A Commentary on Right Effort
by Geshe Lama Konchog

Suffering in this Life

Lama Tsongkhapa has said the superior thought, or bodhicitta, is like a sail to a ship. If the sail is not blown by the wind, the boat cannot move or travel anywhere. So, although we may have this superior thought or bodhicitta, if it is not blown by the wind of effort, the ship of hearing and contemplation cannot move. Therefore, without right effort, sentient beings cannot cross the ocean of cyclic existence and reach the city of liberation or enlightenment.

Effort is the best amongst all the friends and listlessness is the worst of all the enemies. If the force of effort is applied, even the tiniest insects and animals can attain the state of full enlightenment. We are human beings, so we have the power of wisdom to be able to discriminate between what is to be abandoned and what is to be practiced. We know the benefits of virtuous actions and the faults of non-virtuous actions.

We have discussed this kind of power, this potential, so we should never become discouraged by thinking, “I won’t be able to reach enlightenment.” Instead we should think, “I can definitely attain enlightenment. I have the power, I have that potential.” By thinking this way, we can generate the courage to be able to work in a better way towards the attainment of enlightenment.

Even the smallest insect can attain enlightenment if it generates the force of effort. While we are human beings, we should not think that we can’t gain enlightenment or generate that force. We should always think, “I can gain enlightenment and I can generate the force of effort. I can then have a mind that delights in the performance of virtuous deeds.”

We may think that this is just too difficult, but it is possible to reach enlightenment. However, there are many hardships to overcome along the way. This could mean that we have to make sacrifices, even of our body. If we are afraid to do this, it will be most difficult to attain enlightenment, because we are unable to discriminate between heavy and light sufferings.

From beginningless lifetimes we have taken many types of form. We have taken a life where we were tortured daily, or where our limbs were cut and injured or maybe even sliced into many pieces. However, compared to the sufferings that we have experienced in the hell realms, the sufferings or problems we are encountering now on the way to the state of enlightenment are nothing, or perhaps they are only very small.

All the sufferings that we have experienced in the past have been completely wasted. If those sufferings had been a cause for enlightenment for ourselves and others, then they would have been meaningful, but they did not help us to attain enlightenment, or even to awaken our minds, so they were completely wasted.

The sufferings that we experienced in the lower realms, such as the hells, were very intense and had to be experienced for a very long time compared to the sufferings that we are experiencing now.

By abandoning the purpose of working only for this life and instead, working for the attainment of enlightenment, the hardships and difficulties that we encounter along the way to enlightenment are nothing compared to the sufferings of the hell realms.

The sufferings that we experience now are very small and they can be endured. In fact, they are very easy to endure. An example of this is a doctor who treats his patients for serious illnesses. In order to remove the illness he might have to take blood from the body and test it. Some doctors might use a fire to burn a part of the body, or they may give injections. All of these kinds of treatments bring some form of harm or suffering, yet they will result in the relief of the severe illness in the long run. So, even though we know we are suffering now, we can endure it by thinking that we will benefit from it.

The sufferings that we encounter on the way to enlightenment are the sufferings of hardship, but they are comparatively small compared to the sufferings of the hell realms. In order to remove the sufferings of cyclic existence, we have to bear them.

If we can endure the suffering we are experiencing now — the suffering of travelling on the path to enlightenment — then we will eventually be able to eradicate the immeasurable suffering, not only of ourselves, but also of others.

Some very skillful doctors are able to treat their patients without causing them any pain. The Buddha also gives many different methods for us to be freed from suffering and from encountering many difficulties. Sometimes we encounter so many difficulties that we cannot bear another minute. Now, if you are unable to endure such hardships, I want you to stop for one minute.

Generosity

If we are not familiar with the practice of giving, we should not do it right away. We should not give away things that will cause us to endure suffering. First of all, we should give away small things until we have become familiar with giving and then gradually start giving bigger and bigger things. Later, when we become comfortable with giving, we can give even of ourselves — our limbs and flesh. This will be just like giving somebody a portion of food.

In order to attain the state of enlightenment, we must apply the right methods. The Buddha said that these are not the methods used by ordinary doctors who cause pain to relieve diseases, but rather he showed us methods that free us from the sufferings of cyclic existence. These are the methods of abandoning the two extremes and abandoning the delusions, both of which cause us to wander in cyclic existence.

