Women Are Not Second-Class Buddhists
by Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo

Gender inequality is difficult to rationalise in a tradition that supposedly proclaims enlightenment for all. When questioned by his faithful attendant Ananda, the Buddha assured him that women have equal potential to achieve the fruits of the path, including liberation, the ultimate realisation. This definitive statement should have been sufficient to clear the path for women’s equality, but social realities rarely match theoretical ideals.

Even though countless women have reportedly achieved the ultimate goal of liberation — becoming arhats — women’s status has consistently been subordinate in Buddhist societies. Being born male automatically elevates a boy to first-class status, while being born female universally relegates a girl to second-class status. Wealth, aristocratic birth, or opportune marriage may mitigate the circumstances, but the general pattern of social status remains in full view. Although Buddhist societies may have overall been more gender egalitarian than many others, stark gender discrimination persists even today.

Nowhere is the subordination of women more evident than in the Buddhist sangha, the monastic community. After some hesitation, possibly based on his concern for women’s safety, the Buddha gave women the opportunity to live a renunciant lifestyle. According to the story, however, it was not on equal terms with the monks. It is taught that the Buddha’s foster mother Mahapajapati, who became the first bhikkhuni, or fully ordained nun, was required to observe eight weighty rules that continue to this day to make the nuns dependent upon the monks.

Although the language of the texts shows that these passages were added much later, nuns’ subordinate status, and a prediction that the nuns’ admission would decrease the lifespan of the Buddha’s teachings, have contributed to the perception of women’s inferiority. The teachings have far outlived the prediction (which was adjusted over time!), but the misconception has endured.

The situation of nuns today varies by tradition. In the Theravada traditions of South and Southeast Asia, the lineage of full ordination for women came to an end around the eleventh century, and many followers believe that it cannot be revived. Women who renounce household life observe eight, nine, or ten precepts, including celibacy, yet they are not considered part of the monastic sangha. Until recently they received far less education and support than monks.

In the Mahayana traditions of East Asia, the bhikkhuni lineage of full ordination was brought from Sri Lanka to China in the fifth century and flourishes today in China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Chinese diaspora. In these traditions, nuns are well supported by the lay community and have opportunities for education roughly equal to the monks.

The bhikkhuni lineage was never established in the Vajrayana tradition of Inner Asia, but women may receive novice ordination from monks and are considered part of the monastic sangha. In the last three decades, nuns have worked hard to improve their living conditions and educational opportunities. Many of them hope that the Dalai Lama will find a way to establish a lineage of full ordination for women in the Tibetan tradition.

Ideas about how to redress the gender imbalance, both for monastics and lay women, widely differ depending on the situation. For those Buddhist women in remote areas of Asia, better nutrition, health care, and education are top priority, while for those in urban areas the concerns are about gender parity in juggling work, family, and practice. Women everywhere are oppressed by sexual harassment and unequal representation.

Many Buddhists feel that it is time to take a fresh look at how Buddhist texts and teachings address gender. With the Buddha’s declaration of women’s equal potential for liberation, things started off very well. After his passing, however, patterns of male domination again became the norm in Buddhist societies. The plot thickened about five centuries after the Buddha’s passing, with the appearance of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) texts. These texts replace liberation from cyclic existence with the perfect awakening of a buddha as the goal of the path — a quantum leap in commitment that requires the aspirant (bodhisattva) to accumulate merit and wisdom for three countless eons.

Among the thirty-two “special marks” of a buddha, the most surprising to many modern Buddhists is a sheathed penis “like a horse.” This mark has been taken to mean that a fully awakened buddha is necessarily male. Exactly what the advantage of such an appendage might be is unclear, especially alongside other fantastic marks such as a spiral between the eyebrows that stretches for legions.

Are buddhas shown with male genitalia because men are presumed to be superior to women? Does the mark verify that the buddhas are sexual beings who have sublimated sexual desire? Are men more apt than women to achieve the fully awakened state because they must work harder to overcome sexual desire? Or is the presumption of maleness simply another patriarchal move to maintain superiority?

In addition to taking a fresh look at Buddhist texts and teachings, it is time to reexamine Buddhist institutions, which are almost all completely under male leadership, and reassess Buddhist social realities. Rather than blithely swallowing the meme that everyone is equal in Buddhism, or naively believing that gender is irrelevant to awakening, Buddhists need to reevaluate the way women are treated.

For example, even today in the Tibetan tradition a three-year-old boy can be honoured with the title “Lama” (meaning “guru”), whereas a highly educated seventy-year-old nun is typically demeaned with the title “Ani” (meaning “auntie”). Donations — even by women and even in supposedly enlightened Western societies — are routinely channelled primarily to male teachers and monks’ monasteries. Discriminatory attitudes have become unconsciously internalised by people in ways that are damaging to both themselves and others.

Buddhists today need to wake up to this fact and transform their habitual tendencies, equally embracing all beings with compassion. In the Buddhist traditions, the ultimate concern for women, especially nuns, is awakening — either the achievement of liberation from cyclic existence or the perfect awakening of a buddha. The fact that women are now working to achieve full representation in the Buddhist traditions and are openly voicing their aspirations reflects their compassionate concern for the well-being of all sentient life.

Ven Karma Lekshe Tsomo 1.


