If you seek realisation, be a practical practitioner
by Anyen Rinpoche

This is an interesting phenomenon, since Western society and culture tend to be both practical and pragmatic. Why do we lose our heads when it comes to the Dharma? If we do not cultivate a practical attitude focused on creating the best possible conditions to support our practice, an attitude of willingness to cut through all inner and outer distractions, then the Dharma will not penetrate our heart and mind.

The practical practitioner puts forth all the effort necessary to bring about meaningful change. We must support our practice by being mindful, deliberate, and undistracted. These qualities help us integrate the dharma in every situation we might face. Beyond developing these supports, if we wish to achieve realisation, we need to increase our spiritual capacity and deepen our practice.

Left to our own devices, many of us find that our spiritual practice doesn’t deepen. We try all kinds of things to wake ourselves up. Like dharma tourists, we chase after different spiritual teachers. We sit weekend retreats. We practice daily. We listen to CDs and read books. We do cleanses and work with healers. Sometimes, when we are in the presence of a spiritual teacher, we may feel we understand the practice of meditation, but when we get home that understanding eludes us. This brings us to an even bigger question:


Logically speaking, it must be possible, since we all possess buddhanature. provided that we rely on the right methods, realisation is possible for everyone.

I, myself, follow the methods of the tradition called the secret Mantrayana Vajrayana. This Tibetan tradition has led countless yogis, both ancient and modern, to realise and manifest completely omniscient wisdom. I find it pragmatic to follow a tradition that other yogis who came before me have followed in order to achieve realisation. I would hesitate to follow a tradition that has been changed or modernised, because the results of following such a path are unknown.

In our culture, we have a certain affinity for doing things our own way and for doing things that have never been done before. This is just the sort of impractical attitude that can cause obstacles in our dharma practice, because if we were to follow methods other than those taught and practiced by the lineage holders, we would have no idea what the results of our practice would be.


The tradition of the secret Mantrayana Vajrayana teaches that spiritual capacity can only be developed on the bedrock of certainty. Certainty is the topic of one of Mipham Rinpoche’s most famous texts, Beacon of Certainty. The theme of certainty also permeates the tantric, or Vajrayana, tradition as a whole.

Whether we are on the path of sutra or tantra, we benefit from:

– being certain of our practice,
– being certain of the instructions for the practice and,
– being certain of the way practice should unfold when done correctly.

When we’ve developed certainty, we become a practical practitioner, because we become mindful and cognisant of our entire experience and our progress on the path.


Certainty is an ever-deepening principle. When we work with developing certainty, we have to start right at the very beginning, with intellectual certainty. We relate to the ordinary world around us with our intellect, so it makes sense that we also connect with practice using our ordinary, everyday mind and intellect. We use our intellect to analyse the words of a teaching and to try to make sense of the nuts and bolts of it. This is how we glean some understanding of the practice. But many of us mistake this basic understanding, this intellectual certainty, for wisdom and realisation. They are not the same.

We could say that this intellectual process we go through is an aspect of wisdom, but it is ordinary, everyday wisdom rather than transcendental wisdom. That means it is based in dualistic mind. When we apply intellectual certainty, we see that it is quite practical, but it is not enough to cut through our deeply ingrained habits of doubt and skepticism.

For example, the root of the entire mahayana path is the development of bodhichitta, the awakened mind that experiences compassion for all beings. In the beginning, we need to develop intellectual certainty in bodhichitta as a concept, so we investigate. Bodhichitta is divided into the classifications of conventional and ultimate. Conventional bodhichitta is the twofold wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of self and others. Using our intellect, we can learn more about bodhichitta and deepen our certainty about what it means. We need at least a functional idea of bodhichitta to get beyond the charade of pretending to practice with it.


But to go beyond doubt and skepticism, we need to deepen our experience so we can change from having mere intellectual certainty to having experiential certainty. How does intellectual certainty give rise to experiential certainty? Intellectual certainty can be described as “understanding.” It can even be a deep and profound understanding of our practice. Taking again the example of awakening bodhichitta, we may develop the intellectual certainty that bodhichitta is beyond any partiality and contrivance; however, bodhichitta isn’t an intellectual experience. It is a genuine experience of feeling completely connected to each and every sentient being.

