The Six Realms
by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

Many of you, I’m sure, have seen thangkas of the “Wheel of Life.” For those of you who haven’t, they depict a big wheel held in the jaws of Yama, the Lord of Death. On the outer rim are the twelve links of interdependent origination. Inside that are the six realms of existence, and at the hub are three animals — a cock, a pig and a snake, each biting the tail of the one in front. They make up the inner circle. The cock represents greed, the snake anger, and the pig ignorance. According to Buddhist psychology, it is these three negative emotions which keep the whee of samsara turning. It’s our underlying ignorance about how things really are which projects greed and anger. In other words, the “I want” and the “I don’t want” which govern the way we live. We spend our lives trying to get what pleases us and to avoid the things we don’t like. These are the motivating forces which keep us chained to the wheel.

At the very bottom of the picture, you will see the depiction of the hell realms. Of course, nowadays many people don’t believe in hell realms. Ironically, they still believe in heaven but consider the hell realms to be pure fantasy! I have my own views about this. As I was brought up a spiritualist, I feel at ease with a belief in other realms of being outside of this concrete material realm. But anyway, even in Buddhism, the hell realms are not necessarily considered to be physical places. In the Bodkicharyavatara, Shantideva says, “Who made the red-hot iron floors? Who made the demons tormenting the beings? All this is a projection of the perverted mind.” Even if we don’t believe in the physical reality of the hell realms, we can definitely believe that a mind filled with anger, which loves harming others and takes pleasure in cruelty, could easily project a paranoid environment for itself. The Buddhist belief is that after we pass on to other realms and lose the physical support which keeps us grounded here, the content of our inner mind is projected outward and becomes our entire reality. We already project quite a bit on this plane, but the extent of our projection increases once we lose our physical base. So if the mind is already filled with anger and sadistic pleasure in others’ pain, that state of mind will be projected outwards and the person involved in it will respond in a paranoid way. We can get some understanding of hell realms right here and now. We all know people who are physically located in hell realms, such as those living in war zones. There are also people suffering from incurable and painful sicknesses, people in prisons, and people in asylums for the mentally ill who are tormented by their own paranoid fantasies. We know people living with partners who are extremely abusive and children living with abusive parents. These are the hell realms we all know about right here.

One of the big problems with hell realms is that the suffering is so intense that we become completely engulfed by it, rendering us incapable of action. For this reason, it is very difficult to break free. That’s why so many women who live with abusive husbands can’t break away. They’re completely trapped in the relationship. There is a story of the Lord Buddha in one of his past lives. In this life, for some reason, although he was already a bodhisattva, he was reborn in hell and had to drag a very heavy chariot backwards and forwards. There was another person beside him, and they were yoked together. They had to carry this heavy chariot back and forth over red-hot pavement. There were guards on either side whipping them if they flagged. At one point, the Bodhisattva’s companion collapsed. They were both very tired and weak because this goes on practically for eternity. Anyway, the Bodhisattva said, “You rest a while. I will carry this all by myself,” because he felt so sorry for his friend. He said to the guards, “Let him rest a bit. I will carry it alone.” The guards replied, “You can’t do that. You’re all the heirs to your own karma,” and they hit him with a big iron-spiked ball. At that moment he died and was reborn in heaven.

This instant death and rebirth occurred because in that very painful, paranoid situation, it is almost impossible to generate a thought for the welfare of others, and yet the Bodhisattva managed to do so. For this reason he died and was immediately reborn in heaven. Hell is self-perpetuating and this is why it is so difficult to get out of it and why it is traditionally considered, although not eternal, to last for so long. He 11-beings are entrapped by their own paranoia. We can see this in our everyday lives. We can see this in people who are caught in deep depressions or in schizophrenia or paranoia.

The next is the realm of the preta, the hungry ghosts, or unsatisfied spirits. These are traditionally shown as beings roaming the surface of the earth, invisible to ordinary humans. They are usually shown with huge empty stomachs and very thin necks. It is said that even if they manage to get a morsel of food, it can hardly pass down this hair thin neck. Even if the food manages to pass through the neck, the stomach is like a mountain. So a morsel of food is of little benefit to them. Others may be able to drink or eat, but the water they drink turns into pus or fire, and their food turns into disgusting, indigestible substances. In other words, they are always being tortured by their intense hunger and their longing for food and water. This is considered to be the result of stinginess. The Buddha said that if people only knew the results of giving, they would give continually. Even more so if they understood the results of not giving! We can also see hungry ghosts in our everyday lives. There are people who, no matter how much they have, inwardly always feel poor. They are perpetually looking to see what others have. Not only are they always wanting more and more, but they find it very difficult to give anything away unless they happen not to want it. It’s very easy to give away something we don’t want, like last year’s fashions. It’s much more difficult to give away something we like and value.

