practising meditation is to overcome suffering; to overcome suffering we must overcome karma; to overcome karma we must overcome desire and aversion; to overcome desire and aversion we must overcome ignorance. Meditation overcomes ignorance.
Ignorance >> desire or aversion >> unskilful karma >> three sufferings
No beings want suffering; they all want to remove it. Most do not know how to, and some even create suffering in their efforts to remove it. People take medicines that cure sickness temporarily but cannot remove it forever. To remove suffering permanently, we must find its cause—karma; we must remove the cause of the cause —desire and aversion; we must remove the cause of these—ignorance. Ignorance is the deepest root of all suffering. If ignorance is removed, all that stems from it will automatically disappear. Escape from samsara is impossible unless ignorance is removed. If we sit in meditation without understanding the real reason for doing so we will achieve only limited results.
If we want to remove ignorance, we must first discover its nature and that of its opposite, shunzyata (emptiness). Then, through meditation on emptiness, we have to remove ignorance.
There are two different kinds of ignorance: ignorance regarding the ego and ignorance regarding external phenomena. 10
Ignorance regarding the ego
From devas to the smallest insects, all beings in samsara are subject to this kind of ignorance, from which the other mental defilements arise. This ignorance causes us to perceive our own nature the wrong way. To remove it, we must realize the true way we exist.
What we call “ego,” or “self,” can be divided into either the body (caused by the parents) and mind (caused by past existences), or the five skandhas (aggregates). These skandhas are the five elements of sensory existence:
- Physical form (rupaskandha). This includes air, blood, semen, bone—anything material, composed of atoms. The sound of the voice is included in this skandha, because sound is form.
- Feelings (vedanaskandha). These arise from bodily contacts and mental contacts (with ideas, concepts, and so on), and can be pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent.
- Cognition, perception, differentiation (samjnaskandha). This skandha is the mind that recognizes objects through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking.
- Volitional formations (samskaraskandha). Samskaras are the qualities or tendencies of mind, produced by karma, that control the various kinds of conditioned mental factors, or “caitta.” (Caitta are in an inseparable relationship with the essential mind, “citta.” These factors can be beneficial—for example, concentration, intelligence, wisdom, confidence, energy, tranquillity, friendliness and sympathetic joy at the success of others—or harmful—ignorance, desire, anger, greed and all that is unprofitable in the spiritual sense. Caitta are mental karma; karma of body and speech arise from caitta; most caitta are included in samskaraskandha. The sequence of time and the changing nature of things are included in this skandha.
- Consciousness (vijnanaskandha). The function of this skandha is the awareness of an object. It allows the other skandhas to operate.
The five skandhas together support the concept of ego. This concept cannot be supported by any of the skandhas in isolation; it depends on all of them, just as the wheels, windows, steering wheel, engine, and other parts together make up the concept of “car.” Any of these parts in isolation is not the car. If all the parts are piled together in a heap, it is still not a car. Those parts arranged in a certain order comprise what people recognize and think of as a car. If people did not give it this name and did not recognize it as such it would not be a car.
The collection known as a particular human is built in the same way as is a car. A child is born composed of five skandhas and with all the usual qualities; his parents call him “Tashi.” Then this collection of skandhas and qualities becomes generally known and recognized as Tashi.
In samsara there are three planes of existence: the desire realm (kamadhatu), the form realm (rupatdhatu), and the formless realm (arupadhatu). In the first two realms no being can exist without all five skandhas. In the formless realm, beings have no physical form – rupaskandha—but do have the other four skandhas. Without these there is no ego.
All beings exist as a combination of skandhas and cannot exist without them. Buddha is also a combination of these skandhas, but ones that have been purified and transformed.
There are two ways of looking at the ego:
Through ignorance, negative understanding of the ego. This produces aversion and desire, unskilful karma, and suffering.
Through realization of shunyata, understanding the emptiness of the ego. This is positive understanding of the ego. Meditation on shunyata removes ignorance and thus ail the other mental defilements and their results.
As soon as we think of “I” as an entity existing independently, our ignorance has apprehended the ego in the wrong way. When we are aware that the ego does not exist independently, we can find right understanding. Without this understanding, our ignorance persists. This is the main point about shunyata, or emptiness: that the ego does not exist independently. This emptiness is the emptiness of the ego as an entity existing independently. Ego exists only as a combination of the skandhas.
Ignorance regarding outer phenomena
Ignorance about the five elements, mountains, seas, and so forth constitutes ignorance regarding outer phenomena. If we consider a biscuit, for example, it is a combination of various things—wheat, water, oil, fire and the activity of the baker. We recognize it as “biscuit,” but really it is a combination of forces and qualities. This analysis applies to all external phenomena; ultimately we will understand that there is no difference between the ego and outer phenomena. But when we look at either of them without thinking carefully about what they really are, we see them as existing independently. Everything changes subtly in a split second of time. Scientists can see very subtle changes in things with instruments such as microscopes (though not the most subtle changes), but when they are not studying these changes, these same scientists see things as existing independently.
This twofold ignorance about the ego and outer phenomena is the root of all defilements, karma and suffering. To remove suffering we must remove this ignorance completely. The only way to do this is to meditate on emptiness. There are many other objects of meditation, but emptiness is the most important.
The Graduated Path to Liberation
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam.rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.
Yana is not the carrier or what is carried—it is the carrying. Thus Hinayana means “carrying the smaller load,” and Mahayana, “carrying the great load.”
Hinayana practitioners are those who find samsara unbearable and want to escape from it into the state of nirvana. They help others enormously by renouncing the world and striving to obtain freedom, but their main thought is personal liberation from samsara. An arhat—one who has completed this path of personal liberation—has many spiritual powers, and can give spiritual teaching and aid to many beings, but still has to remove jneyavarana. The attainment of nirvana will prove not to be sufficient and the arhat will then have to enter the bodhisattva path and progress through the ten levels to the final, complete buddhahood.
Those who practise Mahayana also renounce samsara and want to escape from it. But because they identify with all other beings in samsara, Mahayanists do not want merely personal liberation. Through their great concern for others, Mahayanists’ all-motivating wish is to give complete happiness to all beings. They understand first that all beings in samsara—insects, devas and the rest—are equal in that they all want happiness and do not want suffering. They also perceive that none of these beings has the satisfaction of complete happiness. For this reason, they develop the great wish to take all beings out of suffering. This wish, which is also a kind of caitta, is called mahakarunika, “the great compassionate one.” Mahayana practitioners realize that all beings in samsara, though they may have transitory happiness, do not have true, lasting, happiness.
The next wish, that of giving all beings the ultimate happiness of buddhahood is called mahamaitreya, “the great wish of active love.” These wishes are stronger than the dissatisfaction of the Hinayana follower. Before this stage of aspiration is reached, there are many other practices that have to be developed so that Mahayanists can fully realize the suffering of beings.
At first they want to bring all beings to enlightenment without any help. This is called adicinta, “the first thought.” Then, when they examine themselves to see if they have enough power to do so alone, they find that the same defilements that other beings have exist within themselves as well. Thus they try to find who does have the power to help others in this way. Through this they find that only a buddha can do so, and develop the wish to reach the buddha stage quickly. This is bodhicitta 12, “the mind dedicated to enlightenment.”
When one has practised this a great deal, mahakarunika, mahamaitreya, adicinta and bodhicitta become part of the person’s very nature. At this point the practitioner becomes a bodhisattva, though not yet an arya-bodhisattva—a very advanced bodhisattva, who has seen emptiness clearly. When the practitioner reaches the high state of a bodhisattva, all the devas pay respect. Once bodhicitta has arisen, the seed of Dharma will continue to grow whether the person is awake or asleep, and even very harmful karma can be prevented from ripening.
Usually, people can remove mental defilements only by meditation on emptiness. Bodhicitta makes meditation on emptiness much more powerful. When a soldier is fighting an enemy he needs to use his weapon, but he also needs to have good food; bodhicitta is like this food.
To reach the final goal we need two instruments: prajna (wisdom), and upaya (right means), which contains both compassion and compassionate activity. 13 Mahakarunika, mahamaitreya, adicinta and bodhicitta are all included in upaya. Prajna is seeing things as they really are. A bodhisattva must have both of these. Arhats, who have completed the Hinayana path, are out of samsara and have attained the lowest level of nirvana, are strong in prajna—in the realization of emptiness—but weak in upaya. They have compassion (karuna), but not the great compassion of mahakarunika. They have active love (maitri), but not mahamaitreya. The main difference between their path and that of the Mahayana is on the side of upaya. Eventually, arhats will have to develop it.
Pandit Shantideva, in his Bodhicaryavatara, mentioned all the different virtues of bodhicitta, for those interested in knowing more about the mind dedicated to enlightenment.
The Graduated Path to Liberation
There are five successive paths on which a bodhisattva develops:
The path of accumulation (sambharamarga)
The path of training or preparation (prayogamarga)
The path of seeing (darshanamarga)
The path of intense contemplation (bhavanamarga)
The path of liberation or no more training(vimuktimarga)
When bodhicitta has been developed until it is natural and intrinsic, the bodhisattva has completely obtained the sambharamarga (which has lower levels before this point). Then many spiritual powers (rddhi) are attained, such as psychic power (mahabhijna), which enables the bodhisattva to know other people’s thoughts, to know the past and future events of other beings’ lives, to fly, to have multiple bodies, and so forth. A bodhisattva does not concentrate on these techniques specially to get a particular power; these powers come naturally. But the bodhisattva is able to put them to good use because these powers aid greatly in seeing the karma, spiritual development and potentialities of other beings, and whether or not they are in a state where they can be helped escape from samsara. The bodhisattva can see at which place beings can receive teachings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the various buddha-fields. 14 Many other virtues also accrue to the bodhisattva.
At this point the most important thing for the bodhisattvas is to meditate on emptiness, which is still not perceived clearly. When emptiness becomes clearer the second path, the path of training, is attained; this stage immediately precedes becoming an arya-bodhisattva.
Then, after much meditation, the feeling arises within the bodhisattva that the mind that meditates and emptiness are one, like water poured into water; (this feeling, though, is deceptive). This signifies the attainment of the path of seeing and the becoming of an arya-bodhisattva. Although the arya-bodhisattva still retains old karma as well as some defilements, no new karma is produced from this level of attainment onwards, and there is a great increase in psychic powers. For instance, the arya-bodhisattva begins obtaining the power to eradicate past karma and even deeper defilements. Because there are many different layers of avarana, they have to be removed one by one; as the psychic powers grow stronger, the bodhisattva can remove more and more layers.
Due to the first direct perception of emptiness on the path of seeing, the bodhisattva removes the first layer of obscuration of defilements (kleshavarana). The bodhisattva now has greater wisdom because there are fewer layers of defilements covering or hiding reality. On the first two paths, the obscurations are suppressed but are not truly eradicated and therefore they can still rise again. But on the path of seeing, one layer is actually removed forever. In all, there are ten layers of defilement-obscurations; they are like ten cloths which hide reality and have to be peeled or washed away. The practitioner removes the veils covering reality in the same way that one washes clothes, by using the strength of washing soap appropriate to the amount of dirt.
There are ten levels 15 of arya-bodhisattva:
The joyous (pramudita)
The stainless (vimala)
The light-maker (prabhakari)
The radiant (arcishmati)
The very hard to conquer (sudurjaya)
The turning-toward (abhimukhi)
The far-going (durangama)
The unshakable (acala)
The good mind (sadhumati)
The cloud of dharma (dharmamegha)
” The joyous” level, pramudita, is reached on the path of seeing, and all the other nine on the path of intense contemplation. At each of the ten levels, the bodhisattva has increasingly greater virtue and has overcome more defilements. In several scriptures, the amount of increase in virtue is given for each level; at some levels the virtues are innumerable. All these levels are a connected stream. One layer of defilement-obscuration is removed at each of the first seven levels; at the eighth, “The unshakable,” the remaining three are removed so that the bodhisattva is then free entirely from kleshavarana. With respect to the removal of defilements, the bodhisattva is equal with the lower arhats, but in terms of the virtue amassed through such practice, the bodhisattva is much higher. These defilements are all removed by meditation on emptiness; at the level of the unshakable there is particularly strong growth in the strength of this meditation on emptiness.
At the ninth level, “The good mind,” the bodhisattva begins at last to remove the wisdom-obscuration— jneyavarana. This is very subtle and difficult to perceive. If we put some garlic or onion into a pot and then remove it, the smell still remains. In the same way, although the defilement has gone, this obscuration still remains. At the level of “good mind,” the bodhisattva is out of samsara but the wisdom is not quite perfect. At this point the bodhisattva can recognize and begin to remove the only remaining factor obscuring reality: the wisdom-obscuration, Without the removal of the wisdom-obscuration, the bodhisattva cannot help beings to the extent that a fully enlightened buddha can. The degree to which we can help others depends on the depth of our own wisdom.
