Category Archives: Teachings

The Mahamudra Way – Ngondro, the Preliminary Practices

The Ngondro practice is very important for purifying negative karma and to generate wisdom. Actually, our main practice is Mahamudra, but you cannot practice Mahamudra without the purification or the blessing. In this context, the “Preliminary Practices” are most essential.

You are in samsara now, and as long as you remain so, you will experience disturbing emotions. Otherwise, you would have already been enlightened. In the past, no matter where you were born, you had experienced various poisons of the mind. This is true regardless of whether you were in the higher realm of beings or whether you were born in the lower realms. Your present state is proof of that, because were it different, you would not be experiencing the disturbing emotions now.

So long as these disturbing emotions are in you, you are accumulating negative karma. However, it is not as if a certain karma was accumulated, it would then ripen to give a certain result, and afterwards, that karma would disappear completely. And that the only karma left in us now is what has caused this present human life. No, you have millions of different karma built up from many past lives. In addition, you are continuing to create much new karma through your thoughts, speech and actions everyday. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes negative. But unfortunately, they are most often negative. As humans, we are constantly involved in disturbing emotions which can never result in anything positive.

This does not mean that we should look down on ourselves. Rather, we should accept our present situation – this is our karma now, and it is preventing the wisdom from appearing. This wisdom is already there. It is the nature of our mind. However, our disturbing emotions cover it. From our disturbing emotions we create karma. The result for us is more samsara where we create more karma.

So the karma is very strong, and we have to weaken it by doing the “Preliminary Practices” until it cannot harm us any more. We practice the accumulation of merit through the Mandala-Offering, the third of the Ngondro practices. This will create in us all the necessary conditions to reach enlightenment.

When we are free of the karmic influences and have accumulated all the positive conditions, we can successfully begin the Mahamudra practice. If, however, after 111,111 repetitions of each of the four preliminaries, one realizes that no development has occurred, then one has to continue to work hard on the preliminaries in order to weaken the negative karma.

While practicing Ngondro, many good signs may appear. They are an indication that a result has been reached. But one should not have too many expectations regarding these signs. They should appear naturally as they cannot be artificially produced.

After practicing a lot of Ngondro, a student receives the Mahamudra teachings. It would not be very beneficial to teach him the Mahamudra before that because he would not be able to understand them precisely. The mind must be purified for that to happen.

As well, the more profound aspects of Mahamudra are also not taught too early on, as the student would not be able to appreciate them at a later time. When one has not understood the precise meaning, and yet has heard a lot about it then it would become boring to him. The effect of the meaning would be lost to him. For this reason, great masters like Milarepa, and Gampopa had transmitted the Mahamudra teachings only in a very restricted manner.

It has been said that the Preliminary Practices are more profound and more important than the main practice. This is because Ngondro creates the necessary conditions for the Mahamudra practice. Mahamudra enables you to reach enlightenment within one moment, but in order to do so, first, you need the proper conditions.

By doing the Ngondro practice you turn yourself into a “qualified practitioner”. However, this does not mean that when you are finished then you are fully qualified. In addition to that, you need a good understanding of the Dharma. For instance you should know very well the teachings about the qualities of the Buddha nature. This subject is explained in the Uttaratantrashastra, Gju Lama in Tibetan. Other important texts that you should study are: The Distinction Between Consciousness and Wisdom (tib: Nam-she Yeshe) and “Showing the Essence of the Buddha Nature” (tib: Nyingpo Tenpa) [both texts were written by the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje]. The Nyingpo Tenpa is a shorter version of the Gju Lama.

It is also important to know the Madhyamaka teachings. Madhyamaka explains in what way samsara is an illusion, and that the Buddha mind is beyond this illusion. As a result, one understands that samsara, and one’s minds in its current mode are only delusions. The Buddha mind is something completely different altogether, something beyond this illusion. However, it is not different in the sense that it is separate from the present mind. Both are inseparably one. Madhyamaka explains exactly in what way the nature of your present mind is the Dharmakaya. But the Madhyamaka is not able to point out the Dharmakaya as something special like one could point at a flower and say, “This is a white rose.” What the Madhyamaka can do is exactly show the nature of the illusions. Apart from that, there is something that you have to recognize and understand by yourself. It is the Mahamudra realization. For a meditator on this path, it is very important learn the philosophical views of the Madhyamaka.

The Madhyamaka also explains that the conditions of “cause and effect” will continue as long as the mind is under the influence of illusions. Positive or negative causes always lead to their corresponding results. This is why meditators with the Madhyamaka view have great respect for the law of karma. Even Bodhisattvas on high levels will experience the results of unpurified actions in the postmeditative phase. Due to their great merit, generally they encounter good and positive results. But sometimes, during their postmeditative phase, disturbing things may appear to them.

So the Madhyamaka is very important, as it gives you a fundamental understanding of the Dharma in its entirety.

Today, some scholars have also published books with short, comprehensible explanations about certain parts of the Abhidharma. For instance, the different stages of the Shi’nay meditation which a meditator goes through are explained. There are many details concerning how the philosophical view on the different levels will affect certain forms of ignorance and disturbing emotions in the mind. During the continuous development of the Shi’nay meditation, it is important to know these details precisely. Why? It is because, when you rest in deep meditation, you are more likely to be led by your deep knowledge rather than by an outside person. Therefore, if your knowledge is good, you will not encounter any obstacles. Without this knowledge, however, there are many risks of being misled during meditation. Sometimes you may perhaps follow wrong views which you consider right. At other times, you may not know how to deal with certain intellectual problems due to a lack of know-how, or the necessary remedial methods. You may also get agitated about certain experiences; even then, you should not be attached to them. At that point, you need a good meditation teacher. Otherwise there are many dangers of making mistakes. When you do a practice for the accumulation of merit, you need a teacher who knows about it specifically. The teacher may not necessarily have to have mastered all the other Dharma subjects. But he should be qualified to give you advice on merit accumulation methods.

When a meditator is confronted with experiences during meditation, he needs a teacher who is very qualified in this practice. An example I always enjoy telling is the story about Gampopa who once had a problem with his meditation practice – all of a sudden Gampopa could not see anymore. He crawled to Milarepa and asked him what he should do. Milarepa answered, “Your meditation belt is too tight. You should loosen it.”

If the meditation teacher has no experience of his own, he cannot teach you anything. In which book can you find the information about the meditation belt is too tight and should be loosened? Such books do not exist. Geshes and Khenpos could study all the Buddhist subjects for 25 years. But among all the books that can be studied, there is not one that explains such things because the number of beings is infinite and therefore the number of problems is infinite. Who could describe all the individual problems of all beings of the past, the present and the future? So when you come to these meditation experiences, the teacher needs to be qualified.

Another important point is the development of the Bodhisattva mind. It is the cause for our development from one lifetime to the next. For this reason, all Mahayana and Vajrayana teachers advise us to concentrate on Bodhichitta, the compassion aspect of the Bodhisattva’s mind.

The “Bodhisattva Vow” helps to develop our positive side so we become helpful for other beings. It prevents us from falling into the lower realms as a result of anger or jealousy, etc. Even if such disturbing emotions arise, the Bodhisattva vow immediately purifies them. This is why we should never give up on developing Bodhichitta.

Anger and jealousy directly affect your Bodhichitta, and so does the ego. They are your enemies. These three mind-poisons are the reason why beings are always so aggressive. There is so much anger everywhere. When energy is connected with that anger, beings become dangerous to others and create in themselves the causes to be reborn in the lower realms. The Bodhisattva Vow is one protection against the lower realms. The accumulation of merit, (the Mandala practice is one example), is increased by the Bodhisattva Vow as well as by the power of the purification practices.

A teaching given at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI), April 1994

Refuge in The Three Jewels

For a better understanding of taking refuge in the three jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, we need to know something about Samsara, to begin with. For it is this cyclic existence of total dissatisfaction that we wish ourselves to be sheltered from.

Broadly speaking, there are two aspects to Samsara. There is the actual samsaric experience of misery and there are the sentient beings, who suffer blindly in this intolerable state, since beginless times. These ignorant sentient beings are just ordinary beings, whose ordinary minds are in delusion. Being deluded in mind, their flawed thinking causes disturbing emotions to arise. And driven by negative disturbing emotions, they act unwisely, thus creating karma ; and their maturing karma results involuntarily in rebirth in the six realms, again and again. Under these unfortunate conditions, Samsara comes into existence. An uninterrupted cycle of rebirth is what Samsara means. Here, continuity constitutes a problem.

When we take the refuge, it is in the hope of finding a way out of this cyclic state of total confusion and delusion. It is, therefore, of vital importance that the refuge that we are to entrust ourselves in, be very well qualified indeed. Obvious questions come to mind. Who has such power to be able to liberate us from Samsara? Who has such qualities of mind, in undertaking so noble a mission? The answer, unequivocally is: it is the Buddha. The Buddha protects. The Buddha saves. He bestows his blessing on one and all indiscriminately. It is we, who need to become worthy vessels, in order that we may better receive it. In a downpour, it is the parch earth that is more thoroughly drenched. So being fervent in faith and in devotion to the Buddha, makes us that much more receptive to his blessing. Not only do we need to know what the Buddha’s quality of mind is, in order to benefit from his blessing, but we must also supplicate one-pointedly for this benediction.

In the Buddha, there are two main distinguishing qualities: he is uncompromisingly self-accomplishing and at the same time, he is also unconditionally self-giving. These two qualities of mind far from being mutually exclusive, they are, in fact, logically complementary. When one is single-mindedly self-accomplishing, it is for the reason that one may better serve others. And in the process of serving, one is also self-accomplishing, in the natural accumulation of merits. The accumulation of merits and the accumulation of wisdom ultimately lead us to the perfect state of enlightenment, which is buddhahood.

From then on, the Buddha’s spontaneous activities are as limitless as his merits and his wisdom. In the accomplishing stages, merit and wisdom, however, must never be neglected, one at the expense of the other. For both are of equal importance in the attaining of buddhahood.

For a follower in the Buddha-Dharma, there are essentially four different stages of development in accumulation and in accomplishment. The beginners are at the earlier stages; the noble sanghas are at the more advanced stages; the bodhisattvas are on to the supra-mundane stages; while the maha-bodhisattvas are on the final stages, where both accumulations of merit and wisdom are being perfected, before buddhahood is finally attained.

