Preliminary Practices to Mahamudra
Teachings given in Brussels
in March and October of 1996
RINGU TULKU RINPOCHE
Table of CONTENTS
The 4 Fundamental Thoughts
1. The Precious Human Life
THE 4 SPECIAL FOUNDATIONS
3. Vajrasattva Purification
4. Mandala Offering
5. Guru Yoga
In the older days, the practitioners of Dharma used to follow a progressive sequence. First they would be taught this and practise this, then they would be taught that and practise that, and so on. This used to be the tradition. Nowadays, there are so many books and so many teachings going on everywhere that you get everything at the same time. There is no longer any progressive sequence, which can sometimes be quite confusing because you get so many pieces of information and you do not know where to put them. You receive too many instructions on how to do one and the same thing. If you knew how to put them in the proper order, there would be no problem, but you don’t, and it puzzles you.
Traditionally, you would first gain a basic understanding from very general, introductory teachings (like Gampopa’s “Gems of Dharma”) and then you would usually come to their practical side, which is Mahamudra1. However, Mahamudra does not start with Mahamudra: it starts with the Preliminaries to Mahamudra, which is what we call the Ngöndro Practice.
I think you all know what the Ngöndro practice is. Many people are doing or have done this practice everywhere, and this is the case for some people here also. Actually, almost everybody who wants to practise Mahamudra has to practise Ngöndro beforehand. The Ngöndro practice is one of the main practices in all Vajrayana schools, but this particular Ngöndro we will go through is peculiar to Mahamudra, and therefore to the Kagyu2 tradition. For those who practise the Kagyu tradition, it is almost a “must”, one of the main practices.
I do not really know whether “preliminaries” is the right word, because it sometimes gives the wrong impression. Some people think it implies something you do first and forget about it before continuing with the more important issue. It’s not like that. The preliminaries are a basic practice, and the more you understand it, the more you get the experience of it, the clearer the real Mahamudra teachings will become. The preliminaries are not just something you do in the beginning and then leave behind, but it is the very essence, the real basic foundation of Mahamudra. The more you understand it, the deeper it becomes, and when you get the Mahamudra teachings, when you really practise Mahamudra, you will find out that everything was already there, in the preliminaries.
It is such an important teaching that it may be good to start with it. If you do not understand the fundamentals, if you do not have the real basis, if you miss the meaning of one important word or one important notion at the bottom, let’s say something seemingly very simple, then you do not understand anything beyond that, you are completely blank! I always emphasise this, but I think it is true for anything we study.
It is so important to know the basics. To illustrate this, I usually tell the story of my studying geometry. When I was young, I went to a school for lamas which was called “Young Lamas’ Home School”. We didn’t know anything, we were completely new. We were taught arithmetic, additions, subtraction, and I was quite good at it, I used to get the best marks, because somehow I understood it. So later on, I became quite interested in mathematics. As we didn’t have any further lessons, I went to town and bought a book on geometry. I wanted to study “higher” mathematics! So I asked somebody who had been to college to teach me geometry. Then we opened the book, and on the first page, there was a kind of diagram, a triangle with the letters a, b and c at each corner.
“What are these a, b, c?” I asked.
“Well, these are imaginary points” he answered.
“What is an imaginary point?”
“Well, you just have these points, and you call them a, b and c”.
“What does “a” mean?”
“Nothing, it’s just an imaginary point.”
“Well, just another imaginary point.”
“How can “a” mean nothing, and “b” just nothing? It must mean something, why then “a”?”
“No, no, it is not necessarily “a”, it could be d, e, f, or z, anything!”
It was completely beyond my understanding, and that was my last class on geometry! I then thought that mathematics was very difficult. Much later, as a grown-up, I taught at the university and there was a mathematics department. I told the professor that I thought it was completely beyond my scope of understanding and he asked me why. I told him the story and explained my problem. Then he said: “No, it is easy. Suppose you are building a house from here to here, and from here to there, the distance is this much, and there to there, it is that much. Then you make a point here, and here, and there, and you measure it.” It became very clear. If my first teacher had explained it like that from the beginning, maybe I would now be a mathematician! I think it is like that with everything. If you miss the basics, then you do not know what you are talking about.
It is also true for Dharma practice. Sometimes you do things, but you don’t know what you’re actually doing. It happens so often. Especially Dharma in the West, because it is new for you, but also for Tibetans. Actually it may still be more true for Tibetans, because we are so used to it. Everything, every word is so familiar to us that we take it for granted. We have heard it so many times, since we were very small, and since it is so familiar, it seems to be all right, acceptable. We mumble through the text, and we seem to know the meaning because it’s so familiar, but we actually do not know. When we are asked a question, then only do we scratch our head! It happens many times. It happened to me, so it must have happened to others also. When you read a prayer every day, it seems to be all right, but when you really want to know what each word means, it is sometimes quite difficult. But if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything. Therefore, it is very important to try to understand the fundamental matters one by one, both through analysis and from an experiential point of view.
Sometimes we talk about very simple, basic things like Shiné3 meditation, or the 4 fundamental thoughts - they are not very difficult to understand theoretically, so we think that we know them. But if we don’t really get deep into them, we don’t get to the bottom, to our actual experience - then we miss their actual meaning. When we have the right understanding of the basics, when it is really strong, then all the rest comes naturally. It is true for the training in Tibet, it must be the same in the West and everywhere else.
In the beginning, we feel attracted to “big names”, like “Mahamudra”, “Dzogchen4” and things like that. “Wow! I’d like to practise Mahamudra, or Dzogchen, or the 6 Yogas ...” Actually, if you don’t have the basics, these higher teachings just won’t mean anything for you! You can read the books, you can get the teachings, and even all the initiations and empowerments5, everything, but it will not blossom into your experience. When that happens, you will come to the conclusion that it does not work and you will reject it as useless. In fact, it is not true, it does not work because you lack the real basics, you have not really understood how to practise, the real way to practise.
This disparagement of very valuable teachings is a big problem. I have seen it in different places. Once a Lama promised to teach Dzogchen somewhere, eventually he didn’t, he taught something else. All the students were complaining, so I told them of my own experience. Since I have this name of a “Tulku6”, I have received every teaching from everybody. That’s the good or the bad thing for being a tulku, the lamas consider that you have been practising for many lifetimes, so they give you all the teachings. But what I have personally been doing is that, after having received all these teachings from beginning to end, I felt the need to go backwards. The more teachings I have received, the more I have gone backward in my actual practice. Not forward, but back, back to the beginnings! I think this means you have to begin with the beginning. Maybe it is particular to me, I don’t know, but I think it is valid for everybody. Maybe you can go backward as I did, but it may be easier to start from the beginnings.
It is very important to understand the basic things. If you have a doubt, if something is confusing, try to clear it, otherwise whatever you build on it will be based on a misunderstanding, on a wrongly preconceived idea. This often happens.
More fundamental is to make sure why we are practising Dharma. We talk about practising different kinds of things, like Mahamudra, but the basic question is why are we doing all that, why should we practise Dharma? If we are not clear about our motivation, then we are just wasting time. So why are you practising Dharma?
- (To try to become kinder to other people.)
- (To come to know better my inner landscape and live more and more in clarity and light instead of confusion.)
- (To progressively get more and more out of my own sufferings and to help others to get rid of their own problems)
- (To find out what is genuine in ourselves and make it grow.)
- (To live in the present moment and not beside it.)
It’s all more or less the same thing. The question is to get out of sufferings, to become more happy and find ways to help others become more happy too. But in order to do that, why practise Dharma? Is there no other way?
- (We have met Lamas who give us the impression that they have reached that goal or are on the right way. It seems to be a valid model to follow.)
Maybe you have too much faith in the Lamas!
- (There have been proves of its validity, that it is working.)
- (This tradition goes so far back, it has been twisted all ways, still it keeps its purity and efficiency.)
How do you know ?
-(I speak from experience. Well, my experience is very limited of course, but I experience it works!)
Maybe your experience is different from that of other people. And how can you trust your experience, as it always changes?
- (There is a correspondence between the Dharma and what really is. It is true, there is no discordance. Through Dharma practice, one comes to harmony, not disharmony.)
And then? What do you understand by Dharma?
- (We have read the story of the Buddha, it’s a nice story, we want to believe it, to follow it.)
-(It is what shows us the nature of mind.)
Yes. That is the main thing. The Dharma is not just a nice story. If it was just a nice story, it would not mean much. What we mean by practising Dharma is that we are trying to understand, to find the truth, to see the way things really are. Practising Dharma is important because it means we try to find out our real self, our true nature, what we really are, to learn how to really be ourselves. When we talk about the “true nature”, sometimes it is very much misunderstood. “To see our true nature”: this is jargon!
When we say we try to see our true nature, it immediately implies that at this moment, we are not seeing our true nature, are we? It means that we are confused. We have lots of doubts, we are not clear. If we do not have a clear understanding, a clear vision, if we are confused and in doubts, that means we are deluded, there is something wrong. Lots of misunderstandings come out of not seeing things clearly, even in our daily life: a misunderstanding can lead to grievous mistakes, wrong judgements, confusion, etc.
Once we accept that we do not see things clearly and completely, we must find out whether there is a way to see them clearly and completely. For as long as we do not, we shall be unable to escape out of confusion. That is very clear, isn’t it? Moreover, when we are not clear, when we harbour lots of doubts and confusion, we are unable to make others understand how things really are because we do not understand it ourselves. We cannot guide somebody else when we are blind ourselves. Therefore we should first clear our own vision. When our vision, our understanding is clear, then only will we be able to guide others.
To understand ourselves completely; to clear our own confusion and misunderstandings so that we can see clearly what we and all phenomena are - that is the most basic, the most fundamental procedure in Buddhism, and maybe in all spiritual paths. If we see it, we see the truth.
All our problems come out of our confusion, out of our not seeing things clearly. It is the basic understanding, or we could say, the basic misunderstanding. All our problems arise out of confusion, out of misunderstandings, wrong assumptions, wrong concepts, wrong ways of seeing things. That is the main Buddhist theory. That is why Ignorance is pinpointed as the basic problem in all Buddhist teachings. Out of ignorance come all the other problems. When we say “ignorance”, it does not mean that we are lacking some Ph.D. Degree, that we are lacking all the information about everything. It means that we are not clear basically. Basically we are confused, and all our presumptions and assumptions, all our concepts are built on that confusion.
When you make a foundation of sand bricks without cement, whatever you build on top of it will collapse. The real reason why we should practise Dharma is to clear away this misunderstanding and try to see things clearly. But then, it is not just correct information that will be able to clear that confusion. If I just tell you, "It is like this!”, and you say : “Oh, yes!”. It won’t work, that is too easy. Our confusion has built up for a very long time, it is made out of a mixture of all kinds of confusions. It is not just an informative confusion, but it is very deeply ingrained. We are so obsessed with it, we have become so habituated to that process, to that way of thinking, that even if somebody tells us “It is not like this, it is like that.” Even if through thinking, rationalising and analysing, we come to the conclusion that “Yes, it is true, it is not like this, it is well like that”, even then, it does not go deep enough. Our habit is so ingrained that we have become neurotic. Though you know rationally that the way you see things is not right, yet you have to act that way, you cannot help behaving in that compulsory way. Because of this deeply ingrained, compulsive character, we need not only lots of informative understanding, but also transformation at a very deep level of consciousness in order to clear this basic confusion.
That is what Dharma practice is, it’s nothing more than seeing things clearly, getting out of confusion. But then confusion is not just informative confusion, it is deeply ingrained confusion, which is why we need many, many different methods, at different stages, in order to deal with it. And then, mainly, we are dealing with our mind.
Sometimes, we have problems defining what mind is. It is sometimes understood as the thinking mind, the thoughts. But here, what I mean by “mind” is rather the whole of consciousness. That is the “thing” we are dealing with, because that’s what we are, isn’t it? As you know, mind is the more important element in a person.
I think it is very important, when we talk about practising Dharma, to emphasise that - at least from the Buddhist point of view - it is not something that you do as a kind of extra subject in addition to your usual activities. It is not a leisure, not a practice you do as a kind of luxury, when you already have everything else. It is something you find you must do in order to be whole. It is not something extra: if you do not do it, then you feel you are not complete, you are not fulfilling your own purposes, your own objectives and aims. It is for your own well-being, your own good and the good of others, something vital that you cannot do without. When you understand it that way, you do not practise Dharma because you are in trouble, or because you have nothing else to do, you practise it because it is almost a means of survival, like bread. It is something you feel you have to do because it is part not only of your education, but of your own essential development, of your own understanding of the way things are.
Through Dharma practice, first we try to find out what are our problems and what are the things we want, then we try to deal with all our problems. If you understand it properly, there is not one circumstance in life when Dharma practice is not necessary. Dharma practice is not only the particular practices like Ngöndro, or Mahamudra, or meditation.
Just meditation is not Dharma practice. Meditation may be Dharma practice, but it may not be Dharma practice. Meditation is not necessarily Dharma practice, Ngöndro is not necessarily Dharma practice, any practice is not necessarily Dharma practice. Doing nothing is not necessarily not practising! That is why we can say that there is no non-practising Buddhist. There may be non-practising Christians, who do not go to Church, but there are no non-practising Buddhists!
The real Dharma practice, if you understand it as a totality, starts with very basic things. From the Buddhist point of view, anything you try to do towards what we call - “enlightenment” is a very big word. It is jargon for towards realising the truth, in order to better ourselves, to better others, anything we do towards that end is in a way practising Dharma.
Therefore, when the Buddha taught, he gave teachings at many different levels. He taught different people different things according to what they were able to understand and practise. This is why there are all those different kinds of teachings that were later categorised in for instance the 3 yanas. The purpose of this multiplicity of teachings is to show that the practice of Dharma is not just one thing, but many different things at many different levels. For instance, at the Hinayana7 level, what is taught is to work at the level not of our mind, but of our actions and to try to refrain from doing things that will bring bad results for ourselves and for others. If you do something that brings you some negative result, you try to understand what are the causes that generate sufferings, pain, all the unpleasant things we do not like.
This approach is not particularly spiritual. It’s just very practical and rational. It is ordinary common sense. If you do something that gives bad results for yourself or for others, try to find out what is the cause behind it and refrain from doing it again. That is Dharma practice. Dharma practice is not necessarily sitting in the lotus posture and closing your eyes. If you are trying to refrain from doing something which is going to cause problems for yourself, for others, in the short or the long run, just doing that is Dharma practice.
If you go further, you try to do something that will bring a good result, what you and others desire. You try to find out what brings us good results, what stops us from generating negative results, and then we try to do that actively. That is also Dharma practice, a slightly superior form of Dharma practice.
Now that you are actually doing something, you find out that while you are performing these actions with your body or with your speech, it is basically your mind that actually generates these actions. In order to do anything, we can only use our body, our speech or our mind, there is no other way. This is the usual Buddhist way of categorising, but actually, whatever we do, we have to do it either with our hands (our body), or we can say something, or we can think something. Do we have anything else apart from body, speech and mind with which we can do anything? It’s all we have. Out of these three ways or mediums of expression, mind is the most important, because it directs the two others. You can’t do anything without the mind first giving orders. If you want to do something nice, like for instance giving some sweets, first your mind has to decide: “I’m going to be very nice and give this to him.” If you want to be very nasty also, and even before your body acts, the expression on your face indicates your intention.
Mind is like a chief giving orders, although the action, the result, the effect is accomplished with body or speech. If your body is doing something positive or negative, if your mouth is saying something positive or negative, it has actually originated in your mind. Therefore, the mind is the main protagonist. From the Buddhist point of view, mind is the most important constituent of a person. If we have to change, to improve, to develop something in ourselves, to change some of our ways, we can only do this through changing our mind. We will only succeed through transforming or improving our mind. We will not change by any other means.
Dharma practice is actually done on the mind. The mind is the target, the subject, the main material, we could say the raw material, on which we work when we practise Dharma. Dharma practice is almost nothing else than working on our mind, and by so doing, we work on our whole being. All our sufferings, all our happiness, all our emotions come from our mind. Practising Dharma is nothing but dealing with our mind, working on it in many different ways, at many different levels.