When I was very young, there was a man living opposite our house. The windows in his room were completely black because he hadn’t cleaned them for probably about thirty or forty years. He shuffled around in rags. His room was absolutely bare, filthy, and very dark. He was a gentle person, but he was angry with his relatives. He hated them. He said he didn’t want his relatives to have the pleasure of seeing him enjoy anything. It was a very convoluted way of thinking. When he died, they found stacks and stacks of shirts and suits still in their plastic wrappings and thousands of pound notes. These were concealed inside chairs, under the bed, under the floorboards, everywhere. Of course the moment he died, his family descended and took it all away. One could imagine that because of his inability to enjoy his own wealth or to share it with others, he might stay around the room as a kind of ghost haunting the place.

Sharing is very important. It is the opposite of a hungry ghost mentality. It’s noticeable in Buddhist countries that the people who give the most to charities, who give the most offerings to the monks and nuns on alms rounds in the morning and so on, are the poor people, or the emerging middle class. The people who do not give are the more established middle class and the wealthy, unless they give as a big show, inviting everybody along to rejoice in their merit. We should be very careful to avoid miserliness. We need to learn to open up the heart and be able to give wherever we see a need. This includes even little things. Not just material things, but smiles, a nice word, time to listen, sometimes just being there for others. This is giving, having a generous heart and not always thinking, “What can I get out of it? What’s in it for me? If I give that, then I won’t have it for myself.”

The third realm is the animal realm. According to Buddhist theory, this realm is characterised by basic stupidity. I think this is a little unfair to animals. I don’t think animals are as stupid as all that, but they do lack a certain quality of self-knowing. They can’t stand back and look at situations objectively. They always become very subjectively involved in whatever they’re doing. Their biggest concern is getting something to eat. Have you ever noticed how much time animals spend just eating and looking for food They also spend a lot of time sleeping and trying to keep themselves warm and comfortable. Their other great preoccupation is procreation. This is not so different from many human lives, if you think about it.

Unless we develop the mind, we are not much better than animals ourselves. There are people who are totally concerned with their instincts, their pleasures, and making themselves comfortable. There are so many people who don’t even try to develop the mind, who don’t try to think, discriminate, or analyse. They go along with the crowd, creating pleasant situations and avoiding painful ones, just like animals. Many of us are pretty much like that. How to be comfortable? How to keep ourselves warm but not too warm; cool, but not too cool? Comfortably fed. Nicely clothed. Everything comfortable. We are basically animals unless we develop that part of ourselves which is distinctly human, by which I mean the mind. Animals think too, but they are not capable of creative thinking. The potential to use the mind creatively is the main thing distinguishing humans from beings in the animal realm.

The next segment on the wheel is humans, but we’ll come to those last. The one after that is the realm of what are called the ashuras.. These are demi-gods. The demi-god realm and the god realms are iconographically depicted one above the other from the grossest to the most sublime. Just below the grossest of the god realms is the realm of the ashuras. They’re also very beautiful, like the gods. Many of the female ashuras are captured by the gods. I haven’t noticed male ashuras being captured by female goddesses, but anyway, the ladies are taken up from time to time. The main problem for the ashuras is the wish-fulfilling tree. The roots and the trunk of this tree are in the realm of the ashuras, so the tree gets all its nourishment from the ashura soil. However, the branches, and therefore the fruit of the tree, are in the realm of the gods. Consequently the ashuras are devoured by jealousy. They cannot appreciate all the good things they already have, and they do have good things because they are demi-gods. They could lead perfectly happy lives. But they do not permit themselves happiness because they are consumed by this competition against the gods to try to regain the fruit of this tree which they believe is rightfully theirs. And so they’re always at war — the titans against the gods.