There are three distinctive aspects to a Buddha, which is generally referred to as the three kayas the three bodies of the Buddha. They are the Dharmakaya, the Sambogakaya and the Nirmanakaya. In Dharmakaya, we identify the Buddha as the full realization of uncontrived primordial wisdom. ln the Sambogakaya, we identify him as a pure body of bliss, free from all sufferings and all attachments. And in the Nirmanakaya, the Buddha appears in a communicative form, whereby, we, as yet unenlightened, may better relate to him, tangibly. With the pure motivation of benefiting all sentient beings, the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom are mutually nurturing; the accumulation of the one, naturally enhances the accumulation of the other. When both are fully accomplished, buddhahood is said to be attained.

Dharmakaya, the wisdom aspect in the Buddha, is where he is identified as immutable simplicity. While Sambogakaya and Nirmanakaya are the kayas of the dynamic Buddha, where he is in natural manifestation of uncontrived activities, for the well-being of all sentient beings, indiscriminately. The Buddha’s spontaneous manifestations being limitless, equally limitless are his merits and his accomplishments. There could no longer be any doubts in our minds that the Buddha truly has the power and the ability to liberate us from Samsara. We should, with full confidence in him, commit ourselves to follow him. We should pray to him for guidance and for help, especially in times of need. May our thoughts never stray from the Buddha; and may we all attain to his level of spiritual perfection.

Let me say this: in aspiring to attain to the Buddha’s level, does not mean, we are in competition with the Buddha; neither does it mean that we are thinking of taking his place. There is no need for that. For we ourselves are rightfully the natural Buddhas.

First and foremost, our refuge is in the Buddha. The Dharma and the Sangha are, as it were, supportive refuges instrumental to buddhahood, the ultimate enlightenment. They may be compared to a sea-worthy vessel, in an ocean crossing. For this reason, it is important to know of what quality and substance, Dharma is. What is Dharma? It is the method and the means, through which we are to reach ultimate enlightenment. It is the way to buddhahood. The two aspects of Dharma are the path and the cessation. The path is concerned with the technique in applying the buddhist principles to our daily life – how one can best accomplish the accumulations.

The way to Dharmakaya is in the accomplishing of wisdom accumulation. The way to Sambogakaya and Nirmanakaya is in the accomplishing of merit accumulation.

Briefly, cessation is the fruition of the path. In the development stages, there are the different levels of realization. There are the arhats, the sravakas, the pratyeka-buddhas; and in Mahayana, there we have the different levels of bodhisattvas, whose ultimate realization is buddhahood.

The cessation aspect of Dharma, however, is not to be our main concern today. So what is Dharma? Very simply, Dharma is all the teachings of the Buddha, with nothing excluded. Cessation, here means the cessation of all Samsaric impurities, when the mind is finally purged of all suffering causing notions. Ultimately this is none other than the blissful state of buddhahood. As one travels along the right path, is it surprising that one ultimately arrives at the right destination?

And the Sangha?

The Sangha himself practices the Dharma. The Sangha also instructs. Being experienced in Dharma practice, he has acquired the skills to lead and to guide others relatively less advanced along the path.

The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, the three jewels in refuge, are closely inter-related. We should rely on them all in our quest for ultimate enlightenment. The Buddha, the accomplished and the enlightened is our inspiration. The Dharma is the method and the means to be utilized towards ultimate enlightenment. The Sangha, dedicated in Dharma, should for the moment be representing the Buddha. (Rinpoche presiding over the refuge ceremony is Sangha. This is Sangha in the ideal state – the noble quintessential Sangha. It differs somewhat from the individual members of the Sangha community, on the mundane level. Also, for the present, the Buddha image before us, on the shrine, is Nirmanakaya Buddha.)

Following the refuge ceremony, there is the haircutting ceremony. Snipping off a strand of hair from the crown of the head, symbolizes the cutting off of all samsaric ties. It marks the commencement of the liberating process.

Having taken the refuge vow, it is of the utmost importance to hold steadfastly to the commitment, striving relentlessly for ultimate enlightenment. Only then, are we able to benefit from the vow benefit from its true worth, in retaining the Buddha’s blessing. Secure in commitment, everything else falls naturally into place. Being guided by the Sangha, one may then persue vigorously in the Dharma. Strictly speaking, there are few hard and fast constraining rules and regulations, and there are no binding traditions. It is more a matter of self-discipline. just think: Without the Dharma, what else is there? Without the Buddha, who else is there?

We may have to remember from time to time, however, that we are living in an impure realm of Samsara. Much as we would like to act positively, negative results are not always avoidable. We can only ask ourselves to act conscientiously and let our intentions be always impeccable.

I was once being asked: as in the case of one suffering from life threatening ameba, how is it possible to avoid killing? The medication is meant to exterminate all the germs, and if the germs were not drastically eliminated, the patient would normally die. In such a dilemma, the choice is not really there. For one must regain one’s health, in order to be production in life.

Another question once put to me was: hunting and fishing give me a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. Since physical well-being enhances mental health, one is therefore benefited both mentally and physically, in the persuit. How can it be wrong? This is obviously an extreme example, where the line of reasoning is totally erroneous.

Now that you have the refuge, remember, it is the very foundation on which all buddhist teachings and practices are based ; and it is also the support and the basis for all subsequent vows.

Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, France, April 1990

The three main approaches in buddhism – An introduction

In Buddhism it is pointed out that our present state of mind is conditioned by previous actions. This is always true, regardless of which realm of existence one is born into. Different kinds of existence come about as a result of the infallible law of cause and effect.

The mind is the origin of all actions. The way individuals behave is based on what they think and believe. Samsara, which is a state of perpetual suffering, will continue to manifest, as long as the mind is conditioned by ignorance. This is the actual state of affairs; it is not true just because the Buddha, Shakyamuni, said so.

The Buddhist teachings are methods that remove ignorance from the mind. Since ignorance is merely a state of mind, Buddhist practice is always a mental process which attempts to bring about an enlightened state. There are two stages: to study and contemplate the way things truly are and to cultivate the resulting understanding, so that one’s perception of reality becomes accurate.

The Tibetan name for Buddha, ‘Sang-gye’, illustrates this approach. ‘Sang’ means to awaken, that is, to awaken from the sleep of ignorance. This awakening is like the sun dispelling darkness. ‘Gye’ refers to the enlightened qualities that are revealed and free to manifest once ignorance is gone. This is like when a flower blossoms displaying all its beauty.

The Buddha presented three levels of teachings, which are called the Three Vehicles or the Three Yanas. The appropriate level for each individual depends upon one’s understanding. These three main approaches have different goals and ways of presenting reality.

In the first approach, the Shravakayana, the two major schools of thought are the Vaibashika and the Sautrantika systems. The Vaibashika and the Sautrantika teach that the cause of conditioned existence is the ignorant belief that the individual is a permanent, lasting entity.

In order to overcome this mistaken notion, one studies the teachings which explain that the ‘self’ is, in fact, without essence, insubstantial, and unreal. Having arrived at a definitive understanding, one familiarizes oneself with this new way of regarding reality to the point where it becomes an integral part of one’s being. This realization is called the state of an Arhat of the Shravakayana, and it is the highest point of this approach.

The second approach, the Pratyekabuddhayana, goes further. It points out that all other phenomena also, just like the individual, are not truly existent entities, that all things are illusory like the images in a dream. As in the Shravakayana, there are two stages of development: intellectual analysis which is followed by cultivating a new way of perceiving reality, so that full realization of this approach is achieved. Practitioners contemplate the twelve phases of the process of dependent occurrence in their order of arising, that is, basic unawareness, actions and the karma they accrue, habitual patterns that colour consciousness, and so on. They also contemplate these phases in the reversed succession, starting with death, going on to aging, birth, and so on. The goal of this approach is the state of an Arhat of the Pratyekabuddhayana. This state involves full realization of the emptiness of the individual as well as a partial realization of the emptiness of external phenomena.

The third approach, the Mahayana, speaks of compassion for all living beings and the emptiness of both the individual and all other phenomena. It teaches that the practice of the ten paramitas must be based on awareness which fully perceives the essencelessness of phenomena. The inseparability of compassion and emptiness is a main teaching in this tradition. The point is that compassion compels one to work for the welfare of others and that perception of emptiness allows one to do so in an enlightened way. Such perception of emptiness brings one to the realization of mind’s true nature which, according to the Mahayana, is the union of awareness and emptiness free from the limitations of conceptual mind.

In this approach, as in the two previous approaches, practice begins with a learning process, so that an accurate understanding becomes the ground for one’s development. One makes effort to benefit others with the understanding that whatever occurs is empty of reality and thus illusory. When practice is based on this understanding, the individual will not have expectations or hopes of reward. The knowledge of the Mahayana viewpoint in all its aspects is the foundation for cultivating states of mind that will gradually result in attaining Buddha, the enlightened state, which is insight into the way things truly are – the fact that any phenomenon is empty of real essence or substance. Such emptiness is not a mere nothingness; it is what allows the enlightened qualities of the three kayas to manifest.

This is a brief overview of the Three Vehicles, which include all the teachings of the Buddha. Anyone who wishes to follow the Buddhist path needs to study the teachings in detail and then put them into practice. The Buddha said that he can show the way, but it is through personal efforts alone that enlightenment is attained.

Published in Knowledge in Action, Volume 3, 1994.
(A journal of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi, India).

No Need for Too Much Tradition

Some Western practitioners view Tibetan Buddhism to consist of Dharma practice mixed in part with Tibetan tradition. Often, they cannot distinguish between the two. It is very important to know the difference between tradition and the Dharma.

The biographies of Milarepa, Marpa, and Gampopa relate only the pure Dharma. Everything about these great Kagyu masters from the way they lived to the way they taught was the authentic Dharma. For example, Marpa brought the teachings from India to Tibet to teach the Tibetans. He first studied the Dharma in India according to the Indian tradition. Naropa, his teacher, lived in India. Most of the time Naropa was naked. Sometimes he would wear the ornaments of a Heruka. This was the tradition of some Indian yogis in those days. But Marpa never told the Tibetans to copy Naropa’s way of attire. When Marpa taught in Tibet, he did not introduce any Indian customs such as the wearing of saddhu robes. His Tibetan followers continued to wear the chuba, a Tibetan style of clothing. Marpa taught the Dharma in a very pure way.

In the West, people have read a lot about “Tibetan lamas”. Some Western scholars traveled to Tibet to seek adventure. Later in America, Lobsang Rampa wrote books full of fantasies, including stories of astral travels: about one mind transmitting messages to another’s mind. The result of meditation gained by highly realized Buddhist practitioners is the ability to understand supernatural things and to read thoughts. When a very, very good meditation is attained, the meditator is capable of knowing some unbelievable things. The Buddha, for instance, knows all the thoughts of every single sentient being. Unfortunately, Lobsang Rampa misrepresented these special powers. He made them out to be mystical powers. He created the fictitious notion that a person can send his mind to another in order to read thoughts. His books influenced Western ideas about Tibet in a negative and false way. Later on, when the biographies were translated into the various Western languages, all the “sensational stuff” was of course included. In this way, many erroneous ideas about Tibetan Buddhist saints were developed. One example is the claim that they could all fly in the air.

Most Westerners think that all Tibetan lamas are totally pure. Whatever it is that a lama might do, they would think like this, “Oh, there must be some deep meaning behind it.” When a lama seemed a little bit unusual, there must be a reason for it. They assume that the lama must have seen something in their minds. This is my experience with some Westerners.

Another misconception of Westerners is to think that it is important to bring all the Tibetan traditions into the Dharma practice. They think that the system of monasteries in Tibet is somehow related to enlightenment. Nowadays people can travel to Tibet easily. They are often shocked by the reality check when they are there – how different reality is to their own ideas of it. They think, “What is this? The lamas are like us. They have the same problems as we do.” Some of them become totally confused. But the truth of the matter is that lamas are just human beings. In Kathmandu, you can see monks going to the casinos. I can say this here because some of you have seen this for yourselves. This is not a secret.

How does the Tibetan system of monasteries work?

A long time ago, a system was introduced in Tibet where very young children were brought to the monastery. They were fed and cared for free of charge. In today’s Afghanistan, there was once a “Vajrayana Kingdom” called Oddiyana. A very holy king ruled there. He had achieved enlightenment and taught all his subjects. They too became enlightened and the kingdom disappeared. Then a Tibetan king also wanted to do the same. He wanted to end samsara by letting the kingdom of Tibet disappear. He introduced some new rules. Monasteries for monks and nuns were erected all over the country. All monks and nuns received food for free and the harvest from the farmers went to the monasteries. As a result, the people became monks not only to become enlightened but because there was free food. There were also enlightened monks but they were not the majority, maybe one in a million. Enlightened beings were very rare then because there were so many distractions. There was enough to eat but not much to do. None of them practiced like Milarepa did in the earlier times. Nevertheless, there was a monastery in every valley and all of Tibet was filled with monasteries which housed big administrations.

In the beginning, there was a Kagyu master who founded a monastery in a right way. He started a study program and a meditation center. His wish was to preserve the teachings and not to let them simply vanish. At that time, there was no Tulku system (the system of recognition of consciously reborn Buddhist masters). It was then up to the master’s son to take on the responsibility for the monastery in succession to the father. In this way, many Kagyu monasteries expanded. But as time went by, things deteriorated. Monasteries became little kingdoms with very arrogant administrators. They were often very cunning. They knew that the spiritual leaders were necessary to control the people. They would then introduce a spiritual leader, but tried to keep all the power in their own hands. It was all very political. Beneath the spiritual exterior was a political underside.

Every monastery had land. Sometimes the property was extensive. When the monasteries bordered on one another, each side wanted to protect their own land. If an animal from one side crossed over the border it would be kept there. Sometimes fighting broke out over disputed borders. The peasants worked on the land much like slaves of the monasteries, and the administrators reigned like dictators.

The actual ruler of the country had hardly any power. Each monastery ruled supreme. Between monasteries, there was constant fighting. The government was completely powerless. It was later on that they managed to gain some influence and organized themselves like the monasteries did. Then the country was controlled in a strictly religious manner. Good practitioners were not part of the administration. The good masters and monks mainly practised in isolation. Nearly nobody reached enlightenment in a monastery. Monks were too strictly organized by the administration. Religion and politics were so intermingled in Tibet. The politicians used religion to control the people. The problem was not the enlightened masters, but the administrators. Unfortunately, Westerners have the idea that everything in the Tibetan monasteries was related to Dharma. They think that a monastery is a big mandala, and that every monk is a certain Buddha aspect and the guru is Dorje Chang.

People also think that the thrones of the lamas are a part of the Dharma practice. Actually they can often be a source of conflict. Take for example that you have prepared a throne for me. I am sitting on it now. If you do not do the same thing for another teacher, then problems may arise. This is the way of politics. If you had provided a beautiful chair instead, nobody would have any problems with it. The older Tibetan lamas, even the good and friendly ones, are used to certain customs based on their culture. When they come to the West, the absence of Tibetan musical accompaniment, or the throne lacking a beautiful brocade cover, might make them feel that something is missing. They will also tell you that you should arrange everything in a certain way. You might then think that this is part of the practice. If you do, you are building up the Tibetan tradition in the West. I do not think that these cultural protocols are going to last. If they do, they will be a source of problems in the future. Who should have a higher throne? Somebody is bound to have a smaller throne. In this way many problems can come up.

You must see the difference between Dharma and tradition. When problems occur, understand that they do not come from the enlightened ones, but from the administrators. Even the Chinese communists who do not believe at all in religion nevertheless use it from time to time for their own political ends. This is because the administration system is so well established and is so powerful. In the West you do not have to adopt the administrative and political aspects. I do not mean that your teachers should now sit somewhere on the floor, or you should point your feet at them when you sit. But there is simply no need for too much tradition.

Lecture given in Vienna, September 1993.

Enlightenment is within you

Marpa, a great, enlightened being, established our Kagyupa teachings. He was the guru to Milarepa, the most famous Yogi of Tibet. The initiation given today is the Guru Yoga initiation of Marpa. The benefit of this initiation is mainly to ripen the seed of enlightenment that is within you. After you have received this initiation, you will be successful in all your practices. Your obstacles will be weakened. This is due to the blessings that come from Marpa’s own wishes. Blessings come to us when the wishes made by enlightened Bodhisattvas come true.

Enlightenment is within you. Buddha cannot give you Enlightenment by his hands. Because the illusion is within you, then samsara and all the problems of the mind are within you. If the illusion, negative emotions, and samsara are from your mind, then enlightenment is also from your mind. When these problems are gone, enlightenment is there. So enlightenment is within your mind.

Dharma means methods – methods that you practise to get enlightened. When you have accomplished the practice, the result is Buddhahood. Before you begin the Dharma practice you must know how important the Dharma is. The length of our lives is determined by how long our physical bodies exist, not how long our minds exist. Mind will continue. The good or the bad things that happen to you in your life is the result of your past karma. Collectively, we human beings along with all other living beings in our universe share the same collective karma, the same realm, the same type of nature, the same type of form. We can communicate with one another. This is the result of collective karma.

However, the individual karma is not equal, or the same, among living beings. Some people are luckier than are others depending on the individual karma. Actually, the whole universe and you are an illusion of your own mind. They are the result of your karma. Karma is also mind. But once the illusion has manifested due to the ripening of karma, it is solidly there until its underlying cause is exhausted. When this happens, the effect is like a dream disappearing. You will then change from this illusion to another one corresponding to another cause. This is cause and result. No one knows one’s own karma – what are the causes and results that are next to ripen. You do not know the karma that has brought about your present life. Neither do you know what cause is coming up next for yourself, nor its result. Nobody can know or find out about it.

Karma is accumulated. It is built up by your own negative emotions. It is invisible. It is not of any substance or form. Just like the negative emotions are invisible, so is karma. But the result of karma, however, is visible because it manifests as an illusion. Because your negative emotions are part of your mind and karma is also part of your mind, the resulting illusion is also part of your mind. Of these three aspects, only one is visible but it is also too late to change it. Whatever karma you have accumulated is limitless because your negative emotions from the past are limitless. You cannot make excuses now and claim that you have not done anything wrong.

Of the accumulated karma, the strongest karma will ripen next. It will yield the corresponding result. The future is never certain. When you begin the Dharma practice with this understanding of karma, you will have a very strong commitment. You will persist with your practice. You have found the Dharma and have some understanding of the Buddha. You have what is called a precious human life. Why is it precious? It is because you have found a solution to the mind. Fortunately your life is now meaningful. But your life is impermanent. You are aging in every moment. Without a solution like enlightenment, life has no meaning. Living a comfortable life seems like a good idea and everyone wants that. But whether or not it will really turn out the way you want it is entirely uncertain.

Every moment is meaningful if you live your lives applying the methods that can lead you out of samsara’s trap. With this understanding, you should have a very strong intention. But intention is only the first step. You need to learn the Dharma. Very likely, people will not understand the Dharma immediately. But by knowing the example of the Buddha, they will develop the intention. They will then want to learn the Dharma. This is the second step. It is very important to learn from someone who knows the Dharma. Then you can receive the teachings in detail. Teachings are like the road directions to get somewhere. It is like when you want to go to San Francisco, you need directions so you study the map. An experienced person can show you how to get there. He may say, “taking this highway is longer,” or “this way is shorter,” or “here is the way to get there.” It is the same with the Dharma. A qualified instructor is someone who can teach you and show you the directions. He knows the Dharma or the way. You should obtain the directions from him, study the directions, and then you must go to your destination. Otherwise, why did you learn them?

It is important that the dharma practise be done properly. For example, you may have very important business in Los Angeles. You have to be there at a certain time. From the moment you leave your house to go to Los Angeles, every minute is meaningful. You know the directions well. Along the way, you are focused. You will reach your destination, and you will accomplish what you have set out to do. Dharma practice should be like that.

In Dharma practice you apply what we call the paramitas. Paramita means to cross over, like crossing the ocean to reach the other side. Let us take for example, the drive to Los Angeles. In this context, the application of the Paramita of proper ethics means that you do not consume alcohol while you drive. Otherwise you may get drunk and have an accident. You do not fall asleep while driving is another caution. In other words, you avoid the things that will prevent you from reaching your goal. This kind of discipline is required to make your journey successful. When you go through the practice, you apply the Paramitas to put all your effort into making your journey to enlightenment a successful one.

Enlightenment is beyond our imagination. Dharma practice is limitless but our mind has the capacity to do the practice. To be precise, Dharma practice can be broken down into three aspects: the main practice and two side practices. The main practice is meditation. Meditation is a common word but in the Buddha Dharma, meditation is about removing all our problems of the mind. Samadhi is the realization of the nature of mind. Samadhi is meditation where the main focus is on the nature of mind. It is easy to say “nature of mind”, but it is very difficult to realize it. The main meditation is on the view of the nature of mind to eliminate all mental problems. Mental problems do not mean the abnormal problems. Mental problems here refer to the negative emotions, and ignorance. Ignorance is the main cause of all negative emotions. The meditation has its focus on each of the negative emotions to eliminate them. In this way, you will be liberated. Of the two side practices contained in the Ngondro or Foundation practices, one purifies your karma. The other develops the merit that supports and strengthens the practice to make it successful. The two side practices are the methods and meditation is the main practice. In this way you will be enlightened. This is Dharma practice.

When you do the Dharma practice in this life, you are sure to achieve something. You can become fully enlightened in this life. In the least, even if you are a very slow mover, you will still achieve something. It is certain that you will produce a positive cause for the future and it will keep growing. Even if you do not reach the goal in this life, you will get there in one of your future lives. Otherwise, once this opportunity is lost and another karma ripens, you might lose the chance forever. Your past karma is probably not very good, otherwise you would not be in samsara now. Look at how much negative emotions that you have now. It means that you have accumulated that much negative habit in your mind from the past. Nothing good can come out of it. This is one way of looking at it logically to convince yourself that the majority of your karma is not good if your negative emotions are still strong. Once you lose this opportunity you will lose it forever. This is why this human life is precious and it must not be wasted.

A common problem of people is to think like this, “I must achieve the results quickly. I cannot wait more than five, or six years. Otherwise, I don’t like it.” But look at six years of an ordinary life without practice. What can you achieve that is lasting? You end up with nothing. You cannot achieve the results of the Dharma practice within six years. You simply cannot. But you are nevertheless engaged in something meaningful. After six years of practice, if you still want to pursue another goal, you can drop the Dharma and still do so. But is there another goal? For sentient beings, life holds no other goals beside enlightenment. I am not trying to discourage you but there really is no other objective in life. You can try to get rich, but then what? Suppose you can be a successful politician, or become a president of a country, but then what? The problem is still the same, isn’t it? Dharma is the best. This is why even if you are progressing very slowly, the Dharma is still more meaningful than anything else in life.

A teaching given prior to the Marpa Initiation at Menlo Park, California, August 1994

Meditation in the Theravada and Mahayana Traditions

Once you connect genuinely with meditation practice, you will develop a true passion for it and your practice will begin to mature. If you do not understand the essence of meditation, it is because you have not properly experienced it. Only when you experience its essence does meditation really become interesting.

Mind is not used to being in balance. Rather, we are much more used to the state of constantly arising thoughts, uninterrupted streams of thought. We are distracted, confused, and restless. We are comfortable with this habitual state of mind. Because our mind is addicted to being restless, constantly in motion, meditation feels unnatural. Meditation runs contrary to our familiar experience. Therefore we must put effort into the meditation. It requires more than just having a spontaneous or momentary interest in it. What we need is diligence and patience. To make progress, diligence is especially required, along with the knowledge of how to meditate. This combination will bring results. But the path can be misunderstood. Meditation brings one-pointedness, a mind that is stable and clear, not distracted or confused. It is not about entering into a special state where you have visions, see lights, or experience fantastic things. Some people might think so. They take LSD or play music and they are just manipulating their experience. This has nothing to do with meditation, since mind is still distracted and confused. The 8th Karmapa meditation is often misunderstood in this way, because one visualizes different Dakinis flying through the sky. Many people in the early seventies asked for explanation of the 8th Karmapa meditation, then they took LSD and meditated on the 8th Karmapa. This is not what I want to pass on to you.

So what is meditation, really? It enables us to experience the mind as it is, in its original nature. What happens in our mind now is that thoughts occur uninterruptedly, hindering us from experiencing mind’s true nature. You can distinguish two levels of thoughts: outer and inner. Sensory experience is one such outer level. Mind continuously orients itself towards outer experiences, such as smells, forms, sounds and so on. Mind keeps itself constantly busy experiencing outer objects, thus creating the outer world. It feels like it is beyond our control to keep the mind resting in itself. Why? Because the mind is absorbed in its inner experiences – the second level that underlies our perception at each moment. Since our mind inwardly constantly follows its thoughts, we are also not able to control the sense impressions when the mind focuses outward. When we manage to control our inner thoughts, the outer level will no longer be a problem. When the inner distraction disappears there is no way to be disturbed when experiencing sense impressions. So meditation is about getting control over the constant stream of thoughts, practicing concentration in order to keep the mind focused. Winning this kind of concentration, you can get deeper into much more calm states of awareness. At that point, the mind is quite vast and rests in itself. It is as if you have opened a gate, a gate that in turn opens many other gates to go further and ever deeper. One develops a profound appreciation for the actual quality of mind.

For this reason, in the Theravada tradition, practitioners sleep only six to seven hours and meditate all day long. People meditate this way to achieve inner calm in a short period of time. Furthermore, they do not eat anything after lunch. They are allowed to drink only beverages that do not have any real nutrition, like water or tea. This benefits meditation in that the mind is clearer and less sleepy. Everybody who practices intensive meditation should do this.

It is also the custom to go to bed early, at about nine or ten, and then get up early, at about five in the morning. One’s life is focused completely on meditation. Today a schedule like this may not be practical. The reason people adopted this meditation schedule during the time of the Buddha is that the Buddha taught that samsara is suffering, and that one cannot accomplish anything while trapped within it. Therefore, complete retreat from samsara to focus exclusively on meditation has become the special focus of the Theravada tradition. However, the motivation of the Theravadans is not particularly for the benefit of others. Of course they are not opposed to others who try to benefit all beings, but this is not their goal. Their goal is solely to concentrate on meditation in order to reach liberation as quickly as possible. But we are Bodhisattvas. We eat in the afternoon and in the evening. Since Bodhisattvas do not think so much of themselves, they are not in such a hurry to reach their own goal. Bodhisattvas are not afraid to be reborn again and again; they are willing to keep coming back. This is why they do not practice a form of meditation that simply cuts off the world, as do the Theravadans. Following the Theravada path, even if you wanted to, you would not be able to be reborn anymore.

Through the concentration states the Theravadans reach in their meditation, they can analyze their state of mind. Whatever disturbing emotions arise such as anger, attachment, jealousy, or envy, based on their ability to concentrate, they are able to analyze the nature of their emotions in subtle detail. This can be compared to a dream where after you wake up, you find that your dream was not real; it was not actually happening. Similarly, practitioners who have accomplished the Theravada path can see that their disturbing emotions are not truly existent. They understand the true nature of emotions and then, on the basis of this understanding, they remove the basis or cause that otherwise would automatically lead to a rebirth in samsara. After they have removed the cause of rebirth in samsara, they will not be able to be reborn again. This is the logical consequence of this form of meditation. The usual word in Tibetan for meditation is gom. There are other very precise terms in Tibetan, such as tingdzin which is a translation of the Sanskrit word samadhi. Ting means depth, as in experiencing the calm depth of mind. Dzin means to hold, as in to hold the unwavering quality of mind. Tingdzin also has other meanings. The Tibetan term samten is another word for meditation. Samten means stable, to experience a stable state of mind. Again there are several different stages of samten. In the Theravada tradition you progress through these stages: first the stages of samten, of concentration meditation, and then the stages of tingdzin. Similarly, Bodhisattvas proceed through stages in their meditation. When a Bodhisattva has reached a stage of samadhi or deep insight, he has the ability to use this inner calm to help beings. Here the stages or bhumis are primarily based on the increasing ability to benefit beings, while in the Theravada tradition they are entirely focused on reaching the state of liberation quickly.

It is very powerful to apply analytical meditation to our experience. The point is to carefully analyze every movement of mind. Through recognizing thoughts as such, you will reach an understanding concerning the true nature of mind. Therefore you will not be distracted by thinking, but will recognize thoughts as they are to see the inherent inner stability of mind. Analyzing thought reveals the nature of mind. Gradually, you develop certainty regarding what is otherwise hidden within the ongoing stream of thoughts. Analyzing thoughts brings about the ability to experience their nature, which is of course the nature of mind itself. Buddhism precisely describes negative disturbing emotions like anger and jealousy. Analyzed as products of our mind they are like all the other mental contents, simply thoughts and feelings. They are negative in the sense that they trigger negative consequences. Thoughts have different karmic propensities. For example, if you notice the carpet and think, “this carpet is blue;” this type of thought is neutral. It does not create a positive or negative result. Thoughts like anger, or jealousy, originate in the mind in the same way. However, they differ in that they bring about strong negative results. So through analytical meditation, we first recognize all kinds of mental activity, and then through this method learn to avoid their negative results. There are two benefits to this kind of meditation. The first is the control of mind by recognizing mental processes and then slowly uprooting negative emotions to uncover the nature of mind. The second benefit of this practice is a reduction in attachment and clinging to sense impressions. To develop concentration, it is helpful to refrain from excessive sensory input. If you are strongly outwardly oriented and also project great expectations onto the world, it will be difficult to calmly concentrate the mind on itself. Automatically clinging to outer sense impressions creates useless distraction. Conversely, when the mind observes itself, you experience a calm and peaceful mind. At this stage meditation becomes effortless. This is because all the neurotic movement of mind, which used to be the subject of analytical meditation, has been so greatly reduced.

Quite possibly the meditator could become attached to this state of total inner peace and start clinging again. This attachment hinders us from progressing to more profound experiences. At this point, one again needs further insight. The antidote here is, as before, an analytical form of meditation with the focus on this attachment to peace. Analytical meditation on subtle feelings of attachment is the key that opens the door to further development.

These are the phases of the development of concentration. Meditative experience is difficult to describe, because of the limits of human language. Good practitioners of the past have coined terms to describe their actual experience. They were probably able to communicate very well, however, in our case it is not so easy, since we do not experience what stands behind those terms. It is essential to experience for oneself what is meant in order to understand realized states of mind. The Buddha once taught the Samadhiraja Sutra in which different stages of meditation are described. Nowadays, who can actually understand the descriptions? But why then did the Buddha teach them? One can be sure that at the time of the Buddha, he had disciples who had all those different experiences and thus understood what the Buddha was talking about. Today we still have this sutra so we also have the opportunity to come to that point where we can understand the meaning. So how should we proceed? We must work with what we have as human beings to understand the meaning of these precious teachings. Bodhisattvas progress through different stages of developing concentration and at the same time preserve a certain attachment to the human form, the physical form to be able to be reborn in samsara. So on the one hand, one proceeds as the Theravadans in attaining levels of concentration, and on the other hand, one uses inner peace to create a cause to be reborn in samsara for the benefit of beings. These two qualities define a Bodhisattva: the combination of courage to be reborn in samsara, and the ability to control the illusion of samsara. These two aspects must be combined for the benefit of others.

Madhyamaka philosophy explains how the whole world and all beings are an illusion. Everything stands in the context of cause and effect and exists only in reciprocal dependency. Since everything is interdependent, things do not have independent reality. Things are not truly existent in and of themselves, because they are dependent on each other. Bodhisattvas understand this very precisely. They see the illusory nature of the world, so they can see illusion and can work with it. In this way, Bodhisattvas skillfully work for the benefit of beings entangled in samsara.

(Edited) – Published in Buddhism Today, Volume 7, 2000

View, meditation and conduct

The term view means the right understanding of the Buddhist path. Meditation is the actual practice, and conduct is the discipline necessary to stay on the path. The view is a very profound guide to meditation. Without proper knowledge of the teachings, many obstacles can arise due to mistakes in the practice. Naturally, if you do not know anything about meditation you won’t recognize them as mistakes. This is why before you start practicing, you should first develop a correct understanding. You will then be able to recognize obstacles and the meditation will progress. In this way view and meditation are connected.

Conduct is based on the understanding of karma. Right conduct means to ensure that actions, whether through our body or our speech, are not influenced by disturbing emotions. If actions are tainted, negative karma is created. For example, if we let ourselves be influenced by anger, we may harm people or we may possibly even kill. Motivated by anger, a great deal of ill will and negativity do arise. Right conduct means to be free of those influences. Instead, we let our actions be guided by positive qualities such as compassion.

Like meditation, conduct is also influenced by our view because right understanding leads naturally to right conduct. Some people have problems with this. For example, we understand the teachings, and have the right view and yet we do not follow it. This is due to difficulties with our own emotions. Even learned people can act negatively because they can have the right understanding without the right meditation. Meditation is the means to conquer the negative emotions. The right view provides the understanding of how to overcome them.

If we want to become liberated, then our own negative emotions are our real enemy. We can learn how to overcome disturbing emotions by studying the Abhidharmakosha. This text explains in detail how to overcome negative emotions, and even how long it will take. Such teachings can also be found in the Prajnaparamita. In the Vajrayana, they can be found in the Sabmo Nang Gi Don where it explains that by calculation, it takes three years, three months and three days of practice to remove all samsaric problems. To study such texts is to become a learned person and to understand the path. However, someone who has completed a three year retreat could be seated on a stage and recite everything by heart without necessarily being enlightened at all. This means that his emotions are still stronger than his knowledge because he has not followed the path personally. Emotions can then overpower the view if the emotions are not conquered through meditation.

There are many different obstacles on the path. By knowing them, you will see which ones are in your Dharma practice. To meditate, you need the right understanding or you will make many mistakes. Meditation without understanding is very risky. You may know a little bit about meditation, but this is not sufficient to develop your practice over a long period of time. It is not enough to simply imagine what it is. Overcoming obstacles is about cause and effect and the knowledge that things are connected. Conduct generally is related to karma. The specific behavior to be applied depends on the developed level of practice.

In Vajrayana, samaya is important. It is more than receiving an empowerment or practicing a certain aspect of Buddha mind, samaya means proper conduct. We need to avoid any behavior that would harm our practice. For example, while you are engaged intensively in the calm abiding meditation (Tib. shi-nay, Skt. shamatha) it is wrong to think that you would rather be doing a higher practice like Mahamudra. It is not right to practise a higher meditation before having successfully built the foundation for it. Of course, the intention to practise a higher teaching like Mahamudra is positive but the wrong timing makes it a hindrance. If you already cannot successfully practice shi-nay now, then Mahamudra would be even more so challenging later on. Another caution for those engaged in shi’nay is not to eat too much. If you eat a lot, you will feel sleepy. Your meditation cannot go well. This is why Buddha said that monks should not take the evening meal.

View, meditation, and conduct are therefore practically connected. Buddhism does not simply prescribe rules to people but more importantly, it provides practical methods to achieve results. There are no arbitrary rules like, for example, to belong to a religious group one must wear a certain hat…. despite the fact that I do have a red crown. (Each incarnation of the “Shamar” Rinpoche line traditionally wears a red hat.)

Right view ultimately means to understand the meaning of the Madhyamaka. Madhyamaka is the quintessential view of the highest meditations of Mahamudra and Maha Ati. These high meditations cannot be practised without understanding the Madhyamaka view. Perhaps there are other high meditations that I do not know about, but Mahamudra and Maha Ati lead us to Buddhahood. First, the Madhyamaka explains the right view. Then, based on this view, special meditation methods developed and were compiled and have been given names like Mahamudra and Maha Ati. The view and the meditation are separately represented. For example, in the practice of Chod, there is a ritual execution where one actually plays a big damaru (a ritual drum) and so on. Such details are not described in the Madhyamaka. However, without the Madhyamaka view, one cannot do this practice. There is more to it than just the sound of the drum.

In Mahamudra and Maha Ati there is much said about the nature of mind. This means that when the meditator recognizes the actual meaning of Mahamudra or Maha Ati, he is enlightened on the spot. But just try to do it. We joke about it. Many people who have studied these teachings would say, “Mahamudra and Maha Ati are the highest meditations. I have studied them for many years and now I know.” But that would mean that they have been enlightened for a long time. To recognize the nature of mind is to become enlightened. In the teachings of Maha Ati, it is said that if one begins this practice in the evening, one is enlightened the next morning. If one starts in the morning then one is enlightened in the evening. That is only twelve hours, isn’t it? If someone says that he knows it because he has studied it for many years yet if he is still not enlightened, then what does he really know? It is not so easy.

You may have heard that you should see the guru as the essence of all Buddhas. Take for instance that I agreed to be your guru and to show you the nature of your mind. You might get very excited because it seems so direct and special. Afterwards when you go home, you would think, “Today I have received a profound meditation from my guru.” But look at yourself. What has actually changed in you? You should then come back to view, meditation and conduct.

Milarepa received the teachings from Marpa and then practised alone. He conducted himself to practise twenty-four hours a day in his cave, fully concentrated. But he also sang many songs. Often he meditated and afterwards he would sing a song. Why did he do that? It was his knowledge of meditation that guided his practice. The songs contained this knowledge. He sang them often as a reminder to himself. In the course of his practice, certain methods were necessary at certain times. He would compose a verse to rekindle his knowledge from memory. Although he never studied poetry, he was very good at composing it. Whenever his meditation needed it, he would compose a precise poem. If you read the life story of Milarepa you will notice that he sang songs at important junctures in his practice. When he encountered obstacles, he would recall various methods from memory. In this way Milarepa’s knowledge guided his meditation.

The Madhyamaka teaches logically and precisely that phenomena and beings do not really exist, what mental confusion is, and how illusion arises in the mind. It teaches how, if you practise, you can become free from the neuroses, attachments, and the habit of believing in concrete existence. You can remove all of them if you understand very precisely the Madhyamaka view. According to the Madhyamaka view of emptiness, all substantial phenomena are heaps (Skt. skandhas) composed of particles. The particles are then examined metaphysically by breaking them down until even the smallest particle is found not to have any real existence. You then examine mental projections in the same way. It is explained that mind itself is emptiness. It is an accumulation of momentary thoughts, none of which exist independently but arise in dependence on one another. Therefore even mind itself does not have a solid existence either. That is how the Madhyamaka explains emptiness. But then, if we punch the wall now, our hand will still hurt! Although you understand through logic that there is no real existence, you cannot yet experience what it really means. It is not just simply explaining that everything is nonexistent. Logic alone is not enough to remove the illusion. Grounded in the Madhyamaka view, meditations, which build upon one another, have to be practised.

What will we achieve by the methods? The Madhyamaka explains that all things are empty. But we do not want to achieve sheer emptiness – what would be the benefit of that? Understanding emptiness will help us achieve a deeper understanding of mind through Mahamudra, the core of the Madhyamaka. We will realize that it is neither the outer world that imprisons us in samsara nor our body. It is neither the universe nor our physical body that is in samsara – it is our mind. The point is to examine mind with the precise logic of the Madhyamaka. When we are properly oriented towards the mind, we have the correct view. To apply this view of the mind in practice, to simply let the mind experience this very view is the Mahamudra experience in one instant.

To experience Mahamudra, great concentration is necessary. This is why it is so important to first practise shi-nay. Without the stability of shi-nay, the view of mind is like a flame in the wind. One moment it is there, in the next, it is gone. If you try to have the right view without mental stability, a short insight may come up but the untamed mind is unable to sustain it. Before you can hold the view without interruption, statements like “one can achieve enlightenment in one instant” make no sense.

Develop first the view. Next, on this basis, develop a direct experience of the mind and practise it without interruption. When the right view of mind is developed it is an awakening from ignorance. This view must be held continuously. Without mental stability it will disappear again.

(edited) Published in “Buddhism Today” 1997

Calm Abiding and Insight Meditation

Meditation is an extremely profound practice, and it becomes more and more so as one progresses. My advice to everyone is to start out simply – as simply as possible. Honestly, however, I must tell you that I feel inadequate to undertake the task of conveying the true experience of even the most fundamental form of meditation through the limited medium of language. The terminology of any language, by virtue of the fact that it is a human invention, is based solely on common experience, and philosophical language in particular is confined within the boundaries of shared inner experience, with no external reference point to agree upon. Language, in and of itself, is incapable of transcending personal experience, and this is the root of the dilemma we face. If, for example, you touch a cup of hot tea the sensation of heat is felt, and likewise, a sensation of coldness will be felt if you touch an ice cube. Thus the terms hot and cold have a fairly precise meaning which everyone can agree upon, because everyone has experienced these sensations through direct physical contact at one time or another. But how are we to verify our mutual acceptance of terms used to communicate ineffable experiences, such as states of awareness arising in meditation?

While it is true that over the preceding centuries a philosophical language has arisen in Tibet consisting of various dharma terms invented by meditators, understanding the actual meaning of the terms requires a substantial background of information and familiar experiences. It is said, for example, that in the practice of Mahamudra, the experience of Rojik, which translates roughly as ‘one taste’ arises. (Mahamudra literally means ‘Great Seal Meditation’ – in the sense that it is like a fixed stamp sealing a document with melted wax; it is unchanging; the meaning is that after things are perceived evenly.). It is one of many levels of accomplishment which can be attained through Mahamudra practice. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the term Rojik is referring to. The word ‘taste’ is only an analogy for a kind of mental experience; it is not the taste experienced by the tongue. A person who has experienced the awareness of one taste can communicate with someone else who has had the same experience by using this word, but the term must remain abstract and ungraspable to those who have yet to experience it. As indicated by this example, dharma terminology may function as a nearly perfect means of communication between two beings who share the same realization of meditative insight, but in general use it tends to become vague and obtuse, capable of providing only a rough outline of the intended meaning.

However, notwithstanding my views on the nature of language, I will attempt to share my thoughts on meditation. As stated earlier, the most profound meditation begins with simple meditation. Calm abiding meditation (T: Shinnay, S: Shamatha) is a very effective technique, and is refreshing and uncomplicated to . Many different methods exist, and all have the same underlying purpose: to enable the mind to remain peacefully and uninterruptedly in a stable state of one-pointed concentration over an extended period of time. One begins by learning to sit still for periods of ten, twenty or thirty minutes, gradually extending the duration of one’s meditation sessions. The ability to remain in a state of complete absorption is considered to be extremely advanced, but even in the early stages of meditation one can learn to sit quietly and be aware of one’s mind, observing the flow of arising and passing thoughts which are like the movement of fleeting clouds in a clear sky.

At first the meditator’s mind is like a wild horse, and by engaging in the consistent practice of calm abiding meditation, it can gradually become tame. Eventually the mind will become clear and completely free of agitation. The activity of mind, which at first is a cascading waterfall, later becomes the gently flowing currents of a broad river and finally becomes the still water of a clear mountain lake.

In order to lay the foundation for developing the concentration abilities which are at the heart of calm abiding meditation, we should begin by exploring the nature of distraction to determine what it consists of and how it arises. There are two main categories of distraction: inner and outer. Outer distraction refers to disturbances in the physical environment, such as sounds, which disrupt concentration. Sometimes distraction can occur without one even noticing it. It is easy to become absorbed in following all kinds of thoughts, thus becoming involved in outer experiences without being consciously aware that this is occurring. At first it is difficult to keep one’s attention from wandering, but slowly, in progressive stages, external distracting influences are overcome. Sometimes, to further enhance discipline in meditation, advanced practitioners utilize additional techniques such as balancing a full glass of water on their heads. Inner distraction can take many forms, some apparently positive and some seemingly negative. Negative distractions include all types of obscuring emotional states, such as anger, jealousy and fear. Actually, it is possible for intense emotions to seem to be magnified by meditation practice into even more strongly overwhelming feelings. This happens due to the fact that in ordinary life the mind is usually jumping about here and there in a random, hectic motion, chattering on and on endlessly preoccupied with one mental activity after another, so that emotional states tend not to be noticed deeply. But in the empty space of quietly absorbed mind, the obsessive strength of emotional patterns becomes acutely obvious.

Inner distractions involving positive feelings are more subtle and deceptive. They occur as wonderful, pleasant frames of mind resulting from successful accomplishments in the practice of calm abiding meditation, and are characterized by a tremendous feeling of contentment, comfort, and a sense of happiness and well being. The difficulty is that it is quite probable that the meditator will become attached to these states of mind, and will strive to bring about their repeated manifestation in an attempt to maintain a lasting feeling of joyous abandonment. Attachment thereby turns into a hindrance, which forestalls one’s advancement into further stages of awareness.

In the absence of inner and outer distractions, a sense of well being, clarity and an intuitive appreciation of emptiness will spontaneously arise. However, if at this moment, with our ordinary way of thinking, we were to pause and gaze at a teacup resting on a table in front of us, we would not feel these pristine qualities of mind arising. Even if we were able to maintain a state of attentive awareness while focusing on an object, it would be like holding a wild pony on the end of a lasso. But, as one progresses in meditation, the mind becomes more and more tame, and eventually the object of focus is shifted to the self; this results in an experience of expansive well being, clarity and a vast pervasive sense of emptiness, which is characterized by the absence of ordinary conceptual habits of conceiving of phenomena as substantially real and arisen from an inherent self nature. At this stage a teacher, or guide, is indispensable. On one’s own it is difficult to recognize and correctly interpret what is occurring, since one is immersed in the experience and cannot discern on one’s own if it is genuine or if it is intentionally fabricated by subtle mental inclinations arising from preconceived expectations. Not being able to perceive the subtle workings of the mind, one would naturally, on one’s own, assume that the experience is uncontrived. Only someone who is familiar with all the stages of meditative practice will be able to see clearly what is really going on. In choosing a teacher, consider that he/she should be capable, mature and patient, and able to be direct and skilful without being harsh or discouraging to the aspiring student. I cannot overemphasize the importance of finding such a teacher.

So, as we have seen, the arising of an authentic sense of well being, emptiness and clarity is an indication of having successfully accomplished calm abiding meditation. This, in turn, will naturally give rise to an increasing ability to abide one pointedly in these experiences. For example, if an experience of well being arises, and a one-pointed focus in that experience develops, then it will eventually become stable and lasting. However, the dualistic nature of human thought inhibits the actualization of a pure unbiased sense of well being because the mind tends to create this sort of feeling in order to counteract uncomfortable and disturbing thoughts, and therefore the sense of joyfulness experienced might simply be an artificial invention – a mere mental projection based on expectation rather than a valid, naturally arising perception.

This is likewise true for the experience of clarity, which can also easily become distorted. Before we look into this, however, let us first define clarity. Clarity of mind is nothing other than awareness aware of itself. Sometimes it is spoken of as a clear light presence, which refers to its quality of vivid, lucid awareness; it has the ability to illuminate only in the sense of making what is unknown known, and does not literally give off light in the way a street lamp does. It is just a manner of speaking.

In ordinary, everyday life we are unaware of the essential nature of mind. The underlying clear light nature of mind is normally obscured by the sea of thoughts that arise due to stimulation of the physical and mental aspects of sensory awareness as a result of the presence of secondary supportive conditions, such as the interaction between outer phenomenal appearances and the sense faculties, as well as the connective process which transmits sensory input into mental sense perceptions. This ordinary, preoccupied state of mind is actually a kind of stupor, or drowsiness, and is based on the befuddled ignorance of dense mental states in which self awareness is lacking. It is an automatically occurring continuous series of cognitive actions and reactions which take place without relying on the self-reflective, self-aware aspect of consciousness.

In short, the reflective capacity of the mind is the basis of true intelligence, and all superfluous mental activity which proceeds forth without being connected with the pervasive, even ultimate, self awareness of conscious mind, is simply ignorant mental activity – a kind of noise which serves to distract mind from its true nature. Once the thought process has been pacified, immense clarity results. As was mentioned earlier, if attachment to the feeling of clarity arises, it creates an artificial state of mind, which detracts from the actual experience of clarity, and one is left again with an ordinary, samsaric state of mind. What holds true for well-being and clarity also applies to emptiness. The nature of mind as emptiness is normally not experienced due to ignorance. When the mind is viewed as solid and intrinsically real, tension and neurosis are inevitable, and consequently are mistakenly seen as truly existent. Once conceptual thoughts are pacified, the ground is cleared for an authentic realization of emptiness to take place. However, as was the case with joy and clarity, it is imperative that the wish to recreate, prolong and possess that state be relinquished so that perception can remain untainted and therefore reliable.

In summary, it can be stated that practicing calm abiding meditation is the cause for achieving equanimity and peace. In a state of calmness the mind is capable of a clear focus in which it is aware of its profound nature as joyous well being, clarity and emptiness, without imposing the mistaken concept of truly substantial, inherent existence on mind itself. With continuous practice the potential for these capacities to increase is limitless, and finally, one enters a state of illumination. It is like a caterpillar emerging from the cocoon as a butterfly. The consciousness of a person at this level of awareness is totally detached from any worldly concerns or selfish interests, and he/she is solely concerned with the further development of meditative concentration, although of course it is still necessary to eat in order to maintain the body. However, as great as such meditation states may be, they do not transcend samsaric existence, and do not bring about ultimate liberation. They are not comparable to a Buddha’s enlightenment.

In order to obtain the broad awareness which characterizes the enlightened state, as well as to obtain freedom from samsaric states of awareness, it is crucial that the practice of calm abiding meditation be conjoined with superior insight meditation (T. Ihagtong, S: vipashyana), which is also sometimes termed analytical meditation. Having already increased the mind’s ability to focus clearly through calm, abiding meditation, superior insight meditation comes very easily and naturally. Although many people speak quite casually about vipashyana as a form of meditation often employed even by beginning meditators of various traditions, in this case the term is used in a very specific way. Actually, the same term can be used to describe two different levels of practice. Here it refers to a rather advanced practice, and at its highest stage it is inseparable from the awareness of a Buddha. So it is not common at all. Within the context of tantric Buddhist philosophy, even the highly evolved intuitive reasoning of the Madhyamaka, and other schools of thought, are categorized as types of superior insight meditation. In general although they am interrelated, calm abiding meditation is usually referred to as the development phase, and superior insight is the completion phase; and so, in its fruition it is considered a very advanced form of meditation.

As beginners we must analyze our present state of mind and realize that it is deluded. Through logical investigation we must discover the cause of mental confusion. Our search will inevitably lead us to the insight that both inner and outer phenomena (mental sensations and objects of sense perception) are insubstantial and unreal.

It is best to begin analytical meditation by observing the nature of outer phenomena and then gradually proceeding to more and more subtle aspects of mind itself, because this second aspect, though less obvious, is a more relevant consideration for meditation practice. Through logical inquiry we can see that all outer objects which seem to truly exist are merely manifestations of confused states of mind, and do not exist as we ordinarily think they do. Actually, they are merely mental projections. It is for this reason that, in Mahayana Buddhism, understanding the nature of cause and effect as it is observed in the outer world, is the foundation upon which other philosophical views are based.

Once the nature of these mental projections is understood, it is possible to reverse the mental process which creates the seemingly solid constraints of ordinary reality, and in this way it is possible to transcend ordinary states of mind which are controlled by confusion. Our present experience, relegated to the context of relative reality, leads us to see the passing mental events, or in other words, external phenomena, as substantially real when in fact their nature is illusory, like images in a dream. It is for this reason that we are controlled by these illusions. By meditating we can eventually overcome this tendency as mind realises its own nature more and more. Gradually, the externally manifesting illusion comes under conscious control, and even serves as an enhancement to meditation practice. Bodhisattvas, beings who have realised the nature of emptiness, and who have successfully cultivated perfect compassion for all beings, are able to utilise, and even transform, illusory reality in order to spontaneously fulfil the needs of sentient beings, and further more, are able to manifest simultaneously in various realms in order to guide them. Buddha Amitabha, for example, manifests in the Buddha realm of Dewachen, while simultaneously manifesting Wherever else it is appropriate for him to do so. This is possible because he is able to control reality. He is like a doctor who is able to cure every malady with exactly the right medicine.

The level of mastery of a Buddha such as Amitabha is quite great, but even at much earlier stages, great abilities can manifest. A practitioner who has mastered the six yogas of Naropa will be able to engage in the practice of conscious dreaming. Being able to maintain awareness in a dream state leads to the ability to manipulate the causal forces in a dream, which are not strongly fixed. With practice, they can be controlled by mind. A greatly accomplished practitioner is able to expand this awareness and relate the same principle to causal forces in daily life. It is for this reason that first and second level Bodhisattvas, having achieved the ability to manifest freely, are able to greatly benefit beings, although not as extensively as Buddhas. The main objective of all such practices is to perceive the essence of mind as it truly is. Even a glimpse of this essence is in to restoring sight to a blind person. Perception of the mind’s true nature becomes more and more accurate as the practice becomes more familiar. Therefore, it is beneficial to utilise analytical meditation in order to arrive at a conceptual approximation of mind’s intrinsic nature, which will later be revised through direct experience.

Analysis begins with very basic observations. For example, we see that mind is not of a physical nature in that it has qualities other than those which are ascribed to the brain which can be viewed and touched. But it is not nothing. It is a living presence that is vivid and dynamic. Mind’s actual nature is clear, empty and unobstructed. In addition, we can divide mind into two aspects, the first being the state that we are conscious of, which is the continuous flow of arising and ceasing thoughts, each distinct from the last.

Try to count the number of thoughts that occur in sixty seconds. You can see that many thoughts arise and pass on. Thoughts are not solid entities, and it is not possible to halt the arising and ceasing of thoughts. Try also to count the colors you see before you this instant. The mind catches each color distinctly even though it does not specifically focus on each one. Each color is the cause of a new thought arising. So, if all thoughts are eliminated, what’s left?

What’s left is the second aspect of mind – that which focuses on itself rather than on outer objects. Nothing will be seen, heard, tasted, smelled or felt through sense consciousness when this happens, and awareness will be completely released from all confinement. Following this, the range of mental vision, hearing and so on become vastly greater than before, and thus the five higher types of conscious sense perception will occur.

Someone who is new to meditation, by beginning with a basic practice that places emphasis on being aware of the self has the potential to progress along the stages recounted here. Eventually, as the ability to focus one-pointedly without contrived effort develops, disturbing emotions such as pride and jealousy can be analysed. As a result, outer objects of focus become inner objects of focus. The actual root of clinging to reality as truly existent cannot be uprooted until a very advanced level of superior insight meditation is attained, but it is still possible for conflicting emotions to be at least partially subdued much earlier.

Even at first, the practice of calm abiding meditation smooths out emotional obstacles in one’s life by allowing one to clearly see each emotion as it arises, and therefore to understand that it doesn’t truly exist in that it is merely a mental event. If the mind is able to realise the emptiness of emotions then they don’t exist. Even attachment will sub side when recognized as empty. Karma, on the other hand, continues to function as the unceasing flow of cause and effect. Calm abiding meditation on its own does not have the power to release the meditator from the necessity of being subject to the process of cause and effect. Discipline in daily life, such as the regulation of food intake, also helps in decreasing the impact of frustrating experiences on the mind’s balance. By the time a level of attainment that allows one to engage in superior insight meditation is achieved, disturbances relating to karmic effects do not intrude much. However, at the level of calm abiding meditation practice, it is still relatively easy to become disturbed. What to do about it?

One recommendation I have is to take the vows of a Bodhisattva, which entail a far-reaching commitment to subsume one’s personal desire for enlightenment under the greater goal of aiding all beings. By making such a commitment now one sows the seeds for one’s future development so that one’s strong and sincere wish to free all beings from the suffering of samsara. It is beneficial to recall to mind that all beings without exception are our relatives, because at some time or another during past existences, they have been our fathers and mothers, and have shown us immeasurable kindness. Holding this sort sincere wish to free all beings from the suffering of samsara. It is beneficial to recall to mind that all beings without exception are our relatives, because at some time or another during past existences, they have been our fathers and mothers, and have shown us immeasurable kindness. Holding this sort of view completely transforms one’s practice as well, because if the personal motivation of striving for one’s own liberation is altered out of compassion, then actually this is the shortest and most direct way of attaining enlightenment. Why? Because from -the very beginning this motivation puts the focus of one’s thought in line with that of the Buddha.

In taking the Bodhisattva vows, one promises to follow the guidelines of proper conduct associated with a Bodhisattva’s lifestyle. The vows relate not only to one’s outer activity, but also to one’s inner attitude. If the vow is maintained carefully and never allowed to deteriorate, the immense power generated by holding this vow will subdue all kinds of potential emotional disturbances and disruptions to one’s practice. As Shantideva said in A Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, “Taking this vow protects one from all types of hindrances.” It is therefore necessary to make continuous efforts to maintain this vow, and to inwardly renew it on a regular basis, and also when one becomes aware that it has been broken. Anger, jealousy and pride are the main factors which weaken one’s commitment and conviction. Having taken the vows, one should definitely try one’s best to maintain them, but of course many difficulties will arise, especially at first. It is nearly inevitable that one will engage in mistaken thoughts, words and actions. As a remedy it is beneficial to recite the ‘Sutra of the Three Recollections’ three times a day while visualizing the thirty-five Buddhas, and thinking of the welfare of all sentient beings. In this way, the vow will be maintained.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage everyone to deeply consider the importance of meditation. If we really consider the shortness of our lives, I think we will feel a great inspiration towards practice, but we are the one’s who must really decide ourselves that it is important. Another point to consider is the importance of a guide. Because we are following a tradition it is necessary to have a guide. Relying on an authentic teacher will be of great benefit to you.

Published in Knowledge in Action, Volume 1 Number 1, 1992
– the journal of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI)

Learning to see

An Interview with Shamar Rimpoche at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, France
(Edited – From KKÖ-INFO, a quarterly magazine of Karma Kagyu Austria.)

Kkö-info: What is important to Dharma practitioners in the West?

Rinpoche: In order to practice Buddhism it is most important to learn for yourself. There are different ways of approaching the Dharma. If a worldly person who is busy with his profession or family, wants a simple daily practice, then a limited understanding of Buddhism is sufficient. But if you want to get into it with some depth and to practice extensively, then you should become quite familiar with the teachings. Once you have seriously studied, and analyzed Buddha’s teachings, you must connect what you have learned with meditation so that it becomes a real experience. Buddhism is a vast and rich field of knowledge. It is not just a religion or a belief. Therefore, it takes a long time to learn the Dharma properly.

Kkö-info: Many people don’t have the time for intensive studies or long retreat. How can people best study and practice in normal daily life?

Rinpoche: Concerning study, one should gain a basic knowledge of the Madhyamaka, and about the empowerments and their significance. Concerning meditation, it is always good to practice as much as possible. There were and still are successful practitioners who meditate at home, without going into long retreat.

First learn as much as you can about the basic Dharma in order to be able to meditate properly. If you proceed in this way, especially in the West where people tend to be more secure in your old age, you could have the opportunity to practice intensively later on in life, because you will have created the basis for it over your lifetime.

Kkö-info: In order to gain knowledge we need teachers we can have faith in. How does this faith develop?

Rinpoche: Faith comes from knowledge. If you have no knowledge of the path, it is impossible to have real faith. Faith means knowing the way, having faith in your own knowledge. If you study intensively, faith appears spontaneously.

For example, a blind person needs a guide whom he must trust completely. If you prefer to be blind you will always need a guide. But if you do not want to be blind, you should learn to see. Gradually you can open your eyes and learn to trust your way of seeing and walking along the path. To need a teacher does not mean that you have to hang onto him like a blind person to his seeing-eye dog.

Kkö-info: What do you really mean by this example?

Rinpoche: I am talking about people who when they meet the Dharma become extremists and turn into groupies. They run around in tee shirts printed with OM MANI PEME HUNG mantras. They would love to slip into the skin of their teacher. They even try to sound like their teacher, to imitate him in a certain way.
In Buddhism a natural human understanding is important. In Tibet there is a saying for this, “A first class businessman when learning the Dharma will also be a first class practitioner.” A businessman possesses practical understanding and clear thinking so necessary for Buddhist practice.

Kkö-info: How should one follow one’s teacher?

Rinpoche: You should respect and feel gratitude towards your teacher. If you do follow a teacher you should be persistent. You should also be careful that when you have gathered profound knowledge you don’t leave your teacher behind. This would bring negative results. For example, after you’ve learned a language, you would not be rude to your teacher and not say hello to him anymore. You actually owe a lot to that person.

Kkö-info: How can one judge which qualities a teacher really has?

Rinpoche: People initially thought that all Tibetan monks were very learned. Their robes impressed many westerners. But most monks are not very learned. To learn properly requires formal education. In Tibet, wearing a robe is a cultural tradition. Anyone who wears a robe is not necessarily enlightened. Dharma practitioners need real qualified teachers who have completed their education. They don’t necessarily have to be monks; they can be learned lay practitioners. In order to avoid obstacles when learning the Dharma, one should follow the teachings instead of the teacher. One should know enough to act correctly even with an imperfect teacher. It is possible to follow the teachings more closely as a student than the teacher does himself. This happens when the teacher correctly transmits the contents but does not live according to their meaning.
In particular, a teacher worthy of trust should have great knowledge and compassion. In the Vajrayana the teacher should actually be enlightened. Faith can therefore develop in such a teacher who possesses those qualities, but it is also very important to develop faith through study.

Kkö-info: Is it possible to check on one’s teacher?

Rinpoche: If you have a thorough knowledge of Vajrayana philosophy, you can check on your teacher. You can look at his education and the transmissions he has received, and to what extent they were practiced. It is similar to checking a professor at a university. You can find out how good a professor is in his field; you can ask other students or teachers for references. In this way one can check on the knowledge of a teacher. However, the quality of a teacher’s meditation can only be judged if you have developed meditation yourself. And therefore it is necessary for you to first become intimately familiar with the Dharma.

Kkö-info: What is the connection between Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, and Vajrayana, the Diamond Way?

Rinpoche: You cannot talk about a relationship or connection between the Mahayana and the Vajrayana, because a relationship can only exist between two separate things. Mahayana and Vajrayana cannot be separated; they are not two different things. The practice of Vajrayana is completely based on Mahayana. This can be demonstrated with examples. In the Vajrayana, if you meditate on some Buddha aspects, they arise in the visualization from the inseparability of compassion and emptiness. Emptiness is not just a black hole and compassion does not mean our normal emotional feelings we share with one another. What then do emptiness and compassion really mean? Both terms are precisely explained in the Mahayana. You need the foundation of the Mahayana in order to understand and correctly apply the methods of the Vajrayana. Suppose a letter HRIH symbolizing the true nature of mind appears; these qualities are described in the Mahayana. In that way, through examples, it becomes clear that the Mahayana and the Vajrayana are inseparable from each other.

Kkö-info: Does that mean there is no Vajrayana without the foundation of Mahayana?

Rinpoche: Yes, they are completely inseparable. There is nothing in the Vajrayana you could extract and practice independently from the view and meditation of the Mahayana. The methods of the Vajrayana are based on the Mahayana. They are like a fertilizer that accelerates the development. The Vajrayana indeed offers additional tools, but it never departs from Mahayana view.

Meditation on Love and Compassion

In general when we practice the dharma and we commit ourselves to accomplishing positive actions we encounter obstacles and difficulties. This is due to the fact that our minds are laden with emotions. Of these negative emotions, the main one is pride which leads us to feel contempt for others (due to an over-estimation of oneself: I am the best, the strongest, etc). The existence of pride automatically gives rise to jealousy, hatred, or anger. With pride as its underlying cause, the emotion of anger creates the most powerful effects. This is because it leads us to carry out all kinds of seriously negative actions that will bring about future rebirths in the lower realms.

In Western societies, the distinction between pride and firmness of mind is often confused. A lack of pride is construed to be a weakness. Pride is a built-up and concentrated form of ego grasping. So in this respect, it is a weakness. A person can have great strength of character, and a strong resolve to achieve a goal, such as enlightenment, for example, without pride ever manifesting.

We need to dissociate pride — the affirmation of our own supremacy over others which suggests a certain blindness — from firmness of mind that is a quality free of all the negative aspects of pride. In the same way we often have a distorted view which equates humility with a weakness of character. What we really need is courage and strength of character, without developing pride.

Mental calm and stability

The meditation on love and compassion goes hand in hand with the cultivation of mental stability. Indeed, with respect to pride and anger, it is difficult for the beginner to give up these emotions straight away. Until we are able to do this we need to practice mental calm in conjunction with the meditation on love and compassion. This is the very essence of Shi’nay meditation.

For example we can examine the mental image or concept of anger. Think of a person who appears unpleasant to you, someone whom you regard as your enemy. If you do not have an enemy, try to think of a person who can make you angry. Once you actually feel the anger, do not act it out, as you may end up hurting someone. Instead, try to relate to the anger as a type of thought and try to see what it looks like and where it comes from? Does it come from the person or from yourself? If you think it comes from the mind, where does it arise from, how does it remain, and where does it go when it disappears? In this way one takes the anger itself as the object of meditation and reflection.

From time to time, you can practice a method of exchanging roles. Once you feel really angry with someone, you can put yourself in that person’s place. For example, I am Shamar Rimpoche. I am angry with you. Then I imagine that I am you. In this way, I adopt a different viewpoint, your viewpoint. The same exchange can be applied to the emotions of jealousy and pride. This is a form of Shi’nay (the pacification of the mind). By observing the strong emotional state of anger and then a peaceful state of mind, you will come to observe the nature of mind itself. This is the superior form of insight which we call Lhaktong. If you can apply this method for all of the disturbing emotions, then it will be extremely beneficial for you.

If there are many thoughts in the mind and you manage to pacify them with this method, this is excellent. However when the emotions are so strong that we cannot control them, we need to stabilize the mind by focusing on our breathing. Concentrating on the in-and- out breaths in this case is more effective.

Many people often take this meditation to be a breathing exercise. In fact, the important point here is not in the breathing but in composing the mind, through being constantly aware of the in-and-out breaths without being distracted. The main point is really this concentration itself, this mental stability. Some people think that the physical aspect of the practice is significant, but this is not the case. What is essential is our familiarity with the practice. The success of meditations such as Shi’nay and Lhaktong does not depend on the conceptualization of these meditative states. Rather, the essence of these practices is in our becoming accustomed to the meditation process itself. We have to differentiate between Gompa which means to conceive and Sgompa which means to meditate, to train oneself or to become familiar.

The correct conception and understanding arises from meditation and familiarization with the practice. Therefore, the meditation itself must be established on very precise foundations. In order to obtain the state of a Buddha, we have to turn away radically from becoming, in other words from all the forms of worldly happiness associated with the different realms. One might, for example, aim to achieve a relative happiness in a higher state of existence, or to be free from the sufferings of the lower realms. One might aspire to acquire the peaceful state of the Shravakas where there is no possibility of benefiting others. However it is only in the ultimate state of enlightenment that the real power and capacity to act for the benefit of others can be found.

Love and compassion – Relative level

The remedy for an attachment to the happiness of becoming is to reflect on impermanence and the “four fundamental thoughts which turn the mind away from the cycle of existences.” As our attachments start to weaken, we may experience a certain peace in our mind. Grasping, or clinging to this mental state of calm may then arise. The remedy for grasping on to this peaceful state is to meditate on altruistic love and compassion. We should develop love and compassion within us until they have become completely natural attitudes for us. Love and compassion are qualities that will accompany us throughout our entire spiritual progression: from the moment we first give rise to the enlightened attitude right up until we achieve Buddhahood itself. This enlightenment will then be endowed with the body, speech, mind and qualities of a Buddha.
Through the power of love and compassion, all unfavourable conditions, the disturbing emotions, samsara and its causes will be destroyed and completely annihilated. Without love and compassion, we simply do not have enough energy. Even while we remain trapped in this prison of samsara, subjected to the influences of the emotions and karma, the qualities of love and compassion allow us to be guided in the right direction.

This love and compassion has an object which is all beings. By beings, we do not simply mean those who are around us — humans. Anything that possesses a mind is a being. And where there is a being, there is suffering. Just as we have a mind and through this we experience suffering, the same goes for all other types of beings. Here, we must distinguish between that which is living and that which has a mind. A living thing does not necessarily have a mind. But where there is mind, there is consciousness, and there is life. There are all kinds of beings, some which are very small like the insects. A common misconception is to attribute consciousness only to beings of a certain size. We often associate the existence of consciousness first with a certain degree of intelligence and then to a certain size. In this way, scientists and certain schools of philosophical thought are reluctant to acknowledge that smaller animals, insects, or tiny marine life possess a consciousness similar to ours even though they recognize that some larger sea dwellers such as dolphins do have consciousness.

In fact, even the tiniest and most miniscule of insects seeks pleasure and fears suffering. If we try to touch the fin of a small fish, its initial reaction is to move away. If it is tamed, then it may recognize the hand that feeds it to be a source of satisfaction. It will then approach the hand quite simply because, in the same way as humans, it seeks a state of well being and flees suffering.

Beings have various sizes, but the mind is not proportional to the physical appearance. The degree of suffering or happiness depends on individual karma. The same mind can reincarnate in a tiny feeble body, or in the body of a whale, or as a king endowed with a higher faculty of mind than that of an animal. However, size does not have any bearing on the quality or power of the mind.
Therefore, all beings, without any exception, should be the object of our love and compassion. Cultivate the same attitude for all beings as you would feel for your father, mother, or those whom you love the most. In traditional cultures, particularly in the East, family ties are extremely strong. The father and the mother are the people whom one reveres the most, and the idea of any harm coming to them is unbearable. For this reason, when we meditate on the enlightened attitude, we take this example considering all beings as our parents.
In the West, esteem for parents does not have the same intensity. But this difference does not matter for the meditation. Simply use someone whom you love the most and consider all beings as that person.

Of course, it is not possible for us to develop this love and compassion for each being individually. But we can regard all beings collectively as one entity and meditate on the fact that they, too, wish to have happiness with the same fervor as we do. We develop this intense wish for their happiness by putting ourselves in their place. However, be careful not to make the wish into a fixation or attachment. Rather, concentrate on what beings have to go through. We must then continue to maintain the mind in this aspiration for their happiness while applying the same contemplation of its essence as was previously mentioned for the emotions such as anger, pride and jealousy.

Love and compassion – Ultimate level

This love for all beings is, in the beginning, an artificial and fabricated attitude. We do not really feel it automatically. By training ourselves, it will develop gradually, and sooner or later this impartial love towards all beings will become a natural feeling. Right now, when we feel love for one or several beings, very often, this love is partial because it is selective, and it comes from our attachment. When we talk of spiritual love, this is not a partial and exclusive attitude, but it is founded in the nature of mind which is emptiness. It is from emptiness that everything manifests.

We meditate on love; its nature is emptiness, non-existence. The object of this love (i.e. beings) is also empty in nature from the ultimate point of view. However, its relative nature does exist; it arises without contradicting its essence. If it were different and the existence of an intrinsic ultimate reality were enough in itself; it would not enable relative phenomena to manifest. If a dream were real, it could not take place in the space of the mind. If the dream’s essence does not have an empty mirror-like quality, images cannot be reflected in it. Thus, the nature of beings’ confusion is emptiness. Otherwise, how could it appear, if it was exclusively solid, and material?

Although this contemplation of Bodhicitta’s ultimate nature is something that one must realize; this comes later on. In the beginning, it is advisable to cultivate mainly the relative aspect of love and compassion, in order to progress afterwards into a recognition of emptiness or ultimate Bodhicitta. Parallel to this meditation on ultimate Bodhicitta, a profound understanding will develop. If one meditates on love by means of emptiness, it becomes a superior love. Not only that, but at the same time, while meditating on the nature of love, we will achieve a stable pacification of mind (Shi’nay), and simultaneously the force of our positivity will increase. By constantly recollecting the enlightened attitude, we will be able to create a source of considerable benefit for others. Through the samadhi (complete absorption) of love, we will penetrate the ultimate and authentic benefit. Our mind will be united with the unchanging ultimate reality so that our consciousness will no longer be inhabited by anything other than love for all beings. It will never be separated from this.

By the force of our meditation, our love for beings will be like the mother hen’s love for her chicks. This process will develop itself by its own nature, until it embraces all beings in the state of enlightenment. Gradually we will gain the capacity to be beneficial towards an increasing number of beings. This has nothing to do with telepathy or any particular intention, as if we were sending energy waves to help those who are inferior to us. But spontaneously, beneficial and positive activities will arise through the force of virtue. The power of this meditation is so strong that it has the ability to spread to others. This love extends outwards and radiates, and is born in the minds of other beings, particularly in small animals such as birds.