Advice from the Spiritual Friend
by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Emptiness is a remedy for the foundation of all delusions -- ignorance -- so all the other delusions will disappear. The minute one meditates on emptiness, anger for example, will stop. Anger arises when you believe in the false I, false object -- all this that does not exist. So when one meditates on emptiness of the self and other objects, there is no foundation for anger. This is the most powerful antidote. But if it arises again, it is because there is no continuation of the meditation; the meditation, the mindfulness, has stopped. The problem is to remember the technique. Once you remember the technique, it always works. When you don't remember the technique, it is delayed and the delusion, anger and so forth, has already arisen and taken you over.
One thing I tell people is always to think about karma. His Holiness always says Buddhists don't believe in God. This basic Buddhist philosophy helps you remember there is no separate mind outside of yours that creates your life, creates you karma. Whatever happens in one's own life comes from one's own mind. These aggregates, all the views of the senses, all of the feelings happiness, sadness and so forth -- your whole world comes from your consciousness. The imprints of past good karma and negative karma left on the consciousness manifest, become actualized. The imprints to have human body, senses, views, aggregates, all the feelings -- everything is realized at this time, and all of it comes from consciousness, from karma.
If your meditation on emptiness is not effective, this teaching of karma is very powerful for us ordinary beings. The minute one meditates on karma, there is no room in the mind for anger because there is nothing to blame. Thinking of karma is practicing the basic Buddhist philosophy that there is no creator other than your mind. It is not only a philosophy but a very powerful technique. Anger is based on believing in a creator: somebody created this problem; this happened because of this person. In daily life, when a problem arises, instead of practicing the philosophy of no creator, we act as if there is a creator, that the problem was created by somebody else. Even if we don't use the word God, we still believe someone else created the problem. The minute you think of karma and realize there is no creator, there is no basis for the anger.
We need to think: In the past I gave such a harm to sentient beings, therefore I deserve to receive this harm from another sentient being. When you get angry what you are actually saying is you can harm others, but you feel that you should not receive harm from others. This is very illogical. So in this practice you say, 'I deserve this harm.'
Another practice is to use this situation to develop compassion: I received this harm because of my karma. Who started all this? It's not because of the other person, it's because of your own actions. You treated other sentient beings this way in the past, that is why you receive harm now; your karma persuaded the person to harm you now. Now this person has a human birth and they harm you because of something you inspired in the past. By harming you now they are creating more negative karma to lose their human rebirth and to be reborn in lower realms. Didn't I make that person get lost in the lower realms?
In this way you are using that problem to generate bodhicitta. This means one is able to develop the whole Mahayana path to enlightenment, including the Six Paramitas, whether sutra path or tantra path. One can cease all mistakes of the mind and achieve full enlightenment. Due to the kindness of that person you are able to generate compassion, free sentient beings from all the sufferings, to bring enlightenment, to cause perfect happiness for all sentient beings.
One can also think in this way: by practicing compassion on that person, one is able to generate compassion towards all sentient beings. This person, who is so kind, so precious, is helping you stop harming all sentient beings, and on top of that, to receive help from you. By not receiving harm from you, peace and happiness come; also, by receiving help from you, numberless sentient get peace and happiness. All this peace and happiness that you are able to offer all sentient beings comes from this person.
Similarly, one can practice patience in this way and is able to cease anger. In the Kadampas' advice, there are six techniques for practicing patience; I don't need to go over all that now. They are good to memorize, to write down in a notebook, in order to use.
Another thing that is very good is what Pabongka Rinpoche explains in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: generally speaking one doesn't get angry at the stick that the person used to beat you. The stick itself is used by the person, so therefore there is no point in getting angry at the stick. Similarly, the person's body, speech and mind are completely used by the anger, by the delusion. The person's body, speech and mind become like a slave, completely used as a tool of the anger. The person themself has no freedom at all -- no freedom at all. So therefore, since the person has no freedom at all, they should become an object of our compassion. Not only that, one must take responsibility to pacify that person's anger. By whatever means you can find, help the person's mind, pacify the anger; even if there is nothing you can do, pray to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to pacify the person's mind.
What His Holiness teaches is to meditate on how that person is kind, how that person is precious like Dharma, precious like Buddha, precious like Guru; kind like Buddha, like Guru. The conclusion is that if no one has anger towards us, we can never develop patience. If everybody loves us then we can never generate the precious quality of patience, the path of patience. So therefore there is an incredible need in our life for someone to have anger towards us. It is so precious, so important that someone has anger towards us. It's not precious for that person, but for us it's very precious. For that person it's torturous, it's like living in the lower realms. But for us, that person having anger towards us is so precious. We have a great need for this, a great need.
It's important that someone loves you, but it is even more important that someone has anger towards you. You see, if someone loves you it does not help you benefit numberless sentient beings or actualize the entire path to enlightenment. So why is this person the most precious thing to me. Because they are angry with you. To you, this person's anger is like a wish-granting jewel.
Also, your anger destroys merit, destroys your happiness, not only in day-to-day life but in long term happiness. As Bodhicaryavatara mentions, one moment of anger delays realizations for one thousand eons. Anger is a great obstacle, especially for bodhicitta realizations. Therefore, because this person is angry towards me, I am able to develop patience and overcome my own anger and complete the entire path to enlightenment. One can complete the two types of merit, cease all the obscurations, achieve enlightenment, and free all sentient beings and lead them to enlightenment.

Reflecting on impermanence and death in itself is not really a big deal, but thinking about it because of what follows after the death is important. If there is negative karma, then there are the lower realms of unimaginable sufferings, and this is something that can be stopped immediately.
We cannot be liberated from samsara within this hour, today, this week or even this year, but we can purify negative karma now, this hour today, and therefore stop being reborn in the lower realms if we die now, this hour, today. This is possible.
By remembering impermanence and death, karma and the lower realms of suffering, the mind is persuaded to use the solution of Dharma practice. Immediately the mind prepares for death. Immediately it purifies the heavy negative karmas that cause one to remain in the lower realms, where there are unimaginable sufferings and no possibility to practice Dharma.
Whenever there are problmes in our lives it is always good to remember the lower realms of suffering. We can't stand the problems we have now, but the lower realms of suffering are a zillion, zillion, zillion times greater, like the sky. If we put together all the energy of fire, no matter how hot, it is cool compared to one tiny fire spark of hell. All the energy of this human world's fire put together is cool compared to one tiny fire spark of the hell realm. Like this, it's always good to make a comparison.
Beings possessing a human body who haven't met Dharma, no matter how much wealth they have, no matter how may friends they have, no matter how much they appear to be enjoying their lives, in reality are only living with hallucination; they are living with wrong concepts, so many piles of wrong concepts. They are not aware of what is happening to them, they are not aware of their own life. They are not aware of the powers of their hallucination, the piles of wrong concepts that compel them to create the causess of samsara and the causes of the lower realms. They don't have the opportunity to plant the seed to be free from samsara, to cut the root of samsaric ignorance, because there is no understanding of emptiness, no opportunity to meditate on emptiness.
If a person has a good heart, a sincere mind, and gives some help to others without expecting any results, then maybe they create some pure Dharma -- and that's very rare; otherwise not. Usually people live the life only with a worldly mind, particularly attachment, clinging to this life. They use the whole human life, the precious human body and all their education just to create additional causes to go to the lower realms.
This is what is happening in every day life. For the entire life people act like a moth attracted to the flame, completely hallucinated, completely deceived, not knowing the flame will burn, that it is completely other than what it appears. Even though they get burned, while they still have the power to fly they will continue to go towards the flame.
It is exactly the same with a fish and a baited hook. The fish does not know that there is a hook that cheats, leading to death and unbelievable suffering. Having no idea of the danger, it is constatnly being drawn with strong desire toward the hook baited with a piece of meat. The result that the fish experiences is completely other than what it expected. Once caught, there is no way to get away alive.
Following the dissatisfied mind, desire, the worldly mind, brings exactly the same result. Once sunk in the quagmire of the activities of this life, it is difficult to escape the hundreds of different problems, emotional pains of the mind and of the body that come from this one root, the dissatisfied mind, desire, attachment, clinging to this life. All we are doing is making samsara longer by creating karma; we are making a donation, a contribution to samsaric suffering, making it longer and longer. And then, of course, there are the sufferings of the lower realms, which are difficult to get out of.
It's the same with the way in which an elephant can be caught. A female elephant is used as a lure, the male elephant becomes crazy with disire and as a result, becomes trapped inside a cage. What was expected in the beginning was happiness, but what was received in the end was something else, something completely frightening.
All these examples show us the way in which samsara and the samsaric perfections cheat us, that they are not to be trusted. Therefore always remembering impermanence and death becomes so essential. Reflecting on impermanence and death makes life highly meaningful, and so quickly and so powerfully destroys the delusions and seed imprint. It is very easy to meditate on and one can cease the delusions. It leads one to begin to practice Dharma, and to continue and complete the practice.


Patrul Rinpoche
Advice from Me to Myself

Vajrasattva, sole deity, Master,
You sit on a full-moon lotus-cushion of white light
In the hundred-petalled full bloom of youth.
Think of me, Vajrasattva,
You who remain unmoved within the manifest display
That is Mahamudra, pure bliss-emptiness.

Listen up, old bad-karma Patrul,
You dweller-in-distraction.
For ages now you've been
Beguiled, entranced, and fooled by appearances.
Are you aware of that? Are you?
Right this very instant, when you're
Under the spell of mistaken perception
You've got to watch out.
Don't let yourself get carried away by this fake and empty life.
Your mind is spinning around
About carrying out a lot of useless projects:
It's a waste! Give it up!
Thinking about the hundred plans you want to accomplish,
With never enough time to finish them,
Just weighs down your mind.
You're completely distracted
By all these projects, which never come to an end,
But keep spreading out more, like ripples in water.
Don't be a fool: for once, just sit tight.
Listening to the teachings — you've already heard hundreds of teachings,
But when you haven't grasped the meaning of even one teaching,
What's the point of more listening?
Reflecting on the teachings — even though you've listened,
If the teachings aren't coming to mind when needed,
What's the point of more reflection? None.
Meditating according to the teachings —
If your meditation practice still isn't curing
The obscuring states of mind—forget about it!
You've added up just how many mantras you've done —
But you aren't accomplishing the kyerim visualizatiion.
You may get the forms of deities nice and clear —
But you're not putting an end to subject and object.
You may tame what appear to be evil spirits and ghosts,
But you're not training the stream of your own mind.
Your four fine sessions of sadhana practice,
So meticulously arranged —
Forget about them.
When you're in a good mood,
Your practice seems to have lots of clarity —
But you just can't relax into it.
When you're depressed,
Your practice is stable enough
But there's no brilliance to it.
As for awareness,
You try to force yourself into a rigpa-like state,
As if stabbing a stake into a target!
When those yogic positions and gazes keep your mind stable
Only by keeping mind tethered —
Forget about them
Giving high-sounding lectures
Doesn't do your mind-stream any good.
The path of analytical reasoning is precise and acute —
But it's just more delusion, good for nothing goat-shit.
The oral instructions are very profound
But not if you don't put them into practice.
Reading over and over those dharma texts
That just occupy your mind and make your eyes sore —
Forget about it!
You beat your little damaru drum — ting, ting —
And your audience thinks it's charming to hear.
You're reciting words about offering up your body,
But you still haven't stopped holding it dear.
You're making your little cymbals go cling, cling —
Without keeping the ultimate purpose in mind.
All this dharma-practice equipment
That seems so attractive —
Forget about it!
Right now, those students are all studying so very hard,
But in the end, they can't keep it up.
Today, they seem to get the idea,
But later on, there's not a trace left.
Even if one of them manages to learn a little,
He rarely applies his "learning" to his own conduct.
Those elegant dharma disciplines —
Forget about them!
This year, he really cares about you,
Next year, it's not like that.
At first, he seems modest,
Then he grows exalted and pompous.
The more you nurture and cherish him,
The more distant he grows.
These dear friends
Who show such smiling faces to begin with —
Forget about them!
Her smile seems so full of joy —
But who knows if that's really the case?
One time, it's pure pleasure,
Then it's nine months of mental pain.
It might be fine for a month,
But sooner or later, there's trouble.
People teasing; your mind embroiled —
Your lady-friend —
Forget about her!
These endless rounds of conversation
Are just attachment and aversion —
It's just more goat-shit, good for nothing at all.
At the time it seems marvellously entertaining,
But really, you're just spreading around stories about other people's mistakes.
Your audience seems to be listening politely,
But then they grow embarrassed for you.
Useless talk that just make you thirsty —
Forget about it!
Giving teachings on meditation texts
Without yourself having
Gained actual experience through practice,
Is like reciting a dance-manual out loud
And thinking that's the same as actually dancing.
People may be listening to you with devotion,
But it just isn't the real thing.
Sooner or later, when your own actions
Contradict the teachings, you'll feel ashamed.
Just mouthing the words,
Giving dharma explanations that sound so eloquent —
Forget about it!
When you don't have a text, you long for it;
Then when you've finally gotten it, you hardly look at it.
The number of pages seems few enough,
But it's a bit hard to find time to copy them all.
Even if you copied down all the dharma texts on earth,
You wouldn't be satisfied.
Copying down texts is a waste of time
(Unless you get paid) —
So forget about it!
Today, they're happy as clams —
Tomorrow, they're furious.
With all their black moods and white moods,
People are never satisfied.
Or even if they're nice enough,
They may not come through when you really need them,
Disappointing you even more.
All this politeness, keeping up a
Courteous demeanor —
Forget about it!
Worldly and religious work
Is the province of gentlemen.
Patrul, old boy — that's not for you.
Haven't you noticed what always happens?
An old bull, once you've gone to the trouble of borrowing him for his services,
Seems to have absolutely no desire left in him at all —
(Except to go back to sleep).
Be like that — desireless.
Just sleep, eat, piss, shit.
There's nothing else in life that has to be done.
Don't get involved with other things:
They're not the point.
Keep a low profile,
In the triple universe
When you're lower than your company
You should take the low seat.
Should you happen to be the superior one,
Don't get arrogant.
There's no absolute need to have close friends;
You're better off just keeping to yourself.
When you're without any worldly or religious obligations,
Don't keep on longing to acquire some!
If you let go of everything —
Everything, everything —
That's the real point!