When we talk of meditation, it means trying to make our mind a little calmer and clearer. If we try to change our attitude, the way we see things, the way we react, that is also working with our mind. When we try to become kinder, more loving, more compassionate, when we try to develop our positive side, that is again working with our mind. When we try to control and reduce our negative emotions, like anger, jealousy and so on, it is still working with our mind. Mahamudra is nothing different.
Since Dharma practice is working with our mind, dealing with our mind, studying our mind, therefore Buddhism is very individualistic, very personal. It is not a social practice. I mean by this that I can work with my mind, I cannot work with somebody else’s mind. As I deal with my own mind, I practise on my own, which this does not mean that it has no effect on others. Basically, I have to work with my mind first, but with the intention of helping others. When I improve myself, when I become clearer, more realised, more “enlightened” in a way, then I can also benefit and help others. On the contrary, if I am completely confused myself, I cannot really help anybody else. Of course, if I have the good intention of trying to help others, it is very good, I should try to do whatever I can. Trying to do something for others at a practical, more social level is also practising Dharma, and it is very important. But since our main problem is the way our mind functions, we should focus mainly on working on our mind.
Whether you suffer or whether you are free from sufferings depends on how your mind functions, on how it reacts. For instance, even if I have enough to eat, enough to wear, a place to stay and no problems, I can be very unhappy. Or I could also be very happy, depending on my mind. It is of course necessary to have something to eat, otherwise I might die or suffer, but even if I have everything, I could be very unhappy. On the other hand, even if my body is not that well, I could be not too bad in my mind, I could even be happy. Maybe you have seen such persons, who are dying, who are very sick, but who are still very happy. That is due to the way their mind functions, the way they see things.
If we can work with our mind so as to find peace and the correct way of seeing things, then we will have no problems. We shall feel like this, not only when everything is going the way we want it to, but even when everything goes wrong with us, we shall not be completely down or depressed. That is the main purpose of dharma practice. That actually happens. It is very important. Therefore, when we are working with our mind, we are actually working with our whole experience.
When we try to understand Dharma, to understand the teachings, it is not enough to believe that if the Buddha said it, it must be the truth. Of course if must be true if the Buddha said it, because he is Buddha. But for us, that is not enough, because when we encounter problems, just remembering what the Buddha said will maybe help a little, but not really. We have to understand out of our own experience. This is why it is not just information that we need, but real contemplation. For instance, the Buddha said “Everything is impermanent”. We may think, “Oh, yes, everything is impermanent, of course!” But when something really happens to us, when we are struck by impermanence in our daily life, then we panic, we become desperate and completely frustrated. If our under-standing remains superficial, we will not really benefit from it.
On the contrary, if we understand that everything is impermanent and understand this from deep down within our own experience, not in the head only, but at heart level, then when impermanence manifests itself clearly, we do not have that kind of negative reaction. We do not feel that bad, because we really knew that it could happen any time. That is the difference between an intellectual understanding and an experiential understanding of Dharma.
When I am talking about all this, some people might get really bored: “Why is he talking about the same things again and again?” We talked about these things for the last 2 years, and we are still talking about them. But if you think that you have heard it all before, that you know all about it and leave it at that level - “I understand it all right, I can pass my exams, I can write a thesis on it”, then finished - that is not enough !
When we talk from the point of view of the Ngöndro, or the point of view of contemplation, it means that we actually try to bring all this knowledge at the level of our experience. We try to understand it really, quite deeply, from the bottom of our heart, we could say. Then it actually helps, we are really working with our mind. In that case, even the smallest, the tiniest Dharma practice will have a real result, a real impact, because it comes from your experience. Otherwise, just studying everything from beginning to end, knowing everything about the whole Buddhist Canon, the whole Buddhist philosophy, does not really mean too much. You can recite the whole Kangyur8 and Tengyur9, but of what help will it be ? This is illustrated by a story from the Buddha’s life.
One of the Buddha’s assistants had been serving him for a long time, and he had heard a lot of teachings He knew them by heart and was very proud. Once he got a little annoyed, and he left the Buddha. Wherever he went, he used to tell people that: “Except for a kind of radiance emanating from his face and body, the Buddha is not different from me. I know whatever he knows.” And he actually knew all the teachings by heart! But it did not help him. It did not benefit him because he had not practised anything and his life did not end very nicely.
In the same way, since the main purpose of practising Dharma is working with our mind, if we do not do it, we will not benefit from it. When I talk about practice, I do not mean this practice or that practice, this practice being better than that practice and so on, that’s not it. Actually, all practices are the same, all are as good as long as you can work with them on your mind. All the practices are just means, tools to work on your mind. Therefore, if you can work with part of a practice, with one practice, or with all practices, then it is a practice. If you cannot, then nothing is practice. I believe that we can practise many different things together on ourselves. We can practise Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Zen, Mahayana and Theravada together. We can do it because they are all aimed at the same objective, it’s just working with our mind. Whatever gives a result, whatever makes us understand, makes us clearer, that is working with our mind, that is practice.
Patrul Rinpoché10 used to say that if a person gives you a piece of advice, a clue that really helps you work on your mind, even if that person has a hundred faults himself, a hundred negativities, we should take his words as a teaching from the Lord Buddha. We should do this because what matters is that it helps you work on your mind, not where the advice comes from.
In this perspective, even different religions do not matter. As long as it works that way, it does not really matter whether it comes from the Bible, or from Kangyur, or the Upanishads or whatever. It does not matter because you are not working on Kangyur, the Bible or the Upanishads11, you are working on yourself. Therefore not only different teachings of the Buddha, but teachings from other sources, whatever works on you, that is the practice. When we talk about the Ngöndro practices, there are sometimes lots of things that people sometimes do not understand very well, with which they cannot connect. But actually these are all means of training our mind, of working with our mind in different ways.
Our mind is - I don’t have the English word, but I have a very simple example. Our mind is like the yak’s horns, very rigid. You cannot bend them as you like, you cannot do anything with them, they are bent and twisted but not flexible. They have grown in such a way, this way and that way, and then it is very difficult to make them straight again. Our mind is a little bit like that. It goes its own way and because we have become accustomed to that, it is not easy to work with it and change it to the way we would like it to be. This is why we need to use many different methods, different ways in order to tame it, we could say, to make it softer, more pliable. And we need very skilful means, because our mind is very delicate.
If we try to force it, telling it “You must do this!” It will react saying “No, I am not going to do that!”. I don’t know, maybe you wouldn’t react like that, but I would. If you ask me to do something saying “This you must do!”, I will think “Why? Of course I won’t do that!” And if you ask me very sternly not to do something, I will think that that sounds very interesting! If you try to force your mind to do something it does not want to do, that is not productive and it can give the opposite result. Working with our mind is a delicate matter, you have to do it in a very skilful, subtle and delicate way. The whole practice of Dharma is just doing that.
In Trungpa Rinpoché’s centres, students are advised to practise Shamatha meditation intensively before starting the Ngöndro practices; whereas in other centres like Samyé Ling, students start with Ngöndro and practise Shamatha afterwards. Are both approaches valid or is one better than the other?
I don’t know. Shamatha is a means to make your mind calm and clear, Ngöndro is that also, both actually work the same way. It does not really matter that much which you practise first, you can also do them simultaneously.
The point is that when you are working with your mind, you need some kind of stability, some clarity of mind, and whichever way you achieve it, that is the practice. You cannot say this is better than that. Actually, to generalise anything is not right, really. If you say “You must first practise Shamatha and then Ngöndro” all the time, it’s not right, because maybe that is not good for some people. And if you say “You must not practise Shamatha before you practise Ngöndro”, that is not right either!
In Tibet we have this saying: “Each Lama has his own religion, and each village its own language”. Maybe Samyé Ling has its own ways, and Trungpa Rinpoché has his own ways, as everybody has. You can have your own way. This does not mean that you completely go out of the system, but how you practise depends on your own experience.
This is how it is actually done. A good teacher does not say, “You have to do this!”. He will ask you whether it is all right for you. When I received teachings from Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoché12, he would give a teaching from Mahamudra, then give a teaching from Dzogchen and ask me : “Which one do you think is better?” And I would answer: “It doesn’t make any difference. It’s the same, anyway it doesn’t work with me!”
THE FOUR FOUNDATIONS
So far, we have been presenting the preliminaries to the preliminaries. Maybe we should now start with the actual Ngöndro.
I have explained that Dharma practice means dealing with our mind, working with our mind, transforming our mind. But why do we need to transform our mind? Because of our confusion, misconceptions and misunderstandings. We do not really understand who we are.
When our mind is unclear, not only unclear, but when it has a completely wrong way of seeing things, we do not recognise ourselves. In such a situation, many problems arise, all kinds of dissatisfactions, sufferings, miseries, problems - just out of that. Therefore, if we can see things a little more correctly; if we can be a little clearer about ourselves and about the things around us, then it will help us to become more aware of the way things really are.
That is why the Ngöndro practices begin with the 4 Foundations, or the or the 4 Contemplations, according to the different translations. We have already discussed them during last year teachings on Gampopa’s “Gems Of Dharma, Jewels Of Freedom”. It may therefore be unnecessary to go too much into details, although we need to say a few things on these 4 thoughts, because the Ngöndro approach is more practical. With the Ngöndro, we are talking about how we should actually do this practise and how to really experience it.
There is a great deal of difference, as I already explained (but this must be very strongly emphasised), between understanding something and putting it into actual practice. When we talk about contemplation, understanding, analysis and rationalising, we usually get the idea that it is just logic’s : we think in a logical way, and come to a logical conclusion - that’s the end. But actually, from a Buddhist point of view, that is not the end, that is not the real understanding. The real understanding is the experience. There is a great difference between talking about something that you know all about, but that you have not seen and something you have actually seen. A learned professor who has studied everything about Lhasa and somebody who has actually been there will talk a little differently about Lhasa. In the same way, if we come to a conclusion through our logical, rational analysis, and if we come to a conclusion through our experience, these two will have lots of differences.
To understand through books and teachings is quite easy, because most of the things we discuss in Buddhism are not completely illogical. Maybe some are, but ... Therefore it is easy to understand. But if we understand it that way and leave it there, then it doesn’t change anything in us. A real change in ourselves cannot happen with that kind of understanding.
Therefore, what we need to do here is not just leave this understanding at an intellectual level, but bring it deep into ourselves so that it becomes a real experience. That is what we mean by contemplation, or meditation, whatever you call it. These are the foundations.
The meaning of the foundations is to make these understandings really sink into us and become part of our system. When that happens, then it really works, it makes a difference, it changes something. Our fundamental outlook, our basic way of seeing things changes so that all the other things, our beliefs, our ways of reacting, also change, because these are dependent on this outlook. If we don’t change our basic way of seeing things, then the other things won’t change either and we will continue to react in the same way as we used to before. We may have some information on how things really are, but that doesn’t really matter much, because it doesn’t change us and we still function in the same way. When it becomes our experience, then we are transformed.
These four basic thoughts are very simple, but very strong and effective if we can really understand them. They are, as most of you know : the Precious Human Life, Impermanence, Karma and Samsara.
1. The Precious Human Life
The practice of Ngöndro ends with the Guru Yoga, so most of the time we are doing Guru Yoga. But what we usually do when we get up in the morning is to feel that our guru, or the lineage of the guru, the enlightened beings, are in front of us. Then we start our practice with the 4 fundamental thoughts. We recite the lines that are meant to remind us of them. Of course, what is important is to remember them. As we said before, to understand something is fundamental, but once we have understood, the only way to transform this understanding into a deep understanding, into our way of seeing things, is to think about it again and again, to be more and more aware of it, to familiarise ourselves with that understanding, to get so strongly habituated to it that it becomes our natural way of seeing things. There is no other way. When we do that, it becomes part of our experience. And this is how the practice is done.
In the actual Ngöndro text, there are just two lines to remind ourselves of the Precious Human life :
The first meditation topics concerns the precious human life
endowed with every freedoms and assets. It is difficult to get
and can be easily destroyed, so now is the time to make it
The English translation doesn’t sound very poetic, but that’s what it means. You can find the definition of what is meant by “the precious human body” in “The Torch of Certainty13” and in other books. Sometimes people explain that the human body is not necessarily precious is only considered precious when you have a combination of certain conditions. But actually speaking, all human life is precious, because if you have a human life, you can make it precious. Whether you make it precious or not is very much under your own control. See whether you have a precious human body or not.. If you have a precious human body, then value it and make it useful. If you don’t, make it precious
Most of the time, we don’t value very much our lives as human beings. When we don’t value something very much, we don’t appreciate it in the right way. When we don’t realise the true value of something, we can’t enjoy and use it properly. It is only when you know the preciousness of something, when you know that what you have is really valuable, that you can use it according to that value.
Suppose you have a crystal glass, but you don’t know it is crystal - then you just use it for everything and maybe you break it. If you know it is a crystal glass, very precious, then you will take care of it and even if you only drink water in it, you will feel very proud and happy because you may be drinking water, but in a crystal glass !
Therefore, the first thing we have to do is to appreciate what we have. If we don’t, what’s the use of having it ? We don’t value it, we don’t enjoy it. It’s very important.
I was so shocked the first time I came to England. A professor came to see me and told me he was going to commit suicide. I asked why and he told me that it was because for the second time, he had not been allowed to attend a 7 days conference in America ! I was completely shocked. But he was actually meaning it, he was very serious. There was this Professor, who had prestige, a position, everything, he made lots of money, and just because he couldn’t go to America - I mean, he could have gone with his own money if he had wished to - because he had been refused the authorisation by his department, he was about to commit suicide ! How little he valued his life ! It’s very foolish, isn’t it ? But it happens - I think maybe many people died for less than that !
If you know how precious your life is, then you wouldn’t waste it by becoming sad and depressed or worrying too much for small things.
We usually worry ourselves to death, don’t we ? For almost nothing, very small things, we can make ourselves so unhappy and tense. We waste our time and don’t enjoy life at all because we always worry. If we make them big, very small things can actually become very big. But to somebody who has seen many problems, they will seem insignificant. When I first came to the West - maybe I shouldn’t say so, but - I felt that all the problems people were telling me about were actually no problems, they were so small compared to those people have in other places !
Therefore, when you know that your life is important, valuable, precious, that it is not something you should waste, you will appreciate it more and use it more purposefully. You won’t waste it by making yourself uselessly miserable. If something goes wrong, then all right, it goes wrong, but you still have your life, which is very precious. If you understand this deeply, then even if you have nothing else, completely nothing but just your life, you should still be very happy. Even if you have only a very little time left, you will not just panic and waste also that little of time in unnecessary things, but you will use it purposefully. Because we are very powerful. As you all know, human beings are considered the most intelligent species on earth - at least - and maybe we are. Of course we can use this intellect, we can use this power in a right or wrong way : we can use it to destroy ourselves and the whole universe or we can use it to benefit ourselves and others. But whichever way we use it, we have this very big power, this big opportunity.
To understand deeply the preciousness of our human life means to understand the great opportunity we have : we can do so many things, so many good things for ourselves and for others. If we really want to and if we really try, we can even eliminate all our problems.
When we develop that understanding, whatever we do is affected and influenced by it, therefore we can’t do anything negative, anything really bad, because that would be wasting our time.
Moreover, this does not only change our way of looking at ourselves but our way of looking at others. When we appreciate ourselves, when we value our own life, then we value others’ also. Only when we value ourselves and our own life can we value others’. When that changes, we have made a complete transformation. If I appreciate myself as I am, I will not waste my life, and if I appreciate others’ also, I will not want to waste their time either. If I really see things that way, I have become a very nice person, a good human being, haven’t I ? Through just really meditating, truly contemplating and understanding this first foundation, the Precious Human Body, we can actually transform ourselves and become better persons.
But sometimes, when you talk about the precious human life, some people laugh at it - I did too !... You know : “What is so precious about it ?” However, if we really think about it, if we first understand it, then think it over again and again, remember it, make it part of ourselves, then maybe...