There are not too many hardships that we will encounter while we travel on the path to enlightenment, so there is no need to be frightened or to feel fear while travelling along that path.

In the beginning, it is a very difficult path to travel along. To engage in the deeds of the bodhisattvas we may be asked to sacrifice our limbs, our heads or our hands. To have fear of these hardships would make it very difficult for us to ever attain enlightenment.

Shantideva says that we do not have to undergo such hardships. If we are not familiar with suffering and are unable to bear it, then we should not have to do so. We can stop until we become completely familiar with a practice, then we will be able to do it easily. In this way there will be no hardships at all.

Initially, if we are unable to make big sacrifices, such as giving away big and valuable things, we should start with small things, such as a small portion of food, or things that are not held so importantly. Then very gradually we can progress to where we are totally familiarised with giving and then we can offer anything easily — even our own flesh.

Fasting Retreat

When the Buddha gave teachings on using effort, he said that when we apply right effort there is no hardship. By applying right effort, the mind is then able to do things very gently and with great delight. For example, if we apply right effort when doing the sessions in the fasting retreat, we will experience no hardship.

However, if we apply no effort and we do not have the mind that delights in performing virtuous deeds, then just doing one session will be the cause for much hardship. If there is no effort, there will be hardship, but if there is right effort, it will be very easy. For example, if while doing the session we think, “Oh, my visualisation is not very good. I cannot sit straight and I feel very sleepy,” and so on, there will be many hardships during that session. If we apply right effort and try to do everything with delight, then it will not feel like a hardship.

When we do the fasting retreat, we are told we will incur the karma to be reborn in the pure realm of Amitabha. Just thinking this way should be enough to stop any difficulties from arising, for example, by remembering this, how can we feel upset about not eating any food for one day?

However, this all depends on our state of mind. It is only from our mind that we experience suffering or happiness. For instance, during the fast in the retreat we should not stretch out our legs or arms, nor should we sleep with outstretched legs or arms.

If we go back and sleep after finishing a session, we will feel hunger later on and will have difficulty sleeping that night. This can bring other problems such as headaches, fever or it can even be a cause for hepatitis. Sleeping in between sessions can bring many problems. If we really are very tired, we can lie down for awhile, but then we should stand up and walk around. If we think that we will sleep only for a very short time, then that is OK. However, if we just lie down and go to sleep after every session, then that is no good at all.

If we go to sleep during the daytime, we will feel very bad when we finish the fasting retreat and will never want to do it again. However, if we do not sleep in the daytime, at night we will have a very nice sleep and in the morning we will feel very refreshed and then we will feel quite happy about continuing on.

Hungry Ghost Realm

As I said before, the Buddha was very skillful when he taught us how to practice generosity. He taught how to give away the small things that we do not hold so much attachment to. We should do this because if we give with miserliness we can’t give delightfully and then there is no right effort, as well as no generosity .

Miserly people can be taught to practice giving, for example, even if we cannot give to others, we can give to ourselves. For instance, if we have a thing in our right hand, we can give it to our left hand and then the left hand can give it to the right hand, and so on. This creates no problems because we are not really losing that thing. Even though we are giving, we are still receiving. However, doing this causes us to feel the delight and happiness of giving and receiving; the practice of generosity.

We may very well think that it is not too difficult to give to ourselves, but for some people this is very difficult. Some people just cannot give anything at all. Some people cannot even give away the things that they cannot use themselves, they keep them at all times. There are some types of beings who find it very difficult to give even a cup of water to others.

These kinds of people will take rebirth in the hungry ghost realm. The hungry ghosts have three kinds of knots in their throats and it is very difficult for them to swallow food or water. They have been born as hungry ghosts because they could not give anything to other people and they could not even use those things for themselves either.

Some people cause trouble by telling others who are trying to give something: “Oh, you should not give so much. That is far too much!” Or even: “You should not give anything at all!” By saying these things to others, we will take rebirth in the hungry ghost realm with the three knots in our throat.

Only one drop of water can go down the throat of a hungry ghost, because of the three knots. When lamas make torma offerings to hungry ghosts, they say: “…and I give you one drop of water,” because they can only swallow one drop of water, and if they take more it will cause many problems in their stomachs.