While defilement-obscuration is like a cut that gives pain, the wisdom-obscuration is like the painless scar that remains when the cut has healed but not finally disappeared. “The cloud of dharma” is the level immediately before buddhahood, on which the last traces of the wisdom-obscuration are taken away. The removal of obscurations is like removing increasingly fine and wispy veils. The development of greater spiritual power is like having stronger and stronger binoculars to see more and more clearly. At the buddha stage, all obscurations are gone. Even a small part of a buddha’s mind can see all things clearly at the same time. If there is even a tiny cloud in the sky there is still a small shadow on the earth, but when this cloud has disappeared the sun can shine everywhere. At the level called “The cloud of dharma,” the bodhisattva meditates on emptiness with perfect concentration. Although emptiness can be seen clearly and completely, the tenth level bodhisattva cannot perceive both emptiness and phenomena simultaneously; a buddha, however, can see both at the same time. Things are empty of independent self- existence, but they themselves are not emptiness. The moment this final trace of the wisdom-obscuration disappears, phenomenal existence and emptiness suddenly appear together. At this moment a buddha can see phenomenality and emptiness simultaneously, not only with eye-perception, but also with the other sense-perceptions. At the time of becoming a buddha, not only is knowledge of the deepest nature of everything attained, but also the final virtues of body—such as easily multiplying the body an infinite number of times—and speech—such as being able to give teachings to any being without difficulty.
The virtue of a buddha’s speech is unlimited. If, for instance, a thousand people each ask a different question in a different language at the same time, a buddha, by saying just one word, can answer all their questions immediately. We do not have the inner power to do this kind of action because of our avaranas. In all, there are sixty-four virtues of a buddha’s speech: sweetness, softness, an attraction that makes people want to listen, a quality that gives a feeling of peace to those who hear it, and so forth. The different virtues of the body, speech and mind of a buddha can be found throughout many different sutras, and are presented collectively in a work by Lama Tsongkhapa. 16
There are one hundred and twelve different virtues of a buddha’s body. The duty of a buddha is to help sentient beings; if it is helpful, in one second he can multiply himself as many times as there are beings, or can manifest as any kind of being or object such as trees, water, and so on. The buddha performs this type of miraculous action always and only to help beings find release from samsara.
To receive such help, we must also contact the buddha from our own side. At night, when the moon is shining on the surface of a lake that is clear and smooth, the light can shine on all parts of it, but if the surface is disturbed or overgrown the moon cannot penetrate or be reflected; when it is smooth and clear, the moon is reflected clearly in it, the reflection being just like the moon in the sky. In the same way, the buddha’s help goes out to all beings equally; it is the beings’ receptivity that varies. We must, for our part, make contact with the buddha; if it were not necessary for us to act from our own side, the buddha would have already taken us all out of samsara. A buddha has the ultimate mahakarunika, so he would not leave beings in suffering if by his own efforts alone he were able to take them out of it. If you clap your left hand with your right, your left hand must be there to receive the blow, otherwise there is no sound.
Once all coverings are removed and the power of the virtue that has been built up is at its full height, there is nothing we cannot do. We can multiply our bodies infinitely and can give teachings on all levels, from the beginning of the path to the goal; the virtue of a buddha’s mind is that even a small part of it knows the reality of everything. This buddha stage is the effect of many causes, achieved through an enormous amount of Dharma practice.
After the historical buddha, Shakyamuni, had finished his teaching on earth, all the beings there at the time who had the karma to see and hear him had done so, and so he went to continue his work in other realms. Although this form has disappeared, he can still help beings in other forms. Buddhas can take ordinary forms such as a friend, guru and so forth.
The Graduated Path to Liberation
To become a buddha, a bodhisattva has to practise six perfections: 17
the perfection of giving (dana paramita)
the perfection of morality (shila-paramita)
the perfection of patience (kshanti-paramita)
the perfection of energy (virya-paramita)
the perfection of meditation (dhyana-paramita)
the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramira)
Perfection of Giving
This perfection is divided into four categories: the giving of property, Dharma, refuge, and active love (maitri).
The giving of property
For most of us, basic material needs such as food and clothing are the types of property easiest to give. High bodhisattvas, however, are capable of giving their eyes, flesh, and even their lives. The object we give is not the actual giving—it is only the means for giving. The real activity of giving is the strong decision to give freely, without avarice. In this way, even if we possess nothing, we can practise giving, because giving depends on our state of mind, not on the object being given. Milarepa had only a small cloth to wear and lived on nettles, but he still practised the ultimate perfection of giving. In the beginning when we try to start this practice, we may find that even the giving of money or material things is difficult, but when we have completed the perfection of giving, the giving of anything, even our own flesh, will be easy. To practise the perfection we need a very strong desire to help others and a very strong will. But if our motive for giving property is to gain fame, for instance, this is not the practice of giving at all.
The giving of Dharma
The giving of Dharma means that one gives, with pure mind, the true teaching to other beings. This type of giving is more beneficial than the giving of property. Possession of property helps for only a limited time, while Dharma is lasting and more deeply helpful. A person with property may still be suffering, but Dharma can not only remove this suffering, it gives the person a new wisdom eye as well. Included in the bodhisattvas’ work to attain buddhahood is the aim to give Dharma as fully as possible to all beings.
The giving of refuge
To give refuge means that we work to save and protect the lives of all living beings. For instance, if we put water creatures stuck in the mud back into water, we are practising this kind of giving. The person who truly wants to put an end to war and killing is practising the refuge aspect of this perfection. If the life of any being is in danger, we have to help in any way we can. The practice of giving refuge results in very good fruit immediately and deeply.
The giving of active love
The practice of active love is the wish to give real happiness to all beings. By just having this wish, we cannot directly help beings straight away, but if it is cultivated it will eventually have great results. The immediate fruit of this practice is that no spirits can harm the practitioner.
All these kinds of giving help in two ways—they help other beings and they help ourselves. If we practise giving solely for our own benefit, it is not true giving.
Perfection of Morality
The perfection of morality has three aspects:
The first aspect is the protection of our body, speech and mind from performing unskillful deeds. We have the tendency to act unskillfully, and this tendency needs to be controlled. We protect ourselves from acting this way when we stop using our body, speech and mind in harmful ways. We can think of our body, speech and mind as three naughty children, and of ourselves as their parent trying to keep them occupied in a room. Immediately outside the door of the room is a dangerous precipice, which represents the harmful things to which the children are attracted. Whenever they try to run out of the room, we have to pull them back inside to safety. If we let our body, speech and mind go as they will, we shall experience much suffering in the future. This protection of body, speech and mind is the first aspect of morality.
The second aspect is to protect others in the same way as we protect ourselves. For instance, when someone is about to kill an animal and we demonstrate that it is wrong to do so, we are protecting that person from committing harmful actions.
- When we perform any skillful deed, this automatically protects us from performing any unskillful ones. This substitution of skilful action in the place of unskilful is the third aspect of the perfection of morality.
Perfection of Patience
There are three types of patience:
Patience when we are harmed by others.
When we are harmed bodily or mentally by others we should not react by getting angry or harming them in return.
Patience when we are suffering.
When we suffer, we point to someone or something outside ourselves as the cause. The immediate reason for our suffering may be something outside, but the deep, or underlying, cause is our own karma, which is of our own doing. The fruit or our actions must come back to us. If a person stabs us with a knife, this injury had to happen to us. We cannot point to anyone outside ourselves as the cause. If, because of our religion, we have to leave our country and endure great suffering, this circumstance has been produced by ourselves. We should think that the seed of suffering has already been sown, therefore it must grow. This way of thinking reduces the power of suffering over us. We have to start practising patience with very small sufferings; later we shall be able to be patient with very large ones. As a result of having practised the perfection of patience, a bodhisattva can withstand any suffering whatsoever for the sake of beings.
In Tibetan history there is a story that shows clearly how beneficial the practice of this type of patience can be. Some years after king Langdarma had eradicated the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet, a king of western Tibet, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö 18 decided to reestablish and propagate the pure Dharma in the land. For this purpose he went in search of a sufficient amount of gold with which to invite the very best Indian pandits to Tibet. While on his search he was imprisoned by the king of Garlog, who demanded as ransom Lha Lama Yeshe Ö’s weight in gold. But when Yeshe Ö’s nephew came with the gold, the old king refused to leave the prison, saying that his life was almost over and that instead the nephew should bring a pandit from India. The nephew then was able to invite Atisha from Nalanda, and Atisha re-established the pure Buddha Dharma in Tibet.
Not only did this king willingly forsake his own freedom for the sake of others, but he also did not try to retaliate against the person who had captured him. To harm someone who is harming us does not make sense from a religious point of view. When we seek revenge against others who appear to be hurting us, it does not relieve our own pain, but only gives rise to new suffering for us by creating more karma. If, because we have caused pain to others, they turn around and beat us with a stick, the immediate cause of the pain is the stick, but the person wielding the stick is reacting against our own action, which itself was caused by our being in the grip of an overpowering mental defilement. So logically, our anger should be directed against our own mental defilements. Anger with other beings is very stupid and serves only to create more suffering for us. A country, being attacked by another, fighting back, returning the aggression, is like a hungry person taking poison.
If all people were to practise patience it would bring real peace into the world, but those with no experience of Dharma find it very hard to believe in the efficacy of the practice of patience. If someone who is struck returns the blow, that person sets up a chain reaction with no end, but if one party shows patience, as a result others will do so also. We find this notion in the Christian tradition, when Jesus urged us to turn the left cheek to those who strike us on the right. In the Tibetan tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa composed two verses in which he prayed,
When I remember, see or hear living beings
speaking harshly or hitting me
may I meditate on patience,
and, avoiding anger, speak instead of their good qualities.
By developing, in the stream of my being, the pure wish,
which is based on bodhicitta,
holding other beings dearer than myself,
may I quickly bestow supreme buddhahood on them!
The harm given us by the body, speech or mind of others is like a sword, arrow or spear. The practice of patience is the good armor of protection against this; possessing it, we cannot be injured. If we do not practise patience, trying instead merely to avoid conflict and say nice things and be friendly to everyone, we shall be unable to behave like this to all the countless beings, but with patience we shall be constantly protected from harm. If we walk along a very rocky path, it is impossible to remove all the stones from the way, but strong shoes protect us from all possible injuries.
- The patience of keeping concentration.
The third kind of patience is that of keeping concentration on meditation, or anything else concerned with Dharma, without allowing distracting influences to harm the practice.
Perfection of Energy
This means energy for Dharma. There are three kinds:
- The first is the energy of the mind that stops the desire for unprofitable things. If we have a strong desire for ordinary things disconnected from Dharma, it disrupts our Dharma practice. Although we have to do everyday things, if our fondness for them is greater than our fondness for Dharma, our attention is taken away from our main work. A person may concentrate and work very hard, but if the goal of all that effort is a worldly one, then, according to Dharma, that person is lazy. People who really want to practise Dharma are in a hurry even when eating or excreting, so as not to waste time. Energy for worldly things is weakness; energy for Dharma is real strength. This aspect of the perfection of energy speeds us quickly towards the final goal. Having energy for Dharma practice, the real purpose of life, prevents our being distracted by worldly goals. It protects us from all kinds of bad things.
- The second kind of energy protects us against tiredness. For instance, a meditator who suffers from such tiredness that even the mere sight of the meditation place brings on sleep, overcomes this weakness by this kind of energy. One way to stop this fault is to consider the fruit of meditation or Dharma practice; if we bear this in mind, bodily tiredness does not make us lose our energy. People at work do not suffer very much from tiredness because they are thinking of the money they will get. If we consider the great fruit of practising Dharma wt will work hard at it. High lamas living in the mountains with very little food and sleep are not tired and complaining; rather they are very happy, because they see that the fruit of their work is near. These lamas have many different ways of practising Dharma: some are always teaching; others live alone in the mountains and accept perhaps one or two pupils.
- The third kind of energy is the confidence that we are not too small, weak or stupid to obtain the fruit of Dharma practice. Weakness of this kind stands in the way of achievement of the object. It can be overcome by thinking that the highest buddhas and bodhisattvas also once had only delusion, lived in samsara, and were worse than ourselves. By practising Dharma, they reached the highest stages of perfection; we can do the same. No one has perfect virtue from the beginning; when children first go to school they cannot even read or write, but later they learn to do not only that but many other things as well, and some become great scholars. The Buddha said that even insects living in excrement can become buddhas. If we bear all this in mind, we shall find no reason why we cannot practise Dharma.
The three kinds of energy overcome three weaknesses: the first that the mind will not turn to Dharma; the second is the fatigue we experience when we practise; the third is the doubt we have in our own ability to achieve the aims of Dharma. The person who wants to get to the top of a mountain has first to turn to the path, second, to keep going and not give in to laziness, and third, not to falter and think, “This is possible for strong people, but not for me.