This advice was written by the practitioner Trime Lodro (Patrul Rinpoche) for his intimate friend Ahu Shri (Patrul Rinpoche), in order to give advice that is tailored exactly to his capacities.
This advice should be put into practice.
Even though you don't know how to practice, just let go of everything — that's what I really want to say. Even though you aren't able to succeed in your dharma practice. don't get angry.
May it be virtuous.

Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887) was the wandering turn-of-the-century Dzogchen master of Eastern Tibet, beloved by the people. He was renowned as the enlightened vagabond.

Translation by Constance Wilkinson
Many questions about the text were clarified according to the extremely kind explanations of the Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, during his stay in New York City, and according to the detailed explanations of Khenpo, Rigdzin Dorje of the Nyingmapa Shedra, Bansbari, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Thanks to Matthieu Ricard of Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling, and to Anne Burchardi of the Marpa institute of Translation for their advice toward trying to make this translation faithful to both the letter and spirit of the original Tibetan.
All errors and misunderstandings are those of the translator. May this poem, despite all shortcomings of its translation, serve to benefit beings.
Sarva Mangalam.


Words of Advice
16th Gyalwa Karmapa

All sentient beings experience the tiring and indefinite cycle of birth and death and mind illusions. Everything is ever changing at all times.
The Buddhadharma has a simple meditative technique to calm the mind, thus making it clear and luminous. The purpose is to purify our habitual tendencies and our mind, in order for us to benefit all sentient beings.
The focal point of this meditative technique is to benefit oneself and others. If you wish to benefit sentient beings, you will definitely benefit yourself in the same manner.


A shrine for enlightenment
Lama Gendun Rinpoche

We may sometimes be astonished to see piles of offerings, lights, flowers, incense, water, and food in Buddhist temples, or amazed at how much money is given to build stupas and the like. Our first reaction may be to ask, "What is the use of all that to the Buddha, what is behind it all?"
We must see that all of these are ways to set aside the habitual tendency we have to divert everything to our own ends. So far, our only concern has been to satisfy our ego, to protect it, and to this end we have tried unceasingly to take for ourselves everything we consider to be likeable, pleasant, or a source of happiness. This is what has brought us into the state of suffering and ignorance we are in at the moment, and the same goes for all living beings.
We have to get rid of this tendency, and the best way to do that is to develop a tendency in the opposite direction, one which leans towards generosity, altruism and sharing, which will work against greed, attachment and possessiveness. We therefore use the Buddha as a support, to help us in our actions of generosity. This is why we set up shrines, build stupas and other supports, which act as a focal point for our inner transformation.
This act of generosity, the means to transform all our ego-centred tendencies and especially greed and possessiveness, is accompanied by an act of trust. It is because we recognise the greatness, the superiority of enlightenment, that we make the offering. Each offering is at the same time both an act of openness and surrender, as well as an act of generosity. It takes us in a direction that will free us from our ego-clinging and be sure to bring us to enlightenment.
So offering is a very important practice, whether it is done in a very simple or a more elaborate way, and the most important element is the underlying intention or motivation that accompanies the act itself.
Yet offering is not simply an action, it is also a way of life, a whole attitude, just like greed or ego-clinging. When ego-clinging is at the heart of our behaviour, this habitual tendency in our mind will inspire all our actions. When we are self-centred and greedy, all our actions relate to ourselves. For generosity to become our way of life, it has to be integrated into all aspects of our daily activities. All our actions have to be reconsidered from the point of view of generosity, not simply when we are in front of our shrine.
When material generosity is supported by a mental offering, it becomes limitless. We can also offer to enlightenment anything owned by anyone, so that instead of seeing things only from our point of view and feeling jealous of what others have, we can cultivate generosity and offer it all to enlightenment. The things which don't belong to anyone in particular, such as the sun, the moon, and nature, can also be offered to enlightenment. In this way, anything that is a source of attachment becomes an offering to enlightenment. We find ourselves in a universe of offerings where we can evolve and completely transform our ego-centred attitude into one that has become totally dedicated to enlightenment.
We should make a shrine for enlightenment in our home, a support and reference point for our offerings and wishes. This will be the special place where we can come to develop this new tendency for generosity. It will also be where we voice all the wishes that will lead us in the direction of enlightenment. It is the support for our accumulation of merit. The shrine may be very simple - perhaps a single photo or statue, with some traditional offerings in front. We should start each day with an act of generosity, and accompany it with wishes such as the refuge or bodhicitta prayer. This will put us in the right frame of mind for making progress along the path to enlightenment.
Bowls of offerings
What is the meaning behind the seven traditional bowls and their offerings? Through the sensory experiences of sight, smell, and so on., we have become attached since time without beginning to many things, and have accumulated many negative deeds in pursuit of these attachments. Now that we have become aware of how dependent we are and how unskilfully we have behaved because of that, we decide to work against this through making offerings of the sensory experiences.
For this kind of counteracting effect to work, we really have to do something physically as well as mentally, which is why we do actually offer incense, water, butter lamps etc. We should be aware that our actions since time without beginning, motivated by sensory attachments, have built up a lot of negative karma which now governs our present attitudes and actions. We must therefore make a constant effort to reverse this, which is why we should make frequent offerings. If we really offer, with our mind in complete union with what we are doing physically, our offering will have enough power to purify those negative tendencies and accumulate positive ones by creating merit.
We know that by acting in a certain way we have created negative karma, and by now acting differently we will accumulate positive karma until we reach the point where what has been accumulated previously will be completely purified. Everything depends on the mind, so it is very important to change our attitude and way of thinking, because all negative karma is first created in the mind due to the negative intentions that underlie our behaviour. But since the mind is behind it all, when we really decide to change the direction of our mind and develop in a more positive sense, then we can be sure that all our expressions of body and speech will be just as positive, because mind is essential in the creation of karma.
We do not offer things because the Lama or the Three Jewels or the Meditation Deities are hungry or thirsty, there is not this kind of dualistic thinking. When we offer a torma, there is no calculation behind the act: "If I offer this torma, I can ask for this or that and in return my wishes will be fulfilled. I can make a kind of deal with the deities or the Three Jewels so that I can get everything I want". It does not work like this. Everything is created by the mind, so when we make prayers for our wishes to be fulfilled, for all positive actions to be accomplished and all adverse conditions to be dispelled, in fact we are not asking someone else to do this, it is just the mind. The deity to whom we pray or make requests is also part of our own mind, and we shouldn't think of it as something different.
It is through the power of mind that we make things happen in a certain way - it is just mind dealing with mind. There is a kind of conviction involved: through making wishes and prayers, a positive mind will develop, and as a result, positive things will take place, and the negative mind will be overcome and with it the negative results.
Devotion and offering
It is the attitude behind the actual gesture of offering which is the most important, it is this which creates the accumulation of merit and determines whether it becomes infinite and inconceivable or not. Each act of generosity should therefore be accompanied by an attitude that is both free of self-interest and at the same time infinite, meaning that we are not limiting the act of offering to the material offering alone. This is important, because if our mind limits the offering, our offering will be limited.
Offering is something that happens on the three levels of body, speech and mind. By offering at these three levels, we purify all three levels. The actions of the body, whether the actual physical movements of generosity or the movements involved in a ritual practice that includes generosity, will be the support for the development of our generous attitude of mind. We use speech, in the case of a ritual for example, to express our intentions, the fact that we recognise the qualities of enlightenment and aspire to reach it through offering all our possessions, everything that is an object of attachment for us. With the mind, we develop confidence, devotion and conviction in the qualities of enlightenment, and we also use our mind to multiply our material offerings to infinity.
Our offering is therefore a complete one, something that happens simultaneously on the levels of body, speech and mind, enabling a real purification to happen at the same time at all three levels of our being.
Once, someone offered Shakyamuni a single flower, with a one-pointed mind full of trust and devotion, mentally multiplying the offering infinitely. The Buddha responded by saying that because this person at the moment of the offering had recognised the qualities of enlightenment, aspired to reach it, and considered the act of offering the flower as symbolising the renunciation of all attachments, then the offering had served to sow the seed of enlightenment in the mind of the person.
This tells us how important it is to pay attention to the right attitude of mind and make sure it accompanies all our acts of generosity. When we make offerings, our mind must be filled with trust and devotion. We should consider that the Buddha is actually present before us while we make the offering, and it is this devotion which makes the action into one that will accumulate much merit. If our mind is filled with trust and devotion while, in a movement of confidence and surrender, we offer everything, materially and in our imagination, to enlightenment, in that very moment attachment and ignorance disappear, and the accumulation of merit is inestimable. Without this attitude of mind, we may be outwardly generous and offer a great deal materially, but we are just like children playing shops or driving their toy cars through sand-castles they have built themselves, believing everything to be real.
We must understand that although the offerings are addressed to the enlightened ones, they are not meant to help them, but us. We shouldn't think that the Buddha has nowhere to live, so we have to make a shrine for him in our homes so that he has somewhere to sleep, and give him offerings of rice and water in little bowls or biscuits on little plates so that he does not go hungry or thirsty. This is foolish!
We have to realise that building up a shrine and making offerings regularly on it serves on the one hand to help us remember enlightenment and its qualities, and develop trust and devotion towards it, and on the other hand to rid ourselves of our avid greed, the tendency we have to always obtain for ourselves the best of everything. In a movement of generosity and devotion we offer the best and rid ourselves of this self-centredness which aims to keep everything for ourselves.
If the offering is done in a frame of mind where there is devotion, trust and respect, as well as the understanding that it is the way to get rid of our deep tendencies towards greed and possessiveness, then it is effective. Merit is accumulated and the tendencies are cleared up. Otherwise, making a shrine and filling the bowls on it every morning are nothing more than the actions of a child playing at parties.


Heart of the Mahamudra
Song by H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa

Manifestation and sound
Arise from the subtle mental imprints created from thoughts.
As a picture in the water disappears of its own accord,
So false appearances automatically fade away
When their lack of reality is understood.
Beyond essential reality there is nothing-
Such is the insight of the Mahamudra.
When the door of the mind through which appearances are created
Remains unobstructed, unwarped by concepts,
Then there is no solid reality, just bright light,
And we let everything that appears just arrive naturally.
Such a practice is the meditation of Mahamudra.
Illusory appearances are born of the belief in a reality.
Relying on a constant understanding of their non-reality
We dwell at rest in original spontaneous nature and the space
Where there is nothing to accomplish is thus reached effortlessly.
Such is the practice of Mahamudra.
These three points are the treasure of my heart.
Since the yogis who go to the heart of everything are like my own heart,
For them I have pronounced these heart-felt words,
Which cannot be communicated to others.

Buddhism Today Vol.8, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers USA


Lama - The Source of Blessings
by HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Buddhist teachings can be divided into the sutra path and the tantra path. The sutra path is based on causes, and the tantra path is based on fruit. Both are about using a path to free us from the dualistic view in order to reach the state of liberation.
On the sutra path, first, the cause for a dualistic view is analyzed. One finds that the root for this is clinging to an "I," our ignorance. Then one goes on analyzing. Where does this idea come from? What is the essence of clinging to an "I"? What are its signs? What is its cause, etc.? Finally, one comes to the conclusion that one's own identity does not truly exist. On the sutra path, one starts from the understanding that now we are in a state full of suffering and one looks for the cause of this suffering. One finds that the cause is the various actions one did before. Then one questions what led to these actions and their resulting karma. One finds that the cause is our disturbing emotions, which again are caused by our dualistic view and our clinging to an "I." Thus, one comes to the point where one recognizes that clinging to the "I" is the cause of all our experiences.
Based on this understanding one follows the sutra path in which one primarily maintains the rules of discipline with body and speech. Also, one comes to an understanding of the mutual dependence of all things, and that they do not inherently exist. Thirdly one tries to attain a benevolent attitude toward other beings.
Therefore, on the sutra path one proceeds by analyzing things, investigating the causes. Based on understanding which results from that, one applies different methods. Thereby one reaches the point where one becomes free from suffering. One attains liberation and the state of omniscience as well. However, this path is very long. It is said that the bodhisattva path takes three endless kalpas to attain buddhahood. On the tantra path, Vajrayana, one proceeds in a completely different way. One doesn't analyze causes, one works directly with one's own experiences. For example, when disturbing emotions come up, one doesn't analyze their cause, but experiences them directly and comes to the point where one is able to transform them. For that reason, it is said that this path works with the fruit and is therefore a very fast path. The result which is attained through both paths is the same: one becomes liberated from suffering and inner disturbances subside, one attains realization. The difference between the paths is only the way in which one practices.
The tantra path starts from different conditions than the sutra path. This path is only suitable for practioners with the highest capacities, since one works directly with disturbing emotions without analyzing their causes. On the other hand, it is also said that in this degenerated time this path is suitable for people with the strongest disturbing emotions. The reason is that these people don't have the patience to accumulate merit over a long period of time and to practice the bodhisattva path. They simply cannot manage it. If one really can practice the tantra path and is able to deal with the disturbances in one's mind, it is a very fast path. Nevertheless, one will not reach buddhahood in a few days or years.
It is always said that the Vajrayana is about bringing impure experiences and appearances to a pure level. However, this does not mean that this transformation consists only in thinking or believing that things are pure. It is rather about real transformation. In order to be able to do this, one needs the "three roots" (sources) of blessing, accomplishment, and activity. The root of blessing is the lama. The root of accomplishment (siddhis) is the yidam. The root of activity is the dharma protectors. The lama is the most important of the three roots. Yidams and protectors are manifestations of the lama. No yidam or protector is separate from the lama. For that reason, the lama has a very special meaning in the Vajrayana.
In order to understand this, it is beneficial to look again at the sutra path. Here one relies on a teacher or spiritual friend who shows one the way. According to their explanations one practices and in that way one progresses through the various bodhisattva levels and five paths (accumulation, junction, seeing, meditation, no more learning).
In the Vajrayana, the teacher has a much more important significance. One does not see him simply as one who shows the way, but one sees him as the Buddha himself. With this attitude, the blessing of the lama can directly enter one's mind, mature and awaken one's mindstream. In order to make this possible, two elements are needed. On the one hand one has to practice and on the other hand one has to open to the lama and really see him as the Buddha.
On the sutra path, one deals with one's actions very consciously. One puts effort into avoiding all negative actions and only doing positive things. But since one is always "accompanied" by one's own ignorance and since one has various disturbances, one never succeeds completely and always does something negative again. The sutra path takes so long because the striving for positiveness and the disturbances in the mind which tempt us to do negative actions, are always in conflict which each other.
On the tantra path however, there is an additional element in connection with the lama. In the true nature of mind there is no confusion to be found; it is only the way we experience things which is marked by confusion. If we open ourselves to the lama filled with trust, and therefore get his blessing, our mind will be guided to maturity. This means that through the power of blessing we are able to recognize the true nature of our mind. Thus the lama - the source of blessing - is so important in the Vajrayana and is called "the first root."
In order to get the blessing, several things are necessary. On the one hand, one needs to develop full trust and complete devotion toward the lama. However, this does not refer to just any lama. It refers to the one we have chosen after having extensively checked several teachers. It refers to the lama in whom we are sure we can develop complete trust. On the other hand, the lama should check the practitioner as well in order to be sure that he is really able to help him.
If one has attained certainty that one can develop this complete openness toward a lama, it should give rise to an unshakable trust. It should really be as unshakable and as indestructable as a diamond. If one is able to do that, the result is not being influenced and disturbed anymore by common thoughts. This unshakability of trust is also the reason for the name "Vajrayana", diamond-vehicle, because this trust is like a diamond - indestructable. Many people erroneously believe that there is no difference between a Vajrayana teacher and other teachers. A common teacher can show one the path in a perfectly pure and clear way, and explain how to behave, how things are, etc. A Vajrayana teacher however, is somebody who does not work and teach only with words, but on all levels. With bodily behavior, with verbal teachings and through the inspiration of his mind, he can lead the mindstream of others towards maturity and liberation. Only someone with this capacity is an authentic Vajrayana teacher. There are many common teachers, but only few can be called a teacher in the Vajrayana.
In the prayer of Dorje Chang it is said that devotion is the head of meditation. This refers to the devotion which should be developed in the Vajrayana- a kind of devotion which completely and naturally awakens in oneself without imagination or fooling oneself. When it appears in one's mind, common thoughts subside through the blessing of the lama and the experience of meditation arises naturally, without putting any effort into meditation. Then the inspiration of the body, speech, and mind of the lama can be effective in oneself.
There is the quotation of earlier Kagyu masters that the preliminary practices - the Ngondro, are more profound than all other practices. This statement refers much more to the Guru-Yoga then to the prostrations, Dorje Sempa or mandala offerings, because here one receives the inspiration of the lama's blessing. For the practices like Mahamudra, or the developing phases in connection with yidam practices, or the completion phases - the Six Yogas of Naropa - which are all based on the Ngondro, it is always necessary to prepare one's mind properly. This happens through the blessing one experiences in Guru Yoga. Only through this, is one able to bring impure experiences to a pure level and to work correctly with the other practices. The devotion one should have toward the lama is more than one's feeling when seeing a certain teacher who behaves in a pleasant way toward oneself. If the lama smiles or speaks in a pleasant way, a feeling of devotion may arise, but this is called the "arising of a feeling due to various conditions." The aspired devotion toward the lama however, is a deep inner feeling which is independent from such outer conditions. In the beginning of course, it still depends on outer things; then it becomes an inner feeling which awakens independently from outer conditions and momentary experiences. Only when this completely deep devotion and this unshakable trust have arisen can the blessing work in a way so that common thoughts and the like, calm down naturally. There are descriptions about the signs of devotion: tears appear in the eyes and the hair on the body stands upright. But for this to happen it is necessary that one has a connection to one's lama for many lifetimes; to build it up in one lifetime is impossible.
Only if one receives the authentic blessing is one in the position to realize the authentic fruit, the ultimate accomplishments, the highest siddhis. If one tries to forcefully build up an artificial feeling of devotion and trust, the blessing and the inspiration will be only imaginary and artificial, and so will the fruit (result). Teachers themselves are just human beings. They have a body. They are sometimes in a good or a bad mood. They are sometimes angry, sometimes sad, etc. Without real trust and unshakable devotion, one will be influenced by these things and feel insecure. One will wonder why the experience of meditation today is not as strong as the experience yesterday; one becomes unstable and insecure in one's confidence. All this results from the fact that devotion and trust are not yet really unshakable.
When one talks about reaching the highest accomplishments, it is not something outer or something new one attains. It is the realization of the nature of ones own mind. One has attained the highest accomplishments when one is free of all momentary changing states and conditions, and when one has realized the mind as it really is.
Blessing is the ability to bring the mind of other sentient beings to maturity and to liberate them. Blessing does not have any form, nor any specific symbol of expression. Although during empowerments different symbolic objects are used, the actual blessing is that one becomes free of the idea that someone receives a blessing and is given a blessing. This is the ultimate empowerment and the real blessing. Everything else is just symbols and examples for the receiving of blessing.
Vienna, October 1987.

Reproduced here with kind permission.
Talk originally appeared in :
Kagyu Life International, Vol.3, 1995
Copyright ©1995 Kamtsang Choling US


No Need for Too Much Tradition

Some Western practitioners view Tibetan Buddhism to consist of Dharma practice mixed in part with Tibetan tradition. Often, they cannot distinguish between the two. It is very important to know the difference between tradition and the Dharma.
The biographies of Milarepa, Marpa, and Gampopa relate only the pure Dharma. Everything about these great Kagyu masters from the way they lived to the way they taught was the authentic Dharma. For example, Marpa brought the teachings from India to Tibet to teach the Tibetans. He first studied the Dharma in India according to the Indian tradition. Naropa, his teacher, lived in India. Most of the time Naropa was naked. Sometimes he would wear the ornaments of a Heruka. This was the tradition of some Indian yogis in those days. But Marpa never told the Tibetans to copy Naropa's way of attire. When Marpa taught in Tibet, he did not introduce any Indian customs such as the wearing of saddhu robes. His Tibetan followers continued to wear the chuba, a Tibetan style of clothing. Marpa taught the Dharma in a very pure way.
In the West, people have read a lot about "Tibetan lamas". Some Western scholars traveled to Tibet to seek adventure. Later in America, Lobsang Rampa wrote books full of fantasies, including stories of astral travels: about one mind transmitting messages to another's mind. The result of meditation gained by highly realized Buddhist practitioners is the ability to understand supernatural things and to read thoughts. When a very, very good meditation is attained, the meditator is capable of knowing some unbelievable things. The Buddha, for instance, knows all the thoughts of every single sentient being. Unfortunately, Lobsang Rampa misrepresented these special powers. He made them out to be mystical powers. He created the fictitious notion that a person can send his mind to another in order to read thoughts. His books influenced Western ideas about Tibet in a negative and false way. Later on, when the biographies were translated into the various Western languages, all the "sensational stuff" was of course included. In this way, many erroneous ideas about Tibetan Buddhist saints were developed. One example is the claim that they could all fly in the air.
Most Westerners think that all Tibetan lamas are totally pure. Whatever it is that a lama might do, they would think like this, "Oh, there must be some deep meaning behind it." When a lama seemed a little bit unusual, there must be a reason for it. They assume that the lama must have seen something in their minds. This is my experience with some Westerners.
Another misconception of Westerners is to think that it is important to bring all the Tibetan traditions into the Dharma practice. They think that the system of monasteries in Tibet is somehow related to enlightenment. Nowadays people can travel to Tibet easily. They are often shocked by the reality check when they are there - how different reality is to their own ideas of it. They think, "What is this? The lamas are like us. They have the same problems as we do." Some of them become totally confused. But the truth of the matter is that lamas are just human beings. In Kathmandu, you can see monks going to the casinos. I can say this here because some of you have seen this for yourselves. This is not a secret.
How does the Tibetan system of monasteries work?
A long time ago, a system was introduced in Tibet where very young children were brought to the monastery. They were fed and cared for free of charge. In today's Afghanistan, there was once a "Vajrayana Kingdom" called Oddiyana. A very holy king ruled there. He had achieved enlightenment and taught all his subjects. They too became enlightened and the kingdom disappeared. Then a Tibetan king also wanted to do the same. He wanted to end samsara by letting the kingdom of Tibet disappear. He introduced some new rules. Monasteries for monks and nuns were erected all over the country. All monks and nuns received food for free and the harvest from the farmers went to the monasteries. As a result, the people became monks not only to become enlightened but because there was free food. There were also enlightened monks but they were not the majority, maybe one in a million. Enlightened beings were very rare then because there were so many distractions. There was enough to eat but not much to do. None of them practiced like Milarepa did in the earlier times. Nevertheless, there was a monastery in every valley and all of Tibet was filled with monasteries which housed big administrations.
In the beginning, there was a Kagyu master who founded a monastery in a right way. He started a study program and a meditation center. His wish was to preserve the teachings and not to let them simply vanish. At that time, there was no Tulku system (the system of recognition of consciously reborn Buddhist masters). It was then up to the master's son to take on the responsibility for the monastery in succession to the father. In this way, many Kagyu monasteries expanded. But as time went by, things deteriorated. Monasteries became little kingdoms with very arrogant administrators. They were often very cunning. They knew that the spiritual leaders were necessary to control the people. They would then introduce a spiritual leader, but tried to keep all the power in their own hands. It was all very political. Beneath the spiritual exterior was a political underside.
Every monastery had land. Sometimes the property was extensive. When the monasteries bordered on one another, each side wanted to protect their own land. If an animal from one side crossed over the border it would be kept there. Sometimes fighting broke out over disputed borders. The peasants worked on the land much like slaves of the monasteries, and the administrators reigned like dictators.
The actual ruler of the country had hardly any power. Each monastery ruled supreme. Between monasteries, there was constant fighting. The government was completely powerless. It was later on that they managed to gain some influence and organized themselves like the monasteries did. Then the country was controlled in a strictly religious manner. Good practitioners were not part of the administration. The good masters and monks mainly practised in isolation. Nearly nobody reached enlightenment in a monastery. Monks were too strictly organized by the administration. Religion and politics were so intermingled in Tibet. The politicians used religion to control the people. The problem was not the enlightened masters, but the administrators. Unfortunately, Westerners have the idea that everything in the Tibetan monasteries was related to Dharma. They think that a monastery is a big mandala, and that every monk is a certain Buddha aspect and the guru is Dorje Chang.
People also think that the thrones of the lamas are a part of the Dharma practice. Actually they can often be a source of conflict. Take for example that you have prepared a throne for me. I am sitting on it now. If you do not do the same thing for another teacher, then problems may arise. This is the way of politics. If you had provided a beautiful chair instead, nobody would have any problems with it. The older Tibetan lamas, even the good and friendly ones, are used to certain customs based on their culture. When they come to the West, the absence of Tibetan musical accompaniment, or the throne lacking a beautiful brocade cover, might make them feel that something is missing. They will also tell you that you should arrange everything in a certain way. You might then think that this is part of the practice. If you do, you are building up the Tibetan tradition in the West. I do not think that these cultural protocols are going to last. If they do, they will be a source of problems in the future. Who should have a higher throne? Somebody is bound to have a smaller throne. In this way many problems can come up.
You must see the difference between Dharma and tradition. When problems occur, understand that they do not come from the enlightened ones, but from the administrators. Even the Chinese communists who do not believe at all in religion nevertheless use it from time to time for their own political ends. This is because the administration system is so well established and is so powerful. In the West you do not have to adopt the administrative and political aspects. I do not mean that your teachers should now sit somewhere on the floor, or you should point your feet at them when you sit. But there is simply no need for too much tradition.
Lecture given in Vienna, September 1993.