These hungry ghosts always say: “Don’t give a lot; give a little.” They recite this every day, just as we recite mantras.

If we are not skillful in practicing the Dharma or in actualising the path, things will become very difficult and we will have to endure many problems. However, if we practice with right effort, we will have no difficulties at all. When we know how to do the fasting retreat, we will have no problems and we will do it very happily. Therefore it is most important to know how to do it in the right way.

Bodhisattvas in Cyclic Existence

Bodhisattvas actually reside in cyclic existence, but this does not upset them. They do not feel any suffering, because they know how to live very gently. There is no rebirth for them while they reside in cyclic existence. They are not born into cyclic existence by the force of karma and delusions; they are here by the force of compassion.

Their birth is very different from ours and they do not have any regrets about being in cyclic existence, so it is for this reason that the bodhisattvas of the Mahayana path are superior to the hearers of the Hinayana path, as the hearers do not have this compassion.

Whenever the hearers take birth in cyclic existence, they do so out of karma and delusion. They have fear of undergoing the suffering of cyclic existence, so they cannot be encouraged to travel on the path of the bodhisattvas.

When bodhisattvas sacrifice their bodies out of compassion, they do not feel any form of suffering. They have abandoned all unwholesome actions of the three doors, so they have no suffering in their mind.

Bodhisattvas are those beings who have reached the higher level — they have reached the third ground of the third bhumi. They experience no suffering, even when their bodies are cut into pieces. This is true also for the high tantric practitioners. Even if somebody beats them with a stick, they do not experience any pain. This all depends on the mind.

Here I am explaining the application of right effort. Bodhisattvas make this kind of sacrifice and experience no suffering, because they do it all very happily and joyfully. The reason they experience no pain is because they do not hold the misconception of grasping at the self and they have not incurred any negative actions such as killing, etc. They do not have the concept of “my” body.

Once there was a bodhisattva called “The Always Crying Bodhisattva.” He wanted to go and receive teachings from another bodhisattva, who was his teacher. This bodhisattva was teaching on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.

The Always Crying Bodhisattva did not have any offerings to make to his teacher, so finally he decided to sell his body to collect the offerings. He shouted out in the middle of town: “Is there anybody who wants to buy my limbs or my body?” Nobody came to buy, but finally, an incarnation of Brahma came in the form of a human being and said: “I would like to buy your flesh and bones.”

When he heard that, the Always Crying Bodhisattva felt so happy and went down to the corner to start smashing his bones, for the sale. However, while he was doing this, some girls saw him and asked him why he was doing such a thing. They said: “It is very stupid to do that. Why are you torturing yourself?”

He said to them: “I am doing this so that I can sell this body and collect enough money to bring offerings to my teacher, so I can receive the teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.” Then the girls asked him: “What are you going to do with this teaching?” He said: “By receiving this teaching, I can attain the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks of a buddha.”

While he was doing this, he did it with such joy and also with great compassion, by thinking it would help him attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Therefore, he did not feel any suffering or any regret because he possessed the realisation of bodhicitta and great compassion.

The Always Crying Bodhisattva always seemed to be very poor, because he did not have any material things. Actually, he was not poor; he was very rich with the realisation of emptiness and bodhicitta. The reason he was always crying was because of not being able to see his teacher, not because he did not have any material things.

Milarepa also used to stay in a very poor condition. When people looked at him, they would feel most upset for him, thinking that he had a very ugly form. His condition was caused by eating too many nettles; his body had become green like the nettles. People thought that he was very skinny and very ugly and they thought he did not own anything, so they felt very sorry and upset for him. But Milarepa felt very sorry and upset for them, because they thought he was very poor and skinny.

Milarepa felt most upset for sentient beings, because he thought that sentient beings incur so much negative action just for the clothing and food of this life, and for that amount of negative action, they have to wander endlessly in cyclic existence.

Due to the power of bodhicitta, bodhisattvas can expel the non-virtues that they have incurred in the past and they can store the accumulation of merit and wisdom easily. This is why the bodhisattva path excels over the path of the hero.

不要以為修行修到最後是什麼事都沒有,修行是越修越多事;然而多事是無事,都是別人的事,都不是我自己的事,即使一天到晚忙,但是他心不盲。人會迷失,就是因為有我;證到無上正等正覺不是要掌控一切法,而是讓一切法「法爾如是」,平等平等。如果理解錯,會變成我修得越好,掌控能力越大,我永遠都在,那就不是佛法。

— 法傑法師

放下
慧门禅师

要“放下”就要先舍自我,不然自我愈强,就愈不容易放下。愈无执著者,自我就会渐渐减少,当自我减少了,才是真正的放下。

放不下就担起来

放不下是因为担得不够,担得太轻。如果你担得不够,不愿意放下,只有继续担,担到担不动时,自然就会放下。譬如,今天让你担50公斤,你能做得到,要是让你担100公斤、200斤,恐怕走不了几步,你就担不动,自然而然就放下了。

人活在世间,到底在担些什么?世俗人要担的有眷属、父母、夫妻、子女等。为了让家庭生活更好,求工作、房子、车子、然后再求社会地位、名誉、财势。每个人自出世就一直在求。愈求愈多,包袱愈来愈重,烦恼跟着也愈来愈多,不知如何是好。

如来禅蓬刚成立时,一位国中的注册组长来参加禅修,在禅修期间考上国中主任,去接受在职培训。结束前一星期,因为部分理念与研习中心不同,内心渐感有压力。于是,请了一个星期的“病假”来禅蓬,故意不继续参加主任培训,她认为当主任会束縳她的修行。她刚来的时候,我和她小参,看出她是放不下的心态,但为了一口气,又不愿屈就研习中心的要求,所以借口生病而请假,以逃避心中的压力。开始时,我先附和她的观点,认同她的看法;等到结束前两天,研习中心打电话来,要她回去考试,起先她仍是拒绝,不愿意回去。到了最后一天的紧要关头,我转变话锋,用话点她,要她回去考试,不要为难研习中心。最后,她改变心意,回去参加考试,顺利取得结业证书,现在已经在国中当上教务主任。

不久后又再来禅修,当我讲到“放不下就直下承担”时,以她的故事当例子,她才了悟地说:“当初师父要我回去参加考试,以便拿到结业证书,好当主任。我还以为师父势利眼,还看重世俗。我好不容易经过内心的挣扎,决定不参加考试,不拿结业证书,为的就是要放下。放下世俗,好专心修行,可是师父不但不让我放下,反而叫我继续在世俗法中追逐,当时心中觉得很纳闷,可是一时也不好言说。现在听了师父的开示,才明白原来师父的意思是‘该承担的时候还是要承担’。原来师父早就穿透到我内心潜意识的放不下,所以教我放不下时赶快担起来;然后在日常的实修中验证佛法,在工作中自自然然地将佛法与禅修的益处阐扬出来,度更多人前来修持善法,现在我终于明白‘放不下,就直下承担’的禅意了。”

眼、耳、鼻、舌、身的放下

有一次,佛陀的弟子代替佛陀去一个偏僻的地方说法;临别时,弟子请教佛陀:“我出外传播佛法,信徒中有许多女众,眼见了,怕起心动念,犯戒律,要如何是好呢?”佛陀说:“不要看就好!”真的那么简单吗?不单是肉眼不要看,还包括心眼不要看。弟子又问:“不要看就好,很难!若碰到女众跌入水中,必须要救,该怎么办?”佛陀说:“不要摸就好!”佛陀所谓的“不要摸”,并不是不要用手去触摸,而是不要用心去摸。凡夫往往是:手虽然没去摸,心却透过眼睛走出去摸,自己迷失了本心仍不自觉。

弟子又问佛陀:“当必须要用眼看,也要用手触摸才能救她时,又该怎么办呢?”佛陀说:“保持觉知,保持警觉。”佛陀的意思是指每一剎那,都要清清楚楚,了了分明,要知道自己在做什么?虽然在看、在救,只要保持觉知,就不会起心动念;没有起心动念,就不会有欲望,就不会犯戒。真正放下外缘,放下内心的罣碍,这样才是真正的放下。

要放下,首先必须敞开心胸,全然接受动静一如的参禅打坐修行法门。要放下,就要修无对立、无分别心。这要如何修呢?就是修“三法印”中的“诸法无我”。“诸法无我”相对的就是“诸法有我”。修行要抛掉自我,才能进入无我,进入无分别、无对立的心。放下之后,才能进入较深的禅定,定力愈深,愈能开悟,悟境愈大,愈能打开开阔的智慧,才能将本来就具足的般若智慧显现出来。透过“禅”的修持,用参禅打坐法门,经历自己的实践力行,才能明心见性,这才是参禅打坐的真正目的。