The scriptures teach that all virtue follows from energy. With energy, someone who is not intelligent can get the Dharma fruit. A person who is intelligent but lazy will not get the fruit, and the intelligence is useless and wasted. With both intelligence and energy, there will be the greatest success. There is a simile in the scriptures that if the dry grass on a mountain catches fire and the wind fans it, the whole mountainside will catch fire, but if there is no wind the fire will go out straight away. Intelligence is like the fire and energy like the wind. If a person has intelligence and no energy, nothing will be accomplished. Thus the perfection of energy is essential for achieving the goal.
The Perfections of Concentration and Wisdom
Concentration must be on an object. It is very important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for concentration meditation is zhi.nay; nay means to “dwell” or “stay,” and zhi means “in peace.” In a practical sense, then, zhi.nay means to live peacefully without busy-ness, and is often translated as “calm abiding.” If we do not examine it carefully, our mind seems quite peaceful; but if we really look inside, it is not peaceful at all. Our mind is not able to stay on the same object for a second. It flutters around like a banner in the wind; as soon as we concentrate on one thing, another comes to disturb it. Even if we are living on a high mountain or in a quiet room or cave, our mind is always moving. If we go up to the top of a high building in a busy city we can look down and see how much turmoil there is, but when we are moving around within the crowd, we are only aware of a little of the bustle. Among the various mental factors, there is constant movement between conflicting elements; these factors always lead the mind. The movement of a banner fluttering in the wind Is not caused by the banner itself but by the wind. Mind is like the banner and the mental factors are like the wind. This constant movement stops the mind concentrating on an object for long. Of our mental factors, the defilements are stronger than the good qualities. We usually do Dot try to control them, and even when we do, it is very difficult because for a long time we have been in the habit of always following them. Concentration or calm abiding occurs when our mental factors are purified and thus our mind is able to dwell peacefully on the object.
There are two kinds of meditation: analytical meditation and concentration meditation. It is necessary to use both kinds of meditation to remove delusion and reach the goal. Some people say that thinking and learning about Dharma are not meditation, but the scriptures say that these activities are in fact also kinds of meditation. If we do not think carefully and know the nature of the object we cannot concentrate well. The bustle within the mind is mind-produced; to quiet it, therefore, action by the mind itself and nothing external is required. The primary action must be by the mind; on this basis, factors such as a suitable place and the meditation posture can help.
The place in which we practise concentration should be clean, quiet, close to nature, and pleasing to us. Our friends should be peaceful and good. Our body should be healthy, not sick. Sitting in the correct position also helps. For meditation, there are seven aspects of the ideal posture:
- If it is not painful, the vajra posture, with the legs crossed and the feet resting upturned on the thighs is best. However, if sitting in this position causes pain and distracts the mind, the left foot should be tucked under the right thigh and the right foot should rest on the left thigh.
- The trunk must be as straight and erect as possible.
- The arms should be in a bow shape, not resting against the sides of the body or pushed back; they should be at rest but firm. The back of the right hand should rest in the palm of the left; the thumbs should be level with the navel.
- The neck should be curved slightly forward, with the chin in.
- The eyes should be focused straight along the sides of the nose.
- The mouth and lips should be relaxed, neither open nor tightly shut.
- The tongue should be pressed gently against the palate.
These are the seven aspects of the vajra posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path, but each also has a practical purpose. The legs crossed and the feet on the thighs make a locked position. We can lock ourselves firmly in place with legs crossed and the feet on the thighs as described above; positioned like this we could sit in meditation for a long time, even for months, without falling. The straightness of the body allows for the best functioning of the channels carrying the airs on which the mind rides in our bodies. If the body is straight these channels will not be blocked. The position of the arms is also to allow the best functioning of these channels. If one looks too high one can easily see something distracting; if the head is too low one gets pain in the neck or becomes sleepy. The mouth should not be closed so tightly that breathing is difficult if the nose is at all blocked; nor should it be open so widely that strong breathing causes the fire element of the body to increase with high blood pressure resulting. If the tongue is pressed against the palate, the throat and mouth will be kept moist. These are the immediate reasons for the meditation posture. Very rarely, people’s arrangement of the inner channels is different, in which case they need a different position.
By just sitting in the vajra posture we achieve a good frame of mind, but the main work has to be done by the mind itself. If a thief enters a room, the way to remove him is to go in and throw him out, not just to shout from the outside. Similarly, if we are sitting on the top of the mountain while our mind is wandering in the village below, we shall not be able to develop concentration.
There are two enemies of concentration. One is busy-ness, wildness, or scattered attention; the other is sleepiness, torpor, or sinking. Our attention is distracted when a desire arises and the mind immediately races after it. Whenever the mind goes after anything other than the object of concentration, this is wild or scattered, mind. Sleepiness, or torpor, occurs when the mind is sleepy and not alert. If we want to concentrate well, we have to overcome these disturbances. If there is a beautiful picture on the wall of a dark room, we need a candle to see it, but if there is a draught, the flame will flicker and we shall not be able to see it properly. If there is no draught but the flame is very weak, there will not be enough light and we shall still not be able to see the picture. If there are neither of these difficulties, the flame will be strong and steady and we shall be able to see the picture clearly. The picture is like the object of concentration, the flame is the mind, the wind is scattered attention and the weak flame is torpor.
In the early stages of the practice of concentration, the first of these disturbances is more common. The mind immediately flies away from the object to other things. This can be seen if we try to keep our mind on the memory of a face; it is immediately replaced by something else. It is very difficult to quell these disturbances because, over many lives, we have built up the habit of following them, while we have not developed the habit of concentration. We may find it very hard to develop new habits of mind and leave old ones behind, but concentration is the basic necessity for all higher meditation and for all kinds of mental activity.
Mindfulness and awareness consciousness are the antidotes to scattered attention and torpor respectively. The drawing here represents an aspiring meditator, who is following the path of meditative stages that ends in the accomplishment of calm abiding and the beginning of the practice of insight meditation. At the bottom of the page we see the practitioner, who holds a rope in one hand and a hook in the other, chasing after an elephant led by a monkey. The elephant represents the meditator’s mind; a wild or untrained elephant can be dangerous and wreak enormous destruction, but once trained will obey commands and do hard work. The same holds true for the mind. Any suffering that we have now is due to the mind being like a wild, untrained elephant. The elephant also has very big footprints; these symbolize the mental defilements. If we work hard at improving our mind it will be able to do very great work for us in return. From the suffering of the hells to the happiness of the buddhas, all states are caused by the behaviour of the mind.
At the start of the path the elephant is black, which represents torpor or sinking of the mind. The monkey leading the elephant represents scattering of the mind. A monkey cannot keep quiet for a moment—it is always chattering or fiddling with something and finds everything attractive. In the same way that the monkey is in front leading the elephant, our attention is scattered by the sense objects of taste, touch, sound, smell, and vision. These are symbolized by food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume, and a mirror. Behind the elephant is a person, who represents the meditator trying to train the mind. The rope in the meditator’s hand is mindfulness and the hook is awareness. Using these two tools the meditator will try to tame and control his mind. Fire is shown at different points along the path to represent the energy necessary for concentration. Notice that the fire gradually decreases at each of the ten stages of zhi.nay, as less energy is needed to concentrate. It will flare up again at the eleventh stage, when we start practising insight meditation.
In the beginning, just as the elephant following the monkey pays no attention to the person chasing behind, the practitioner has no control over his or her mind. In the second stage, the practitioner, who has almost caught up with the elephant, is able to throw the rope around the elephant’s neck. It looks back; this is the third stage, where the mind can be restrained a little by mindfulness. Here a rabbit is on the elephant’s back, symbolizing subtle torpor, which previously might have seemed to be a state of concentration, but now can be recognized for the harmful factor that it is. In these early stages we have to use mindfulness more than awareness.
At the fourth stage the elephant mind is more obedient, so less pulling with the rope of mindfulness is necessary. By the fifth stage the elephant is being led by the rope and hook and the monkey is following behind. At this point we are not much disturbed by scattering or distracted attention; mostly we have to use awareness instead of mindfulness. In the drawing, the sixth stage of practice is depicted with the elephant and the monkey both following obediently behind the practitioner, who does not have to look back at them. This means that the practitioner does not have to focus continually on controlling the mind, and the absence of the rabbit shows that the subtle torpor, which appeared at the third stage, has now disappeared.
Upon reaching the seventh stage, the elephant can be left to follow of its own accord and the monkey takes leave; the practitioner has no more need to use the rope and hook—scattered attention and torpor occur only mildly and occasionally. At the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white and follows behind the practitioner; this shows that the mind is obedient and there is no sinking or scattering, although some energy is still needed to concentrate. At the ninth stage the practitioner can actually sit in meditation while the elephant sleeps peacefully nearby; at this point the mind can concentrate without effort for long periods of time-days, weeks, or even months. The tenth stage, where we see the meditator sitting on top of the elephant, signifies the real attainment of calm abiding. At the last, eleventh, stage, the meditator is sitting on the elephant’s back holding a sword. At this point the practitioner begins a new kind of meditation called “higher vision,” or insight meditation.
If we practise the calm abiding type of meditation, we might use an image of Buddha as our object of concentration. The first thing we do is look at it very thoroughly. Then we start meditating. In meditation we do not look at the object with our physical eyes but focus with the mind’s eye. At first our memory of it will not be at all clear, but even so, we should not try to force it to become clear—this is impossible at the start. The important point is to keep our attention focused on it, clear or otherwise. The clarity will eventually come naturally.
At the beginning, concentration is very difficult; the mind always turns this way and that. When we persist in the practice, however, we shall find that we are able to keep our mind on the object for one or two minutes, then three or four minutes, and so on. Each time the mind leaves the object, mindfulness has to bring it back. Awareness has to be used to see if disturbances are coming or not. If we carry a bowl full of hot water alone a rough road, part of our mind has to watch the water and part has to watch the road. Mindfulness has to keep the concentration steady, and awareness has to watch out for disturbances that may come. As we saw in the drawing, we need progressively less mindfulness after the initial stages, but then our mind, tired from fighting the scattering of attention, produces torpor.
After a while there comes a stage where the meditator feels much happiness and relaxation, which is often mistaken for the true state of calm abiding; in fact, however, it is subtle torpor, which makes the mind weak. If we continue our practice with energy, this subtle torpor will also disappear. When we have removed this disturbance, our mind becomes clearer and more awake, and thus the object of our meditation is seen more clearly. As our perception of the meditation object increases in clearness and freshness, our body will be sustained by our peace of mind, and we shall not have hunger or thirst. Eventually, a meditator can continue like this for months at a time. The feeling experienced in the mind at this stage cannot be described.
If we look at a piece of cloth with our eyes we can see it, bur not in great detail. But a person who has concentrated on it well with the mind’s eye can see it very clearly in all details. When we die our mind becomes weaker, but if we practise meditation then our mind, at this time, will actually become fresher and clearer. Normally, dying people experience delusions and fears which lead to a bad rebirth. If, however, we have meditated well, then during the death process our mind will be concentrated on Buddha, Dharma and so forth; this helps very much for the next birth.
The scriptures say that in the ninth stage of the practice of calm abiding, even if a wall crashes down next to the meditator, he will not be disturbed. As the meditator continues to practise, his body and mind experience a special pleasure; this feeling marks the attainment of the final goal of calm abiding. The meditator’s body feels light and tireless, symbolized in the drawing by the person flying. His body has become very supple, and his mind can be turned to any meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The meditator feels as though the object and his mind have become one.
Although at the ninth stage of calm abiding we feel very happy and peaceful, this is not the real end of meditation. Firm concentration on the object is still not the complete achievement. Now the meditator can combine concentration with an examination into the real nature of the object of meditation. After continuing the simultaneous practice of both types of meditation, a special pleasure arises from the seeing into the object. “Seeing the object” involves seeing whether an object is suffering, seeing if it is permanent or changeable, and looking for the highest truth to be found about the real nature of the object. In Tibetan, the name for this meditation with insight is lhag.thong; lhag means more, or higher, and thong to understand or realize. Through this kind of meditation the mind obtains more understanding of the object than it can through simple concentration; when this practice has been perfected, the mind can turn to anything. The perfection of lhag.thong gives great spiritual satisfaction, but if one is satisfied merely with this, it is like having an aeroplane built, ready to fly, but left on the ground.