We can see this very easily in our own realm in the psychological patterns of people who already have more than enough. Because there’s always someone who has more, they can’t ever appreciate what they have. They’re always consumed with envy for those who have more than they do, who have higher promotions or bigger houses or bigger cars, a larger income, or whatever. We can also see this happening in big business. I think many businessmen will be reborn as ashuras because they are always organising takeovers and all kinds of deals. This is the mentality that is never satisfied. All of us slip into this ashura mentality sometimes. Whatever we have is just not enough. If we had what somebody else has, we would be happy. But even if we get it, of course it’s not enough, because somebody else has even more — a newer model or a bigger one, or something like that. This kind of mindset torments many people, yet today it is considered a good thing, because it is the basis of our consumer society. We have to keep consuming. The only way to keep us consuming is to generate all these artificial needs, and the way to generate artificial needs is to point out that other people have these things and look how happy they are! All the advertisements assure us that if we had a bigger car or better clothes or a better brand of whiskey, we would be sublimely happy. Of course there’s a part of us that knows this is not true. But another part of us is under such pressure to believe the myth that we tend to go along with it anyway. Our whole society is very much based on this ashura mental’ ity of competition for material goods.

Recently I was staying in Singapore. In some ways, Singapore is sort of a god realm, but it’s also very much an ashura realm because the whole society is based on competition. It’s a very small island off the Malaysian peninsula, and it does not have any land to cultivate. It doesn’t have any resources of its own. It’s basically a small city-state. So it relies totally on trade and commerce, and this creates a sense of instability, because it knows that if for some reason business went elsewhere, its economy would collapse. No matter how successful they are economically, you will always hear people saying, “Yes, but Taiwan is doing better,” or, “Malaysia is catching up with us.” One day, I was driving with a Chinese friend who had a white Mercedes. We parked it, and when we came back there were eight white Mercedes all in a row. Everybody has white Mercedes because without one you’re nothing. Unless, of course, you have an olive-green Rover, which is the second choice. Everybody seems to have three jobs. Meanwhile, children are committing suicide because they can’t stand the pressure. This is very much the ashura mentality of competition, insecurity, fear, and resentment. The Singaporeans themselves are very nice people, but nowadays the whole structure of their society is geared towards this extremely stressful way of living. Yet at the time I was there, the government found themselves at the end of the fiscal year with a surplus of millions and millions of dollars, which they didn’t know what to do with. What a problem! “What should we do with all these millions of dollars,” they cried. And still they said, “That’s very good, but we must not rest on our laurels. We must do even better next year because Taiwan is catching up.”

At the top is the realm of the devas. This word is sometimes translated as “god,” but deva literally means “a shining one,” a being of light. It is related in the sutras that in the middle of the night, devas would often come and light up the grove where the Buddha was sitting and ask him questions. In Buddhist cosmology there are twenty-six different heavens. So no one can say that Buddhism is pessimistic. We have many more happy realms than miserable realms, actually! The heavenly realms begin with the grossest. The descriptions are written from the male point of view, so there are beautiful young gods with lots of lovely pink-footed nymphs serving them — every man’s fantasy! Everything you wish for just appears spontaneously. The branches and fruits of the wish-fulfilling tree are located in the lower realm of the gods. This is a bit like the Californian life-style, I always think. Beautiful homes, beautiful cars, beautiful children, hopefully beautiful bodies, everybody doing yoga or tai chi, everybody on healthful diets, everybody thinking positive thoughts.

Above this there are many levels, each more rarefied and more refined than the one below. Finally, we come to the realms that are the result of advanced meditational abilities. They correspond to various meditational levels. In those realms the gods are androgynous, neither male nor female. After this there are the formless realms, which correspond to the formless attainments like infinite space, infinite consciousness, neither perception nor nonperception, and so on. But however rarefied these states become, they are still within the realm of birth and death. However long we stay there, the karma which created the causes for rebirth there will eventually be exhausted, and we will have to descend again.

From the Buddhist viewpoint, the heavenly realms are not considered such good places to be reborn. Life is so pleasurable there that we have very little motivation to make spiritual progress. Instead, we just use up our good karma, which means that eventually we’re left with only the bad. We saw that in the lower realms, there’s too much misery for beings to think about spiritual progress, but in the higher realms, there’s too much happiness. Both realms present equal impediments to spiritual growth.