As ordinary practitioners, we can’t expect to experience the meaning of the dharma directly at every moment, but we may have glimpses of genuine experience. In the beginning, we may think to ourselves, “I understand what conventional bodhichitta is. It means that I could feel the same impartial compassion for each and every living being.” Sometimes, when we are sitting on the cushion or engaged in daily activities, we come across a situation or state of mind that moves us very deeply, and in those moments, we may actually have the experience of impartial compassion for sentient beings.

We’re able to recognise those experiences because we have the support of intellectual certainty. Without the support of our intellectual understanding, we could have an experience like that, but the moment might pass by without our being aware of it. So intellectual certainty is the basis for both an experience and the ability to recognise the experience. Catching a glimpse of the true meaning of our practice in this way gives rise to experiential certainty.


We should also know that experience is not the same as realisation, however. These glimpses help us genuinely experience our practice, but they are limited, undeveloped, and seen through the lens of our dualistic vision.

Realisation is possible if it is based on both intellectual certainty and experiential certainty. Without these two, realisation is just something that we read about in a book or hear about in a teaching. It isn’t within our reach at all. How do intellectual and experiential certainty give rise to realisation? Based on intellectual certainty, we are able to sit down and focus on a practice such as bodhichitta and catch glimpses of uncontrived and impartial loving-kindness and compassion. However, this experience is fleeting and unpredictable; we encounter it only by accident or by chance. Although it is larger than our ordinary, day-to-day state of mind, it is limited. We cannot sustain it, and we forget what it feels like when it isn’t there. According to the canon of Buddhist teachings, our momentary, uncontrived experience falls short of authentic realisation, which is a thorough, complete, and lasting transformation of our ordinary mind.

Another way to understand the difference between experience and realisation is that in the beginning we may feel the experience of the practice in our body. For example, when cultivating bodhichitta, we call to mind a being who is suffering and we may have a visceral reaction. We may feel a deep sense of connection and compassion toward that being, which we can extend outward to other beings. However, this is not true realisation. Realisation penetrates the mind. It colours our entire physical, mental, and spiritual experience, and does not simply arise from a visceral experience. It is, by definition, all pervasive.


We can apply threefold certainty — intellect, experience, and realisation — to any practice. For example, when we learn about tonglen practice, we receive teachings and reflect on how the practice works. Then, based on listening and contemplation, we start to engage with the practice by working with the breath. As we exhale, we send out our root of virtue to all sentient beings. We say “root of virtue” because this virtue has the ability to nurture and ripen happiness in ourselves and others. As we breathe in, we take in all of the suffering and negativity of sentient beings, with the wish that we may alleviate their pain. Through practicing tonglen more and more, we begin to experience glimpses of what it means to actually do tonglen. The practice is accompanied by the physical feeling of sending our root of virtue to others and actually taking in their suffering, hardships, and negativity. Probably some of us have had this feeling while practicing ton-glen. Over time, if we practice diligently, we will perfect the paramita of generosity based on this practice, and we will realise an unlimited ability to share everything we have, including our own body, loved ones, and wealth, with every sentient being without exception — without even a hair of doubt.

We can apply threefold certainty to ordinary shamatha techniques and even to tantric practices such as generation and perfection stages. In fact, we must apply threefold certainty to these practices; otherwise, perfectly pure realisation of the path will not arise in us.

There is freedom from desire and sorrow at the end of the way. The awakened one is free from all fetters and goes beyond life and death. Like a swan that rises from the lake, with his thoughts at peace he moves onward, never looking back. The one who understands the unreality of all things, and who has laid up no store – that one’s track is unseen, as of birds in the air. Like a bird in the air, he takes an invisible course, wanting nothing, storing nothing, knowing the emptiness of all things.

— The Buddha, Dhammapada

三主要道 (第一天)


































































In order to obtain a peaceful mind, one should eliminate attachments and greed at best. The more you eliminate, the more calmness you have. Otherwise, your mind is irritated by those aggregates and you spend most of your money on them. So you can realise that sickness, irritation, depression, even good or bad life are created by yourself. In this case, you are the most creative ‘artist’ in the world.

— Droge Yonten Gyatso Rinpoche

Pure, Clear, and Vibrant
by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

The technique of visualisation is employed throughout the Vajrayana practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Its use of our imagination makes it quite different from other meditations, such as shamatha, or calm abiding. Imagination also plays a major part in our deluded experience of life. Everything we encounter and perceive in our daily life is a product of our imagination, but because we believe in the illusions we create, they become such deeply rooted mental habits that we completely forget they are little more than fantasy. The imagination is therefore one of our most powerful tools, and working with it by changing the ways we look at our world is what we call the practice of visualisation.

One small problem for beginners is that the English word visualisation can be misleading. Most people think visualisation means focusing on an image and then holding it in their mind’s eye. But physical appearance is only one element of visualisation practice, and by no means the whole story. Peoples’ attitudes and understanding change according to their situations and education. Until very recently, Buddhist masters brought up in Tibet would have looked on salad and green vegetables as animal fodder and would never have willingly eaten it themselves. Now that Tibetans have become familiar with food outside of Tibet, their attitudes have changed, and it is precisely this kind of shift in our perception that we work with in our visualisation, which is also called “creation meditation.”

Another example of the way we adapt our attitudes to situations can be found on the World Wide Web. Most erotic pictures are usually quite small — certainly nowhere near life-size. Logically, it is hard to believe that such tiny images could cause living, breathing human beings to become aroused, but they do. Our habits are so entrenched that, having programmed ourselves to respond to a specific kind of image, it will consistently have the power to turn us on or make us angry, sad, or even depressed, even when we see it on a tiny YouTube screen. To a certain extent, this is how visualisation works, and neither size nor so-called realism have anything to do with it.

Were you to tell a worldly friend that everything we see around us — the houses, cars, trees, and shops — does not truly exist as we believe we see it, he would most likely think you had finally lost it. Yet, according to Vajrayana theory, your perception of this world is unique; it is not seen or experienced in the same way by anyone else because what you see does not exist externally. Vajrayana students who were born and brought up in the modern world often have dif­ficulties with visualisation practice. Part of the problem, I think, is that Tibetan teachers like myself assume all sentient beings process things the same way Tibetans do. We teach you to picture the Buddha the way he is traditionally depicted in Tibet, adorned with ornaments that are valued by Tibetans and convey specific mean­ings to them. But becoming a perfect Tibetan iconographer is not the point of visualisation practice.

The main purpose of visualisation practice is to purify our ordinary, impure perception of the phenomenal world by developing “pure perception.” Unfortunately, though, pure per­ception is yet another notion that tends to be misunderstood. Students often try to re-create a photographic image of a Tibetan painting in their mind, with two-dimensional deities who never blink, surrounded by clouds frozen in space, and with consorts who look like grown-up babies. Practicing this erroneous version of visualisation instills in you a far worse form of perception than the one you were born with, and in the process the whole point of pure perception is destroyed.

What, then, is really meant by the terms pure perception and impure perception? “Impure” does not mean that the object of our visualisation is covered with dirt or is polluted or defiled in any way; the impurity isn’t “out there.” “Impure,” in this context, means that the problem is “in here” — that is, we look at the world through emotional filters that we label “desire,” “jeal­ousy,” “pride,” “ignorance,” and “aggression.” Everything we perceive is coloured by myriad variations of these five emotions. For example, imagine you go to a party, and as you glance at someone you find attractive, your passion filter quickly clicks into place and you immediately label that person “desirable.” If someone else gets in the way, your aggression filter is activated and you label this other person “hideous.” As the evening wears on, other people provoke your insecurities, causing you to sit in judgment of them, make comparisons, defend your choices, and bolster your personal pride by denigrating others — all of which is triggered by the filter of profound ignorance. And the list goes on and on.

These different perceptions arise in our very own mind and are then filtered through our emo­tions. In fact, everything we experience, big and small, will always lead to disappointment because we perpetually forget that everything we perceive is a product of our own mind. Instead, we fixate on perceptions “out there” that we are convinced truly exist. This dynamic is what we work with in the Vajrayana practice of visualisation.

It’s all a matter of training the mind. One of the many methods offered within the three yanas of the Mahayana teachings is that of the Shravakayana, the “path of the listener.” In the Shravakayana, the student relinquishes clinging to “self” by disciplining body and speech using particular methods — for example, shaving the head, begging for alms, wearing saffron-coloured robes, and refraining from worldly activities like getting married or having sex. Training the mind in the Bodhisattvayana is also about practicing discipline in body and speech as well as meditat­ing on compassion, arousing bodhichitta, and so on. Lastly, the Vajrayana not only trains the mind through discipline and meditation on compas­sion, but it also offers methods for transforming our impure perception into pure perception.


Ultimately, the most important goal of buddhad­harma, particularly the Bodhisattvayana, is the realisation of nonduality. One of the most effec­tive methods for accomplishing that realisation is the practice of visualisation, central to which is the dissolution of the deities or gurus as they merge to become one with the practitioner.

But how does the practice work?

Imagine the reflection of the moon in a mirror or on a lake. Although the reflection is pristinely clear, it is still just a reflection, not a direct view of the moon that has somehow been submerged beneath the water or inserted into the mirror. Another example is a rainbow: even though we can see the rainbow quite clearly, at the same time it is empty of intrinsic reality. Similarly, even though a rainbow is empty, we can still see it. Both the reflection of the moon and the rainbow are simultaneously empty and visible.

So, the meaning of nonduality here is the absence of separation, or the absence of dif­ference, between appearance and emptiness. In other words, nothing we perceive — not the guru, the student, or anything else — truly exists externally. And until we fully realise nonduality, the exercise of dissolving or merging the deity or guru with ourselves is an extremely useful tool.

It is also a method that works well if you want to receive blessings, empowerments, or even inspiration.

Often, however, practitioners have difficulties with this part of the practice because they tend to turn over in their minds all the theories about visualisation and dissolution that they have learned (while they are supposed to be practic­ing). This is a good example of how stuffing your mind with too many concepts can hinder your spiritual progress, and this is why we are told to put theory aside altogether when we practice.

The best advice here is to keep it practical. Spiritual practice is a bit like riding a bicycle: once you have learned how to cycle, there is no need to go over the theory behind how the gears work or to think about the best height for your seat every time you go for a ride. All you have to do is get on your bike and start pedaling. The key to visualisation is to do the best you can and not worry too much about whether what you are doing is right or wrong; eventually you will get the hang of it.

The pith instructions are extremely prag­matic — just do it! — which makes realising non-duality a little like learning to drive. However preposterous it may sound when you start out, having spent weeks learning about where all the different buttons and levers are in your car, there will come a time when you have no choice but to put the manual aside, turn on the engine, and drive. The same goes for visualisation prac­tice. At first, the dissolution may be more like dropping an apple into a bag than merging with the guru, but unless you take a risk and try it, nothing will change. With practice, though, your guru will become less like an apple and more like a glass of water that you then pour into a bucket of water — which is an indication that you are beginning to understand the process of nondual­ity a little better.

Eventually, you will come to realise that the dissolution happens in the same way that the space inside a container mixes with the sky and the whole atmosphere — and this is the part of the practice that many students misunderstand. Imagine a clay pot. It is both surrounded by and filled with space. When the pot breaks, the space that had been inside the pot mixes with the space that had been outside of it and the two become inseparable. It is not possible to tell the “inside” space from the “outside” space; space is just space and there is no way of knowing where any part of it originated. This is how the practitioner and the guru dissolve into each other to become inseparable.

Right now, because you cannot help seeing the guru or the Buddha as an independent entity separate from yourself, try to remember that what you see is exclusive to you, and everything that any of us sees, hears, or thinks is based on our own personal interpretation. This is the prin­ciple that not only forms the basis of all Buddhist philosophical theory but is also the reason that visualisation practice works. Louise may think of herself as “Louise,” but she would never describe herself as a “visualisation of Louise,” even though that is precisely what she is. In fact, every one of us is a visualisation of ourselves.

