A commentary & teaching by Dr. Ringu Tulku
Samye Dzong Barcelona, 1999 / 2000
Transcription Keith Carr – first editing Corinne Segers
Table of Contents
About Jamgön Kongtrul and Pema Nyinje Wangpo
The promise to write
The actual teaching
The three points
1. The practice of the preliminaries
2. The actual practice
The Nine essential points
4. Single-minded application
8. Pith instructions
9. Guru Yoga
The Sutrayana and Vajrayana
1.Clearing the Doubts
3.View, meditation, action & result
4.Reversing the attachment to appearances taken as real
5.Difference between creation & completion stages
6.Equal validity of the two stages
II. Meditation according to Sutra
III. Meditation according to Tantra
IV. Secret, pith instructions
We will go through a book called ‘Creation and Completion – Essential Points of Tantric Meditation’ by Jamgön Kongtrul the Great.
It’s a very compact teaching, giving in a few words a very large amount of information on the teachings and practice of Vajrayana.
Vajrayana is not something separate from the rest of the Buddhist tradition. The Vajrayana fully accepts all the teachings of the Shravakayana and the Mahayana as its very basis. There is no Vajrayana without these teachings. One cannot practise the Vajrayana without practising the Shravakayana and the Mahayana. Therefore, from that point of view - and this is important to understand - the Vajrayana is not something different from the Shravakayana and the Mahayana, it includes all these teachings, but in addition, it has many different methods.
Actually, when we talk about three yanas – or three vehicles – there are two ways of defining them: one is from the Mahayana perspective and the second is from the Vajrayana perspective.
The Mahayana defines the three yanas as the Shravakayana, the Pratyekabuddhayana and the Mahayana. Each yana gathers teachings of the Buddha suited to a certain type of people. The Shravakayana is the “Vehicle of those who listen”. A ‘Shravaka’ is someone who listens, who abides by the rules, who is willing to follow a discipline and feels more comfortable in a group. The Pratyekabuddhayana is the “Vehicle of the buddhas by themselves.” A ‘Pratyekabuddha’ is someone who is very intelligent and resourceful, but also very individualistic, proud and even arrogant. He refuses to follow a teacher and prefers to find his own way through a trial and error process by relying on his intelligence. The Mahayana is also sometimes called the Bodhisattvayana.
The Mahayana type of person is very compassionate and courageous. He wants to benefit other beings as well as himself and he is ready to take initiatives and responsibilities in order to do that. He is kind-hearted and has leadership qualities.
From the Vajrayana point of view, Shravakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana are considered as one and are sometimes called the Hinayana, Mahayana is the second yana and Vajrayana the third.
The Vajrayana type of person is someone who is very compassionate, very gifted and impatient. He wants to use the shortest, fastest and most powerful way so as to be able to benefit other beings as quickly as possible.
So this text is an introduction to the Vajrayana practice.
Of course, this is an explanation meant for beginners, as the title of the text itself indicates: “The Essential Points of Creation and Completion that will benefit the Beginner who has entered the Path”.
And this book has been translated very nicely into English by Sarah Harding.I met her in America in 1999 and she told me that she had worked about five yearson that translation, working on it over and over again. So it’s the result of hard work and it’s a very good translation.
I also have here with me a commentary on this text by Surmang Pema Wangyal, but I don’t know how much of that commentary we will use.
To begin with, as is usual in all Tibetan texts, this text is categorised into three sections.
Most teachings are given in this way and, usually, any Buddhist practice is also done following what we call the 'three noble principles': good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end. The good aspiration, the right motivation corresponds to what is good in the beginning. The non-conceptual meditation is what is good in the middle, and the dedication of one's practice to all sentient beings is what is good in the end. Without these three elements a practice is not complete, even if it's a very short one. In this context, good in the beginning corresponds to the first section, the reason why the author started to write this book. Good in the middle is the actual teaching, the root text, and good in the end is the conclusion and dedication.
The first section is called ‘The homage’, followed by the ‘Promise to compose’. In the traditional Indian and later on Tibetan way, the author always first pays a homage and then makes a commitment to compose the teachings. In the Indian Buddhist tradition, the homage is regarded as very important. It is said that if someone is very bright, he should be able to understand the whole book just by reading the homage. The homage is usually written in such a way that it more or less gives the gist of the whole teaching. It is therefore the most difficult thing to understand, because it is so compact and concise.
The homage here is to Pema Nyinje Wangpo. It says:
I bow to Pema Nyinje Wangpo
Inseparable from the Lake-born Vajra, who manifests
The infallible absorption of bliss-emptiness, steady and everlasting,
Emanating and resolving in a hundred ways.’
Jamgön Kongtrul and Pema Nyinje Wangpo
Pema Nyinje Wangpo was one of the main teachers of Jamgön Kongtrul the Great. Jamgön Kongtrul was born in the early 19th century, I think it was 1813, in a very small hamlet near a Bönpo village. In Tibet, we have two faiths. The original religion in Tibet was called Bönpo. The Bönpo can be called a shamanistic religion but it changed a lot with the passing of time and its contacts with Buddhism. The present Bönpo is almost Buddhist. Their lamas wear the same robes and do everything the Buddhist lamas do. At a very early age, Jamgön Kongtrul was sent to the Bönpo monastery where he learned Bönpo rituals as well as reading, writing and some grammar at which he was very good. He learned how to make tormas and perform all the rituals. He also learned sculpture with a sculptor who was working at the monastery and he became quite good at it. He was very bright, picking up things extremely quickly.
The local chief noticed him and thought that such a bright boy should not be wasted. So he sent him to the Nyingma monastery of Shechen, where a very learned lama called Ontrul, Shechen Ontrul, lived at that time. His real name was Thutop Namgyal. Jamgön Kongtrul studied there and became very learned in all fields, including Sanskrit and all different aspects of Buddhist and Tibetan studies. However, the local chief was a devoted disciple of Situ Rinpoche and he had sent the child to Shechen monastery for education, not to stay there forever. So when he had finished his education, he sent Jamgön Kongtrul to Palpung, which was a Kagyupa monastery. Soon, he made a very good connection with Pema Nyinje Wangpo, who was the ‘Palpung’ Situ Rinpoche at that time.
When Jamgön Kongtrul first arrived at Palpung, Situ Rinpoche was absent as he had gone to Lhasa. When he came back, Jamgön Kongtrul wrote a kunzang korlo, which is a kind of poem that you can read in different ways, or that can take a particular shape, for instance the form of a vase, a fish, a lotus, and so on. It’s a kind of word-game. He wrote a very nice one and, when Situ Rinpoche came back, he offered it to him as a welcome present. Situ Rinpoche then told him that he had had such a nice dream the previous night and that this was the sign that he would become a very useful person. He took him as a close disciple and gave him lots of teachings.
A little later, the 14th Karmapa, who had been recognised by the 9th Situpa, needed somebody to teach him Sanskrit, Tibetan and poetry. Pema Nyinje sent Jamgön Kongtrul, who was at that time in his mid-twenties, to teach the Karmapa. It was there, while he was with the Karmapa, that he wrote this text. Jamgön Kongtrul was so learned and so special that one of the main lamas in the Karmapa’s camp asked him to write a book on how to practice the kyérim and dzogrim meditation stages. So Kongtrul replied “OK – write down what I say.” So this lama took a pen and sat down, and Kongtrul just dictated what is now the text we are studying. This book was written when he was 27 years old.
As the 9th Situpa Pema Nyinje Wangpo was one of his root gurus, he addressed this homage to him.
The Situpas were always recognised as emanations of Guru Padmasambhava and this is why he says ‘Inseparable from the Lake-born Vajra, Guru Tsokyé Dorje’. One of the names of Padmasambhava is Tsokyé Dorje, which means ‘lake-born Vajra’. Guru Padmasambhava is so called because he was supposed to have been born from a lotus flower in the middle of a lake. A terma teaching, the ‘Lama Gongdu’, which was found by Sangyé Lingpa in the 14th century, also very clearly predicts all the Situpas (including the present Situpa) giving their names and revealing them to be the emanations of Guru Padmasambhava. So here it says that Pema Nyinje Wangpo is inseparable from or the same as Guru Padmasambhava. Then he describes Guru Padmasambhava as ‘the infallible absorption of bliss-emptiness, steady and everlasting, emanating and resolving in a hundred ways’. The Tibetan text says:
Tak den yong su drup pa za may chi / De tong ting dzin go gya dro du la / Nampar rolpa ts’o chyé dorjé dang / Yermé Péma Nyinjé wangpor du
This is difficult to translate, of course. Now tak (rTag) means ‘lasting’, ‘everlasting’. Den (brTan) means ‘steady’ – everlasting and steady. Yong su drup pa za may chi de tong ting dzin means ‘infallible absorption of bliss-emptiness, steady and everlasting’. It talks about Guru Padmasambhava’s state of being in terms of the three kayas.
‘Everlasting’ sometimes refers to the form, the body, the nirmanakaya form. In Buddhism - and it may seem very strange at first glance - we sometimes talk about impermanence and sometimes we talk about permanence. Sometimes we say everything is impermanent, sometimes we say everything is permanent - like a madman! This I think we should explain. Usually, in Buddhist practices and teachings, we always emphasize and try to understand impermanence. That's because we have to understand the relative truth. In the relative truth, everything changes continuously. If we don't understand that, we get into lots of problems because we always expect things to last and be permanent, whereas they change momentarily. But then, in some Vajrayana teachings, we also talk about the Dharmakaya type of permanence, the Sambhogakaya type of permanence and the Nirmanakaya type of permanence. When we talk about the three kayas, we are actually discussing the nature of our mind. At its most basic, pristine and subtle level, our mind - or our consciousness - is described from the point of view of the three kayas. If we try to find out what is this root level of our mind, we can't find anything tangible, anything to hold on to. This ungraspable aspect is called the Dharmakaya. But although we can't grasp anything, its nature is luminous, which means it is aware. This quality of luminosity, this awareness is called the Sambhogakaya. And from this clarity, lots of things appear and these manifestations never stop. The continuity of these arisings is the Nirmanakaya aspect. When we talk about permanence, then we say that tulku, the nirmanakaya is permanent because of its continuity – “Tulku gyun mi che pe takpa. Lungku gyun gyi takpa. Chöku ngowo nyi kyi takpa.” The nirmanakaya never stops, never discontinues. When one gets enlightened, it is not the end. The enlightened consciousness continues and emanates for the sake of all sentient beings. Because these manifestations are continuous, therefore we can say the nirmanakaya is permanent. The sambhogakaya is permanent because there is a 'continuous continuum'. Is there any difference between these two? Anyway, that’s what is said. And then the dharmakaya is permanent because it is by nature permanent. It is not a thing that you can hold on to and so there is nothing that could be destroyed or nothing that could be changed, therefore it is permanent by its own nature.
Because Guru Padmasambhava has realized this, he attains the meditation or state of being which is emptiness and bliss, or ‘bliss-emptiness’ as it is written here. Bliss-emptiness is what you experience when you understand the way things really are. In one way you can call it emptiness, in another you can call it permanent, but not in the sense of something that you’d need to hide, protect or hold on to. So therefore it is complete bliss. Bliss means there is no more struggle, no more necessity to run after or away from something. Because you understand the way things are, there you are! Would you call it permanent, or would you say it’s impermanent? It doesn’t make any difference, because there is nothing you can hold on to. You have no need to hold on to anything, no need to be afraid of anything, no need to run away from anything, no need to secure anything. You understand emptiness and therefore you experience bliss, because you have freed yourself from every kind of aversion. You experience the complete, infallible bliss-emptiness. And that understanding of bliss-emptiness is also one of the main practices in Vajrayana.
This is why Jamgön Kongtrul says he prostrates to Guru Padmasambhava, the lake-born vajra, who has actualised this state of realisation, and who is inseparable from his guru, his teacher, Situpa Pema Nyinjé Wangpo.
The promise to write
The commitment, the promise to write, follows the homage and this is the English translation:
In the face of these disturbing times,
an ordinary stupid person like myself becomes exhausted
trying to explain the deep and vast meaning!
Nevertheless, my vajra friend has implored me
and maybe it would help a few fools like me.
So I rely only on the blessings of the glorious guru,
and speak freely without reservation.