California is like the deva realm. Many Tibetans who come here from India are convinced of this. But of course any realm which is wholly focused on youth, beauty, joy, and light is very fragile because life isn’t all youth, beauty, joy, and light. Those who deny the shadow are in a very insecure and precarious position. To be exclusively in a deva realm and not recognise its precarious nature is a form of gross self-delusion. I remember a very nice lady from California who was a yoga teacher and a masseuse. When I first met her she was in her fifties, but she looked very youthful because she ate all the right things and did all the right kinds of exercise. She came to Nepal and was always talking about joy, love, and light. One lama used to call her the Bliss Cloud. Then she got sick. Everybody gets sick in Nepal. That brought her down from her cloud. Then she began to develop genuine compassion. It is hard to develop true compassion when you are continually blocking out all suffering from your own life.

From a Buddhist point of view, the best rebirth we can possibly have within samsara itself is the human realm, because we have this unique combination of joy and sorrow. We are able to see things much more clearly, and we have the motivation to go beyond all of it. What is more, in the human realm we have choice. We can choose how we will act, how we will speak, and how we will think. We are in training. Because of actions we have performed with body, speech, and mind in this and in past lives, we do not have much control over most of the circumstances which occur in this lifetime. But we can control our response to those circumstances, and in that lies our freedom. We can respond with negative roots or with positive roots. If someone shouts at us, we can shout back or we can try to deal with the situation more skillfully. If someone is angry with us, we have choice. We can be angry in return or we can try to bring some understanding and patience into the situation. If we respond positively, we will attract more positive occurrences into our life. If we always respond negatively, we will create more and more negativity. According to whether we respond skillfully or unskillfully, we create our own future from one moment to the next. It’s up to us. We are not computers. We are not completely programmed.

The main purpose of meditation is to create self-knowing and awareness so we can break through our patterning and respond with more openness, clarity, and understanding. Meditation is not just to make us feel peaceful; that’s just the basis for further progress. Meditation is about arousing self-knowledge. Once we know ourselves, we can understand others. When we understand others, we can put an end to suffering. We can respond to everything with great skill. We can respond to others with respect and compassion. In this lies the importance of the human realm. This is our great opportunity. If we waste it, it might be a long time before we get it back again. It’s here and now. It’s not just in sitting, it’s in everyday life, in everybody we meet, in every circumstance. It is up to us whether we act with awareness or with delusion. It is up to us whether we create further suffering for ourselves and for others or whether we gradually release this and create positive circumstances. That’s what the Buddhist path is about — helping us to make the best of the opportunity that is our human life, not just when we’re sitting on our meditation seats or visiting Dharma centers, but the whole of our human life, with all our relationships, our work, our social life, everything. All of it is within the province of Dharma practice. We really must not waste this chance.

It is first important to clearly understand, through study, what is involved in meditation. There are many aspects of Buddhist teaching and practice, but when we begin to meditate, we should concentrate on one particular aspect. If we jump from practice to practice we will never progress. Instead, we should choose a particular meditation practice and concentrate on that, doing our other commitments rather quickly and spending most of our time on the principal practice. If we constantly change our practice after becoming dissatisfied this will become habitual, we will never accomplish our aim and in the process will waste considerable time. Having chosen a practice and begun meditation, difficulties will arise, but at that time we must make additional effort and not simply abandon our practice. If we persevere, we will become accustomed to the practice and it will become easier. It is also possible that occasionally we may become confused about our object of meditation. Having initially made some progress, interferences set in and it all begins to seem fruitless. Here again, we must apply additional effort and carry on.

— Geshe Rabten Rinpoche


有个关于仇恨袋的传说:一个人怒气冲冲地走在路上,被一只立在路中央的袋子挡了去路,这人就推了袋子一下,要它让开道路,结果袋子没有移动一分,反而涨了起来。这人很生气,就又打了袋子一拳,袋子又涨大了一些。这人就更生气了,干脆抬起脚来狠狠踢了袋子一脚,这个袋子更加涨大了,结果把路全部堵死了。最后佛出现在这个人的面前,告诉他这叫仇恨袋,人越是理会计较它,它就会变得越强大,相反,如果人不理会它,或者绕开它, 就会什么阻碍都没有了。

