WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS. Regardless of one's past, regardless of whether one is born male or female, high class or low, once one is born human, one certainly has the capability to understand and realize the profound wisdom, intellect, and compassion that is within everyone. But although we all have that capability, we need a method whereby we can first recognize, and then understand, and then develop and realize our wisdom. Those who have already done this are known as enlightened beings. Those who have not yet recognized that capacity and wisdom are known as sentient beings.
We know that there are enlightened beings, or bodhisattvas, who have manifested extraordinary and superior qualities. They perform miracles and seem to have a strength and capacity for understanding very much beyond our capacity as ordinary, sentient beings. But actually, their capability does not surpass ours, because we have the same extraordinary abilities that seem to not be possible within ourselves. So what we first need to learn is how to unfold that capability, that potential, which is very much within ourselves.

Having understood this, one might ask, "Since we have this capability for wisdom and quality within ourselves, sooner or later won't we just gradually attain enlightenment naturally?"
Now, the unfolding of our wisdom, and the purification of the obscurations of mind, does not happen on its own. Throughout beginningless time in the past we have taken uncountable births, but, not having applied the method to unfold the wisdom and remove the obscurations, we are at present still sentient beings. Likewise, regardless of how many births we will take in the future, if we do not apply the method we will remain sentient beings. Therefore it is essential for each one of us to try, no matter which teaching we hear, to apply that teaching to our daily practice, and to apply it practically to our lives.
The Buddha, the enlightened being himself, said in his teachings, "I cannot take up the suffering of all living beings with my hands, nor can I bestow my wisdom, my realizations, into the hands of sentient beings. The taking of that suffering and the giving of that wisdom is not possible. What I can do instead is teach the method to attain enlightenment without a single mistake." And having taught this immaculate teaching perfectly, the Buddha said, "Whether one is now able to attain complete liberation and an end to suffering, and experience the total development of one's wisdom, will depend on the individual's effort in his or her practice." So, even though two students may be getting the same revealed teachings, one of them could be developing faster, owing to superior diligence and capacity to grasp the meaning of the teachings.

What the Buddha was talking about when giving the immaculate stainless teaching--the literal translation is "the method"--was a method in three stages. The first method is for the beginner. The second method is for one who has already begun and made some advances, and the third stage is very advanced. There is a method for each stage. Each is necessary and builds upon the other. As we begin life our capacity is only that of an infant, a child. As we grow into adulthood, our capabilities and capacities grow too, and we build on what we have learned. Then we grow elderly, and we have the greater experience and wisdom of a lifetime with which to understand. One must progress through the steps of the method in the same manner
There are people, however, who feel that they are very inferior. Because of this, they feel they should remain within the beginning method of practice throughout their lives. There are also certain people who think they should only practice at the highest level of teachings. Neither is possible. When you are completely new, you need to introduce yourself into the practice, learn the Dharma. So therefore, you are a beginner. Having learned about the Dharma, you then go to the second stage. You cannot remain at the first stage forever. Likewise, when you have understood greater knowledge in the second stage, you go to the third stage. One cannot remain at the beginners stage throughout one's life. Likewise, one cannot start at the top and begin from the third stage. We all have to follow the system to build our capacity to understand. The image here is of building a house. We would like to finish the house so much that we would like to put on the roof first. But without the walls, without the foundation, we cannot put the roof up on its own. Therefore, we have to begin with the foundation, then put up the walls, then the roof.

Now the next question arises: How do we practice the method? We need to approach each teaching with three different attitudes: first by listening, or hearing, second by contemplation, third by meditation.
So first we have to hear the teachings. This does not mean that we must first hear all the teachings of Buddhism, which would obviously take a very long time. What is actually meant is that we must hear and accept whatever teaching we have heard, and apply it to ourselves. How does one accept a teaching that one has heard? You accept it as if you were a sick person accepting the medicine a doctor prescribes. You simply take that medicine. If you first had to study about medicine itself before accepting any, then maybe your sickness would become incurable before you finished studying. What is necessary here is to listen to the teachings that are given and to apply them as much as possible to your daily life and practice.
The second step is contemplation, or reflection. To contemplate or reflect on the teaching that you have heard is essential, because when you are reflecting upon what you have heard, you are keeping it fresh in your memory. This helps when you are practicing, because you remember everything. If you miss the contemplation stage, then you would be like a child who has been taken to see an entertainment. That child has enjoyed the entertainment very much, but has not kept anything in mind. He has forgotten what came first, second, third, in order, although he remembers he enjoyed it all. In time he forgets the events also. We should not let ourselves forget the teachings we have heard because we did not contemplate and reflect upon them after we heard them.

Yet listening to the teachings and then contemplating their meaning is still not sufficient. We need to practice. The third stage is actually to put into practice what we have heard and what we have contemplated. Meditation is putting into practice. Its like learning to cook. You may have learned from a great chef what to cook, how to prepare it , have a good description of what cooking is. But as you have never cooked in actuality, you may be starving to death anyway. What you have learned from the chef has not been of benefit to you, because you are not practicing it. You have to cook to enjoy the meal, and that is the practice.
To experience the qualities, the wisdom and knowledge, that grow within ourselves, to enjoy them, we have to actually meditate, we have to actually practice. Now, many people think that meditation is only for beginners. They think that once you are in the advanced level you may not need the meditation. Meditation is necessary for both beginners and advanced beings. It is an essential part of the spiritual quest.