So what he says is that in these disturbing or degenerate times, people’s negative emotions become stronger and more uncontrollable, aggression, greed and problems increase. This makes it difficult to achieve peace in society or in the mind. Everybody is busy running mainly after material things and after their own concerns. The people who have the time, the energy or the interest to practise a spiritual path are few. Kongtrul Rinpoche says that, in this kind of time, it’s not very useful for an ordinary stupid person like himself to talk too much. By saying this, Jamgön Kongtrul is kind of belittling himself. In Asia, there is a tradition of humbling oneself that goes completely contrary to the modern way of showing off. Nowadays, everybody should say he’s the greatest and never lose an opportunity to display all he has studied and done. If you behaved like that in the old days, people would become very suspicious about you, thinking, “Why is he boasting like that? He’s probably not that good if he says so much!” The less you said, the more humble you were, the more people would think, “Oh, he must be really something!” There’s a saying in Tibetan that goes something like “the more learned, the more humble.”
So, now that people are only after their own purposes and not really interested in theDharma, teaching is difficult and may be just a waste of time. If he’s talking at all, it’s only because his friend, his vajra friend, has asked him to do so. In Vajrayana, a vajra friend or brother/sister is somebody with whom you have received the same teachings from the same teacher, or with whom you have studied the same teachings, or someone who practises in the same lineage. It is considered a sacred link that should never be damaged. So, because of his vajra friend’s request, he accepted to write, hoping that it might also help “a few fools like him”. That’s what he says. So he relies on the glory and blessings of his gurus to ensure that it is beneficial.
And this shows, in a way, how much devotion and trust Jamgön Kongtrul had in his guru, his teacher. Most real practitioners rely completely on their spiritual teacher when doing certain things. I think it’s a way of being natural. If you think that, “Well, I shall just write whatever comes with the blessings of my guru”, then you are not making too much effort, you are not creating too much tension. When you completely relax,
The blessings is to let yourself be free, not creating tension. There are enough tensions already. Not trying too much, not straining, not struggling, just letting be. We also hear that many great writers used to do the same, isn’t that right? I’ve heard that Wordsworth, the poet from the Lake District, used to write one poem every day and when inspiration failed him, he would just lay in his bathtub and play with paper boats, and then the poetry would come. So it’s a way of relaxing, of being natural and free, I think that’s very important when
It is one of the main practices in Vajrayana to bring the blessings, the wisdom, from the jnanasattva (or whatever we call it) to come into ourselves. It can’t be done by struggling; pulling it or wrestling with it. The more relaxed and the more tension-free you become, the more that happens. So therefore the only thing that’s necessary is to have this confidence, this understanding or perhaps ‘know-how’, so that when you need it, you can just lie back, relax and let things happen.
2. The Actual Teaching
Now we come to the actual teachings, and these have been categorised into three points.
The first is: Ngöndrö go ne du gui sa bön tar tri wa chö tsul, which means to cut off the root of the poisons through the practice of the preliminaries.
The second point is: Ngo shi go ne men gyi shing sa tar nyam su len tsul, which means that the main practice is like cultivating a field of medicinal plants.
Then the third point: Je chi go ne kha ting gui tru gu tar nyam tsaljö tsul dang sum le, which means, after that, having understood, the practice, how to do it is to exercise like the Garuda chick. It is said that, when the Garuda chick hatches, it immediately has the power to fly. However, as it doesn’t know exactly how, it has to exercise a little bit. So that’s the example: you know how to practise but in order to exercise this understanding or experience, you have to put it into use in your daily life.
So these three points, on which the text is based, indicate how to prepare for the practice, how to do the actual practice, and how to integrate this practice into our daily life.
First Point: the preliminaries
This is the preliminary, how to cut off the root of the poisons, which is very brief.
You now have the precious opportunity of human life, so difficult to find;
not just as an ordinary person, but one who has encountered the Dharma
and been accepted by a teacher, the personal appearance of the Buddha,
you can seek the most profound quintessence of dharma and choose the finest from
among the gurus.
While you have this chance, and all conditions conducive to Dharma have accrued,
even if you do not achieve others’ benefit, at least practice for your own sake.
Otherwise, at the time of death, and that time is uncertain,
there is nothing whatsoever that can help other than the Dharma.
Even the wealth of a universal monarch just gets left behind on the death bed.
Positive and negative actions adhere to the consciousness,
and not knowing what to do, even regret won’t help.
From this very moment on, without delay,
you must strive to practice virtue with body, speech, and mind.
This is more or less about what we call the 'Four Ordinary Foundations', or the ‘Four Thoughts that turn the mind toward the Dharma”, namely the precious human life, impermanence, samsara and karma, a traditional Tibetan Buddhist way of exercising our mind to take a fresh look at our life and see what kind of situation we are in. Actually, in a way, it is meant to really, completely, convince us, to show us why we should practise the Dharma. That’s the main understanding here.
I think most of you have heard of the preliminaries, so maybe it’s not necessary to go too much into details. But - and this has to be understood in the beginning, or as a background - the main understanding is that if we are all looking for real satisfaction, real peace and joy, not a temporary happiness but something of a deeper and more lasting nature, then that cannot come from anything outside. We can see more or less that no external condition, be it wealth, fame, even friends, can be a main, a real source of total contentment, total peace and joy. This can only arise from within ourselves. And the aim of the Dharma practice is precisely that: to develop lasting peace and joy from within. To know this is very important because we are always trying to get happiness, to find something that will give us peace, joy and satisfaction, but most of the time, the very process of trying to secure happiness actually makes us more miserable. When something goes wrong in our life, we usually think that if we could only do this or that, get this or that right, then everything would be alright and we would live happily ever after, like in children stories. In the Tibetan stories, they put it like this: "The happiness and joy rose to the sky, the smoke of burned butter mixed with the clouds, the river carried away all the leaves and dust of unhappiness, and nothing wrong happened ever after."
We always think that if we had a good friend, or a good companion, that would make us happy. But the very process of getting or maintaining this nice relation is actually making us completely tense, anxious and unhappy.
Most of the time, we behave in such a way that the process of getting what we want defeats its own purpose. The problem is not so much outside as in our own minds, in the way we react. That’s the samsaric state of mind, the samsaric way of behaving, and that’s not the right way. It is important to understand what it is we really want, what it is we are really looking for, and then to be able to work for that. This is the main teaching. Usually, we are very busy, we do lots of things. But when we look into whether all this busy-ness really leads us to something concrete, to a long-lasting peace, happiness and joy, then we find that most of the time it does not and that it's actually creating us more problems. If that is the case, then why should we go on like this? There’s no need to do so many things if it is not bringing us any real, concrete long-term benefit. That’s the main understanding. What is really important, what is most important for all of us, is to find real happiness, real peace. And this has to come from within. Dharma practice means just that: searching for inner peace or inner satisfaction, finding a way of dealing with our experiences. I don’t want to call it ‘mind’ because mind is, in the English meaning at least, too much about thinking and thoughts, rather than about the whole of our experience.
The first foundation is the precious opportunity of having a human life. The human life is very precious because, compared to all other possible forms of life, it offers the greatest potential and opportunities to get rid of the samsaric state of mind. It is also very difficult to get. Precious things are rare. Moreover, we are not just ordinary human beings, but we have encountered the Dharma and been accepted by a teacher, which makes our opportunities even greater. The teacher is identified with the Buddha because a Buddha is the one who gives the teachings. A Buddha shows the way because he has followed it himself and attained enlightenment; he has seen the truth and knows what one should do to reach that goal. The teacher has the transmission, the understanding, some practice and experience of the Dharma. When he shows us the way, he is like the Buddha. Therefore, if we have all these positive conditions, the best thing we can do is to try to work for the benefit of all sentient beings.That's the altruistic, compassionate bodhisattva attitude. The more we have it, the stronger our practice, it's very good, it's the best. But even if we cannot generate such an attitude, even if we are more selfish, still we should practice for our own sake.
Because - and that's the second foundation, impermanence - although our death is certain, its time is unknown. This most precious human body and all the right opportunities and conditions you have now are not permanent. Everything changes; everything passes. We may die at any moment and at that time, nothing whatsoever can help us except the Dharma.
What we have done, our positive or negative actions - and that's the third foundation, karma - will adhere to the continuum of our consciousness and determine the conditions of our next life. As long as we are in a samsaric state of mind, whatever we do, we will reap the results. Positive actions will lead to positive experiences, negative actions will lead to negative ones. That's why if we want to improve our future situation - and this is the fourth foundation -we have to do something now, we have to practice at once.
These are called the foundations, or the preliminaries.
Second Point: the actual practice
The second point is the actual practice. How to do the actual practice is like cultivating a field of medicinal plants (that’s how it's described here). This is divided into two sections.
The first gives the chings. ‘Ching’ is a difficult word to translate. In Tibetan, ‘ching’ literally means something that binds together. For example if you put incense sticks into one bundle and bind them, that’s ching. But here, it means the essential points on how to practise.
The second section gives an explanation of the path of Sutras and Tantras.
a. The nine essential points
The author lists nine chings, nine points, which essentialise the practice.
In Buddhism, whenever we talk about instructions like this, we always try to essentialise the practices because the sutras and tantras contain too many details. Most of us do not have the time to read all these details, and even for those who have read them, they easily get too scattered. This is a problem we encounter in Buddhism, but in many other fields as well. I think there’s much confusion, especially nowadays. Most of us have this confusion. We can all see it in this world of information, education and knowledge. There is so much information around, but it is all fragmented in bits and pieces. There is nothing to bind them together in a global, coherent and meaningful picture. That’s why we get confused. We don’t know where each piece fits in. Each piece seems to be correct in its own place, but all these different pieces do no fit. As we don’t know how to put them together, we are confused. That’s how the confusion is created.
Therefore the main learning process in Buddhism is learning how to practise. In Buddhism we talk about two things: learning how to practise and then actually practising. Vasubandhu said: “Sangye tenpa nam nyi te lungpo tokpe da nyi chen tendzin chyepa pa ma shepa trulpa chepa kona nyi”, which means that the Buddhadharma has two aspects, the teachings or transmission of the word, and the experience. So there are only two things we need to do: study and practise. Of course, we can also go into details, but according to Buddhism, to study mainly means to know how to practise and then next comes the actual practise. Whether we have a vast knowledge about things or not, the main thing is to get the essential points, then we have 'something to sink your teeth into'. Otherwise we don’t know what is going on. That’s why it’s important to have the essential points.
I think I have told this story many times, but when Atisha Dipankara (CS: Keith wrote 'the Conqueror' but I think he may have misunderstood 'Dipankara' ?) - the great Indian master who revived Buddhism in Tibet after it had been destroyed by one of the kings - first came to Tibet, he asked his translators “What have you studied?” And they gave him a long list of all the sutras, tantras, commentaries and treatises that they had studied. Atisha was very impressed. “Well, if you have studied so much what was the use of my coming here at all?” Then he asked again, “How do you practise all those things that you have studied?” And they replied, “Well, we practise according to what is said in each of those books.” Atisha nodded, “Then there really was a need for me to come here, because you have to essentialise what you’ve learned. There are hundreds of books; you can’t practise according to each particular teaching. If you don’t know how to put all the teachings into an essential form, then how can you practise?”
Many of you encounter the same problem. When I’m travelling around, I meet lots of people who say, “I have received this teaching from this person, that teaching from that person, this sadhana from this person, that initiation from that person. I have received so many initiations, so many sadhanas, that I no longer know what to do.” Some of you have also made commitments. “I received the Kalachakra initiation and made some commitment to practice, then I received several other initiations and took other commitments. I’ve now taken so many commitments that, even if I spend only five minutes on each one, it takes me two hours to complete. So what should I do?” This sometimes becomes a problem. Your practice takes you so many hours that it becomes like a burden. Every morning you have to mumble through the texts at full speed, and then there is no practice, because practice is about making your mind more peaceful and tranquil but there is nothing like that when you just have to hurry to recite everything. I don’t think that’s the best way to practise. So that's why it's very important to understand what’s essential. We need to know how to put all we’ve learned, all our practices, into one essential practice.
The first essential point: Renunciation
The first of these nine essential points is:
“The only foundation stone of practice is renunciation.”
Before discussing renunciation, I think we first need to talk about this idea of there being three types of people. In Buddhism we talk about three types of people in the graded path, described or categorised more or less on the basis of why they want to practise Dharma, on their motivation.
The first are what we call the ‘chye bu chung ngu’. Chung ngu means small, but here it means a beginner, someone at the first level. This first or beginner level is that of someone who thinks, “I want to practise Dharma because I want to improve my life now and I want my next life to be better as well.” People who have that motivation are at the first level.