可见,当一个人的心里充满报复和仇恨时,他的心灵就会被乌云遮蔽,他的人生之路也就无法前行。古话说:世上不如意者十之八九。其意就是说生活没有一帆风顺的,人都有因为各种原因而产生的烦恼, 而这些烦恼如果处理不当或者太过斤斤计较,往往就会因怨生恨,而任其发展下去,结果恐怕都是我们不愿看到或者接受的糟糕和不幸。





生活之中,人与人相互发生社会关系,总会发生一些摩擦,也难免产生一些误会和怨恨,这种情况下,人往往不知道学会控制自己的情绪,任凭着怒气,冲动地做出一些不理智的行为,最后让自己后悔莫及。所以正如节目主持人总结的那样:如果秦某在协调不果的情况下,能够忍住怒气,带小狗去宠物医院进行治疗;如果朱某能够退让一步,同意调换一只小狗…… 大家都宽容一点,事情肯定就会是 一种结局了。所以说人要在生活中学会宽容,宽容是福。

孔子在《论语》中也强调一个“恕”字,所谓“恕”是忠恕—宽容之意,孔子说这是为人必须学会的。在《论语 • 卫灵公》中,子贡问孔子:“有一言而可以终身行之者乎?”孔子回答:“其恕乎? 己所不欲,勿施于人。”其大意可以解释为子贡问有没有一个字可以终身行之的呢?孔子回答说:大概只有一个“恕”字吧!宽恕别人,他人对自己做了不愿意接受的事情,自己明知道连自己都无法接受,那就不要再把它施加给别人了。






要以理解的眼光看别人,要懂得大千世界是五彩缤纷的,人也是各种各样的,都有自己的个性和特点,都有不同的长处和短处,我们不能像要求自己那样要求别人。宽容别人的过错,明白世上没有十全十美的人,包括自己在内,谁都有缺点 ,谁都有可能犯错误,要给别人改正错误的机会。



Most of us have everything we need – except the inner knowledge that yields absolute happiness.

— Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche

Making the Most of Each Day
by Ayya Khema

Now the time has come to go home from this retreat. In order to take as much benefit as possible with us, we need to be aware how to organise our daily lives. If we go back and do exactly as we’ve always done, within a week everything will be forgotten. Coming to another meditation course in the future, we would have to start all over again.

Who knows whether there is much time in this life. This is the only life the we can take responsibility for. Here we have some control over how we spend our day. The future is non-existent. “I’m going to meditate ‘tomorrow'” is foolish. There is no tomorrow, there is only now. When the next life comes, it’s this life; actually this is our next life. Finding lots of reasons not to practice today is always possible: the children, the weather, the husband, the wife, the business, the economy, the food, anything will do. What kind of priorities we have is strictly of our own making.

If the future does not exist and the past is completely gone, what do we have left? A very fleeting moment indeed, namely this one. It passes quicker than we can say it. But by using each moment skillfully, we can eventually have moment-to-moment awareness, which results in deep insight.

When getting up in the morning, the first thing would be a determination to be mindful. Becoming aware of opening our eyes, is the beginning of the day, and the beginning of mindfulness. If we have opened our eyes before becoming aware of that, we can close them and start all over again. And from that small incident we will gain an understanding of mindfulness and what it means, then we can let the mind be flooded with gratitude that we have another whole day at our disposal, for one purpose only. Not to cook a better meal, not to buy new things, but to draw nearer to Nibbana. One needs enough wisdom to know how this can be accomplished. The Buddha told us again and again but we are hard of hearing and not totally open to all the instructions. So we need to hear it many times.

Being grateful brings the mind to a state of receptivity and joyful expectation of “what am I going to do with this day?” The first thing would be to sit down to meditate, maybe having to get up a little earlier. Most people die in bed, it’s a perfect place for dying, and not such a perfect place for spending an unnecessarily long time. If one has passed the first flush of youth, one doesn’t need so much sleep any more.

In most homes, starting at 6 o’clock, there is noise. If that is so, we need to get up early enough to avoid that. That alone gives a feeling of satisfaction, of doing something special to get nearer to Nibbana. If we have a whole hour available for meditation, that’s fine; at least let us not practice under half an hour, because the mind needs time to become calm and collected. The morning hour is often the best for many people, because during the night the mind is not bombarded with as many conscious impressions as it is during the day, and is therefore comparatively calm. If we start meditating for half an hour and slowly increase it until we reach a whole hour, that’s a good program. Each week we could add ten minutes to the daily practice.