如来禅蓬有一只狗,名叫“放下”

1994年禅七时,行禅到外双溪的圣人瀑布;回程时,有一只癞皮狗跟着大众回到禅蓬。这只狗全身长满了脓疮,全身毛掉光光了,露出血水的皮肤,又脏又臭,恶心极了。大家见到牠,都退避三舍,不但不给东西吃,连门也不让进,可是却也赶不走。每次行禅,总是跟着,甚至在队伍的前面领路。回程,如有人走得比较慢,它就在队伍的后面等待照顾落单的人,一直到大家都安全回到禅蓬为止。

走在路上,要过马路时,为了保护行者的安全,它会守在路口,对着飞驰而过的车子猛吠。如果汽车或机车因而减速,它就摇摇尾巴,静静地站在路旁,默默看着行禅的队伍通过。如果汽车或机车不减速,或是面露不悦神色,它就对着汽车狂吠不止;有时还会用自己的身体挡在车前,一副为了保护行者,不惜牺牲自己生命的架势。我看了很感动,不忍心再赶牠走,就把牠送到动物医院住院医治,前后医了45天,痊愈后,才把牠接回来安住。此后,行禅时,牠一定在队伍的最前面领众带路;看到“飞车”仍猛吠不已,俨然“大护法”的样子。

有人认为这狗自不量力,难道不怕被车辗死?但在我看来,并非自不量力,而是牠心中这么想:“若能以我的性命来照顾修行者,保护修行者,让修行者能安心修行,我就心满意足了!”狗儿连性命都能放下,岂不是全然的放下吗?

每当行禅时,一旦“放下”在前头吠叫,就有学员担心“放下”的安全而大叫:“‘放下’过来!‘放下’过来!”,我就问他们:“是你放不下,还是‘放下’放不下?你有没有好好照顾好你的脚步?照顾好你的心?你为何分心叫别人放下,自己却放不下呢?”如来禅蓬的“放下”,都懂得放下生命,保护行者的性命,而我们修行的人呢?

启动生命蜕变的机器

很多家长对小孩很严格,都说:“我是要你好,才叫你这样??”但是他们往往都是站在自己的立场去想象:“我认为你应该怎样,你就要怎样。”而从未试过站在孩子的立场去了解,孩子应该过什么样的生活才会真正有快乐、喜悦?很少有家长能做到这一点,都一直以自己的标准、自己过去走的路来要求孩子要如何如何,这样一来,反而给孩子带来很大的压力。

试想,假定你的孩子跟你一样,按照你安排的轨道继续走,他会变得怎么样?从出生到现在,你喜悦的时间比烦恼的时间多的?请合掌!只有一位;从出生到现在,不靠外在因素就有喜悦的?请合掌!一个也没有。这就表示,我们的生命,从出生以来都处在烦恼、生气、愤怒、痛苦的状况比较多。如果连你自己都烦恼痛苦不堪,一点喜悦、快乐都没有,还要小孩步上你的后尘,那不是硬要把他推落和你一模一样的生命模式吗?想想,我们哪有资格把我们的小孩往火坑里推?自己走过的路都无法得到生命的喜悦,硬要小孩照我们的路走,他仍然和我们一样不会有喜悦的。假定对这个问题加以深入探讨,我们就不会因为孩子不听使唤而生气。做父母的,应该发掘孩子的兴趣,专长,帮助他把潜在能力开发出来。

A deterioration in discipline is allowable, but never the view; discipline leads to higher realms, the view leads to the supreme stage.

— Aryadeva

Wishing all Hindu Brothers & Sisters a Happy Diwali!

Without Center or Limit
by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Mind is not a thing that has physical form, sound, smell, taste or texture. Mind is empty. Space is also empty. No matter where you go in space, there is no limit, no boundary, no edge. If you were to travel in a space ship in a single direction for a hundred billion years, you would not reach the end of space. It’s the same with the other directions — you can travel forever, and you’ll still never reach a place where space ends.