The second or medium type of people, ‘chye bu dring’, goes a step further. They see that, whatever level of samsaric attainment they have reached, even if everything is OK, if they have lots of good karma, positive things and good opportunities in this life, still, as long as they are in a samsaric state of mind, they are bound to encounter a certain amount of suffering, dissatisfaction and pain. So they really want to transform their samsaric state of mind, which they understand to be the root of suffering.
Then the highest or most developed type of person is the one we call ‘chye bu chenpo’, the great beings. These want to practise because they see that it is not only important to transform their own samsaric state of mind but also that it is very important to help other beings. They understand that they are not alone, that all other beings, like themselves, also want happiness, peace, joy and good thing, that they also suffer in the samsaric state of mind. They feel as much for others as for themselves and want to help them get rid of these problems and of the samsaric state as well. This third level is sometimes called the Bodhisattva level.
These three levels of people correspond to three different types of motivation to practise the Dharma. All of them are OK because they are about different people and why they want to practise according to their own level - although maybe one is in a way a little better than the others.
Out of these three, there is renunciation from the second onwards. Renunciation is present if you are practising the Dharma because you want to transform your samsaric state of mind because you have already understood that as long as you are in that state, then you won't get any complete satisfaction, there will always be certain problems. That’s why the text says that the only foundation stone of practice is renunciation.
Renouncing is not leaving this world. Many people have this mistaken understanding. They think renunciation means leaving their family, work and hometown behind and going into a monastery or into retreat. That is not the case. The problem does not stop because we are in a monastery or in retreat. Renouncing the world, leaving everybody behind, not seeing anybody or not working, that is not what we are talking about. What we are talking about is renouncing the samsaric state of mind. Whether we are very wealthy or not, whether we have lots of work and activities or not, whether we are alone or with many people, the main problem is the way we react: as long as we have this samsaric state of mind, we are bound to have many problems. To renounce is to decide that we don't want this any more, that we want to change. We've understood that there's a possibility to change. There is a way out. If we see the way out, walk in that direction and reach for the exit, turning our back to what is not leading to the goal, that is renunciation.
Renunciation is very fundamental in the Buddhist practice. As we said, there’s nothing wrong with those who want to practise the Dharma and meditate because they wish to improve, to work on their stress, to feel a little better, to make their lives more liveable, more enjoyable: the Dharma can be used for that. In fact, it is even suggested that it be used to find some solace and help us solve our small problems. But however good that may be, the root causes of our problems - our ignorance, confusion, aversion, excessive attachment and things like that - are still there. And as long as they are there, we can never be completely free. Consequently we are always under the power of what’s happening to us. When something nice happens, we are happy for a while. Then it changes, and we feel unhappy. So our happiness is not reliable. The good things that we are having are not dependable. When situations change, our experience changes too, it’s not stable. Even if we get some peace, it’s not a lasting peace. So therefore - and this is the main understanding for this point - if we can look a little deeper, we will understand that just working for improving our situation a little bit in this life is not enough. It’s not a final solution.
It is therefore extremely important to see whether we can transform ourselves much more than that, whether our way of seeing, with aversion or fear for instance, can or cannot be completely eradicated. That’s the question. This question is very much related to the basic Buddhist understanding of whether what we call enlightenment is possible or not. Whether enlightenment is possible or not depends on whether what we call harmful emotions, or sometimes afflictions or mind poisons in the Buddhist terminology, whether these can be totally removed or not. If we know that a negative emotion, such as aversion or fear, can be totally removed, then we know that enlightenment is possible. If it cannot be, then there can be no enlightenment. So it is said that whether enlightenment is possible or not depends on whether we can change our negative emotions or not. It comes down to that.
Now the Buddhist answer to that question is, yes, it is definitely possible, there is an ultimate solution. This is the main message. Actually, the Buddha’s main teaching is that enlightenment is possible. We can uproot the negative emotions. They can be uprooted because they do not partake of the nature of our consciousness, of our mind. This is what the Buddha and many great beings have realised. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often repeats that the real nature of our mind is peaceful, kind and compassionate. A negative emotion - be it aversion, attachment, jealousy, envy or anger - is by nature a disturbance of our mind. These emotions only manifest when our mind is disturbed. When our mind is not disturbed, they do not arise. We can therefore conclude that they are not in the mind’s true nature but that they are something happening to it when it is disturbed, due to certain external elements. If this is the case, then there is no reason why our mind could not be transformed. If we can keep our mind - not only the thinking mind but our whole experience - completely natural, completely calm, then there is only peace, clarity and kindness, and there are no disturbed emotions. That’s the most natural thing. And you can experience it. That experience, which is something most natural, is given different names in different philosophies or different schools. In the Mahayana, it is sometimes called buddha-nature, sometimes, sometimes rigpa. That state of mind is our real, undefiled state before all the manifestations or the different kinds of creations are involved. When we are in that state, then we can feel this complete clear and conscious awareness. We are completely aware, completely calm, completely at peace and full of compassion. This is not compassion in the sense of feeling very bad when seeing somebody suffering, but a state of mind that is free from any ill will. I think ‘kindness’ is a better word for it. If that is the basic state of our mind, it is possible to strengthen it, to make it a regular experience. And within that state of mind, then whatever arises, whatever manifests is seen as a natural aspect of the mind. The mind cannot be completely blank, without thoughts or anything. That’s not possible. Mind is aware and manifestations arise within it, that’s a natural part of it. When we can experience thoughts and emotions as the mind's own natural manifestations, something that happens within the mind, then there is no need to be alarmed, no need to be affected by them. I think a good example of this is perhaps Milarepa’s instructions to one of his very intelligent lady students. It’s in the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. Milarepa instructs her that she should meditate like the sky, limitless and spacious. After a while, this lady comes back to see him and asks, “Oh it’s OK for me to meditate like the sky, but what should I do when clouds are coming?” What she meant by this is that thoughts and emotions were coming while she was meditating, and she didn’t know what to do about them. Milarepa answers, “If you know how to meditate like the sky, then what’s the problem if clouds are there? The clouds appear in the sky and dissolve within the sky. Whatever comes, clouds, wind or tornadoes, they don’t really hurt or affect the sky. So in the same way, if you meditate like the sky and thoughts or emotions come, it doesn’t matter. Let them come and they will naturally dissolve. They come within the space of your meditation and they dissolve within it.”
So this is the main Buddhist understanding, that if we learn how to let thoughts and emotions come and dissolve - because they do actually come within the mind and dissolve within the mind - if we can learn how to ‘let them be’ in that way, then they need not disturb us, they cannot affect us. No need to be afraid of them, no need to try to stop them. We can’t stop them anyway, because their manifestation is natural, but they don’t affect us, they don’t destroy us, they don’t have to be feared. That is the understanding.
So there is a possibility to learn how to work on our emotions, how to react or how to understand them. And if that is possible, then changing, transforming the samsaric state of mind and therefore enlightenment are also possible. If we understand, if we know that this is possible, that we can transform ourselves, and if we also understand that it is important to do so because the samsaric state of mind is the real cause of our suffering, then we really want to engage on that path, to make this objective our real aim and to work on it. If these two - understanding and commitment - are there, then we have renunciation, the understanding of renunciation. And that is the basis, the foundation stone, of the Buddhist practice.
Of course, and this is something I think I need to mention here, when we are talking about the possibilities, we are only talking about what is possible, we are not saying it is easy. We should not expect to get enlightened by doing a little bit of practices here and there, or a few years of meditation in retreat. For a gifted person who devotes himself wholeheartedly to the practice, like Milarepa, it may take one lifetime. It is said that the quickest is one lifetime. This is very fast. Sometimes it is presented as very easy, but I think that leads to misunderstandings. People who think things are easy expect too much and get easily disappointed and discouraged. It’s very important not to expect too much and to know right from the beginning that things are not going to be easy. And it’s definitely not easy because it goes contrary to what we are used to. But it’s possible and this is the main thing because then renunciation is possible. We should start with such an attitude: “Whether I will succeed or not, I can’t say exactly, but there’s a possibility to it, it seems like that, so therefore because it is so important I will work for it, I will try my best to learn and work on it, because it is so essential and important.” That’s the attitude. We are our own practice and we are willing to try and use any method that proves useful to work on our state of mind, on our emotions. Now the types of practices that can help us also depend on how much we understand. There are many different techniques - a hundred thousand different ways and skilful means. All of them might work for us, or only a few, or just one. Therefore we may try to learn, to understand different techniques, but we could also first of all use whatever technique or method seems the most obvious for us, the one that we can most easily understand - because we have to understand what we are doing.
And this is also something that is very important. There are so many teachings. So many teachings are given in the Buddhist centres, some very basic, and some very high-level, very deep and profound. It's OK to receive all these different kinds of teachings but it doesn’t mean that anybody can practise all of them indiscriminately. I can for instance receive teachings about meditation from the beginner's level, like how to breathe, to the highest level of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, as well as about all the visualisations, the creation and the completion stages - but I have to start somewhere: I have to start from where I am. Maybe I can’t breathe properly. Maybe I can’t keep my mind still for one second. Maybe my posture is unbalanced. So I have to work on that first. For example, if my mind is wild, then I have to start by making it a little less wild, more stable and more peaceful - that’s where the shiné meditation comes in. Sadhanas are also a way of working on ourselves, but whether a sadhana practice works on us or not, basically depends on how much we understand the practice - although sometimes, if we have a certain connection with a particular sadhana, it might help even if we don’t understand much about it. But the important thing, what we should never forget, is that whatever we are doing is aimed at transforming our state of mind. That's what we have to work on. To practice is not just saying a certain number of mantras or going through these lines or this text or this sadhana. Each of us has to practise from where he/she stands, according to his/her own state of mind. We have to work step by step from the beginning. Whatever we need most, we work on that. Only so can we hope to progress.
I have noticed the following problem when we talk about the Dharma practices. There are certain things in the Dharma that are very common sense, very easy to understand. When we go through those parts, then people tend to think, ‘Oh, that’s nothing special, I’ve always understood that, it’s just common sense.” And they put it aside. Then there are sometimes other aspects that are very difficult to understand, that are beyond our concepts and ideas. When we talk about them, people tend to think, “Oh, that’s too complicated, that’s beyond my understanding.” And they put it aside too. Finally they don’t practice anything, because they put aside what they understood as well as what they didn’t understand. That’s a big problem because what counts is to try to apply whatever we understand in our everyday life. That’s the practice. The texts, the teachings, the sutras and tantras just tell us what to do and why we should do it, that’s all. We often very easily forget what we think easy to understand. Sometimes when we pass examinations, the things most easy to understand are the worst, because we forget about them. “Oh, that was something very easy to understand - what was it again?” I really think that we should first practice what we clearly understand, what is easy for us to accept because that is also what is easy for us to practice. If we don’t understand something, it is difficult for us to practice and then, we won’t do it. People often think that they should follow a kind of curriculum, that after they have done one practice, they should do another one. “I did the Chenrezig practice. After that, what should I do?” Or, “I’ve been doing Shiné meditation for two, three, five years. Now what else can I do?” That’s a very bad question. The question is, “How do I meditate better? How do I go deeper into this practice? How can I fully actualise this practice?” That’s the question. The number of years we’ve practised something doesn’t mean anything. What matters is how well we did it. Sometimes even a little thing can take a long time to learn. Working with our mind is not easy, because it means working on our habits, on our habitual tendencies, which are deeply ingrained. Some people tell me, “I’ve been meditating for so many years and still I get angry. What can I do?” Of course, they will get angry. It’s not easy to get rid of anger. When we are dealing with our negative emotions, even a slight improvement is an achievement. What is important is the way we look at what happens. Whether a negative emotion arises or not is not the point, what matters is how we look at it when it arises.
The second essential point: Faith
The second essential point is, “The only gateway to practice is faith.”
Now faith is trust, and trust can come from many different sources. Sometimes it comes through our own intuitive power. We meet somebody and we just know that we can trust this person. This often comes quite naturally, we just know that someone is trustworthy. But from a Buddhist point of view, it is generally considered that there are three kinds of faith.
The three kinds of faith
The first is what we call ‘faith by liking’. That is, we just like somebody or something. We see a person and feel inspired. We think, “I like this face” and we trust that person. We can also develop this kind of faith in the Dharma, as when we hear a teaching, we like it and therefore we generate a certain faith in it. That is the first type of faith, which is not a hundred per cent reliable - sometimes it is, sometimes not - but it is good enough as a first step. We can’t understand everything right from the beginning anyway, so that’s where we start.