Questions often come up about whether or not visualisation is a method that’s effective only for people in certain cultures, or if it involves some kind of theistic worship. But as I have said, to visualise Guru Rinpoche or Vajradhara as they appear in a Tibetan thangka is a mistake. Even if it were possible for everyone to use exactly the same thangka, each individual’s perception of it would be different, and probably wouldn’t even come close to what the thangka’s artist had in mind. So, as we visualise Guru Rinpoche, or any deity, we might as well be bold about it. Guru Rinpoche is a sublime and superior being, and one aspect of “sublime” is usually beautiful, or at least very good-looking. But good-looking to one person is ugly to another, because, again, our interpretations are so very different. Surely there is no need for Americans and Mexicans and Bul­garians to have to learn the Tibetan definition of “good-looking.” All we can do is make the best use of our own interpretation. Don’t forget that even as you read these words, the mind inter­preting this text is your mind, and its interpre­tation is based on your habits and perceptions. You may think that you have understood what I mean by “good-looking,” but you haven’t; all that has happened is that you have developed your own version of what you think I mean by “good-looking.”

Another important point is that we do not visualise deities holding a vajra (a symbolic weapon or scepter) or kapala (a human skull­cap used as a ritual bowl) for aesthetic reasons or because ritual objects are especially useful. Some students wonder whether they should visualise deities holding something more modern, such as an iPad or an iPhone. But the attributes, orna­ments, and implements associated with each deity all hold important symbolic significance and should therefore remain intact, just as they have been described in the sacred texts.

The teachings on ngöndro — the founda­tional or preparatory practices that students are required to accomplish before going on to further Vajrayana teachings — tend not to emphasise one key point about visualisation. This point is usu­ally only mentioned in the context of sadhana practice, which is introduced after the student completes ngöndro. This key instruction is that as you create an image in your mind, the deity you picture should be clear, vibrantly alive, and sealed with an appreciation of nonduality. To give you some idea of what this means, take the example of visualising Guru Rinpoche as small as a sesame seed, sitting in a palace as large as Mount Meru. The palace you envision could even be as large as the whole universe. It may sound awkward and ugly, but in practice it works perfectly because the container is neither too big nor the contents too small. The difference in size between the sesame seed and Guru Rinpoche presents no problem at all. Other visualisations involve imagining the palace to be as small as a sesame seed and Guru Rinpoche as the size of the whole universe, still fitting into his tiny palace quite comfortably. This is an exercise in nondu­ality and it is used in visualization a great deal.

As the twentieth-century Tibetan scholar-monk Gendun Chöpel pointed out, Vajrayana practitioners must get used to believing in the unbelievable. Tantric methods of visualisa­tion might involve creating a raging inferno in your mind’s eye, in the midst of which sits a deity on a fragile lotus flower and a cool moon seat, embracing a very passionate consort, and surrounded by an unruly mob of angry deities wielding deadly implements. Yet the heat and the flames do no harm whatsoever and no one gets hurt. A rational analysis of such a situa­tion can only result in disbelief, since everything about this scene is contradictory and nothing in it could possibly exist in our ordinary reality. But the point is that tantric practitioners have to get used to believing in the unbelievable. Our aim is to unite and dissolve subject and object so that they are one. We unite desire and anger, dissolv­ing them into one, just as we do heat and cold, clean and dirty, body and mind. This is known as “the union of jnanas and kayas,” and is the ultimate kind of union.

Gendun Chöpel also said that the reason we cannot grab hold of inexpressible notions like that of dharmadhatu is not because we strongly believe in what exists. On the contrary, it is because we strongly disbelieve in what does not exist. But it will take quite some time to insert this new knowledge of nonduality into our very stubborn system of duality.


To visualise effectively, we usually need to begin by creating a field of merit, the details of which will depend on the ngöndro tradition you are following. If you are a beginner, try not to get too paranoid about each and every detail of the visualisation — unless, of course, details inspire you. Remember that whatever you visualise is itself an illusion, a figment of your imagination based on your mind’s interpretation of various bits of information. The bottom line here is that illusions do not truly exist.

What is a “field of merit”? Imagine that you want to get rich and need some form of capital to invest. A farmer with such an aspiration will need a field in which to plant seeds or graze ani­mals; a business person will need a loan or inves­tors to finance a new venture. Likewise, those who follow a spiritual path, because they long to liberate themselves and all other suffering beings from this net of samsara, will need to accumulate merit. To do so, two fields of merit are used, one of sublime beings and the other of sentient beings. It is through these two that we are able, ultimately, to harvest the fruit of enlightenment.