Now, how can something without limits have a center? It can’t, can it? That is why it is taught that space has no center and no edge. The Buddha used space to point at how mind is. He said that mind is empty like space: that just as space has no limits in any direction, mind has no center or edge. As a matter of fact, wherever there is space, mind is present. And Buddha taught that throughout space, wherever space reaches, there are sentient beings. And wherever there are sentient beings there are disturbing emotions and the creation of karma. And wherever there is the creation of disturbing emotion and karma, there is also buddha nature. The awakened mind of the buddhas is all-pervasive.

As sentient beings, we think, we remember, we plan — and the attention thus exerted moves towards an object and sticks to it. This mental movement is called thinking or conceptual mind. We have many different expressions in Tibetan to describe the functioning of this basic attitude of mind, of this extroverted consciousness unaware of its own nature. This ignorant mind grabs hold of objects, forms concepts about them, and gets involved and caught up in the concepts it has created. This is the nature of samsara, and it has been continuing through beginningless lifetimes up to the present moment.

All these involvements are merely fabricated creations; they are not the natural state. They are based on the concepts of subject and object, perceiver and perceived. This dualistic structure, together with the disturbing emotions and the karma that is produced through them, are the forces that drive us from one samsaric experience to another. Yet all the while, there is still the basic nature, which is not made out of anything whatsoever. It is totally unconstructed and empty, and at the same time it is aware: it has the quality of being able to cognise. This indivisible unity of being empty and cognisant is our original ground that is never lost.

What we are missing is the recognition that our natural state is the indivisible unity of emptiness and cognisance. We miss that recognition because our mind is always searching somewhere else. We do not acknowledge our actual cognisant presence, and instead are always preoccupied by looking elsewhere, outside of ourselves. And we perpetuate this process continuously. Shantideva said, “Unless you know the secret key point, whatever you do will miss the mark.” The secret key point of mind is that its nature is a self-existing, original wakefulness. To identify the key point we need to receive the pointing-out instruction, in which the master tells and shows us that: “The nature of your mind is the buddha mind itself.” Right now we are like the dim-witted person who lost himself in downtown Kathmandu, who runs around wailing, “I’ve lost myself. Where am I?” The pointing-out instruction is just like telling him, “You are you!” Through beginningless samsara, sentient beings have never found themselves until somebody says, “You are right here.” This is a metaphor for introducing the secret key point of mind.

If it weren’t for the buddhas’ teachings, all sentient beings would be totally lost, because they need to be pointed towards that basic ground which is always present, but never acknowledged. That is the purpose of the pointing-out instruction, literally, the “instruction bringing you face-to-face with your own essence.” This instruction is given impressive great names like Mahamudra, the Great Middle Way (Madhyamika), or the Great Perfection (Dzogchen). All of these teachings point towards the same basic nature. They are the exact opposite of the conceptual thinking that holds a subject and object — the dualistic frame of mind that is unaware of its own nature.

Our mind is spacious, wide-open and empty, yet it still feels pleasure and pain.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can know our own nature. We can realise it by applying the pith instructions of Mahamudra, the Great Middle Way, and the Great Perfection. Even though our nature is primordially enlightened, we are oblivious to that fact. Therefore we need to become reenlightened. First we need to recognise; next, train in that recognition; and finally, attain stability. Once we are reenlightened, we no longer need to wander in samsara.

The buddha nature is the very identity within which the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of all buddhas are complete. The unchanging quality is called the vajra body, the unceasing quality is called the vajra speech, and the undeluded quality is called vajra mind. The indivisible unity of the three is exactly what is meant by buddha nature. It is out of the expression of these that the body, speech and mind of all beings appear. In fact, the body, speech and mind of any sentient being have the same origin as the body, speech and mind of the awakened ones. Body, speech and mind cannot come from earth, or stone, or matter.

Not recognising in our own experience the unchanging quality of this buddha nature, we entered into the encasement of a physical body of flesh and blood. Our speech became wrapped within the movement of breath to become voice and words. It appears and disappears. Consciousness began to hold a perceiver as separate from the perceived. In other words, it became a fixation on duality, a stop-and-start process that arises and ceases in each moment. Thoughts come continuously, one after the other, like an endless string. This endless string of thought has continued from beginningless time and just goes on and on. That is how the normal state of mind is. If we don’t now recognise our own nature in this lifetime, we fail to capture our natural seat of unchanging, self-existing wakefulness. Instead, we chase after one perishing thought after the other, like chasing after each new bead on the string. This is how samsara becomes endless. While we are governed by this involvement in thought, we are truly helpless.