The second kind of faith grows when we see certain qualities, certain good aspects in something. There is some understanding, some appreciation of the value of what we see. It inspires us, so we develop a certain kind of a trust. Maybe we don’t understand everything and therefore there’s no complete faith, but yet this faith is stronger than the first, because there’s already more understanding. That is the second stage and many people can use this as a basis.
The third kind is real faith, complete trust. Now, from a Buddhist point of view, this means basically we understand that, ‘ this is the truth, things are really like this, there is no other truth than this.’ We have tried to understand, to see things from all sides, we’ve investigated, studied, analysed, and we have found that, from whatever angle we look at it, we can’t see any alternative. We cannot do anything about it, that’s the way it is, so this must be it. When we come to that conclusion, there's nothing else we can do but trust. This unshakeable faith, this complete trust and confidence comes from understanding. From the Buddhist point of view, faith has nothing to do with blind faith. Nevertheless, complete trust does not necessarily come only from understanding, study and analysis. Some people may have it through karmic connections, like Milarepa for example. Initially Milarepa had studied black magic and used it to kill enemies who had harmed his mother, his sister and him. One day his teacher of black magic came home in a very sad mood. He told Milarepa, “My best friend has died. I’m just back from his funeral. There is no certainty in this life, and unless we practise some Dharma, we are wasting this life. I am getting old but we must do something, we must practise the Dharma for this life and for our future lives. So, either I’ll do it and you provide for me, or you do it and I will provide for you, because you are my best student.” Milarepa thought about it for some time and then promised to practise the Dharma for both of them. His teacher provided him with all he needed and Milarepa went in search of the Dharma. He first encountered a teacher from the Nyingma tradition, who had a very deep teaching of Dzogpa Chenpo. He told Milarepa, “You are very lucky. You have come to the right place. I have a teaching that is so good, so profound, so effective, that if you understand and meditate in the morning, you will get liberated in the evening. And if you do it in the evening, you will be liberated the next morning. So you are so, so, so lucky!” Milarepa thought, “Yes, indeed, I am very lucky. When I studied black magic I succeeded very easily. And now I come to the Dharma and it’s even easier. I must really be lucky.” He was assigned a small cave to meditate and provided with food and everything. After a week, his teacher came and asked, “What progress did you make?” Milarepa answered, “Progress? I haven’t even started. What’s the problem? I’ll do it one of these mornings and then it’s finished.” Then the teacher lamented, “Oh, I bragged too much. I promised too much. You are not someone I can help. Your teacher is Marpa Lotsawa.” As soon as Milarepa heard the name 'Marpa Lotsawa', it is said that something happened to him. All the hair on his body stood on end, tears welled up in his eyes, uncontrollable devotion arose in his mind and he thought, “This is it. This is my teacher. Whatever happens I’ll find him, and I’ll follow him.” He took an instantaneous decision on that very occasion and, however many difficulties he had to face afterwards, however badly he was treated by Marpa, that decision never wavered.
There are many stories like this. But this kind of faith and devotion is something very special. If it is there, it is really an excellent, a very good, very nice, very magnificent thing. But it doesn’t happen to everybody and I think most of us shouldn’t expect that to happen. So therefore we have to start from the bottom and approach faith through understanding. If we have a little bit of trust through liking, through appreciation, we need to work on that. We should try to understand more and develop devotion through understanding, because our understanding is the only thing that we can develop. And then the other type of faith will come naturally. So when we say that the only gateway to practice is faith, that faith isn’t necessarily always going to be there from the start. Most of the time it has to come and grow through understanding and therefore we need to understand what we are doing.
It is said, especially in the Vajrayana, that although faith and trust are very difficult for us to get, they are very important because when we have them then we have really entered into the practice of Dharma. “A good beginning and things are half-finished”, as goes the saying. It’s like that. If you have real trust, real faith in the path, then you’re almost half-way already. It’s a very good beginning. As long as we don’t trust, we are actually in the process of learning but have not really entered into the path. The Vajrayana practices in particular have very much to do with experience. One cannot practice Vajrayana with doubts and hesitations. If we wonder, ‘Is this going to work or not?’ then even if we practise, or seem to be practising, we’re not really doing it because we are not a hundred per cent in the practice. Without trust, it’s very difficult to really get into it.
If we naturally have faith, trust and devotion, then it is no problem. Otherwise, if we don’t have this natural devotion or natural faith, we should try to get it through understanding. This is very much the Buddhist approach: first we try to understand in an intellectual way and then the more we understand and experience it, the more our faith grows. And when we have fully experienced it, then we have complete faith. I think we have to see it as a process. This was also true in Milarepa’s time. When the education of Gampopa, his best student, was finished, Milarepa sent him to Central Tibet to practise and told him, “Now you go. Your training is finished. I have given you everything, every instruction, like pouring the content of one glass into another. I have nothing left to give you. So now you just have to practise. And when you practise, there will come a time when you see your teacher, your old father, me, this old man, as the real Buddha. At that time, you can start teaching, because then you will have really understood.”
This indicates that faith and trust are very much an experience. Trust is based on experience. The more we understand, the more we experience the results of our practice, then the greater our trust. Trust is the beginning as well as, in a way, the end. For that reason it’s a very important element, because without it we have no confidence. Without confidence we can’t do things. In a way, faith is confidence, confidence in ourselves and confidence in the practice, in our ability to do it. If others could do it, I can also do it. Why not? It can be done because others have done it. The Buddhas, the great masters, the people who have gone through these practices, have shown us through their experience, through the way they could deal with life and death, that it can be done. So why not me? If I do it according to the right instructions, I will also be able to achieve the same results. This understanding, this conviction is necessary. It’s based on others’ and on our own experience.
It is therefore also partly based on the understanding we discussed when we talked about renunciation, that there is the possibility to transform our samsaric state of mind, which is the root cause of our problems, and that if the possibility exists, there is the necessity to do it. Seeing how important, purposeful and necessary it is to work on this, we decide to do whatever we can with all our strength and determination. There is nothing more important. However, we start working on it step by step - it’s not that we leave everything else behind. We lead our life, do our jobs, look after our families, take our responsibilities, but at the same time, we keep our Dharma practice as our priority and work on it. If we practise with that understanding, that conviction, then we’ve entered the gateway to the real practice.
That’s why we need to be very clear about why and how we are practising, at least at the beginning. The clearer that is, then the more we are actually progressing on the path. That’s what it means, why the gateway to the practice is faith.
The third essential point: Compassion
The third point is,
‘The only approach to practice is compassion’.
It’s translated as ‘approach’, but in Tibetan it says nyam len shyung lam ). Shyung lam is ‘the highway’, the only highway to the practice is compassion. This is extremely important, because in Buddhism, there are only two things to practise and nothing else: wisdom and compassion. Compassion comes first, while wisdom - which is more difficult, and is what actually eliminates ignorance, the root cause of the samsaric state of mind - is ultimately more important. Compassion is most important and basic at the start. Every practice has to start with compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, “My religion is a good heart, I have no other religion.” In a way, Patrul Rinpoche and all the great masters said this too, right at the beginning. Buddhism is based on compassion and maybe other religions are as well. The first thing that we try to work on is developing a good heart. A good heart is a heart that is less negative, that has less intentions to harm, less ill-will, less anger, less violence, less hatred. That’s the first and foremost thing to develop, and when we’ve succeeded, we have done something great. It might sound very simple but it is the most essential thing.
Compassion is of course partly what we feel when we see people suffering and feel for them, want to help and so on. But more basically I would rather describe it as good will, which is not necessarily suffering with the people who suffer. . We have this good will when we only wish the best for others, when our heart has no dirt in it, no dark side, no poison, when it’s pure. Our only wish is a benevolent wish. Maybe we can help, maybe we can’t, but at least we’re wishing well. That’s the first thing. This is very important because, from the Buddhist point of view, anything, any religion, any path, that is based on compassion is good. Even if you have a completely different view, a completely different philosophy, if you see things in a completely different way from the Buddhist way, there’s nothing wrong if your whole system is based on compassion. Because it's leading towards something positive and, anyway, even buddhist practices are leading towards something more ultimate and it’s not the case that we can get complete wisdom right from the beginning.(Suggestion for editing : The view, the philosophy is related to a higher, more ultimate level, to the wisdom, and we cannot access complete wisdom right from the beginning.) Every path can slowly lead us somewhere. That’s the very meaning of the word ‘path’, that it leads us somewhere and shows us where to go. So even if that spiritual path or religion is not the ultimately best thing, if it is based on compassion, it’s good enough. That’s the Buddhist way of seeing. Compassion is the basis. If we try to develop a genuine good heart, then we are practising the Dharma in the right way. If not, even if we are doing the most elaborate creation and completion meditation, it’s useless, it’s no good, it’s a wrong path. It’s not even Buddhist: it’s leading nowhere. That’s the understanding.
If they lack compassion, even lamas can become evil spirits as this Tibetan story illustrates. A lama who was practising alone in a cave once encountered some obstacle. An evil spirit appeared in front of him. Seeing that it was a very negative evil spirit, he tried to ward it off by saying fierce mantras and creating himself as a wrathful deity. But the evil spirit immediately transformed into an even more wrathful deity, saying mantras even better than the lama. Then the lama thought, “What a pity, this person must have been a Vajrayana practitioner. How sad that Vajrayana practitioners can become evil spirits.” He genuinely felt sorry for that spirit and a real compassion naturally arose in him. “What a pity! It’s so sad that this person who must have been doing lots of practices went wrong and now has become this evil spirit which is no good.” He was no longer trying to dispel or overpower him but just felt genuine compassion, and at that moment, the evil spirit began to dissolve very gradually, becoming smaller and smaller. Before disappearing completely, he said in a very meek voice, “That I did not have.” He hadn't had compassion and therefore had turned into an evil spirit.
So this is the understanding: if there is no compassion, then there is no Buddhist practice. Compassion is the basis, the real path. Everything is based on it. We can drive a car, a bus or a chariot; ride a horse or a donkey, but we have to ride or drive on a highway, on a road. Even if we are riding the weakest and most stubborn donkey, if we want to get somewhere, we still have to follow the highway. That highway is compassion. Even if we do not have profound, high or fantastic teachings, if we follow that way, that’s OK. But if we are off the road, then even the most fantastic Mercedes won’t take us to our goal.
That’s why, from a Buddhist point of view, if we can generate a good, a benevolent heart, and then do nothing, nothing else, even then we have become a good practitioner. Of course, if we do some or many other things on top of that, it’s even better. It is said that the best method to judge our practice is to see how compassionate we have become. From a Buddhist point of view, how well we have practised is not judged by how much we go to the temple and how many things we do. Visions of deities, extraordinary meditation experiences, premonition of the future and things like that, are not necessarily a sign of progress. But if we have become kinder, more compassionate, a little more concerned about others, we have become a better practitioner. Becoming a better practitioner and becoming a better human being are in a way the same.
Once two people went to a lama and asked for a practice. The lama gave them a certain practice that they had to do a hundred thousand times. That’s the usual way in Tibetan Buddhism. One did the practice a hundred thousand times, he just sat and did it, but the other didn’t do anything. Perhaps he didn’t have time, but he had a good heart. After some time, the one who had completed the hundred thousand practices went to his friend and asked, “Now it’s time for us to see the lama. Have you done it?” I think he knew that his friend hadn’t done anything. “Oh, I forgot about it,” he answered, “I’ve been too busy. But I’ll ask all the trees to do it for me.” So the next morning he took a bagful of wool and put a little bit of wool on each bush, saying, “Please do some of these mandalas for me.” Then they went to the lama. The one who had done the hundred thousand said, “I have done exactly the amount that you have required. I went into retreat and completed it.” The other said, “Well, I was a little bit too busy here and there, and I forgot about it. But I have asked the trees to say it for me.” And then the lama said, “OK, now you who have asked the trees to say your practice, you don’t need to do it again. But you who did it all, you can do it again, right from the beginning to the end.”
This shows that to practise is not just doing something. Doing is perhaps important, but the main thing is how we do it. If it isn’t based on a good heart, on compassion and kindness, then that practice might have certain results, but it’s not a real Buddhist practice, it’s not going on the way, on the path. That’s why it is so important, from the Buddhist point of view, to generate good will, a good heart, compassion.
And compassion is not only for others, compassion is for ourselves as well. When that basis of compassion is there, then anything added to it, any other practice we do becomes more effective, like a bonus, like skilful means. If that is not there, then whatever we do doesn’t even become the path. One cannot over-emphasise the importance of compassion, that’s the main understanding.
The fourth essential point: Single-minded Application
The fourth essential point is:
‘The life-tree of practice is single-minded application.’
