The Heart of the Buddhist View
Ven. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche
Rinpoche asks everyone to engender
the enlightened attitude, the wish and effort to attain the perfect state of Buddhahood
in order to benefit beings in numbers vast as space. Toward that end one resolves
to listen to, reflect upon, and meditate on the teachings energetically. One who
has realized selflessness and perfected love and compassion for others is a buddha.
The reason it is possible for everyone to attain Buddhahood is that within the
minds of all sentient beings is potentially present the Buddhanature which is
the seed of enlightenment. This Buddhanature is the union of clarity and emptiness.
The difference between a buddha and a sentient being is that in a sentient being,
the Buddhanature is obscured by accidental stains, while in a buddha the accidental
stains have been purified or removed. The purpose of Dharma practice is to purify
these stains so that the Buddhanature will manifest and one will attain enlightenment.
are three aspects of the Buddhanature: basis, path and fruition. The basis aspect
is the presence of the Buddhanature in the minds of all sentient beings, which
is comparable to gold present in ore, butter potentially present in milk, or sesame
oil potentially present in the seed. If the gold ore is not refined one will not
obtain the pure gold, if the milk is not churned one will not obtain butter, and
if the sesame seed is not pounded one will not produce sesame oil. In the same
way, even though the Buddhanature is present in the minds of all beings, if the
accidental stains are not removed, Buddhahood will not be attained. Therefore
one should make an effort to purify the accidental stains. Since we all possess
the Buddhanature, there is no need to doubt that one can attain Buddhahood.
path aspect of the Buddhanature is the situation in which one has removed gross
obscurations and is gradually refining one's realization and purifying more subtle
stains. The moment one directly realizes the Buddhanature, the basis aspect turns
into the path. This is comparable to the process of refining the ore, churning
the milk, or pounding the sesame seed. The fruition aspect of the Buddhanature
is the situation in which all accidental stains along with predispositions have
been removed. This corresponds to having obtained the pure gold, the butter, and
the sesame oil.
There are signs that the Buddhanature is potentially present
within the minds of all. Maitreya, in a text called The Changeless Nature (Skt.
Uttaratantra. Tib; Gyu Lama) has said that the fact that we become wearied with
conditioned existence and desire to liberate ourselves from suffering is an indication
that the Buddhanature is potentially present within us. This very desire arises
because of the Buddhanature. Everyone should make a personal investigation and
obtain a personal conviction about this statement.
Within Buddhism there are
three main approaches, one in which knowledge or wisdom is emphasized, another
in which devotion is emphasized, and a third in which both are practiced together.
The Mahayana tradition emphasized the development of wisdom. A follower of this
tradition should gain a personal knowledge of the teachings given by the Buddha
and by great followers of the Buddha, great scholars, and then should arrive at
a personal understanding through analysis and investigation. A wise person wishing
to buy either gold or diamonds would first examine their quality and test whether
they are real. In the same way someone desiring to follow the Buddha's teachings
should investigate the teachings and follow them based upon personal conviction
In Buddhism it is taught that reality has two levels, a conventional
and an absolute level. The absolute level is the true nature of things. The conventional
level refers to the way in which the world or phenomena manifest. Confused sentient
beings conceive of phenomena as truly existent. By virtue of such conceptualization,
they are prevented from experiencing the true nature of these manifestations.
This is comparable to the dream state. Whatever one dreams about, whether it is
attractive or repulsive, as long as one does not recognize that one is dreaming,
one believes in it and experiences it as real, and the true state of affairs is
obscured by this process of conceptualization. Likewise the true nature of existence
is not realized because we conceive of the world as real. In order to understand
the conventional and the absolute levels, it is necessary to investigate. Still
we cannot realize the two levels by means of our personal knowledge alone, but
we must rely on the teachings of the Buddha who realized them directly. Some of
the methods for investigating the two levels are similar to scientific research,
but analysis of the true nature of mind is something particular to the Buddhist
In the second approach, in which devotion is emphasized, the student
exclusively follows the instructions of his or her teacher, without analyzing.
This mainly applies to an individual who had meditated extensively in former lives,
and therefore can very easily apply himself or herself with devotion, has very
few doubts about the teachings given, and does not need to investigate. An example
is the close disciples of Milarepa, who were prophesied by Dorje Palmo. There
are many great Kagyu siddhas of the past who followed this devotional approach,
which is particularly important at the Vajrayana level.
But ultimately the
approaches of knowledge and devotion must be unified. A follower of the approach
of knowledge will gain through investigation a very firm conviction regarding
the conventional and absolute levels, and will see that the teachings of the Buddha
are correct and valid, and then faith and devotion will naturally arise. The great
Indian scholar Dharmakirti put forth various reasons why the Buddha is a perfect
being in a text dealing with valid cognition. He began by establishing that the
teachings of the Buddha act as a remedy for disturbing emotions and suffering,
and for that reason the one who gave those teachings, namely the Buddha, must
be a perfect teacher. Then a follower of the devotional approach, because of great
devotion toward the Buddha and his teachings, can easily practice meditation,
and therefore realization will arise, leading naturally to wisdom. So on a temporary
level we have persons following the approach of either knowledge or devotion,
but ultimately the two must be unified, in order to realize the true nature of
the mind and attain Buddhahood.
A person wishing to follow the Buddhist tradition,
in Rinpoche's opinion, should begin with the approach of knowledge, then proceed
to the approach of devotion, and finally unify the two. Following the approach
of wisdom, one should first gain knowledge of the Buddhist view, then develop
a firm conviction of the validity of this view, after which one practices meditation.