Both fields of merit are employed throughout ngöndro practice. We visualise the sublime field of merit of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and imagine that they support us by providing all the power, compassion, and omniscience we need to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. We visualise sentient beings in the ordinary field of merit and feel compassion for every one of them. In this way, we accumulate merit through both fields. Practitioners should therefore bear in mind that as we accumulate merit through visualisation practice, we will always either be praying to the buddhas or offering compassion to sentient beings, and in one form or another, these two fields of merit will be part of each of our practices.

Realisation is not knowledge about the universe, but the living experience of the nature of the universe. Until we have such living experience, we remain dependent on examples, and subject to their limits.

— Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche














Since actions do not arise by way of their own essential nature, they also do not cease. It is also possible for a result to originate from an action that has not disintegrated. Therefore, since actions do not disintegrate, the connection between actions and results is completely tenable.

— Chandrakirti

Overcoming Prejudice and Self Dwelling
by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama meets people every day – new arrivals from Tibet with ghastly stories of their suffering and the suffering of their families and communities. He has to hear these accounts continually. He is the Leader of Tibet yet he’s powerless, so imagine the pain he feels. Then, since he is regarded as such a figure of peace he is connected with other aid agencies and communities in many countries. Everyday he hears heartrending tales from all over the world. His Holiness is continually besieged by people coming not only from Tibet but also from India and around the world, many of whom dump their sorrows in his lap, so he’s always concerned with the troubles of others. But is he miserable? If we tell him something sad he will weep because he really cares. But the next minute, he’s laughing again! Look into his eyes – they are sparkling. In most of the photos of the Dalai Lama, he is smiling.

A mind which is very obsessed with itself, which is controlled by the relative ego – its likes, dislikes, opinions, biases and ideas of how things or people should or should not be – is a mind which is rigid, judgmental and prejudiced. We all have it. We absorb prejudices with our mother’s milk. Even people who have dropped out from society have their strong biases. In fact, they are often the most rigid of all. People in alternative societies also have their own opinions, ideas, judgments and standards! They are not free.

Our mind is very conditioned. To a certain extent until we are totally enlightened, it is impossible not to have a conditioned mind because that is the way we think. But we should be conscious of the fact that we are very prejudiced and judgmental about everything. Everyone has their opinions. We think, “This is my opinion”, but usually it isn’t. It’s either the general opinion of the media or what program we have watched on television last night which was crafted very carefully to get us to agree with its viewpoint, or else it is the outlook of the particular group we hang out with. However, we take it as our own opinion. We stick by it and think this is truth and any other view is erroneous. Then a few years down the line, general opinions change and everybody goes the other way. It’s quite interesting. If we are old enough we can observe this happening.

When we are young, we imagine that what we think is the only way there is and anyone who thinks differently is crazy. The current trend is the ultimate truth, the final statement, and everything that went before it is old-fashioned and stupid. Then a short time later, everything’s changed again and our current style has become outmoded. All you young ones – you just wait! The way you are dressing now will make you laugh ten years down the line. When you look at photos of yourselves later, you’ll think, “Did I really look like that when I was that age – goodness!” But at that time, it was the height of cool.

We are all prejudiced, biased, and full of opinions and judgments, most of which are untested, most of which we have inherited either from our families and our social contacts, or from the books we read, or from the programs we watch.

Very few of them have been genuinely examined in the light of reason and understanding. But when we hold an opinion, we will die for it. People die for their ideas all the time, not that they are brilliant ideas. Instead, very often, they are stupid ideas. These beliefs, these opinions and judgments colour everything we see. They are not just innocuous or harmless.

Some opinions are pretty harmless – whether we take sugar in our tea or not, whether we think we should be eating only grain or fruit. These might affect our body but basically, they are innocuous. However, there are some prejudices which are very harmful for one’s own mind and for society. Obvious ones are religious and racial prejudices. They have caused so much harm in our world. Millions of people are killed because they don’t believe what we believe or because they belong to a different race, and for no other reason. They are not bad people, but “If you don’t believe what I believe, you deserve to die”.