Nyam len sok shing tsé chik drup ts’uk yin.
When one builds a stupa, one has to put a tree at its centre. This tree is the ‘sok shing’, which is like a central pillar around which the stupa is built. You can’t have a stupa without that central pillar holding everything together. It is translated here as ‘life-tree’, which is a literal translation; sok means ‘life’ and shing means ‘tree’. But in this context, it means the central pillar of the practice is one-pointed, single-minded application. ‘Tse chik drup ts’uk yin’, ‘tse chik’ is like concentrated or focused, ‘drup’ means ‘to practise’, ‘ts’uk’ means ‘able, able to’. This point is about the need to focus on our practice and develop patience when practising.
This is partly related to what we said earlier, when we talked about having faith and trust. We need to understand what is the practice in a general way and then essentialise it. “That’s it, the practice is this.” And then we work on it. When we have that understanding, then something starts happening. Otherwise we may think, “This is good, so I’ll do a little bit of this” and then “Oh, actually this is not so good, that is better”, and so on. Our practice remains scattered and, at the end, we’ve neither done this nor that properly.
It’s like the story of the dog and the piece of meat. There was a dog carrying a piece of meat in his mouth. As he was crossing a bridge over a river, he looked down and saw another dog with a real nice piece of meat in his mouth, looking up at him. “Aaggh, aaggh!” he barked, thinking, “I want that. I’m going to get that piece of meat you dog have got down there!” So he jumped into the river, lost his meat, and didn’t get another piece. Always going for something else is not always good.
The message is, we should try to essentialise our whole practice, and once we know what to do, we should keep going. Sometimes we may feel inspired, we may feel something is happening. Sometimes we lack inspiration and nothing seems to be happening. That’s the way it is. Nothing that we do will always make us inspired, happy, interested and feel something is happening. We have to get through this process. At first we are enthusiastic about anything that we start to do or study. Then, after a certain time, we don’t have that much enthusiasm any more. That’s when we have to persevere, to develop patience and perseverance, through understanding, through faith and trust. Because only then do we start to really practise, before that, it’s just enthusiasm.
Of course, we can also try to remind ourselves again and again why we are practising and how important it is. Sometimes reading books, poetry from great masters and practitioners, biographies and autobiographies, reading or listening to teachings can inspire us. We can do whatever we can to keep our inspiration up, but to be able to go on, focussed on the practice, we should mainly develop patience and perseverance.
The fifth essential point: Mindfulness
The fifth essential point is:
‘Constant practice is conscientious mindfulness.’
In Tibetan, ‘Nyam len dral me bak yö dren shes yin’. Nyam len is the practice, dral me means ‘not separated’ - not to be separated from the practice or the thing that makes the practice constant or continuous, or integrated, which is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the main, the only tool we have to practise with and train ourselves. It is also the only tool we have for meditation. What we mean by mindfulness is to remember, to remind ourselves, to be aware.
To summarize, first we have to know why we should practise and then we have to know how to practise. What is the real practice? Compassion is the real practice. Then the practice is mainly to work on our mind, on our experience. Buddhism is sometimes called an ‘inner science’. It means we are working on what is within, from within. The way to work with our emotions, the way to develop our inner peace, our inner joy, or whatever, is from within.
There are lots of things outside that affect us. Everything is interdependent and there are external situations and circumstances that we can modify and improve, but there are also things that we can’t change. Does that mean that there is nothing at all we can do? Does that mean that we have to keep on enduring unbearable suffering and remain completely devastated without any way out? From a Buddhist point of view, the answer is ‘No’. Maybe we can’t change what is out there but we can change what is in here, we can change our way of reacting. And through changing our experience of the situation, we actually change the situation.
To practise is therefore all about working on our mind, on our experience. Let me stress again that ‘mind’ here not only means the thinking mind, but our whole experience. When we understand that, we know that to practise means working on our emotions, on our mind, on our attitudes, in order to develop more peace, more compassion, more wisdom.
Now, suppose we are meditating or doing a practice. Whether we are actually doing it or not depends on how mindful and aware we are. If we are sitting in meditation, but our mind is gone somewhere and we are just sitting there without doing anything, then that’s not meditation. The only weapon, the only tool we have to prevent our mind from being distracted is mindfulness. When we are mindful, we notice that we are getting distracted or sleepy and we can bring our mind back. When we are mindful and a very negative state of mind arises, we can catch ourselves in this negative state, “Oh, I am very angry, worried or frustrated.” Whatever state of mind we are in, if we are aware of it, we can interrupt it by thinking, “There’s no need for that.” We need to practise because we have so many bad or negative habits that we can change, that we should change, that we have to work on - so we have to catch them on the spot. For instance, if I am very worried and I catch myself being worried thanks to mindfulness, then I can use all the techniques, or some of the techniques that I have learned in order to relieve my anxiety. For instance, I can tell myself that it’s no use to worry because it’s bad for me and the more I worry the more I suffer. Worries do not help. All I can do is to do my best, do whatever I can, which I will do anyway. But if I worry too much, I won’t be able to do my best. To worry is therefore completely useless and only gives me additional trouble and pain. It’s just a waste of time that actually prevents me from doing what I should. So therefore I shall not worry!” Or if I have learned how to relax, then I relax. If I have learned how to enter a more natural state of my mind, I do that. Whatever I have learned, whatever techniques or practices I have learned, I apply them. We need to practise precisely in order to be able to apply those techniques when we need them most. And we need them most when we are in a negative state. If we learn how to work on our anger, then the moment we are very angry is the time when we need to use what we've learned. We don’t need a technique to deal with anger when we are having the most wonderful time. Mindfulness is the capacity to bring in that awareness when it is necessary. This is not easy, because it is not something that we usually do. When we get caught into a strong emotion, when we get into a bad habit, we usually stay in it. This is the difference between the practitioner and the non-practitioner. For the practitioner, mindfulness comes in, he can say ‘No’ and then do something about it. The non-practitioner just goes on with whatever emotion arises, he doesn’t know how to stop it, the emotion takes over and he is carried away with it.
Therefore mindfulness is the practitioner’s only tool. Conscientious mindfulness - nyam len dral me (translated as ‘constant practice’ here) is what makes the practice work for him, what makes the practice inseparable from him.
The sixth essential point: the Three Jewels
The sixth point is,
‘The removal of obstacles to practice is to rely on the Three Jewels.’
The ‘Three Jewels’ are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. As to the obstacles, the most important one is basically to lose one's direction. I think it’s very important to have a direction, to have a sense of purpose, in everyday life as well as at the spiritual level. If we forget our purpose, why we are practicing the Dharma, then the doubts set in and we no longer know what we are doing. From the Buddhist point of view, if we are going in a certain direction, if we have a purpose, then it doesn’t matter whether we are going fast or slow. We can sometimes go faster, sometimes slower and sometimes take a rest. But if we lose our direction, then we are lost. It’s important to stay on the track. This is why we have the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, what we call the Refuge. Taking refuge is finding a direction. Taking refuge is not praying the Buddha to please save us. It’s making a decision for ourselves, committing ourselves to a certain path, knowing why we are doing it.
When I say, 'I take refuge in the Buddha', I’m actually stating my confidence in the idea that Buddhahood, enlightenment, transformation are possible for me. It’s similar to what we discussed when we talked about renunciation: “It’s possible for me to get enlightened. It’s possible for me to work on my emotions and misunderstandings, therefore I have to do this. It’s the most important thing because my long-term happiness or suffering depends on it. Therefore I have chosen this direction and I want to follow it, for my own benefit and for the benefit of all other beings. I want to help myself, I want to help other beings, and by choosing this way, I can to try to learn, understand how I can do that and achieve my objective.”
To decide, “That’s my direction, that’s my final objective, that’s my aim and till I reach it, I take the inspiration, the help, the guidance of the Buddhas of the past”, that’s taking refuge in the Buddha.
And having taken refuge in the Buddha, then I must take refuge in the Dharma, because the Dharma is the teachings and the experience of the Buddha. The Dharma is like the roadmap of the path given by the Buddha. He has been there and he showed us which way to go if we want to reach the same destination. Going for refuge to the Dharma means only two things. Firstly, I decide to learn this roadmap, to learn about the Dharma, and secondly I decide to follow that path. Taking refuge in the Dharma is learning how to practise and then committing oneself to the practice.
And then going for refuge to the Sangha is necessary because I can only learn the Dharma, get information and instructions from the people who already have certain teachings and experience of the Dharma, and these people are the Sangha. The Sangha is very big. The Buddha Shakyamuni is also included in it. He is a member of the Sangha, as are all the great masters, and even the people who only partially understand the Dharma and try to share their understanding. Going for refuge to the Sangha means we want to learn from these people who have a genuine teaching or some experience. It means opening ourselves to the Sangha’s positive influence and creating the right situation for this to happen. By taking refuge in the Sangha, it is said that we get rid of negative companions. This does not mean that we refuse any contact and no longer talk with anybody who is behaving badly, that’s not it. What it means is that we let ourselves be influenced positively but not negatively. To walk down the road with a person who drinks all the time is not getting into wrong company. It's OK if we sit with that person, but if we start drinking like him/her, then we are getting into the wrong company. So getting into the right company means opening ourselves to the influence of positive people, in the right way.
Taking Refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha is not just entering into Buddhism, taking Refuge is the whole of Buddhist practice. So whenever good, we lose our vision. That’s the obstacle. Then we should take refuge again, remind ourselves that the decision we have taken is the result of much thought, that the path we want to tread is good for ourselves and good for others, and renew our refuge prayer. Sometimes we understand this very clearly. When we hear teachings, when we read a book, then our understanding can be very clear and we know we're on the right path. But then, caught in the busy-ness and distractions of everyday life, we can slowly forget and lose our path. That’s an obstacle. When that happens, we need to remind ourselves and ask ourselves what we are doing, what it is we are supposed to do. What is the most important thing for us? What is it that we are really looking for? What’s our purpose? And when we ask these questions, then the refuge will come back. That’s why Buddhists say the refuge prayer again and again. It’s not because we are asking the Buddha to save us all the time - it’s OK to pray the Buddha to help us; there is nothing wrong with that - but it’s mainly because we want to remind ourselves of the direction that we have decided to take.
The seventh essential point: Devotion
The seventh point is:
‘The enhancement of practice is devotion to the guru.’
The way to improve our practice is to generate devotion to the guru, in particular through the Guru Yoga practices. In the commentary, it says that 'practice is like a small seedling. When it first comes up you need to strengthen it and help it grow with manure and water, and that is the devotion'. Calling to the guru with devotion is a very common practice in Vajrayana, in Tibet, as it also was in India. The Tibetan practitioners call their guru for everything and anything. They call him before going to bed, they call him in the middle of the night, they call him when they wake up. It is said that even Patrul Rinpoche, who was one of the most advanced teachers, used to call the gurus whenever he woke up. Whenever obstacles arise, we call the guru with devotion and, through that devotion, all the obstacles, all the problems are solved and our practice is enhanced. If you read the biographies of Milarepa or any great master, you will see how they always called the guru and how devotion was so basic to their practice. They regarded their gurus as much higher than the deity, the yidam and everything else, because the guru is the very source of the Dharma. Whatever we know about the Dharma, whatever we have understood or partly experienced, it is thanks to the guru. We received all the teachings from him and the stage we have now reached in our practice is connected to him. The teaching and the teacher are interconnected and very similar. It is also said that the more we experience the results of the practice of Dharma, the more our trust and devotion grow. So when we remember that, when we call the guru and develop devotion, it brings even more inspiration to our practice.
Moreover, our guru is somebody that we have chosen. From all the living masters, we have chosen someone we can trust, someone whom we believe to the best of our knowledge and ability to be trustworthy and to be the source of real instructions that will liberate us. Therefore if we have found a guru who, to our mind, is the most trustworthy source of the dharma, then he must naturally be the person who inspires us the highest kind of devotion. Otherwise, why should we have chosen him? So if our devotion is based on our guru, we will naturally call him and that devotion will enhance our practice and help us to progress. Devotion itself is a good method on the path. It’s giving energy and strength to our practice. It’s inspiring in its own right. Whenever there is any slackness in our practice, any kind of problem, we should call the guru, try to see his image in our mind and receive from him the four empowerments, the blessings. It makes our mind ripe for the meditation. Devotion places us in exactly the right state of mind in which the meditation can happen, in which we can get the insight into the true nature of our mind. That is the main practice.
The eighth essential point: the Instructions
‘Unmistakable practice is the guru’s instructions.’
The instructions, or dam ngak (gDams ngag,), are the unmistakable practice. The dam ngak are not just the instructions but the essentialised, the pith instructions. There are the teachings and then the dam ngak, which are the teachings that arise from the teacher’s own experience. It’s not just reading a book or explaining the words, but giving the main experiential instructions that are transmitted within the lineage from teacher to student through experience. That’s the dam ngak.
I once wanted to make a madeleine, which I like because it’s a very nice cake. So I got its recipe written down and, when I went back to India, I tried it. It came out like a rock, because I didn’t have the dam ngak. I had the recipe but not the ‘pith’ instructions, otherwise I would have made the cake as nice as it is here. The dam ngak is what somebody who knows exactly how to do something tells us in order that we do it right - not just the written words or things he has just heard, but every detail so that we are then able to do it perfectly well. So that’s the meaning: the instruction that is needed for the real practice is not just the recipe but that dam ngak, that essential instruction.
The ninth essential point: Guru Yoga
And then the last one is:
‘The one essential point of practice is that the Three Roots combined and all of the peaceful and wrathful mandalas arise as the guru’s display—this one thing is sufficient.’
The Three Roots are the Lama, the Yidam and the Khandro. This means that although there are so many deities, so many practices, in Buddhism and especially in the Vajrayana, they are all combined into the body, speech and mind of the guru. Thus, in essence, everything is included into the guru yoga. If we can just essentialise all the practices as Guru Yoga, that’s enough. This is actually the topic of the whole book. So we don’t need to discuss it further now.
b. The Sutrayana and Vajrayana
The second section is in four parts. The first one is the View, the philosophy, the general understanding. The second explains the meditation practice from the Sutra point of view. The third presents the meditation from the Tantra point of view, how to do the tantric meditation. And then the fourth gives the really secret, essential, pith instructions.
I. The View
To explain the teachings of the sutra and tantra in detail, we first have to clearly understand the view. The View is also presented in nine points.
1. The first point is that we should eliminate all our doubts about it.
The most gifted individuals are those who have developed in previous lives,
have already reached the full capacity of devotion, and are born as great superior beings.
For them, even without following the stages of practice, it is still possible to perceive the truth of reality.
It is said that generally we first have to do three things one after another: tö, sam, gong (thos, bsam, sgom),what we call listening, reflecting and meditating. However, the very ‘great beings’, the wang po (dbang po), do not have to follow this order. This word, wang po, is very difficult to translate. It doesn’t really mean someone with great intelligence but rather someone who has very great capacities. Because they have been studying in their previous lives, some people are born like that; they’re really gifted and don’t need to go through the whole process. The commentary gives the example of king Indrabodhi, who just received one instruction, one empowerment, and then immediately understood everything. There are exceptional people like that, who understand everything just by sometimes receiving an empowerment. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and many others were like that, and also Milarepa, who didn’t have to study that much. He purified himself through his great devotion and then, when he was given his first empowerment, he saw the mandala and got all the experiences. And there was also Pang Mipham Gönpo (spang mi pham mgon po), one of the students of Vairochana in the 8th century. Maybe I’ll tell that story first.
Vairochana was the most learned translator during the time of King Trisong Detsen. The King Trisong Detsen wanted to establish Buddhism in Tibet. He had the first monastery built in Samye with the help of Guru Padmasambhava. There were already many temples but no monastery at that time. When the monastery was built, he started Sanskrit classes because he also wanted all the Buddhist texts to be translated from the Indian languages into Tibetan. But the Tibetans were not very gifted, they couldn’t even pronounce the Sanskrit properly. Instead of ‘Namo Buddhaya’ - which means ‘I prostrate to the Buddha’ - they would say, ‘Mamo Bubbwaya.’ The king was desperate. He went to see Guru Padmasambhava and lamented, “What can we do now? It seems the Tibetans cannot even learn Sanskrit, so how will they be able to translate it? My big project to introduce the Dharma in Tibet has no chance to succeed. We don’t have the capacity to do anything.” Guru Padmasambhava thought this over for a while, then said, “There is one person who can do this. He will become a great translator. In the western part of Tibet, you will find a boy named Kenja Tanta. His father's name is Pagor and his mother is so and so. Bring him here and he will become a great translator.” So the king journeyed on horseback to the West with all his ministers and, after a few days, they came near a village. A small boy riding on a donkey came running towards them. The king stopped him to ask the name of the place. The child answered. “By the way,” said the king, “I’m the king. Why don’t you prostrate to me before answering?” But the boy replied, “OK, I’ll do it but first you show me how to do it.” So the king had to show him and then the child prostrated to him. Then the king asked him if he knew Pagor and his wife. The child answered, "Yes, but they are not here, Pagor has gone to collect the talk, and his wife has gone to get the eyes.” Then the king asked who his parents were and he answered, “You already know their names, you just mentioned them." The king didn’t understand what he meant by ‘getting the talk’ and ‘getting the eyes’. He asked the boy to take him to his house. After a while, the father came back with a big jug of chang, Tibetan beer and the king understood: “Yes, when you drink lots of beer you talk a lot.” Then the mother came back with oil to make lamps and the king thought: “Of course, when you have lamps, there is light and you can see." Very impressed, the king persuaded the parents to entrust him with the care of their child, brought the whole family to Lhasa and started his training. Vairocana very soon became a great scholar. He was then sent to India where he lived for many years and became a very great master. He studied all the general teachings with about fifty masters, and also received Dzogchen teachings from Sri Simha (or Singha). When he came back to Tibet, he started to translate many texts and also became an editor or corrector (tsom shyib/drik jay (khen) - rtsom shyb/sgrig byes/d (mkhan)) for other's translations. At that time, the translators worked in a team composed of an Indian scholar, a Tibetan translator and a corrector.
But then the problems started. Vairocana was very good-looking and one of the queens, Tsépongza, fell in love with him. She wanted to have an affair with him but he turned her away. This made her very angry and she accused him of having tried to seduce her. A meeting of the ministers was convened, but as many were jealous of the favours granted to Vairocana by the king, they forced the king to exile him to the eastern border of Tibet, near China.
There, as he was travelling, he arrived in a small farm where he met Pang Mipham Gönpo. That man was very old, in his 90s or something like that, he was blind and couldn’t get up or even sit up. He asked who was his visitor. “I’m Vairocana from Tibet.” The old man had heard about Vairocana before. “Come here, come here!” So Vairocana came near him, but then the old man took him in his arms and said: “I will never let you go unless you promise to give me all the instructions I need.” “OK, I will give you whatever instructions I have, but you let me go.” Pang Mipham Gönpo was not very educated, he had never practised before and couldn’t even sit up to meditate. So Vairocana made him what we call a gom ching (sgom bcings), a meditation belt, and a stick with a crescent-shaped top, on which, once tied in meditation posture with the belt, he could rest his chin. Vairocana then gave him instructions, he practised them and soon understood everything. He then meditated, gave teachings to his students and lived to the age of a hundred and thirty years. When he expired, he left no body behind. He had obtained what we call the rainbow body. From that time onwards, for about seven / thirteen generations, all / at least one of his students obtained the rainbow body. The lineage of that old man is still here today.
Even if there were many great beings who didn’t need too much training, too much studying and going through the usual way, most of us are not like that and this is why the text says:
For all others it is as the noble Nagarjuna said
Listening to Dharma engenders contemplation,
and contemplation gives rise to the meditation experience
— this is the sequence.
First we have to learn, to listen to the Dharma, and then we should reflect on what we've heard, on what we've learned. We should think about the different kinds of teachings that we've listened to and try to put them together and get a basic, overall understanding, that’s the contemplation. Contemplation is not just thinking about one thing. Of course it is also thinking about one thing but, here, contemplation - also sometimes called reflection - mainly means putting together the many things we have heard or studied so as to clear our doubts, at least at an intellectual level. The next step is to bring that understanding into our experience, that’s the meditation. Contemplation gives rise to the meditation experience. The Tibetan word for meditation or samadhi, gom (sgom), means to habituate oneself to something, to make something into a habit, becoming one with something. Therefore, to meditate is to actualise, become one with, get completely used or habituated to it what we have understood, that’s the meditation. Of course, just ‘being ourselves', relaxing, that’s also meditation, but meditation here is given the meaning of actualising what we have understood. The author emphasizes the need of some understanding prior to practising. If we proceed in this order, we will become more and more confident about how and why we practice. Otherwise, if for instance we go into retreat and start meditating before we understand anything, we won’t know how to meditate, or won’t meditate exactly as we should have.
When doubts appear, we won't know how to dispel them. This is why Nagarjuna says that we should practice in this order, following that sequence of listening, contemplation and meditation.
So if you abandon distraction and continuously apply effort,
first the intelligence that comes from listening
will result in comprehension of the general characteristics of the phenomena of cyclic existence and its transcendence.
Then, contemplation will pacify blatant grasping to the reality of illusory
meditation develops the definitive direct experience of mind, and so on.
Thus the previous stages act as causes for the arising of the latter.
When this is not the case, it is like desiring results without any cause.
This passage more or less repeats what has just been said in order to draw our attention to it. It also explains that what we need to understand through listening is this: what are the characteristics of the samsaric phenomena? What is this ‘cyclic existence’ all about? How can we transcend samsara? This is what we should understand.
And contemplation has to result in this: to pacify, to get rid of the ‘blatant grasping’- as is said here - to everything as reality. We need to understand from deep down that all the phenomena that seem so real are just illusory appearances.
Then, through meditation, we need to have a direct experience of the mind.
These three stages have, in a way, to go step by step. Meditation is actually also a learning process. Listening and contemplation, meditation and experience, are a learning process. This is very clearly mentioned here.
You may claim that your accumulation, purification, and practice are most excellent, bemoaning the hardships of a practice that is merely conjectural.
This kind of experience will not lead to conviction.
Without conviction, you are stranded in doubt, and doubt is the only supreme obstacle.
When conviction arises through listening, contemplating and meditating,
even if someone says “this meditation will send you to hell,”
rather than being frightened, you will be supremely confident.”
If we do not follow these three steps, if we do not arrive at meditation through listening and contemplation, then we are just like somebody who says “I have accumulated lots of merits, my purification is very good and my practice most excellent”, but who complains about the difficulties he/she encounters, who doesn't feel very successful and doesn't understand whether what he/she does is useful or not. He/she thinks, ‘I have done so much and still people do not appreciate it, I am the one who did all these things yet people don’t recognise me!” Something like that, someone always boasting about what he/she's been doing and doing and doing...
I think that Jamgön Kongtrul is not saying that we should not practise at all unless we have full conviction, full understanding. Maybe that’s not possible. But we have to try to understand what we practise as much as possible, I think that’s what he means. If we practise something that we don't understand of at all, it doesn’t work that much. Therefore we have to try to understand and actually practise what we understand first, while keeping in mind that the whole path is a process of understanding more and more, a learning process. As we just said, even the meditation is a learning process through which we gradually understand things more clearly and develop more and more confidence until we have a definite, unshakeable conviction.
This section is talking about clearing our doubts to the point that even if somebody tells us that our practice is completely wrong, that it will send us to the hell realm, still we have a complete conviction that what we do is right, because we understand what we do and why we do it. If we just believe something, then we will have doubts the moment somebody tells us that it’s wrong. But if we understand it, then people can say anything, we won't lose our conviction or confidence. That’s why trying to understand, trying to clear the doubts and get the conviction is so much emphasized.
Of course, it may not be possible to completely clear all doubts once and for all right from the beginning. But having doubts is part of our learning process. This is also something we should understand. To pretend that we have no doubts right at the beginning is not a good thing. I think that's not right. There are certain traditions in which belief is very important; you have to believe in certain things. When you believe, there is no space for doubt, you cannot doubt. If you doubt, you no longer believe. So whatever doubts arise, it is seen as something very bad. That’s not the case in Buddhism: we have to doubt. If we don’t doubt, we can't deepen our understanding. And, of course, we have doubts anyway. If I say “Don’t doubt!”, it's almost as if I said “You shut up!” Everybody has doubts. Everybody has doubts till one has complete wisdom, till one completely experiences the truth of the teachings through meditation. One cannot possibly be without doubts, so one should be able to bring them out and clarify them. Of course we also have certain convictions. With a little understanding, we can see that things might be like this and we may gradually have less doubt about it, but then whatever doubts we have, we need to bring them out, we need to discuss and work on them. Unless we clear the doubts, unless ask these questions and learn from them, we won’t get complete conviction and confidence. And without confidence we won’t know how to practise. Therefore we need to have at least some intellectual confidence and then slowly get the actual experiential confidence, which is the real practice.