After the meditation we can contemplate the five daily recollections. Now the mind is calm and collected and has more ability to reach an inner depth.

I am of the nature to decay
I have not gone beyond decay
I am of the nature to be diseased
I have not gone beyond disease
I am of the nature to die
I have not gone beyond death

All that is mine, dear, and delightful, will change and vanish

I am the owner of my kamma
I am born of my kamma
I am related to my kamma
I live supported by my kamma
Any kamma I will do, good or evil, that I will inherit.

The exact words do not matter that much. Words are concepts, only the meaning counts; the impermanence of our bodies, of what we think we own, such as people and belongings, and being responsible for our own kamma. Another recollection is about having a loving and kind attitude towards oneself and others and to protect one’s own happiness, and wishing to same for all beings:

May I be free from enmity
May I be free from hurtfulness
May I be free from troubles of mind and body
May I be able to protect my own happiness.

Whatever beings there are,
May they be free from enmity
Whatever beings there are,
May they be free from hurtfulness
Whatever beings there are,
May they be free from troubles of mind and body
Whatever beings there are,
May they be able to protect their own happiness.

Having reflected on these two aspects in a meaningful way, we can keep three things in mind. First comes mindfulness, bare attention to the prevailing mode of being. That can be a physical activity without the mind going astray, or it may be a feeling or a thought which has arisen. Paying full attention, not trying to bury it under discursive debris, but knowing exactly what is happening in one’s life.

When physical activity does not demand our attention, we can again direct thoughts to the fleeting aspects of our own lives and everyone else’s, and reflect what to do in the short time available. When we consider this correctly, kindness, lovingness, and helpfulness arise as priorities. We need not help a lot of people all at once. Even helping one person, maybe someone who lives in the same house, is beneficial. It is the attitude and motivation that count, not the results.

Many people want to do some good, but expect gratitude. That’s spiritual materialism, because they are aiming for a form of repayment for their goodness, at least a very nice future life. That too, is equivalent to getting pain, not in the coin of the realm, but through results. Both attitudes could be dropped and the realisation re-established that “this is the only day I have, let me use it to best advantage.” “What is most important, if I only have such a short time in this life?” Then we can act out of the understanding that in order to drew nearer to Nibbana, we have to let go of self-concern, egocentricity, self-affirmation, personal likes and dislikes, because otherwise the ego will grow instead of diminish. As we affirm and confirm it more and more throughout this life, it gets bigger and fatter, instead of reducing itself. The more we think about our own importance, our own cares and concerns, the further away we get from Nibbana, and the less chance for peace and happiness arises in our lives.

If someone has a very fat body, and tries to go through a narrow gate, he might knock his/her body against either side and get hurt. If someone has an extremely fat ego, s/he might knock against other people constantly and feel hurt, other people’s egos being the gate posts against which one knocks. If we have this kind of experience repeatedly, we get to realise that it has nothing to do with other people, but only concerns ourselves.

If we start each day with these considerations and contemplations, we will tend towards not being overly concerned with ourselves, but trying to think of others. Naturally, there is always the possibility of accidents. Accidents of non-mindfulness, of not being attentive to what we are doing, accidents of impetuous, instinctive replies, or in feeling sorry for ourselves. These occasions have to be seen for what they are, namely accidents, a lack of awareness. There’s no blame to be attached to other people or to oneself. We can just see that at that particular moment we were not mindful, and try to remedy it in the next moment. There’s only the Arahant, who is fully enlightened, who does not have accidents of that sort.

The Buddha did not teach expression or suppression. But instead he taught that the only emotions which are worthwhile are the four supreme emotions (brahma viharas) and that everything else needs to be noticed and allowed to subside again. If anger arises, it doesn’t help to suppress or to express it. We have to know that the anger has arisen, otherwise we’ll never be able to change our reactions. We can watch it arising and ceasing. However this is difficult for most people; anger doesn’t subside fast enough. Instead we can immediately remember that to express anger means that particular day, which really constitutes our whole life, contains a very unfortunate occurrence, and therefore we can try to substitute. It is much easier to substitute one emotion for another than to drop one altogether. Dropping means a deliberate action of letting go. As we have learned in meditation, we can substitute discursive thinking with attention on the breath; in daily living we substitute the unwholesome with the wholesome.

Usually our anger arises towards other people. It’s not so important to us what animals do, nor what people do whom we don’t know. Usually we are concerned with those whom we know and who are near to us. But since that is so we must also be familiar with some very good qualities of these people. Instead of dwelling upon any negative action of that person, we can put our attention on something pleasant about them. Even though they may have just used words which we didn’t like, at other times they have said things which were fine. They have done good deeds, and have shown love and compassion. It is a matter of changing one’s focus of attention, just as we learn to do in meditation. Until this becomes very habitual in meditation, it will be difficult in daily life, but diligent practice makes it happen. We practice in spite of any difficulty. If we remove our attention from one thing and put it somewhere else, that’s all we need to work with. We will be protecting ourselves from making bad kamma and spoiling our whole day. We may not have another day.

The immediate resultants of all our thoughts, speech and action are quite apparent. If we keep our attention focused, we will know that wholesome emotions and thoughts bring peace and happiness, whereas unwholesome ones bring the opposite. Only a fool makes him/herself deliberately unhappy. Since we’re not fools, we’ll try to eliminate all unwholesomeness in our thinking and emotions and try to substitute with the wholesome. All of us are looking for just one thing, and that is happiness. Unhappiness can arise only through our own ideas and reactions.

We are the makers of our own happiness and unhappiness and we can learn to have control over that. The better the meditation becomes, the easier it will be, because the mind needs muscle power to do this. A distracted mind has no strength, no power. We cannot expect perfect results overnight, but we can keep practising. If we look back after having practised for some time we will see a change. If we look back after only one or two days, we may not find anything new within. It is like growing vegetables. If we put seeds in the ground and dig them up the next day, all we will find is a seed. But if we tend the seeds and wait some time we will find a sprout or a plant. It’s no use checking from moment to moment, but it is helpful to check the past and see the changes taking place.

At the end of each day it can be a good practice to make a balance-sheet, possibly even in writing. Any good shop-keeper will check out his merchandise at the end of the day and see which one was well accepted by the customers and which stayed on the shelves. He will not re-order the shelf items but only the merchandise that sold well. We can check our actions and reactions during the day, and can see which ones were conductive to happiness for ourselves and others and which ones were rejected. We do not re-order the latter for the next day, but just let them perish on the shelf. If we do that night after night, we will always find the same actions accepted or rejected. Kindness, warmth, interest in others, helpfulness, concern and care are always accepted. Self-interest, dislike, rejection, arguments, jealousy are always rejected. Just for one single day, we can write down all our actions on the credit or debit side, whether happiness-producing or not. As we do that, we will find the same reactions to the same stimuli over and over again. This balance sheet will give a strong impetus to stop the pre-programmed unwholesome reactions. We have used them for years and lifetimes on end, and they have always produced unhappiness. If we can check them out in writing or see them clearly in our minds, we will surely try to change.

Starting the day with the determination to be mindful, contemplating the daily recollections, realising that this is the only day we have and using it most skillfully, and then checking it out in the evening on the balance sheet, will give us a whole lifetime in one day. If this is done carefully and habitually, the next day, which is our next life, has the advantageous results. If we’ve had a day of arguments, dislikes, worries, fears and anxiety, the next day will be similar. But if we have had a day of loving-kindness, helpfulness and concern for others, we’ll wake up with those same modes of being. Our last thought at night will become the first one in the morning. The kamma we inherit shows up the next day, we don’t need to wait for another lifetime. That’s too nebulous. We do it now, and see results the next day.

Before going to sleep it’s useful to practice loving-kindness meditation. Having done that as the very last thing at night, it will be in one’s mind first thing in the morning. The Buddha’s words about loving-kindness were: “One goes to sleep happily, one dreams no evil dreams, and one wakes happily.” What more can one ask? Applying the same principles day after day, there is no reason why our lives should not be harmonious. That way we’re making the most of each day of our lives. If we don’t do it, nobody else will. No other person is interested in making the most of each day of our lives. Everyone is interested in making the most of their own lives. We cannot rely on anyone else for our own happiness.

As far as our meditation practice is concerned, we must not allow it to slide. Whenever that happens one has to start all over again. If one keeps doing it every day, one can at least keep the standard attained in the retreat, possibly improve on it. Just like an athlete, who stops training has to start all over again, in the same way the mind needs discipline and attention, because it is the master of the inner household.

There is nothing that can give us any direction except our own mind. We need to give it the possibility to relax, to stop thinking for a little while, to have a moment of peace and quiet, so that it can renew itself. Without that renewal of energy, it decays just the same as everything else does. If the mind is taken care of, it will take care of us.

This is a sketch of how to use one’s day to day activity and practice. We must never think that Dhamma is for meditation courses or special days: it is rather a way of life, where we do not forget the impermanence and unsatisfactoriness of the world. We realise these truths within our own heart, just thinking about them is useless. If we practice every day in this way, we will find relief and release from our cares and worries because these are always connected with the world. The Dhamma transcends the world.

Non-conceptual compassion and the primordial nature of emptiness are inseparable in the nature of simplicity. You should understand all dharmas like this.

— Marpa














Always watch your mind. Check if your mind is still like what it used to be. Any progress? Or getting any worse? Never forget to watch your mind!

— Yangthang Rinpoche

Irreversible Confidence
by Khandro Rinpoche

Irreversible confidence comes from recognising and being sure of the presence of our fundamental ground. With growing confidence, we are no longer distracted by laziness, disappointments, sadness, enthusiasm, and so on. We no longer have to succumb to ignorance — or aggression, attachment, selfishness, or habitual tendencies such as irritation, jealousy, or aggravation. Recognising our core essence of enlightenment, we appreciate the preciousness of our existence.

When we underestimate our human existence, tendencies such as laziness arise. With laziness, we remain “as we were,” distracted and stuck in habitual patterns. We could say that any tendency to distraction impedes the arising of buddhanature — again, due to not appreciating the preciousness of each moment. To conquer these distractions, contemplate the preciousness of human existence.

Appreciating one’s life generates a courageous heart and a courageous mind. Knowing that we could become completely free and lead others to freedom from endless and intolerable suffering, we can live with a sense of urgency and complete awareness — which brings confidence and joy and even greater appreciation of our life and potential. Then we can encounter moments of depression or disappointment without succumbing to hopes and fears based on emotions, concepts, or habitual tendencies. And we can conquer discursive thoughts of ordinariness, weakness, or inadequacy – recognising them as mere tricks of the mind.

Of course, mind will put up a fierce fight when it comes to ignorance and habitual patterns. In its struggle to preserve its identity and territory, it will come up with all sorts of non appreciation of our fundamental true nature and highlight all our negative characteristics and tendencies. One way that ignorance gains a victory over our wisdom mind is by highlighting our negative tendencies through self-criticism.

With all our study and practice, we may still find it difficult to encourage ourselves on the path. Instead we criticise ourselves and feel inadequate or disappointed in our lack of awareness, our gender bias, or our inability to keep vows and precepts. When we criticise ourselves, ignorance demonstrates its tendencies.We may assume that by being self-critical we’re actually doing something good. Of course, it is important to recognise faults and overcome negative tendencies, but we often sink into the ignorance of criticising ourselves without seeing our positive qualities. If we look carefully, we will see there are far more positive qualities than negative tendencies.

Because of our inherent buddhanature, our positive qualities the very ground from which everything arises — are stronger and more numerous than our negativities. But because of habitual mind, we focus on the bleakness of our ignorance and negative qualities. We don’t see ourselves as genuinely qualified and worthy vessels for the teachings. Eventually this negativity becomes so strong that it completely covers up anything bright, luminous, and genuinely good arising from our inherently pure nature. The antidote to this pessimism and self-criticism is to understand the preciousness of human existence. It’s essential to strengthen the mind in this way.

The Compassionate Heart of the Enlightened Mind, it is the supreme elixir that overcomes the sovereignty of death. It is the inexhaustible treasure that eliminates poverty in the world. It is the supreme medicine that quells the world’s disease. It is the tree that shelters all beings wandering and tired on the path of conditioned existence. It is the universal bridge that leads to freedom from unhappy states of birth. It is the dawning moon of the mind that dispels the torment of disturbing conceptions. It is the great sun that finally removes the misty ignorance of the world.

— Shantideva