The mind can be turned to deeper and higher things. It has to be used on the one hand to overcome karma and defilements, and on the other to obtain the virtues of a buddha. For this, the object can only be emptiness, or shunyata; other meditations prepare the mind for this final object. If we have a very good torch that can show up anything, we have to use its light to find what is important. The root cause of all our trouble is ignorance. We have to use our knowledge of emptiness to dispel ignorance; we must use our mind, purified by calm abiding and special insight, to cut the root of the tree of ignorance. In the drawing, at this stage, the practitioner is holding a sword, symbolizing the realization of emptiness, to cut the two black lines symbolizing the two obscurations: the defilement-obscuration and the knowledge- obscuration.
The realization of emptiness is essential to remove ignorance. Once we come close to a thorough understanding of emptiness we are on the way to the perfection of wisdom—the complete comprehension of emptiness.
The Graduated Path to Liberation
The preceding is, briefly, an explanation of the reasons for meditation and a description of the path up to the buddha stage. If we really want to practise the Buddhist Dharma, we must first know what suffering is and realize the way in which we exist in samsara. To get out of samsara, we must have strong faith in the Buddha, and then practise as the Buddha taught. We should consider how other beings are also suffering in samsara, and out of compassion for them, we must wish to reach the buddha stage in order to help them.
It is important to try to find the right understanding of Dharma. Even if we buy a watch, which only needs to last for a few years, we try to find a good one. Because Dharma is not just for ourselves in this life, but for all beings in all lives, it is much more important to find the right and best understanding of it. If we want to trust another person, first we have to know that the other person is honest and reliable; we can only determine this by what the other one says or does. In the same way, we can have faith in the Buddha only by knowing what he taught, by looking at our experiences to see whether it is reasonable, and by practising it to see if it gives good fruit or not. Then our faith will be indestructible.
The terms are given first in English, followed by the Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents. The syllables in brackets provide a phonetic Tibetan pronunciation. Diacritical marks have not been used on Sanskrit letters. The explanations are intended only to expand briefly on the use of the term in this text. For exact transliteration and for more general definitions and a wider range of applications, the reader is referred to the glossaries of other publications concerning the sutra path in Buddhism, as well as to such dictionaries as Monier-Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, and Chandra Das’ Tibetan-English Dictionary.
The four noble truths; caturaryasatya; bden.pa bzhi (den.pa zhi).
Suffering due to suffering; suffering of misery; duhkha duhkhata; sdug.bsngalgy sdug.bsngal (dug.ngal gyi dug.ngal).
Suffering due to change; viparinama duhkhata; ’gyur.bai sdug.bsngal (gyur.wei dug.ngal).
All embracing suffering due to mental formations; suffering of being conditioned; samskara duhkhata; khyab.pai ‘dus.byed gyi sdug.bsngal (khyab.pai du.je gyi dug.ngal).
Volitional action of body, speech and mind; karma; las (ley). The Sanskrit term karma is generally used. Karma is of three types: skillful, unskillful, and neutral.
Mental defilement; klesha; nyon.mongs (nyon.mong). There are two forms of mental defilements: harmful inclinations, and the mistaking of the way things appear to exist for the way they actually do.
(Literally) circle or sphere; mandala; dkyil.’khor (kyil.kor). The Sanskrit term mandala is used most often. A mandala can be the physical circular object used for making offerings, the symbolic universe that is being offered, or the special abode or environment of the one who is receiving the offering.
The intermediate state between one’s death and one’s next rebirth; antarabhava; bar.do (bardo).
Desire; attachment; rag; ‘dod.chags (dod.chag);
Aversion; anger; hatred; dosha; zhe-sdang (zhe.dang);
Ignorance; mental darkness; moha; gti.mug (ti.mug). These three comprise the three poisons.
Ignorance regarding the self of persons; pudgalatmadrishti; gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi ma.rig.pa (gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi ma.rig.pa);
Ignorance regarding the self of phenomena; dharmatmadrishti; cho.kyi dag.dzin gyi ma.rig.pa).
Carrying; vehicle; yana; theg.pa (teg.pa).
The mind motivated or dedicated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings; the altruistic intention; the awakening mind; bodhicitta; byang.chub kyi sems (jang.chub kyi sem).
Wisdom; prajna; shes.rab (she.rab). Method; means; upaya; thabs (tab).
Buddha field; buddha kshetra; sangs.rgyas kyi zhing (sang.gye kye zhing).
Ten levels or grounds; dashabhumi; sa.bcu (sa.chu).
” The Oceans of Clouds of Praises”; stod.sprin rgya.mtsho (do.trin gya.tso). This is a prayer in praise of the bodhisattva Manjushri, which contains a description of a buddha’s qualities of body, speech and mind.
Perfection; paramita; pha.rol tu phyin.pa (pa.rol tu chin.pa).
Lha Lama Yeshe Ö; (Devaguru Jnanaprabha). This king was a descendant of King Langdarma (gLan-dar-ma), who was responsible for eradicating the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet.
Verses 19 and 20 of Je Tsong Khapa’s prayer The Beginning and the End (thog.mtha.ma (tog.ta ma)).
Calm abiding; samatha; zhi-gnas (zhi.nay). Calm abiding is the perfection of mental concentration.
Analytical, or investigative, meditation; vicharabhavana; dpyad.sgom (je.gom). Discursive analysis of the true nature of the meditation object.
Concentration meditation; sthapyabhavana; ‘jog.sgom (jo.gom). Following discriminating or analytic meditation, one then single-pointedly places the mind on the meditation object. This practice is an aspect of calm abiding.
Diamond posture; vajrasana; rdo.rje.gdan (dor.je den). This asana is called the diamond posture or pose because in this position, one can sit firmly, “indestructibly,” unmovingly, for a long period of time.
Scattered attention; agitation; mental excitement; auddhyata; rgod.pa (go.pu).
Torpor; sinking; lethargy; nirmagnata; bying.ba (jing.wa).
Mindfulness; remembrance; recollection; smrti; dran.pa (den.pa).
Clear comprehension; awareness; mental spy; samprajdnya; shes.bzhin (she.zlzin).
Subtle torpor; sukshmanirmagnata; byin.ba phra.mo (jing.wa tra.mo).
Insight meditation; heightened insight; vipashyana; Ihag.mthon (Ihag.thong).
Denmo Lochö Rinpoche, the ex-abbot of Namgyal, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Dharamsala, India, taught for two weeks at Root Institute in Bodhgaya, India December 1995. Here is an extract. Translated by Ven Gareth Sparham
I have been asked to give a talk on the Two Truths: the conventional or surface level of truth and the ultimate truth. Looking at it one way it seems as if I’ve already finished my teaching because there are just these two words: conventional and ultimate, and that’s finished! But in fact these two truths subsume within them all of Buddhism, so there is more to talk about than you’d find in a huge beak.
I ask all of you in this special place of Bodhgaya to bring up within you a special motivation. Every living creature, no matter who they are, are living creatures seeking happiness. At the same time they seek happiness, they are unaware of the cause of happiness, so call up this motivation: that to relieve them from their unhappiness, I must myself achieve all the wonderful qualities, all the excellence of an enlightened state, in order to teach them how to free themselves.
Living creatures, just like ourselves, are defined by seeking to avoid unpleasant, suffering situations, and seeking to place themselves in happy situations. Animals, from insects on up, have knowledge of methods to immediately remove suffering, they have this intelligence. The human being differs from the animal as they have the intelligence to take into account a much greater time span. They can begin to do things to alleviate states that they will otherwise experience a long time in the future—for example, getting a good education so we can find a job, make money, and live well in the future. At this point we are talking generally; spirituality hasn’t entered into the discussion at all.
If one performs wholesome deeds, one’s future will be in a happy state. If one has performed unwholesome deeds, one has set down the causes to find oneself in a state of woe. Spirituality then enters the thought process of a human being contemplating a future that goes beyond simple death.
Everything that the enlightened one spoke of leads back to the understanding of the two levels of truth. (This doesn’t mean there is no third truth, for example the Four Noble Truths and so on, so you can have sub-divisions.) Since you have two levels of reality, you have to have something being sub-divided, or categorized in two categories.
So you can ask yourself, “What is being sub-divided?” and the answer is knowables or objects of knowledge (Tibetan, she-ja). Here, a knowable is simply something that is existing. To exist means to be knowable, and to be knowable means to exist.
For example, I could have the idea of antlers on a rabbit—it could come up in my mind. I could fabricate this awareness, and in that sense rabbit’s antlers are something known but they certainly don’t exist. [The problem] here is that when you equate things that exist and things that are known, they are known by [a valid] awareness but not by [just any] awareness. In other words I could get out of this difficulty by saying that, true, rabbit’s antlers are known by [a particular person's] awareness, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are known by awareness!
Ultimate truth, paramarthasatya, if you take the [Sanskrit] word apart is this: artha refers to that which is known; parama refers to that which knows its object, that is, the mind of a high spiritual being; satya means truth. It is truth because that which is known is true for that which knows its object, the mind of the high spiritual being, therefore, ultimate truth, an ultimate thing that is true.
So what about this other truth, the conventional, surface level of truth: how does one come to understand this second of the two truths if the ultimate reality is understood in this way? This is samvrtisatya. Samvrti is total covering up, and covering here means ordinary awareness covering that which is real. Here again satya is truth, but truth for an ordinary awareness. In other words, all the things that are true for ordinary minds like our own that are taken as real by them—are conventional truths, therefore, truth for an ordinary covering mind.
In the scholastic tradition we say that anything that is known will always be included in one of these two levels of reality. Anything not covered by these two levels is beyond the sphere of what is knowable. There is a deep logic here—that these two categories, the two truths, are an exhaustive description of all that there is.
Here is how it works. Truth and lie go together, don’t they? If a person makes a statement that mirrors reality, then that statement is true. However, a statement not mirroring reality is a lie.
The ultimate level of reality is mirrored in the mind of awareness that knows it, in a way that is not lying. This necessarily brings out the situation that all conventional truths are lying to the awareness that knows them, about the way they appear. Similarly, ordinary things appearing to ordinary awareness must be said to be lying to that ordinary awareness. You are, by removing that truth, positively showing the truth of the awareness of the ultimate. That ultimate, appearing to an awareness that knows it is not lying to that awareness, is the suchness of things—the ultimate reality of things.
So you have one being necessitated by another in a see-saw-like fashion, and from that account you can extrapolate out to show that it is a statement that is exhaustive of all knowables, of all that exists.
In Buddhist systems of ideas, there are many interpretations of what exactly these two levels of truth are. They are set forth as the four Buddhist schools of philosophy.
In the most profound school, the Middle Way Consequentialist school, just what is emptiness or the ultimate? It is this: that in fact nobody or nothing, anywhere, has anything that inherently makes it what it is. Nothing has its own personal mark. Everything exists simply through language, through ideas.
The absence of something, the total absence, the total not-being, non-existence of anything that is not there through the power of language and thought is shunyata, emptiness, the ultimate truth.
When one talks of an ultimate truth, of emptiness, one has a focus; one is looking at objects and finding them to be totally empty. What one is looking at and finding to be empty is very important. The identification of things first becomes an important thing to do because the ultimate truth isn’t something immediately apprehensible by our senses—we can’t see it. We have to arrive at it through our thought processes, and in order to do this we have to use reasoning. This reasoning takes as its point of departure certain things or bases, so we must identify these in the first instance.
Let’s start by trying to identify what are classically the most important of these bases, the five aggregates or skandas. In The Heart Sutra it says, “He looked and saw that the five aggregates are empty of inherent existence.” So if you don’t know what these five are, how can you look into the ultimate truth of them?
The five aggregates are: a great heap of physical things, a great heap of feelings, a great heap of discriminations, a great heap of created things (Sanskrit, samskara) and a great heap of awareness.
So then, one has heaps, aggregates, and these locate living creatures. Let’s take the aggregate of physical things, which can be further broken down into the external objective physical things and the internal subjective physical things. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations are the external or objective physical things in this great heap of physical things, while the five senses are the subjective or internal physical things.
The second heap is that of feelings. What are feelings? They are the experiences one gets out of things: pleasant experiences, neutral experiences and unpleasant ones.
The next heap is discrimination, which is defined as that part of the mind that functions to identify particular things as what they are.
The fourth aggregate of created things has most of the non-associated created things. It’s a catch-bag for everything not included in the other four heaps.
And what is the fifth heap? This is all our awarenesses or consciousness or thoughts. This is generally looked at as sense-based awareness coming from a thinking mind.
One can only focus on the reality of emptiness when one has seen the size, the dimensions, of what one is refuting or denying.
The Tibetan saint Tsong Khapa said, “Anything that is produced from conditions is never produced.” You can unpack this apparent paradox in this way. What you are saying is that nothing is produced as something that is independent; nothing is produced as something that is there under its own power. That’s what you are trying to demonstrate.
For example, a seedling isn’t produced as something there under its own power, as something that is inherently what it is. Why? Because it is produced from causes and conditions. That’s how you break down the meaning of the statement to formulate it as a reason for the hidden meaning, which is emptiness, to come clear to the mind.