Once we have understood the preciousness of human life, we should also realise that it is not easy to get, and that it is very easy to lose. When you understand it deeply, you will feel a strong inspiration, a strong urge to make something purposeful out of your life. When you know that it is valuable, very delicate and not easy to get, you will use your life very purposefully, you will make something good of it, for you and for others.
If you really have that understanding, that attitude, it means you have accomplished the first foundation. With this first foundation, we should become better human beings, who value their own lives, abilities and capacities, who also have concern for others and are willing to work for their own and others’ benefit.
- I think that the preciousness of human life is very much linked with our own pure true nature. For me this is quite clear, I believe in the purity of our true nature. But often, when I talk with other people, even very clever people, I find it very difficult to make them understand it. They don’t believe in that. Is there a way to explain it clearly so that they might accept the notion ? I have tried many times different ways, but I don’t succeed.
Neither do I ! That’s why I didn’t mention that ! But maybe they will understand it slowly. Usually, when we teach, for instance when we teach language to children, we have to do it gradually. For many years, I have been writing school books for children and I had great difficulties to write for primary classes, because one has to write in a very graded manner. You can’t put in a book for the 2nd class what they will only learn in the 4th class. When you write a lesson for the 1st or 2nd class, you have to make sure that you include what they have already learned or are about to learn. If we just jump from the basics, that is the precious human body, to the Buddha nature, it becomes difficult to grasp. Maybe if we go step by step, people will find a connection. Of course, the Buddha nature is a very important, even essential, concept in the Buddhist world, and especially in Mahayana and Vajrayana. In a way, it may not be so difficult to grasp and accept for many people, because ... Anyway, we will have to come to this at the end of our discussion of the Ngöndro practice.
When I come in contact with another person who is suffering, it just breaks my heart. What can I do ? I mean, it definitely gives me the responsibility to work on my mind, to become a better person myself, but that is what I can do for myself. Now what can I do for that other person who suffers, how can I alleviate his/her sufferings, make it lighter ?
You can’t help other people completely, that’s true. But then, what is to be done about that, what can you do ?. When you understand that you cannot do much for another person, it means that another person cannot do too much for you either, can he/she ? Therefore, for your own good, you must work your own way. You must transform yourself, and then only can you maybe help others and show them how to do. But of course, you can take the horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.
How much you can help others also depends on how much you have understood how to help yourself, how to deal with your own problems. If you do not know how to deal with your own sufferings, how could you help somebody else who is suffering too ? But if you can, if you actually know very well how to deal with your problems, then it is more likely that you will be able to help others, because you know yourself how to work it out.
Many people come to me to ask : “How should I teach somebody to be completely happy and have no problems ?” I don’t know, maybe the first step is to learn it yourself ! If I don’t know how to be happy myself, I can’t possibly help others to be happy either. In this modern time, people seem to prefer teaching rather than learning themselves. Actually, it is very important first to learn how to do something yourself, then you won’t need much training to know how to teach others what you know. Therefore, it is one more reason to practise, to learn, to experience yourself, in order to have more experience, more understanding, more knowledge and more skill to help others. The more you see the sufferings of others, the more you feel frustrated that you can’t help, the more inspired and motivated you become to learn how to get out of sufferings yourself.
The second foundation is impermanence. The root text says :
“Secondly, the universe and everything that lives therein is impermanent, particularly the lives of beings, who are like water-bubbles. The time of death is uncertain, and when you die, you will become a corpse. Dharma will help you at that time, therefore practise it diligently now.”
It is not really saying “you”, it’s saying “me”. All these sentences are like reminders to yourself.
We have talked quite a lot about impermanence last year, you find it explained in all the books, and you all know about it. Therefore, we will not explain it this time, but rather talk about how to really experience impermanence. How can we bring a rational, intellectual understanding into our daily life ? The only way is to practise it, to think about it again and again, to be aware of it , to try and see impermanence all around us.
All of us know that there is nothing really permanent : everybody dies, everything changes, we can see the evidence of it everywhere. It’s no secret, it’s nothing difficult to understand. However, when something happens to us, like for instance this vase falls down and breaks, or my watch stops working, then I get completely upset. I know that this watch is impermanent, that it will stop some day, but when it actually breaks, it’s hard for me to accept. Therefore we need to remind ourselves, to be aware of this fact again and again. It is not an understanding that should come to us from time to time, when we read books on Buddhism, or when we meditate on impermanence. It should become our basic way of seeing things. That is what we try to do, because if we really understand impermanence, it can actually change our life, change our way of reacting, our character, our personality.
Let’s take a simple example : suppose 3, 4 people staying together, a family, a group of friends or more people, like a centre - and then they fight, sometimes for very small things ! If they really understood impermanence, they wouldn’t react like that. Even if we are a family, and we have come together supposedly for a whole life, we don’t really know how long this life will last : maybe only till tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or next year ... When we know that it is not going to last very long anyway, we will try to make the best out of that short time. If we develop that attitude that it can’t be for a very long time anyway, then even if something goes wrong, it won’t be so difficult to bear. It doesn’t mean that we should not solve the problem - of course we should solve the problem ! But we won’t make it an issue for which we spend lots of time fighting, for which we are ready to completely devastate your own life and that of others. We will naturally become easier to live with, because we will no longer react with excessive sensitivity to small things. We will no longer be like what a Tibetan saying defines as a “ball of pus”.
When you have a wound, and it becomes infected, full of pus, then whatever touches it, even the softest thing, is very painful, isn’t it ? If you are like that, whatever touches you cannot give any good result, it feels very bad. When you understand impermanence more deeply, you won’t take whatever happens so seriously any more. I don’t mean that you don’t take anything seriously, that you don’t bother about anything, but that you don’t take it too seriously, that you no longer make yourself miserable for small things. And because of that, you can delay things. Even if somebody says something unpleasant to you, you can think “All right, he/she said something bad to me, but if I react by answering something bad to him/her, it will hurt him/her and create more problems, so I will try to reason and solve the problem in a more amiable way. I don’t have to become completely angry and start fighting. I will work it out slowly.”
All our emotions, especially the negative ones - and especially anger - are such that if you can delay your reaction a little bit, they will go away. If you can delay your reaction for a few seconds, the better part of your consciousness may start to function and you will refrain from reacting according to the negative impulse. You will be glad that you resisted the impulse of doing what you would have regretted afterwards, and it will give you lots of confidence and joy.
If you develop that kind of attitude within your family, you will end up with lots of love and compassion, because it is the same with all the people, except maybe one or two. There are always exceptions at both ends. You can compare humanity to a Gauss curve : At one end, you have the best few, they won’t change whatever you do, they will remain very good all the time. At the other end, you have the worst few. You can’t change them either, they will remain bad whatever you do. But these are the minority, they are very few. All the rest, the majority can be influenced. It is like all of us. If we do good things, if we are kind to others, they will be kind and do good things to us. If we are unkind to them, they will be unkind to us. If I smile to you, you smile back. If I frown to you, you frown back. It is like the story I have certainly told you already, the story of the wise shepherd :
There was a wise shepherd who used to sit on a hill looking after his sheep. His village was down the valley. One day a man came and asked him : “What kind of people live down there in that village ? “ The shepherd asked him : “What kind of people lived in the village you come from ?” And the man answered : “They were very nasty people, quarrel-some, inhospitable, very bad people.” “Well”, replied the shepherd, “the people down there are exactly like that, just the same, horrible, inhospitable, nasty.” Later, another man came and asked the same question. Again, the shepherd asked him what kind of people were living in the village he came from. And the man answered : “Oh, they were so nice, friendly, hospitable, really good people.” And the shepherd told him “Well, the people down there are just the same, very nice, helpful, hospitable”.
Why did he gave two completely opposite answers to the same question ? What it means is that whether people are nice or not depends about 90% on how you are yourself. If you are yourself nice, compassionate, open and generous, then naturally other people will also be kinder. If you are kind with them, why should they not be kind to you ? But if you are yourself rather bad, rather harsh, then it is likely that most people will also behave like that with you. Therefore, if you always have the impression that everybody behaves badly towards you, it probably means that there is something wrong with you.
There is a story from Kashmir - I’m not going to tell the whole story, it’s a long one. There was a father and his son. The father died and he gave many recommendations to his son before his death. Out of these, there were 2 things which were quite confusing : the one was that he should never walk in the sun, and the second was that he should marry a new girl every day. He had always been an obedient son, very respectful towards his father, so he thought he must do whatever his father had told him to, and moreover, (besides these two confusing points) all the other instructions his father had left were very good. But he was facing a big problem. All right, he could walk only when there was no light, that was no big problem, but he could not get anybody to marry him for just one day !
At last, after having searched for a long time, a beautiful girl accepted the deal. The ceremony was prepared and he asked her once more whether she was sure to agree to marry him, because the next day, he would divorce and marry someone else. She answered it was all right. The next morning, as he was about to ask her to go, when she replied : “No, actually, you have misunderstood your father’s instructions. He did not mean that you have to marry another girl every day, you can marry me again ! What he meant was that every morning, you should treat your wife as if she was newly wed !”
He thought that she was probably right, that this might be true, and they lived on together very well. But then, most of the time, he was not walking out in the sun, he was sitting inside the house, not going anywhere, and his business was declining. When his wife advised him to go to his shop, he explained her that he couldn’t go because his father had instructed him not to walk in the sun. She told him that he was wrong, once again he had misunderstood his father’s intention. What his father really meant was that he should go to his shop before sunrise, and only come back after sunset, so that he wouldn’t walk in the daylight at all !
Sometimes, people think that if we are talking or thinking about impermanence, we become very gloomy, very serious, but actually, it is completely the opposite ! If we really understand, if we are really convinced of impermanence, we become broader-minded, more open. Everything changes anyway, even I will die, and I don’t know when that will happen. If I die tomorrow, all the small problems I have today will disappear at the moment I’m dead ! If I know I can die tomorrow, I will consider the small problems I have today from a broader perspective. I will not take them so badly because I am prepared for the worst. There is an English saying that says more or less : “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, do your utmost.” It’s a nice saying, isn’t it ?
It’s not that you just hope for the best and then sit down doing nothing, that doesn’t work ! You should do your best, your utmost, whatever you can, and then only, you hope for the best. Of course, when you do your best, you hope for the best, but at the same time, you get prepared for the worst, because anything can go wrong. When you do that, there can’t be many problems. Even if things come to the worst, you are prepared to face it. When you have this strong understanding of impermanence, you are always prepared for the worst, therefore small things can be taken in the right way, you won’t react too negatively, too badly even if something goes wrong. And if things turn out well, then it is very good. Your clinging to things is a little softened, loosened, so that you become broader, more open, more spacious, and therefore more joyful ! This really happens. The more you understand impermanence, the more generous and open you become, because you know that, anyway, things will change and go away. Whatever comes will go, good things as well as bad ones. When something bad happens, it won’t disturb you completely.
Besides this, understanding impermanence will lead you to more understanding of the true nature of things. It will make you see more clearly the way things really are on a personal, experiential level. I don’t know whether I should deal with this now or not, but although understanding impermanence is very simple, it actually leads you close to seeing the inter-relatedness, the interdependent nature of things, what we call “Shunyata”, or emptiness, which is the basic, essential philosophy of Buddhism. Understanding shunyata is actually nothing more than the subtlest, most minute understanding of impermanence. If there is impermanence, it means that everything changes. Everything, even when it is there, is changing, and change takes place within relatedness, each thing affecting each other. This is something you can see, you can understand. If you look more deeply, more closely at this flower, you will understand that this flower is made of so many different parts, it is in interrelation not just with one or two things, but almost with the whole universe ! It has connections throughout the whole universe. Therefore, it is not a solid, indivisible, independent entity, it is not just one thing, but it is a very complicated complex, completely interdependent, “inter-related”.
The Buddha once told about the “net of jewels”, there is a big sutra on this subject. He gave an explanation of the phenomena of the whole universe by comparing them to a net of jewels. He described a net of very big, shiny and beautiful jewels, like diamonds, cut in more than 100,000 facets each, and in each of these, all the others are reflected. The whole universe, the way things are is like this : each phenomena reflects all the others, has the cause and effects of all the others, all things are interrelated. There is not one thing which is just one, unchanging and independent, not related to something else. The whole process, the whole universe, all phenomena are like dreams, mirages, waves, water bubbles - the Buddha gave many different examples.
All these different examples mean that things are at the same time there and not there. They are like a dream. When we say this, we should be careful to define it very precisely : it is not a dream, it is like a dream. Saying that the world is like a dream means that the world has the same nature as the nature of a dream. In a dream, you see, you experience things very clearly, everything is there, you can have contacts. But while you are dreaming, is there actually anything there ? When you wake up, you realise that there was actually nothing. The way things are, their nature is something like that. It is very much there, but at the same time, it is not as much there as we think. In the same way, it is like mirages and other examples. All these examples are similar in one point - not all - to the way things are.
If we understand impermanence very deeply, then we also understand emptiness. (Last year we discussed emptiness quite thoroughly, so if you want to read about it, the transcription of last year’s teachings will soon be translated into French.)
Impermanence doesn’t mean that everything stops. It means that everything changes. Because of impermanence, because of inter-dependence, there is the possibility of change, of growth, of apparent growth and apparent dissolution. Therefore, what we are now will not last. If we are in a problematic situation, if we experience some misery, or sufferings, if bad things are happening to us, it can change. And if we are in a good position, that can change too. If we are in a very difficult situation we could even change it ourselves too. That is the main understanding : as there is nothing permanent, nothing really stable and static, therefore we can change things, we can improve them, we can make them better or worse.
Our life is also changing all the time, we can die any time, all kinds of things can happen, therefore if we want to improve our way of life, our way of seeing things, our mind, we should do it now, because if we don’t do it now, we might not get as good an opportunity in the future. To understand that this human life is very precious is meant for those who have little confidence, little self-respect. Those should think more of the precious human body. And for those who are too proud of themselves, who think they are very good and they will always be (they may have done too much of the “precious human life”) they should think more about impermanence, so that they don’t become too slack, too complacent thinking “I have a precious human body, yeah !” That’s not enough. It’s going to change, so what then?
Meditation on impermanence is meant to push you, to make you work hard in your practice of Dharma. It is a “motivator”, an understanding that gives you a strong motivation to practice Dharma. Since I am going to die, everything is going to change, and when I die, the only thing I can really bring with me - since I am going with only my mind - is my actions and reactions. Therefore, the only way I can help myself is to change my way of reacting, to change my mind. Therefore only Dharma can help, so therefore I practice Dharma. This is what the stanza of the text says. That kind of reasoning will give us more interest, more enthusiasm in our practice of Dharma
In the prayer we recite at the end of the teachings, we say that we dedicate the merits of our virtuous actions. How would you define a virtuous action ? I’m not interested in an academic definition, I would like your own definition.
“Sönam14”, virtue ... “Sönam” is a very difficult word to translate into English. “Virtue” has been used, but I don’t know how close or how far it is from the actual meaning. “Sönam” means the result of a positive deed. So now you probably want to know what a positive deed is? A positive deed is any deed which brings a positive result, that means a good, happy result, that benefits yourself and others, now or in the long run. In a way, it is any action that is not negative or neutral. What is negative is what brings harm, unhappiness, disharmony, discomfort to me and others, now or in the long run. What doesn’t bring any result is a neutral deed. In actual action, anything that we do with a positive mind, that is compassion, wisdom, a good heart, love, kindness, the wish to help, wanting to do good for others or ourselves, all these are positive. If I give this teaching, and you come to listen to it, with the intention to benefit ourselves and others, if we have that motivation, then it becomes a positive deed, and when we dedicate it, it has also a positive result. But if I do it in a different way, with a different motivation, like for instance because I have nothing else to do, or because I feel very big and important when I sit on a throne and talk to people, then my motivation is not positive, but rather negative.
What is diligence ?
Hard working ! Diligence is hard working, but not just that. The real definition of diligence, “tsondru15”, is feeling joyful in doing something positive. We shouldn’t work hard with too much resistance, feeling as if it were an obligation ! Diligence is finding joy in doing good things.
Karma means the actions and reactions, the causes and effects. It is actually the basic understanding of interdependence. The stanza given here is just a reminder. It says :
Thirdly, after your death, you will have to experience your own karma, having no degree of control over what happens.
So give up harmful actions - all your time should be spent in the practice of virtue. Thinking this way, evaluate your life daily.
Karma is very important from the Buddhist point of view. It is not just something you believe in, but something you understand. Whether you believe it or not, your understanding of it makes a great change. Last year, I explained in detail what karma is. In a nutshell, the karma means that whatever we do gives a result, a reaction. Anything that happens is the continuation of something that went on before. The theory of karma and the theory of interdependence are actually the same. A combination of a number of particular elements will give rise to a particular situation. Another combination will give another situation. It is like chemistry. If you combine hydrogen and oxygen, you get water. This applies to all the things we can see, but also to all our actions. We are ourselves completely responsible for what will happen to us in the future as well as for what we are now, because what and how we are, what we do at the moment is the result of our past actions. The way we are presently is going to continue in the future, therefore if we don’t make any major changes, what we will be in the future will be quite similar to what we are now, with slight differences of course. The karmic process doesn’t function as if somebody was recording our actions in a notebook and deciding what we should be given afterwards accordingly. “He/she did this, next time he/she should be given this !” It doesn’t work like that.
Anything that happens, anything we do with strong feelings, with strong emotions is incorporated in our own mind stream, in our way of thinking and reacting, it reinforces our emotional and thought patterns, it becomes part of our own personality, and therefore it gives rise to the same result. Many people tell me “I have this problem, which comes from that incident when I was a child. This psychological problem I have now comes from a big shock I experienced in my childhood.” This is well-known nowadays, isn’t it ? How does it happen ? It is the same thing, it is how karma works. It is not that you did something in your childhood, something happened, and then it was recorded, written down, so that now, suddenly, you are given it back. What happens is, whatever we do, whatever strong reaction we have, it becomes part of our being, it matures in us and when certain circumstances come together, that reaction reappears, sometimes with even greater power. When that happens, there is not much we can do about it because it has grown so strong.
This process does not only take place in the course of one lifetime, but it builds up for many, many lifetimes. We can see examples of how the karma works in this lifetime, and if we place it in the broader, longer perspective of many lifetimes, we will understand more easily how it functions.
Sometimes, when something bad, negative happens to us, we get very disturbed, completely frustrated : “What is this? How can this happen to me ? I don’t deserve this !” We get very upset because we don’t have enough understanding of karma. If we understand karma, it will be easier for us to accept what we are going through. Of course, life is not always walking in a rose garden. There is good and bad, sometimes very good things happen, sometimes very bad ones. If we can take those bad things as the result of our own karma, we will not look for something or somebody to blame it on, and we won’t get angry. Usually, we think we do not deserve bad things and we do get angry and resentful. We shouldn’t. It happens because of our own past, of something we did ourselves. But there is no need to blame ourselves either, because it may go back to certain circumstances in the past a very long time ago. When something negative happens to us, we get the chance to purify our karma. We can use it as an opportunity to get rid of all our negative karma. Karma is not something unchangeable, because karma is inter-relatedness, interdependence.
It is something very, very important to understand : karma is something that inevitably has to change. It has no other way but to change, because it is not permanent or independent. Karma is interdependence, cause and effect. Therefore, if we understand karma, when something negative happens to us, we will not lose hope, because we know it is going to change. It can be changed by our own efforts also. Everything that happens is only temporary, so even if a very negative thing, a very big obstacle happens, we should take it as no more than an obstacle, no more than a temporary negative thing which we need to get through, to work with, to purify. It is in our mind-stream, therefore when we have a big problem, we should not get afraid but try to solve it with a quieter, more reasonable, less agitated mind. If we can do that, the result is the purification of that obstacle.
In a nutshell, karma is: if we do something good, with a good intention, then there is a positive result; if we do something bad, something harmful, then there is a negative result. It is not difficult to understand. If I smile at him, he smiles back. If I frown at him, he frowns back. If I throw a stone in the sky, it will fall down and hit me, if I throw a flower, it will also fall back on me. Everything is like that. That is the main understanding of karma. Let us assume that it is understood.
Now what we are trying to do here is to bring that understanding into our own experience. For instance, if I develop strong anger, if I make myself full of hate and resentment for a long time, what will be the result on me, what will I become ? And if instead of anger and hate, I generate love, kindness, compassion, joy and if I cultivate these long and strong enough, what will I become ? This would maybe help me understand how karma is working.
Usually, it is said that there are many possibilities to get realisation, enlightenment, after we die - maybe you have read the Tibetan Book of the Dead16. Of course, there are possibilities, opportunities, but it is difficult to realise those opportunities unless we are prepared for them. In this life too, there are countless opportunities to become a millionaire for instance, aren’t they ? There is a possibility, but it isn’t very likely, is it ?...In the same way, the opportunities are there after our death, but unless we have prepared, trained ourselves during this life, it will not be so easy at that time. What we are now will continue. In this life, we have childhood, youth, old age. Sometimes people think that now that they are young, they have all these problems, these crazy ideas going very fast, but when they grow older, everything will calm down. I think it is completely wrong. From my 40 years of experience, I did not change ! So if I did not change for the past 40 years, I think I will not change too much for the next 40 years either ! If for the first 30 years, I generate what makes me more nervous, more anxious, that is what I will become. That continues not only in this life but in the next ones, in a long chain. This is understanding karma and bringing this understanding into our actual system.
Of course, we cannot understand it all, in every detail : it is too complicated because it is all mixed up. Nobody has only good or only bad karma, we all have jumbled up karma, what we call “kitschery” in India. Have you ever had a “kitschery” ? If you go to India you must have it, remember that ! It’s actually a mixture of everything : mainly rice, but then you add meat, vegetables, anything you can take hold of, and then you make a “kitschery”. It’s the easiest thing to cook, and it’s delicious. All the bachelors in India eat kitscheries. Our karma is a “kitschery”, so you get everything in it.
When we have this strong understanding of karma, of how it works, then the necessity to work on our negative emotions, on our negative way of living and doing things becomes obvious. We know that if we make very strong negative karma, it will get out of hand and be very difficult, if not impossible, to control. If you have a depression, even if you know you shouldn’t fall in that depression, you can’t push it away, because it has now developed to that stage. Maybe if you had known about it and done something to stop it a long time ago, you could have prevented it. But now that it has developed to that stage, it is very difficult to get out of it.
In the same way, when our negative karma comes to full maturity, it is very difficult to control. Therefore, with that understanding, we will naturally feel it is urgent, high priority, to do what is positive and refrain from doing negative things right from the beginning. It is not that somebody else tells you : “This you should not do ! These things are prohibited by religion, or by some commandment !” Sometimes, everywhere but especially in the West, people take religion that way, like the 10 Commandments in the Bible, and they react by thinking : “That’s a commandment ! Who is he to order me around ?” If you see it that way, you don’t want to do it. On the other hand, if you understand karma, you will just do it for your own sake. If I understand that it is for my own good, I will do it. Of course I want to do something good for me, unless I am crazy ! Thus we naturally try to work with our negativities, refrain from doing negative things, because we know they would have painful results for us or for others. If we know clearly that something is not good for us and not good for others, neither in the short term nor in the long run, then there is no reason to do it. Even if the wish to do it is there, we will be able to work with it more easily. There is a story to illustrate this :
There was a shepherd who was not very intelligent, but who was very tenacious. Very impressed by an hermit, he went to ask him for a practice, but as he didn’t understand too much, he asked for a very simple thing. The hermit told him to have two bags full of pebbles : one with black pebbles, one with white ones. While sitting looking after his sheep, he should watch his thoughts : if a negative thought came in his mind, he would take a black pebble and put it on one side. If a positive thought came in his mind, he would take a white pebble and put it on the other side. He did it, and after a while, he saw that the pile of black pebbles was really growing high, while the white one was very small. He was a little worried, and he went back to the hermit asking him what to do. The hermit answered : “It doesn’t matter, don’t bother, you just keep on doing that.” After a while, slowly, slowly, the two piles became similar, and after some time, the white pile became bigger than the black one.
If we know what is wrong and what is right and if we are a little bit watchful, we will refrain from the negative. We shouldn’t be too watchful. Being too watchful is not good, because we will only be able to sustain the effort for a short time and then get too tired to go on. When we intend to walk a long way, we walk slowly, we don’t run, do we ? If we start running, we won’t get very far. Therefore it is better to be watchful in a lighter way.
Therefore we try to understand clearly, through our own experience, the theory, the working of karma. Of course we can’t have a complete understanding of its working, because it is very complicated, we can’t see the past and the future clearly although we can see a little bit of it.
As we say in Tibetan : “To know what you were in the past, just look at yourself now, and to know what you will be in the future, just look at your actions now.” You don’t have to consult a fortune-teller to know what you were in your former life : what you where then was approximately the same as what you are now. And if you want to know the future, look at what you are doing now, and what you will be in the future will be approximately the same.
When we understand that doing something positive has a positive result, and doing something negative has a negative result, then the only thing we have to do is be a little watchful, do what is positive and refrain from what is negative. That’s the whole idea. When that is done, we have become a better person. If you really believe that if you do something harmful you will get a negative result, you cannot possibly become a completely bad person. Not only that, but that experience of karma, that conviction, will necessarily strengthen your positive way of doing things. This is why understanding karma is so fundamental.
How can we be sure that our actions are positive or negative ?
Generally speaking, if an action is harmful to you and to others, that is negative. If it is beneficial to you or to anybody, that is positive. But as you cannot always say with everything you do whether it will have a harmful or beneficial result, you should watch your motivation. When something you do is motivated, inspired by a good heart, love, compassion, joy, wanting to do something good, wanting to help, then it is positive. If it is inspired, motivated by negative thoughts and emotions, like anger, jealousy or any of the mind poisons, then it is negative.
You said that each time something negative happens to us, we shouldn’t react with resentment and anger, but instead see it as an opportunity to purify our bad karma. What would be the right attitude, between anger, resentment and falling in the other extreme of being overjoyed each time something bad happens to us, because of the possibility to purify our bad karma ?
I don’t think you would be too happy anyway ! If you are so happy, then nothing bad happens, it is a good thing happening. You will have no problem, you will always be happy, because if something good happens, then you will be happy, and if something bad happens, you will think : “Oh!, still better !”. But unfortunately, it does not happen like that. For those who experience life in this way, there are no problems, but for most people, when a bad thing happens to them, they feel lots of resentment, which makes things even worse. When something bad happens, that is bad enough. If you add anger and resentment on top of it, you make things even worse : your mind is more agitated, more painful.
Sometimes, people aggravate the problem so much through resentment that even when the problem itself is gone, their anger, their resentment are still there, they continue to live on with such feelings. It is not a solution, it is a wrong way of reacting, but it is quite common. If we understand that what we face is a karmic reaction, that it is happening because of many different reasons, that it will change sooner or later and that it is not just happening to me but to everybody else, then even if we are not happy, at least we won’t create that extra burden of taking the situation badly.
If we can see the situation more clearly, we won’t add more problems on top of the problems that are already there and it will make things already lighter.
We continue in this way : we do some action that gives a result, again there are more actions and more results. We continue like that, it goes on and on. What is this situation like ? Is it nice, wonderful, or are there some problems, some things we want to change ? This is what we contemplate.
Samsara, as you all know - I mean we have discussed it many times - is not necessarily just the world but a mental attitude, a mental state. What kind of mental state do we have now ? How does it continue ?
If we have no problems at all, if everything is nice, everything is good, then it is all right. There is no need to do anything else. But if it is not the case, we should try to see what are the problems inherent to this way of life, to this way of thinking, and what are their causes. These are the things we need to think about. When we look at our life, or at others’ lives, we see that there are lots of problems, lots of sufferings. The Buddha himself had no problems like poverty or not getting what he wanted, but he looked into life and saw birth, old age, sickness and death.
How do these affect us ? Can we escape them or not ? We all have to die, we all get old and sick, and although we don’t want it, we always get or meet what we don’t want and don’t get what we actually want. These problems always make us suffer. They happen continuously, again and again. Of course, they change : when we have a problem, we solve it, but then we get another one ! What are the main causes, the main reasons of these problems arising ? And if everybody has to go through old age, sickness and death, why does it bother us so much ? Why does it make us suffer so ? When we consider this, we find out that the main problem is our way of looking at things, our way of reacting towards things. We are conditioned in such a way that we almost necessarily get into turmoil.
The text of the Ngöndro says :
One is constantly tormented by the three kinds of sufferings. Therefore, samsaric places, friends, pleasures and possessions are like a party given by an executioner, who will then lead one to the place of execution.
Cutting through the snares of attachment, strive for enlightenment with diligence.
Traditionally, we look at our life and see these 3 kinds of sufferings.
The first is the suffering of suffering. When we have actually a problem like getting what we don’t want or not getting what we want, or when we experience actual pain, something that really makes us miserable, something very negative, very unpleasant that makes us suffer, that is what we call the suffering of suffering.
Of course, nobody likes it - although, well, some people do. I have heard many people tell me :“These are very painful, but it is life, all right, I like it”. So, that’s all right. However; that kind of problem does not just happen once to disappear forever once it is solved. It doesn’t happen like that. Those problems that really make us suffer will happen again, because we are going that way, because we are taking it as something necessary and it becomes a habit. If we are used to something, then we take it for granted. We don’t want to get rid of it because we have got attached to it. Many people get attached to their sufferings - quite a lot ! They identify so much with their sufferings that they consider them as “me”. They don’t want to let them go because they feel that if they did, they wouldn’t exist any more. Sometimes people have a very strong attachment to their sufferings and therefore, they don’t realise suffering as suffering. They consider it as something - maybe not really good - but as their own life. There is a story of someone who had been suffering, burning in hell for a very long time. When his term came to an end and he was released from hell, he turned back to shout :”Please don’t let anybody sit in my place !”.
This is no special exception, it is happening all the time. Sometimes, Buddhists are accused of being very dull, very serious people, always contemplating on sufferings. It may be true - or not. When we are talking about sufferings, it is in a way the opposite. We should understand suffering as suffering, we should not see suffering as something nice. We should know what is what, be able to see things clearly and accept them as they are, and then do what we need to do about them : we need to work on suffering, we need to get out of it. That is the main issue.
This morning, we were talking about “acceptance” (during a private interview), and I think it is important to understand what we mean by this. “Acceptance”, it is not a passive attitude by which we just let things happen without reacting. That is not what we mean by acceptance. It means that we see whatever is going on exactly as it is, not colouring it, not hiding it under a carpet, not cheating ourselves by pretending it is something else. Seeing it as it is : “This is this, all right. This is suffering, all right.” And then we do whatever is necessary to get out of it, we work on the causes of suffering, in whatever way is appropriate. That is the approach.
But it is not all : if we look at it more closely, even when we are not actually suffering, when we have no definite problem, no actual pain, we have this fear of change. That is the second type of suffering, the suffering of change. We are all right now, but it is not going to last. Especially when we have everything, when everything is fine and we have no problems, all the time we worry that something might happen, that something might change. We feel that worry, that fear at the back of our mind, in our heart.
The third type of suffering is the suffering inherent to the nature of everything : everything changes, continuously and completely, nothing remains as it is, even from one moment to the next. Nothing is permanent. When we contemplated on Impermanence, we saw that everything is compounded, made of many different things put together. Everything is affected by everything else, therefore everything changes again and again, nothing remains static. There is a continuous flow and therefore we cannot rely on anything, there is this unreliability.
When we have these 3 kinds of sufferings, if we look at it carefully, we are always in a way a little bit anxious, nervous, unsettled, we are always in a slightly unpeaceful state. Why do we have this unpeaceful state ? The most important thing we can get out of the contemplation of samsara - after having recognised its recurring problems - is to realise that we can get out of it. There is a problem, but it is not something that we cannot get out of. Samsara is basically - to make it very simple - a state of mind where we have continuous aversion and attachment. We label : “This is very bad, I should not have it, I am afraid of it.” That is aversion, and aversion is, I think, the most important ingredient in the sufferings of samsara.
When we feel aversion for something, we necessarily want to escape, to run away from it, but we cannot run away from it, because aversion is in our mind. Aversion gives rise to fear, and because of fear, we develop attachment. Attachment and aversion are like the two sides of a coin. Because of aversion, we have fear, and because of fear, we try to cling to something, thinking it might be what we need to make all our fears go away. But even if we run after something and are able to grab it, it never gives us complete peace and happiness because the problem lies in the way our mind reacts. Therefore we continuously run after one thing and then after another.
First I think that, maybe, I need this glass, maybe this is the one, maybe if I get this glass I’ll find lasting happiness. Then I go, I run and run, I do different kinds of things, I work hard, I hurt others, I undergo many difficulties and problems, and finally, I get hold of that glass. But then I find that nothing changes. I am still sad, I still have problems, the fear is still there. Then I think that I was wrong : “No, it is not the glass, it is the flower !” Then again, I run after the flower, with many hardships. At last I get the flower : “Yes ! Now I have it !” . But the next moment I find out that nothing has changed. Everything is still going on as before.
Attachment, this running after things, comes from fear, from aversion. That aversion/attachment mentality, that way of reacting, is Samsara. In such a state of mind where you are always running away from something or running after something, you cannot have any peace. This is why we talk of the “Wheel of Samsara”. When you have a water mill, the water flows day and night, so the mill is turning day and night, it never stops. That’s the point of similarity with Samsara. We have to run all the time without ever resting. We are always trying to avoid something or to get something. This mentality keeps us in a state of constant suffering. This is something we really need to look into deeply, because if we fully understand what samsara is, we will also understand the possibility of getting out of it. If we can get out of it, then we do not have any problem any more because we no longer feel any aversion towards anything. Whatever happens is all right, is good, is wonderful. And as we don’t fear anything, we don’t have to cling to anything either. Attachment is the need to cling to something because we feel we can’t do without it, because we would be threatened if we didn’t have it. Sometimes, people ask me whether there is any difference between love and attachment. There is a great difference ! Attachment is self-oriented, you are clutching to something just for your own sake. Compassion and love are directed towards others, not towards yourself. When you are feeling genuine compassion, genuine love, it cannot turn into hatred. On the contrary, attachment can turn into hate just like that, in just a second. That is the difference. If we understand very clearly, deeply the samsaric state of mind, we also understand the possibility to get out of it and that means we are on the Path, we are actually practising Dharma. Real practice of Dharma comes from knowing what we can do. That is the main lesson we can learn from the contemplation of Samsara.
Is it possible that we also develop attachment towards Dharma, towards our practice of Dharma ?
It depends. It is possible that you get attached to Dharma also. As I explained, attachment comes from aversion,. The main difference lies in the way you understand things. If you see the problems clearly, if you know that if you do this, that is going to happen, and then you practise what you can call “Dharma” or whatever, according to that understanding, that is the Path, that is good.
But if you say “This is my Dharma, this is my religion, if anybody says something against it, I’m going to fight for it !” then, that is attachment, it is not good and it won’t help you.
Gampopa, the chief disciple of Milarepa said that : “Dharma which is not practised as Dharma can lead you to endless sufferings.”
“Dharma” is a word, a concept, you can say Dharma or religion or whatever. You can use it in a very bad way if you like. It’s up to you. It is because Dharma has not always been used in a “Dharmic way”, that many people have so much resistance to religion. So many people reject religion completely, and not only in the West. “Religion ? NO !!” That is because there have been people who used the name of religion to work for their own benefit, their own purposes and ego. Dharma, religion, spirituality, is a very important part in every human life, therefore it is the easiest thing to use in order to arouse people’s emotions and sentiments. If I say “I, Ringu Tulku, want something to be done, you all come !” - you would not come ! But if I say ‘Buddhism is in danger, you are all Buddhists so you must all come with me !” - you all come with me, although I may be the only one in danger. I can use it that way. It can give rise to very sad situations. That’s how it happens.
You said that attachment comes from fear, and you also said that attachment and aversion are like the 2 sides of the same coin. Can we also say that fear comes from attachment, or desire ? Because there are so many, many things we can be afraid of - accidents, spiders, mice, ... . Can we say that some of our fears come from unconscious desires, desires we cannot consciously accept and that we transform into fears ?
Certainly yes. It’s two sides of a coin, but fear - aversion is a better word, because out of aversion comes fear. Aversion is more basic, more general. Aversion is not a specific fear, it is a general, basic way of reacting : “this is bad, I don’t want it”. Why some people have more fear of spiders than snakes or vice-versa, depends on their personal experiences. Sometimes, people may develop fear for ... just nothing ! Some people fear loneliness. I know someone who cannot walk a 100 yards alone . He is afraid. He can’t walk alone. His fear is so strong that he has physical reactions, he perspires, he shivers. But if somebody is with him, he can go anywhere ! Of course, it is in the mind, still ...
And some people fear the crowd, they get afraid if there are more than two people. I know a Tibetan lady who cannot see more than one person at a time. She’s been staying in her room for more than 10 years. She sees her husband and her daughter, that’s all. Nobody can see her. She is in a kind of retreat ...
What is the best way of dealing with our fears, what would be the best attitude to deal with the fear of the future ?
Well, I don’t know. The whole purpose of the practice of Dharma is in a way to get rid of our fears. The fear of the future is the same as any other fear. If you think too much about the future, how it may be, how it should be, how it may turn out like this or like that, then you develop fear. Maybe the best way would be to be able to work and be in the present. It isn’t easy, of course, but if anything really worries us, makes us fearful and anxious, is a source of pressure and tension, it is because we think too much and negatively either about the past or the future.
When we feel lots of tensions while doing something, it is not just because of what we do in the present. What we are doing now is not giving us any pressure, but it is all the things we have in our mind, related either to the past or the future, that are giving us all the pressure. Therefore, we should learn how to be a little more in the present - because if we really do the right thing in the present moment, then the future is already more or less taken care of, so that you don’t need to worry too much about it now. In general, the best way is to adopt this attitude I mentioned before : “Do your utmost, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” When you have that attitude, I think you will have less fear for the future. In any situation, there is only this much you can do ! If you can do something, then do it. If you can’t, just leave it ! The following saying by Shantideva17 helped me quite a lot :
“If you can change it, what is there to worry about ? If you can’t change it, what’s the use of worrying about it ?”
That attitude really helps, because if you can’t change anything, it’s no use to worry, and if you can change the situation, you don’t worry, you just go and change it !
THE FOUR SPECIAL FOUNDATIONS
In the preliminary practices to Mahamudra, there are 4 general foundations which we have already discussed briefly, followed by the 4 Special Foundations, or inner Ngöndro practices. These belong more specifically to the Vajrayana, as they are the specific preliminaries for the particular practice of Mahamudra. These four preliminaries are :
- Refuge & Bodhicitta
- Dorjé Sempa (Purification)
- Mandala Offering (Accumulation)
- Guru Yoga (to be taught at a later date)
1. Refuge & Bodhicitta
We have been talking about Refuge many times in the past, and we have explained it in detail two years ago, while going through Gampopa’s book, therefore it won’t be necessary to talk too much about it. In the Ngöndro, we find a more practical way of taking Refuge. There are actually 2, even 3 different ways of going for Refuge. It can be understood at different levels.
“Taking Refuge” may not be a very nice word. I don’t know, it may sound very nice to you, but to me, as a refugee, it doesn’t sound very nice. “Taking Refuge” means that we need something or somebody to rely on. We have to find a goal, a purpose, an objective, something we can look forward to. For the last few days, we have gone through the different aspects of the foundations, like for instance Samsara. We have supposedly come to realise through contemplation that the samsaric way of living, the samsaric state of mind is very painful, full of sufferings, but that there is a way, a possibility to get out of that state. How can we do that? Can we do it easily on our own, or do we need some guidance? Taking Refuge is actually finding a model, a path, a guidance. There is something that we can actually attain, become or discover. There is somebody, or something which can actually give us the guidance. That is the outer Refuge.
Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are what we can rely on, they can grant us protection, the final release, the freedom from the sufferings of the samsaric state of mind. In a deeper, more inner way, taking Refuge is to know that we have the possibility to find our inner truth, to realise our true nature - that basic state which is not stained by the samsaric state of mind, that we have this possibility to eliminate and transform our samsaric state of mind into an enlightened state of mind, which we call the Buddha nature, or our basic goodness, our enlightened nature. When we understand that we have the potential to rediscover that true state of mind, which is beyond suffering, beyond our constant running, our being totally overpowered by either aversion or attachment, we take Refuge to our true nature that is there within us.
Taking Refuge means that we acknowledge there is something we cannot do on our own, therefore we need the help of somebody or something else. That is the literal meaning of taking refuge. We acknowledge that we do not have the insight, the knowledge, the know-how, the relevant pieces of information to pull ourselves out of the samsaric state of mind, of our sufferings and problems. Therefore we go for help to somebody who has been able to get himself out of the samsaric sufferings, who knows how to do it.
We take Refuge in the Buddha, because he is a person, or a being who was capable of doing just that, he has the understanding, the experience and the realisation of how to do it. At the first level, when we take Refuge in the Buddha, we see him as a model, a guide, as somebody who has trodden the path, who has accomplished the great task of getting out of the samsaric state of mind. Whatever we want to do, in any field, we cannot get the understanding, the idea, realisation or information from someone who has not him/herself got the understanding or realisation. Nobody can guide us unless he/she has walked that path. If we want guidance, we need somebody who has actually gone that way, therefore we take Refuge in the Buddha who is the only being who has actually done so.
We take Refuge in the Dharma because that is the actual path. The Buddha is the teacher. The Dharma is the experience of the Buddha on his way to the realisation. Dharma is what the Buddha experienced, what he realised, what he saw, and therefore, if we follow the same way, we will get the same understanding, the same realisation. Dharma is the guidance that the Buddha left for us. It is the Path we can tread.
If somebody who has been to Tibet writes a book on how to go from one place to another, how to find a bus, or a horse, or a truck, that is the travelogue. If we go to Tibet, we can use that book and follow its instructions, and maybe we will get to that place. Therefore we practise Dharma. Practice here means that we first understand it, and then we experience it on our own. It is not the Buddha’s path, it is our own path we have to find.
Dharma is usually defined as having two aspects : the first consists in the teachings that the Buddha has given, (which are like the guidance book), the Kangyur and Tengyur and all the various books. The second is our own experience and that of the people who have trodden that path. That is the real Dharma and not just the teachings, the written words of the Buddha. It is what we actually experience when we go through the teachings and apply them on ourselves. Then we take refuge in the Sangha. The Sangha consists of the beings, the people who have done that, who have put the Buddha’s teachings in their actual experience.
Why do we need to take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha ? It is because if we go for refuge with the Buddha, we also need the Dharma. The Dharma is the path, and without it, we could not find our way and without the Sangha, we could not find the Dharma. Therefore we need to take Refuge in all 3 together, and when we take Refuge with one, we actually take Refuge with them all. Why then don’t we just say that we take Refuge with the Buddha? Wouldn’t that be enough ? But if we just took Refuge with the Buddha, it would sound as if the Buddha was sitting there, all-compassionate, all-knowing, all-powerful, and then we go to him and say “I take Refuge with you, please save me !” , and he would answer “All right!”(and save us). We should not get that idea.
Therefore, it is repeatedly, insistently mentioned that we should not only take Refuge in the Buddha, but also in the Dharma and Sangha. It is hammered into us. Whenever we say a prayer, we say that we take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, because it is not enough to take Refuge in the Buddha and expect that we will be saved : we have to tread the path, to find the way, to practise ourselves, and then only can we make some progress. The Buddha has already got enlightened so we take Refuge in the Buddha because we can get help from him.
Another way of taking Refuge is to take Refuge with the Buddha within. I mean, our own intrinsic nature, our real basic goodness is the Buddha nature, the enlightened state, and to discover it is our main goal, our main objective. Our real journey is to find out our true nature, the unveiled state, the state which is not covered, not confused, not wrapped up in different kind of things. Our final ultimate aim is to find out our true qualities, our true face, we could say, to be able to bring out our basic Buddha nature.
To take Refuge in the Buddha is to find our direction, our own way, our own purpose. We see that now, we are confused, we are in a samsaric state, we have all these problems, and this is because we do not see, we have not developed, not uncovered our true nature, which is the enlightened state. Therefore, this is what we need to do for ourselves : Buddhahood is what we need to find, it is our aim, our objective. If we have that strong sense of direction, of purpose, that is taking refuge in the Buddha. The way, the means that the Buddha gave us to achieve that is the Dharma, and the Sangha is the same as we explained before. You can look at Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in two different ways, but actually, it comes to the same thing.
Then we have Lama, Yidams and Khandros, which is the Vajrayana way of taking Refuge. It’s actually in a way the same as Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is the guide, the one who has the experience of the path, who gives the teachings, and likewise, it is the Lama who has the experience, who gives the guidance. Therefore, taking Refuge with the Lama is similar to taking Refuge with the Buddha.
In Vajrayana, the “yidam” is the actual practice, the path, the way to bring out your own Buddha-nature and enlightenment. Therefore, going refuge to Yidam is almost like going refuge to Dharma. The Khandros - or Dakas and Dakinis - these are the Sangha, the community, the spiritual community which keeps and protects the Vajrayana teachings.
In general Buddhism we talk of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and in Vajrayana, we call them Lama, Yidam and Khandros, but these are the same. When we visualise the refuge tree, we have these six : Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Lama, Yidams and Dakas, and also the protectors. So far we have seen the meaning of Taking Refuge, but in the Ngöndro practice, we do it in a more visual way : we try to create a kind of mandala.
If we just say “I take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, it is a rather theoretical, academic, intellectual way. If we want to actually take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we have to make it more experiential, it has to feel real, as if it were really happening. Therefore, the main thing is to generate our own devotion, to open up our mind so that we will be able to fuse our mind with the mind of the Buddhas, to receive the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in ourselves, to unite ourselves with these principles, with these understandings in an experiential way.
In order to do this, we use a skilful means : we try to create a mandala, to create a tree, as if we were actually doing it, not in a theoretical way, but from people to people. We try to see the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the Lama and all these things as actually present, and then we try to merge our own mind with the Buddha’s mind, we try to receive the actual “blessing”, you can call it, or mind-stream, or energies of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in ourselves - and not just ourselves, but all the sentient beings too.
If we follow the Mahayana or Vajrayana, we try to become a Buddha not only to help ourselves, but also to help all sentient beings. Therefore whatever we do, we do it with a broader, a more compassionate, a Bodhisattva-like attitude. This is why we include all sentient beings in our Refuge visualisation.
Now, talking of visualisation, of course, lots of people have lots of problems with visualisations. So many people, especially in the West, say that they cannot visualise : “Oh, I cannot visualise at all !” Then I ask them whether they have any plan for their vacation. “Oh yes !” they answer. “So, where will you go ?” “Well, maybe to Barcelona, it’s quite nice, or maybe Hawaii.” And they tell me they will “...go to the beach, you know, beautiful beach, sand, green pure water, palm trees...” Well, that’s visualisation, isn’t it ? If you can bring to your mind a clear and lively image, what more is visualisation ?
So here, we visualise according to the next of the Ngöndro, which says :
In the middle of a lake, in front of me, there is a great wish-fulfilling tree. It has a main trunk and five branches. At its centre, where the branches leave the trunk, my root-guru, in the apparent form of Dorjé Chang (Vajradhara) sits on a lion throne, lotus, sun and moon. He is surrounded by all the gurus of the “Oral Transmission” (Kagyu Lineage). In front of him are the yidams, to his right the Buddhas, behind him the sacred Dharma teachings, to his left the Sangha and below his throne are all the male and female Dharma-protectors and guardians. Each of these groups is surrounded by an ocean of others like them.
All our mothers from the past are standing on the beautiful green pastures of the banks of the lake. With full concentration, we all take refuge and resolve to reach enlightenment.
That is the visualisation. We visualise the wish-fulfilling tree, and on top of it is Vajradhara, or Dorjé Chang. He is blue in colour - actually who this figure is doesn’t really matter that much. The main thing is to feel that this central figure - in whatever form it appears, Vajradhara or whatever - is the mind, the enlightened state, the enlightened heart of your guru, and not only your guru, but all the enlightened beings. It is their amalgamation in one, because all the enlightened states are one, the same understanding, the same experience. Your guru and all the enlightened beings, the energy of all the enlightened beings, of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is in that central figure. That is the main visualisation.
Then there is the whole lineage through which the Mahamudra teaching is received18 - because these are the Mahamudra preliminaries - all the beings, the Lamas, the masters through which the Mahamudra was transmitted are on top of the main image. It goes back to the primordial Buddha Vajradhara.
On the 4 sides, there are the Buddhas to the left, the Bodhisattva and Vinaya19 Sangha to the right, at the back the Dharma represented by books, and in front the Yidams, or deities and their mandalas. All around are Dharma protectors20 of all kinds. This is the Refuge Tree.
The main thing is the Guru, in whatever form he appears. Of course, you cannot be very clear about all the others. You cannot clearly see them, but you can feel them, that’s the most important thing. What you try to do is to feel that in front of you is the living Buddha, actually alive, living, radiating enlightened energy. The whole mandala, the whole galaxy of enlightened beings is in front of you. And with devotion, trust and faith, you and all the sentient beings around you try to go for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Lama, Yidam and Kandro. And when you think “I would like to follow the instructions of the Buddha, I would like to become a Buddha myself, I would like to get enlightened”, that is taking Refuge in the Buddha - “Therefore I would like: to follow the Path”, that is taking Refuge in the Dharma - “therefore I am ready to take the advice, the guidance of the Sangha”, that is taking Refuge with the Sangha. With this understanding, with that intention, we all say the “Refuge prayer” :
I, and all beings in number as vast as space, take refuge in our very kind root Guru, whose very nature is the combination of the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of all the Buddhas of the 3 times and ten directions. He is our source of the 84.000 dharma teachings and the Lord of the Realised Sangha21.
That is the prayer, and the important thing is that we try to open ourselves, to open our mind, because our real intention is to awaken our Buddha-nature, to make it blossom. When we try to open ourselves to taking Refuge, then our Buddha-nature can come out, can blossom. As we try to awaken our own Buddha nature, we try to say this Refuge prayer with devotion.
Devotion is the most suitable state of mind, the most suitable emotion to open ourselves completely. It is an emotion which is very pure, very clear, very open, awake and strong, it is not confused, disconnected or disturbed. If we can create, rekindle our devotion, it is the state of mind which is the most suitable for the meditation. The real meditation can best happen when we are in a real, intense state of devotion. Many masters got the true realisation through devotion, because when you feel devotion, your mind is completely open, ripe, ready for the realisation of your true nature, because it is neither disturbed, nor dull or confused, it is free from all negative emotions. When you are in a state of devotion, you cannot be angry, jealous or proud. You are totally without any of those negative emotions, therefore, you are in the right state of mind. Usually, the real Mahamudra experience, the real insight or realisation is always said to come through devotion.
What happens is not that : “I have devotion to my Guru, so my Guru is giving me the blessing” and then you receive Mahamudra. That’s not how it works. You understand yourself clearly because it is the best state in which you can do the meditation. The most fertile ground for the Mahamudra meditation is devotion. Therefore, first generate devotion, and then say this prayer, which is followed by another Refuge prayer :
We take Refuge in our most kind root Guru and in all the Gurus of the Lineage,
We take Refuge in all the Yidams of all the Mandalas22,
We take Refuge in the perfectly realised Buddhas who have transcended suffering,
We take Refuge in the noble Dharma,
We take Refuge in the realised Sangha,
We take Refuge in all the Dakas, Dakinis, Dharma protectors and guardians endowed with wisdom eyes.
Usually, when we take Refuge, we also do prostrations. Prostrations are a physical, mental and symbolic way of working mainly with our pride. When we do prostrations, we submit and humble ourselves, which is a way to work with our ego. We offer reverence to the Refuge tree. People do 100,000 prostrations and sometimes more.
There is a very nice text, it is actually a prayer, written by Sakya Pandita23 - a very great master of the Sakya Order who lived a long time ago, in the 9th or 10th century - which gives the symbolism of prostrations :
Homage to the Guru
Namo Manjushri-ye Jamphel Yangla Chak tsal lo
Namo Sushri-ye Legpe Pala Chak tsal lo
Namo Uttama-shri-ye Swaha Chok Kyi Pala Chak tsal lo
As I prostrate to the Three Jewels24
May all the beings be purified of their negative deeds and defilements
As I join my two palms
May the methods and wisdom combine together
As I place my joined palms on my crown
May we reach the Ultimate Realm
As I place my joined palms on my forehead
May all the negative deeds and defilements of body be purified
As I place my joined palms on my throat
May all negative actions and defilements of speech be purified
As I place my joined palms on my heart
May all the negative thoughts and defilements of mind be purified
As I join and separate my two palms
May I work for the benefit of beings with the two Rupa Kayas25
As I kneel on the ground
May all the samsaric beings be liberated from the negative lower realms
As I place my two hand and ten fingers on the ground
As I place my forehead on the ground
May we attain the Eleventh Bhumi28
As I bend and stretch my forelimbs
May I work for all beings through the four types of activities29
As I stretch and contract all my muscles and nerves
May all the knots on our channels30 be freed
As I bend my spinal cord forward and backward
May we all have our energy channelled through our central channel
As I stand after touching the ground
May we never remain in samsara but be liberated from it
As I prostrate again and again
May we not remain in Nirvana but lead the beings of samsara
By the power of this prostration we are presently doing,
May we for the moment have good health and prosperity in life
May we be born in Dewachen31 () when we die
May we attain the Perfect Enlightenment very quickly.
We are now coming to the second half of this practice, which is the generation of Bodhicitta, which you can almost translate as “the enlightened mind”, or “the enlightened heart” - Chang chub32in Tibetan. If we use a more common language, we can say that “Bodhicitta” means more or less compassion, to generate compassion. What do we mean by compassion, how do we generate it?
We should first realise that I, as a human being, do not want any unhappiness, anything painful or bad happening to me. In the same way, there is no being - not only human beings but any being - there is no being at all who does not share the same wish. Just as I don’t want negative things to happen to me, they like me, have the same feelings, they do not want to suffer and experience pain. And just as I wish to be happy and have all the good things, in the same way, all other beings also want those things. Therefore, I should try to find a way to get myself out of the problems, the sufferings, the pain and the unpleasant things, but I should not be content with that, I should also try to help all other beings to get out of their own problems and sufferings.
If a person has a genuine, strong and uncontrived motivation to end his own problems and sufferings and to attain everlasting happiness and peace, together with the intention to help all other beings to also get everlasting peace and happiness, that person is what we call, from the Buddhist point of view, a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is somebody who is on his way to become an enlightened being, a Buddha. An enlightened being is somebody who has achieved the understanding, the knowledge and the capacity to get rid of all his own problems and to help all other beings to do the same.
What we try to do here by developing Bodhicitta is to become Bodhisattvas. By taking refuge as explained previously, we have chosen as our goal, as our main objective to become enlightened beings, who got themselves out of all problems and who can help others. In order to achieve that goal, we have to become Bodhisattvas, because that is the way, the path. The whole practice can be described as trying to become Bodhisattvas, trying to generate that intention, that aspiration or mind stream in ourselves. That is the most important step we can take towards our aim. In order to become a Bodhisattva, we don’t need anything else but compassion, that is, a good heart.
If you have that kind of aspiration, from the Buddhist point of view, you are a Bodhisattva, and it doesn’t matter what religion, what class, what kind of people you belong to. It doesn’t even matter whether you are a human being or not, if you have that intention, you are a Bodhisattva.
The aspiration to help not only ourselves but all the others as well is a very magnificent idea. What we usually do is to try to help ourselves only, even if it means harming others. Here we turn the polarity upside down : we want to help ourselves in order to help all others. This is the most beautiful inspiration that can grow, that can develop in our mind-stream.
As we explained in our discussion of karma and interdependence, what we become depends on our mind-stream. Therefore, if such an aspiration or motivation develops in our mind-stream, nothing can be negative to us, nothing can become bad, because the negative things that we feel and see are in a way - you cannot say exactly “projections”, but a least a reflection of our own negativity, of how we feel and what we are. As we all know, if I am really angry, in a really negative and bad mood, then I will see everything as dark and unpleasant, I will perceive the people around me as being a little angry too, and if somebody looks at me, I will credit him with bad intentions. On the contrary, when I am in a very good mood, I see everything around me as very joyful and pleasant, as if all the flowers were blooming. Why ? Because the way we see things is a reflection of how we feel, as illustrated by the story of the wise shepherd I told before.
I have met a psychiatrist in Ireland, who told me that scientists have recently made an interesting discovery concerning people who suffer from a mental disorder called paranoia. When a paranoid person sees people talking together, he will think that they must be talking against him, or that the KGB or the CIA is after him. We can’t tell them that it is not true, that it is only their imagination, because they are not only thinking, harbouring doubts but they actually see things or hear voices very clearly, therefore you can’t reason them at all. What the scientists found out is that paranoid people kind of project their anger and hatred on the outside world and the reflection bounces back on them, making them fearful of everything they see around them.
In the same way, this is how things happen for everybody. If you are nice, kind, with a good heart, then you not only feel good in yourself, but everybody around you also seems to be kinder to you. And if you are not like that, everybody seems to be a little nasty. Some people can go anywhere and make friends with everybody. They are able to mix without problems with the people around them, and wherever they go they are all right. Other people have problems wherever they go. If this is the case with you, it means there is something wrong in your own attitude.
Here, to generate Bodhicitta is the main point, and it means mainly to generate compassion as much as possible. Of course it doesn’t mean that as soon as we take the Bodhisattva’s vows, we become great Bodhisattvas. Of course we don’t ! But this is the kind of effort we should make, the path of gradual working on ourselves that we should tread. After all, this is the whole thing, there is nothing else in Buddhism, and maybe actually in all religions or spiritual paths. Sometimes people tend to separate religion and spirituality, but in my mind it is the same in essence. When I say “religion”, you may get the image of the institution, but that’s not the image I get in my mind, that’s not religion at all - that may be politics, or economics, I don’t know - but when I say “religion”, I just get the image of the practice, of the teachings.
The essence of all religions, of all the spiritual practices is in a way “unselfishness”, isn’t it? If we read the biographies of all the great spiritual, holy beings, the main characteristic of them all is that they are unselfish. We don’t call them “holy” because they are learned - not all holy beings were educated, some of them were not even literate. We don’t call them “holy” because they were famous and powerful, because they had many followers - most of them were actually persecuted and killed. The only common criteria, the common characteristic of all holy beings is that they were unselfish.
Unselfishness and compassion are the two sides of a coin. Compassion is the essence, the one and only characteristic of a highly spiritual being. Therefore I think this is not only the essence of Buddhism, but of all religions as well. We already discussed in detail what a Bodhisattva is in previous teachings, and I don’t want to spend much more time on this. What we try to do here is to go through the actual experiential practice of it : how do we take the Bodhisattva’s vows, the Bodhisattva’s commitments, how do we generate that motivation in a concrete way?
We try to generate a strong wish for ourselves and all other beings to become completely enlightened and reach a state of everlasting happiness, and with that motivation, we take the Bodhisattva’s vows in front of the refuge tree which is like - we could say an energy field of all the enlightened, holy beings. We visualise all the realised, spiritual beings, the masters, all the lineage of great beings, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, all the realised Sangha and the Dharma protectors. We imagine that we and all the sentient beings around us are sitting in front of them, and we all take the Bodhisattva’s vows. How do we take these vows ? First we take refuge once again with the following prayer :
“Until we reach the very heart of enlightenment, we take Refuge in the Buddhas, likewise we take refuge in the Dharma and in the Bodhisattva Sangha.”
Having called upon them to witness our aspiration and decision in this way, we then take the actual Bodhisattva’s vows :
“Just as the Buddhas of the past first resolved to reach enlightenment and then progressed stage by stage through the different levels of Bodhisattva training,
In the same way, we also develop a mind intent upon enlightenment for the sake of all beings and we will progressively practice in that training.
These are the actual words you say, and you try to feel their meaning. With this motivation, this aspiration of kind-heartedness, of compassion, the Bodhisattvas of the past, were able to attain the great enlightenment and become fully awakened beings who developed compassion and wisdom to their utmost. How did they proceed? Having generated the intention to become Bodhisattvas, they didn’t become highly attained the next day, it didn’t happen like that. They habituated themselves progressively, they tried slowly, slowly to become Bodhisattvas.
As we have discussed before, according to the Buddhist point of view, everything is a question of habits. If we feel angry, negative, unhappy, depressed, nervous and stressed, it is because we are habituated to it. If we nurture such a mind-stream, we will feel more and more like that, it is nothing but a bad habit. It is also true for the positive attitude, if we foster joy, happiness, compassion and loving kindness more and more, it will also become part of our way of life. Therefore, whether we want to tread the path of joy, kind-heartedness and compassion or to follow the one of anger, depression and stress, it is just a matter of choosing one’s way and developing those feelings again and again.
In Tibetan, we say “There’s absolutely nothing which doesn’t become easier by becoming used to it, by doing it over and over again.” It’s not just a Tibetan saying actually, I’m sure we can find such a saying everywhere. Therefore, the practice consists in doing more and more whatever you want to, in slowly, slowly developing whatever you want to develop, that is compassion, joy and the more positive side of yourself.
Of course you will not get immediate results, you will encounter problems, it will not go upwards all the time, you may not be able to make it in one jump. You will have to progress more gradually, step by step, with ups and downs. If you want to go downwards, then you may be able to do it in direct free-fall way, because it’s easier, you don’t need much effort. This is why the text says that we will try to train gradually, that’s the most important thing. Sometimes, people think that to become a Bodhisattva means they should become completely unselfish, feel complete love for all the sentient beings, be completely filled with great compassion towards everybody, and become most perfect persons. Then they think that it is too difficult, that they can’t become Bodhisattvas and they drop the idea altogether. That’s not it!
It’s just a question of effort. If you think that this is the good way, you try to go in that direction and to progress step by step. Step by step means that maybe in the beginning, you just want not to feel too much hatred, because hatred doesn’t make you feel good : that’s one step ahead. Then maybe you don’t want to help anybody, but you just refrain from harming anybody : that’s another step! Then maybe you feel ready to help just a little bit if it doesn’t harm you at all, if there is nothing to lose. And then slowly...
Even if this is what you are doing, it doesn’t mean that you are not a Bodhisattva, that you are not abiding by your Bodhisattva’s vows. The main thing is your intention, your direction. What your are doing (by taking these vows) is choosing a direction, taking a decision as to the direction in which you want to go. As to the pace, it is up to you to decide it. So, while you are saying the actual text of the vows, you try to generate a sense of commitment to going in that direction.
After we have taken the Bodhisattva’s vows, we rejoice at the good thing we have done:
Now my life is fruitful - I have truly achieved a human existence. Today I have been born into the family of Buddhas. Today I have become a son of the Buddhas. Now, no matter what is required of me, I will act in conformity with my kindred family and will never do anything which might sully this faultless noble line.
This time I have made my human life fruitful because I took this decision to develop Bodhicitta and to become a Bodhisattva in order to become an enlightened being so as to be able to help all sentient beings including myself. So now I have done something very good, something I hadn’t done before. In the past, I have been just trying to help myself, but because I didn’t know how to do it, I actually didn’t even succeed in helping myself - let alone helping others ! Now, by taking the decision to help all others, I am also helping myself, I have decided to walk the path which will benefit myself and others, therefore I can congratulate myself for having done a very good thing.
By taking this decision to walk in the footprints of the Bodhisattvas, I have become a member of the Sangha, - of the family of the Buddhas, you can call it - somebody who is certain to become an enlightened being, a Buddha. Therefore I am like a “baby Buddha”, or a prince who will soon succeed (his father) and become a king. Therefore, by taking that vow, that commitment to go in that direction, I’ve taken a great decision, and I should behave in a way befitting that kind of - profession, you could say - that kind of people, I should not “stain “my Bodhisattva family. As I consider myself as a Bodhisattva, I will become a “good” Bodhisattva, I will not make people feel or think that Bodhisattvas are no good, I will not be like a “blot” in this pure family.
The next thing is to rejoice for others :
Today, in the presence of all the protectors of beings I invite all beings to be my guests at the great celebration of Buddhahood and of happiness until then. Therefore gods, semi-gods and others, all truly rejoice !
So today I have made a decision in front of all the great beings, and that decision is to invite all the sentient beings to the ultimate happiness, therefore I have made a great commitment, I have started a great project - the biggest project ever made we could say. So all others, all who know about it, other beings, spirits, Bodhisattvas of the past, all should rejoice! Then, at the end, you say a prayer that is a kind of dedication. You dedicate all the virtues, the positive karma, the results of your taking this great commitment for the following purpose :
May the precious bodhicitta arise in those in whom it has not yet arisen. Wherever it has arisen, may it never deteriorate but grow more and more.
Never cut off from bodhicitta, engaged in deeds conducive to enlightenment and perfectly cared for by all the Buddhas, may we give up harmful actions.
May whatever Bodhisattvas have in mind to benefit beings come true.
May whatever the protectors wish to happen to beings happen.
May all beings be happy and may all states of suffering be emptied.
May every prayer of the Bodhisattvas, wherever they are, come true.
This is the dedication, and then, to conclude, you say what we call the “4 Immeasurables” or “4 Limitless Contemplations”33:
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May they all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
May they never be deprived of true happiness devoid of any suffering
May they abide in great impartiality, free from attachment to loved ones and aversion to others.
This ends the Bodhisattva’s vows. You say this prayer with a genuine aspiration 3 times, or many times - sometimes people recite this last prayer 100.000 times also. You can do the same if you wish.
Sometimes, we have a good intention, we want to benefit others, but either it is not perceived in a positive way, or the result is negative. Sometimes also we want to benefit one person. However that person is not alone but in relation with other persons, and benefiting one will harm somebody else. So what can we do ?
Of course, we cannot control everything! So we do our best, hope for the best and then ... don’t care too much for the rest. We cannot see everything, but at least we can act with a good intentions and a clean heart. Sometimes it benefits, sometimes it does not - but even if it does not bring benefit, we did it with a good intention and what more can we do than that?
If we do something for one, two, three or four people, one may benefit more than the others, one may not benefit at all, they might even be harmed, but that may not be your fault. Sometimes you give food to people, and they feel ill, but that may not be the fault of the person who gave the food !
The Four Foundations are not “counted”, it is done at the beginning of every session of Ngöndro. We sit and we read the lines of the text, trying to remind ourselves, to be conscious, to rekindle our awareness of these truths and to feel inspired by them. Then from Refuge onwards, we usually count the number of times we do each practice.
In the Tibetan tradition we usually do each practice 100,000 times. In order to receive the Mahamudra teachings, we usually do these preliminaries 100,000 times each:- 100,000 Taking Refuge plus 100,000 prostrations; 100,000 developments of Bodhicitta; 100,000 Vajrasattva purifications; 100,000 Mandala offerings. Of course, it does not mean that after having done all this you become different. Maybe it does not change you, maybe you became even worse. You cannot make a rule about something that cannot be measured, but some sort of guideline has to be established and the tradition has been that if you do 100,000 of each of these preliminaries, you are ready to receive the Mahamudra teachings. You may not be ready after you have done all this, and it is not always true that people cannot receive the Mahamudra teachings without having done all this, but the tradition has been that the Mahamudra teachings were not given to those who had not completed 100,000 of each.
I have also found that people have difficulties doing these things because it needs a lot of patience, a lot of determination, and if they don’t understand what they are doing, they feel they are wasting their time doing something completely useless. Usually, what we do is, we do a prostration at the same time as we say the Refuge prayer and we repeat both these actions 100,000 times. I can’t say exactly whether it is the right, the most suitable preliminary for Westerners, but this has been the tradition so far, and the tradition has demonstrated certain value.
This is the way it has been done for many generations, and by doing it this way, many great people have appeared, they have gained great benefits and realisations. Therefore, the tradition is validated by experience.
If some people want to practise the Ngöndro it might also be good to practise together : they may help and support each other. It is also said that if a group of people do one good deed, each of them gets the whole benefit of doing that good action, the benefit is not divided among them. If all of you together save one person, each of you gets the positive karma, the positive results of saving a person. If all of you together do something wrong, each of you gets the whole negative result, it doesn’t have less result. If for instance they have done together 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, it is as if each one of them had done 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras. Therefore it is very good to practise together, unless there are material obstacles to it of course. Anyway, this is just a suggestion, an idea.
2. Dorjé Sempa (Purification)
The Dorjé Sempa (Tibetan) or Vajrasattva (Sanskrit) practice is a very important practice which is used as the most effective purification or healing method in Vajrayana Buddhism. It is used by all Tibetan Buddhist schools. All of them do the same Vajrasattva practice, and it is supposed to be the most effective of all purification techniques. The technique behind it is more or less the same as that of all healing practices that we do through meditation.
Now why Dorjé Sempa ? Why this deity ? The Buddha told that Vajrasattva, or Dorjé Sempa, is the Buddha who, right from the time he first generated Bodhicitta until he became an enlightened being, dedicated all his activities, all his positive deeds as a Bodhisattva to the healing and purification of all beings. His main wish, his sole aspiration was to be able to heal and purify all sentient beings. Therefore, his spontaneous power of healing and purification is the greatest.
If from the time you become a Bodhisattva and throughout your “Bodhisattva-hood”, you have a strong wish and you make a prayer in that sense - as for instance, your main aspiration is to grant long life, or success, or to be able to protect people, or to cure them from illnesses, or eradicate poverty - and you dedicate all your practices towards that aim, we believe that you will then become a Buddha with that particular power. This is why, even now, when we do prayers, it is so important to make very vast, grand, big prayers, in the most spacious and generous way. Dorjé Sempa made the specific prayer to be able to purify all the negative deeds, and thereby eliminate all their negative results, like illnesses and sufferings that come from those negative deeds (because, as you know, all the negative things that happen to us come out of our negative deeds).
It is believed that to practise Dorjé Sempa has a very special, an unequalled power to eliminate all our negative karma and the negative results of that karma. What we actually do is very simple. First, there is the visualisation of Dorjé Sempa :
On a lotus and moon seat above my head is my guru, Dorjé Sempa, white in colour and exquisitely adorned. Seated in the Vajra posture, he has one face, two arms, the right hand holding a Vajra, and the left one a bell.
This is the form you think of. A little above your head, about one feet, you visualise a big lotus flower, and on top of that lotus flower, there is a moon disc, and on top of it sits Vajrasattva. But he is not just the Vajrasattva deity : he is inseparable from your own root guru (if you have one) and he is also one with all the enlightened beings. The Vajrasattva you have visualised is not like a kind of sculpture, or painting, but he is fully alive, with all the qualities of a Buddha : he has a completely enlightened mind, unlimited compassion and wisdom, and he radiates love, compassion, joy, power and energy in the form of different coloured rays of light. Vajrasattva is white, and he is decorated with all the ornaments of a Sambhogakaya Buddha. When we talk of a Buddha in the Dharmakaya form, it means that he is represented as totally naked, without ornaments, without any clothes. When we talk of a Sambhogakaya Buddha, he is represented as an Indian prince or princess, in the form of enjoyment, very beautiful, young, with 30 different ornaments, very rich, with gold, silver and diamonds. There are also wrathful forms of Sambhogakaya. And when we talk of a Nirmanakaya form, it is the form of Shakyamuni Buddha, with the monk’s dresses and a begging bowl.
So Vajrasattva is in the Sambhogakaya form, sitting cross-legged, with a Vajra in his right hand, and a dribu - or bell - in his left hand.
You may not be able to visualise him completely clearly and as much as you wish, but it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that you feel the energy. It is also good if you can visualise certain parts, sometimes the face, sometimes the energy, the lights, or the form, or the mantra with a blue Hung34 in Dorjé Sempa’s heart. But most important is the feeling that Dorjé Sempa is the embodiment of energy, of compassionate wisdom, of all the positive things, because what we are actually trying to do through all these practices is to identify with these qualities. We try to get out of our constant tendency to feel bad, negative, frustrated and tense. Therefore, if you think of all these positive qualities, of these positive energies, even if you cannot identify with them, your mind concentrates on them, and therefore you develop more positive feelings. This is very important. The figure is just symbolic, the main point is your concentration on these positive energies, to get absorbed in those positive qualities.
When our visualisation is established, we think that from the heart of the Dorjé Sempa we have visualised above our head, rays of light emanate in all ten directions, going all over the universe, inviting the assembly of “jnana-sattvas” or “yeshé sempa”35 - which means that the blessings, the energy, the power and mind of all the enlightened beings is invited to dissolve into Dorjé Sempa. In this way, we become more confident that this kind of energy, the union of all the positive energies is actually present above our head. Actually, the most important thing is to maintain the concentration throughout the practice. When we do this, we are serving two purposes :
1) we practice the calming-down meditation through keeping our mind fully concentrated in one place,
2) we develop compassion and the positive side of ourselves by wholeheartedly absorbing our mind in positive aspects.
As I said before, the only way to become more positive, to develop the positive, is to think less and less of the negative while thinking more and more of the positive.
We now make a prayer to Dorjé Sempa, saying :
My guru, Dorjé Sempa, I pray you, cleanse and purify the multitude of harmful deeds, obscurations, faults and transgressions leading to downfall, in myself and in all other beings, everywhere, to the end of space.
We pray with genuine feeling that with Dorjé Sempa’s help and our own strong aspiration, all our negative deeds and those of all the sentient beings may be purified. Following that supplication, we visualise the Hung on top of a moon disc in the heart centre of Dorjé Sempa. We should see Dorjé Sempa in a transparent, rainbow like form, not as a solid, opaque figure. Therefore we can see the Hung inside his body, surrounded by the Hundred Syllable Mantra, from which flows a stream of amrita. The mantra36 around the Hung appears in very small, very thin letters, as if they were written with one hair. When we recite the mantra, we think, we visualise that drops of amrita stream from the mantra. Amrita is a kind of nectar, of divine liquid, that contains the blessings, or the power, or the energy of Vajrasattva and his mantra, of our own purified nature.
This stream of energy flows from the mantra, flows through Dorjé Sempa’s body and enters our own body through the fontanel or “Brahma aperture”. As it flows down through our body, we should feel that all our negative deeds, all our negative karma and its results, obscurations, illnesses, pain, blockages, everything is completely cleansed. From the head to the toes, all the negativities leave our body, and all its parts are cleansed from within. Even the causes of the negativities, the mind poisons, the negative emotions are completely purified. As we think of this process, of the nectar running like water in our body and purifying everything, we try to feel we are becoming more and more joyful and blissful. What enters into us is nectar, and nectar is supposed to be a substance that gives a sensation of warmth, pleasure and bliss when we touch it. When we are completely purified, our body is like an empty bottle that fills with nectar, we feel there is nothing negative in us any more, we experience an unearthly bliss, and we try to concentrate on that.
Sometimes, it seems that people who do the Dorjé Sempa practice tend to concentrate more on the negative than on the positive : they think of all the negative deeds they did, they feel and think : more on the negative side, and that is not good, that is unnecessary. Try to feel the positive side because the negative is finished, it is purified, eliminated. And this is not just for ourselves, but for all sentient beings. Of course, first we need to concentrate on our own purification, but at the same time, we try to think and feel that this is not only happening to ourselves but to all sentient beings.
While thinking of this, we recite the mantra :
Om Bendza Sato Samaya Manupalaya Bendza Sato Tenopa Titra Drito Mébawa Suto Kayo Mébawa Supo Kayo Mébawa Anurakto Mébawa Sarwa Siddhi Mentra Yatsa Sarwa Karma Sutsamé Tsitam Shiri ya Guru Hung Ha Ha Ha Ha Ho Bhagawan Sarwa Tatagata Bendza Mamé Muntsa Bendza Bhawa Maha Samaya Sato Ah
This is not really the way the Sanskrit is read, but it is the way the Tibetans read Sanskrit! It is wrong, but it doesn’t matter !
After this Hundred Syllable Mantra, that you can recite as often as you wish, we recite the Six Syllable Mantra, which is a shorter form of the 100 Syllable Mantra :
Om Bendza Sato Hung
At the end, when we have recited the mantra and done the Dorjé Sempa practice as often as we wanted to, we conclude by joining our hands at the level of our heart and saying the following prayer :
Protector, unknowingly and out of stupidity, I have violated and broken my commitments. My guru and protector, give me refuge. Highest one, Vajra-holder, whose nature is the greatest compassion, I take refuge in you, leader of beings. I confess and repent all breaches of the principal and secondary commitments related to body, speech and mind. Please grant your blessing that the multitude of harmful deeds, obscurations, faults and transgressions leading to downfall may be cleansed and purified.
Dorjé Sempa is one and the same with all the Buddhas, all the protectors. “Protector” here doesn’t mean the “Dharma protectors”, it is one of the names of the Buddha. The Tibetan word “gönpo” could be translated as “Lord”. It applies to somebody who has the power and willingness to protect.
Due to our confusion and ignorance, we have done many bad things. We now realise how badly we behaved and that these negative actions will have negative results. This is not what we want : we want positive results. Therefore we regret what we did under the power of our delusion, we take the firm resolution not to do it again and we ask to be purified of all those negativities. Even the good things we tried to do - by taking vows, samayas37, commitments - we were unable to keep them due to our ignorance, our inability, and different other reasons like aversion and attachment, we broke our engagements. We now express our strong wish to get rid completely of these mind poisons, of the negative things we did and the positive we did not. Therefore we take refuge in Vajrasattva and we supplicate him to help us. The text then says :
Dorjé Sempa gives me release, melts into light and dissolves into me, making us “not two”.
When we say this, we feel that we are completely purified, that whatever negativities we did is purified and what was not completely fulfilled is now fulfilled.
Now we think that we become exactly like Vajrasattva. The Vajrasattva we have visualised melts into light, dissolves into us and we think we become Vajrasattva. Our Vajrasattva nature, our pure Buddha nature has been awakened because, as we said already, the temporary defilements are the only obstructions keeping us from becoming fully enlightened. So now, since we have completely purified our negativities, we fully become Vajrasattva himself. We try to look at ourselves as being Vajrasattva, to feel ourselves in that state (of complete purity), and this is the end of the Vajrasattva practice.
It is a very good healing method and it has some effects, I think, if we do it long enough. It is not difficult to do, but whether we have an actual effect or not depends on whether we actually do it or not. If we want to see whether it has any effect on us, we should try and do it in the first place.
Rinpoché, regarding visualisation, I always have a problem : do I see it in front of me or do I feel myself like that ? When you say for instance that we should visualise ourselves as Vajrasattva, do I see myself as Vajrasattva in front of me, or do I feel myself as Vajrasattva ?
You are visualising yourself as Vajrasattva, so if you want to look at yourself from any angle, it is up to you ! Your actual body now becomes Vajrasattva. You are not seeing it with your eyes, because you cannot see yourself completely.
Can I dedicate the merits of this practice for one person in particular ?
Usually, the Buddhist way of dedication is that, even if we want to dedicate it to one person, we don’t just do that, we dedicate it to all the beings, because when we do so, the merit becomes even more, it multiplies. Then we make a second dedication to the person for whom we actually want to do it. That is the usual way.
3. The Mandala Offering
We now come to the third of the Special Practices which is the Mandala Offering:. After it comes the Guru Yoga, but this time, unfortunately, we won’t have time to go through it. Maybe it isn’t even necessary, as we should first practise what we have already gone through. The Ngöndro is not just intellectual understanding, or just study : this is a book of practice. If we don’t practise, going through the text does not make much sense.
In the actual practice of Buddhism, there are only 2 things to do :
1. to purify, get rid and eliminate all our negativities, and
2. to develop and increase all our positive sides.
If we want to summarise the whole of Buddhism into one sentence, it is just this : trying to get rid of all the negative and develop the positive. This is what we do with those practices : with the Vajrasattva practice, we get rid of all the negativities, and with the mandala offering, we try to accomplish, to accumulate all the positive things. It is as simple as that.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches the “Six Paramitas” as the method to develop our more positive side. If you really develop the six Paramitas, or six transcendental wisdoms, they include all the positive things we need to develop. As you all know, these six paramitas are :
2. good behaviour or good moral conduct,
4. diligence and joy in following the paramitas
5. meditation, or control and clarity of mind,
6. wisdom, or seeing the truth.
Out of these six Paramitas, we start with the generosity, which is maybe the easiest of all six. It is the most important, the first thing to do, and it serves as a kind of basis for all the other paramitas. Therefore we first try to develop generosity, which doesn’t mean that we only develop generosity since all paramitas are actually interrelated : if we develop one, we also develop all the others. If we look at it more closely, we find all six paramitas in any of them.
However, when we say that we start with generosity, it means that the emphasis is on generosity. Generosity is the opposite of attachment. We have talked about it before, last year also : the main problem, the essence, the root cause of all our samsaric sufferings, of our samsaric state of mind is aversion and attachment. Therefore, our main, our real practice is to try to deal with aversion and attachment. In the Ngöndro, we deal with aversion through the Vajrasattva practice, whereas we deal with attachment through the Mandala Offering. With these two, we are actually covering the essential practice, because there is in fact nothing more to do. If we get rid of aversion and attachment, or if we know how to deal with both, we actually clear our confusion, as these two are what makes the ignorance. When that is cleared, then ... we have “done it”!
Although we say that these are the “preliminaries”, they are not just something we have to do at the beginning and then forget about it. They are all we need to do! In all the other practices, even when we come to the actual Mahamudra, there is nothing else to do but to deal with aversion and attachment. Therefore this is very simple - maybe sometimes so simple that we find it a little strange - but if we really look at it, if we can really integrate it into our experience - not just as a ritual, but as a real experience - then it is very deep and meaningful.
Through offering what we are attached to, what we think is ours, what we cling to and cannot get rid of, we train our mind in letting go, in giving up. What we offer is not something we don’t want and therefore give away, but something we treasure very much, and it is with great respect and great openness that we offer it. This is why we call it a “mandala offering”, or the offering of the universe. We are not giving away or throwing away what we don’t need any more, we offer what we value most, and although we value it so much, still we are willing to give it away. This is not something you can’t do.
I think I have told you the story of Anatapindika ... Is there anybody who hasn’t heard this story yet ? “Anata” means “without protection”, and “Pindika” means “giving food, giving shelter”. That name was given to him afterwards. But before he became famous for his generosity, he was very stingy, very miserly, although he was very rich. He used to attend the Buddha’s teachings, he listened to them every day, and the Buddha used to talk about generosity, about giving and the positive karma of giving. One day, he came to see the Buddha to tell him that he found the teachings very nice, but that giving was something he just couldn’t do.
- “If I give even a little bit, I feel a great pain ! I can’t manage it, it’s impossible !”
- “Well, if you really try, you can do it.” said the Buddha.
- “No, it can’t be done !”
- “Can you give something to yourself?”
- “Oh yes! There’s no problem.”
- “Then all right, go back home, take something rather valuable in one hand, give it to the other hand and say ‘take it!’, and do the same again and again.”
So Anatapindika went back home, maybe a little amused with the idea. He took a golden coin in the right hand and gave it to his left hand, saying “Take it !”. Then he gave it back to the right hand saying “Take it !”. He did this exercise again and again, and slowly, slowly, he opened up and didn’t mind to give little things any more. He became more and more generous, and after some time, he was giving food to the hungry, building hospitals, hospitals for animals, and places where travellers could stay and eat. He become known as Anatapindika, the most generous person one could think of. This is how we can train ourselves : with small things, and then ....
When we do the mandala offering, training our mind is the most important thing. If we push ourselves too much (in our everyday life, if for instance we try to give too much) before we are mentally prepared for it, we may regret it afterwards, and even end up with the opposite attitude. Therefore it is very important, even essential, to first train our mind in this way. This is what we do through this 37 points Mandala Offering.
When you read the text, you may find it funny, but what we are actually trying to do is to imagine all the most precious, the most wonderful, the most miraculous things and then offer them. On top of what is described, you may add whatever you think of as very nice, what you are very much attached to, what you want for yourself. You can include all that, and then you offer it. This is not restricted to the practice of the Mandala Offering, but in your everyday life also, you can practise this as a kind of exercise : when you are very much attracted to something, when you want it very much for yourself and you can’t get it, you make a mental offering of it, and in this way, you get less frustrated, you can let it go.
Now we will just go through the text - I mean, there is nothing much to explain, there is nothing you won’t understand, it is very simple. First of all, when you offer a mandala, you visualise the Refuge Tree (as we discussed before) in front of you, as is described here :
My guru is in front of me, in the centre of the sky. Before him are the yidams, to his right the Buddhas, behind him the dharma and to his left the realised Sangha. All of them are accompanied by many others like them. In between their seats are oceans of dharma protectors. I am in the presence of all the Precious Ones - the perfect and excellent “field of accumulation”.
Then you imagine that you are offering all the most precious things to all the sacred, great beings. When you actually perform the practice, you take a “mandala plate” in the left hand, take rice (or anything) in your right hand and wipe the plate, three times clockwise and one time counter-clockwise, while reciting the Vajrasattva 100 syllable mantra. While doing this, you think that this action cleanses your mind of all negative thoughts, negative emotions and negative karma. Then you say :
Om Bendza Bhumi Ah Hung
You sprinkle grain on the plate, thinking it is the golden earth (‘bhumi’ means the earth). Then you say :
Om Bendza rekhe Ah Hung
You drop rice around the edge of the plate, and afterwards you put piles of grain around it, (while reading the text and imagining the different offerings). In the short mandala offering, there are just 5 piles of grain, whilst in the long version, there are 37 points. As we don’t have much time left, maybe we don’t need to go through this in detail. If you want to practise it, you can ask several people in the centre for explanations.
In brief, the elements enumerated in the text come from the Indian tradition, they are what were supposed to be the most wonderful, the most miraculous things in the universe, and on top of them, you can offer all what you yourself consider most wonderful.
In the centre of a ring of iron mountains is the king of mountains, Mount Meru38. In the east is Lupakpo, to the south Dzambuling, to the west Balangchö and to the north Draminyen (the 4 continents). Lu and Lupak, Ngayap and Ngayap Chen, Yoden and Lamchodro, Draminyen and Draminyen Jida (the eight subcontinentson each side of each continent)
A jewel mountain, a wish-granting tree, a cow givingmilk as much as one wants, crops that need no cultivation. The precious wheel, the precious jewel, the precious queen, the precious minister, the precious elephant, the precious horse, the precious general, a vase containing inexhaustible treasures. Goddesses of beauty, goddesses offering garlands, songs, dances, flowers, incense, lights and perfumes. The sun, the moon, a canopy of jewels, banners of victory flying over all directions. Amidst all these things are displayed the finest and most enjoyable possessions of gods and men, nothing being omitted, in far greater number than the dust particles of innumerable (1021) universes.
These I offer to all the gurus, yidams, Buddhas, bodhisattvas andthe multitude of Dakas, dakinis, male and female dharma protectors. Out of your great compassion, please accept these offerings of the sake of all beings, and having accepted them, pray grant your blessing.
Then we say the short mandala offering :
The ground is sprinkled with scented water, strewn with flowers and adorned with Mount Meru, the four continents, the sun and the moon. I imagine this to be a Buddha-field. Through making such an offering, may all beings abide in the Pure Lands.
This is the main mandala offering that we repeat 100,000 times.
The text continues:
I imagine that I offer a million, a hundred thousand million, a hundred billion mandalas all gathered into this one mandala, to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten directions and the three times, to all the Gurus and Vajra Teachers, to all the Yidams and their entourages and to the Sugatas39 of the three times.
I pray that out of your great compassion, you may consider me with kindness and accept this offering of mine. Having accepted it, please grant your blessing that I may be able to lead all the sentient beings to a completely pure land.
After having thus prayed, we say the mantra :
Om Mendala Pudza Meghasa Mudra Saparana Samayé Ah Hung
This mantra multiplies a million times the offering that we have already made, and we now think that the offering has been accomplished.
This is the main practice we do again and again, until our mind becomes pure, more open, until all our stinginess, all our attachments become non-existent. Then we pray and dedicate the merits of our practice :
Now that I have offered this good and pleasing mandala, may there be no obstacles on the path to enlightenment, may I achieve the realisation of the Sugatas of the three times, neither falling into the illusion of existence, nor that of non-existence, and may I liberate all beings in numbers as vast as infinite space.
To all the Gurus who have perfectly achieved the three kayas, I present the outer, inner and secret offerings and the offering of suchness. As you accept my body, possessions and all animate and inanimate manifestations, I pray you to grant me the unsurpassable supreme spiritual accomplishment. Please bestow upon me the supreme accomplishment of Mahamudra.
I prostrate, offer and purify, I rejoice, request and pray. Whatever small virtues I thus gather, I dedicate to perfect great enlightenment. Through this offering of all my possessions, as well as those of all beings innumerable as space is infinite, may all beings perfectly complete the two accumulations.
The field of accumulation melts into light, fuses into me, and we are of one taste.
This means that at the end, we feel the refuge tree in front of us melts into light and dissolves into us, becomes one with us, and that is the end of the Mandala Practice.
Unfortunately we do not have time to study the fourth practice, Guru Yoga, on this visit, but I shall try to do it another time. Meanwhile you have plenty to do!
So thank you very much.
I think I must say that I have enjoyed my stay in Brussels, like last year, like all the time, and I feel a little sad that I have to go. It always happens with me : when you stay in some place for a longer period of time, you get attached to the place, attached to the people, and you feel bad to leave. And then again, you go to another place, and it happens the same way ...
What to do ? That’s life ...
Anyway, thank you all very much.
1 Mahamudra (cha ja chen po / phyag rgya chen po) : literally “the great seal”,
the most direct practice for realizing one’s Buddha nature, the
nature of one’s mind. Highest teaching of (mainly) the Kagyu School.
2 Kagyupa : one of the 4 main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
3 Shiné (zhi gnas) : or Shamatha in Sanscrit, is the meditation of calm-abiding.
4 Dzogchen or Dzogpa Chenpo (rdzog chen) : literally “the Great Perfection”
Highest teachings of the Inner Tantra of the Nyingma School of
Tibetan Buddhism. Equivalent to Ati Yoga.
5 Initiation/Empowerment (wang / dbang) : ritual conferring the power or the
authorization to practice a specific Vajrayana teaching, it is an
indispensable door to any Tantric practice. To be complete, the
transmission of the text (lung) and the explanations (tri) should
also be received.
6 Tulku : “apparitional body”, refers to an incarnated Bodhisattva who works
for the welfare of beings, recognized incarnation of a master of the past.
7 Hinayana : All the Buddhist teachings are subdivised in 3 “yanas” or vehicles :
1. Hinayana (small vehicle) or Theravada (vehicles of the Ancients - more
in favour nowadays to avoid the slightly pejorative connotation of “Hinayana”) claims the greatest authenticity, to be closest to the initial
teachings of the Buddha. It’s ideal is the Arhat, who has reached
complete personal liberation.
2. Mahayana (great vehicle) accepts all the Hinayana teachings, to which
it adds the various prajnaparamita sutras. The Mahayana ideal is the
Bodhisattva, who works not only for his own but for all beings’ complete
liberation and enlightenment.
3. Vajrayana accepts all Hinayana and Mahayana teachings, and adds to
them specific techniques aimed for those with the highest capacities
(compassion and intelligence) to reach swiftly perfect enlightenment.
8 Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur) : Instructions and Precepts of the Buddha, title of a great
collection of the Buddha’s teachings, translated mostly from
Sanscrit into Tibetan, consisting of 108 volumes.
9 Tengyur (bstan ‘gyur) : Collection of commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings in
225 volumes, mainly translated from Sanscrit and Chinese.
10 Patrul Rinpoché (1808 - 1887) : one of the most outstanding masters of the 19th century.
11 Upanishad : texts on which the Vedanta is based.
12 Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoché (1910 - 1991 AD) outstanding master of this century and lineage
holder of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism.
13 The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul, Shambhala, 1977 (reprinted).
14 Sönam (bsod nams)
15 Tsöndru (brtson ‘grus)
16 Bardo Thödol or “Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate Period after Death” translated by Chogyam Trungpa & Francesca Fremantle, Shambhala Press, reprinted 1992..
17 Shantideva (7th - 8th C.) Famous Indian proponent of the Mâdhyamika school of
Mahayana. Almost nothing is known for certain as to his biography, except
that he was a monk at the University of Nalanda. He is the author of the
18 Lineage of Mahamudra : Buddha Vajradhara > Tilopa (988 - 1069) > Naropa (1016 -
1100) > Marpa (1012 - 1097) > Milarepa (1040 - 1123) >
Gampopa (1079 - 1153) > Dusum Khyenpa (1st Karmapa) >
the succession of Karmapas.
19 Vinaya : part of the Tripitaka (Indian Buddhist Canon), or “3 baskets”. The Vinaya
pitaka codifies the rules of behaviour and ethics.
20 Dharma protectors (Dharmapala) (Chö chyong/ chos skyong) :
can be either powerful non-humans converted to Buddhism, who have vowed to protect the Buddhist doctrine and its practitionners, or wrathful manifestations of the Buddhas’ activity
21 realised Sangha = the Sangha of Bodhisattvas
22 mandala (chil khor/dkyil ‘khor): center and surrounding, it can mean different things :-
- a symbolic graphic representation of a tantric deity’s realm of existence
- or a mental visualisation or a graphic representation serving as a support for meditation
- or a representation of the entire universe
- or the offering of the universe
23 Sakya Pandita (1182 - 1251 AD) Reknowned Master of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism .
24 The 3 Jewels : Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
25 The 2 Rupakayas are the Nirmanakaya and the Sambhogakaya
26 10 bhumis :stages of realisation and activities through which a Bodhisattva progressses on their way to Buddhahood.
27 5 paths : different stages of the path towards Enlightenment. The 3rd path, (vision or seeing) corresponds to the 1st bhumi. For a more detailed explanation of paths and bhumis, see teaching on Gampopa’s Dagpo Tardgyen.
28 11th bhumi = Buddhahood, Enlightenment
29 4 activities : 1) Pacifying (outer negativities as famine, illness, conflicts, and inner negativities like negative emotions)
2) Increasing (outer positive situations and inner spiritual realization)
3) Magnetising (mastery over outer and inner energies)
4) Subjugating (all negative forces)
30 channels : refers to the belief in the existence of a “subtle” body, of which onstituents are channels, in which circulate “winds” of energy and “drops”.These channels can be blocked , impeding the good circulation of energies.
31 Dewachen : Pure Land of Great Felicity of Buddha Amithaba. A Pure Land (zhing khams) is:
- a place manifested through the wishes of a Buddha or a great Bodhisattva, where beings can be born and progress towards enlightenment without ever falling back in lower realms of existence
- or any place when it is perceived as a pure manifestation.
32 (byang chub sems)
33 The 4 “Immeasurables” are : love, compassion, joy, and equanimity
34 A picture of Dorjé Sempa is useful.
35 yeshe sempa : beings who embody perfect non-dual wisdom
36 mantra : syllables charged with energy, manifestation of different aspects of Buddhahood. Mantras protect the mind from distraction and dispersion and serve as support for meditation.
37 samaya : sacred pledge or vows, commitments linked to a Vajrayana practice.
38 Mount Meru : mythological giant mountain, centre and axis of the whole universe according to the Hindu cosmology.
39 Sugatas : “Blissfully Gone”, a title given to the Buddhas
Transcribed and edited by Corinne Segers, Brussels, 1996.
Further editing by Maggy Jones, Samye Ling, 1997 -’98