Original purity is suchness in all common worldlings, for, being unchangeable, suchness is the common characteristic of everything. It is in virtue of suchness that the adage declares: ‘all beings are the seed of a Tathagata’.

— Vasubandhu

Karma and the Wheel of Life
by Ken Holmes

Why are some people rich yet some poor, some happy yet others in misery, some lucky and some unlucky? Moreover, why are some pure, innocent beings afflicted with terrible misfortunes whereas evil tyrants remain healthy and rich? These are difficult questions for most faiths, believing in a just and compassionate God, to answer. The Buddhist explanation is to see this life as but one in a series of many. In this existence, one is reaping the harvest of seeds sown by actions (karma) of past lives, while at the same time planting new seeds to ripen in the life to come. There is no natural evolution in this process, hence a higher state of existence can be followed by an even better one or a worse one, depending entirely upon how it is utilised. Going up or down from one life to the next and returning again and again to the same patterns of action, through habit, and thereby reaping again and again the same results, this endless round of existence is represented by the ‘wheel of life’.

Among the almost endless possibilities of existence in the cosmos, a human birth is considered to be very special. It is while human that most karma is created, with other states being mainly the experience of the results of human actions. Animals and other non-humans do create some karma, but it is quite weak. As the force of karma depends upon the motivation behind it, the karma of humans is, on the contrary, strong, since they possess intelligence and free will.

Unlike many other religions, Buddhism does not think of external beings who reward or punish one for altruistic or selfish acts. Future benefits or handicaps are shaped entirely by the nature of action itself, through its ongoing influence upon the mind. Just as good cherry seeds, as they fall to the ground, have the power to produce delicious fruit, some time in the future, and aconite seeds have the power to produce deadly poison, so do our acts already contain a quasi-genetic programming of future happiness or suffering. The ground onto which they fall is our ongoing continuum of consciousness. Like a complex garden, a human (or other) existence is the ripening, side by side, of many different things planted in the past. Some, like mighty trees, have been developing over many generations. Others, more like small flowers and mushrooms, are much more temporary phenomena.

The word karma is the Sanskrit term for action, encompassing not only the initial action itself, but also all its consequences. Thus it is called ‘karma, cause and effect’. A seed does not cease to exist when it falls into the ground: it just disappears from sight, to develop later into a shoot which eventually becomes a fully-matured plant. Like buried seeds in winter, the imprints of actions rest dormantly in the ‘storehouse consciousness’, as potential prime causes of future experience. When this psychological potential meets with certain supportive circumstances — the equivalent of the seed being awakened by the spring sun and rain — results start to emerge. Thus it is not until one meets the trigger of certain people or places that a specific karma from past lives will start to manifest.

One must distinguish between ‘virtuous’ karma and ‘untainted’ karma. Virtuous acts produce, in the long term, pleasant results for their doer, such as long life, good health, wealth and friends for their doer. Unvirtuous acts produce suffering. Since both virtuous and non-virtuous actions are performed with the fundamental triplistic delusion of there being a doer (ego), a doing and a done-to (other persons and the world) — both belong to the illusion of worldly existence (samsara). Thus virtue and non-virtue determine the experiential quality of one’s samsara yet cannot, in themselves, free one from samsara. Both belong to the category of ‘tainted’ karma (tainted by ego). Actions performed within the lucid clarity of voidness, in which there is no triplistic delusion, are known as ‘untainted’ karma. These can free one from samsara.

Another special category of karma, known as ‘karma of immobility’, applies uniquely to concentration meditation. By remaining calm, poised and one-pointed, one is not doing anything, in the ordinary sense, but rather undoing habits of action and not-doing things which perpetuate worldly reflexes. This lucid inactivity forms a vital part of the path to personal liberation. Scriptures describing it map out the various stages of mastery that emerge from it, while alive, and the possible rebirths into purely mental states that human meditation can engender.

The Wheel of Life depicts the six main types of conscious beings found in the universe. Its inner ring portrays the three main causes for being reborn: craving, aversion and ignorance. The outer ring shows the twelve main stages through which initial ignorance leads to worldly suffering. These are known as the twelve links of interdependence. The whole wheel is held like a giant mirror in the hands of Yamantaka, the Lord of Death, since at death, when the mind leaves one type of existence and embarks on a journey which will end up in a new existence, possibly in another realm, the previous life’s actions become all-determinant.

The Wheel is mainly used to depict the real states of existence taught in the first Noble Truth: the Truth of Suffering. However, it can also be considered an allegory for the six main states of a worldly mind and the type of relationship they create with the people and places that make up one’s life. The three upper realms are paired with their counterparts in the lower realms.



One is reborn a god (deva) as a joint result of doing many good actions but being proud. The good deeds — in particular acts of generosity and pure conduct — bring splendour and wonders. The pride brings first a feeling of natural superiority and then, when the good results come to their end, unbearable sadness. The bodies and powers of the gods vary according to their previous karma. Most have beautiful and naturally perfumed bodies of light, upon which spontaneously appear garlands of celestial flowers and various fineries. In delightful garlands and palaces, they sport with their consorts and enjoy the most subtle pleasures of the senses. A day in one of these heavens lasts for hundreds of human years and the deva’s lifespan is long indeed. But as it approaches its end, the bodies start to produce unpleasant odours and other gods avoid the fading deva. The flower garlands deteriorate. Worse, the god can see his or her next incarnation, so tawdry, dark and limited compared with its present condition. Heartbroken, incredulous and overwhelmed by self-pity, they have nothing to do but await the inevitable fall. Thus, the deva realm exemplifies the cycle of pride however it manifests.

The Buddha manifests in this realm playing a lute delightfully. This represents the need to gain the respect and attention of the proud before any message can get through to them.


also have good karma and are like demi-gods. Whereas the gods’ good karma is tarnished by pride, the asuras’ is spoilt by jealousy and some people refer to them as ‘jealous gods’. Envying the superior joys and possessions of the gods, the asuras wage war on the latter, in the hope of deposing them and usurping their palaces. However, lacking the karma to possess such splendour, they are defeated and humiliated. Jealousy is like this everywhere, bringing the anguish of envy itself, competitive battles and eventual defeat.

The Buddha manifests to the Asuras with a sword of primordial wisdom in his hand. This symbolises that the jealous respond primarily to force and need to learn to channel their competitivity into a quest for wisdom, defeating ignorance rather than other beings.


As rare as a star in daytime, a human rebirth is considered to be the rare result of much good karma. Sometimes compared to a wish-fulfilling gem, it is considered the most precious existence of all, because of its tremendous potential. Unfortunately, this potential is rarely exploited and the gem is like a buried treasure. The majority of humans are so busy with their desires and projects that they are not even aware of spiritual possibilities. However, being exposed to more suffering than are gods or demi-gods, humans do have a better chance of giving rise to compassion: one of the most vital keys to spiritual development. Their main sufferings are those of birth, ageing, sickness and death, along with those of striving to fulfil their needs, not getting what they want, getting what they do not want and preserving what they have.

The Buddha appears to humans bearing his alms bowl and staff, the symbols of the ascetic life. This shows them that, in their world of multiple choices, the finest option is to follow the way of the sage.



“Most of them live in the sea” is the remarkable comment from early Buddhist scriptures, in times when most people ignored the existence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and had no knowledge of submarine life. One is reborn an animal as a result of ignorance: fostering delusion rather than truth. They fall into two main categories. Wild animals live in constant fear and spend their time seeking food or eating each other. Domesticated animals are enslaved by humans. Their nature is one of submissive acceptance of their lot, the counterpart of the acquisitive dissatisfaction of the Asura.

The Buddha appears to the animals bearing a book, showing that the only way out of stupidity is the development of clear reason and the cultivation of knowledge.


are spirits, born into states of frightful deprivation through former greed. With distended stomachs and needle-like throats, they search for ages for food and then only find disgusting scraps, or else see their find disappear before their eyes. Others manage to eat or drink but are burnt by they ingest as though it were molten metal. Unlike humans and animals, these spirits are aware of their former births and the greed which threw them into this condition. Their destitution is the counterpart of the complexity of possessions in the human realm. The Buddha appears to them bearing gifts and bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, as Khasarpani, feeds them soothing nectar. This symbolises the need to draw the greedy and mean to truth by manifesting generosity.


Like the Preta worlds, states of severe hallucination into which the mind is thrown once it leaves the body and has passed through the post-death experience. It is the bitterness and anger imprinted in the mind, through past malevolence and hatred, which generate the hellish environment experienced. Some of these nightmares take the form of hot hells, with various agonies of burning and torture. Others take the form of frozen wildernesses, in which frostbite is the worst enemy. All seem to last for endless ages and many take the form of pain which leads to death then revival, only to pass through the whole cycle again and again. This is the opposite of the luxurious indulgence of the gods.

“Who could have created the beings there and the hellish weapons? Who made the burning iron ground? The Great Sage has taught these, and similar things, to be the fabrications of an unwholesome mind.”

The Buddha appears in the hells bearing the flame of purification, a sign of finding liberation from suffering by relating to it in an enlightened way.


Just as a whole and healthy body loses its power when stricken by a tiny amount of poison, so does the mind lose its limitless wisdom due to ‘mind poisons’ (klesa) and thereby wanders in the confused illusions of the six realms. There are three basic poisons — ignorance, craving and hostility — represented by the pig, the cock and the serpent at the centre of the wheel. The three poisons feed off each other, as do the animals in the circle.


The twelve main stages in the cycle of rebirth are represented by the twelve icons forming the rim of the wheel:

ignorance — the blind leading the blind
karmic creations — a pot being thrown
consciousness — a monkey in a room with six windows
name and form — a boat
the six doors of perception — a house
contact — people embracing
feeling — an arrow piercing an eye
involvement — a man being served tea by a woman
craving — gathering fruits
becoming — two people procreating
birth — a woman giving birth
ageing and death — a corpse being carried to the funeral pyre.

Ken Holmes 4.

This very ordinary mind is not differentiable from the immaculate wisdom of an enlightened being. The mind of an enlightened being is not acquired as something new, but comes from gaining greater understanding and greater insight into the very mind with which you are already familiar.

— Gampopa




一 道德與不道德


二 最一般的道德與道德律






三 道德的變與不變






四 道德的三增上




五 佛化的道德在般若






六 學佛即是道德的實踐



Ven Yin Shun (印顺法师) 1.

My religion is to live and die without regret.

— Milarepa

The Butterfly Mind
by Rob Nairn


First we need to ask why it is necessary to settle the mind, and what is the unsettled mind. Mostly, it is the mind we have always lived with, the one that can’t remain on the cushion. It can’t remain in this room or anywhere near this place most of the time. We sit down, focus on the external meditation support, and we form an intention. Our intention is to remain present with the meditation support.

Then a very interesting thing happens. Something within us, within seconds, perhaps a split second, overrides that intention. In an instant, we are no longer with the meditation support, instead we are thinking about something. Now that is quite interesting if we sit back and look at it.

Here we are, these ‘self-deterministic’ human beings who are supposedly able to guide our destinies through the universe, but we can’t even carry out an intention to keep the mind in one place for more than a few seconds at best! Something else overrides that intention and we are away.

What overrides that intention? Habit. What sort of habit? The habit of having a butterfly mind. An unsettled mind. A mind that prefers to be in constant movement and activity. When we try to meditate we discover how distracted and unsettled our minds really are. It’s usually quite a healthy shock to new meditators.

So our mind zaps away, out of this room. We could be in Trafalgar Square, New York, or down at a Cape Town beach within an instant of starting our meditation. Quite possibly it takes a little bit of time before we catch up with it and bring it back into this room. Then it’s gone again! Then we catch up with it and bring it back into this room.

So that is the unsettled mind. It is the mind that, of its own accord, moves away. When our mindfulness is weak we don’t even realise that it has moved. It’s as though we fell asleep. We sit there and think, ‘Ah, now I’m going to meditate… I wonder what we will have for supper tonight?’ We’re gone! Now we realise that if we don’t learn to settle the mind we are unlikely even to begin meditating.


Interestingly, what we don’t understand is that we are continually strengthening the tendency of the mind to be unsettled, and we are doing it in a variety of ways.

One is, we continually seek entertainment. It may be through TV, radio, a book, a conversation or drinking coffee. If we are denied all those external forms, all we have left to fall back on is the entertainment of the mind’s imaginative activity. And that is limitless! It can run videos forever! It does it because we want it to. At a certain level, we most certainly want it to. It’s boring and tiresome just to be here watching the breath. So we definitely want to be doing something else.

Quite often we won’t let our minds settle because we are afraid that if we do manage to switch off the eternal video we will uncover what we have spent so much of our lives burying and keeping hidden. What we don’t realise is that our intention to remain present and mindful is overridden by another intention which doesn’t reveal itself. It is another of those surreptitious hidden reefs. That intention comes into action the moment the mind spots the possibility of doing something more interesting than meditating. So if we put our mind on sound and the sounds are entertaining or strong, like the sound of an aeroplane, then we can really get off on that because we may not like it. Or if it is something nice like a bird, we can get off on that. If it is the wind in the trees we can stay with that pretty well but after a while there isn’t much juice left in these external possibilities. So our minds now want something different. Something begins to emerge on the outer edge of our mental vision and presents itself as a preferable option. Then this deeper level of intention says, ‘Yes!’ and we’re there. This is one way how we unsettle ourselves.


Then there are more rigorous ways of unsettling the mind. We start meditating and go through maybe five or ten minutes of being quite diligent in bringing our minds back to the focus. Then, deep down, a memory stirs of something somebody said to us some weeks ago. We had an argument which perhaps we lost. We didn’t like that so there is quite a strong residual emotional element left. This surfaces somewhere in the back of our minds and sends a tremor through the whole body. Perhaps a feeling that we didn’t like this unresolved blow to our pride, or whatever it was.

Now a new thing happens. We hook into that memory and rerun it. We rerun it with all its emotional impact and this does more than the bland entertainment cycle we’ve just talked about. This really gets us stewed up because we completely invoke all that old business, it hooks onto a whole lot of other related emotion in our minds and before we know it, there is a good old turmoil going on. So there is no tranquillity in our meditation. We’ve managed to get our minds pretty turbulent. Now we’re steamed up! We’re ready to go and punch somebody. This is frustrating because here we are sitting meditating and nobody has even picked a fight with us, and we’re ready to go and punch somebody. What have we done? Thoroughly unsettled our minds.

What we begin to see is that there are these sorts of mechanisms in operation. Although they are relatively superficial within the meditation context they are going on in our daily lives. So if, in meditation, we spot our unsettlers, we can begin to identify them in life. We begin to see how continually through the day we are unsettling our minds through our reactivity.

When we are driving a car, for example, and somebody speeds, suddenly appearing over the hill and nearly crashing into us, we get a big fright. Then we get angry. Then we go through a really big scene in our mind about how other people shouldn’t drive so fast and go through red traffic lights. Then somebody pulls in front of us, changing lanes quickly. Now we are even more angry! The piece of road in front of us, that space there, belongs to us. They should know that! They shouldn’t get into it quickly, or at least without asking our permission. So by the time we get to work we are really not in a fit state to do much except growl at people.

If we go back over this whole business in the traffic we begin to see that it is a self-generated turmoil. It is just an indulgence in reactivity. And there are very definite alternatives. The moment we got into the traffic, and the other guy was speeding, we could see what we were doing. We could know that ‘OK, this is what happens in traffic. I do it myself sometimes. When I am in a hurry, I speed up over hills and I go through red traffic lights.’ I’ll bet most of us have done that! So that person isn’t doing anything different from what we have all done. It is just our ego territorial compulsion that is making us buy into reactivity.

If we see this we can let it go. If the guy pulls in front of us, we just slow down and let him go. If he wants to change lanes, we just slow down and let him go. Slowly, it’s no big deal. The stress of driving through traffic falls away and we are just adjusting to and accommodating the needs of other human beings.

What we see from this example is that through our reactivity and our projection we’re keeping our minds unsettled and we are convinced that it is the fault of other people. The traffic example is easy to deal with because it is so obvious, but this is going on in many areas of our lives. We are doing this constantly because we are not aware of our expectations, assumptions and reactivity. We have probably done this so consistently through our lives that we no longer realise we are doing it.

We may say, If only I could go away to a really nice quiet holiday spot, I would be much more at ease. Then I would be much more peaceful and happy.’ Unfortunately we wouldn’t because we take with us our built-in tendency to unsettle and stress ourselves out. What we have to learn is that if we begin to understand how we unsettle ourselves, we can free ourselves and relax wherever we are. Not always, but pretty well anywhere. The point is that each time we unsettle the mind we strengthen the tendency for it to be unsettled. This means it will remain unsettled for a long time after the specific incident is past. ln addition, because the strong tendency is there, it will unsettle itself of its own accord, even when we don’t want it to. We can’ blame it because we set the causes in motion ourselves.


It is important that we come to our meditation understanding that we are inherently inclined to unsettle our minds. External things do not generally unsettle our minds; internal things do. We are responsible for this inner environment. So we sit and meditate and then see the first unsettling action. The mind is wanting to take off somewhere. Now comes the important moment. The normal tendency is to grab the mind and wrench it back, an act of violence similar to a parent in a supermarket with little Annie, who wants to take stuff off one of the display stands. The tired, overwrought, frustrated father grabs hold of her and yanks her back. Of course, straight away there is a scream and a scuffle and a fight.

That is what happens to our mind if we treat it that way. If we wrench the mind back from its preferred course of activity we are going to create inner turmoil, adding stress, tension and resentment to our unsettledness. We will feel an internal resistance building up in the mind. So don’t attempt to settle the mind forcefully – it won’t work. Try to be the kind parent: return to the meditation support gently, kindly. That’s the first principle of settling – know there is no need to chase off after any thought, but when the tendency to do so arrives, simply turn gently away from the temptation and return to the support.

Rob Nairn 7.

It is unwholesome to mislead my lama and those worthy of offerings, deceiving them about my qualities and practise. I shall never intentionally deceive someone worthy of offerings, but shall confess my faults, seeking correction. It is unwholesome to make others regret what is virtuous, especially their generosity, vows, and commitments. I shall ripen and encourage sentient beings according to their dispositions, establishing them, whenever possible, in the Great Vehicle. It is unwholesome to speak harsh words to Bodhisatvas, even if they have only mouthed the vows. Thinking of sentient beings as Buddhas, I shall constantly admire and praise them, especially if they have engendered the awakening mind. It is unwholesome to take advantage of sentient beings, cheating them, denouncing them, or abusing them in any way. I shall not hesitate to establish them in happiness, in this and every life.

— Jetsun Taranatha



勤修什麽呢? 當然是勤修"善"。什麽樣叫善? 勤修十善,剔除十不善。怎麽去衡量善與惡? 諸法由緣生,於在渴望度。做每件事都要看它的動機來決定是善還是惡。"三輪體空"的基礎上做每件事也是最好的善事。而以不著"能、所、事件"的"三輪體空"的"清淨慧","回向菩提"、回向終極的覺悟。俗話說:做任何事不要執著於能、所、事件而清淨平等,爲消除無邊衆生之苦而精進修善!“如《賢愚經》雲:‘莫想諸善微,無益而輕視,水滴若積聚,漸次滿大器。’我們只要是每天做一件善事,不管小與大,最終會有光明的結果。相反,我們應當注意每一件惡事,都儘量不要做。”




1、殺生。一般人認爲:不殺生誰都做的到;就是不殺人、馬、牛等大牲動物嗎?這些我不殺!其實不然,佛教認爲:殺生要具備四種條件,如果完全具備這四個條件以後就成立了殺生的罪業。哪四種條件呢? 對境、動機、行動和結果。
































Droge Yonten Gyatso Rinpoche (卓格仁波切) 7.

According to Buddhism, the cycles of cause and effect of our negative deeds (karma) yield only pain. When we die and our mind escapes from the web of our material body, we begin our journey through the transitional state (bardo) to our next rebirth. Whether our subsequent rebirths are pleasant or not depends on the habits that we have generated in our mind. Whatever negative experience we have today is the product of some unwholesome mental and emotional tendency, or karma, from our past.

Karma can also work in our favour, however. Thanks to karma, if we could sow a seed of positive perceptions and feelings, we could turn our mental and emotional tendencies to positive ones and start to enjoy a peaceful and joyful life.

— Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

To Enter the Vajrayana Start at the Beginning
by Tsoknyi Rinpoche

All great teachers of the past have taught the identical message: “Gather the accumulations, purify the obscurations, and receive the blessings of a qualified master.” In the tradition I represent, the preliminary practices are very, very important. I don’t think that the buddhas and all the past masters have created them just to lead us astray.

The vajrayana vehicle contains many methods and few hardships to reach enlightenment. Some of the easiest are devotion and compassion, along with the recognition of mind nature. Combine these with the preliminaries and you will progress quickly. Dzogchen, the highest teaching of the Nyingma school, is the pinnacle of the vajrayana vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to grab at the highest teachings and reject the rest. It is pointless to invent some personal idea of Dzogchen to train in. If you do, then Dzogchen becomes something fabricated, something you have made up. Calling your own theories Dzogchen is a foolish pretense which has nothing to do with the genuine, authentic teachings.

You see, Dzogchen is not made up of bits of information that you can collect and take home. Dzogchen is about how to be free. It is not sufficient to only receive the teachings; you must apply them, live them. Right now, we are still enveloped in deluded experience. We have created a cage for ourselves out of our own emotions and duality, and here we sit, day in and day out. We can remain in this cage or we can use the Dzogchen instructions to break it open and become free.

With the openness of devotion, the blessings can enter our stream of being. When we fully let go, with deep trust, it is possible to recognise the state of original wakefulness. This practice is not some new philosophical position, a new concept that you acquire, but a way of fully letting go of all conceptual attitudes.

To arrive at thought-free wakefulness is not impossible or necessarily very difficult. However, it does require the accumulation of merit, purification of obscurations, and making a connection with a qualified master. These three are extremely important and repeatedly emphasised.

Sure, we can be told, “Sit down and let go completely, just be natural.” But can we, really? We try to let go, but actually we don’t, we are still holding on-holding on to the letting go. We hold on to something else then; again, we try to let go. We are always holding on to something, putting up some resistance. Actually, we do not really want to let go. It is against our nature, so to speak. We prefer to retain ego control and it’s a very strong habit. It doesn’t matter how many times we are told to drop everything and be one hundred percent uncontrived and natural, we still hold on to the letting go. Holding on to what we are recognising, “Wow, now I recognise the nature of mind.” Clinging to the natural state, holding on to the concept, “This is it.”

In other words, although we try to let go, a part of us is still holding on. Therefore, it is never the genuine natural state. So something is needed to completely shatter the conceptual attitude, to smash it to pieces. One essential way is provided by the circumstance of devotion. When we thoroughly open up in the moment of devotion, it’s like all the peels of our philosophical ideas, all of the wrapping, all the concepts that we use to compartmentalise reality is totally stripped away. Being full of genuine devotion is one of the purest conceptual states. Then, if we have received the essential instruction of recognising mind essence, we can recognise self-aware original wakefulness.

This is also possible when full of compassion. When you feel sincere empathy towards all sentient beings, such purity disperses conceptual mind. Simultaneous with that your mind becomes wide open. And again, in that moment, there is the opportunity, if you have received the essential instructions, to apply them. You can recognise self-knowing original wakefulness and arrive in the natural state, genuinely and authentically.

Otherwise, it appears that we just do not want to actually be in the natural state. Our habit is not to be and that’s a very hard habit to break. So, that is why there are many practices to facilitate the recognition of mind nature-to break the normal habit of conceptual mind and ego. However, heart-felt devotion and compassion are the foremost facilitators for arriving back in the original state.

Through the preliminary practices, it becomes easier to recognise and train in the nonconceptual meditation of Dzogchen. The general preliminaries are the four contemplations on precious human body, impermanence and death, cause and effect of karma, and the defects of samsara. The special preliminaries are taking refuge, arousing bodhicitta, the recitation and meditation of Vajrasattva, mandala offerings, and guru yoga.

If we feel that it is difficult to simply let be, the preliminary practices are a method to make it easier for us. Also, when we arrive at Dzogchen itself, we need to rely on our own intelligence. But few of us have such a capacity and so a method is required, and that is another place where the preliminary practices come in.

Accumulating merit or using conceptual methods are like making a candle. The Dzogchen pointing-out instruction is like lighting the candle. You need to have both – the candle and a match – together to illuminate the darkness. With inadequate merit, maybe you can recognise mind essence, but instantly the recognition disappears. You cannot concentrate; you lack the candle. It is like a match in the darkness; it will quickly flicker and die. There is no way to even light the candle, if you do not have enough merit.

Many positive conditions must come together to be able to practice the dharma. Some people really aspire to practice, but their lifestyle makes it very difficult. Others wish to spend three years in retreat, but they don’t have any money. Still others have plenty of money, but cannot get any teachings. Sometimes people have a very good teacher and teachings, but their situation is complicated: they are always fighting with their spouse, with not a moment of peace in their home, or their job takes up all their time. So, you need to change your circumstances, but to do so you must have merit and for that there is no better method than the preliminary practices.

It is the kindness of the buddhas to provide us with a complete path, and the preliminary practices are part of that complete path. Often students refrain from doing them because they do not understand their purpose. Some students even think the preliminary practices are some sort of punishment. However, this is not a punishment meted out to torture people, not at all. Your laziness might say, “Oh no, the preliminary practices are so difficult. They must be meaningless. I don’t want to do them.” But you have to smash that lazy tendency. The main obstacle to practice is laziness. If you crush it from the beginning, your laziness will get scared and run away, “Ooh, I cannot go near these people; it is too much for me.” Prostrations will chop up your physical laziness and mandala offerings will chop up your attachment.

To truly progress in dharma practice, you also have to develop the proper motivation, “I want to engage in meditation to purify my obscurations, particularly my main enemy, ego-clinging, and benefit all sentient beings.” If you have that kind of motivation, you will progress towards enlightenment, not towards building up a strong healthy ego.

While generating this kind of motivation, ego might kick up a fuss and try to create doubts in your mind. Just ignore it. Ego might say, “This can’t be true. How can you help all sentient beings? How can you purify yourself?” When this happens, please be careful, do not listen. In other words, our progress is completely dependent on whether our motivation is pure. Dharma practice is dependent on mind and that means our attitude or motivation.

Often when people come to my retreats, they do so to be free of suffering. They think, “I need to be free of unpleasant emotions, so I am going to do Buddhist practice.” This is one type of motivation. Another is, “I want to help all sentient beings recognise their self-existing awareness.” That is being motivated by altruistic kindness. However, the best is to be motivated in a true unfabricated way. But as that often isn’t possible, we must instead begin by fabricating it with the bodhichitta resolve. Remember, proper motivation ensures that our actions will head us in the right direction.

These days many people have a problem of low self-esteem and normal worldly aims are not enough. Somehow, ego is tired of the ordinary and needs different fuel. If you take spiritual fuel and give it to your ego, your ego will become stronger and you can go back into worldly life. Yet, this is not the purpose of spiritual practice. Quite honestly, for many, their normal ego is already fed-up with worldly society. They want to pump up their egos, but normal fuel is not good enough. When they hear that in the mountains, there is some spiritual fuel from Tibet, then they think, “That will pump me up. If I can get some of that, then I will be better, even while walking through Times Square.” So, they head off to the mountains, to get some Tibetan fuel to pump up their egos. That attitude might be okay to bring someone into contact with the teachings, but it will not serve the true purpose of dharma.