Lama Tsongkhapa writes in his famous Praise to Dependent Arising, “What is more amazing, what better way of expressing a reality has ever been found? Namely that anything that depends on conditions is empty.”
There are many different reasons a person can use to come to understand emptiness. But here we meet with the king of all reasonings—dependent arising—because being produced or arising dependently is the reason for everything’s emptiness. Using this reason, one avoids the extreme of nihilism, because dependent arising shows something is there; nevertheless, because it is a reason that shows emptiness it also removes eternalism.
As the great Aryadeva said, “Anyone who gets a view into one reality gets a view into all realities.” What he is saying is that if one plumbs the depths of reality of anything, one doesn’t need to go through the whole process again with another object. Just bringing to the mind the reality you’ve seen in one object or person, and turning the mind to another, you will look at its reality as well.
That’s why every one of our sadhanas without exception starts with the mantra that means “Om, this is purity, all Dharmas are pure, I am that purity.” Before doing any sadhana one brings to mind this fact of the ultimate reality—of emptiness.
Geshe Lhundrub Sopa Rinpoche, a great scholar of Sera Monastery renowned for his insight into the Mahayana philosophy of emptiness, has taught in the USA for more than thirty-five years and recently retired from his professorship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is the spiritual head of Madison’s Deer Park Buddhist Center. He gave this teaching at Tushita on July 30, 1980. From Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. A new edition of this book is in preparation. Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre is the FPMT centre in New Delhi, India.
As the great eleventh century Indian master Atisha has said, “The human lifespan is short, the objects of knowledge are many. Be like the swan, which can separate milk from water.”
Our lives will not last long and there are so many directions in which we can channel them. We should be like the swan, which extracts the essence from milk and spits out the water. There is so much that can be done: we should practice discriminating wisdom and direct ourselves to essential goals that benefit both ourselves and other beings in a way affecting this and future lives.
Human goals should be greater than those of beings such as animals, insects, and others because humans have greater potential. We have a very special intellectual capacity and can accomplish many things, even in one short lifespan. The goal to be accomplished should benefit not only ourselves but all sentient beings. Every sentient being hopes to gain the highest state of happiness or pleasure and be free from all kinds of suffering. All beings would like to attain a state of complete freedom from every kind of trouble and misery.
A human being has the potential to attain the highest happiness, the highest peace. Everybody would like to have such a state of being. Alternatively, everybody wishes to avoid misery and suffering. As spiritual practitioners we should wish freedom from misery not only for ourselves but for all sentient beings. Humans have an intelligence capable of achieving these goals. They are able to practice the teachings, the methods by which these goals are realized. A human can begin from his own starting point and then gradually attain higher levels of being, until final perfection is achieved. In certain cases the highest goal, the state Buddhists call buddhahood, enlightenment, or the pure light, can be attained in a single lifetime.
IIn the Bodhisattvacharyavatara, the great yogi and bodhisattva Shantideva wrote, “We all seek happiness, but turn our backs on it. We all wish to avoid misery, but race to collect its causes.” What we want and what we’re doing are in contradiction. Our activities aimed at bringing happiness just cause suffering, misery and trouble. Shantideva goes on to explain how even if we desire to obtain happiness, because of ignorance we usually destroy its cause. We treat the causes of happiness like we would an enemy.
According to the Buddhist teachings, people must first learn, or study. Is there a way to attain the highest achievement, a state of peaceful freedom, the perfect light? This opens the doors of spiritual inquiry. We then discover that if we direct our efforts and our wisdom, we can gain personal knowledge of that very goal. This leads us to seek out methods or paths to enlightenment. Buddha set forth many different levels of teachings. As humans we are able to learn these—learn not only for the sake of learning, but to practice the methods.
What is the cause of happiness? What is the cause of misery? These are important questions in Buddhist teachings. Buddha pointed out that the very source of all our troubles is wrong perception, or wrong ideation. We are always holding some kind of “I,” some sort of egocentric thought or attitude. Everything we do is based on this wrong conception of the nature of the self. From this wrong grasping, this attachment to an “I,” comes all self-centered thought and the thought cherishing oneself over others. This is the basis on which rest all the worldly thoughts and which creates samsara. The problems of all sentient beings start from this point. This thought, this ignorance creates all attachment to the “I.” From “me” comes “mine”—my property, body, mind, family, friends; my house, country, work and so forth. From attachment arises anger at or hatred for the things that threaten the objects of attachment. In Buddhism we call these three—ignorance, attachment and aversion, or anger—the three poisons. They are the real poisons. They are the real causes of our problems. They are the real enemy. We usually look outside for our enemies, but Buddhist yogis realize that there is no enemy outside. The enemy is inside. Once one removes ignorance, attachment and aversion the inner enemy has been vanquished. Pure consciousness remains. Ignorance is replaced by correct understanding. There is no longer any mistake in one’s perception. The delusions are gone.
Ignorance, hatred and attachment, together with their branches such as conceit, jealousy, envy and so forth are very strong forces. Once they arise they quickly dominate the mind. Then we fall under the power of the inner enemy and no longer have control or freedom. These inner enemies even cause us to fight with and harm the people we love; they can even cause someone to kill their own parents, children and so forth. From where do such acts come? They come from the inner enemies, from attachment, anger and ignorance. All conflicts, from those between members of a family to international wars, arise from these negative thoughts.
Shantideva said, “There is one cause of all problems.” This is the ignorance which mistakes the actual nature of the self. All sentient beings are similar in that they are all overpowered by this ego-grasping ignorance. On the other hand, each one of us is capable of engaging in the yogic practices that refine the mind to the point that it is able to see directly the way things exist. One can then see the true nature of the self and all phenomena. The workings of the illusory world no longer occur. When ignorance is gone, mistaken action will not occur. When actions are done without mistake, the various sufferings will not arise. The forces of karma are not engaged. Karma, the actions of the body, speech and mind of sentient beings, together with the seeds they leave on the mind, are brought under control. The causes of these actions—ignorance, attachment and hatred—are destroyed, thus the actions that arise from them cease.
Buddha himself first studied, then practiced, and finally realized Dharma, achieving enlightenment. He saw the principles of the causes and effects of thought and action, and then taught people how to work with these laws in such a way as to gain freedom.
His first teaching was on the four truths seen by an arya: suffering, its cause, liberation and the path to liberation. First we must learn to recognize the sufferings and frustrations that pervade our lives. Then we must know their causes. Thirdly we should know that it is possible to get rid of them, to gain liberation from them. Lastly we must know the truth of the path, the means by which we can gain freedom, the methods of practice that destroy the seeds of suffering from their very root. There are many elaborate ways of presenting the path, which has led to the development of many schools of Buddhism, such as the Hinayana and Mahayana, but to all schools the four truths are basic teachings. Each school has its own special methods, but all are based on the four truths. Without the four truths there is neither Hinayana nor Mahayana. All Buddhist schools see suffering as the main problem of existence and ignorance as the main cause of suffering. Without removing ignorance there is no way of achieving liberation from samsara and no way of attaining the perfect enlightenment of buddhahood.
What is ignorance? It is a wrong understanding of the self and of the nature of all phenomena. Buddhism talks a lot about the non-self or shunya nature of all things. This is a key teaching. The realization of shunyata, or emptiness, was first taught by Buddha, and then widely disseminated by the great teacher Nagarjuna and his successors, who explained the madhyamaka or middle way philosophy. Theirs is a system of thought free from all extremes, that is, they hold that the nature of how things actually exist is free from the extremes of absolute being and non-being. The things we usually perceive do not exist as we see them. As for the “I,” our understanding of its nature is also mistaken. This doesn’t mean that there is no person and no desire; when Buddha rejected the existence of a self he meant that the self we normally conceive is not existent. Yogis who have developed higher meditation have realized the true nature of the self and have seen that the “I” exists totally other than the way we normally conceive it. This is the emptiness of the self, the key teaching of the Buddha, the sharp weapon of wisdom to cut down the poisonous tree of delusion and mental distortion.
To use it we must first study it, then contemplate it, and finally investigate it through meditation. Then we can realize the true nature. That wisdom, realization of shunyata or emptiness, will cut the very root of all delusion and put an end to all suffering. It directly opposes the ignorance of not knowing correctly. Sometimes we can apply more specific antidotes—for example, meditating on compassion when anger arises, on the impurity of the human body when lust arises, on impermanence when attachment to situations arises, and so on. These antidotes can counteract particular delusions, but they cannot remove the root of delusion. To remove the root of delusion one must realize shunyata. The wisdom of shunyata is like a sharp ax having the power to cut the root of all distortion.
However, merely using it alone is not enough. An ax requires a handle and a person to swing it. Meditation on emptiness is a key practice, but it must be supported and given direction by the other methods. Wisdom must be supported by method. Many Indian masters including Dharmakirti and Shantideva have asserted this to be so. For example, meditation upon the four noble truths includes contemplation of sixteen aspects of these truths, such as impermanence, suffering, and so forth. Then, because we must share our world with others there are the meditations on love, compassion and the bodhimind, the enlightened attitude of wishing for enlightenment in order to be of greatest benefit to others. This introduces the six perfections, or the means of accomplishing enlightenment—generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom. The first five of these must act as supportive methods in order for the sixth, wisdom, to become stable.
To obtain buddhahood the obstacles to the goal have to be completely removed. These obstacles are of two main types: obstacles to liberation, which includes the delusions such as attachment, and obstacles to omniscience. When the various delusions have been removed, one becomes an arhat. In Tibetan, arhat (Tibetan: gra-bCom-pa) means one who has destroyed (Tibetan: bCom) the inner enemy (Tibetan: gra), and thus has obtained emancipation from all delusions. However, this is not the attainment of buddhahood. An arhat is free from samsara and all misery and suffering; he no longer is prone to a rebirth conditioned by karma and delusion. At the moment we are strongly under the power of these two forces, being reborn again and again, sometimes higher, sometimes lower. We have little choice or independence in our birth, life, death, and rebirth. Negative karma and delusion combine and overpower us again and again. Our freedom is thus greatly limited. It is a circle: occasionally rebirth in a high realm, then in a low world; sometimes an animal, sometimes a human or a god. This is what is meant by ‘samsara.’ An arhat has achieved liberation from this circle. He has broken the circle and gone beyond it. His life has become totally pure, totally free. The forces that controlled him have gone, and he dwells in a state of emancipation from compulsive experience. His realization of shunyata is complete.
In the method side, the arhat has cultivated a path combining meditation on emptiness with meditation on the impermanence of life, karma and its results, the suffering nature of the whole circle of samsara, and so forth. But arhatship does not have the perfection of buddhahood. Compared to our ordinary samsaric life it is a great attainment, but the arhats still have a certain degree of subtle obstacles. The mental obstacles such as desire, hatred, ignorance and so forth have gone, but because they have been active forces within the mind for so long they leave behind a subtle hindrance, a kind of subtle habit or predisposition. Desire may have gone, but it leaves behind something very subtle in the mind. Or, although an arhat will not have anger, he may continue an old habit such as using harsh words. And he will have a very subtle self-centerdness. Similarly, arhats do not have ignorance or wrong views, but they do not see certain aspects of cause and effect as clearly as does a buddha. These kinds of subtle limitations are called the obstacles to omniscience. In buddhahood they have been completely removed. No obstacles remain. There is both perfect freedom and perfect knowledge.
With the ripening of wisdom and method comes the fruit of the wisdom and form bodies of a buddha. The form body has two dimensions, the samboghakaya and nirmanakaya, which with the wisdom body of dharmakaya constitute the three kayas. The form bodies are not ordinary form; they are purely mental, a reflection or manifestation of the dharmakaya wisdom. From perfect wisdom emerges perfect form. Buddhahood is endowed with many qualities: perfect body and mind, omniscient knowledge, power and so forth. From the perfection of the inner qualities is manifested a perfect environment, a ‘pure land.’ A buddha has a cause. His cause is a bodhisattva. Before attaining buddhahood one must train as a bodhisattva and cultivate a path uniting method with wisdom. The function of wisdom is to eliminate ignorance; the function of method is to produce the physical and environmental perfections of being. The bodhisattva trainings are vast: generosity, with which one tries to help others; patience, which keeps the mind in a state of calm; diligent perseverance, with which in order to help other sentient beings one joyfully undergoes the many hardships without hesitation; and many others.
As we can see from the above example, the bodhisattva’s activities are based on a motivation very unlike our ordinary attitudes, which are usually selfish and self-centered. In order to attain buddhahood one has to change one’s mundane thoughts into thoughts of love and compassion for other sentient beings. One has to learn to care all the time on a universal level. The self-centered attitude should be seen as an enemy; the loving and compassionate attitude should be regarded as the cause of the highest happiness, the real friend of both oneself and all others.
In the Mahayana we find a very special practice called “changing the self for others.” Of course, you can’t change you into me or me into you; this isn’t the meaning. What we must change is the thought or attitude of “me first” into the cherishing of others. “Whatever bad things must happen, let them happen to me.” Through meditation one learns to hold the self-centered attitude as the enemy and to transform self-cherishing into love and compassion, until eventually one’s entire life is dominated by these positive forces. Then everything one does becomes beneficial to others. All actions naturally become meritorious. This is the influence and power of the bodhisattva’s thought—the bodhimind, the inspiration to obtain enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings as a means to fulfill love and compassion.
Love and compassion have the same basic nature, but a different reference or application. Compassion is mainly in reference to the problems of beings, the wish to free sentient beings from suffering. On the other hand, love is in reference to the positive side, the aspiration that all sentient beings might have happiness and its cause. Our love and compassion should be equal toward all beings and have the intensity that a loving mother feels towards her only child, taking on ourselves the full responsibility for the well-being of others. A bodhisattva regards all sentient beings with that kind of attitude.
However, the bodhimind is not mere love and compassion. A bodhisattva sees that in order to free sentient beings from misery and give them the highest happiness he himself will have to be fully equipped, fully qualified. First he himself must attain perfect buddhahood, the state free of obstacles and limitations and possessed of all power and knowledge. Right now we cannot do much to benefit others. Therefore, for the benefit of other sentient beings we must obtain the enlightenment of buddhahood as soon as possible. Day and night everything we do should be in order to obtain perfect enlightenment quickly for the benefit of others.
The thought characterized by this aspiration is called bodhicitta, the bodhimind, the bodhisattva spirit. Unlike the self-centered, egotistical thoughts of ordinary people, that lead only to desire, hatred, jealousy, anger, and so forth, the bodhisattva way is dominated by love, compassion and the bodhimind. If we ourselves practice the appropriate meditative techniques, we shall become bodhisattvas. Then, as Shantideva has said, all our ordinary activities—sleeping, walking, eating or whatever—will naturally produce limitless goodness, fulfilling the purposes of many sentient beings.
The life of a bodhisattva is very precious, and therefore in order to sustain it one sleeps, eats and does whatever is necessary for staying alive. Because this is the motivation in eating, every mouthful of food gives rise to great merit, equal to the number of the sentient beings in the universe. In order to ascend the ten bodhisattva stages leading to buddhahood he engages both method and wisdom: on the basis of the bodhimind he cultivates the realization of shunyata, or emptiness. Seeing the emptiness of the self, his wrong grasping and attachments cease. He also sees all phemonena as being empty, and as a result all things that appear to his mind are seen like illusions, like a magician’s creations. The audience believes in a magician’s creations, but although the eyes of the magician see the same show as the audience does, his understanding of the spectacle is different from theirs. When he creates a beautiful woman, the audience experiences lust; when he creates terrible animals they become afraid. The magician also sees the beautiful woman and the animals, but he knows they are not real. He sees how they are manifest but knows that they are empty of existing as they appear. Their reality is not like their mode of appearance.
Similarly, the bodhisattva who has seen emptiness sees all as an illusion, and the events that previously had caused attachment or aversion to arise in him no longer are able to do so. As Nagarjuna said, “By combining the twofold cause of method and wisdom, the bodhisattva gains the twofold effect of the mental and physical dimensions (Sanskrit: kaya) of a buddha.” His accumulations of meritorious energy and wisdom bring him to the first bodhisattva stage, where he directly realizes emptiness and overcomes the obstacles to liberation. He then uses this realization through meditation to progress through the ten stages of a bodhisattva, eradicating all obstacles to omniscient knowledge. He first eliminates the coarse level of ignorance and then, through gradual meditation on method combined with wisdom, attains the perfect achievement.
The main subjects of this discourse—renunciation, emptiness and the bodhimind—were taught by Buddha, Nagarjuna and Tsong Khapa, and provide the basic texture of the Mahayana path. They are three keys for those who wish to obtain the enlightenment of buddhahood. In terms of method and wisdom, renunciation and the bodhimind constitute method, and meditation on emptiness is wisdom. These two are like the wings of a bird, enabling one to fly high in the sky of Dharma. A bird with one wing cannot fly. In order to achieve the high stage of buddhahood, the two wings of method and wisdom are required.
The principal Mahayana method is the bodhimind. To generate the bodhimind one must first generate compassion-the aspiration to free sentient beings from suffering, which becomes the basis of one’s motivation to obtain enlightenment. However, as Shantideva has pointed out, one must begin with compassion for oneself. One must want to be free of suffering oneself before being able to want it truly for others. The spontaneous wish to free oneself from suffering is renunciation. Most of us do not have this renunciation. We do not see the faults of samsara. We cannot ourselves continue being entranced by samsaric activities while speaking of working for the benefit of other sentient beings. Therefore one must begin with the thought of personal renunciation of samsara, a wish to obtain freedom from all misery. In the beginning this is very important. Then this quality can be extended to others, as love, compassion and the bodhimind. These two combine as method. When united with wisdom, realization of emptiness, one has all the main causes of buddhahood.
Of course, to develop these one must proceed step by step, and therefore it is necessary to study, contemplate and meditate. We should all try to carry out a daily meditation practice. Young or old, male or female, regardless of race, we all have the ability to meditate. Anyone can progress through the stages of understanding. The human life is very meaningful and precious, but it also can be lost to temporary goals like seeking sensual indulgence, fame, reputation and such things, which benefit this lifetime alone. Then we become like animals; we have the goals of the animal world. Even if we don’t make great spiritual efforts, we should at least try to get started in the practices that make human life meaningful.
Question: Could you clarify what you mean by removing the suffering of others?
Answer: We are not talking about temporary measures, like hunger or thirst. One can do acts of charity with foods, medical help and so forth, but these provide only superficial help. Giving can never fulfill the world’s needs and can itself become a cause of trouble or misery. What beings lack is some kind of perfect happiness or enjoyment. Therefore one cultivates a compassion for all sentient beings that wishes to provide them with the highest happiness, happiness which can last for ever. The practitioners, yogis and bodhisattvas consider this as the main goal. They practice giving temporary things as much as possible, but their main point is to produce a higher happiness. That is the bodhisattva’s main function.
Question: Buddhism believes strongly about past and future lives. How is this consistent with the idea of impermanence taught by Buddha?
Answer: Because things are impermanent they are changeable. Because impurity is impermanent, purity is possible. The relative truth can function owing to the existence of the ultimate truth. Impurity becomes pure, imperfect becomes perfect. Change can cause conditions to switch. By directing the way our life builds and develops, we can stop negative patterns. If things were not impermanent there would be no way to change and evolve.
In terms of karma and rebirth, impermanence means that one can gain control over the stream of one’s life. Our life is like a great river, never the same from one moment to the next. If we let negative sources flow into a stream it becomes dirty. Similarly, if we let bad thought, distorted perception and wrong action control our lives, we evolve into negative states and take a low rebirth. Alternatively, if we control the flowing of the stream skillfully we evolve positively, take creative rebirths and perhaps even attain the highest wisdom of buddhahood. Then the coming and going or imperfect experiences subside and the impermanent flow of the pure perfection comes to us. When that happens the human goal has been achieved.
Question: In the example of a stream of water, the content of the stream is flowing water, sometimes muddy and sometimes clear. What is the content of the stream of life?
Answer: Buddhism speaks of the five skandhas, one of which is mainly physical and four mental. There is also a basis which is a certain kind of propensity that is neither physical nor mental, a kind of energy. These five impure skandhas eventually become perfectly pure and then manifest as the five Dhyani Buddhas.
Question: What is the role of prayer in Buddhism? Does Buddhism believe in prayer, and if so, since Buddhists don’t believe in a God, to whom do they pray?
Answer: In Buddhism, prayer means some kind of wishing, an aspiration to have something good occur. In this sense a prayer is a verbal wish. The prayers of buddhas and bodhisattvas are mental and have great power. These beings have equal love and compassion for all beings. Their prayer is to benefit all sentient beings. So when we pray to them for help or guidance they have the power to influence us.
As well as these considerations, prayer produces a certain kind of buddha-result. Praying does not mean that personally you don’t practice at all, that you just leave everything to Buddha. That is not the case. The buddhas have to do something and we have to do something. The buddhas cannot wash away our stains with water, like washing clothing. The root of misery and suffering cannot be extracted like a thorn from the foot. The buddhas can only show us how to pull out the thorn. The hand that pulls it out must be our own. Buddha cannot transplant his knowledge into our being. He is like a doctor who diagnoses our illnesses and prescribes the cure that we must follow through personal responsibility. If the patient does not take the medicine or follow the advice, the doctor cannot help, no matter how strong his medicines or excellent his skill. A doctor must give medicine to a patient who will take it and follow his advice in order that his efforts will be successful. If we take the medicine of Dharma as prescribed and observe the supportive advices, we can easily cure ourselves of the diseases of ignorance, attachment and the other obstacles to liberation, and also the obstacles to omniscience. To turn to the Dharma but then not to practice it is to be like a patient burdened by a huge bag of medicine while not taking any. Therefore Buddha said, “I have provided the medicine. It is up to you to take it.”
Question: Sometimes in meditation one visualizes Buddha Shakyamuni. Did Shakyamuni himself visualize anything when he meditated?
Answer: What should we meditate upon? How should we meditate? Shakyamuni Buddha himself meditated in the same way as we teach: on subjects such as compassion, love, the bodhimind, the four noble truths, and so forth. Sometimes he also meditated on perfect forms, like that of a buddha or a particular meditational deity. These deities symbolize perfect inner qualities, and through meditation on them one is brought into proximity with the symbolized qualities. Both deity meditation and ordinary simple meditations tame the scattered, uncontrolled, elephant-like mind. The wild, roaming mind must be calmed in order to enter higher spiritual practices. Therefore, in the beginning one tries to stabilize the mind by focusing it on a particular subject. This is shamatha meditation. The main aim of this type of meditation is to keep the mind focused on one point without any wavering or fatigue, abiding in perfect clarity and peace for as long as one wishes without any effort.
As for the object to be visualized in this type of meditation, there are many choices: a piece of lamp, a statue, an abstract object, and so forth. Since the form of an enlightened being has many symbolic values and shares the nature of the goal we hope to accomplish, visualizing such an object has many advantages. But it is not mandatory; we can choose anything else. The main thing is to focus the mind on the object and not allow it to waver. Eventually one can meditate clearly and peacefully as long as one wishes, being able to remain absorbed for days at a time. This is the attainment of shamatha. When one has this mental instrument, all other meditation becomes far more successful.
At first when one tries this kind of practice one discovers one’s mind to be like a wild elephant, constantly running here and there, never able to focus fully on or totally engage in anything. Then little by little, through practice and exercise, it becomes calm. Even concentrating on a simple object like breathing in and out while counting will demonstrate the wildness of the mind and show the calming effects of meditation.
Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche, the only one of the seven spiritual assistants of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to escape from Tibet after the Chinese invasion, is the highest incarnate lama of the Ganden Jangtse monastery. Having complete knowledge of all the sutras and tantras, he kindly gave the following teaching at Tushita on December 7, 1979. He passed away in 1983. Edited from an oral translation by Dr. Alex Berzin. From Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. A new edition of this book is in preparation. Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre is the FPMT centre in New Delhi, India.
The Sanskrit word Dharma, chö in Tibetan, means to hold, or to uphold. What is upheld, or maintained? The elimination of suffering and the attainment of happiness. Dharma does this not only for ourselves, but for all beings.
The sufferings we experience are of two types: those immediately visible to us as humans, and those we cannot see without psychic powers. The former include the pain involved in the birth process, the unpleasantness of occasionally becoming sick, the misery experienced with growing old and aging, and the terror of death.
The sufferings that come after death are not visible to an ordinary person. We might think that after we die we will probably be reborn as a human being. However, this is not necessarily the case. There is no logical reason for us to assume that such an evolution will occur. Nor is it the case that after we die we will not take rebirth at all.
As for the particular type of rebirth we will take, this is something very difficult to know, something not presently within our sphere of knowledge. If we generate positive karma during this life, it will naturally follow that we will take happy forms of rebirth in the future. Conversely, if we create mostly negative karma, we will not take a happy rebirth, but will experience great difficulties in lower states of being. This is certain. Rebirth functions that way. If we plant a seed of wheat, what grows is a wheat plant. If we plant a seed of rice, a rice plant is produced. Similarly, by creating negative karma we plant seeds of rebirth in one of the three lower states as a hell creature, a hungry ghost or an animal.
There are four different states or realms of hells: hot, cold, neighbouring and occasional hells. To further subdivide these, there are eight different hot hells. The first of these is known as the Reviving Hell. This is the one of least suffering, relatively speaking. To understand the extent of the misery experienced here, the pain of a person caught in a great fire would be very slight in comparison with that of beings in the first hot hell. Each hell below the Reviving Hell has an increasingly intense degree of misery.