Just as a great mountain will remain still in a storm, a great yogi will remain peaceful in the world, no matter what is going on around them.

— Chamtrul Rinpoche












































By depending on the great, the small may rise high. See: the little plant ascending the tall tree has climbed to the top.

— Sakya Pandita

The Danger of I
by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Birth is perpetual suffering. True happiness consists in eliminating the false idea of “I”. Mankind’s problems reduce to the problem of suffering, whether inflicted by another or by oneself.

Everyday language-Dharma language: In every day language the term birth refers simply to physical birth from a mother’s body: in Dharma language birth refers to a mental event arising our of ignorance, craving, and clinging.

Whenever there arises the mistaken idea “I,” the “I” has been born; its parents are ignorance and craving.

The kind of birth that constitutes a problem for us is mental birth.

Anyone who falls to grasp this point will never succeed in understanding anything of the Buddha teaching.

The subject we shall discuss today is one, which I feel everyone ought to recognise as pressing, namely the following two statements made by the Buddha:

“Birth is perpetual suffering. (Dukkha jati punappunam)” and
“True happiness consists in eliminating the false idea of ‘I’.
(Asmimanassa vinayo etam ve paramam sukham)”

Mankind’s problems reduce to the problem of suffering, whether inflicted by another or by oneself by way of mental defilements (kilesa). This is the primary problem for every human being, because no one wants suffering. In the above statements the Buddha equates suffering with birth: “Birth is perpetual suffering”; and he equates happiness with the complete giving up of the false idea “I,” “myself,” “I am,” “I exist”.

The statement that birth is the cause of suffering is complex, having several levels of meaning. The main difficulty lies in the interpretation of the word “birth”. Most of us don’t understand what the word birth refers to and are likely to take it in the everyday sense of physical birth from a mothers body. The Buddha taught that birth is perpetual suffering. Is it likely that in saying this he was referring to physical birth? Think it over. If he was referring to physical birth, it is unlikely that he would have gone on to say: “True happiness consists in eliminating the false idea “I” because this statement clearly indicates that what constitutes the suffering is the false idea “I”. When the idea “I” has been completely eradicated, that is two happiness. So suffering actually consists in the misconception “I,” “I am,” “I have”. The Buddha taught: “Birth is perpetual suffering.” What is meant here by the word “birth”? Clearly “birth” refers to nothing other than the arising of the idea “I” (asmimana).

The word “birth” refers to the arising of the mistaken idea “I,” “myself”. It does not refer to physical birth, as generally supposed. The mistaken assumption that this word “birth” refers to physical birth is a major obstacle to comprehending the Buddha’s teaching.

It has to be borne in mind that in general a word can have several different meanings according to the context. Two principal cases can be recognised: (1) language referring to physical things, which is spoken by the average person; and (2) language referring to mental things, psychological language, Dharma language, which is spoken by people who know Dharma (higher Truth, Buddha’s teaching). The first type may be called “everyday language,” the language spoken by the average person; the second may be called “Dharma language,” the language spoken by a person who knows Dharma.

The ordinary person speaks as he has learnt to speak, and when he uses the word “birth” he means physical birth, birth from a mothers body; however in Dharma language, the language used by a person who knows Dharma, “birth” refers to the arising of the idea “I am”. If at some moment them arises in the mind the false idea “I am,” then at that moment the “I” has been born. When this false idea ceases, there is no longer any “I,” the “I” has momentarily ceased to exist. When the “I” idea again arises in the mind, the “I” has been reborn, This is the meaning of the word “birth” in Dharma language. It refers not to physical birth from a Mother of flesh and blood but to mental birth from a mental “mother,” namely craving, ignorance, clinging (tanha, avija, upadana). One could think of craving as the mother and ignorance as the father; in any case the result is the birth of ‘I,” the arising of the false idea “I”. The father and mother of the “I” -delusion are ignorance and craving or clinging. Ignorance, delusion, misunderstanding, give birth to the idea “I,” “me”. And it is this kind of birth that is perpetual suffering. Physical birth is no problem: once born from his mother; a person need have nothing more to do with birth. Birth from a mother takes only a few minutes; and no one ever has to undergo the experience more than once.

Now we hear talk of rebirth, birth again and again, and of the suffering that inevitably goes with it. Just what is this rebirth? What is it that is reborn? The birth referred to is a mental event, Something taking place in the mind-the non-physical side of our make-up. This is “birth” in Dharma language. “Birth” in everyday language is birth from a mother; “birth” in Dharma language is birth from ignorance, craving, clinging, the arising of the false notion of “I” and “mine”. These are the two meanings of the word “birth”.

This is an important matter, which simply must be understood. Anyone who fails to grasp this point will never succeed in understanding anything of the Buddha’s teaching. So do take a special interest in it. There are these two kinds of language, these two levels of meaning: everyday language, referring to physical things, and Dharma language, referring to mental things, and used by people who know. To clarify this point here are some examples.

Consider the word “path”. Usually when we use the word “path” we are referring to a road or way along which vehicles, men, and animals can move. But the word “path” may also refer to the Noble Eightfold Path, the way of practice taught by the Buddha – right understanding, right thoughts, right speech. right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration -which leads to Nirvana. In everyday language “path” refers to a physical road; in Dharma language it refers to the eightfold way of right practice known as the Noble Eightfold Path. These are the two meanings of the word “path”.