Who can stop samsara for us? There is nobody but ourselves. Even if all the sentient beings of the six realms were lined up and you cried, “Please, help me, so I can stop being overpowered by my own thinking!” — even then, not a single one of them could help. How sad that we are controlled by this involvement in thought, day and night, life after life! We could try to blow up a nuclear bomb to stop samsara, but it still wouldn’t help. Nuclear bombs can destroy cities, even countries, but they cannot stop the mind from thinking. Unless we become free of conceptual thinking, there is absolutely no way to end samsara and truly awaken to enlightenment.

Great peace is when the conceptual thinking subsides, calms down. There is a way for that to happen. Thoughts are actually an expression of the buddha nature. They are expressions of our natural face. If we truly recognise buddha nature, in that very same moment, any thought will vanish by itself, leaving no trace. This is what brings an end to samsara. There is a supreme method to do this. Once we know that method, there is nothing superior we need to know. This way is already at hand in ourselves. It is not something that we need to get from someone else — it is not something we need to buy, bribe, or search for and finally achieve. Such effort is not necessary at all. Once you recognise your own natural face, you have already transcended the six realms of samsara.

What is the method? It is what one asks for when requesting a master to give instructions on how to recognise mind essence and train in it. Our mind essence is incredibly precious. It is the natural inheritance we possess right now. Receiving teachings on how to recognise the essence of mind and correctly apply them is called “the Buddha being placed in the palm of your own hand.” That analogy means that at the moment of being introduced and recognising, you don’t have to seek for the awakened state somewhere else. Line up all the money, all the wealth in the whole world in one big heap and put it on one side. On the other side put the recognition of buddha nature, the nature of your own mind. What is most valuable? If you are going to somehow compare the two, I can promise you that recognising mind essence, the “amazing buddha within,” is more valuable, a billion times more valuable.

What is of true value? We need to think about this for ourselves. When we do business and make a profit, we rejoice. If we have a loss, we fall into despair. Let’s compare our business capital to our buddha nature, which is like a wish-fulfilling jewel. If we don’t use this wish-fulfilling jewel, endless samsara lies before us. Isn’t it just incredibly stupid to throw away our fortune — and troublesome as well? We need to think about this. I am not reciting this from memory. It is not a lie either. This is the real, crucial point. If we didn’t have a buddha nature, nobody could blame us.

But we do have buddha nature, a buddha nature that is the identity of the three kayas [bodies] of all buddhas. However, as Jamgon Kongtriil said:

Although my mind is the Buddha, I don’t recognise it.
Although my thinking is dharmakaya, I don’t realise it.
Although nonfabrication is the innate, I fail to sustain it.
Although naturalness is the basic state, I am not convinced.
Guru, think of me. Quickly, look upon me with compassion!
Bless me so that natural awareness is liberated into itself.

In this world, nothing is more essential than mind, except for one thing: the nature of this mind, buddha nature. All sentient beings have this nature, without a single exception. This buddha nature is present in everyone, from the primordial buddha Samantabhadra down to the tiniest insect, even the smallest entities you can only see through a microscope. In all of these, the buddha nature is identical. There is no difference in size or quality — not at all. Buddha nature never differs in terms of quality or quantity. It is not like Samantabhadra has a large buddha nature and a small insect has a small one, or that the Buddha has a superior buddha nature and a fly an inferior one; there is no difference at all.

We need to distinguish between mind and mind essence. The mind essence of sentient beings and the awakened mind of the buddhas is the same. Buddhahood means to be totally stable in the state before dualistic thought occurs. A sentient being like ourselves, not realising our essence, gets caught up in our own thinking and becomes bewildered. Still, the essence of our mind and the very essence of all awakened buddhas is primordially the same. Sentient beings and buddhas have an identical source, the buddha nature. Buddhas became awakened because of realising their essence. Sentient beings became confused because of not realising their essence. Thus there is one basis or ground, and two different paths.

Mind is that which thinks and remembers and plans all these different thoughts that we have. It is the thinking that perpetuates samsara. Samsara will go on endlessly unless the thinking stops. Thought in Tibetan is called namtok. “Nam” means the object, what is thought of. “Tok” means to make ideas and concepts about those objects. Namtok is something that mind churns out incessantly, day and night. A buddha is someone who recognises the essence itself, and is awakened through that. A sentient being is someone who doesn’t, and who is confused by his or her own thinking. Someone who has failed to recognise the essence of mind is called a sentient being. Realising the nature itself and becoming stable in that realisation is called a buddha.

True virtue, real goodness, is created through recognising our buddha nature, our natural state. Recognise your mind, and in the absence of any concrete thing, rest loosely.

In short, the nature of this mind is empty in essence; it is like space. Because it has no form, no smell, no taste, sound or texture, it is completely empty. It always was, primordially. In being empty, mind seems like space. But there is a difference: space is not conscious; it doesn’t feel pleasure or pain. Our mind is spacious, wide-open and empty, yet it still feels pleasure and pain. It is sometimes called the “ever-knowing, ever-conscious mind.” Whatever is present is known by mind.

When this mind is put to work, it can invent any possible thing, even nuclear bombs. Mind creates all these amazing gadgets — voice recorders, airplanes that can fly through the sky. These inventions don’t think, but they were created by the thinking mind. Sentient beings create the samsara that we have right now. The creation of samsara will not ultimately help us in any way.

Mind is invisible and intangible. That is why people don’t know it. That is why they wonder, “Have I really recognised this nature of mind?” If it were a concrete thing, scientists would have figured it out a long time ago. But it isn’t, so scientists don’t necessarily know what mind is. If they did, all scientists would be enlightened! But have you ever heard of scientists becoming enlightened through science? Sure, they know a lot of other things. They can make telephones that let you instantly talk to anybody anywhere in the world. And they can make machinery that flies hundreds of people together through the sky. They can drive trains directly through mountains. All this is possible. If mind is put to work, it is an inexhaustible treasure; but that still doesn’t mean enlightenment. When the mind is put to use for something and gets caught up in it, this does not lead to enlightenment. We need to know the essential nature of mind.

What is the way to dissolve thoughts, to totally clear them up and let them vanish? The Buddha had the technique on how to clear up thinking. That’s what the pointing-out instruction from a qualified master is for. When you go to school, you have to repeat the ABC’s back to the teacher so that he can be aware of whether you know the alphabet or not. Until one knows, one needs to be taught, to be shown. Until one fully knows mind essence, one needs a teacher. It’s as simple as that.

True virtue, real goodness, is created through recognising our buddha nature, our natural state. Recognise your mind, and in the absence of any concrete thing, rest loosely. After a while we again get caught up in thoughts. But, by recognising again and again, we grow more and more used to the natural state. It’s like learning something by heart — after a while, you don’t need to think about it. Through this process, our thought involvement grows weaker and weaker. The gap between thoughts begins to last longer and longer. At a certain point, for half an hour there will be a stretch of no conceptual thought whatsoever, without having to suppress the thinking.

The essence of mind that is primordially empty and rootless is unlike holding the idea of emptiness in mind, and it is not the same as the sustained attempt to feel empty. Neither of these helps much. By growing used to this natural, original emptiness again and again, we become accustomed to it. Then there will be a stretch throughout the whole day from morning to evening, which is only empty awareness untainted by notions of perceived objects or the perceiving mind. This corresponds to having attained the bodhisattva levels, the bhumis. When there is never a break throughout day and night, that is called buddhahood, true and complete enlightenment.

From the perspective of mind essence, the interruptions of thoughts are like clouds in the sky. The empty essence itself is like the space of the sky. Our cognisance is like sunshine. The sky itself never changes whether it’s sunny or cloudy. Similarly, when you realise the awakened state of the buddhas, all cloud-like thoughts have vanished. But the qualities of wisdom, meaning original wakefulness, are fully developed, fully present, even now when thoughts are present. We need to train in slowly growing more and more used to the recognition of mind essence. This will dissolve our negative karma and disturbing emotions. In this recognition it is impossible to be tainted by karma and emotions, just like you cannot paint mid-air.

When a strong wind blows, the clouds vanish and blue sky appears. Similarly, when the powerful wisdom that understand the nature of the mind arises, the dark clouds of ego disappear.

— Lama Thubten Yeshe