Prayers before Study

Refuge and Bodhicitta

Sang-gye Cho-dang Tsog-kyi chog-nam-la
I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Jang-chub bar-du dag-ni kyab-su-chi
Until I attain Enlightenment.
Dag-gi jin-sog gyi-pe so-nam-kyi
By merit accumulations from practicing generosity and the other perfections
Dro-la pan-chir Sang-gye drub-par-shog
May I attain Enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Four Immeasurables

May all beings have happiness and its causes,
May they never have suffering nor its causes;
May they constantly dwell in joy transcending sorrow;
May they dwell in equal love for both near and far.

Prayer of the Seven Limbs

With my body, speech, and mind, humbly I prostrate,
And make offerings both set out and imagined.
I declare my wrong deeds from all time,
And rejoice in the virtues of all.
Please stay until samsara ceases,
And turn the wheel of Dharma for us.
I dedicate all virtues to great Enlightenment.
The Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy

From the heart of the Protector of the hundreds of deities of the Joyful Land,
To the peak of a cloud which is like a cluster of fresh, white curd,
All-knowing Losang Dragpa, King of the Dharma,
Please come to this place together with your disciples.

In this space before me on a lion throne, lotus, and moon,
The venerable Gurus smile with delight.
O supreme Field of Merit for my mind of faith,
Please remain for a hundred aeons to spread the doctrine.

Your mind of wisdom realizes the full extent of objects of knowledge,
Your eloquent speech is the ear-ornament of the fortunate,
Your beautiful body is ablaze with the glory of renown.
I prostrate to you, whom to see, to hear, and to remember is so meaningful.

Pleasing water offerings, various flowers,
Sweet smelling incense, lights, scented water and so forth,
A vast cloud of offerings both set out and imagined,
I offer to you, O Supreme Field of Merit.

Whatever non-virtues of body, speech and mind
I have accumulated since time without beginning,
Especially transgressions of my three vows,
With great remorse I confess each one from the depths of my heart.

In this degenerate age you strove for much learning and accomplishment
Abandoning the eight worldly concerns, you made your leisure and endowment meaningful.
O Protector, from the very depths of my heart,
I rejoice in the great waves of your deeds.

From the billowing clouds of wisdom and compassion
In the space of your Truth Body, O venerable and holy Gurus,
Please send down a rain of vast and profound Dharma
Appropriate to the disciples of this world.

May the Vajra Body created from the purity of clear light,
free from the rising and setting of cyclic existence,
but visible to the ordinary viewer only in its unsubtle, physical form,
stay on unchanging, without waning, until samsara ends.

Through the virtues I have accumulated here,
May the doctrine and all living beings receive every benefit.
Especially may the essence of the doctrine of Venerable Losang Dragpa shine forever.
Mandala Offering

Sa-zhi po-kyi jug-shing me-tog tram
The universal ground purified with scent and flowers spread,
Ri-rab ling-zhi nyi-day gyan-pa-di
Becomes the pure realm of the Divine-Wisdom view.
Sang-gyay zhing-du mig-te ul-wa-yi
Magnificent Mount Meru is beautifully adorned by continents, sun and moon.
Dro-kun nam-dag zhing-la cho-par shog!
May all Mother sentient beings enjoy this pure land!

Dag-gi chag-dang mong-sum kye-pay-yul
My rising objects of carnal desire, hatred and ignorance,
Dra-nyen bar-sum lu-dang long-cho-chay
Enemy, friend and stranger, my body and all my possessions,
P'ang-pa me-par b'ul-gye leg-zhe-nay
These I offer without attachment for your enjoyment,
Dub-sum rang-sar drol-war j'in-gyi-lab!
Please bless me and all sentient beings to be released from the three poisons of the mind!

Om idam guru ratna mandalaka niryatayami!
I send forth this jewelled mandala to you, precious teachers!


Prayer of the Stages of the Path

The path begins with strong reliance
On my kind Teacher, source of all good;
O bless me with this understanding
To follow the kind teacher with great devotion.

This human life with all its freedoms,
Extremely rare, with so much meaning;
O bless me with this understanding
All day and all night to seize its essence.

My body, like a water bubble,
Decays and dies so very quickly;
After death comes the results of karma,
Just like the shadow of a body.

With this firm knowledge and remembrance
Bless me to be extremely cautious,
Always avoiding harmful actions
And gathering abundant virtue.

Samsara's pleasures are deceptive,
Give no contentment, only torment;
So please bless me to strive sincerely
To gain the bliss of perfect freedom.

O bless me so that from this pure thought
Come mindfulness and greatest caution,
To keep as my essential practice
The doctrine's root, the Pratimoksha.

Just like myself all my kind mothers
Are drowning in samsara's ocean;
O so that I may soon release them,
Bless me to train in Bodhicitta.

But I cannot become a Buddha
By this alone without the three ethics;
So bless me with the strength to practice
The Bodhisattva's ordination.

By pacifying my distractions
And analyzing perfect meanings,
Bless me to quickly gain the union
Of special insight and quiescence.

When I become a pure container
Through the common paths, bless me to enter
The essence practice of good fortune,
The supreme vehicle Vajrayana.

The two attainments both depend on
My sacred vows and my commitments;
Bless me to understand this clearly
And keep them at the cost of my life.

By the constant practice in four sessions,
The way explained by holy teachers,
O bless me to gain both the stages
Which are the essence of the Tantras.

May those who guide me on the path
And my companions all have long lives;
Bless me to pacify completely
All obstacles, outer and inner.

May I always find the perfect teachers
And take delight in the holy Dharma,
Accomplish all grounds and paths swiftly,
And gain the state of Vajradhara.

Ge-wa di-yi nyur-du-dag
By this virtue may I quickly
La-ma Sang-gye drup-gyur-ney
Attain the state of Guru Buddha, and then
Dro-wa chig-kyang ma-lu-pa
Lead every being without exception
Kye-kyi sa-la go-par-shog!
To that very state!

Jang-chub sem-chog Rin-po-che
May the most Precious and Supreme Bodhicitta awakening mind
Ma-kye pa-nam kye-gyur-chig
Which has not been generated now be generated,
Kye-pa nyam-pa me-par-yang
And may the Precious Mind of Bodhicitta which has been generated
Gong-ne gong-du pal-war-shog!
Never decline, but always increase!

So that the tradition of Je Tsong Khapa
The king of the Dharma, may flourish,
May all obstacles be pacified,
And may all favorable conditions abound.

Through the two collections of myself and others
Gathered throughout the three times,
May the teaching of Lama Tsong Khapa
Flourish evermore.

Long Life Prayer for His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In the snowy mountain paradise,
You are the source of good and happiness.
Powerful Tenzin Gyatso, CHENRESIG,
May you stay until samsara ends.


Praying to the lama
Lama Gendun Rinpoche

The lama is the one who has inherited the realisation of the Dharmakaya Dorje Chang, handed down through an unbroken lineage without there being the slightest damage, the slightest break in this transmission. This means that when we pray to the lama, we are praying to enlightened mind. The lama incarnates the enlightened compassion that holds the blessing, he is therefore truely capable of transmitting this blessing of compassion and Dharmakaya. The lama has the ability to transfer all his qualities to the disciple, but whether we can actually develop these qualities ourselves will depend on the confidence we have and the prayers we address to him.
When we pray to the mind of the lama, we are not praying to the mind of an ordinary person. The lama is not what he seems to be; he is the fundamental mind, the mind of compassion, the Dharmakaya Dorje Chang, and this is where our prayers are directed. Since the lama is the holder of the blessing of the Dharmakaya, he is the pivotal access point, which is why we speak of the lama as being a gateway: the one who opens the door to blessing and the transmission that goes with it. By praying to the lama, this door is opened. To understand the lama in this way means that we don't consider him as a mere person. Praying to the ordinary mind of a flesh-and-blood person will only bring the realisation of that ordinary state, which is not our aim. On the contrary, in our prayers to the lama, we must think of him as the embodiment of all the Buddhas, the mind of compassion and wisdom of all the Buddhas. If we pray to the lama on that level, then that will be the result we will obtain, thanks to his blessing.
It is just like when we have a Buddha statue or a Dharma book. It is a medium. If in front of this medium we think that we are really in the presence of the Buddha's body or speech, then we actually receive the blessing of the Buddha and his teaching through our respectful attitude. If we consider the medium to be the presence of the Buddha, we receive the blessing of the Buddha - it all depends on our state of mind. With the lama, it is the same - he represents a medium that can bring blessing.
When we pray to the teacher, it is obvious that we should not address ourselves to the person as such, but to the enlightened mind which flows through him or her. If we pray to the person, there will be limitations, we will see before us a human form with its capacities or lack of them. In the relationship between teacher and disciple, we use the presence of the person to make contact with enlightened mind. It is through such a medium or support that we will receive the blessings that will enable us to clear away our veils. This is why it could be said that the ability of the disciple to see beyond the outer form of the teacher is perhaps more important than any abilities the teacher might have.
A well-known example illustrates this, the story of the old Tibetan woman whose merchant son made a trip to India and who asked him to bring her back from India some holy relics, anything that had been touched directly or indirectly by the Buddha. The son left on his travels, but like all merchants, he was so busy that it was only when he was within sight again of his mother's house that he realised he had forgotten to bring his mother something back from his trip to India. He was wondering what he could do when, within a few steps of the house, he saw the dried-up skull of a dead dog. Pulling out one of its teeth, he wrapped it in a piece of fine silk and presented it to his mother as one of the Buddha's teeth. His mother did not doubt this and placed it on her shrine. She spent the last years of her life using this "tooth of the Buddha" as a support for her devotions, practising and making offerings before it. Through this support, actually a dog's tooth, she received the blessing of the "Buddha's tooth", the blessings of the enlightened mind, so that at her death she displayed all the signs of realisation and left relics in her cremation fire.
When we pray to the lama, we should think that at that moment he is the embodiment of all lamas. We are not praying to this lama now, and then later to another one, that this one we like but the other one not so much - such an attitude is wrong. We must simply develop a very profound and strong confidence that all lamas are one. They are just different aspects, different manifestations of the same essence.
We should pray in the awareness that our feeling of the presence of the lama includes within it all the lamas we have ever known, from all lineages. We shouldn't get involved in attitudes of mind which lead us to think, "I will pray to this lama, but not that one because he is not my lama". All such attitudes, because they are dividing up reality itself, are wrong. When we pray to the lama, we are not praying with the intellect, in a conceptual way, calling on one lama while we tell the others to stay where they are. There has to be a dimension of wisdom: the lama himself represents this primordial awareness which is omnipresent, and therefore can be found in all lamas.
Everything emanates from the root teacher, all is included in him - all the yidams are projections of the lama, all the Buddhas are included in the lama. If we pray to the very source, we pray to everything at once. If we reject one lama, then we reject all the Buddhas, because there is not a single Buddha who has not needed a teacher to reach enlightenment. Since the potential to realise Buddhahood depends solely on the lama, rejecting the lama is equal to rejecting all the Buddhas. That is why we should pray to the lama while thinking that he is completely inseparable from all Buddhas, all teachers, until our mind becomes inseparable from his.
Since when we pray to the lama we are not addressing ourselves to the physical person as such, we can very well pray to the lama without giving him any form, any appearance at all, without giving ourselves any specific reference point. In that case, we simply consider the lama as a representation of the blessings of the compassionate mind of all the Buddhas. With this state of mind we open ourselves to this blessing, allowing it to enter us. We should develop a deep confidence in the capacity to have this blessing really transferred to us, along with all the qualities of the lama which are also those of all the Buddhas. In this way, if we develop sufficient confidence, we don't have to give the lama a formal aspect, we don't have to think of anything else, we don't even feel the need to address ourselves to the lama as a person: through the lama, we are addressing ourselves directly to the transmission, to this aspect of compassion and blessing that is the enlightenment of the Buddhas. So it is not necessary to see the lama with our eyes or use our mouth to speak to him. The important thing is to pray to the lama with trust and conviction. It is useless to recite a prayer without having confidence.
If we do a lama practice without having confidence, we may indeed have a lovely vision of the lama, representing him very clearly in our mind, but that is not what the practice really involves - we've missed the point. We can also think of the lama in his physical form and pray to him like that, thinking of him as such and such a person, but that is like having an ordinary relationship with someone. If the lama is old or ugly, we will feel distaste, while if he is young and good-looking, we will feel attracted to him, and once again we will be mistaken in our practice.
The right attitude towards the lama is one of confidence in what he represents and in the blessing that he bears. The strength of the confidence and devotion that we develop in the lama has the effect of making the lama melt into light, whatever the image we have had of him, however we have represented him. This light then mixes with us, and we think that in this way we receive the true blessing of the lama and everything it represents. Otherwise, we always have an attitude towards the lama which is based on our own desires, our own aspirations, our own wilfulness, which we then project onto the lama in the hope that he will respond to our desires. Everything that arises in us at that point, all our aspirations, are nothing other than desire and the wish to have it confirmed by the lama. The end result of this kind of practice, this sort of praying, is only to develop more desire, and we grow more and more dependent on desire.
If we do the guru yoga properly, through prayer, the lama and our own mind will mingle and become united, completely one. We will settle into a state of union which is the real meaning of meditation. Such a meditation will purify us of our initial desire, of its impure aspect, and we will realise our mind and the mind of the lama to be identical, not two. Through this we will come to know the Dharmata, the essence of phenomena, which is also this same unity. Otherwise, we remain in a form of ordinary desire, and as this desire arises in the context of our practice, we will develop an ordinary idea, an impure idea of the lama, and our relationship with him will be compromised. Our practice will only serve to develop more and more this force of desire, this emotional, impure state of mind, with the end result that such a practice may actually increase the emotional disturbance in our mind.
On the other hand, if we practise properly and unite our mind with the lama's mind, because of this union, all the emotions that may have arisen or been provoked, will be completely purified. Our mind will be liberated from its emotions, so that whatever their intensity, they will all be freed in this union of our mind and the lama, the Dharmata.
Praying in Tibetan means literally "to make a request". Our request is that we gain more confidence, more conviction in order to pray more! Praying is very simple, we just unite our mind with the lama's mind, in the realisation that the mind of the lama, our own mind and the Dharmakaya are inseparable, all are just the mind's true nature. It is enough to think that the lama to whom we are praying is the embodiment of all lamas, yidams, protectors and dakinis, so that everything, without exception, is the manifestation of the lama. Once our mind is united with his, it is united with all these different aspects.
While this is the simplest way to pray to the lama, it is also the highest. There are practices for the higher and lower kinds of practitioner, but keeping the mind completely in a state of simplicity without any complications whatsoever, with no elaborations in the mind, to have this natural prayer to the teacher: this is the highest practice.


The Three Main Approaches in Buddhism - An Introduction
The Kunzig Shamar Rimpoche
Published in Knowledge in Action, Volume 3, 1994.
(A journal of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi, India).

In Buddhism it is pointed out that our present state of mind is conditioned by previous actions. This is always true, regardless of which realm of existence one is born into. Different kinds of existence come about as a result of the infallible law of cause and effect.
The mind is the origin of all actions. The way individuals behave is based on what they think and believe. Samsara, which is a state of perpetual suffering, will continue to manifest, as long as the mind is conditioned by ignorance. This is the actual state of affairs; it is not true just because the Buddha, Shakyamuni, said so.
The Buddhist teachings are methods that remove ignorance from the mind. Since ignorance is merely a state of mind, Buddhist practice is always a mental process which attempts to bring about an enlightened state. There are two stages: to study and contemplate the way things truly are and to cultivate the resulting understanding, so that one's perception of reality becomes accurate.
The Tibetan name for Buddha, 'Sang-gye', illustrates this approach. 'Sang' means to awaken, that is, to awaken from the sleep of ignorance. This awakening is like the sun dispelling darkness. 'Gye' refers to the enlightened qualities that are revealed and free to manifest once ignorance is gone. This is like when a flower blossoms displaying all its beauty.
The Buddha presented three levels of teachings, which are called the Three Vehicles or the Three Yanas. The appropriate level for each individual depends upon one's understanding. These three main approaches have different goals and ways of presenting reality.
In the first approach, the Shravakayana, the two major schools of thought are the Vaibashika and the Sautrantika systems. The Vaibashika and the Sautrantika teach that the cause of conditioned existence is the ignorant belief that the individual is a permanent, lasting entity.
In order to overcome this mistaken notion, one studies the teachings which explain that the 'self' is, in fact, without essence, insubstantial, and unreal. Having arrived at a definitive understanding, one familiarizes oneself with this new way of regarding reality to the point where it becomes an integral part of one's being. This realization is called the state of an Arhat of the Shravakayana, and it is the highest point of this approach.
The second approach, the PratyekaBuddhayana, goes further. It points out that all other phenomena also, just like the individual, are not truly existent entities, that all things are illusory like the images in a dream. As in the Shravakayana, there are two stages of development: intellectual analysis which is followed by cultivating a new way of perceiving reality, so that full realization of this approach is achieved. Practitioners contemplate the twelve phases of the process of dependent occurrence in their order of arising, that is, basic unawareness, actions and the karma they accrue, habitual patterns that colour consciousness, and so on. They also contemplate these phases in the reversed succession, starting with death, going on to aging, birth, and so on. The goal of this approach is the state of an Arhat of the PratyekaBuddhayana. This state involves full realization of the emptiness of the individual as well as a partial realization of the emptiness of external phenomena.
The third approach, the Mahayana, speaks of compassion for all living beings and the emptiness of both the individual and all other phenomena. It teaches that the practice of the ten paramitas must be based on awareness which fully perceives the essencelessness of phenomena. The inseparability of compassion and emptiness is a main teaching in this tradition. The point is that compassion compels one to work for the welfare of others and that perception of emptiness allows one to do so in an enlightened way. Such perception of emptiness brings one to the realization of mind's true nature which, according to the Mahayana, is the union of awareness and emptiness free from the limitations of conceptual mind.
In this approach, as in the two previous approaches, practice begins with a learning process, so that an accurate understanding becomes the ground for one's development. One makes effort to benefit others with the understanding that whatever occurs is empty of reality and thus illusory. When practice is based on this understanding, the individual will not have expectations or hopes of reward. The knowledge of the Mahayana viewpoint in all its aspects is the foundation for cultivating states of mind that will gradually result in attaining Buddha, the enlightened state, which is insight into the way things truly are - the fact that any phenomenon is empty of real essence or substance. Such emptiness is not a mere nothingness; it is what allows the enlightened qualities of the three kayas to manifest.
This is a brief overview of the Three Vehicles, which include all the teachings of the Buddha. Anyone who wishes to follow the Buddhist path needs to study the teachings in detail and then put them into practice. The Buddha said that he can show the way, but it is through personal efforts alone that enlightenment is attained.

The 14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche


Three Vehicles
excerpt from teaching by
by Yongey Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche

Rinpoche would like to welcome everybody who has come from many parts of the country to listen to the teachings, tashi deleg to you all. Tonight there is going to be a general introduction to Dharma. Generally speaking, in Tibetan, when you talk about a practitioner, sanje nampa means a person who is studying something inner. We have inner and outer aspects and the inner aspect means learning about one's mind, which is within. So that is what it means to be a Buddhist.
Our mind is very important and all our experiences of happiness and unhappiness arise in the mind. So if we can train our minds then happiness will arise naturally. This happiness is real lasting peace which you will have in the external environment as well as in your inner mind.
What are the main teachings of the Buddha? The teaching is that one should pacify one's mind. So one should generate inner peace in one's mind. Buddha taught three different gradual paths to help us realise inner peace within our minds. They are Hinayana, Mahayana and the Secret Vajrayana. This is all the different of Buddhist teachings brought into three special points.
So why is it necessary that the Buddha taught in three different ways or three different paths? He presented the teaching in such a way because sentient beings of the world have different types of mind, different characteristics. Some people have very open, vast minds, some people have a very closed type mind. For that reason the Buddha taught varying techniques, not just one. However if one reaches the very end of any of the three paths, the result is the same, the final result is complete enlightenment.
You can have an example of this. We arrived from London today. How did I arrive? I came in a car. I came along one particular path or road. It is possible for another person to have taken a plane and come from London and arrive at Samye Ling. The airport is a little bit further away. It is also possible that a man might come from London to Samye Ling by walking. Who would arrve first? The person who came in the airplane would be the one you would think would arrive first. The slowest approach to Samye Ling from London would be by walking and the medium would be in a motorcar. But the quickest and swiftest way to arrive in Samye Ling would be by plane.
But whichever of the three methods you choose to come from London to Samye Ling, you always end up in the same place; the final destination will be Samye Ling. Some people prefer to go in a plane. Some people don't like flying, so they prefer to go in a car. Some people are frightened of flying, they think the plane is going to crash and they can't drive either, because they become extremely carsick. So they have no alternative but to walk. Eventually they'll get here. Likewise we as human beings want to reach the level of enlightenment. So whether we have followed the path of Hinayana, Mahayana or Secret Mantra Vajrayana, that's up to our own feeling of connection, how our mind is with these particular paths. Whichever we follow, we get to the same final destination.
The teachings that the Buddha manifested when he turned the Wheel of Dharma can be condensed into Four Noble Truths. All the entire teachings of Hinayana, Mahayana and the Secret Mantra Vajrayana are contained in these Four Noble Truths. What are the Four Noble Truths? The first one is the Truth of Suffering and the second one is the Truth of Origination. The third one is the Truth of Cessation and the fourth noble truth is the Truth of the Path. There we have the four.
If a being wants to reach the level of complete enlightenment, they need to understand these Four Noble Truths. What is the reason for that? The Buddha has given an example. The first truth is like sickness and the second is the cause of sickness. The third one is how to live happily and in prosperity and the fourth is a medicine. If you put all these together, do you think you will be free of illness? If you don't have illness in the first place, then you can't become free of illness. You can't become better, can you, if there is no illness in the first instance? If we say: "becoming better" or "getting over a sickness", it means that we have to have somebody who is sick in the first place. To be free of sickness, how do we achieve that? We need to understand the cause of sickness. If we manage to understand the cause of sickness and we can pacify it, what happens to us? We will be able to live in happiness and prosperity.
How do we obtain the ability to live happily and in a prosperous state? By taking various medicines. You could also have a few operations! What I really mean is that whatever the doctor says, you listen to him. The doctor might say, "Don't eat sweet things because they will be harmful to your body."
If you rely on these three points:1. the type of activity one performs, 2. the type of food one consumes 3. the type of medicine one takes, then one will definitely free oneself from sickness. To free ourselves of sickness we combine the four examples just mentioned.
There is a connection between this and the teachings of the Buddha. The first example of sickness is like the first Truth of Suffering. The cause of sickness, which is the second example, is related to the Truth of Origination. The ability to live happily and in a prosperous state is connected with the Truth of Cessation. The ability to live happily and prosperously is due to a cause. What is that cause? It is the fourth example, which is medicine, which is related to the Truth of Path. This is an explanation of the Four Truths presented by the Buddha.
How can we understand how to practise with these Four Truths? We need to know about the truth of suffering. What do we need to know about suffering? The Truth of Origination means that we have to know what is it we need to abandon. The Truth of Cessation means we have to know what we need to obtain. The Truth of the Path means we have to know what we can depend on. If you can understand these four aspects, realise the meaning properly, then you will understand the general meaning of all of the buddhadharma which is taught.
How do we understand this Truth of Suffering? How do we remove suffering? Suffering has to remove itself. How do we accomplish that? First of all, we have to understand about suffering. Normally in our minds we have misconceptions, thinking that things are permanent and also we are ignorant of the nature of suffering. As much as you have in your mind a fixed idea that things are permanent; as much as you are ignorant of the nature of things and have great grasping; that is how much you will suffer.
Some people think that they shouldn't think about suffering at all, and even back away from the word. The person who has this idea does not suffer less. In fact their suffering can become greater. But the majority of suffering that we tend to experience is illusory, not real. If one observes suffering, the suffering will disappear. and we will naturally understand the nature of suffering. If one naturally understands the nature of suffering, it will naturally disappear. So then recognizing or understanding the nature of suffering is very important. I will give you an example.
This example is to do with a man who is very scared of snakes. He was constantly thinking: "I don't want to meet snakes, snakes are very bad for me." Even if he heard the word "snake" he became scared. But he had a bad friend. So the man who feared snakes was in his house. The light wasn't good inside, and outside it was dark. The man was at his home quite happily but then the door opened all of a sudden, and his bad friend was there. He had a thin rope in his hand, and he rushed to the man throwing the rope over his head. As the rope fell over the man, who was sitting down on the floor, the bad guy said, "Oh dear, there is a snake on your head!." When the rope fell on the ground the man who had the fear of snakes thought he had seen a snake, and the rope seemed to move from side to side. "There is a real snake!" He thought he was in great danger and suffered greatly. He couldn't move and his hair stood on end. "What am I going to do?"
Of course what he had seen was not a snake at all, it was just a thin rope, but the man did not recognize it. Because of that misunderstanding, the non-recognition of the fact that it was a piece of rope, he had a lot of suffering. In reality it was a piece of rope, but his skin was crawling and he was unable to walk - this was all meaningless suffering, wasn't it? At that moment, what kind of method could he use? The method would be to recognize the thin piece of rope to be just that: a thin piece of rope.
Another friend came. This was a good friend and he said, "That's not a snake on the floor, look, it's just a piece of a thin rope." What a release! Wonderful! All the suffering he had a moment ago had completely gone. He could go where he wanted to and also he picked up the rope. Yet at the beginning he wasn't able even to look at the rope, because he thought it was a snake.
The first Truth of Suffering means to be aware of and really recognize suffering: what suffering is and how to remove it. This is related to the Truth of Suffering. If we understand the real nature of suffering and how it is, then this is related to relative truth. One will naturally understand relative truth. If one has understanding of this natural state of relative truth, that will give one the power to dispel many types of unnecessary suffering, which one normally goes through. We have many types of meaningless suffering.
I'm travelling around the world, going to many countries and seeing many types of people. And many different kinds of people have conversations with me. There are many people who have all kinds of meaningless problems, meaningless suffering. Most of them are in the West. I'm not talking just about England or Scotland. So, one person came up to speak to me. He said: "Normally I like to drive my car. I am very happy driving, but I have one problem. I can't drive a car with this problem." "What's the problem?" My particular problem is that when I drive and come to traffic lights, I am afraid the traffic lights are going to fall over and hit me on the head. That prevents me from driving, because I'm so frightened of the traffic lights. I'm driving along looking out, in case I meet a traffic light and
I can't drive very well because I'm waiting to see the traffic light."
That kind of suffering is completely without reason or meaning. There are many problems like that, many sufferings. But if one knew the natural state of the relative truth, that kind of suffering would be dispelled. If one understands the natural state of relative truth and also the nature of emptiness, then all of this meaningless suffering will diminish. Also one's grasping will diminish.
Now I have a question. I am not asking you, I'm asking myself. You don't have to worry! So then, we had a thin piece of rope on the table and we thought that was a snake. The good friend came along and said it was a piece of rope, so therefore the suffering was removed. What would have happened if the bad friend had got the rope, which I thought was a snake, and tied it around my neck? At that moment when I knew it was a rope, it would not have been any use for the bad friend to tie it around my neck. What kind of method do we have there? This is the first stage of wisdom. So it's not enough for you to understand this, we have to go into it in a deeper way.
So, just understanding that a rope is a rope is not enough, but we should understand that the rope is a rope, and there is no point in tying it around the neck. The way we progress or go deeper into understanding of wisdom is understanding emptiness. The understanding of the nature of emptiness is connected with the third truth, the Truth of Cessation. If one really understood completely the nature of emptiness, one would not be able to have the rope tied around one's neck. Taking an example of Milarepa, the great saint of Tibet, he couldn't be burned by fire, he could walk through walls or rocks unobstructedly, and no harm could come to him. What's the reason for that? His body is emptiness and the fire is emptiness, how can the fire of emptiness burn the body of emptiness? If one understands completely the nature of emptiness, this kind of result will happen. If the bad friend tied the rope around one's neck, there wouldn't be anybody to have the rope tied around.
Even though we have had a brief explanation of emptiness, it's not complete, so it wouldn't be any good for you to jump into fire, you would be burned. That's just a general explanation of suffering.
Then we'll talk about the second truth, which is the truth of origination. Related to that are the conflicting emotions in the mind, and karma. The real source of suffering is conflicting emotions in the mind, anger, pride, jealousy etc. and along with that, great grasping. Grasping, along with the five mind poisons, causes us to experience a lot of suffering and problems. If a person has a lot of anger within them, they never gain a state of peace. When they see other people, they think that these people are looking at them with harmful intent. So they just sit there and look at other people thinking: that man is staring me strangely. If one has this great anger within oneself, these experiences will arise. If I put on yellow tinted spectacles, when I look at a house which was painted white I won't perceive it as white, I shall perceive it as yellow. If I put blue lenses on, I will perceive everything to be blue. If I put green lenses on, I will perceive everything to be green.
So, if we have any of these five mind poisons to a great degree, then we will never be able to obtain a state of peace. Along with these mind poisons we perform activities of negative karma, and the joint result of these is experiencing lot of suffering. If we can clear away the conflicting emotions, then we won't generate karma; that will be cut off, obstructed. If we don't generate karma then we don't generate the cause to experience the fruition, which is suffering, and that will be removing the Truth of Suffering. Finally the karma itself and the suffering will both be eliminated. Then if you want to jump in the fire, it's okay. If you can dispel all your suffering, then all illusions will also be liberated.
In general, if anyone of us experiences illness, to get rid of the illness, what kind of method can we use? If we can remove or stop the cause of the illness, then the illness will be dispelled. Now I'm going to ask you a question. It's not difficult.
There is a tall house and on the roof there is a small hole. Through the hole the rain comes drip by drip. It falls down to the floorboards which become rotten over time and all the carpets get soaked. What can we do at that point?
Answer: Sell the house.
Rinpoche. That's one method. But it's not the first solution.
Answer: Block the hole. Get a bucket. Stop the rain.
Rinpoche: How can you stop the rain actually?
Answer: That's why I'm here!
Rinpoche: I'm going to tell you what I think is the best method is to block the hole. If you don't block the hole, the rain is going to continue to drop down. If you put a bucket or any container there, eventually it will be filled up and spill over. You can also wipe up every drop as it drops down. It never ends, because you haven't addressed the real problem which is the cause of the rain drops. If you recognise straight away, "There are rain drops falling through the ceiling", you go up, see the hole, fix it and all is fine. You don't need to get tired out by cleaning up.
If you can remove the cause of suffering or illness, the suffering or illness will not arise again. If we don't succeed in really removing all the causes of the illness, it will arise again at some point in the future. You might take one type of medicine and it temporarily cures it, but again it will arise. So it's not completely removed. It will go on like this, until one really addresses the point, which is removing the whole of the cause. That was the explanation of the second truth, Truth of Origination.
The third truth is the Truth of Cessation. Related to the Truth of Cessation is recognizing emptiness and the nature of one's mind. Emptiness and the nature of one's mind, which is Buddha nature or Buddha essence are not different, they are actually inseparable. What is the nature of this natural state of the mind, this buddha nature? It has complete happiness and joy; it doesn't have any suffering or illness. It's like that all the time. That is what we call resting in happiness. That is related to the example of living happily and in prosperity. The Buddha has told us that all sentient beings who possess mind all have Buddha nature. Every single being has that. Buddhists and nonbuddhists alike have that. Whether you are a religious person or not religious at all, you have that. It's the same. Also with human beings and animals it's the same. All beings of the six realms of existence possess Buddha nature. Also the Buddha has Buddha nature. The Buddha nature that the Buddha possesses and the Buddha nature that I possess or each of us possess, is exactly the same, there is no difference. You don't say that the difference between us and the Buddha is that the Buddha is excellent and I'm bad, the Buddha is excellent and we are also excellent. But because we don't know that, we are wandering in samsara. It is ignorance about our Buddha nature that makes us wander in samsara. I shall give an example.
There is a man with a big lump of gold. He is driving along in a car and the big lump of gold falls out of the window into mud. He goes up and down but he can't find the gold. He gives up and drives off. After one thousand years the gold is still in the mud. One day someone comes cleaning the road. If he cleaned it with a machine, he wouldn't know anything about the gold, but he is cleaning it by hand. While cleaning up the dirt he finds this big lump of gold. He cleans all impurities, mud and stains from it. It becomes very bright and shiny and he puts it on top of his shrine. Now I'm going to ask a question: the gold which was hidden in the mud for a thousand years and the gold which is put on the shrine, which one is the most precious?
Answer: They are the same.
Rinpoche: Yes, they have got the same essence. The absolute truth is like that. The essence of the gold is the same. That is the example given by the Buddha. So the essence of the Buddha and our essence is identical. So then, if the gold is in the mud or the gold is clean on the shrine it's the same. We are rather like the piece of gold which is covered by mud. The illusions are obscuring us, covering us up. There is the illusion of our impure body, the illusions of the various phenomena that appear to us, different appearances, this is the illusion. And also we have the illusions of birth and death and sickness. But if we understand completely the nature of emptiness of phenomena and our natural state, which is nature of mind, Buddha nature, then gradually over time we will completely purify all the illusions. At that point we will really be able to live happily and in prosperity and we will be like the Buddha, the same. That's the explanation of the Truth of Cessation.
The fourth truth is the Truth of the Path. The Buddha has taught us the Path in a gradual way. There are two aspects to the path. There is the preliminary practice and the main practice. Within the preliminary practice, divide that into two points, the ordinary preliminaries and the extraordinary preliminaries. Also there are two further divisions in the main practice: shine and lhaktong. This is all related to the Truth of Path.
We depend on or rely on the Truth of the Path. If we practise and depend upon the idea of the Truth of the Path, we will gain a glimpse of our Buddha nature. Slowly, slowly it will become clearer, and eventually the final result will be that we achieve complete enlightenment. That is the explanation of the fourth truth, the Truth of the Path. If you have questions, please ask.
Question: Is all suffering meaningless?
Rinpoche: The answer will be given in a form of an example. So, we have the rope, which we had before. Seeing the rope as a snake, the misperception of a rope to be a snake, that's meaningless suffering. But then, if you think of the perception of a rope being a rope, that's related to conventional truth, relative truth and at that point it's true. It's true because of the experience of relative truth. But ultimately the rope doesn't exist even as a rope. So then if one understands the nature of emptiness of phenomena and the natural state of one's mind as Buddha nature, then the grasping at the idea of a rope being a rope is dispelled. If you want to put this in a brief answer: yes, all suffering is meaningless.
Q: Why does ignorance happen?
R: It is because we don't recognise Buddha nature, our essence, and therefore we engender suffering. We don't understand the emptiness of phenomena.
Q: How does ignorance come about?
R: There is no beginning. You can't say that there is a point when I didn't have ignorance. Up until now I have had it. The whole of space is beginningless, endless. There is no beginning and no end. Some people have come up wth the big bang theory, that space becomes shortened, compressed. They call that space. But the Buddha has stated that that is not space, he doesn't describe space like that. The Buddha has said that space is unobstructed and permeates everywhere. If you want to persist with the big bang theory, the big bang has to happen within something, it has to have some kind of parameters to big bang in. If there aren't parameters, how can you big bang? Sentient beings are said to be like endless space, limitless.
Q: If there is no beginning, how can we hope for the end of suffering?
R: You can have no beginning and yet experience ending. For example, if you have a seed and you burn it, it won't give rise to a shoot. So, there is an end of samsara. There is no end to the nature of one's mind. If we eliminate impure perceptions or illusions, there is no need for us to travel around in samsara anymore. If you burn a seed, the ashes will not produce a shoot.
Q: Will there be a time when all sentient beings have gained enlightenment?
R: It is actually difficult, because sentient beings are limitless.
Q: How in everyday life can you see the purest self?
R: The best method is to understand the nature of emptiness of phenomena and to realize the nature of one's mind, the Buddha nature. I'm going to show you an example. Please look. Now I'm rolling the paper into a tube. First of all we train in realizing or understanding the nature of emptiness of phenomena. After that gradually we start to understand the nature of the mind. When one is practising the understanding of emptiness and the nature of mind, first one has little understanding of it. Then gradually one repeats the training again and again and then one's experience or understanding will become greater and greater.
This is an example of illusion. From beginningless time samsara has been evolving round and round like this: illusion, rebirth, samsara (the paper is rolled tightly). Holding into everything, grasping. Now we understand emptiness - it becomes a little bit looser (Rinpoche lets go of his grip from the roll which opens a little). Again one practises and one's realization becomes greater. (He pulls the roll into a plain sheet. When he lets go of his grip the paper rolls back into a roll.) When you go outside you lose it! Again you think: "Everything is emptiness." Then it becomes very vast. (He pulls the paper back into a sheet.) Then you drink a cup of tea. (Rinpoche lets go of his grip and the paper rolls up again.) Again you lose it. Every time you realize about emptiness it's a little bit better than before. (The paper starts to stay flat.) Again and again you practise until you reach enlightenment, complete buddhahood. Then one completely pacifies all the illusions.