Ego-clinging is very subtle. Everything we do seems to be another way to feed the ego. The ego bribes us into assuming a path that seems to be a genuine spiritual practice, but then our ego usurps it. Even chanting Om Mani Padme Hum can be appropriated by the ego. You sit down on your meditation cushion and assume the posture, but it’s because of ego. You light incense and prostrate before your statues in your little retreat room, but it’s still all for your ego. We need something to break free from the ego’s grip and that is the accumulation of merit and the purification of obscurations, in conjunction with devotion and compassion.

If we do not know how to initially motivate ourselves in the true way, dharma practice may be nothing more than another way of popping our daily vitamin pill, one to make “me” strong and healthy. When spiritual practice is a dietary supplement, you apply it when you feel a little low on energy or a little upset. You sit down and practice to feel better. You try to balance yourself through practice and later return to your normal activities.

Some people have this attitude, believe me! They tell themselves that they need spirituality in their lives; after all, it is not politically correct to be totally materialistic. So they give themselves a little dose in the morning and another in the evening. They apply the gloss of spirituality to put a shine on their normal lives. This is a particular trend and some so-called teachers teach in this way. They tell their students that if they sit and meditate for a few minutes, they will be much happier. They are trying to make spiritual practice easier, more appetising, more palatable; trying to bend the dharma to fit people’s attitudes. But that is not the true dharma, so don’t make the mistake of confusing this type of practice for the real thing.

Even if you only practice a little bit, try to do it in a genuine way, with a true view, meditation and conduct. Even if it is only for a short while, let it be real. Otherwise, it is better to give it up all together, because you may wind up using the dharma only to further ensnare yourself in confusion. To pretend to be a spiritual person and wear a rosary on your wrist is useless unto itself. If it happens naturally, fine, no problem. But if your intention is to be respected by others, to create a better image because you meditate or are spiritual, you are merely being pretentious.

Nor should you apply dharma-polish, the type of spiritual practice that can make our deluded state appear prettier, more pleasant. One can advertise the value of spiritual practice, like advertising an exercise machine: “Use it two times a day for three weeks, and your confusion is guaranteed to clear up!” It sounds nice, but it doesn’t work.

Really, to do dharma practice, you need to be honest with yourself and be able to appreciate what it is you are doing. True honesty and appreciation give you confidence in life. Do not cheat yourself. If your practice is only to boost your ego, then dharma becomes nothing more than a mask. You are simply fooling yourself, which is useless. You might as well not bother. But, if your motivation is pure, you won’t fool yourself.

Actually, who knows whether we are fooling ourselves or not? Karma does. Karma stays with you continuously; it never closes its eyes. Even when you are in the bathroom, karma is watching. So be careful! No matter what you do or where you are, karma never sleeps. Karma is a witness to all you do, now and in the future. Whether other people acknowledge your actions or not really doesn’t matter; karma and the buddhas will. Trust yourself; trust your pure motivation and the good actions of karma. Pure motivation is not so difficult to understand, really; take it to heart and live it. Don’t be like the person who comes to me with a cup containing water, ten spoons of sugar, ten of chilli, ten of oil and many other things. They say, “Rinpoche, this doesn’t taste so good. I want it to taste better. Can you do something?”

So I say, “Sure, I’ll try.” And I start to pour some of the water out. The person jumps up, “Oh please, don’t pour any water out! I don’t want to take anything out.” So, wondering what I should do, I ask, “Can I add more sugar?” Again he objects, “No, no. I don’t want to add anything. Just make it taste good. I don’t want to change anything, except the taste.” So what is one to do? For me, it is very easy, I say, “Fine, fine, I will pray for you.” Because there’s nothing else for me to do, except pray. Actually, people like this don’t want to change, let alone let go of ego. Yet, they still want something to happen. They are waiting for a miracle which will never come, so all I can do is pray.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche 12.