Through the practice of meditation one comes to realize the true nature of mind.
quality needed in the practice of Dharma is skillful means. If one possesses skillful
means, then what ever one does, one is able to apply meditation to the activity,
and therefore will have no difficulties in one's practice. Milarepa said in one
of his songs that any activity is meditation--eating, sleeping, walking around,
and so forth. The ability to apply meditation in any activity depends on developing
Regarding the ultimate level of existence, there are different philosophical
tenets, the main ones being the Mind Only school and the Madhyamaka or Middle
Way school. The Buddha stated when teaching the view of the Mind Only (or Cittamatra)
school, addressing his students the bodhisattvas, that the three world spheres
are only a projection of the mind. These three spheres are the realm of desire,
of form, and of no form. The Buddha then said that there is no external creator
of these realms, and they have not arisen from no cause at all, and he thus refuted
two misconceptions about phenomena. The three realms constitute samsara or conditioned
existence, and since they themselves are only projections of the mind, the suffering
experienced in samsara is also nothing but a mental projection. Because of our
attaching great importance to these sufferings, or our believing them to be real
and solid, the suffering itself increases. For example, if we dream that we are
in a vast forest full of poisonous snakes, by not being aware that we are only
dreaming, the suffering from this event would greatly increase because we believe
that what we dream of is real and solid. There is a gradual increase of the suffering
as one concept after another is developed. First there is only the visual perception
of the snakes, then one creates the concept, "Oh, there is a poisonous snake
in front of me, " then one develops fear of being bitten, and on top of this,
one is in a deep forest and can see no way to escape. This everyone can relate
In the waking state, just as in the dream, one's suffering increases
owing to the tendency to conceptualize what is experienced. In the dream there
are no truly existent external conditions that can cause the suffering one experiences;
it is exclusively produced by one's mind. The same applies to the waking state.
There are no truly existent external causes and conditions that can induce suffering,
it is induced only by our minds.
Suffering is nothing but a feeling, a conceptual
creation, void of inherent existence, not true or real. Concepts, when their true
nature is experienced, are nothing but an open, relaxed, and spacious state of
mind. The true nature of mind being inseparable from emptiness and clarity, feeling
or concepts such as suffering do not apply. It is because of conceptual clinging
that we experience suffering in the dream as well as in the waking state. Various
types of sufferings have been described in the Buddhist tradition, such as the
hell realms, the hungry ghost realms, and so forth. All these types of suffering
are nothing but deceptive appearances created by a confused mind.
the usual process is to introduce a beginner to the idea that conditioned existence
is suffering in order to help that person develop the desire to free himself or
herself from conditioned existence. At that level of the teachings, suffering
is taught as though truly existent. Once the student has developed the desire
to free himself or herself from samsara, the view is presented that suffering
is nothing but a mental creation.
In the second school, the Madhyamaka tradition,
it is taught that mind itself is not truly existent; it is empty or void. The
two main subdivisions of the Madhyamaka tradition are called rang-tong, and shen-tong,
which are translated as "void of self" and "void of other."
In the void-of self or rang-tong approach, the main teaching is that all internal
and external phenomena are void of an essence of a self-entity, and thus it is
called void of self. In the void of-other or shen-tong tradition it is taught
that the true nature of mind is synonymous with the Buddhanature, and is empty
of accidental stains only; it is not empty of enlightening qualities, so it is
empty of something foreign to or other than itself. The tenets of these two schools
are extensive, and much debate had gone on between the scholars of these two schools.
in the Vajrayana tradition suffering itself is said to be bliss. The reason for
this statement is that in this tradition the true nature of mind, spoken of as
the union of bliss and emptiness, so that when the true nature of mind has been
realized, suffering will be experienced as bliss. The great Tibetan yogi Milarepa
expressed this in a song to his students which he gave in a place called Yolmo
Kangra in Nepal, saying, "I am happy and at ease since I experienced suffering
We can relate these different explanations of suffering to
the example of the dream state. If we dream that we are bitten by a poisonous
snake, then not recognizing that it is only a dream, we experience great suffering.
If one recognizes that one is dreaming, at that point one realizes that what is
taking place is nothing but a mental creation. If one is able to apply analysis
in the dream when being bitten by the snake, then one analyzes the nature of oneself,
the snake, and the event, and realizes that all three elements lack inherent existence,
are void or empty of reality, and as a result one will realize emptiness as presented
in the Madhyamaka school. Then in Vajrayana, a yogi or yogini skilled in dream
yoga is able to transform the appearance of his or her body in the dream into
the form of a meditational deity, and as a result, suffering will be transformed
into bliss .
We have begun with the Sutrayana and then proceeded to the Tantrayana,
and in Rinpoche's opinion this approach facilitates a proper development. This
concludes the teaching in which Rinpoche has explained the Buddhanature, then
the three approaches (of knowledge, of devotion, and the two together), and then
the different ways of viewing suffering. We will now meditate a little together.
You should think about the meaning of the teaching given. By means of such analytical
meditation as one reflects upon the different enumerations given, one gradually
develops wisdom. In addition one develops samadhi as one concentrates on the different
parts of the teaching.
This article was transcribed and edited from a talk
by Ven. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in Albany. It was translated by Ann Elizabeth
Eselius and edited by Laura Roth.