Similarly with the word “Nirvana” (nibbána). In everyday language this word refers to the cooling of a hot object. For example, when hot coals become cool, they are said (in Pali or Sanskrit) to have “nirvana’d”; when hot food in a pot or on a plate becomes cool it has “nirvana’d”. This is everyday language. In Dharma language “Nirvana” refers to the kind of coolness that results from eliminating mental defilements. At any time when there is freedom from mental defilements, at that time there is coolness, momentary Nirvana. So “nirvana” or “coolness” has two meanings, according as the speaker is using everyday language or Dharma language.

Another important word is “emptiness” (sunyata, sunnata). In everyday language, the language of physical things, “emptiness” means total absence of any object: in Dharma language it means absence of the idea “I,” “mine”. When the mind is not grasping or clinging to anything whatsoever as “I” or ‘”mine,” it is in a state of “emptiness”. The word “empty” has these two levels of meaning, one referring to physical things, the other referring to mental things, one in everyday language, the other in Dharma language. Physical emptiness is absence of any object, vacuum. Mental emptiness is the state in which all the objects of the physical world are present as usual, but none of them is being grasped at or clung to as “mine”. Such a mind is said to be “empty”. When the mind has come to see things as not worth wanting, not worth being, not worth grasping at and clinging to, it is then an empty of wanting, being, grasping, clinging. The mind is then an empty or void mind, but not in the sense of being void of content. All objects are there as usual and the thinking processes are going on as usual, but they are not going the way of grasping and clinging with the idea of “I” and “mine”. The mind is devoid of grasping and clinging and so is called an empty or void mind. It is stated in the texts: “A mind is said to be empty when it is empty of desire. aversion, and delusion (raga, dosa, moha).” The world is also described as empty, because it is empty of anything that might be identified as “I” or “mine”. It is in this sense that the world is spoken of as empty. “Empty” in Dharma language does not mean physically empty, devoid of content.

You can see the confusion and misunderstanding that can arise if these words are taken in their usual everyday sense. Unless we understand Dharma language, we can never understand Dharma; and the most important piece of Dharma language to understand is the term “birth”.

The kind of birth that constitutes a problem for us is ‘mental birth’, the ‘birth’ or rather the arising of the false notion of “I”. Once the idea “I” has arisen, there inevitably follows the idea “I am Such-and-such”. For example, “I am a man,” “I am a living creature,” “I am a good man,” “I am not a good man,” or something else of the sort. And once the idea “I am Such-and-such” has arisen, there follows the idea of comparison: “I am better than So-and-so,” “I am not as good as So-and-so,” “I am equal to So-and-so”. All these ideas are of a type; they are all part of the false notion “I am,” “I exist”. It is to this that the term “birth” refers. So in a single day we may be born many times, many dozens of times. Even in a single hour we may experience many, many births. Whenever there arises the idea “I” and the idea “I am Such-and-such,” that is a birth. When no such idea arises, there is no birth, and this freedom from birth is a state of coolness. So this is a principle to be recognised: whenever there arises the idea “I,” “mine,” at that time the cycle of Samsara has come into existence in the mind, and there is suffering, burning, spinning on; and whenever there is freedom from defects of these kinds, there is Nirvana, Nirvana of the type referred to as tadanga- nibbána or vikkhambhana-nibbana.

Tadanga-nibbana is mentioned in the Anguttaranikaya. It is a state that comes about momentarily when external conditions happen, fortuitously, to be such that no idea of “I” or “mine” arises. Tadanga-nibbana is momentary cessation of the idea “I,” “mine,” due to favourable external circumstances. At a higher level than this, if we engage in some form of Dharma practice, in particular if we develop concentration, so that the idea of “I,” “mine” cannot arise, that extinction of “I,” “mine” is called vikkhambhana-nibbana. And finally, when we succeed in bringing about the complete elimination of all defilements, that is full Nirvana, total Nirvana.

Now we shall limit our discussion to the everyday life of the ordinary person. It must be understood that at any time when there exists the idea “I,” “mine,” at that time there exists birth, suffering, the cycle of Samsara. The “I” is born, endures for a moment, then ceases, is born again, endures for a moment, and again ceases-which is why the process is referred to as the cycle of Samsara. It is suffering because of the birth of the “I”. If at any moment conditions happen to be favourable, so that the “I”-idea does not arise, then there is peace-what is called tadanga-nibbana, momentary Nirvana, a taste of Nirvana, a sample of Nirvana, peace, coolness.

The meaning of “Nirvana” becomes clearer when we consider how the word is used in the Anguttara-nikaya. In that text we find that hot objects that have become cool are said to have “nirvana’d”. Animals that have been tamed, rendered docile and harmless are said to have “nirvana’d”. How can a human being become “cool”? This question is complicated by the fact that man’s present knowledge and understanding of life has not been suddenly acquired but has evolved gradually over a long period.

Well before the time of the Buddha people considered that Nirvana lay in sensual delight, because a person who gets precisely whatever sensual pleasure he wishes does experience a certain kind of coolness. Having a shower on a hot day brings a kind of coolness; and going into a quiet place brings another kind, in the form of contentment, freedom from disturbance. So to begin with, people were interested in the kind of Nirvana that consisted in an abundance of sensual pleasure. Later, wiser men came to realise that this was not good enough. They saw that sensual pleasure was largely a deception (maya), so sought their coolness in the mental tranquillity of concentration (jhana). The jhanas are states of genuine mental coolness and this was the kind of Nirvana people were concerned with in the period immediately before the Buddha’s enlightenment. Gurus were teaching that Nirvana was identical with the most refined state of mental concentration. The Buddha’s last guru, Udakatapasa Ramaputta, taught him that to attain the “jhana of neither perception nor non-perception (n’eva sañña n’asannayatana)” was to attain complete cessation of suffering. But the Buddha did not accept this teaching; he did not consider this to be genuine Nirvana. He went oft and delved into the matter on his own account until he realized the Nirvana that is the total elimination of every kind of craving and clinging. As he himself later taught: “True happiness consists in eradicating the false idea “I”. When defilements have been totally eliminated, that is Nirvana. If the defilements are only momentarily absent, it is momentary Nirvana. Hence the teaching of tadanga-nibbána and vikkhanbhana-nibbana already discussed. These terms refer to a condition of freedom from defilements.

Now if we examine ourselves we discover that we are not dominated by defilements all the time. There are moments when we are free from defilements; if this were not the case we should soon be driven mad by defilements and die, and there would not be many people left in the world. It is thanks to these brief periods of freedom from distress causing defilements that we don’t all suffer from nervous disorders and go insane or die. Let us give Nature due credit for this and be thankful she made us in such a way that we get a sufficient period of respite from defilements each day. There is the time we are asleep, and there are times when the mind is clear, cool, at ease. A person who can manage to do as Nature intended can avoid nervous and psychological disorders; one who cannot is bound to have more and more nervous disorders until he becomes mentally ill or even dies. Let us be thankful for momentary Nirvana, the transient type of Nirvana that comes when conditions are favourable. For a brief moment there is freedom from craving, conceit, and false views, in particular, freedom from the idea of “I” and “mine”. The mind is empty, free, just long enough to have a rest or to sleep, and so it remains healthy.

In days gone by this condition was more common than it is now. Modern man, with his ever-changing knowledge and behaviour, is more subject to disturbance from defilements than man in past ages. Consequently modern man is more prone to nervous and psychological illnesses, which is a disgrace. The more scientific knowledge he has the more prone he is to insanity! The number of psychiatric patients is increasing so rapidly the hospitals can’t cope. There is one simple cause for this: people don’t know how to relax mentally. They are too ambitious. They have been taught to be ambitious since they were small children. They acquire nervous complaints right in childhood and by the time they have completed their studies they are already mentally disturbed people. This comes from taking no interest in the Buddha’s teaching that the birth of the idea of “I” and “mine” is the height of suffering.

Now let us go further into the matter of “birth”. No matter what type of existence one is born into, it is nothing but suffering, because the word “birth” refers here to attachment unaccompanied by awareness. This is an important point which must be well understood if there arises in a person’s mind the idea “I am Such-and-such” and he is aware that this idea has arisen, that arising is not a birth (as that term is used in Dharma language). If on the other hand he deludedly identifies with the idea, that is birth. Hence the Buddha advised continual mindfulness. If we know what we are, know what we have to do, and do it with awareness, there is no suffering, because there is no birth of “I” or “mine”. Whenever delusion, carelessness, and forgetfulness come in, there arise desire and attachment to the false idea “I,” “mine,” “I am So-and-so,” “I am Such-and-such,”…and this is birth.

Birth is suffering and the kind of suffering depends on the kind of birth. Birth as a mother brings the suffering of a mother, birth as a father brings the suffering of a father. If, for example, there arises in a person the illusory idea of being a mother and therefore of wanting this, that, and the other thing -that is the suffering of a mother. It is the same for a father. If he identifies with the idea of being a father, wanting this and that, grasping and clinging -that is the suffering of a father. But if a person has awareness, there is no such confusion and distortion; he simply knows in full clarity what he has to do as a father or as a mother and does it with a steady mind, not clinging to the idea “I am this”. “I am that”. In this way he is free from suffering; and in this condition he is fit to rear his children properly and to their best advantage. Birth as a mother brings the suffering of a mother; birth as a father brings the suffering of a father; birth as a millionaire brings the suffering of a millionaire; birth as a beggar brings the suffering of a beggar. What is meant here can be illustrated by the following contrast.

Suppose first a millionaire, dominated by delusion, desire, attachment, grasping at the idea “I am a millionaire”. This idea is in itself suffering: and whatever that man says or does is said and done under the influence of those defilements and so becomes further suffering. Even after he has gone to bed he dwells on the idea of being a millionaire and so is unable to sleep. So birth as a millionaire brings the suffering of a millionaire. Then suppose a beggar dwelling an his misfortunes, his poverty, his sufferings and difficulties -this is the suffering of a beggar. Now if at any moment either of these two men were to be free of these ideas, in that moment he would be free from suffering; the millionaire would be free from the suffering of a millionaire, the beggar would be free from the suffering of a beggar. Thus it is that one sometimes sees a beggar singing happily, because at that time he is not being born as a beggar, is not identifying himself as a beggar or as in any sort of difficulty. For one moment he, has forgotten it, has ceased being born a beggar and instead has been born a singer, a musician. Suppose a poor ferryman. If he clings to the idea of being poor, and rows his ferryboat with a sense of weariness and self-pity, then he suffers, just as if he had fallen straight into hell. But if instead of dwelling on such ideas, he reflects that he is doing what he has to do, that work is the lot of human beings, and does his work with awareness and steadiness of mind, he will find himself singing as he rows his ferryboat.

So do look closely, carefully, and clearly into this question: what is it that is being referred to as birth? If at any moment a millionaire is “born” as a millionaire, in that moment he experiences the suffering of a millionaire; if a beggar is born as a beggar, he experiences the suffering of a beggar. If, however, a person does not identify in this way, he is not “born” and so is free from suffering-whether he is a millionaire, a beggar, a ferryman, or whatever. At the present day we take no interest in this matter. We let ourselves be dominated by delusion, craving, attachment. We experience birth as this, that, or the other, I don’t know how many times each day. Every kind of birth without exception is suffering, as the Buddha said. The only way to be free from this suffering is to be free from birth. So one has to take good care, always keeping the mind in a state of awareness and insight, never disturbed and confused by “I” and “mine”. One will then be free from suffering. Whether one is a farmer, a merchant, a soldier, a public servant, or anything else, even a god in heaven, one will be free from suffering.

As soon as there is the idea “I” there is suffering. Grasp this important principle and you are in a position to understand the essential core of Buddhism, and to derive benefit from Buddhism, taking full advantage of having been born a human being and encountered Buddhism. If you don’t grasp it, then though you are a Buddhist you will derive no benefit from it; you will be a Buddhist only nominally, only according to the records; you will have to sit and weep like all those other people who are not Buddhists; you will continue to experience suffering like a non-Buddhist. To be genuine Buddhists we have to practice the genuine teaching of the Buddha, in particular the injunction: Don’t identify as “I” or “mine”; act with clear awareness and there will be no suffering. You will then be able to do your work well, and that work will be a pleasure. When the mind is involved in “I” and “mine,” all work becomes suffering; one doesn’t feel like doing it; light work becomes heavy work, burdensome in every way. But if the mind is not grasping and clinging to the idea “I,” “mine,” if it is aware, all work, even heavy or dirty work, is enjoyable.

This is a profound, hidden truth that has to be understood. The essence of it lies in the single word “birth”. Birth is suffering; once we can give up being “born,” we become free from suffering. If a person experiences dozens of births in a day he has to suffer dozens of times a day; if he does not experience birth at all, he has no suffering at all. So the direct practice of Dharma, the kernel of the Buddha’s teaching, consists in keeping close watch on the mind, So that it does not give rise to the condition called the cycle of Samsara, so that it is always in the state called Nirvana. One has to be watchful, guarding the mind at all times so that the state of coolness is constantly there, and leaving no opportunity for the arising of Samsara. The mind will then become accustomed to the state of Nirvana day and night and that state may become permanent and complete. We already have momentary Nirvana, the type of Nirvana that comes when circumstances are right, the Nirvana that is a sample, a foretaste. Preserve it carefully. Leave no opening for Samsara, for the idea “I,” “mine”. Don’t, let the “I”-idea come to birth. Keep watch, be aware, develop full insight. Whatever you do, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, do it with awareness. Don’t become involved in “I” and “mine”. Then Samsara will not be able to arise: the mind will remain in Nirvana until it has become fully accustomed to it and unable to relapse-and that is full or complete Nirvana.

Since childhood we have lived in a way favorable to the birth of “I” and “mind,” and have become used to the cycle of Samsara. This habit is hard to break. It has become part of our makeup, and so is sometimes called a fetter (samyojana) or a latent disposition (anusaya) something that is bound up in our character. These terms refer to the habit of giving birth to “I,” “mine,” of producing the sense of “I,” “mine”. In one form it is called greed (lobha); in another form it is called anger (knodha); in another form it is called delusion (moha). Whatever form it takes it is simply the idea “I,” “mine,” self-centredness. When the “I” wants to get something, there is greed; when it doesn’t get that something, there is anger; when it hesitates and doesn’t know what it wants, there is confusion, involvement in hopes and possibilities. Greed, anger, and delusion of whatever kind are simply forms of the “I”-idea, and when they are present in the mind, that is everlasting Samsara, total absence of Nirvana. A person in this condition does not live long. But Nature helps. As we saw in the beginning, through natural weariness the process sometimes stops of itself, there is sleep or some other form of respite, and one’s condition improves, becomes tolerable, and death is averted.

The various enlightened beings that have appeared in the world have discovered that it is possible to prolong these periods of Nirvana, and have taught the most direct way of practice to this end, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. This is a way of practice intended to prolong the periods of coolness, or Nirvana, and to reduce the periods of suffering, or Samsara, by preventing as far as possible the birth of “I” and “mine”. It’s so simple it’s hard to believe-like the Buddha’s statement: “If monks will practice right living, the world will not be empty of Arahants (enlightened beings).”

Ven Buddhadasa 5.

Our essence cannot be demonstrated, also the nature of the mind will not let the true state of the Great Seal, or modifies. If we can truly do this, then all phenomenal appearances become the Great Seal. It is the great pervading natural way.

— Maitripa


其他宗教,他们说人间是苦的,天堂是安乐的,他们的智慧只能看到人间是苦。他们也有“通”,也知道有地狱。人间是苦,地狱里更苦,但是他们认为天堂是享乐的,而天堂就在这个三界里边,不过是高了,他们享受的福报比人间大一点,但是不究竟,将来无常之后,还是要堕下来的。天人本身也有五衰相现的苦,其实天上的也不是乐。 出离心生起来了,才真正的是修行的开端。其他一切的宗教、哲学都没有这个。他们顶多是求避免地狱苦,求生天,到此为止。






















Ven Zhi Min (智敏上师) 21-1..jpg

If one holds oneself dear, one should protect oneself well. During every one of the three watches the wise man should keep vigil.

— The Buddha


Overcoming Negative Emotions
by Khen Rinpoche, Geshe Thubten Chonyi


The Mighty One has said that all such things
Are (the working of ) an evil mind,
Hence within the three world spheres
There is nothing to fear other than my mind
(Verse 8, Chapter 5, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

All the fears of cyclic existence and the three realms, the suffering we wish to avoid and the happiness we are seeking arise from the mind. Likewise, all qualities depend on the mind.

When you check all the scriptures, this is also their main message – that there is a need to discipline our minds. We can understand this from our personal experience. When the afflictions – anger, attachment, ignorance, pride, jealousy and so forth – arise, suffering and unhappiness are always the result. The stronger the afflictions, the greater the suffering. On the other hand, when we have less discursive thoughts, when the three mental poisons arise infrequently, when the mind is concentrated or focussed on benefiting others, there is more mental peace and we tend to be happier with fewer problems.

By reflecting along these lines, we will understand why it is said that all fears and worries originate from the mind. Therefore, we should protect the mind against non-virtue and guide the mind towards virtue, with mindfulness and introspection. When we fail to do this, although we yearn for happiness, we run away from the causes of happiness. Although we wish to avoid suffering, we pursue the causes of suffering.

We are controlled by our minds that, in turn, are controlled by the negative emotions that disturb our mental peace and calm. That is why we feel unhappy and suffer. We need to immerse our minds in virtue instead, because when this happens, happiness is the result.


There is a saying by the great Kadampa masters: “The difference between cyclic existence and nirvana comes from whether we have realised the nature of our minds or not.”

Liberation may seem external, like a distant place. But it can be achieved on the basis of our minds. In the same way, cyclic existence is not an external phenomenon. It abides in our minds.

As long as our minds are under the control and bondage of the afflictions, we remain in cyclic existence. We achieve liberation at that very moment when our minds are freed from the control of our afflictions. So liberation is not something far away or external, and once liberated, we will experience everlasting bliss and happiness.

With reference to the paths and grounds – from the path of accumulation through to the path of preparation, followed by the path of seeing, the ten bodhisattva grounds, the path of no more learning and, finally, enlightenment – the difference between each level and each ground is primarily based on the qualities of the mind and its development. We assert that someone has achieved and is abiding in a specific path on the basis of their mental development, not their physical transformation. How do we differentiate between a bodhisattva and a non-bodhisattva? The difference does not lie in their external appearances but on whether that person has developed bodhicitta or not.

Another way of looking at the quotation is this: As soon as we have realised the ultimate nature of the mind, its lack of true existence, we are liberated from our afflictions.

Engaging in physical and verbal virtues (or positive actions) contributes to our mental development and this helps us one day to realise the emptiness of our minds. When we achieve the wisdom realising emptiness, we destroy cyclic existence. This is one of the benefits of realising emptiness.

When our self-cherishing attitude is very strong, it is very difficult for our actions to be virtuous. Furthermore, during the course of engaging in virtue, other afflictions such as competitiveness, jealousy and pride arise.

For example, arrogance and conceit may arise when we are doing retreat, “I am in retreat and they are not.” Also, during the course of this five year Basic Program, we have acquired some knowledge and understanding of the Dharma. That knowledge can be the condition for us to feel superior to others, thinking, “I know more than you do.”

It is important that our actions do not become the conditions for the development of jealousy, competitiveness and pride. These afflictions are harmful and therefore, we must learn how to apply the antidotes to overcome them.


Guntang Rinpoche advises, “If we want to make our days and nights meaningful, we should always check the state of our minds.” No beneficial actions can result from a mind that is under the control of the three mental poisons (ignorance, anger and attachment). Therefore, we should always strive to keep our minds in a positive state, thinking constantly of how to benefit others. When our actions are motivated by a negative mind, it is questionable whether those actions can be beneficial.

It is important to set a proper motivation before we begin any virtuous activities, such as doing our daily commitments. We are advised in the teachings to begin always with the meditation on the breath to bring the mind to a state of equilibrium, especially when we find that our minds are agitated by anger or attachment. Otherwise, it is difficult to generate a positive state of mind while doing the practices.

When the mind is in a state of equilibrium, it is easier to prevent negative thoughts from arising, even though we may not yet be able to eliminate our attachment or anger from the root. It becomes possible for us to consider those we normally think of as enemies or objects of aversion as pleasant and as friends. When engaged in virtuous activities, we should pay heed to the objects of desire and the objects of aversion. We should sincerely dedicate the merit we accumulate from our practices to their welfare from the depths of our hearts. It is easy to habituate ourselves to dedicating our merit in this way compared to giving away material things such as our bodies.

When we dedicate all the roots of our virtue to our enemies, does that mean there is nothing left for us, that we are not going to experience the beneficial effects of those virtues? I don’t think so. So, don’t worry.

When we dedicate our roots of virtue sincerely in this way, it is difficult to say how much benefit will actually be received by the objects of our dedication but, without a doubt, we will benefit and see the improvement in our minds. We will definitely benefit because we can see that all our problems and sufferings arise from attachment and anger in our lives.

When we neglect checking the state of our minds, then no matter how profound or extensive our prayers may be, it is difficult for those practices to be beneficial even for ourselves. When we do not benefit from our practices, then it is difficult for us to benefit others.

Gungtang Rinpoche also said: “If you wish, however, to make your life meaningless and empty, then by all means, please continue to spend your whole life being conceited and arrogant and spend your time partying, gossiping and shopping.”


This is advice from the Kadampa masters: When our minds are virtuous and our motivation positive, then our physical and verbal actions will naturally be virtuous and positive. We will not harm but instead benefit others. Conversely, when our minds are in negative, non-virtuous states, it is very difficult to generate positive behaviour. We are most likely to give problems to others and be harmed by them in return. The Kadampa masters therefore advise us to generate a good heart and develop a positive mind and motivation.

We are now studying the practice of exchanging ourselves for others and developing bodhicitta, the main point of which is to develop the virtuous, positive mind. A positive state of mind leads to positive and beneficial behaviour that helps us to become good-hearted, virtuous people. It is very difficult to change our minds overnight. We have to start reducing negative physical and verbal actions by reducing our negative states of mind. While we may not be able to completely remove such negativities, we can work towards reducing them.

What are the benefits of being good-hearted people? We will be protected by the worldly gods who delight in virtue and receive blessings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Temporal goals are easily achieved. When death comes, we will move on easily to the next life and achieve enlightenment very quickly.


Lama Atisha said, “When we can subdue our minds, then no external enemy can harm us. But if our minds waver, with the external enemy acting as the condition, our internal enemy will burn our minds. Therefore, defeat and destroy this internal enemy.” We cannot be harmed by external enemies when our minds are loving and compassionate but if we succumb to the three mental poisons, our mental peace is destroyed. It is not the external enemy, who acts only as the condition, but our afflictions which are responsible for the destruction of our mental peace.

It is the very nature of our afflictions to do this, so our real enemies are the internal ones, our afflictions, which are the real troublemakers. We should therefore put effort into destroying them.

We need both mindfulness and introspection to protect and guard the mind. Mindfulness protects our minds by not forgetting what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, and introspection is the part of our minds that checks to see whether our minds are up to virtue or non-virtue.

It is important to protect and guard our minds because only we know our own minds. No one else does. We are our own masters because only we know what is going on in our own minds. We need to check to see whether our minds are in a virtuous or nonvirtuous state because only by protecting our minds will we be able to prevent ourselves from being stained by downfalls and faults and guard our three doors.


The great Indian master, Chandragomin, said that when someone is very sick with a serious disease, e.g., leprosy, but does not take the proper medicine continuously over a period of time, then that patient will never recover from his illness.

This is analogous to the situation we are in. We have been controlled by the three mental poisons for a very long time. In order to free ourselves from this bondage, we have to familiarise ourselves with and meditate on the antidotes continuously for a very long time. Meditating occasionally when we feel like it will not work.

We also need to train in the complete path, not just doing the virtuous practices we enjoy and then hoping or expecting those afflictions to just weaken or disappear. It does not work like that. We have to meditate on the complete path.

We do engage in virtuous practices, but sometimes we feel that, despite doing all sorts of practices, we are not getting anywhere, we are not improving. This is how we may feel sometimes.

Actually, things are getting better but we should not expect to see instant results. Sometimes, when we engage in certain practices, we expect to see results in a day, a month, a year or even a couple of years. It does not work like that. We may not be able to see very tangible results for quite a while.

Our afflictions are like the very heavy sicknesses of a patient. We have been harbouring these afflictions, the three mental poisons, in our minds for a very long time. In order to heal ourselves of these afflictions, we need to meditate and rely on the antidotes continuously for a long period of time. If we rely on the antidotes every now and then, as and when we feel like it, then we are not going to reap much benefit from them.


The great Indian master, Chandragomin, said that the fruits of a fruit tree whose roots are always submerged in a pool of sour muddy water will be sour and not sweet. If we want the fruit tree to bear sweet fruits, fertilising it with just a few drops of sweetener will not work.

In the same way, we have been controlled by the three mental poisons since time without beginning. That being the case, hoping for a major mental transformation by doing a little daily practice and some small virtues, and expecting fantastic results and a huge reduction in our suffering is completely unrealistic.

In order for us to attain the fruit of the state beyond sorrow, the cessation of all our suffering, we need to remove our afflictions from the root. Hoping to achieve this by some small exertions on our part is like expecting a harvest of sweet fruit in the above analogy.

Removing our mental afflictions is extremely difficult and requires reliance on continuous effort for a long period of time. Sometimes, we may feel this is an almost impossible task. It is natural for us to think in this way because it is true that the negative emotions have been with us since beginningless time, not just a few lifetimes. We are thoroughly familiar with them. It is as if the afflictions have merged with the very nature of our minds, making it impossible to separate our minds from them. Although this may be the way we feel and how things appear to us, if we critically analyse the situation, we will find that this is not the case, because if we apply the appropriate antidotes, we will definitely be able to free our minds from these negative emotions.