Although the sufferings of hell creatures and hungry ghosts may not be visible to us, those of the animals can be seen with our eyes. If we wonder what would happen if we ourselves were to be reborn as animals, we can just look at those around us and think what it would be like to have their conditions. Dharma is what holds us back and protects us from experiencing the suffering of these lower rebirths.
The entire wheel of rebirth, the whole of cyclic existence, has the nature of suffering. Dharma is what safeguards us from all samsaric suffering. Moreover, the mahayana Dharma, the teachings of the great vehicle, brings protection not only to ourselves but to all living beings.
In Buddhism we hear a lot about the three jewels of refuge—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The first of these includes all the fully enlightened beings who teach the Dharma. Buddha Shakyamuni, who first turned the wheel of Dharma at Varanasi by teaching the four noble truths, is most significant to us. The last of these four truths—the truth of the path—is the Dharma to be practised in order to achieve liberation. This is the refuge object called the Dharma jewel.
Dharma practice entails two things: recognizing the root of samsaric suffering and eradicating this root. What is the root of cyclic existence? It is the grasping for a truly existent self and for the true existence of phenomena. We need to develop a repulsion for this grasping which brings us all our sufferings. We must develop an understanding of the antidote to grasping at true existence. This antidote is the wisdom of selflessness or identitylessness. It is this understanding of selflessness which will bring us liberation from suffering.
The sufferings we experience in cyclic existence do not occur without a cause. They are caused by the delusions and the karma created by the delusions. The root of all delusion and karma is the grasping for a self. When we understand this, we aspire to obtain the antidote to this grasping for a self. Why have we not yet developed the antidote in our mindstream? Why don’t we understand selflessness? One reason is that we are not sufficiently aware of death and impermanence.
The only possible outcome of birth is death. We are inevitably going to die. There is no living being whose life did not end with death. People try many methods to prevent death’s occurrence, but it is impossible. No medicine can cure us of death.
Just to think, “I’m going to die,” isn’t really the correct way to contemplate death. Of course, everyone is going to die, but merely thinking about this fact is not very powerful. It is not the proper method. In the same way, just thinking of the fact that one is going to disintegrate and degenerate, that one’s body is going to decompose, is not enough. What we have to think about is how to prevent our downfall.
If we think about the fear that comes at the time of death and about how to eliminate that fear, then our meditation on death will be effective. People who have accumulated a great deal of negative karma during their lives become very frightened at the time of death. They cry, tears run down their cheeks, their mouths dribble, they excrete in their clothing and are completely overwhelmed. These are clear signs of the suffering that occurs at the time of death because of fear caused by negative actions performed during life. Alternatively, if during our lifetime we withhold ourselves from committing negative actions, the time of death is very easy for us to face. The experience is one of joy, like that of a child going home to its parents. If we have purified ourselves, we can die happily. By refraining from the ten negative ways and cultivating their opposites, the ten virtues, our death will be easy and as a result we won’t have to experience rebirth in a condition of suffering. We can be assured of rebirth in more fortunate states. By planting the seeds of medicinal plants we obtain trees with medicinal powers, by planting the seeds of poisonous trees we produce only harmful fruits. If we plant the seeds of virtuous actions on our consciousness we will experience happiness in future rebirths. We will have fortunate situations both mentally and physically. This basic teaching of the Dharma—avoid the ten non-virtuous deeds and cultivate the ten virtues—is given not only in Buddhism but also in many other religions, including Christianity.
How should we contemplate death and impermanence? As mentioned previously, just thinking, “I’m going to die,” is not very beneficial. We should think, “If I have created any of the ten non-virtuous actions, at death I will have a great deal of fear and suffering to face, and as a result I will evolve to a rebirth of intense misfortune. On the other hand, if during my life I have created virtues, at death I will not experience fear or suffering and will be reborn in a more fortunate state.” That is the correct way to contemplate death.
This meditation should not be merely the gloomy, pessimistic thought, “I’m going to die and there is nothing I can do about it.” Rather we should think in terms of what will happen when we die. “Where will I go after death? What sort of causes have I created? Can I make my death a happy one? How? Can I make my future rebirths happy? How?”
When contemplating future rebirths we should remember that there is no place in cyclic existence which is reliable. No matter what body is obtained, it must eventually pass away. We read in history of people who have lived for a hundred or even a thousand years. Yet no matter how fantastic these accounts are, there is no case of a person who did not eventually have to die. Any type of samsaric body that we gain is subject to death.
Nor is there a place to where we can go in order to escape death. No matter where we are, when the time comes, we will have to die. Then no amount of medicine, mantras or practice will help. Surgical operations may cure certain types of diseases within our body, but there are none that can prevent death.
No matter what type of rebirth we gain, it will be subject to death. The process is ongoing. Contemplating the long-range effects of our actions and how the process of birth, life, death and rebirth is continuous will help us generate much positive karma.
Even though we sometimes plan to practise the Dharma, we usually plan to do so tomorrow, or the day after. However, no-one can tell when we will die. If we had a guarantee that we definitely had one hundred years left to live, we would have free space in which to arrange our practice. But there is not the slightest certainty when we will die. To put off our practice is very foolish. Some humans die in the womb even before they are born, others die as small babies before they learn to walk. It doesn’t follow that you are going to live a long life.
Our bodies are very fragile. If they were made of stone or iron perhaps they might give some feeling of stability. But if we investigate we will see that the human body is very weak. It is very easy for something to go wrong with it. It is like a delicate wrist-watch made from countless tiny and fragile parts. It is not something to be trusted. There are many circumstances which can cause our death: food which has become poisonous, the bite of a tiny insect or even the prick of a poisonous thorn. Such small conditions can kill us. The food and liquid that we use to extend our life can become the circumstances which end it. There is no certainty at all as to when we will die, or what circumstances will cause our death.
Even if we feel certain that we will live for a hundred years, many years of that span have passed already and we haven’t accomplished much. We approach death like a man sleeping in a railway carriage, constantly getting closer and closer to the destination yet unaware of the process. There is little we can do to stop this process. We just constantly come ever-closer to death.
No matter how much money, jewelry, houses or clothes we have accumulated during our life, it will make no difference whatsoever at the time of our death. When we die we will have to go empty-handed. Not even the tiniest material object can be taken with us. The body itself must be left behind. The body and the mind separate and the mindstream continues by itself. Not only is it impossible to take a possession with us, we cannot even take our body.
What accompanies the consciousness after death? If we have to leave our body, our friends and all our possessions, is there any helper or anything which accompanies our consciousness to the future life?
There is something that follows the consciousness after death: the karmic imprints that we have accumulated during this lifetime. If we have committed any of the ten negative karmic actions, a black karmic debt will accompany the mindstream as it evolves into the future rebirth. By killing other beings, stealing others’ possessions or indulging in sexual misconduct, black karmic debts from these negative actions of the body are placed on the mindstream. By lying, slandering others, causing disunity amongst people, speaking meaninglessly or harming others with words, the black karmic debts of these negative actions of speech will travel with us at the time of death. If we have had many covetous thoughts, often wishing to have the possessions of others; if we have had ill-will towards anyone, wishing that they be harmed or that something bad would happen to them; or if we have held distorted views, such as ‘there are no past or future lives,’ ‘there is no such thing as cause and effect,’ ‘there’s no such thing as refuge,’ these non-virtuous actions of mind will generate a black karmic debt which travels with and directs our minds into future rebirths.
The reverse is also true. If we have performed virtuous actions and turned away from creating negativity, the karmic seeds of such positive energy will travel on our mindstreams and produce better circumstances in our future lives.
When we really think about the situation we are in, we will resolve to try in every way to generate positive karma and eliminate its opposite. We should try to cleanse ourselves of as much negativity as possible, not leaving even the smallest karmic debt to be repaid in our future lives.
We need to look at what type of reactions can happen within the law of cause and effect. There is a story of a person who had very many good qualities, but was harsh in his speech. He abused another, saying, “You talk like a dog.” As a result he himself was reborn as a dog five hundred times. A seemingly small action can have a very large result.
Similarly, a very small positive action can produce a great result. There is the story of a young child who made a humble offering to the Buddha and as a result was reborn as the great king Ashoka, who built thousands of Buddhist monuments and performed countless sublime activities.
Contemplating the various types of non-virtue that we have committed and their results is a very effective way of ensuring our welfare and happiness. If we think of the suffering we ourselves will have to experience as a result of our negativity and thus give birth to a very strong wish not to have to experience this type of misery, we have developed what is called ‘renunciation.’
Acquainting ourselves with this type of thinking in itself is a form of meditation. First we should develop mindfulness of our own suffering; then we should extend this mindfulness to all living beings. Consider how all beings do not wish to have any suffering, yet are caught in a suffering predicament. This type of thinking leads us to compassion. If we do not develop the wish to be free from all our own suffering, how can we develop the wish for other beings to be free from theirs? We can put an end to all our own suffering, yet this is not ultimately beneficial. We should extend this wish to all living beings, who also desire happiness. We can train our mind and develop the wish for everyone to be completely parted from their sufferings. This is a much wider and more beneficial way of thinking.
Why should we be concerned with other living beings? Because we receive so much from others. For instance, the milk that we drink comes from the kindness of the cows and the buffaloes, the warm clothing that protects us from the cold and wind comes from the wool of sheep and goats, and so forth. These are just a few examples of why we should try to find a method that can eliminate their sufferings.
No matter what type of practice we do—the recitation of mantra or any kind of meditation—we should always retain the thought, “May this benefit all living beings.” This will naturally bring benefit to ourselves as well. Our ordinary life situations can give us an appreciation of this. For example, if someone is very selfish and always works for his own gain, he will not really be liked by others. On the other hand, someone who is kind and always thinks of helping others is usually liked by everybody.
The thought to be developed in our mindstream is, “May everybody be happy and may nobody suffer.” We must try to incorporate this into our own thinking through recollecting it again and again. This can be extremely beneficial. Beings who in the past developed this type of thinking are now great buddhas, bodhisattvas or saints; all the truly great men of the world based themselves on it. How wonderful if we could try to generate it ourselves!
Q: Are we advised not to defend ourselves when somebody tries to harm us?
A: This question introduces a very extensive subject. If someone hits you over the head with a club or stick, the best response is to meditate that you are experiencing this because of your own past negative actions. Think how this person is allowing this particular karmic debt to ripen now, rather than sometime in the future. You should feel gratitude that he has eliminated this black karmic debt from your mindstream.
Q: What if someone attacks my wife or child, who are under my protection? Should I not defend them? Would it be a negative action to do so?
A: As it is your duty to protect your wife and child, you must try to do so in as skillful a manner as possible. You must be clever. The best is to protect them without harming the attacker. In other words, you need to find a method of protecting them whereby you do not inflict any harm.
Q: He can harm my children but I cannot harm him? Is it not our duty to defend our children against barbarous and cruel acts? Shall we just lay down our lives?
A: In order to handle this situation skillfully you need a great deal of courage. There is a story about a previous life of the Buddha, in which he was a navigator who went to sea with a group of five hundred people in search of a buried treasure. There was one man in this party who had very greedy thoughts and, in order to steal all the jewels for himself, was plotting to murder the five hundred. The bodhisattva (Shakyamuni Buddha in a previous life) was aware of this and thought that to let the situation develop was incorrect, as one man would kill five hundred. Therefore he developed the very courageous thought to save the five hundred by killing this one man, willingly accepting upon himself the full responsibility of killing. If you are willing to accept having to be reborn in a hell in order to save others, you have a greatly courageous thought. Then you can engage in these acts, just as the Buddha himself did.
Q: Under such circumstances is killing still considered to be a negative action?
A: Nagarjuna says in his Friendly Letter that if one commits negativity in the name of protecting one’s parents, children, Buddhism or the three jewels of refuge, one will have to experience the consequences. The difference is in whether or not you are aware of the consequences and are willing to take them upon yourself in order to selflessly protect your wife and child. If you harm the enemy, you are going to experience a suffering rebirth. However, you should be willing to face this by thinking, “I will take that suffering on myself and then my wife and child won’t suffer.”
Q: Then according to Buddhism it would still be a non-virtuous act?
A: To protect your wife and child is a virtuous action, but to harm the enemy is non-virtuous. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of both.
Q: You said that if one creates negative karma one will suffer in the future, but if one does good, happiness will follow. Can these good actions lead to complete salvation, in the sense of not having to experience rebirth?
A: If you wish to achieve salvation, you have to follow the teachings completely and precisely. For instance, if you are following the Christian path, you must follow the teachings of Christ perfectly. Then Christian salvation is possible. Jesus alone cannot save us from our sins; we ourselves have to do something. Otherwise, why would Jesus have said not to sin? If we ourselves follow correctly what Jesus taught, I think that Christian salvation is possible. If we follow correctly the teachings of Buddha, Buddhist salvation is possible.
Although some scholars have maintained that Buddhist tantra was derived from Hinduism, this is not correct. The theory, prevalent among those who adhere to the tenets of the Hinayana, is based on a superficial resemblance of various elements of the two systems, such as the forms of the deities, the meditations on psychic veins and airs, the fire rituals, etc. Though certain practices, like the repetition of mantras, are common to both Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions their interpretation, i.e. the inner meaning, is vastly different. Furthermore, Buddhist tantra is superior because, unlike Hinduism, it contains the three principal aspects of the Path: renunciation, the enlightened attitude and the right philosophy.
To elaborate: as even animals want freedom from suffering, there are non-Buddhist practitioners who wish to be free from contaminated feelings of happiness and so cultivate the preparatory state of the fourth absorption (Dhyana). There are even some non-Buddhists who temporarily renounce contaminated feelings of happiness and attain levels higher than the four absorptions. However, only the Buddhists renounce all these as well as neutral feelings and all-pervasive suffering. Then by meditating on the sufferings together with their causes, which are mental defilements, they can be abandoned forever. This is why, while non-Buddhists meditate on the form and formless states and attain the peak of worldly existence, samadhi, they cannot abandon the mental defilements of this state. So, when they meet with the right circumstances anger and the other passions develop, karma is created and the wheel of the circle of rebirth begins to turn.
Because of this and similar reasons, such practices are not fit to be included in the Mahayana. They resemble neither the common sutra path comprising: the attitude of renunciation which wishes for freedom from the cycle of rebirths; the wisdom which correctly understands egolessness, which is the right philosophy acting as an opponent to ignorance-the root of cyclic existence; and the development of the mind which aims for complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings; nor do they resemble the practices of the exclusive tantric path of the Great Vehicle.
The Origin of Tantra
The tantras were spoken by the Buddha himself in the form of his supreme manifestation as a monk, also as the great Vajradhara and in various manifestations of the central deity of specific mandalas. The great beings, Manjushri, Samantabhadra, Vajrapani and others, urged by the Buddha, also taught some tantras.
In terms of the four classes of tantra, the Kriya tantras were taught by the Buddha in the form of a monk, in the realm of the thirty-three gods on the summit of Mt. Meru, and in the human world where Manjushri and others were the chief hearers.
The Pung-Zang tantras were taught in the realm of Vajrapani. Others were taught by the teacher, Buddha himself, and with his blessings some were explained by Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani while others were spoken by worldly gods.
The Carya tantras were also taught by the teacher Buddha in the form of his supreme manifestation in the celestial realms and in the realm called Base and Essence Adorned with Flowers.
The Yoga tantras were taught by the Enlightened One when he arose in the form of the central deity of each mandala in such places as the summit of Mt. Meru and in the fifth celestial realm of desire.
The Anuttara tantras were also taught by the Buddha. In the land of Ögyan the Buddha, having manifested the mandala of Guhyasamaja, taught King Indrabodhi this tantra. The Yamantaka tantras were taught by the teacher Buddha at the time of the subduing of the demonic forces and they were requested by either the consort of Yamantaka or by the consort of Kalacakra. The Hevajra tantra was taught by Lord Buddha when he arose in the form of Hevajra in the land of Madgadha at the time of destroying the four maras. The tantra was requested by Vajragarbha and by the consort of Hevajra. Having been requested by Vajra Yogini, the Buddha, in the manifestation as Heruka on the summit of Mt. Meru, taught the root tantra of Heruka and, when requested by Vajrapani, taught the explanatory tantra. As for the Kalacakra tantra, the mighty Buddha went south to the glorious shrine of Dharnacotaka and there, manifesting the mandala of the Dharmadhatu speech surmounted by the mandala of Kalacakra, taught this tantra to King Chandrabhadra and others. Although he appeared in many different manifestations, actually the tantras were taught by the enlightened teacher, Lord Buddha.
What happens during an initiation
In the initiations of each of the four classes of tantra there are many differences, some great and some small, and so therefore one initiation is not sufficient for all mandalas. At the time of initiation some fortunate and qualified disciples, when receiving the initiation from a qualified master, develop the wisdom of the initiation in their mind streams. Unless this happens, sitting in initiation rows and experiencing the initiations of the vase and water, etc. will implant instincts to listen to the Dharma but little else. An initiation is necessary to study tantra because if the secrets of tantra are explained to someone who has not received initiation, the guru commits the seventh tantric root downfall and the explanation will be of no benefit whatsoever to the mind of the disciple.
The relationship between Sutra and Tantra
Regarding renunciation and bodhicitta, there is no difference between Sutrayana and Tantrayana, but regarding conduct there is. Three kinds of conduct have been taught: the disciple who admires and has faith in the Hinayana should separate himself from all desires; the disciple who admires the Mahayana should traverse the stages and practice the perfections; while he who admires the deep teachings of tantra should work with the conduct of the path of desire.
From the point of view of the philosophy, there is no difference in emptiness as an object of cognition but there is a difference in the method of its realization.
In the sutra tradition the conscious mind engages in meditative equipoise on emptiness, while in tantra the innate wisdom, an extremely subtle mind, is involved and the difference therefore is great. The main practice of Sutrayana, engaging in the path as a cause to achieve the form body and wisdom body of a buddha, is the accumulation of wisdom and virtue for three countless eons and the accomplishment of one’s own buddhafields. Therefore, Sutrayana is known as the causal vehicle. In tantra one concentrates and meditates, even while still a beginner, on the four complete purities which are similar to the result—that is, the completely pure body, pure realm, pure possessions and pure deeds of an enlightened being. Thus tantra is known as the resultant vehicle.
The Four Traditions
As for the sutra tradition, the explanation of the Hinayana and Mahayana is the same in all the four great traditions. Also, as far as the preliminary practices are concerned, there are no differences apart from the names. In the Gelug tradition they are called the Stages of the Path of the Three Motives; in the Kargyü they are known as the Four Ways to Change the Mind; the Sakya refer to Separation from the Four Attachments; while the Dri-gung Kargyu speak of the Four Dharmas of Dag-pa and the Five of Dri-gung.
In tantra, the individual master’s way of leading the disciples on the path depends on his experience and the instructions of the tantric root texts, together with the commentaries of the great practitioners. These result in the entrance into practice being taught a little differently. However, all are the same in leading to the final attainment of the state of Vajradhara.
Given at the conclusion of the Yamantaka initiation, Enlightened Experience Celebration, Dharamsala, 24 April 1982. Translated and clarified by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Dharamsala, June 1982. From the Report on the first Enlightened Experience Celebration in Bodh Gaya and Dharamsala, India. January-June 1982.
The purpose of taking an initiation is not to send yourself to the lower realms but to lead yourself to the state of Vajradhara. This is what you should do with the initiations you receive; they are to be practiced, not merely collected. For example, you have just received a Vajrabhairava initiation. This itself is what you have to practice; there is no Vajrabhairava practice other than what is contained in the initiation. The vows and samayas, the stages of generation and completion are all there. And unless you are illiterate you should recite the sadhana every day. If you cannot do the long one you should at least do the short one written by Lama Dorje Chang (Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche); there are only a few pages in it.
Each day you should do the self-generation, and the six-session guru yoga, because it contains all the daily practices you have promised to do during the initiation.
All of you here are highly fortunate. You who have come from the West to this Dharma Celebration have received the highest, most profound teachings from most precious lamas, in particular, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As far as fortune is concerned there is none greater than this.
However, each individual must practice well. There is no benefit in simply thinking, “Now I have received these teachings,” and leaving it at that. If you have received some material like money, perhaps it is enough just to record it as a credit in an account book, but where initiations are involved, merely counting the number you have received is useless; you have to practice.
It used to be impossible to hear Buddhadharma and meet gurus in the West. From the Dharma point of view these were barbaric lands, outlying countries to which the teachings of the Buddha had not spread. But now there are many different Dharma centers in the West, and especially through the incomparable activities of Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, many devoted to preserving and disseminating the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa. So it is very good that you have taken the great responsibility of serving the teachings in this way, engaging in both Dharma and administrative activities to establish these centers all over the world. And although you have done very well so far and are making progress year by year, still you must continue making the efforts necessary for further progress. As the teaching spreads in this way, more and more people in the West can hear the Buddhadharma and are to that extent highly fortunate.
To ensure progress in the many centers you have established there are two aspects of activity that have to be developed together: the Dharma aspect and the administrative aspect. To develop the conditions necessary for study and practice in a center, those who do the administrative work should take proper responsibility and be in good harmony with everybody at the center. On the basis of this, all the students there should make great efforts to develop the center in whatever way possible. It’s like when you have some very delicious food, you take big bites and chew it with all your teeth, taking full advantage of it—this is a Tibetan saying; I hope you understand its meaning. If you were at a place where there were gold coins for the taking you would stuff them everywhere, into every pocket and orifice! Take every opportunity to develop your Dharma center.
With respect to developing the Dharma side, it seems that most of your centers have already received resident teachers. Thus it is extremely important that you expend energy in studying well. But don’t leave whatever you learn as mere intellectual knowledge; you should use it to subdue your minds and eradicate delusions. Your understanding should become one with your mind. As it is said in the lam-rim teachings:
The purpose of understanding what one has heard is to enable one to practice according to his capacity.
After you have heard and understood some teaching-for example, the perfect human rebirth, renunciation, bodhicitta—you must practice it; that is the purpose of the teaching. Each one of us should practice in accordance with our individual level of mind, or ability.
We study, study, study, but if we do not mix whatever we have understood thoroughly with our minds there will be a Dharma famine in our minds; we shall suffer from poverty of Dharma. This is what happens: you live in the middle of a Dharma center, you study Dharma, but you are a Dharma pauper. So don’t be like that. Use the Dharma that you have studied to change your mind, to be different from before. That is the purpose of Dharma, and if you can use it to change your mind in this way you won’t be poor in Dharma. As Tewugen Rinpoche said:
Those who know the secret of turning iron into gold through alchemy never experience material poverty.
How can you become poor if you can transform any old piece of iron into gold? Similarly, if you know how to change your mind with Dharma you’ll never suffer from Dharma starvation. This is the most important thing to worry about.
Because we have not yet changed our minds, we create negative actions and accumulate many non-virtuous impressions that cause us to wander in samsara. How can we know if our mind is unchanged, unsubdued? If we are constantly concerned about the comfort of this life—food, clothing and reputation—we have unsubdued minds. How should we change such minds? By reflecting on topics such as the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, the great usefulness of, and the great difficulty of, receiving the perfect human rebirth and impermanence and death. Through this we should be able to change our minds. Also, if we are seeking samsaric enjoyments such as the pleasures of the devas, our minds are unsubdued. As a remedy we should contemplate the suffering nature of the whole of samsara and generate strong aversion to it. Furthermore, the thought, “How good it would be if I had to remain in samsara no longer,” the concern for oneself alone that abandons the welfare of other sentient beings, while generally not considered an unsubdued mind, is an unsubdued mind from the Mahayana point of view. The antidote to this is training in the loving compassionate bodhicitta and equanimity.
We should accustom ourselves to the fact that all sentient beings—friends, enemies and neutrals—are exactly equal: all desire happiness and none desire the slightest suffering, even in their dreams. Since we ourselves and all others are like that, exactly equal, we should work for the benefit of all sentient beings. All the good things we possess have come from other sentient beings: our perfect human body, with its eight freedoms and ten richnesses, our meeting with the holy Dharma and the ability to practice it, our food, drink and clothing—everything. Thus of course we should work for their benefit.
To be able to work for sentient beings we must train our minds in bodhicitta and thought transformation. This starts with subduing the mind through study and reflection on the lam-rim teachings. This is the most important thing and is the basis for the practice of the entire path to enlightenment. Even though the practice of tantra is so important and is the incomparable method for attaining the unified state of Vajradhara, it depends completely on the lam-rim. Just as the Tibetan delicacy made of powdered cheese and butter is said to depend on the kindness of the butter, without which it would be just a pile of dry cheese, so too does the profound tantra depend on the kindness of the sutra and lam-rim teachings, the graduated paths of those of the three levels of capability. Whoever tries to practice the generation and completion stages of tantra without having gone through these is like a small child gazing around a temple: nothing happens.
You should all study the lam-rim thoroughly, and on the basis of that try to change your minds. That is the essential point. If you then practice the Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara or Vajrabhairava tantras your efforts will be incomparable and you will be able to achieve the unified state of Vajradhara. Please take this advice to heart.
And each of you should take the responsibility of spreading Dharma so that, like the rising sun, it illuminates the darkness of the world. You have been doing so; please do still more. We should all pray for success in this.