By Venerable Tenzin Palmo
Transcription of Dharma Teaching given by Ven.Tenzin Palmo in Tasmania, Australia in July 2000.

We are all creatures of habit. We are all the creation of our upbringing, our environment and the general propaganda put out through the media, the government and through many different avenues. Everybody has habits and some habits are good ones. If we had to start anew every time we did something, we would be exhausted; apart from anything else, we wouldn't be able to cope with life! The fact that we have habits is how we are able to live. We know how to eat, comb our hair, shave or brush our teeth. For example, you didn't know how to brush your teeth the first time as a child and your mother taught you and so you learnt. Then you didn't think about it the next time. It became a habit. And everything that we do-- driving cars, taking photos or working on the computer-is a habit. We would experience insufferable exhaustion if most of what we did during the day wasn't routine and habitual.
If we think that we are basically evil and no good,
then of course we will cling to all these qualities which
seem to go along with this view of how unworthy we are.
When we talk about habits, it is of course understood that so much of what we do is something which we have already learnt before, and which has now become integrated into our bodily patterns so that the body knows what to do. It doesn't need much instruction from our mind. This is not a tirade against habits -- even old ones -- but some habits are detrimental, negative and counter-productive. When we are doing something with which we are very familiar, if we are not careful, we become half asleep like zombies when we do this action. If all our life is led on that plane, our life becomes extremely stale and boring: what we think of as dull routine. That's one of the problems with habits. The other problem is that some of our habits are, as I have said, very detrimental. We very rarely examine these; we rarely examine our habitual modes of thinking and responding. We say, "Oh, I am an angry person. I have always been angry since I was a kid. That's just the way I am." And we accept that. "When somebody annoys me, I flare up", or "I am naturally very possessive and jealous, that's just the way I am. I always was. Even when I was a kid, I wouldn't let other kids play with my toys", and so on: "I am naturally lazy", "I am naturally whatever….."
Usually, we think of the negative qualities. It's interesting how we cherish our negative qualities and cling to them as though they were something precious even while they cause ourselves and others so much harm and trouble. We do this for two reasons. One is that we are very lazy and don't really want to change. The other more profound reason is that we identify with these qualities; we identify with our habits and think that these are 'me' and that they are 'mine' even when these qualities are detrimental and do not serve us. We cling to all our faults and failings as much as to our virtues, (if not more than to our virtues) and think, "This is who I am".
I don't know how exactly this came about,
but the more
we believe in the cult of the individual,
the lower
the sense of self-worth.
Many people, especially in the West, do not like themselves. One of the reasons we don't like ourselves it seems, is that we identify with all the negativities within us. Even if we are not religious, we were brought up by our culture to think that somehow we are basically sinners, that we are basically evil, but that we can be redeemed by something outside ourselves. If we think that we are basically evil and no good, then of course we will cling to all these qualities which seem to go along with this view of how unworthy we are. It is a paradox that in the West we are so enslaved with the idea of the individual, the individual's freedom and the individual's right to do whatever s/he wants, yet along with this, we have an extremely low self-esteem; we think of ourselves as being so worthless, so useless and so hopeless. In the East where they are much more integrated with their families, their tribes, their caste and their societies, and where the individual has very little room to maneuver, they nonetheless have a very strong sense of dignity; the lowest Indian has a sense of inner dignity even if s/he is a beggar. So, it is an interesting paradox. I don't know how exactly this came about, but the more we believe in the cult of the individual, the lower the sense of self-worth.
Until we have loving kindness and compassion for ourselves,
we will never really have genuine loving kindness and compassion for others.
So, what can be done about this? In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there is a lot of talk about destroying self-cherishing. Therefore sometimes, when Westerners come to the Tibetan tradition, as a first step they are presented with this teaching on destroying the ego and the sense of 'me', 'mine' and 'I'. This is because the Tibetans on the whole are quite well-balanced and integrated. Because they have a strong sense of self-worth, they are very proud to be Tibetans. One of the reasons they have been able to thrive so successfully as refugees is that they do not feel inferior to anyone else on earth! But when you come to a culture like ours where ironically, we have such huge egos on the one hand and very fragile psyches on the other, it's more tricky. We appear to be more proud and superior in our attitudes than anyone else in the world, but it's a fragile veneer. Underneath and inside, it's all soft and squishy. It's not strong and firm. People are so sensitive underneath that armour. So, sometimes hitting away at self-cherishing with a sledge hammer doesn't work for Westerners.
One has to accept oneself and come to peace with oneself.
This is extremely important.
In the traditional Buddhist teachings on love and kindness, thoughts of 'may all beings be well and happy' are sent out in all directions. In some methods these loving thoughts are sent to the North, the East, the West and the South - then to all the intermediate directions and up and down. Or we start with someone we are very fond of and then extend that warm feeling to people to whom we are indifferent, then to the people we don't like and finally to the world at large. But in either case, the meditation starts with 'may I be well and ', 'may I be at peace', because until we have loving kindness and compassion for ourselves, we will never really have genuine loving kindness and compassion for others. We have to understand that we are also a sentient being. When we have love and kindness for all sentient beings, this includes oneself. And as this particular reborn being is the one we have the most responsibility for, we must have loving kindness for ourselves, which means self-acceptance. One has to accept oneself and come to peace with oneself. This is extremely important.

From the Buddhist point of view, certain things are going to be happening to us due to seeds which we have already planted in the past. How we respond to them is up to us -- if we respond to them in a skilful way, things go in one direction and if we respond in an unskilful way, things go in another direction. We mirror back what we are giving out. Therefore, we have a choice and we have freedom. We are not push-button machines. The more we really start to experience the moment and become present and aware in it, the more we start to wake up and stop being zombies, and the more we are able to bring in changes and more skilful responses instead of negative ones.
We can change.
In order to change, we need to start waking up.
We need to be conscious of what we are doing and not remain unconscious.
This is especially important in family life because people get so completely hung up in their habits that they hardly even see or hear each other any more. They just see a picture of something they knew years ago. Sometimes, staying with families is very illuminating. I don't have to be married, I just watch. How many families have lost communication? They are talking to each other but neither side is really hearing the other; they say one thing and come up with something else and the next thing you know, they are fighting - this happens again and again. It's like the same movie being played over and over. I often think it would be useful to have a video secretly placed there and played over to them just so they could see and hear themselves - that tone of voice, the same old tone of voice, the same old use of expression, the same old accusations. They are caught and trapped. But it doesn't have to be this way. We can change. In order to change, we need to start waking up. We need to be conscious of what we are doing and not remain unconscious.
So, there are good habits which we need in order to just carry on with our lives, yet if our whole life is given over to habits of non-thinking, of just carrying on saying the same old babble, thinking the same old tired thoughts, and doing the same old thing day after day - it is no wonder we are bored. No wonder life is meaningless and dull. We are asleep. We need to wake up; we need to be right here and now. We can do that. Everyone of us is perfectly capable of transforming our lives. Each one of us can transform our thoughts but no one can do it for us.
All of us can see things about ourselves which we do not like and so we think about what we can do about them. First of all, we have to be accepting. We have to recognize what is going on in our mind. We have to recognize our emotions, both the good emotions and the bad emotions. Bad emotions are those emotions which eventually, if not at present, bring unhappiness to ourselves and to those around us. They are like poison. They permeate everything good and poison it. In Buddhist practice, we recognise all the wrong that we have done, all the mistakes we have made and all the harmful things which we have done. We regret these and we are sorry. But after that, we rejoice in all the good in ourselves and all the good in all the other beings, because it's important not to just get caught up in all the wrong. We also have to acknowledge and take delight in what is good. There is a difference between arrogance and confidence. Of course, prideful arrogance is poison but a kind of confidence and sense of worth are very important for any task we intend to do. Always thinking that we are worthless, stupid, ignorant and incapable is not spiritually nourishing at all.
In the Buddhist context, there are three forms of laziness. First of all, there is rank laziness. While we should get up to meditate in the morning, we can't be bothered and turn around and go back to sleep. That's a very obvious one. It's just lazy laziness. Then, there is the laziness of thinking "I am unworthy and I cannot do this"; that lack of confidence in thinking, "other people can meditate but I will never be able to meditate. I have never been able to do anything with my life. I will never be able to accomplish anything. Oh, when I meditate, I just get thoughts. Other people can sit in deep samadhi but I'll never be able to do anything. I am just a stupid, worthless person, so why even bother?" Laziness, discouraging ourselves from even attempting the task. The third kind of laziness is being busy with worldly activities. That is shirking the task: "Of course, I like to meditate but I have to deal with my emails first." The fact is that we do everything we can to run away from facing ourselves and being with ourselves. One of the ways is to make ourselves very busy - even engaging in Dharma activities. We can be very busy on very virtuous things and feel very good about it and say, " I would really like to do some practice but I never have time because I am running a Dharma centre" or "I am taking care of this, or I am doing that." That is another form of laziness. We always find time to eat. We always somehow find time to sleep. How is it that we never find time to just sit and look inside?

We can only change if we ourselves make the determination. No one else can do it for us. We all have things in our lives which are not the way they should be. Many of these stem from our inner attitudes, attitudes which are outdated, which don't work, and which have never been of any use in the past. Why do we cling to them still? We know they are no use. We know if we change them, we would be much happier and freer. So why don't we change? The inertia of our spirit is enormous. Recently the Olympic Games were held in Australia. Think of those athletes and what they went through to be selected for the Olympic Games. They gave up everything for that: they changed their diets, they went to bed early, they got up early, they exercised. All day long they practiced and everything was given up for that. They were one-pointedly focused. Nothing else in the world was more important than this sport. But for what? To win a medal. And here we are offering enlightenment which will last forever and with the ability to benefit infinite beings throughout time, yet if I said, "get up half an hour earlier to practise", "Oh, I don't know about that. That's a bit difficult." We are lazy.
We say we want to be spiritually realized but only if somebody comes along and gives it to us. Some great guru has just to say the word, "Zap" and we are realized - how very nice. But each one of us has to do the work ourselves: nobody can do it for us. It will not be done until we see how important it is to do it. Until we see how our detrimental and negative emotions are destroying our own lives and the lives of those around us. To really understand that and stop blaming our parents, our society, the government, etc. It's nothing to do with that. It's to do with ourselves. Until we can transform inside, forget about the outside. Outside is samsara which by its very nature is suffering but Buddha Nature is inside us. Buddha Nature is completely pure. All these habits which seem so intractable, all these attitudes of "mine", all these physical, mental and verbal habits which we seem so addicted to and in which we seem so deeply entrenched are really just clouds. They are not the sky. They are not what we really are. They are our false identifications and therefore they can be changed, they can be transformed. There are ways.
First, we have to recognize, accept and then let them go. We can do this if we want to do it. If we don't really want to, then we won't. Everything is up to each one of us. The examples from the past are there, the examples in the present are here. The teachers are here, the books are here. Actually, there are no excuses but we all make excuses. The spiritual path is a path of freedom. It's a path which is difficult but at the same time with increasing freedom comes increasing joy.
First, we have to see how our habits arise. We cannot understand how habits arise until we look inside and see how our minds work. Usually we cannot change certain deep-rooted habits simply by an act-of-will. We also need insight into how all this comes about. When we see it very clearly, the habitual tendency might just drop away by itself and we don't have to do anything. But in the meantime, a little bit of self-control and discipline would help. However, in the end, one really has to see with wisdom the very deep-rooted quality of the mind. Wisdom is depicted as the sword because it cuts away at the roots. And this wisdom is not an intellectual wisdom but a genuine, very profound insight, a genuine seeing.
In the Buddhist tradition, there are two forms of meditation. One is called 'calm' or tranquility meditation. Sometimes, it's called calm-abiding meditation or Shamata. The other is 'insight meditation' or 'vipashyana'. When the Buddha left home, he went to study with two yogis. They taught him methods for getting into profound levels of what might be called a trance-- levels of very profound mental absorption in which there was no longer any kind of mental conceptualisation; there was neither perception or non-perception but infinite consciousness, infinite space. They were very high levels which, in his days, were regarded as being liberation. He attained those levels quite quickly but still, he thought, "This is not liberation." And so, he went back down to the first of these levels where there was still very subtle conceptual thinking. Based on that, he then turned that subtle conceptual thinking onto the analysis of the mind itself. In that way, he attained liberation.

There are stories in the early Indian epics of a rishi or sage who meditated for centuries in a cave with the result that his mind became very powerful. Then somebody would come along and disturb him. The fire from his third eye would flash out and immediately incinerate that unfortunate intruder because the rishi was so angry at being disturbed. Because he had been meditating for so many centuries, his anger was extremely powerful and zap, the person was burnt up! Or take somebody who has been meditating for centuries and who has built up enormous amounts of power. Meanwhile the Gods are worried that the sage will become more powerful than themselves, so they hold a conference. They decide to send down a beautiful, irresistible pink-footed nymph and the meditator opens his eyes, sees this absolutely gorgeous female and pounces on her and in the ensuing night of total bliss, all his energies, all his power is disseminated and exhausted. He drains out and in the morning he has to sit down and meditate for another few centuries to stir up the fire again.
What the story is saying is that even though one may be on a profound level of meditation when the mind is incredibly powerful, yet the underlying problems-- ill-will, anger, lust and greed-- are still there. They are just more powerful. So merely making the mind calm and still is not the answer. Traditionally, we start by learning to make the mind quiet, peaceful and one-pointed. Then we use that trained awareness to look at the mind itself.
The day-dreams and all the mental chatter that continually goes on are like the waves on the ocean of the mind. With the kind of mind which is churning constantly, we distort what we outwardly project. We misrepresent and we only see in accordance with our own impure vision. We don't perceive things carefully or correctly. We don't see what's really there. We see our version of what is there. Supposing that something happened right here, right now. Afterwards somebody comes and asks various people what happened. Depending on the number of people asked, that many different versions of what happened will be received. Everybody will have his own version of what took place depending on his/ her mental make-up, opinion, memory, so on and so forth. We all know of times when someone else is describing an event which happened previously and one is thinking, "No, it didn't happen like that. No, he didn't say that, he said this. It was like this, it wasn't like that." Because, we always have our own version and of course, we always think our version is the right one. This is because the waves of our minds are very disturbed. We do not see things as they really are.
Now, when the waves calm down, the surface of the ocean then becomes very smooth. When the surface becomes smooth, it reflects very accurately its surroundings. This is like a quiet mind. When the mind has really settled down and is one-pointed, it reflects very accurately what is happening on the outside. There is great clarity of awareness without the interpolation of thoughts and opinions, biases and prejudices or distraction. At the same time, if one looks into the mind itself when it is very clear and settled, one can look continually at the subtle levels of the consciousness which we normally cannot access because our mind is too busy. However the weeds and the mud are still there at the bottom of the lake. The negative emotions-our underlying ignorance, our ill-will, our greed, our envy and our pride-- they are still lying there in latent form but they are quiescent and we can imagine that they are gone. So sometimes, when people go into very blissful states, they think they are enlightened, they think that being blessed-out is liberation!
There was a woman in Nepal-- a very nice and intelligent woman who was always full of joy, peace and love. She was rather New Age and into alternative healing and so on. One lama used to call her the Bliss-Cloud. T hen she got a terrible disease-- I think she got cancer- and she came down from the bliss cloud and really began to face things properly. It's not all joy and love and bliss out there. However she improved a lot once she actually faced things. She became more grounded and began to face the things in her mind which she had never looked at before. It's very easy to think that we are half-way enlightened if we do a little bit of meditation and feel some peace and bliss. That's a big danger because some people meditate just in order to feel bliss and peace, which is a dead end.
To begin with it's very helpful to have a mind which is calm, centred and one-pointed. "One-pointed" means that if we want to meditate on this subject, this is all we think about. Normally, if we try to focus on the breath, we think of anything except the breath. But one-pointedness means that when we say "think of the breath", we only think of the breath and the other thought patterns become slower. They calm down and sometimes they disappear. The mind becomes balanced, strong, calm, peaceful and clear. This kind of mind becomes a perfect instrument for use in order to proceed further. In itself, a calm and clear mind is not the ultimate but it is extremely useful. Some people say that concentration is bad, that it is coercing and being brutal to the mind - I don't know what kind of concentration they ever did! Genuine concentration doesn't make the mind hard and rigid. It makes the mind very soft and pliable. It's like when we exercise-at first our muscles are stiff and ache a bit , but if we carry on exercising, with the correct kind of regime, gradually our body becomes very pliant. Our body becomes supple and the knocks, bangs and jolts which would normally hurt us may not injure because our body is now more supple. Likewise, with a mind which is well trained-- that mind is pliant, soft and supple. It's not rigid and because the mind is flexible, even if terrible things happen, one is able to deal with them without snapping. So this kind of mind- the mind which comes about through doing calm-abiding meditation-- is very important as an instrument, which we then use in deepening an understandingof the nature of the mind. It's a prerequisite, because in order to get into deeper levels of calm-absorption the mind actually has to be very balanced.
"... Genuine concentration doesn't make the mind
hard and rigid. It makes the mind very soft and pliable… "
Insight meditation, is for dismantling the ego, but we cannot dismantle the ego until we have a well-integrated ego to dismantle. If we have a very fragile ego and try to dismantle it, we can do more harm than good. So we start by becoming more centred, peaceful, lucid and present. A mind which is pliant and supple can be used any way we want. That kind of mind is a perfect instrument to be used for investigation. One high lama remarked that if we accomplish calm-abiding meditation, the whole of the Dharma is in the palms of our hands. But if we do any practice with a mind that is distracted, uncontrolled and untamed, it will bear very little fruit. The texts say that even if we recite mantras for a million years with a distracted mind, we would never get the results. But if we recite even a few mantras with one-pointed concentration, the results will appear very quickly. Why is this so? It's because when all the power of the mind is focused on one place, the energy isn't dissipated in a thousand different directions. This is a good thing because instead of being separated from the object, the mind is merged so that whatever we turn our attention to will succeed.
But in the meantime, even if we don't get that far, to have a mind which is quiet, and centred is beneficial. We are so scattered, we have no centre except the ego centre, which is not a real centre at all. To be really centred means to have inner space. To be quietly aware and not to be tossed here and there on the waves of our emotions, our thoughts, our memories, and our fantasies.
This whole question of learning how to get the mind quietened down, more concentrated and peaceful, is very important. I'm not saying that we have to sit in meditation for three hours at a time. Of course if we can sit for three hours that is very good, but if we can't do so much, then even a short time-- ten minutes a day-would be helpful. Normally, whenever we sit down, we are doing something: we are looking at the television, we are listening to music, we are reading a book, we are staring at the computer : anyway we are doing something. So this is a period of time in which we sit and in a very profound way, we are doing nothing. We just are. Instead of doing, we are just being. Who are we when we are not doing anything, not even thinking? So that's what it is all about. It's learning just how to be. How to be in this moment with a mind which is quiet and settled but very clear. It's not a dreamy state. It's a very alert and awake state. It's like we are waking up for the first time, and the mind becomes extremely alert. The awareness becomes radiant. If we are in a state which is ever so peaceful and blissful like lying on a cloud, dreamyand without clear awareness, then that's wrong. That's called sinking and if we continually remain like that in our meditation, it becomes a barrier and obstacle.
There are two main obstacles to meditation: one is drowsiness or sinking and the other is agitation or a distracted mind. A sinking mind is a mind that is peaceful and blissful and where we can remain for hours, but it's a very blank sort of state. Many people, when they try to meditate, just go to sleep or get into this kind of state. An acquaintance used to meditate on the edge of a deep well in order to avoid this. When he first started to practise, Milarepa, the great 11th century Tibetan yogi, used to meditate with a lighted butter lamp on his head because if one starts nodding off…... A friend of mine used the same idea: a very small bowl filled to the brim with water on her head. It's important not to get sleepy. Traditionally, it is said that we should meditate in a slightly cool place, wear light clothing, and not eat too much, so as not to make the mind sleepy. If we continue to be sleepy, we should go outside and look at the sky, or visualize a bright light at the centre of our forehead. There are many different ways to wake ourselves up.
".We all have difficulties when we start. Even the Buddha himself had problems in the beginning. Who does not? Our minds are undisciplined; they are wild…."
The other problem is having the mind racing with too many thoughts, too much mental chatter, too much distraction. In that case it is recommended that we eat a bit more, keep warm, or visualize a dark spot at the navel in order to settle down the mind. We could also try doing some physical exercise first-- prostrations or circumambulations and so on, to calm down the excess energy. Most of all it is essential to be patient and to persevere.
We all have difficulties when we start. Even the Buddha himself had problems in the beginning. Who does not? Our minds are undisciplined; they are wild. They are compared to a wild rampant elephant --not the nice tamed elephants we see in zoos and circuses but wild elephants who can be out of control and, when on the rampage, destroy so many trees. The Buddha said that our mind was like a wild elephant. Sometimes, he said, it was like a drunken wild elephant in rut-- you get the idea. Sometimes, the Buddha also compared the mind to a monkey. A monkey in a tree is always jumping up and down, totally restless and never still for a minute. If you watch monkeys in the wild, they spend most of their time fighting with each other, copulating, trying to steal things, or just jumping around mindlessly. Really, the human condition mirrored!
Everybody has much the same problem; everybody has a difficult mind. If it's not one thing, it's another. Nobody ever just sat down and entered a deep meditative state. Those who can meditate now can do so because they persevered and had patience. Suppose we want to play a Beethoven sonata: nobody, not even Beethoven or Mozart, could, from the very beginning, sit down and play a sonata. Everybody has to start by learning finger exercises. At the beginning when we start with the scales, our fingers are stiff and we hit all the wrong notes. But if we say that shows we are not a musician and we give up-- "Other people can play sonatas but me, I can't even play a simple exercise, so it is no use trying" -and we give up - then we are never going to play, are we? But if we persevere, day after day after day, our exercises get easier. Our fingers learn how to hit more right keys than wrong keys. Everything becomes supple and gradually, with patience and perseverance, in the end we are playing the sonata. We know all this to be so on a mundane level.
Why is it that we are so lazy and make so many excuses for ourselves when it comes to spiritual things? I know many people who have started meditating. They meditated a week or two and they still had thoughts, and so they gave up! How unrealistic! The essence of good practitioners is that they go on. They don't give up, they just carry on. They have great patience and great perseverance, and that's what wins in the end-not the spiritually brilliant ones who can do all sorts of wonderful things in the beginning but then get bored and go on to something else after a while. It's the people who plod along and who keep trying and trying and never give up who win in the end. Believe me.
Nobody can do it for you. Just something very simple like being with the breath-- breathing in, breathing out- - that's all.
The Buddha got enlightened through breath meditation. We think that it has to be something very difficult, very esoteric and something very special. But it's so simple. The problem is that we don't do it. We are always waiting for someone to do it for us. Keep the mind on this one point in a very relaxed way, not in a tightly controlled way. If we have a wild horse, there are two ways of dealing with it. We can either beat the horse into submission; cause it to cower until in the end we bend it to our will because it is a broken spirited hack. Or we can start to tame the horse by gently bringing it onto our side so that eventually it cooperates. We feed it with things that it likes. Slowly, we bring out the rope but talk to it nicely and we reassure the horse very gently that you are not going to harm it, that you are going to help it. Then gradually, the horse becomes confident and ceases to fear the trainer. In the end, the horse accepts the discipline, it accepts the training; it begins to enjoy it and work with the trainer.
In the same way with meditation, we can seek to control the mind. We can say to the thoughts, "I am not going to think anymore. I am really going to concentrate." We can do it: we can suppress the thoughts. It could be that the mind could get quite powerful doing that. But if we are not careful it will be a very hard and rigid mind -- especially if we sit for a very long time in the beginning when we don't want to sit-- this can arouse a great aversion to sitting. Some people go through meditation courses where they have to sit for three hours at a time right from the beginning and end up never wanting to go for another meditation session in their life. Other people who have the aptitude for this kind of intense regime can sit through and really get to like it. It depends on the person.
Our meditation period
should be the highlight of the day.
It should not be another burden
into which we have to force ourselves.
On the whole, what we are trying to do is not coerce or force the mind, but encourage the mind to cooperate. When we are reading a fascinating book or watching an interesting movie, we don't have to tell the mind, "Now, concentrate." We are there engrossed in the book or in the movie, and we get very upset if someone disturbs us. The mind is completely focused, merged and concentrated. The mind can do that. The mind has that capacity if it is interested in what it is doing. Scientists, mathematicians or musicians --anyone who is really interested in what s/he is doing--don't have to be forced to concentrate. So with meditation, we must also use the mind skillfully so that we are not forcing the mind.
We are helping the mind to cooperate. This is not so easy because a pebble is not as fascinating as a good book or a good movie, and watching our breath, after a while-- same old breath in and out-can get a bit stale and boring, although of course it's not the same old breath.
We have to be very skilful and one way is initially to keep the period of meditation fairly short. Then when the mind begins to get tired, to stop for a short space and start again while mind is still interested. If we stop while the mind is still enjoying being quiet, then the mind will remember that and be inclined to start again. If we go on for too long to the point where we are really fed-up and tired, the mind remembers that subtle aversion and will not want to sit again. So it is very important to encourage and work with the mind so that the mind enjoys meditation. Our meditation period should be the highlight of the day. It should not be another burden into which we have to force ourselves. This is the one time when we are alone with our own mind; this is the time when we can really go inside instead of always looking outside. This is very precious time, and we must cultivate the attitude of really appreciating this opportunity to go inwards and become more centred.
Sometimes, people take on so many commitments and try to meditate for so long that it become an extra stress in their lives instead of being a cure for their stress.