So, this question of our opinions and our beliefs is not a small question. Most of our own beliefs and prejudices are indeed totally unexamined. Where do they come from? Have we really thought them through? Have we talked intelligently to people with different views? Have we read books about other ways of thinking? Usually, when we believe in something, we will only read books which enhance our beliefs. We don’t read books or watch programs which give a different point of view. If we watch someone saying anything we don’t agree with, we watch it with a prejudiced mind. It’s very interesting to observe that mind, because we are filtering experience all the time, and this also alienates us from what is happening around us.

So, what do we need to do? We cannot live without opinions and ideas while we are in an unenlightened state. The very fact that I’m a Buddhist nun shows that I have opinions and beliefs! But we have to understand that these are just beliefs — they are just opinions. In themselves, they have no external verity. They are just judgments and ideas, which can change. There are certain ideas which have been going on for millennia and which definitely need to be examined anew. Certain qualities which we have always admired (which may or may not be admirable) should be examined with fresh eyes even though they have lasted all this while.

The important thing is not to identify ourselves with our thoughts and feelings, but to see that thoughts and opinions are just mental factors. Even a belief system in itself is a mental artefact. The Buddha, when speaking of the Dharma, said, “This is a raft , it’s a boat. It can take you from this shore of relative reality to the other shore of absolute reality”. Now, while we are mid-stream, we would be foolish to discard our raft , but when we get to the other shore, we would be equally foolish to then place the raft on our shoulders and carry it around out of respect. When we reach the other shore we no longer have need of the raft . The Dharma is just a device; it is the path, but it isn’t the goal.

All belief systems and religions are just relative. In themselves, they are not the truth but they can help us to realise the truth. Without them, it would be hard to gain spiritual realisation. We may be able to get a glimpse, but to stabilise that experience is quite difficult without some kind of spiritual discipline. Even the highest and noblest of opinions, ideas and judgments have to go in the end. Meantime, we should understand that all our prejudices, all our conceptions and biases should be understood as being just a passing phenomena. They do not possess ultimate validity from their own side, they are just mental states and not ‘me’ or ‘mine’.

We all appreciate that a truly enlightened mind would not discriminate. We know that a master who embodied genuine wisdom and compassion would be totally open and accepting of everyone. How could an enlightened master say, “Yes, I accept this person but I don’t accept that person”? It’s not possible to even imagine that. Therefore, the more we close our hearts to certain sections of society or religion or race, the less we are embodying our genuine enlightened nature. The more judgmental and rigid we feel, the more we are caught up in our likes and dislikes, the further we are away from an enlightened state, because an enlightened state is non-discriminating.

We come back to this question of the ego again. The ego leads us very much astray. In a society like ours which is so based on self gratification, we are far away from the true path. That’s why people are often so empty inside and feel so lost. We have to embody a way of life which shows us the way back home, back to our true selves, so that we are living from the point of view of our true nature and not from this false ego.

In the Dharma there are two ways to do this. First is the way of inner introspection, of learning how to calm the mind, of making it one-pointed. Then looking into the mind’s own nature so that we can distinguish between that which is false and that which is true. This way we can begin to let go of all our false identifications, especially our very strong identification with the ego. At the same time, we can begin to open out towards others through generosity. Not just generosity in the giving of material things but also giving time, giving understanding, giving space for people, being there when people need us. We cultivate non-judging, being open and being patient, understanding, tolerant, and not reacting angrily when things don’t go our way and when people don’t do what we want them to do. We gradually learn to accept things and take these difficulties of life onto the path, using them skilfully instead of reacting adversely and becoming angry. We develop kindness – what the Dalai Lama calls the good heart, – a heart that cares about others, not just about ourselves.

There are people who are desperately concerned about wild animals, trees, our environment. That’s wonderful. But sometimes these same people are rude to their parents and cause them much pain and worry. We have to start from where we are, and with whom we are. That starts with our parents, our partners, our children and our colleagues. Make them happy! Practice kindness, generosity, love, tolerance with those who are around us, towards those with whom we work, towards people we meet. Just be there for them, be kind to them, think that they also want to be happy. Try not to cause unhappiness to anyone. Try to make people a little happier; a smile or a kind word goes a long way. Stop being so self-absorbed. Think about others. What we want doesn’t really matter so much.

Usually we’ve been trying so hard to find our happiness by getting what we want for ourselves, that we stop thinking about what others want and how to make others happy. The irony is that if we genuinely think more about others than about ourselves, we become happy. We find that one day we wake up and realise that we feel good without even looking for it. It’s one of the paradoxes: the less we think about ourselves and the more we think about others, on the whole the happier we will be. The more we are obsessed with our own happiness and couldn’t care less about others, the more miserable we will make ourselves and all those around us.

There are so many things we can do. First of all, we start with trying to make happy those people around us. That’s our challenge. It’s much easier to sit and think, “May all beings everywhere be well and happy!” And when we think of those dear kangaroos, possums and wallabies jumping around, tears come to our eyes. But then, if we are planning to go out just as our mother wants us to do the washing up, we’re so angry. However our mother is a sentient being, our partner is a sentient being, our children are sentient beings and they are the sentient beings in front of us. They are the ones we have to wish to be well and happy.

In the Tibetan tradition, when we are meditating on all sentient beings, we have our father on the right and our mother on the left and then our enemies in front of us. We put all those people we don’t like right in front of us, followed by our family and friends. This is skilful because it reminds us that it’s not just sentient beings in general out there – those little specks on the horizon – who are important, it’s the people we have to deal with right now. That’s who we are talking about – people we are associated with and with whom we have a karmic connection. Whether we like these people or not, they are sentient beings wanting to be happy and it’s our responsibility to make them happy.

We come back again to the first thing we started with which was the sense of inner connection with the family and with the tribe, and then with one’s culture. This is very important. We have to strike a balance between being totally subjected to parental and tribal restrictions and being so free that we don’t connect anymore with anything. One way to do this is to develop a sense of inner centeredness. From this we can begin to radiate out towards all the beings around us. We don’t feel lonely any more because we know that at a profound level, we are connected with those beings. We are no longer concerned with what other people think about us; we are only concerned with how we can benefit other beings.

Society has become so distorted. It doesn’t give us what it promised it was going to give us. It doesn’t give everlasting happiness or peaceful joy. It just gives us a sense of despair, separation, frustration and this insatiable longing which can never be filled, a great hollowness within. Many people feel that everything is meaningless and they despair totally. There is so much depression – look at how many people are on medication like Prozac. Tibetans have never even heard of things like Prozac.

So, it’s up to us. No one can do it for us. We each have the responsibility for our own lives, to really get our lives centred and well-oriented. The methods are there, but we alone can implement them. When it’s clear in our mind, when we really see things with some clarity, then everything falls into place. Then it is very obvious what we need to do. But nobody can do it for us. It’s like swimming upstream. Society is flowing downstream to the swamps, flowing down to the wastelands of despair. If we go in that direction, that’s where we are going to be shipwrecked. So we have to swim upstream and that takes a lot of effort. So we are going in the opposite direction to the general flow but strangely enough that doesn’t alienate us.

Somehow once we really connect with our inner centeredness, far from feeling disconnected from all the beings around us, we feel intimately related in a deep sense. When we can direct our own lives in the right way we can then help guide others. We will attract like-minded people who are also beginning to question the modern ethos. Soon we may enjoy the society and friendships of many compatible people.

The Buddha praised friendship very much. There’s a curious dialogue in the Sutras where Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, says to the Buddha, “I think that good companionship is half of the spiritual path”. And the Buddha replies, “Don’t say so, Ananda. Good companionship is the whole of the spiritual path”. Companionship with minds which are supportive, understanding and helpful is very important. In our lives as we travel in this new spiritual direction, these people will come to us. They are drawn like magnets.

The nature of reality is devoid of the extreme notions of existence and nonexistence, so it corresponds to the madhyamaka view. Reality cannot be fully expressed in language, so it is in keeping with the teachings of prajnaparamita. Everything is perfect within its own natural condition within the realm of reality, both in terms of samsara and nirvana, so it is in keeping with the views of dzogchen. In reality, nothing is intrinsically evil or intrinsically good, so it is in keeping with the views of the mahamudra teachings. To understand that reality is all pervading and that there is no need to abandon defilements because they can be used to enhance your spiritual practice is in keeping with the teachings of tantra.

— Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo