The teachings are for living in this world — for having fewer problems and fewer tensions. Many people speak now about world peace. What does that mean? How can we have world peace if we don’t have peace in ourselves? We are each members of society — society meaning all of us together, not as individuals. Since many individuals make up society, it means that the individuals must have a kind of evolution. Although we have power and military might, and sometimes there are provisional changes, in the real sense it never changes. Society is made up of individuals each having their point of view, their feelings, and their sensations. If we want to develop society so that there is more peace and happiness, each one of us must work with our condition. For example, our society is like numbers. When we count, we must always begin with the number “1.” If I think about society, I must start with myself as “number one.”

— Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche

A Commentary on the Heart Sutra
by Geshe Lama Konchog

The subject we are going to discuss today is the most essential point of the 84,000 sets of teachings that the Buddha gave — the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (Heart Sutra). This sutra has various levels which are called the extensive, the intermediate and the short levels. It is called the most essential point because it contains the condensed meaning of all three levels of the Prajnaparamita sutras.

We will begin with a discussion of the two categories of this sutra — the common and the uncommon. The common category explains the four excellent qualities, which are the explanations of the excellent times, the excellent teaching, the excellent teacher and the excellent disciple.

The root text begins: “Thus have I heard … at that time.” This indicates the excellent time. The place where this teaching was given was Rajagriha on Vulture’s Peak, which was considered to be an excellent place. When Buddha taught this particular discourse, infinite bodhisattvas descended into this world system to receive these teachings. They were the disciples of the buddhas from the ten directions and this shows the excellent retinues that were there at that time.

While the Buddha was teaching the bodhisattvas, they emanated infinite light from their bodies, which illuminated the darkness of the three world systems. The three universal world systems are comprised of billions of other world systems and this was the place where Shakyamuni Buddha performed the twelve holy deeds. We might think that Shakyamuni Buddha only performed these holy deeds in this world and nowhere else, however, in reality Buddha performed all the twelve holy deeds to many world systems — particularly the deeds of providing Dharma teachings.

Since the topic of the discourse on the Prajnaparamita (the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) is so precious and so unique, the infinite bodhisattvas asked if they could also attend the teachings that Buddha was giving to the different worlds.

The buddhas gave their permission to their disciple bodhisattvas because they made so many offerings to Shakyamuni Buddha while he was teaching them. In fact, the buddhas recommended that while the bodhisattvas were listening to the teachings they were to be seen as good examples and therefore must act correctly. The reason why they were given this advice was because human beings in this world system were not conducting themselves well at all and needed to be shown by example.

So not only was the Buddha giving the discourse on Vulture’s Peak to countless bodhisattvas from the ten directions, at the same time he was able to train and subdue many more disciples. This was a most extraordinary time. It was extraordinarily fortunate to have all these extraordinary and supreme disciples in one place at one time, and they were being taught the extraordinary teachings on the Prajnaparamita, The Wisdom Gone Beyond by the Buddha himself.

At that time Buddha was teaching in the aspect of being absorbed into the concentration of profound illumination. It was while he was showing the aspect of being absorbed into this particular concentration, that a discussion occurred between Avalokiteshvara and Shariputra.

It was due to the power of the blessing that was given to Avalokiteshvara by Shakyamuni Buddha that Avalokiteshvara was able to look perfectly at the practice of the emptiness of inherent existence of the five aggregates. He was then able to engage in an investigation of all phenomena.

Then through the power of the Buddha, the Venerable Shariputra said to Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being: “How should a child of the lineage train, who wishes to train in the practice of the profound wisdom gone beyond?”

Now, there are many questions within this question, for instance, how did the initial bodhisattvas train on the meditational path of accumulation, the path of preparation, the path of seeing, and so forth? That question comprised many different kinds of questions relating to how the practitioner — whether a beginner, middle or superior being — should train on the path.

There are two categories of beings who should follow the practices of the Prajnaparamita — those who are of less intelligence and those of greater intelligence. For those of less intelligence, Avalokiteshvara asked how he should investigate and analyse the profound view of those who hold the lineage of this particular tradition.

Then the noble Avalokiteshvara replied to the venerable Shariputra as follows: “Shariputra, whatever son or daughter of the lineage wishes to engage in the practice of the profound perfection of the wisdom gone beyond, should do it exactly like this. Analyse perfectly and correctly the nature of the five aggregates, which are by nature empty.”

This is the short answer. Initially he gave this brief answer, then later on, he elaborated on it by saying: “Form is empty, emptiness is form. Emptiness is no other than form and form is no other than emptiness.”

Our physical body is composed of the four elements, the twelve constituents and so forth, and due to the aggregation of all these elements, we are able to label this body “physical”. We are able to say that it is form. However, there is nothing inherently existing in that form from its own side. It is said that the physical form or the form aggregate, lacks inherent existence, but we appear as a physical form. Therefore, the nature of form is equal to the nature of emptiness and emptiness is equal to the nature of form.

These two are considered to be of one nature, yet different in the sense that they are conceptually isolated. This also shows how existence is free from permanence. This is because although the physical form appears, it is empty.

Who posited this physical existence? This physical form was posited by the consciousness. The mind or consciousness posited this physical form, and because the physical form appears to the mind, it therefore lacks inherent, or true, existence.

Due to gaining some understanding of emptiness, we can then eliminate the belief in inherent existence and also by having an understanding of the impermanence of physical form, we can eliminate the thought of eternalism. When we talk about a lack of inherent existence, or say that things do not exist inherently, this itself shows the nominal existence of conventional existence.

From now on the root text describes the practices on the paths of accumulation and preparation. These discussions are based on the fact that we have already generated bodhicitta and we are training in an understanding of emptiness.

The Heart Sutra tells us how we should first understand the importance of having a realisation of emptiness, and then generate bodhicitta. This is necessary because initially we meditate on the seven instructions of cause and effect to generate bodhicitta. We start to recognise that all sentient beings are our mother and by remembering this kindness, we then want to repay that love, compassion and that extraordinary attitude.

When we generate this extraordinary attitude, the unusual thought of leading all sentient beings to the state of everlasting happiness by ourselves alone is generated. At this time, we then investigate whether it is possible to achieve the state of enlightenment. The reason for doing this is so that we, alone, can lead others out of the state of suffering. But first of all we must be freed from that state ourselves.

Then we investigate whether or not it is possible to be completely freed from all suffering. We need to come to the understanding that when we are able to remove all defilements and delusions from our mental continuum, it is possible to get out of cyclic existence, the state of suffering.

Delusions are caused by the self-grasping attitude. When we realise that we can eliminate this self-grasping attitude, we can get out of the state of suffering. We then come to know that defilements are removable and that the state of liberation or enlightenment is attainable.

In the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa and his teaching on the graduated path to enlightenment, the lam-rim, he says that first of all we need to generate bodhicitta, then follow this with the realisation of emptiness. However, Lama Tsongkhapa also says that we must keep the doctrine secret, so initially in this tradition, this topic was hidden until the practitioner generated bodhicitta.

In our case, we feel this sense of I and on that basis we designate the five aggregates. However, the I or the self is merely labelled and is only imputed on the basis of the five aggregates. There is no independent I that arises from the five aggregates.

Upon investigation, we find that there is no I arising independently from the five aggregates, yet we cherish the I and cling to it more and more, even though it is unfindable. We cherish that I as if it were solid and permanent.

We have this attachment to the I, therefore we accumulate friends who support and benefit us and we generate attachment towards them. We consider those who harm us and provide us with difficult situations our enemies, and we generate anger towards them. This keeps us in samsara, in the state of suffering.

The self-grasping attitude does not recognise the emptiness of the I and cannot realise that it is merely labelled. It grasps at something that is completely non-inherently existent and because of this self-grasping attitude, the object is misconceived. This self-grasping attitude is known as ignorance. This attitude is also called the changeable view or the transient view. As long as we have this self-grasping ignorance, we shall remain in samsara.

When we replace this self-grasping ignorance with the correct wisdom, this is generated initially through the path of accumulation. During this training, we generate the wisdom of hearing the subject. We also generate the wisdom of contemplation on the subject, then due to generating this wisdom, we can identify selflessness. Due to having the right identification, we should try to become habituated with that concept. During the path of preparation, we contemplate and meditate on this.

“Form is empty, emptiness is form. Emptiness is no other than form and form is no other than emptiness.” This refers to the aggregate of form alone. The same reference is then made to feeling, recognition, karmic formations and so forth.

After the part “Form is empty … consciousness are all empty,” the sutra shows how to train on the paths of accumulation and preparation. At this point, emptiness is understood or recognised by applying these antidotes. When we train in emptiness on the path of seeing, the other antidotes, such as the eight antidotes and so on, are applied.

Shariputra was told that all phenomena are empty, without characteristics. They have no defilements and no separation from defilements; they have no increase and no decrease, and so forth. This indicates that those who are training on the path of seeing eliminate the eight types of object negation.

In “true” or inherent, there is no decrease and no increase. The whole eight objects are negated during the path of seeing and we train in developing the wisdom that is required during the path of seeing.

So by telling Shariputra that in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no discrimination, down to no eye and so forth, this indicates how we should train ourselves on the path of meditation. On this path, the consciousness is one with the object, emptiness — like water being poured into water. There is complete oneness, without duality.

If this non-dual wisdom that only perceives emptiness could also see physical form, then this would be inherently existing or truly existing. Therefore, for those who are absorbed in meditation on emptiness, in that wisdom, conventional existence cannot be seen. If conventional existence is seen by that wisdom, then the lack of inherent existence does not apply. This would mean that there should be inherent or true existence.

Therefore, the practitioner who resides on the path of meditation needs to abandon all obscurations by applying the direct antidote found on the ten bhumis or grounds. For those who observe the meditation on emptiness, all conventional phenomena cease to exist.

At the end of the paragraph it says: “There is no attainment and no non-attainment.” At this point the practitioner who is on the path of meditation absorbs into the vajra-like concentration. Bodhisattvas rely on and abide in the perfection of wisdom. Their minds have no obstructions and no fear, because they have attained the final state beyond sorrow.

At this point the sutra is talking about the different categories of emptiness. Up to this point it is about how the less intelligent practitioners train in the wisdom gone beyond.

By the power of mantra alone, the most intelligent practitioners are able to train in the perfection of wisdom. The mantra of the perfection of wisdom, the mantra of unsurpassed knowledge does not refer to the mantras we find in tantra. It is, however, called “mantra” because it has the same power as tantric mantras. Profound emptiness has the same power and potential to destroy all wrong concepts.

So all these mantras — the mantras that pacify all sufferings, that pass beyond all falsity, should be known as the truth. They have the same power as we find in secret mantras, therefore they are all labelled “mantra”.

By this mantra alone, the most intelligent ones can understand the entire practice:

TADYATHA OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA.

TADYATHA is “thus” or “it is like this”.

GATE GATE means “go, go”. So, go to the path of accumulation, go to the path of preparation. This refers to the two initial paths.

PARAGATE refers to going to the path of seeing.

PARASAMGATE refers to the path of meditation.

BODHI refers to the Buddha. It means going towards buddhahood.

“Go, go to the path of accumulation, to the path of preparation, to the path of seeing, to the path of meditation — go towards buddhahood.”

So, the entire discussion between Noble Avalokiteshvara and the Venerable Shariputra, in condensed form, is included within this mantra.

Shariputra was told to train in the perfection of wisdom, which is the instruction known as the power of the blessings of the buddhas. The instruction or teaching on rejoicing is given with permission to allow others to compose.

“Then the Blessed One arose from that concentration…” This part is said to be a direct verbal instruction. This is to encourage us to follow the practice as it is described in this text. Then we should rejoice, to increase the virtues [merit].

There are two ways to carry on the recitation of the Heart Sutra — one is the normal recitation and the other is the particular recitation done by the Kadampas.

Visualisation for the recitation of the Heart Sutra

The procedure for recitation done by the Kadampa masters is to visualise the wisdom mother at the heart of Shakyamuni Buddha. At her heart, visualise the syllable AH, and surrounding this is the Heart Sutra mantra. While reciting the mantra, infinite light emanates from the mantra. Then imagine oneself and all other sentient beings gaining a realisation of emptiness.

Another method is to visualise oneself and others arising in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha, then offer praises to Shakyamuni Buddha, make offerings and so forth. However, it is still alright to follow the normal way of recitation.

Just by having the conviction that this prayer contains the entire collection of excellent qualities, you can follow the simple recitation.

It is said that if we are able to recite this Perfection of Wisdom sutra, there is a type of substance we can gain that will protect us from being harmed by animals such as snakes, as well as giving protection from spirits and other interferers. They will not come near us.

Verses at the beginning of teachings:

I prostrate to the gatherings of dakinis in the three chakras, who abide in the holy yoga of using space.

By your powers of clairvoyance and magical emanation,
Look after practitioners like a mother looks after her child.

AH KHA SAMA RAJA SADHA RASA MARAYA PHAT (21 times)

TADYATHA OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA.

By the truth of the existence of the Three Jewels,
May all inner and outer hindrances and adversities be overcome.
May they become non-existent! (CLAP)
May they be pacified! (CLAP)
May they be completely pacified! (CLAP)
May all negative forces opposed to the Dharma be completely pacified.
May the eighty-four thousand kinds of hindrances be pacified.
May all sentient beings be separated from discordant, harmful conditions.
May all be harmonious, excellent and auspicious in the future.

Endowed with four things a good person is in heaven as though led and laid there. With what four? With bodily right conduct, with verbal right conduct, with mental right conduct and with gratitude and helping in return (katannuta, katavedita).

Endowed with four things a foolish, unskilled and wicked person is one who has destroyed his own foundation, is censurable and blamable by the wise, and accumulates a lot of demerit (apunna). With what four? With bodily misconduct, with verbal misconduct, with mental misconduct and with ingratitude and not helping in return (akatannuta, akatavedita).

Endowed with four things a wicked person is in hell as though led and laid there. With what four? With bodily misconduct, with verbal misconduct, with mental misconduct and with ingratitude and not helping in return (akatannuta, akatavedita).

— The Buddha

空有二宗的有无自性观
演培法师

缘起,是佛陀教法的核心,是不共外道的特质。如来在菩提树下所证觉的是这缘起,在一代时教中所宣说的也是这缘起。缘起的定义,如诸经论中处处说到的是:‘此有故彼有,此生故彼生;此无故彼无,此灭故彼灭’。关于定义的解说,时人谈到的很多,我不想再来多谈。缘起既是佛法的核心,佛法的弘扬者,当然都要谈到他,可是由于学者的观点不同,解释上也就很有差异。依般若经说:诸法是缘起的,缘起是无自性的,所以经中特别发挥一切诸法皆无自性的真理。根据缘起的定义看,无自性空的的圣教,是非常显了究竟的,但在执有实自性的学者听来,却认为佛说这话是含有秘密意趣的了。于是后代学者,讨论这问题,就发生异见而形成空有两大派的对立。现在不妨给他们对这论题,作一简单说明如下:

诸法无自性教,是佛在般若会上说的,佛之所以说诸法无性,是从缘起的内含所发见的。谈到诸法从缘所起,小乘学者也承认的,但不承认他是无性;大乘中的唯识学者,虽承认他是无性,然却说这是佛的秘密意趣,是约三无性的密意说的。据他们的意见:森罗万象的一切诸法,虽然很多,但概括的分类起来,不外遍计、依他、圆成的三性,在这三性上,建立三无性,依三无性,说一切诸法皆无自性,虽说三性的诸法都无自性,而所无的自性是不同的:遍计说无性,是无自体相性,名为相无自性性。唯识学者说:一切法有二类,一是有体的,一是无体的;有体法是自相安立的,无体法是假名安立的,假所安立的是假名有,自相安立的是因缘有,因缘有的是有自性,假名有的是无自性,遍计执是假名安立相,所以是相无自性。依他说无性,是无自然生性,名为生无自性性。诸法的生起,佛教说是依他缘力而生的,外道有说是自然生的,依缘而生的依他起是有自性的,忽然而生的自然生性是无性的。瑜伽摄抉择分说:诸行是缘起性的,由因缘力生,不是自己生自己的,所以是生无自性。圆成说无性,是离遍计所执自性,名为胜义无自性性。圆成实性,就是诸法的法无我性,法无我性,是无独立自在的我的遍计执性之所显的,并不是在遍计执外,另有一法名为胜义无性。这样,可知圆成本身不是没有自性,所谓无性,是说圆成实上无有遍计执性,名为胜义无自性的。如上所说,可以明显的看出一点,就是佛在般若会上说的诸法无自性的这话,不是真的全无自性,而有一部分是有自性的,以三相说:遍计执相是彻底无性的,依他的缘生自性,圆成的真实自性,还是有的。所以然者,遍计是无相法,说他无性,固无问题,依他是染相法,圆成是净相法,如也如言执义的说为无性,那就破坏世出世间的一切诸法,染净因果也就无从建立了!所以唯识学者,以种种方法,成立依、圆的有性,若说诸法全无自性,在他认为就是诽拨三相成无相见而落恶趣空了。