If we don’t follow this process and just say, “Oh yes, it must be good”, then we will encounter obstacles in our practice. Tibetans often have this problem because they are all Buddhists. Everybody believes what the Buddha said, what the Dalai Lama says and what Karmapa says. We think, “Oh, yes, this was said by the Buddha, so it's correct, it's OK”, and although we actually don’t know what it means, we don’t even make an effort to understand. And that’s not good.
Maybe what the Buddha said is right. Most probably it is, but that doesn’t solve our problem, because the whole purpose of practising the Dharma is to understand and if we just say that Buddha is right, we haven’t learned anything. And if we don’t learn anything, then whatever Buddha might be saying doesn’t make any difference to us, isn’t it? If I just say, “It’s OK, I believe in it”, that’s definitely not OK! That’s why learning and understanding are so important. Through studying, listening, reflecting and then meditating, we really clear our doubts. In this way, we can become really sure and confident, so that even if people say that what we are doing is totally wrong, we are not shaken, we can answer that we don’t accept their opinion. We stand firm because we know what we do is right. This is illustrated by the story of Gampopa and his foremost disciple, Dusum Khyenpa, who was to become the first Karmapa. Dusum Khyenpa came to see his teacher to tell him his meditation experiences. Gampopa got very upset and told him he was completely wrong. "I didn't expect this! You are supposed to be one of my best students and so I thought you would understand better than that! Go back to meditate, do more practice and don't come back to see me until you have revised everything." After two or three years, Dusum Khyenpa came back to see Gampopa and told him that he had studied, practised and meditated but that he was very sorry, he just couldn't change his understanding. "I think it is exactly like this, I cannot change the way I see things." Gampopa was even more angry and disappointed. "Go straight back! Unless you revise your wrong way of seeing things, I do not want to see your face again!" Six months later, the first Karmapa came back. He was completely devastated and he fell at his guru's feet: "Lama, you can beat me, you can kill me, you can do whatever you wish with me but I can't change my view, this is it!" Gampopa then smiled and happily told him that he had been right all along and that he just wanted him to grow completely clear and confident about what he had understood so that he wouldn't mind whoever would say he was wrong.
So that is the first of the nine points in this discussion of the View, to clear the doubts.
2. The second point is renunciation.
The essential point of all the modes of Dharma taught by the Buddha
can be epitomised as a method to subdue one’s mind.
The entryway into the initial mind practice
is surely renunciation, without which there is no way.
If authentic renunciation arises, compulsive activities will be few;
if activities are few, the significance of non-action will be near.
When non-action is realised, it is the true nature.
There is no other buddha outside of that.
The main thing, the real essential point of all the Dharma, of all the Buddha's teachings, is how to subdue our mind. To subdue our mind means to work on our ignorance, aversion and attachment, on our fear and all the negative emotions that create problems and make us suffer. The main thing - and actually the only thing - is working on our mind, on our negative emotions. As Guru Padmasambhava said, “If you have eliminated your mind poisons, there’s no Dharma left to be practised.” There’s no more need of any Dharma: our work is finished.
In order to start working on our mind, the first and most important drive, the motivation that pushes us, is renunciation. As we discussed before, renunciation is to see, to accept, that there is a problem and then to understand or develop the conviction that there is a way out of it. If we don't see that the mind poisons - ignorance, aversion, attachment, and so on - are causing our suffering, if we say, “That’s all very nice, there’s no problem here”, then we have no renunciation, we can't renounce anything. But if we see that this samsaric state of mind, the way we react in the power of all these mind poisons, is always causing tensions, problems, suffering and pain, and if we also understand that there is a chance to escape from this, then we want to get rid of it and that’s renunciation.
When we have renunciation, we will be more inclined to work on our mind and all mental activities, the worries, fears and expectations will diminish. When these activities weaken, we become more 'natural', our 'ordinary mind', our basic state of consciousness becomes stronger and surfaces. When it comes out, all our doubts are dispelled. It is not a belief: it is an experience. We leave the samsaric state of mind behind.
From a Buddhist point of view, and this is fundamental, the samsaric state of mind is by nature suffering. The samsaric state of mind, according to the terminology, is the mind under the sway of aversion and attachment, which are coming out of ignorance. Whenever we encounter anything, our five senses always interact in three possible ways. Whatever we see, hear, smell, taste or touch, we either react with ‘this is nice’, ‘this is not nice’, or ‘this is neither’. If it’s neither nice nor not nice, then it’s neutral and we don’t have to think about it, we just ignore it. But if it's nice - “It’s nice. Oh really! Really, really nice!” - then we want to get it. If we want to get something, it means that we don’t have it yet and that we feel unhappy about it, so we go after it. If we don’t get it, then we are unhappy because we didn’t get what we wanted. But if we get it, we still have a problem because we now fear that we might lose it. We have to secure what we've got. And if we lose it, then of course we have a problem. That’s why there is trouble when there is attachment. Whatever way we go through this “Oh, this is nice”, all these subtle problems are always there, we are never fully satisfied, fully content and peaceful.
In the same way, if we say, “This is not nice, so I should not have it”, then we have to run away from it. We don't want it because it frightens us, it makes us suffer. So we try to run away. If we can't, then of course we have a problem because we suffer from having what we don’t want. But if we succeed, still, we have a problem because it might come back again. This time we managed to avoid it but next time we may not be so lucky. The fear is still there.
In whatever way we react, we always have this subtle dissatisfaction, pain or stress. Sometimes we have more and sometimes less, according to how gross our reaction is. Nobody can completely escape suffering. It’s not possible not to have any suffering, not to have any problem. There is always some fear, even if it is subtle. This way of reacting - always running after or running away from something - is called samsara or the samsaric way of reacting.
If we can very clearly see that as long as we are in samsara, as long as we have this samsaric state of mind, we cannot be without suffering, and if we really want to completely get rid of the root causes of this suffering, then we have to do something about it. We have to change not just one or two things, but our total modality. We also have to understand, to have a certain clue that it may be possible to change our way of reacting. Seeing this possibility is to engage on the spiritual path, that's what the Dharma is about. The Dharma explains that beside our usual way of reacting, there is something else, that we actually already have in us the capacity to get free from samsara. This state of freedom from samsara is called the enlightened state
So if we have some suspicion that the samsaric way of reacting is no good and if we want to get out of this cycle, we have renunciation and we have entered the real Dharma practice.
The following story illustrates this point. Dromtönpa, the foremost disciple of Atisha Dipankara (here also K.C. wrote ‘the Conqueror’), had a very enthusiastic student who was circum-ambulating (walking around) the stupathe whole day long. Dromtönpa came down and said, “Oh yes, it’s very nice that you are doing this circum-ambulation, but wouldn't it be better to do some Dharma practice?” The student wondered, “If this is not Dharma practice, what is Dharma practice then? Oh, yes, it must be reading the sutras.” So he went to the library and started reading the sutras. One day, the Lama came and said, “Oh, it’s very good to read books, but wouldn't it be better to do some Dharma practice?” Again the student thought, “So, if reading books is not Dharma practice, what is it then? Oh, it must be meditation!” And he spent his days sitting on his bed in meditation. And again the Lama came and said, “Oh, it’s good that you are meditating, but wouldn't it be better to do some real Dharma practice?” Then the student asked him, “Please tell me, what is Dharma practice?” The Lama replied, “Dharma practice is to work on your mind, to get rid of samsara, of your samsaric state of mind. That’s Dharma practice.”
Dharma practice is working on our reactions, on our total way of reacting. That’s why it’s not easy. It’s much easier to do circum-ambulations, read texts, meditate and everything else, whereas the real Dharma practice is working on our reactions, which is not very easy.
'When non-action is realised, it is the true nature.There is no other buddha outside of that'
When we really understand our true nature, we understand that the Buddha is not out there. It is not even in here as something to be developed or recovered, but - this is it! We don't have to do anything, it has always been there, there has never been any delusion. From the point of view of an enlightened being, there has never been any problem: it was all just a misunderstanding and there has never been anything else but enlightenement. We wereenlightened all the time but just didn't understand it.
Rinpoche, you talked about three different ways of reacting. What is the difference between a state of mind in which one is not affected by emotions and a merely neutral state of mind?
The neutral way of reacting is almost just being unaware. Things are happening - daylight gradually replaces darkness, time is passing every moment so that it’s nearing to lunch, then it’s afternoon, and so on - but we don’t pay attention to it, our consciousness is not set on these events and therefore we don’t react to them. If we are getting hungry, then yes, we react: ‘It’s getting late now, will this person never stop talking? What is this nonsense?’ Otherwise we are not reacting. So in a way the neutral state of mind is not reacting.
Not being affected by the emotions, or learning how not to let them affect us, is another thing. It’s not just a dull state of mind but it’s learning how not to react only with fear, aversion and attachment. In the samsaric state of mind, we only react with aversion and attachment, which are actually driven by fear. We are compulsively running away from things or running after them because of fear. Why we have this is, I think, important to go into. The next point actually discusses this question but maybe I’ll say a few words about it now. From the Buddhist point of view, we react in this samsaric way because of what the Buddhist terminology calls ignorance.
What is ignorance? ‘Buddhist ignorance’ is neither the ignorance of not knowing, nor the ignorance of dullness but the ignorance of distortion, of seeing ourselves and everything around us in a confused and distorted way. The Buddhist terminology also calls this the dualistic view, which is a very important notion. What this means is that when I experience something - anything, any kind of experience - I immediately say, ‘Oh, I am experiencing it.’ There is the ‘I’ and ‘it’, the ‘experiencer’ and what is experienced. This is how we create the duality. We split everything, all our experiences into two, two sides, two ways or two perspectives, ‘I’ and the rest, which is either for me or against me. So when we see in this way, experience becomes a confrontation and if ‘it’ is for me then I feel attachment, if ‘it’ is against me then I feel aversion. There is no other way of reacting once we have this dualistic approach. Therefore the teachings explain that this wrong way of perceiving is what causes aversion and attachment.
If this is a distorted, wrong way of seeing, what can we do in order to see things clearly and completely as they truly are? What is the relationship between the experience and the experiencer? Who am I? What is the ‘I’ that is experiencing made of? Someone who sees it completely clearly, just the way it is, has a slightly different way of perceiving. He/she perceives that it’s a continuum, ‘I’ is a continuum of experiences, nothing else. If I completely and clearly see that I am a continuum, now seeing, now hearing, now feeling, and that besides this continuation of seeing, hearing, etc., there is nothing else, no separate entity that could be called ‘I’, then I don’t need to have any fear. Fear, or reacting with fear and aversion, comes from seeing things in a dual way as either good or bad. But if I see any experience I have as something that comes and goes, I don’t have to say ‘This is a good experience, I must have it. This is bad, I don’t want it.” I can’t have anything anyway: it all comes up and goes, comes up and goes, Ö So there is no good, no bad, nothing nice or not nice. These are all concepts we create because of that basic dual perception.
Seeing this is called ‘rig’, wisdom. That ‘seeing’ is not seeing as from outside, but actually ‘being’ in it. If we can really completely be in it, experience it, then it’s called the real View. That’s the View. It’s not a diluted or a distorted way of being, but just ‘the way it is’. If we can do that, we are actually in the View and we also have the wisdom, which means that we have actually got rid of samsara. So, to get rid of samsara or of the samsaric state of mind is actually – theoretically at least - very easy because it’s just a matter of seeing things in another way. We just have to see the mistakes we are making in our usual way of seeing things, and then they’re gone. That’s why it is said that some great beings just need to get one empowerment or something like that, and then they realise everything and it’s finished. And when the wisdom is experienced then there is no samsara anymore. That’s the understanding.
Now, sometimes and even very often, people wonder how we could function, how we could avoid dangers, if we had no fear, because now, at the moment, we cannot react in any other way than with fear, aversion and attachment, and all our defensive mechanisms are based on fear. That’s the samsaric state of mind. That’s why we almost cannot function without fear and all these things. We don’t know how it would be not to have this fear. But from the Dharma point of view, fear is not necessary. We don’t necessarily need to react with fear in order to avoid danger. We can do it with wisdom, which is even better because when we react with fear to defend ourselves, then there is always some degree of panic and when we panic, our mind is not that clear. Therefore, in the process of getting rid of a danger, we actually sometimes get into it. For instance, we try to cross a motorway and, suddenly, too many cars come at once and we panic - and as soon as we panic we run here and there and then Ö we’re run over. This is a very gross example of course, but even at a subtle level, when the panic arises, we don’t react too well. When there is wisdom, there is no panic involved, it’s much clearer and our defence mechanism is in fact much stronger.
3. The third point is about to have an essential understanding of view, meditation, action and also the result or fruit.
There are many categories of view, meditation and action, but when applied to one’s own mind,
the view is absolute conviction in the true nature;
meditation is assimilating that meaning in one’s being; and
action is recognizing anything that happens as that view and meditation.
It follows that the fruition will be the actualization of things as they are.
Whatever we say about view, meditation and action, the main thing is that it’s applied on our mind only. If we understand the true nature of our mind, that’s the view. As we discussed earlier, the real trouble, the real source of the deluded samsaric state of mind and the suffering that ensue, is our distorted perception of ourselves. Therefore, to see ourselves completely clearly the way we are, that’s the wisdom, and that’s the most important thing because that is what liberates us. That’s why Buddhism, both Mahayana and Vajrayana, so strongly emphasizes the wisdom. Wisdom is enlightenment. There is nothing else. From this point of view, the result or the enlightenment is not something that we need to get from outside. All we have to do is just to see what we actually are. That’s why we always say, ‘see the true nature, see the true nature’ - because the result is not different from our original state. We call it the ‘natural state’ because the way our mind, the way everything is, is always like that. The problem is not the way things are but the way we see them, which is distorted. We don’t have to change anything except our distorted perception. When we do not see the nature of everything exactly as it is, we are deluded and then we have problems.
So therefore, the whole path, all the methods and practices that we do, are just a means to see this true nature and when we completely see this natural state, then we have the result, enlightenment. That’s why we talk about the buddha nature. Everybody has this buddha nature, but it is not something that we would have in some corner of our heart or here or here. It’s not like that. ‘Buddha nature’ means ‘the way it is’, and nobody can not have the way it is, it is there all the time. This is why the only thing that is necessary is – we could say - to open our eyes, which is why we call it ‘the view’. The view is to see things the way they really are.
It is not an intellectual thing. It is not a concept. It's an experience. Of course, we cannot completely experience it right now and we have to approach it through an intellectual understanding. That's the approach of the Madhyamika philosophy for instance. We analyse things thoroughly and when we have seen that concepts are not stable, we have to go beyond concepts to a non-analytical state of being. Actual understanding, insight in our true nature, cannot come through the intellectual mind, it has to come from experience. This is why the view itself is meditation because we don’t need to meditate something other than the view. To have some clue about the way things really are, that’s the view. And in order to bring that understanding to our actual experience, we need meditation. For instance, when we meditate, our mind becomes calm and clear.
The more we can relax and be natural, the clearer and calmer our mind is, then the more we come in direct contact with ourselves, the more we become aware of our real basic state of being. We do not understand it through intellectual speculations but through experience. That experience, that kind of glimpse of insight can change a lot but it cannot completely change everything because our habitual tendencies will come back again and again. Therefore we have to familiarize ourselves with that understanding, and that is the meditation. The meditation is assimilating this experience in our being
And ‘action is recognising anything that happens as that view and meditation.’ Whatever happens we try to understand, to bring it within the scope of this view and meditation, that’s action. When we have done it, when we have completely actualised it, that’s the result.
So everything is the nature of the mind, which means the way it is, the way our mind is, the wisdom. This true nature is also called the ordinary mind. To 'see the ordinary mind’ is liberation.
4. The fourth point is reversing our attachment to the reality of deluded appearances.
The root of delusion is one’s own mind grasping external appearances as being truly existent. Whatever creation or completion stage meditations are employed,
all are intended as methods to reverse this attachment to the reality of deluded appearance.
If stubborn habits of attachment and aversion are not reversed,
then meditation is as meaningless as a gopher hibernating in a hole.
The main reason why we have this delusion is because we grasp at all that we see, at all the experiences of the five senses as completely real and truly existent. But actually they are not as existent or as true as it seems to us. Therefore we need to work on this, and from the Vajrayana point of view, the two main methods are creation and completion. The Creation stage is an exercise of the mind, which usesthe habitual grasping wayour mind works in order to help us progressively relax our strong grasping. We could say in a way that it is a method applied to transform our gross and negative way of reacting into a positive one. The completion stage actually leads us to the real experience and understanding of our true nature, to completely see ‘the way it is’. Whatever meditation we do – creation, completion or whatever - it’s basically aimed at seeing ‘the way it is’, and thereby reversing our strong attachment and aversion. If our meditation doesn’t touch this, if it doesn’t aim at changing our samsaric state of mind, our perception or way of reacting through aversion/attachment then it is not liberating, it is useless. That’s the main understanding. When doing any kind of practice, we should always check whether it is really meant for that. It may also be just a method for a certain purpose, that’s something different - but if it is meant to liberate us, then it has to work at that level, at the way we react with aversion and attachment. If it does, then it is a real practice, it is real Dharma. If it doesn’t, then it’s not necessarily something very important. That’s why the text says here that even if our mind becomes very calm or very peaceful, it’s not necessarily liberating us, and meditating may be as meaningless as ‘a gopher hibernating in a hole.’ A gopher is a kind of prairie dog. It burrows in a hole in the winter and then sleeps for several months, until spring. It hibernates in the same way as bears and all those creatures that go into hibernation with no need to eat and drink. This means that even if our meditation is really stable and we can sit for three months in one go, it’s not very fantastic. It is only fantastic when we can work on our samsaric state of mind.
5. The fifth point establishes the difference between the creation and completion stage.
Creation stage is the vast imaginary nature of contrivance and
Completion stage is the profound perfectly existent nature of genuine condition.
These are the names and definitions that have been taught.
They are also described as with and without elaboration, respectively.
‘Creation stage is the vast imaginary nature of contrivance’ - imaginary nature... Our mind functions through contriving. The creation stage is also a contrivance, an elaboration stage. It’s not about the ultimate truth, about seeing the true nature but it’s working, practising on the habitual way our mind is functioning. We use that as a method. Usually we define the Vajrayana approach as using the result as the method. It is supposed to be very skilful. Our mind is very creative, very imaginative. When it creates something, it grasps at it and then that's it, we get entangled into it. When our mind says, ‘It’s very nice, I must get it’, then it becomes so nice that we cannot stop until we get it. So our mind is not only very creative but also very powerful.
This reminds me of a story. It’s said to be an African story. In certain areas in Africa it’s very hot and doesn’t rain much. During the dry season the water dries up completely and when one can’t find water anywhere then only the pygmies can find out where water can still be found. The pygmies know that one particular type of monkey knows where the water is, but as they hide it, the pygmies have to revert to a stratagem in order to find out from the monkeys. First, they go close to the trees where this monkey lives and dig a hole in the ground just big enough for the monkey to be able to slip an empty hand in and out, but too small to let him pull anything out. While they are making the hole, the monkey is watching. He knows that the man is trying to trap him and doesn’t want to go any nearer. He’s thinking, ‘Certainly, certainly he’s going to trap me into something - I don’t know what, but something really bad.’ The man then puts something, a stone perhaps, inside the hole, and then sits at some distance, waiting.The monkey’s curiosity is aroused now. He thinks ‘No, no, I don’t want to see this, I don’t want to have anything to do with this man. Men are always doing things like this, they’re always trapping and catching me. I don’t want to look.’ But at the same time, he cannot stop watching and then he wonders ‘What is it in there? I know he put something there. What is it? What is he up to? There must be something there.’ The curiosity and attraction is so strong that he can’t stay away for long and has to come and take a look. He looks again and again, and thinks, ‘Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything dangerous there.’ Part of his mind thinks, ‘Oh I shouldn’t touch it, it’s man who is doing all those things. It’s no use.’ But another part wonders, ‘It must be something. Why is he doing all these things?’ And then eventually he puts his hand in, in and out, and nothing happens, but he feels that there is something inside the hole. So he puts his hand in and grasps whatever is there. When he tries to get his hand out, he can’t, so he panics and he tries to pull it out. By that time the man has come and tied the monkey’s other hand to the tree. The monkey laments, ‘Oh no, I knew it would be like this! I knew this was a trap! This curiosity of mine will be the death of me!’ The man leaves him there for a long time, watching. When the monkey is really hungry, the man brings a ball of salt, puts it in front of the monkey and unties one of his hands. Again, the monkey thinks, ‘There is something wrong here. I’m not going to eat this at all. This I’m really not going to eat! This is a new trap and I’m not going to fall in it this time.’ So he sits there and doesn’t eat. But then he looks at it - ‘What is that? Something to eat perhaps? I’m so hungryÖ’ And eventually he can’t resist, touches the salt and licks his finger. And it’s nice. So he eats some more, and some more, and of course gets very thirsty. So thirsty that when the man finally releases him, he goes straight to wherever there still is water. As he runs, the man runs after him and the monkey sighs, ‘ Oh no, I have done it again!’
So the man gets what he wants because the monkey has to do what he’s been trapped into doing. So therefore our mind is a little bit like the man. It creates and when it creates then it creates itself and also sometimes it falls into its own trap.
When we work on the creation stage, we channel this clever, imaginative and very resourceful mind into creating something different, something totally positive, what we could call the enlightened state. Instead of creating in our usual negative way full of aversion and attachment, we activate compassion, wisdom and all the positive qualities that we are trying to develop. We use the creativity of our mind in this way, and – what is very important – we experience it. In Vajrayana, every practice is experiential, directly experiential. Feeling, experiencing is the main thing in Vajrayana, not concepts and theories. So, if for instance we visualise ourselves as a deity, who is already enlightened in a way, it’s a creation in the same way as our usual creations, but whereas the latter are rather negative, here we create an enlightened state. It’s the same contrived, imaginary nature, but more to the likeness of the ultimate reality, of the enlightened state. Through exercising and working on this, we can then get some experience of that state.
The completion stage is the genuine condition, the perfectly existent nature. It's not an imputation or a creation but a natural state, which is characterized by great depth.
The creation stage is with elaboration and the completion stage is without elaboration. Most Vajrayana practices, like the Tara or Chenrezig practices, have these two parts. The completion stage is there all the time because without it, the creation stage is not complete or does not really work. But when we go through a sadhana, most of the things we find in the text explain the creation stage: how to visualize, how to make offerings, what prayers and mantras we should recite. The completion stage is only indicated by a few lines, sometimes only half a line. This doesn't mean that the completion stage is not important, on the contrary. The creation stage is not very important and is not very difficult to learn. We just need to go through the text and we will know more or less how to do it. The completion stage is the most important, the deepest part and also the most difficult to learn. We have to learn it besides the particular text of the sadhana and we may have to spend our whole life on it.
The completion stage is usually done together with the creation stage in the tantric practices, but we should know that there are also teachings and traditions where we only practise the completion stage. Moreover, the completion stage can have two aspects from the Vajrayana point of view: there is a completion stage with and without elaboration. The completion stage with elaboration makes use of the Six Yogas of Naropa. The completion stage without elaboration are the Mahamudra and Dzogchen meditations. .
6. The sixth point is the validity of all methods
Now these two, the creation and the completion - which is seeing the true nature of it, - are the two methods used. The sixth point specifies:
Since they are both exclusively the infallible intention of the victorious ones
who recognise the different capacities of individuals,
there is no questions of division into good and bad.
The point is to do practice appropriate to one’s own intellect.
The Buddha gave many different methods that are suitable to different kinds of people. As we usually hear, it is said that the Buddha gave 84,000 different paths, different paths not just sessions or sections of the teachings but different paths, for different people. So many different approaches can be used and therefore, when we talk about creation and completion, it’s not really to say that this is better and that is worse, that this is more ultimate and that is less ultimate, that’s not the point. Every path is a way leading to the final understanding, to actualisation, to enlightenment. Whatever helps us to make a step forward is a positive path. Whatever we can understand, whatever is more suitable to our temperament, that is what we have to practise and focus on.
This is very important because it indicates that it’s not because we have entered into Vajrayana Buddhism that we have to practice everything that is taught in Vajrayana Buddhism. We can practise what we understand and what we think appropriate to our own level, our own temperament, what is more suitable for us at this time. And the rest, we don’t need to practise. It doesn’t mean that the rest is bad. Sometimes people tend to take what is suitable to them and reject all the rest as no good, which is a wrong approach because what is not suitable to them might be very suitable to another person, to other people. There is no good or bad methods, all the methods are good in as far as they are helpful and suitable to us. We should know that there are many different teachings, paths and ways, and practise whatever we can understand, whatever we think is leading us to a deeper and broader understanding.
© Dr. Ringu Tulku