Meditation has been misrepresented in the Western world. The term alone causes many people to get discouraged. Their understanding of meditation is that they must do it in a completely isolated place, under a tree or in a cave, and starve to death. They think that to meditate means to give up everything: family, house, possessions, wealth. With that conception in mind, the term meditation simple scares the wits out of them. But it is not true. Meditation does not mean that you have to give up everything. The method to unfold wisdom is practicing, and integrating the practice into our daily or worldly activity. That is meditation. Then slowly and gradually our spiritual strength and wisdom develops.
As we develop our qualities within, our virtues, then naturally we detach from worldly matters; we detach effortlessly from our material possessions and wealth. That detachment happens very naturally, as our inner qualities develop. We do not have to force ourselves to give up anything. It happens effortlessly, like winter yields to summer. As we develop our inner qualities, we will shed our possessions as easily as we shed our heavy winter clothes when the season changes to spring. We take off our coats and no longer need them. As the heat of summer comes, we shed our sweaters, effortlessly. Likewise, when our inner development allows it, we will effortlessly give up possessions and wealth. As if we were going from a hostile country to a friendly, favorable one, there is no hesitation on our part to leave the one and go toward the other, more appealing one. Likewise, once we have developed the Inner qualities, then we have no hesitation about giving up worldly things. It actually happens by itself.

All that happens, all the changes that one experiences, are very pleasant. There is no unpleasant experience at all, because it is happening along with one's inner development. Without it, giving up things is very unpleasant. Take the example of the Tibetan refugees who, without any choice, had to leave their mother country. Because they were very attached to their land, and they were driven out of it, but had not developed sufficiently their inner qualities, the change from Tibet to India was very much unfavorable and unpleasant. Bun with the development of inner qualities it is not like that. It is very pleasant.
Again, when we speak about the practice, many people think that it leads to mental problems. They think that all practitioners are lunatics. Since people are not really willing to become crazy, they hesitate to practice. They also think that meditation will separate them from worldly success, as well as causing mental problems that will keep them from spiritual success. Actually, I assure everyone that if you depend upon a teacher and practice, it will never lead you to any mental problems at all. But again, nothing in the world is impossible. [Laughter] If you try it on your own, without a lama, or teacher, or if you are learning only through pieces of paper, a book, it may possibly lead to problems.
For example, say you have read an excellent book about a fascinating land that you immediately want to go to. You start walking toward where you think the book said this wonderful land was to be found. You could, however, be walking in a completely wrong direction, yet it is impossible for the book to speak up and correct your path. Practicing on your own could similarly lead you to the wrong path. What you have to do is, having read about this fascinating land, try to get some information from someone who has already been there. You obtain the directions, you get the guidance, and then nothing goes wrong. You can get to that marvelous land. The teacher's guidance is necessary. One cannot really practice on one's own.

Again, meditation does not conflict with worldly activities or worldly success. In fact, meditation helps the individual to be successful in worldly activities as well as spiritual ones. Through meditation we learn how to relax, to have mental peacefulness, tranquility. Through having learned how to maintain this peacefulness of mind, we are better able to deal with the hectic life of the world. Meditation also helps because of the wisdom we develop through the practice, and of course, wisdom is necessary in every activity. So, by practicing the method and developing your bodhicitta, realized beings say that you then become "the darling of the world."
Let me repeat that. Having developed bodhicitta, here meaning peacefulness of mind and an altruistic attitude, you then become the darling of the whole world. Not of just one person, or two; when you are the darling of the whole world you are loved by everyone. And that is being very successful indeed.

Again, meditation teaches you how to relax and how to develop peacefulness in your mind. With this peacefulness also comes a happy and joyful frame of mind. Because you now have this inner peace and joyfulness, you are able to deal with others without any frustration, without any aggression, and always keeping your happy state of mind. When others experience you without any aggression, with a happy state of mind, they automatically like your atmosphere, they like your presence. You become liked by all beings.
Developing the bodhicitta brings happiness not only to you but to those around you also. Mental peacefulness does lead you to do everything better. You are more willing to listen to the problems of others, and better able to help them. When you are depressed or upset, if someone tries to share their problems with you, you are unable to listen to them. You may even become angry at them for talking to you, and say hot words that will hurt the other person. Yet when your mind is peaceful and happy, this would never happen. Also, if you have a job to do, with a peaceful mind you can do it without any mistakes. Mental peace and tranquility are necessary in our worldly activities and in everything.

Many people expect the result of meditation to come in a short space of time, overnight, so to speak, but this is not possible. It is a process of development wherein consistency is the key. If you practice every day, even for a short period of time, regularly, that is adding to your development. If you practice many hours a day for a while, and then forget to practice for months, there is no development at all. It is like getting somewhere in Tibet, where there are no cars, buses, or trains: you have to go by foot. If you begin walking and keep walking, even if it is at a very slow pace, sooner or later you will be at your destination. If you run in spurts and take long rests, then run and jump again toward your destination, you are more likely to break your ankle and never get to where you want to go.
If we keep practicing, there is a certainty that we will arrive. Qualities develop within ourselves. It is what is called meditation experience. Again, it cannot happen overnight. It is like being born an infant and growing up gradually. We cannot be born a fully grown human being, we have to be patient and experience as we grow. We do know for sure that once we are born, we will grow up into a completely grown person. Likewise if we keep on practicing meditation regularly, we will certainly grow within as a result of the practice.

So this is a short introduction to the wonderful qualities we all have within ourselves, and to the correct method to unfold those qualities. The method includes hearing teachings, contemplating the instruction you have obtained, practicing meditation, and getting fruition, the results of our practice. Along the way we find the method helps in every part of our lives as we continue toward the greater result, complete enlightenment.

Taken from a teaching given by the Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra on April 25, 1986. Translated by Chojor Radha. Edited by Andrea Price.