Look at our lives. What are we doing everyday? Are we actively doing something to weaken our afflictions or are we actually strengthening them? If we are honest with ourselves, we find that not only are we not doing anything to overcome our afflictions but in fact, we are allowing them to become stronger as we encounter the objects and conditions which cause them to arise.

In order to destroy our mental afflictions, the only way is to put effort continuously into weakening and destroying them. If we do not do this, there is no hope of the negative emotions ever becoming weaker or being destroyed.


The great Nagarjuna once said that someone who would put rubbish or vomit into a precious golden bejewelled container would be considered very foolish indeed. We should reflect on how this statement applies to ourselves.

Having achieved the precious human rebirth and met the teachings of the Buddha, we call ourselves Buddhists and take on the different levels of vows and commitments. Yet, instead of accumulating virtue, we spend our time committing negativities. That is both very unskillful and unwise and if that is our situation, we must do something to overcome it. Those negative activities arise due to the three mental poisons in our minds which we must work to subdue.

The stronger the negative emotions – our attachment to friends and loved ones and aversion and hatred towards our enemies – the more powerful will be the resultant negative actions generated by them. It is, therefore, very important that we work very hard to reduce the strength of the three mental poisons. We are not suggesting here that friends or enemies do not exist but we are trying to reduce the negative emotions we generate towards them.

One of the best ways of doing this is to reflect on impermanence. For example, to reduce our hatred towards an enemy, we should reflect on his impermanent nature, how he will definitely die one day and the uncertainty of that time of death. Our enemy will probably be very fearful both at the time of death and during the intermediate state. He may also be reborn in the lower realms because of his own negativities. Reflecting how our enemy is controlled by his own afflictions and negative karma, it becomes possible for us to generate compassion instead of hatred towards him.

We can reflect in the same way to reduce our attachment towards our loved ones. They will also die one day and it is uncertain when death will come. They will experience suffering and fear at the time of death and in the intermediate state and take rebirth in the lower realms. Reflecting in this way, we substitute our attachment and desire for them with compassion.

We ourselves are also impermanent and we should reflect on the fear that we will encounter at the time of our own death. When we give in to our negative emotions, we create negativities that lead to great suffering and fear in the intermediate state, which will only throw us into the lower realms.

By reflecting on these different points, we develop renunciation. Of course, it will be very difficult for us to remove our afflictions from the root now, but by reflecting on these points, we can at least reduce the strength of those afflictions when they manifest. This is something we must do.

At this time, we have achieved this precious human body and the opportunity to listen to and discuss the Mahayana teachings. We understand that if we were to engage in negative actions, we would have to take rebirth in the lower realms. We accept the existence of the hells and the lower realms. We also accept the possibility of higher rebirths as humans and gods. Therefore, we are more knowledgeable than those who have no exposure to such teachings.

In spite of having such knowledge, when it comes to the actual practice of working to overcome our afflictions, instead of our reducing them, they actually become stronger. If this happens, we will be exactly as Nagarjuna said – very foolish and stupid. We must do something about this situation.

When we meet with difficulties, we should try to apply and reap some benefit from our Dharma knowledge. It seems that, sometimes, we are unable to do this, so that when problems come, our suffering seems to be even more intense and the bad experiences seem much more difficult to handle. This should not be the case.


Guntang Rinpoche points out how we always cherish ourselves. It is this evil mind of self-cherishing that is our downfall. Only when we are able to overcome this very stubborn self-cherishing mind, which is as hard as wood, then enlightenment will not be very far away.

In the same way, we are always controlled by our three mental poisons which only lead to misfortune and our downfall. We desperately want happiness but our afflictions bring only problems and suffering.

The essence of Rinpoche’s advice is that enlightenment can only be achieved when we are able to subdue our stubborn minds. Whatever virtues we do with our bodies and speech, they must ultimately lead to subduing our minds. If this does not happen, then there is no way we will achieve enlightenment.

There are students who say they have been practising for a long time – for 10, 20, 30 years – but they do not see any progress. This is the fault of not transforming their virtuous actions of body and speech into methods that will help them to subdue their negative minds. It boils down to this failure to transform their minds.


Mental suffering can only be reduced through adopting the correct mental perspective. The more we are able to think from different perspectives, the better equipped we will be to deal with our mental difficulties. Our mental unhappiness can never be solved by wealth, possessions or medication.

The reason why we experience mental unhappiness is because of our narrow-minded outlook. We tend to fixate on some small aspect of the problem. When we think in such a way, the mind will always remain narrow, tight and stressed. We need to widen our minds, make them bigger, more expansive and relaxed, by considering the problem from multi-faceted angles. Although it is difficult to experience immediate benefits from the mind training techniques given in the text we are now studying, when we continue to listen, critically analyse and familiarise ourselves with the teachings, we will definitely experience some benefits and be able to reduce our mental suffering over time.


When we let our mind relax, a moment will come when we rest without thoughts. This stable state is like an ocean without waves. Within this stability a thought arises. This thought is like a wave which forms on the surface of the ocean. When we leave this thought alone, do nothing with it, not “seizing” it, it subsides by itself into the mind where it came from.

— Bokar Rinpoche