唯识学者对缘生无自性的看法,已如上说;中观学者的看法又怎样呢?依龙树的见解说,诸法无自性教,是佛最彻底最究竟的了义之谈。因为,缘生的依他起法,在世俗谛中只可说是假名有,不可说是真实有,如把虚妄显现似有非实的缘生因果相,执为真实有,那就成为遍计执了!所以依他起相,是假名有,非胜义有。无热恼龙王请问经说:“诸依缘生即无生,彼中非有生自性”。此颂意说:凡依因缘所生不是自然现起的诸法,其自性必然是本空的。如果一定执说依他起是真实有,那就必须承认他不是因缘所生,若承认他是因缘所生,那就决定不能说他是真实有。假使一面承认他是因缘生,一面又承认他是真实有,那是绝对矛盾而不通的。所以空宗学者虽也承认依他的因果相是有,但只承认他是缘起幻有,如果幻有的因果相也没有,那就成为恶趣空诽拨因果了!这样,诸法的自性,虽是空寂的,但一切的能作、所作、作用,皆得成立,并不是说诸法无自性空,一切就无从建立。中论颂说:‘以有空义故,一切法得成’。可见性空是不碍缘起,缘起是不碍性空的,不但不相碍,且极相顺相成。若如唯识学者说依他起有实自性,因他是圆成实的所依事,遍计执的施设处,而此自性又与缘起不相违的话,试问你所说的自性,是不是也是依他的?假定不是,那就违背你的自宗,因为依他的自性,是属世俗谛,不是圆成实,是属真实有,不是遍计执,怎可说他是遍计执的施设处,圆成的所依事呢?假定说三性摄尽一切法名为依他,那你所作的这个他,是属什么法呢?若说所作的他,是前一刹那无间所有的自体性,那末,后一刹那所有的自性,在前一刹那的时候,是有还是无呢?若说是有,就成常住,那是不合理的,若说是无,自性就成新生,这又是讲不通的,所以主张缘生的依他起有实自性,不特违反了缘起的定义,同时也不能建立染净因果,反而有断常二过了!所以我得再重复的说一句:凡是缘起的,必然是无自性的;凡是自性有的,决定不是缘起的。缘起与自性的两个范畴,无论如何是相反而相夺的。因此,世间的一切有为法,出世的一切无为法,法法都是缘起的,如果离了有为无为,还有毫厘许的法体可得,同样也是缘起的,离了缘起,更无少法可得。凡是缘起的,必定是性空的,法法是缘起,也就法法是性空,离了性空,也决无少法可得。一切法性空,同时就是一切法皆假,所以般若经中,说有名假法假二种。以析空的观慧,分析这二假,名假是无实的,法假是缘有的;但以体空的观慧,作深一层的观察,不但名假,法也是假的。般若经说‘如是名假不在内,不在外,不在中间,但有假名。如是法假也不在内,不在外,不在中间,但有假法’。假名假法,都是缘生的,缘生都是无自性的,所以从世俗谛上看,空宗认为一切法皆假。

如上所说,可以看出两宗对于无自性的解说,有着很大的不同,其思想之所以有如此差异,是由对缘生法的观点不同:空宗作总相观,所以说缘生法是假名的,缘生相是幻化的,假名虽有,而自性无实。因为是无实,所以是假名,因为是假名,所以是无实,二者是相顺相成的。有宗作别相观,所以说缘生法是有相的,缘生相的假名安立,才是无相。这论题,如以解深密经的胜义谛相品中的幻师喻来显示,那就更可看出二宗观点的不同了:幻师以幻术的力量,幻作牛马的幻象,这幻化的相状,有迷惑的作用,是依他的因缘有;在这幻化的像上,生起实有的言说,就成遍计的假名有了。以唯识的见解说:言说的牛马是无实的,迷惑的幻马像,不能说没得。以中观的见解说:言说的牛马像,固是无实的,迷惑的幻马像,也是无实的。假定执有幻起的牛马,言说的实有牛马也应是有,既不许言说的假名是有,为什么承认幻起的牛马是有?经说:‘取相无实,现相亦无’。所以实有相的执着破除,实有相自也无所有了!般若经的弥勒问品中,说到‘遍计无体,依他有体,圆成非有体非无体’,而接着说依他为何有体时,就说这是假名有的。由这也可证明:缘生的依他起,的确是无自性的!

缘起无自性的空理,是佛法的骨髓,佛学者如能把握住这点,就能正确的理解佛法不是从自性的老路上出发的了!假使有人一定妄执依、圆是有实自性的,那他必然不能接触到佛法的本质。

If you lack the wealth of contentment in your mind, you’ll think you need all kinds of useless things, and end up even worse than just an ordinary person, because you won’t manage even a single session of practice. So set your mind on freedom from the need for anything at all.

— His Holiness Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

Bliss and Emptiness in the Gelug Tradition
by Lati Rinpoche

I would like to thank you for coming here to listen to the teachings and I am sure there are many other things to do but you have placed them aside and made the point that it is important to attend the teachings. I very much appreciate this.

As we all know our purpose in gathering here is to discuss the Dharma. There are various spiritual traditions in this world and I feel that each spiritual tradition has its own qualities and all have made contributions for the welfare of humanity. I feel it is important for us to cultivate respect for each other’s spiritual traditions and cultivate a pure perception, appreciating the good qualities of other’s traditions.

As followers of various spiritual traditions, if we properly appreciate each other and work with each other, creating harmony between us, this would contribute to world peace and stability. Instead of appreciating the good points of each other’s traditions, if we go on criticising one another, bringing out the weak points here and there, this will create disharmony and we will not make positive contributions to the world.

As follower of various spiritual traditions we have a responsibility to be kind and caring towards others, otherwise nonbelievers who do not follow any form of religion will feel that we are unnecessarily creating divisions among ourselves. Due to this we say our tradition is the best and cling to it, criticising other’s traditions and create unnecessary divisions. When we do this the religion we adopt instead of helping us calm and settle our minds, it fuels attachment and hatred. So be careful with your spiritual tradition and don’t give this kind of impression to nonbelievers.

Creating unnecessary divisions has nothing to do with the spiritual traditions themselves; this is a weakness of us the followers of the traditions. We are placing our weaknesses onto our spiritual traditions so we need to be careful with what we do. The Dalai Lama has said that we should cultivate respect and pure perception towards all forms of life, especially the followers of different spiritual traditions. If we make a point to put this into practice, there will certainly be harmony between followers of the different traditions and with this harmony and cooperation, we could make a great contribution to world peace and happiness.

Of the various spiritual traditions, I am here to speak about Lord Buddha’s teaching. As you know Lord Buddha’s teaching has different vehicles or yanas such as the Lower Vehicle or Hinayana and the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle. Of these two vehicles I am here to speak more about the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle of Buddhism.

Perhaps one could say that Mahayana Buddhism or Greater Vehicle Buddhism flourished incomparably in Tibet. Over time it developed into different schools or traditions of what is called Tibetan Buddhism. All the teachings that the followers of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are the teachings of the same teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha gave the teachings and all of the followers of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are practicing this.

All four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have flourished well but sometimes one does hear some unfortunate things, which I feel are unnecessary conflicts among the various traditions. This is misinformation, which has been given that has nothing to do with the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. All four traditions can trace their teachings back to Lord Buddha’s teachings, which originated in India. Over the centuries Tibet sent a number of brilliant scholars to India to study and reproduce a number of greatly realised scholars as well as lotsawas, the translators many of whom were emanations. So one can trace back all of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism back to the teachings of Lord Buddha.

Of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, I am here to present the teachings of the Gelugpa tradition which is also called the Wholesome Tradition or the Virtuous Tradition. I am going to touch on different points of what is the philosophical view, what is the meditation in this tradition and what is called the contact or the behavioural aspect of this tradition. Actually it would be ideal to tell you of the lineage masters of the Gelugpa tradition and when one tells the life stories of great masters; this facilitates one gaining respect, confidence and conviction in those great masters. Due to the time factor and the fact that I am incapable of relating the greatness of those past masters, I will skip this.

But I must mention a little bit about Manjusri, Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa tradition. At a very young age when he was three he received a layperson’s ordination or upasaka vows from Karmapa Rolpay Dorje. Later he received novice monk and full ordination from Choye Dondrup Rinchen. From the age of three until sixteen years of age, Lama Tsongkhapa studied at the feet of those two great masters and received innumerable tantric initiations, commentaries, transmissions and pith instructions. When he was sixteen years old he went to central Tibet.

In central Tibet he continued his extensive studies and practice with many great masters such as Lama Umapa, Nyapon Kunga Pel, Lama Rendawa and so forth. A full list of his teachers would be very long so I mentioned just a few. He also studied with Potam Gyaltsen, Tonjup Sangbo and other great masters receiving innumerable transmissions of scriptures. Lama Tsongkhapa was never satisfied with partial study so he studied with many great masters and the treatises or shastras of many great masters such as Maitreya, the Six Ornaments and the Two Supreme Ones. He completed a profound study of all those treatises.

Studying with great masters he learned a great deal of the scriptures so he became the holder of the treasure of scriptural teachings. He also implemented the teachings and particularly he performed retreats and practiced intensively developing high realisations. He developed the realisations of the three principal aspects of the path, which include the altruistic intention to become enlightened or bodhicitta and the wisdom that understands emptiness.

Having accomplished his intensive study of the great treatises and having actualised profound realisations, Lama Tsongkhapa did critical study of the teachings of Buddhism existent in Tibet at that time. He also composed many profound treatises and later mainly following the tradition of the great Atisha; he founded the Gelugpa tradition called the New Kadampa Tradition. This is how he made a tremendous contribution for the restoration of Buddhism in Tibet.

The point that I am making is that Lama Tsongkhapa did not found a tradition just out of his own mind without any kind of base. He studied the teachings of Buddhism present at that time in Tibet and accomplished realisations. Later he founded this new tradition. Before Lama Tsongkhapa there were three different traditions of Kadampas such as the Textual Kadampa who followed the scriptural texts, the followers of the Pith Instruction or the Quintessential Instructions and the Lam-rim tradition or the Stages of the Path tradition. But Lama Tsongkhapa received all of these traditions from great masters and integrated the three traditions.

As for the highest tantric teachings Lama Tsongkhapa received teachings on the Guhyasamaja Tantra many according to the tradition of the great translator Marpa Lotsawa. He received the teachings on Chakrasamvara according to the tradition of the Sakya masters. He received teachings on Yamantaka according to the tradition on the translator Ralosawa. Of course it is not possible for me at this point to tell everything about the teachings, transmissions and everything Lama Tsongkhapa received. I have just given you a glimpse into the teachings of Sutra and Tantra that he received.

To experience the profundity and authenticity of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, if you were to study the eighteen treatises that Lama Tsongkhapa wrote which contain innumerable quotations from sutras and from the profound treatises, shastras, of the Indian masters as well as Tibetan masters who preceded him one would gain confidence in his teaching. You would see its authenticity and based on various authentic sources.

As for the philosophical or profound view, Lama Tsongkhapa relied heavily upon the works of the great Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and other great masters who followed them. Lama Tsongkhapa studied the works of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva on emptiness or the profound view and he gained a precise insight into the way in which all phenomena actually exist, that is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. He was very pleased with this realisation and I quote from his text, which says, “I have been able to transcend the artificial view”. Where some people might think that he found an artificial, incomplete view but he transcended those extremes he gained a precise insight into the profound, ultimate nature of phenomena. This ultimate reality of phenomena is the same for every kind of phenomena from form to the omniscient state of mind.

Perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of his realisation and his work is how dependent arising and emptiness complement each other. As one studies dependent arising and develops confidence in it, one’s understanding of emptiness and confidence in that profound view also increases. In other words what I am telling you here is that Lama Tsongkhapa explained precisely how things conventionally exist and yet they are empty of intrinsic existence or existing in and of themselves. He wrote a number of commentaries such as his commentary to the Fundamental Wisdom and he wrote about the special insight as one finds in the Lam-rim texts. He wrote great texts like Unraveling Thought and others texts that deal with the profound view of emptiness.

In his works on profound emptiness he explains precisely how understanding the conventional appearance of phenomena helps to eliminate the extreme of nihilism and how the understanding of emptiness eliminates the extreme of eternalism. This was a unique contribution that Lama Tsongkhapa made.

As for meditational practice in his works Lama Tsongkhapa presented the conducive factors for developing shamatha or calm-abiding and the conducive factors for developing penetrative insight or vipasyana. He also taught a great deal about the different objects of meditation and the criteria for judging whether or not one has attained calm-abiding or special insight. He also taught how to identify the obstacles in one’s way from performing meditation such as laxity and excitement as well as how to counteract them, eliminating all faults and obstacles. In fact he mentioned about both stabilised meditation or contemplative meditation and analytical meditation. He presented where one needs more analytical meditation and when to perform single-pointed meditation or stabilised meditation. Sometimes one needs to alternate those two types of meditation and he was very clear on this point also. While dealing with these subjects he relied heavily upon the Five Treatises of Maitreya and the works of Asanga such as the Bodhisattva Levels and The Stages of Meditation by Acharya Kamalashila.

In short Lama Tsongkhapa said that if one wants to cultivate calm-abiding or shamatha then one should primarily do single-pointed meditation or stabilised meditation. If one wants to gain insight into the profound nature of phenomena then one should be primarily doing analytical meditation especially right from the beginning. If one is interested in cultivating special insight then one should alternate between analytical meditation and stabilised meditation. Also he said that if one is to meditate on outlines such as cultivating one’s relationship with the spiritual master and to gain insight into the precious nature of one’s human life, how one’s life is endowed with leisure and freedom and how one’s life is transient then at first one should do analytical meditation. At the end of each analytical meditation one should perform single-pointed meditation. He was very clear on how to meditate on each and every point and as I have already mentioned he taught about meditation practice based on the authentic works of Maitreya, Asanga and Kamalashila.

As Lama Kuntangsang said that as for the behavioural pattern one should adopt, it should be in accordance with the principles of Buddha’s teaching. Lama Tsongkhapa was also particularly concerned with the Vinaya or the behavioral aspect of the teachings. Whatever one finds in the Vinaya or the texts dealing with monk’s, nun’s or lay practitioner’s ethics or ethical discipline, one should be following them accordingly.

According to Lama Tsongkhapa if one can the best thing is to follow even the minor precepts or ethical behaviour that is mentioned in the Vinaya. But if one is unable to do this because of the predominance of defilements in one’s mind or one is ignorant of them or due to one’s lack of understanding of the precepts or carelessness or lack of conscientiousness, if one does break one’s minor vows then in accordance with the Vinaya text one’s should perform purification and restore one’s vows. One should not let one’s broken vows remain as they are, one needs to purify and restore them in accordance with Lord Buddha’s teaching.

In short one should study the Vinaya or other texts dealing with ethical disciplines and learn what one can do and what one shouldn’t be doing. Supposing one breaks a vow how does one restore one’s vows? In the Vinaya one finds that even at the cost of one’s life, one should observe one’s precepts or ethical discipline.

This was an introduction. Today the main subject is as announced is the nature of mind and the union of bliss and voidness or emptiness. First I would like to speak about the nature of mind and I will do this in the context of the basis, path and the result. I will do my best to be brief, lucid and concise.

I must say that what I am going to speak about is within the framework of Lord Buddha’s teaching. I cannot speak about other than what Buddha taught and you have already listened to great masters here. Sometimes you may hear the same kind of teaching but as the bodhisattva Shantideva said, “I have nothing new to say to you”. What I shall be doing is to talk about those things within the Gelugpa tradition; how Gelugpa masters have understood this and how they practiced this.

Bodhisattva Shantideva also said that all of the problems one experiences and all one’s fears and frustrations as well as happiness, all arise from one’s mind. Mind is the basis for all of them. To continue Shantideva’s quote, he also said, “The mind is the forerunner of everything”. In order for one to accomplish peace and happiness while ridding oneself of problems and suffering, it is essential for one to know the workings of the mind, how the mind works. Otherwise one won’t be able to accomplish happiness and get rid of one’s problems. For this reason, one should study the mind and one should safeguard one’s mind. One should protect it and cherish it.

Lama Tsongkhapa had said the same thing that the mind is the basis for both good and bad. As far as actions are concerned there are the three doors of body, speech and mind but body and speech are very much influenced by the mind. The mind is the primary basis; mind dictates or influences one’s physical and verbal actions. All of the great masters such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and Asanga have unanimously stated that the mind is the basis for both liberation and enlightenment and cyclic existence.

What is mind? What are the types of mind? According to the Prasangika-Madhyamika School, the highest school of thought there are six consciousnesses or six types of consciousness; the five sense consciousnesses which are eye, ear, nose, tongue and body consciousnesses along with the mental consciousness. So these are the six consciousnesses asserted in the Prasangika-Madhyamika School.

How does the eye consciousness or the visual consciousness arise? It arises based on certain conditions with the fundamental condition being the eye sense organ along with a visible form. Through the interaction of these factors the visual consciousness or eye consciousness arises.

It is the same with the other consciousnesses as say the ear consciousness relies on the ear sense organ and different types of sound. Only then can the ear consciousness arise. The nose consciousness relies on the nose sense organ and different types of smell and the taste consciousness relies on the tongue sense organ and taste. So depending on different factors different consciousnesses arise. The first five consciousnesses are the sense consciousnesses and they are considered as coarse as they rely on the physical organs. Those who do research on them feel that this is true. They are coarse consciousnesses.

When talks about mind as the basis for both cyclic existence and enlightenment or liberation, one is in fact talking about the six mental consciousnesses, not the sense consciousnesses. These mental consciousnesses also rely on certain conditions such as the mental organ and phenomena as its object. The mental consciousness again is not just one consciousness, it has different forms. There is the coarse form of mental consciousness, the subtle form and the subtlest form of mental consciousness. To give an example when one meditates on emptiness or for developing calm-abiding, one’s mind becomes subtler. When one is in a meditative state one’s mind has become to a certain extent subtle.

Also in the case of attachment and anger, normally when one experiences them, they arises quickly so they are coarse. One can also talk of the subtle forms of attachment and anger. There are the eighty conceptions, which are relatively speaking, are subtler.

In the context of tantra when one talks of the mind of three appearances which are radiant appearance or white appearance, radiant red appearance and black near attainment. These are subtle forms of mental consciousness but the subtlest of all is the primordial clear light mind. This is the subtlest state of mind. Towards the end I will briefly speak about the primordial clear light mind which is the subtlest mind in the context of tantra because our topic is the union of bliss and emptiness.

I have a restriction as I feel there are people here who haven’t received any initiation or empowerment so to truly talk of the union of bliss and emptiness is very difficult. Both masters and disciples would be breaking their commitments and vows to go into detail and create the conditions for going to hell. Without an empowerment even if one listens to teachings on tantra and practice it, one may achieve some minor attainment but this won’t help much as one will find oneself in one of the unfortunate states of rebirth. Just as one cannot expect oil to come from squeezing sand so one can’t expect great wonders to happen through tantric practice without the proper initiation.

At this point, not in the context of tantra, I will explain how the mind forms the basis for the cycle of compulsive rebirth or samsara and nirvana, liberation or enlightenment. To talk about how the mind is the basis for cyclic existence one cannot help but speak about how one comes into cyclic existence, how one enters into this cycle of compulsive rebirth. I need to be very brief on this.

Acharya Chandrakirti has said that all the diversity one finds among sentient beings and their environment is the result of karmic actions that sentient beings create. Sentient being in the sense of those beings capable of feeling and thinking. Historically speaking Shakyamuni Buddha after he became completely enlightened, the first teaching he gave in the Deer Park in Varanasi was on the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths contain nothing but how the process of coming into cyclic existence works, how to break this process and go out of cyclic existence.

There are different approaches one can follow to talk about the process of entering cyclic existence and of going out of cyclic existence. One can do this speaking about the Four Noble Truths in general or in particular one can speak about the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination which explain how one has come into cyclic existence and how one can go out of cyclic existence.

The great Nagarjuna said, “So long as there is grasping at the physical and mental aggregates, there will be grasping at a self or I. Due to this there will be activity or action and due to all of them one will be in the compulsive cycle of rebirth”. What Nagarjuna is saying is that so long as one has grasping for both a self and phenomena, one will grasp at a notion of a person, which is called the view of the transitory collection. Due to these graspings one will continually create karmic actions, a chain of karmic actions and these karmic actions bind one to the cycle of compulsive rebirth.

In saying that one grasps at the self of a person, one feels that as a person in and of oneself, existing in one’s own right, and because of this grasping one cherishes oneself too much. Due to this grasping or self-cherishing attitude, many other inappropriate states of mind or conceptions take place in one’s mind. Due to this one experiences delusions such as attachment or anger and under their influence one creates karmic actions. These karmic actions keep one within cyclic existence. As one creates karmic actions, they deposit imprints or latencies in one’s mindstream or mental continuum.

At the time of death what happens is that the dependent links of craving and grasping, the eighth and ninth links activate one’s karmic actions. Following these, the dependent link of existence or becoming arises. By this process when one karmic actions intensify and after one leaves this world, one has to take rebirth. So one is born through four different ways, mostly from the womb of one’s mother. The other ways are to be born from eggs, born from heat and moisture and lastly to be born miraculously or spontaneously. These are the four different ways of taking birth.

At the time of death if a positive karmic action is activated by dependent links of craving and grasping, then one is able to have a fortunate rebirth. But at the time of death if a negative karmic action is activated by those factors then one will achieve an unfortunate rebirth. Suppose one is born in an unfortunate state. Until one’s karma that precipitated one to be born there is exhausted, it make take eons, hundreds of years of human lifetime, for one to experience that unfortunate state of tremendous suffering.

If a positive karmic action gets activated at the time of death by the two dependent links then one achieves a fortunate rebirth either as a human being or as a celestial being, deva. Even if one is born as a human being, which is relatively speaking a fortunate rebirth, but one has to experience human problems. One cannot escape problems. Also if one is born as a god or celestial being in the Desire Realm, relatively speaking that is a very happy situation. But still one has to experience the problems that the gods of the Desire Realm experience and the same with the demigods.

Suppose one is born in the Formless Realm or Form Realm in which there isn’t the suffering of suffering but wherever one is born in cyclic existence one does experience the pervasive suffering of conditioning. Wherever one is born in cyclic existence the way one has been currently reborn, one is always under the influence of contaminated karmic actions and afflictive emotions or delusions. This is why one always runs into difficulties and problems. Wherever one finds oneself in cyclic existence there are problems.

The great Nagarjuna said, ”From the three arises the two. From the two, seven and from the seven arises three”. The explanation given is in terms of the twelve links of dependent origination. Within the twelve links of dependent origination there are three links that are afflictive emotions or delusions come the two links that are karmic actions, karmic formation and becoming. From these karmic actions arise the succeeding seven links such as name and form, contact, feelings and etc. From these seven arise the last three dependent links. This is how when one is caught up in these twelve dependent links one continually experiences one or another form of problems. There doesn’t appear to be a gap, just incessantly and continually experience forms of problems.

According to Buddhism no one has dumped one into this cyclic existence. Under the influence of karmic actions and delusions, one has been born into this problematic creation. When one’s mind is conjoined with delusion or afflictive emotions, one runs into all kinds of difficulties and problems. If one is to posit a creator of everything then it is one’s mind. One’s mind is the creator of everything. Sometimes one hears that contaminated karmic actions and delusions are the creator of the life one is experiencing. One could also say that one’s mind is the creator. One’s mind has always been joined with contaminated karmic actions and delusions.

If one goes deeper into this matter, it is one’s karmic actions which have brought one into cyclic existence and if one traces further one finds that the underlying causes are the delusions and afflictive emotions. Of the different forms of afflictive emotions or delusion, at the very root there is the ignorant perception of grasping at a self. This is the root cause of all of one’s problems and one’s life in cyclic existence. Just because this grasping has always accompanied one’s mind, so one can say that one’s mind is the basis for life in cyclic existence. It is the creator of one’s life in cyclic existence.

As one looks into one’s present situation, one is controlled by one’s mind, one’s way of thinking. One’s mind has been dominated by or controlled by the defilements or afflictive emotions such as attachment and anger. This is why one encounters many difficulties and problems. Because one’s mind is not under one’s control, one is captivated by the mind and one’s mind is captivated by defilements. This is how one encounters all difficulties. This is like a child as a child who is very nice but spoiled. The defilements and afflictive emotions have spoiled one’s mind so to speak. When children find themselves in bad company they learn bad manners and when we see those children we think how sad the way they behave.

In a sense the defilements and delusions have made one just like those spoiled children. One’s mind has very much been spoiled by them and this is why one hears of people committing suicide. When one pauses to reflect on why someone would do that, one has no answer. This seems inconceivable to us. The fact of the matter is that one has no control over one’s mind and one’s mind has been ruling one. The mind in turn is dominated by the negative emotions and this is how one can go to such an extreme.

When the defilement dominate one’s mind, one fins oneself doing many improper actions and somehow when a particular delusion arises in one’s mind, at that moment it is as though one has gone crazy. One does not look like one’s normal self and one does actions that one should not be doing. One should be ashamed to do such actions but one becomes a shameless person. The delusion is dictating one’s behaviour. One picks up so much courage to do certain things, one becomes very fearless and does actions one should not be doing. This is how the defilements dictate one’s actions and force one to do that which one really should not do.

When delusion arises in one’s mind and it dictates one’s behaviour, all of one’s actions become negative. One cannot expect positive actions to be created under the influence of delusions. As the great Nagarjuna has said that actions which arise from attachment, anger and obscuration are negative actions. Actions that arise from non-attachment, non-anger and non-obscuration are positive actions. By what Nagarjuna is telling us if one acts under the command of delusions, one cannot expect to create peace and happiness. Peace and happiness do not come from actions created under the influence of the delusions. If one really wants genuine peace and happiness and for one’s life to go smoothly, one needs to discipline one’s mind, one should subdue one’s mind. As one subdues one’s mind life becomes much better and one experiences peace and happiness.

As we know there are people who do not believe in rebirth or life before and after the present one. But then there are people who believe in previous and future lives and among those are those who feel that Tibetans when they die will be reborn as Tibetans and so forth. This is their way of thinking and I have nothing to say about this.

As a believer in rebirth if one accepts this as fact that one’s good and bad karmic actions decide the type of rebirth that one will achieve, then one cannot remain satisfied by the fact that one has enough food, clothing and shelter. One needs to examine; one needs to look within oneself and find out when one dies where will one end up. What kind of rebirth will one achieve? It is very important for one to question oneself and find the answer to this question.

In a sense the existence of previous lives has become a problem for many people and they find it hard to believe in this idea. In Buddhism, in the profound treatises and texts there are presentations of different reasonings to establish previous lives as well as future ones. In discussing these reasonings like the substantial cause of mental consciousness, the preceding moment of experience or in terms of familiarisation or intimacy one has had in the past, in order to understand how these reasons establish the theory of rebirth, one needs to have acquaintance with Buddhist logic and metaphysics. Otherwise one might not grasp the idea.

I will not go into those reasonings but I want to take the opportunity to mention that there is a clear indication that there have been previous lifetimes. For instance among people of the same nationality there are some who look handsome or beautiful and those with much lesser qualities. These differences must have causes and conditions; it can not just happen without cause. So when one traces back this physical body, back to one’s mother’s womb. One cannot create good or bad karmic actions in that state so one cannot say that actions in the mother’s womb were the cause. This indicates a previous existence and helps support the idea that there have been past lives.

One also finds differences among us such as in business some are very successful, flourishing while others are struggling. They are the same businesses with the same effort and similar factories but still big differences in success. One finds similar differences in children in the same family; some are very successful and handsome while others are less handsome and less successful. So all these differences one finds must have causes and conditions as their basis. In this life, one can place the same amount of effort in the same endeavour but there are huge differences in success. As one looks into this one finds support for past lives, what one did in the past.

One can also talk about how children educated in the same way, the same school, studying under the same teacher, with the same facilities yet there is a big difference between the students. Some learn quickly while others hardly seem to learn at all. Why is there this big difference? As far as the facilities are concerned and all the things that can be done in this lifetime are concerned, they all have the same opportunity but why is there such a large difference in the students? I think this has something to do with what one did in the past.

One does find people who such personalities that they are very influential. Just by their presence they are much influence on other people. This does not seem to be an acquired quality but an inborn quality that they have and I think that this quality can be traced back to previous lifetimes. Then of course in our world we find children who can remember their past lives vividly. This also suggests that previous lives do exist, if they did not exist what are these people remembering? If there are past lives that they have remembered then it is clear that there will be future lives.

Thinking along these lines as one develops certain belief in past and future lives then the theory of karmic action makes more sense. Then one knows that one must be careful with all of one’s actions otherwise one will have to experience the ripening results of all of one’s actions. Lord Buddha said that one will experience different situations in accordance with one’s own actions. This means that one cannot neglect one’s future rebirth in future lives, one has to be careful now so that one does not suffer in one’s future lives.

Of course we all cherish ourselves and want to fulfill our own interests and wishes. As one develops concern about one’s future, what one wants for their future it helps to be concerned about future lifetimes. What do we want for our future lives? If one wants to have happiness in the future, in one’s future lives especially what is pertinent for one to do is to train one’s mind, discipline one’s mind or subdue one’s mind. This is the best way. To accomplish the kind of peace and happiness that one wants, material development is good but it will not insure genuine peace and happiness. The more material progress one makes, the more scattered becomes one’s mind as one’s mind wanders to different material things. Temptations and all those other things happen.

The only way to bring true peace and happiness to oneself is to make inner development, inner transformation, which can only come about through spiritual practice. I don’t speak English so I don’t know how much the word religion carries the meaning of the Tibetan word cho, the Dharma. The Tibetan word cho tells one that one needs to make change or transformation. When talks of practicing cho or Dharma one is implying that one is going to make change, transforming oneself into better beings.

If one wants to make the greatest accomplishment and do the best through spiritual practice then one has to follow the gradual spiritual path. First one must study and practice the three principal aspects of the path which are renunciation or aversion to cyclic existence, bodhicitta or the altruistic intention to become enlightened and the profound view or the insight into emptiness. Having cultivated these three principal aspects of the path then one enters into tantric practice performing Highest Yoga Tantra practice. In this way one can attain enlightenment in one lifetime. If one is able to follow this process that is the best and one will make great the greatest accomplishment.

As there are different spiritual paths within Buddhism that one can follow, if one doesn’t mind to take a long time to reach enlightenment, one has this kind of determination, one cultivates the enlightened attitude of the altruistic intention to become enlightened. After this it may take three great, countless eons to accumulate the merit and wisdom needed and during this process one is tremendously benefiting sentient beings, working for them. One is working for enlightenment to benefit sentient beings the most. So this is one way, the follows the way of Bodhisattvas and how they benefit sentient beings.

Then one can also follow the path of Solitary Realisers or Pratyekabuddhas. One can follow the stages of this path and attain Arhatship or the state of liberation of a Solitary Realiser. If this doesn’t suit one then one can follow the stages of the path of a Hearer or Sravaka, which leads to their state of liberation. These are the different paths; one has many choices before one. One makes one’s choice and follows the path to its destination.

Later I will speak very briefly about those different paths, how one can attain enlightenment in just this one lifetime. I will also speak on how to attain the realization of Solitary Realisers and how to attain the liberation of Hearers or Sravakas. I shall touch briefly on all of them. Also another important point here is how can one integrate spiritual practice into one’s daily life. As one goes on in life, how can one practice the Dharma at the same time? I will also speak briefly about this.

The way one integrates spiritual practice into one’s daily life is within the context of what is called the five paths. Of the five paths the first one is called the power of setting forth the thought which is the power of motivation. Be it spiritual practice or a worldly activity, as one knows it is important to reflect on what one wants to do first and then make a good plan. Done this way things go much better. In terms of spiritual practice when one gets up in the morning one needs to set one’s motivation that one will place much effort into the practice of Dharma in this life, this year, this month and particularly this day. One will not waste one’s life just for the sake of accumulating food, clothing, shelter, being satisfied merely with those. One will work for achieving enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, which is the highest type of motivation. This is called the power of motivation.

When one gets up in the morning one should make a point to generate the proper motivation to make one’s daily activities meaningful in a spiritual sense. The second path is power of the white seed, which means the purification of negativities and the accumulation of positive energy. Those who are committed to do certain main practices have preliminary practices to perform first such as ngondro. Engaging in ngondro practice consists of this power of the white seed. Even if one is not aiming for such main practices they can still perform preliminary practices such as prostrations, circumambulation, making offerings and so forth. This constitutes the power of the white seed. The seven limb practice constitutes purification of unwholesome actions and the accumulation of positive energy. One can practice the seven limb and do purification and the accumulation of merit.

The third power is called the power of familiarisation or intimacy. This means that if one takes renunciation as one’s key practice, one does one’s practice and afterwards one develops more intimacy with renunciation. This is the power of familiarisation. If one wants to cultivate the altruistic intention to become enlightened or bodhicitta, as one performs the practice one develops more intimacy with the enlightened attitude. Or one could be meditating on deity yoga and through this meditation one develops more and more intimacy with the deity. This applies to any other kind of practice.

The fourth power is the power of applying the counteractive measures or antidotes. If one’s main aim is to challenge the self-cherishing attitude or self-centeredness, as it arises in one’s mind one should counteract it; one needs to challenge it. As any form of delusion like anger or attachment arises in one’s mind, one does not let it be there unchallenged but face it and confront it. This is called the power of applying the antidotes.

Of course the best method is to see that any form of delusion does not arise within one’s mind. This is to say that prevention is better than cure. Once the delusion has arisen in one’s mind it is difficult to bring it under control. Just before attachment or anger arises in one’s mind if one is mindful and notice that it might arise, just stop it and prevent it from arising in one’s mind.

In case one is not able to prevent the delusions from arising within one’s mind because one is being exposed to different situations and different objects, one way to as a temporary measure is to keep the objects of delusion at a distance and avoid them. So one of the methods that is practiced is to go into seclusion isolating oneself from the objects of delusion. This can be helpful temporarily. So long as one has delusions if one encounters the objects of those delusions it is difficult not to experience the delusions. So in this case try to avoid the objects of delusion.

The fifth power is the power of aspirational prayer and here one can say any kind of prayer. May I be able to direct my mind into spiritual practice. May my spiritual practice become a spiritual path. May this spiritual path be brought to the completion stage. These are all wonderful prayers. One can also pray that the Dharma, the source of benefit and happiness for all sentient beings, flourish all over the world. May all sincere practitioners and the upholders of the Dharma enjoy long lives and good health. However the best kind of prayer is, “May I never be separated from the altruistic mind of enlightenment of bodhicitta in this life and in all future lives.” This is the best kind of aspirational prayer that one can make. This is the power of aspirational prayer.

In short the way one can integrate spiritual practice or those five powers that constitute spiritual practice into one’s daily life is when one first gets up, set the power of motivation. In the context of Greater Vehicle Buddhism one should set the motivation that at least today one will not be selfish, one will not let selfishness dictate one. In other words this is to say that one will develop concern for others, being kind and caring for others. One then should perform the purification of negativities and the accumulation of positive energy in different ways. If one is committed to do certain spiritual practices, one should do this with a sense of delight and enthusiasm not that it is a burden placed upon one.

In fact selfishness is the main obstacle in the context of Greater Vehicle Buddhism to practice. At the end one does aspirational prayers and dedication. One can pray for a long and healthy life but that is just an ordinary prayer. One instead should pray for the peace, happiness and prosperity of all sentient beings and that one may engender this enlightened attitude in all of one’s future lives. If one does this in one’s daily life then one’s life will be very well integrated with spiritual practice.

Lord Buddha’s teachings consists of are called the 84,000 bundles or sections. These 84,000 bundles of teaching are contained within the twelve scriptural divisions or the nine scriptural divisions, which are different ways of classifying his teachings placing them into different baskets. One could also say that Buddha’s teachings are all included within the Three Baskets or Tripitaka, Sutra, Abhidharma and Vinaya. The subject matter of these three baskets are brought together or summarised in their essence by the great Atisha in his The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment.

Even ordinary things can be learned by observing what others are doing. One cannot learn each and every thing unless one goes to study with professional teachers. If this is true for ordinary things it is especially true of the spiritual journey one wants to undertake. It is like going to an unknown land or destination but with an inner transformation there is nothing to see or hear with one’s ears. Here it is very important for one to cultivate a relationship with a qualified spiritual guide. At this time one has achieved such a precious human rebirth free of the main obstacles to the practice of the Dharma and also possesses the enriching factors to accomplish realisation. If one is to make the best use of one’s life and accomplish not only temporary purposes for this life but also reach the ultimate spiritual goal; one cannot be lazy and use this life properly. One has the potential to accomplish one’s goals.

As for this precious human life it is very hard to attain, as the causes needed to attain this kind of life are hard to create. At this time one does have this precious human life but this life will not remain forever. It has a transient nature so it is very unstable. If one does not make the best use of it now, the time will come when one must leave this life and go empty-handed. So when the time comes for one to leave this world and one reflects on what one has accomplished during one’s life, all the worldly activities one thought were so meaningful, do not make much sense at the time of death. If only one had created positive energy and practiced the Dharma then that would stand with one at the crucial time of death. Otherwise one will be helpless in the face of death; only the Dharma can help one at that time. One should reflect and meditate on all of these important points.

As one meditates on those points serially, first one performs analytical meditation where one brings up all the reasons to establish each point and ascertain each point. At the end of each analytical meditation one switches to single-pointed or stabilised meditation on each point. The purpose of meditating on the points I mentioned is for one to be able to eliminate clinging to this life. One is so attached to this life and the things associated with this life which firmly binds one to samsara. One has to get rid of this clinging to just this lifetime and meditating on those points will help one with this.

If one continues to cling to this life one can do practice but one’s Dharma practice will not be that effective. One may have the feeling that one has been practicing for a long time without much benefit. This is telling one that one has not been practicing the Dharma properly in its pure form. Doing the practice just for this life is not a Dharma practice. One is only confusing oneself and will not be able to achieve one’s higher goals, spiritual goals. So this is why the first thing one should try to do is to work on getting rid of clinging to this life. Otherwise one will not be able to get rid of clinging to material prosperity and the like all this and future lives.

One should also meditate on different aspects of the law of karma or karmic action. Its major characteristics or aspects are the certainty of karmic action. This means if one creates a positive karmic action that it will definitely bring a positive result. There is no way that it will bring about problems or difficulties. If one creates a negative karmic action it will bring a negative result. This is a law of nature. So this is the certainty of karmic action.

The second point is the increasing nature of karma. This means that one could create a small positive action and with the passage of time it can intensify and bring a great result. The same is with a slight negative action; with the passage of time it intensifies and can bring great problems to one.

The third characteristic of karma is whatever karmic action one has not created or accumulated one will not experience the results. One is only responsible for one’s own actions and of the actions one creates, one experiences the results. Actions one has never created one does not need to worry about, one will not experience those results.

The fourth characteristic of karma is that whatever karmic action one has created, good or bad, provided they are not destroyed by certain factors, they never are wasted. It may take eons and eons but one’s karmic actions will definitely bring their respective results. For instance if one creates a positive karmic action and it is never destroyed by one’s anger, it may take many eons to bring its result but it will definitely bring its result. Similarly one could perform a negative karmic action and if one does not apply the Four Antidotes to purify those karmic actions with the passage of time given the proper conditions it will ripen into its negative result. So this is how karmic actions work.

By meditating on these different aspects of karma one develops confidence in the infallible workings of karmic action. One also needs to contemplate of the different aspects of the suffering in cyclic existence, the general sufferings of cyclic existence and the particular sufferings of cyclic existence. The purpose of meditating on the different forms of suffering along with the working of karmic action is to help one cut off clinging to material prosperity and the ordinary pleasures of life in cyclic existence.

What one needs to be like a sick person, who is nauseated at the sight of food, in that one should have a similar aversion to the sufferings of cyclic existence. At the present as soon as one sees prosperity as someone who owns a magnificent house, one becomes attached to it wishing to have the same type house. Or one sees the automobiles of others so one desires one for oneself. There is nothing wrong with appreciating a beautiful thing but when one develops attachment that is a different matter. One needs to work with one’s own mind and the attachments towards material things in cyclic existence. If one is able to generate the same kind of attitude that a prisoner develops whom really wants out of the prison, who is tired of spending one more day in prison. If one starts to generate that kind of aversion and renunciation towards life in cyclic existence then one is starting to develop the proper aversion towards cyclic existence which is a very important spiritual quality.

It is the same for all three types of practitioners. First one must develop an aversion to life in cyclic existence. One should not get attached even to the best of material prosperity or things of cyclic existence. Once one has developed renunciation then if one decides to follow the path of the sravaka or Hearers then one needs to develop the genuine aspiration seeking the liberation of sravakas. As one develops that genuine aspiration, one is already on the path of accumulation of a sravaka and the main practice consists of the Three High Trainings, training in higher ethical discipline, higher concentration and higher wisdom.

By performing the Three Higher Trainings one progresses on the stages of the path such as the paths of preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. As one attains the path of no more learning one achieves the liberation of the Hearers.

Having generated renunciation if one is interested in following the path leading to liberation of the pratyekabuddhas or Solitary Realisers first one needs to cultivate a genuine aspiration seeking that liberation. As one experiences that aspiration genuinely one is already on the path of accumulation of the Solitary Realiser’s Vehicle. Again the practice is the same, the practice of the Three Higher Trainings. Through this practice one progresses on the remaining paths such as the paths of preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. The major difference between Solitary Realisers and Hearers is that the Solitary Realisers have to accumulate much more positive energy or merit. This they accomplish mostly on the path of accumulation.

Generally speaking all sentient beings have the great potentiality to become a completely enlightened person eventually which is called the Buddhanature. But one does speak of those who are temporarily inclined towards the Hearer’s Path or inclined towards the Solitary Realiser’s. What they need to do first is according to their inclinations they need to follow the respective paths leading to their respective states of liberation. Having attained those states of liberation then they move on to the path of the Greater Vehicle working for supreme enlightenment.

To substantiate this point that all of us have the Buddhanature, as Rinpoche has quoted the nature of the mind is clear light and it has never been defiled. The defilements are just temporarily in one’s mind; they are just adventitious. They have not contaminated the pure nature of one’s mind so this is why one has the great potentiality to grow.

Each of us, in fact all sentient beings have the Buddhanature which is of two types, the naturally-abiding Buddhanature which is the main cause for one to attain the Truth Body or Dharmakaya and the developmental Buddhanature that is the main cause for one to attain the Rupakaya or the Form Body. As Maitreya has stated that if one makes effort consistently one will be able to experience one’s Buddhanature and attain one’s spiritual goals. Even if an insect were to do this positive development that insect would attain supreme enlightenment. This means we all share in this Buddhanature.

As we have Buddhanature, this is why all of us can become Buddhas provided we make consistent efforts. Another reason for one to be able to become a Buddha eventually is as I have already quoted that the nature of the mind is clear light, pure and never defiled. The defilements that one has in one’s mind do not form the nature of the mind. They have not contaminated the purity of one’s mind so to speak. The naturally-abiding Buddhanature, which is the emptiness of one’s mind, the ultimate nature of one’s mind has remained pure right from the beginning and has never been contaminated. So all of the delusions and defilements that one has in one’s mind are just temporary and if one makes a point to apply the antidotes to them, they are removable. They can be eliminated, can be gotten rid of.

Just as the nature of fire is heat and burning so is the clarity and stillness is the nature of the mind. So the clarity and calmative power of the mind has never been defiled by the delusions. The defilements, as I already have said are just temporary. By temporary I mean that they can be separated from the mind. One can eliminate the defilements for one’s mind and experience the purity of one’s mind. Because one can do this, this is the great possibility for us to become an enlightened person.

In the case of a Mahayana practitioner, having generated renunciation, if one is of sharp faculties one should straight away meditate on emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena. Having gained insight into emptiness one then cultivates the conventional mind of enlightenment, which is bodhicitta. In the case of a Mahayana practitioner of lower faculties having generated renunciation, one first cultivates the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. One then studies emptiness and develops insight into the ultimate nature of things.

As for the cultivation of the altruistic mind of enlightenment there are two different techniques or lineages. One is called the Six Causes and the One Result Quintessential Instructions for Developing the Mind of Enlightenment and the practitioners of lower faculties normally start with this practice. Practitioners of sharp faculties develop the altruistic mind of enlightenment by practicing the other lineage; the instructions called Equalising and Exchanging Self with Others.

It doesn’t matter which of the two lineages of instructions one practices. With either one is able to experience the altruistic intention to become enlightened. As soon as one experiences genuinely the mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta, one finds oneself on the path of accumulation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. This is the entryway into Mahayana Buddhism and as it has been said that for someone wishing to become a completely enlightened person, they must cultivate the mind of enlightenment, which is the source of enlightenment. It should be stabilised and made firm as Mount Meru, the King of Mountains.

Without cultivating the mind of enlightenment there is no other way to reach enlightenment. If one wants to attain enlightenment one has to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. With the mind of enlightenment, whatever one does especially if practicing generosity, morality or ethical discipline, patience or tolerance and so on, all of one’s actions will become the deeds of a bodhisattva and one’s practice becomes perfections.

As soon as one generates meditative stabilisation integrating calm-abiding with special insight, one finds oneself on the path of preparation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. Then as one continues one’s practice and cultivates greater intimacy with these insights, one progresses on the remaining paths. When one develops direct insight and experience emptiness, one is then on the path of seeing of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. As one develop even greater intimacy with this direct insight along with skillful means, one progresses on the path of meditation and the path of no-more learning.

This is all within the context of Sutrayana or the Greater Vehicle of Buddhism. This is to say that one must accumulate merit for three countless eons. On the paths of accumulation and preparation one is able to accumulate the merit for one countless eon. The seven spiritual grounds from the first, Joyous to the seventh ground account for one countless eon of the accumulation of merit or positive energy. On the last three spiritual grounds, the eighth through tenth bhumis account for the final countless eon of the accumulation of merit then becoming a fully enlightened being. This finishes my discussion of the Three Vehicles having created the context to speak a little bit about tantric practice.

There are two entrances into the Tantric Vehicle or Path. One can enter from the path of accumulation of the Greater Vehicle Buddhism or one can enter the Tantric Path from the tenth bhumi. Actually the formal entryways are those two ways from which one can enter the Tantric Path. We are an exception as we enter into tantra from all kinds of entrances. The reason why one enters from either the path of accumulation of the Mahayana or the tenth bhumi is because to perform tantric practice one has to first do the common practices, one must first cultivate the common path which are the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, renunciation, bodhicitta and the wisdom realising emptiness. Having cultivated those paths first then one can enter into the tantric practice and one is qualified to engage in tantric practices.

One then seeks a qualified Vajra master, receives the standard empowerments and then enters into the tantric practices. The tantric path is considered a very profound and swift, it can take one to the final destination the most quickly. But its profundity and swiftness also depends upon the Lam-rim or the Stages of the Path, especially the Three Principal Aspects of the Path as I already mentioned. There is a saying in Tibetan that the reason why butter cheesecake is so delicious is because of the butter; without the butter it is just a dry cheese ball. So the profundity and swiftness of the tantra is due to the Lam-rim, the common path. Without the common path tantra is just full of ritual noises (hum hum and phat phat).

If one wants to be a qualified practitioner of tantra then one has to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. When bodhicitta is genuinely present within one’s mindstream, one is already on the path of accumulation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. One then can enter into tantric practice. In this context it is not enough to only cultivate relative bodhicitta, one has to cultivate the extraordinary altruistic mind of enlightenment. This extraordinary mind of enlightenment gives one a push so that when one sees others suffering one is unable to tolerate it. One cannot sit idly by but must do everything possible. This kind of push, this kind of inside drive is needed.

Having cultivated this extraordinary altruistic mind of enlightenment, if one wants to practice the three lower tantras one needs to receive the standard initiations into the mandalas of the respective tantras from a qualified Vajra master. One must also receive the commentary on the tantra. If one wants to practice Highest Yoga Tantra, Mahanuttarayoga Tantra it is the same. One needs to find a qualified Vajra master and receive all four of the initiations. One then can engage in tantric practice. In fact it is said that abhisheka or empowerment is the door to enter into tantra.

Suppose one wishes to practice the Guhyasamaja Tantra which is a Buddhist Highest Yoga Tantra. In fact the Guhyasamaja Tantra has two traditions. One could receive the initiation according to the Jñanapada tradition or according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition. According to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition one must receive the Guhyasamaja empowerment called Akshobhya Vajra Empowerment receiving these four empowerments. Having received them then one can practice the two stages, the generation stage and the completion stage. For a beginner one has to follow this order, there is no other way. Without practicing the generation stage one cannot practice the completion stage because it is said that these two stages are like rungs in a ladder, one must go step-by-step. In a special case like someone who already generated an understanding of the generation stage in a previous lifetime, that practitioner can straightaway practice the completion stage. This is an exceptional case.

Having received the proper initiation or empowerment one then has to practice first the generation stage. According to the Jnanapada tradition of Guhyasamaja one has to practice what are called the Four Drops or bindu for the completion stage. According to the extensive mandala of Vajrapani one has to practice the four types of blessing. According to Yamantaka practice one has to do the Four Yogas which constitute the completion stage practice. According to the Ghantapa tradition one has to practice five levels and these five levels are the completion stage but are not the same five levels as the completion stage practice of the Guhyasamaja Tantra. According to the Kalachakra Tantra one has to practice the Six Preparatory Yogas. What is common to all of these completion stage practices is the Six Yogas of Naropa.

So those are the different classifications and there are eight of them, which are referred to as the eight great commentaries according to the tradition of Lower Tantric College.

To give you a little more insight into the five levels of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja, according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition the five levels are the Isolated Body level and Isolated Speech level as one level, Isolated Mind level, the Illusory Body level, the Clear Light level and the Level of Unification. Sometimes one talks of six levels of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja, sometimes five but it is just a matter of classification, there is no conflict.

Now we are getting to the main topic the union of bliss and voidness. The Isolated Body practice where a practitioner who has completed both the coarse and subtle yogas of the generation stage and is meditating on the subtle drop at the lower end of the central channel or secret space, is able to bring all of the winds into the central channel. There are the three phases of entering, abiding and the dissolution of the winds in the central channel or nadi. Just before this happens with the two levels of the generation stage up to this level where a certain exalted wisdom is generated is called the Isolated Body level.

On the Isolated Body level of the completion stage of The Guhyasamaja according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition, in the state of meditative equipoise one is meditating on the wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness or emptiness. This is the primary experience at this level of practice. As one comes out of that meditative state in the post-meditational period one tries to see every appearance of whatever object one experiences as the nature of non-dual bliss and voidness. Also during the post-meditational period on this level one experiences this non-dual union of bliss and voidness in the form of deities.

What does the Isolated Body mean? The body of course refers to one’s body, which is composed of different constituents like the Five Psychophysical aggregates. These constitute the basis of isolation and it is the ordinary appearance along with the ordinary clinging attitude from which the practitioner’s body is isolated from ordinary appearance and the ordinary cling attitude. This is done through deity yoga practice so one arises in the form of a deity or deities and sees oneself as the deity, not as an ordinary being. This is the etymological explanation of the term isolated body.

Next is the Isolated Speech level and at the practitioner’s heart one visualises the mantra drop or circle trying to bring the winds of the upper and lower body into the central channel. There one realises the wisdom of appearance. When one experiences this wisdom and when one is able to dissolve the winds into the indestructible drop within one’s heart, up to this point is the boundary of the Isolated Speech level.

The etymological explanation of the term isolated speech, from what is speech isolated, is in fact the ordinary perception and clinging to speech. On this level the arising, abiding and flow of the breath is not perceived as the ordinary flow but in the sound of the Three Syllables [OM AH HUM]. The flow of the breath or speech is not just seen as ordinary but as if it resounds naturally as the Three Syllables. The main practice here is the Vajra Recitation also the two ways of dissolving the winds into the central channel. There is the gradual dissolution and the spontaneous dissolution. One can also rely on external concert.

Through these techniques or methods one brings the winds into the central channel at the heart and they dissolve into the indestructible drop where one experiences the wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness. From this point on to where one attains the Impure Illusory Body this whole level is of Isolated Speech.

In order to experience the exemplary Clear Light of the Isolated Mind level one has to bring all of the wind energies into the indestructible drop. For this one has needs to rely on a qualified consort. By qualified consort it is meant is a consort who has also received the standard tantric empowerments and who has also cultivated the three aspects of the common path. Through relying on the consort’s help one brings the totality of the winds into the indestructible drop and experiences the exemplary Clear Light of the Isolated Mind.

If both practitioners who are helping each other in this way are not qualified then the result is ordinary sexual activity, nothing Dharmic will happen. The exemplary Clear Light will not arise so both practitioners need to be qualified. If one practices in the way I have just described and through one of the two ways of dissolving the wind energies of the body, one goes through all of the stages of the dissolution processes that occurs at the time of death. One also sees eight different indicative signs of the dissolution of the elements, constituents and so forth.

As these happen, this is the internal practice, one also experiences four types of joy due to the flow of the drop at the crown of the head down to the tip of the secret organ. When the drop reaches the tip of the secret organ, one experiences spontaneous bliss and this blissful mind is used to penetrate and experience emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena. This is how one experiences the non-dual bliss and voidness. As the drop comes to the tip of the secret organ one needs to retain it there and this is an important point of the practice.

At the end of that dissolution one experiences the Clear Light mind which is the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind. This blissful Clear Light mind is used to penetrate and experience emptiness. This Clear light mind is also called the Exemplary Clear Light mind of the Isolated Mind Level. As one continues on with the practice one experiences emptiness directly, the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind experiences emptiness directly and at that point the Clear Light becomes the Meaning Clear Light.

In the case of ordinary people it is at the time of death that there is a chance for one to experience the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind as it manifests at death. But in the case of yogis or meditators through the power of their yoga or meditations are able to experience the primordial Clear Light mind, which is an exceptional case. So through the practices I just mentioned when one experiences the Exemplary Clear Light mind of the Isolated Mind Level, at that point one is still not experiencing emptiness directly or nakedly, still there is what is called the image of emptiness, a generic image. Through a combination of the practice where that generic image is removed and one has a direct experience, this experience is called the spontaneous wisdom experiencing emptiness directly or the Meaning Clear Light.

Having reached this state, the Exemplary Clear Light Mind of the Isolated Mind, one is still is still in a meditative state. As one rises from that meditation one attains the Impure Illusory Body. As one continues one’s practice and re-enters the meditative state when one is able to gain a direct experience of emptiness, the subtle primordial Clear Light Mind, experiencing emptiness directly, one achieves the Meaning Clear Light. When one arises from that meditative state one achieves the Pure Illusory Body. So the unification of the Impure Illusory Body with the primordial Clear Light mind in union with the Pure Illusory Body with the Meaning Clear Light mind is called the unification of mind and body or the Extraordinary Thing, the ugonnata.

Since enlightened mind has no root or contributing circumstances, the essence is never born and never ceases. In the unborn, unceasing nature, there is no place for conceptions to arise, so there is nothing to be wished.

— Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo