The Problem of Evil
by Norman Fischer

Beheadings. Drone attacks. Suicide bombers. Mass shootings in malls, movie theatres, and office buildings. Religious fanatics slaughtering innocents, sometimes by the thousands, in an effort to purify the world according to their lights.

The world today seems more filled with evil than ever. But no doubt people felt this in 1918, 1946, and afterwards, as they reeled with the shock of then-contemporary events. How could our reasonable, scientific, enlightened, and progressive culture, in its most promising century, have produced two world wars, the Holocaust, mass starvation, and the long, terrifying shadow of nuclear weapons?

We have been trying to digest this crisis of culture for a hundred years, to understand the perceived failure of modern Western civilisation, and the horrors, confusion, and despair it has left in its wake. Meantime, the planet is heating up every day — with as-yet-unknown but certainly dire consequences — and humanity can’t seem to find the political will to do anything about it.

And all of this is perpetrated by people, ordinary human beings like you and me. How do we understand human nature in the light of these sobering realities? How do we reconcile our hope that people are basically good with all the evil in the world?

Zen Buddhism is usually characterised as a non-dualistic tradition. In the realm of the absolute — of oneness, self-nature, true nature, Buddha nature, etc. — good and evil are aspects of the one reality. There is no fundamental difference between them.

As the Sixth Zen Ancestor challenges: “Without thinking good or bad, what is your Original Face?” All things, no matter what they are, are as they are; they can’t be some other way. And what they are is Buddha, the absolute reality beyond good and evil (and every other dualism).

It is true that in Zen there are precepts that describe moral rules, not unlike those followed by any religion or ethical humanistic program — not killing, stealing, lying, and so on. But Zen teaching distinguishes three different levels of precept practice: relative (or literal), compassionate, and absolute. On the relative or literal level, we try to keep the precepts as written and simply understood. On the compassionate level, we sometimes violate a precept in order to benefit others. The absolute level proposes that there is ultimately no way to keep any precept, and no way to break it. All precepts are always broken and kept. This is non-dual morality — beyond good and evil.

Or so it seems.

When the precepts are deeply considered, it’s clear that literal, compassionate, and absolute are only words, distinctions meant to help us appreciate aspects of the precepts we might otherwise miss. In the actual human world, we can’t avoid the choice between good and bad, because there is no absolute level apart from the relative and compassionate levels. Relative, compassionate, and absolute are ways of talking about the moral choices we make with these human bodies and minds, in an actual, lived, physical world.

Of course, there is a difference between good and evil. But we notice that not everyone agrees on which is which (though I believe that as a human family we are getting closer to unanimity on this point). Nor can we help but notice how much evil is perpetuated in the name of combating evil.

In Zen precept practice, the fundamental, absolute ground of ethics is being itself. Because we and the world exist, there are precepts. Things are. Life is. And in this, not being is also included. A moment of time arising is a moment of time passing. Being born is the beginning of dying. This is sad, tragic, and probably impossible for us to fully appreciate. Yet we can and do feel the immensity of being itself — and the strangeness of unbeing. Grounding our lives in this fundamental truth is the fruit of our practice. This is where the teaching of “no difference between good and evil” comes from. It is essential. But it can’t be taken out of context.

When evil is perpetrated it becomes a fact of existence. When ISIS militants behead people in Syria and Iraq, or when children are used as suicide bombers, evil is being perpetrated. This becomes something that is. It is undeniable. We have to accept that this evil has actually happened. We have to somehow take it in, difficult as that may be, because it is now a part of our world, of our human life.

This doesn’t mean we have to condone it or accept it in a moral sense, or that we shouldn’t do everything we can do to prevent it from happening again. It only means that we have to accept it as having happened. This acceptance is how I understand the absolute level. When evil exists, we accept it as existing, just as we have to accept a loss that’s happened to us, even as we grieve it. If we deny or refuse to accept reality as it is, we won’t be able to cope with it. We will keep on making the same mistakes again and again. Our losses, if we don’t accept them, can destroy our lives. To attempt to relieve our pain by identifying evildoers and vowing to wipe them out, as if that will remove the loss’s stark grip on us, won’t work. It will only add to evil’s mounting pile.

What does “non-dual” mean after all? I am not sure I entirely understand the concept. Some years ago I was invited to make a presentation at a conference whose theme was non-dualism. I was surprised to find that to many of the speakers non-dual meant “oneness.” I guess this makes sense — either it’s dual (which means two or more, like dual headlights) or it’s not dual, which means it’s one (or “One,” as most of the speakers seemed to understand it). By this logic, good and evil as separate things would be dualism, two different things. Non-dual would mean that good and evil aren’t different; they are one thing.

But to me, the concept of oneness is also dualism because you have oneness on the one hand and dualism on the other hand. And they seem like two different things: “I agree with oneness. Dualism is a mistake.” This seems like dualism.

Sometimes reality arrives as one, sometimes as more than one. Non-dualism must include dualism. If non-dualism doesn’t include and validate dualism, then it is dualistic! Saying it like this seems odd, but in actual living, it simply seems to be true.

Oneness would be: yes, this happened. A man was tortured to death. A child was born. Like all that happened or ever could happen, these are true, living facts, and as such I must accept them as real — good or evil, whether I like it or not. Dualism would be: wrong is wrong, and I am committed to doing what is good and right, not what is evil or wrong.

In actual living, I can’t see any way but to embrace both of these ways of seeing. How else could we live a reasonable human life?

Zhaozho once asked Touzi, “When someone who has undergone the great death then returns to life, how is it?” Touzi said, “She can’t go by night, she should arrive in the daylight.”

In Zen language, “the great death” stands for the non-dual sense of life as one. All things, good or bad, desirable or undesirable, express that oneness. To experience the great death is to see, face to face and for oneself, that everything is real, everything is true, everything is just as it is. Such an experience, if it is an experience, is certainly important in Zen practice, if not all-important. What does that — and this story that speaks of it — imply for our collective moral lives?

A commentary to this story cites another story about this same monk Touzi. In this story, Touzi asks his teacher Cuiwei to explain the most mysterious and essential aspect of the Ch’an teachings. In response, Cuiwei turns and looks at him. Touzi says, “Please direct me,” and Cuiwei says, “Do you want a second ladleful of foul water?”

The great death, oneness, enlightenment, total acceptance of reality beyond good and evil — this is a necessary step in Zen or any other profound spiritual practice. But although this may be ultimate, it is only a step. Zen calls it “the great death” for a good reason. It is a kind of “death.” It requires a complete letting go, a complete relinquishment, in trust, of everything that one has identified as one’s life.

To be truly alive, as Zen practice sees it, one has to die — to let go of life. But until we are physically dead we can’t remain dead. We have to be alive. We can’t remain in the darkness and purity of beyond-good-and-evil. We have to arrive in the daylight of this physical, limited world of distinctions and moral choices. Difficult though it may be, there is no escape and no alternative. And yet we celebrate. Having died the great death, we know what a miracle it is to be alive, and how strange and marvellous it is — even with its difficult and sad challenges, which are themselves miraculous.

Almost all Zen stories are encounters between individuals, and therefore essentially dualistic. When Cuiwei faces Touzi he is saying to him: I am me, you are you. We may be one, we may be inherently empty of any difference or separation, but as long as we are alive we are different people. This essential difference — even though it is, in the light of the great death, unreal — is our life. “Appreciate and understand this,” Cuiwei is wordlessly teaching his student.

But Touzi requires a bit more explanation, so Cuiwei says to him: “Do you want another ladleful of foul water?” To be alive in this world of human beings, plants and animals, flesh and blood, earth, sky, fire, and water, is to be immersed in trouble, in essential imperfection. “All conditioned existence is suffering, unsatisfactory, dukkha,” the Buddha originally taught. In its purity, being is beyond good and evil, beyond moral dilemmas. And it’s not. We all want to escape to some ultimate goodness, some ultimate certainty, some ultimate peace. We hope, as Touzi hopes, that our religion can give it to us. But all our religions, all our explanations, all our moralities, are mixed and impure. To accept and embrace this is what brings an end to our suffering.

The story continues: after Cuiwei says this, Touzi gets it. He is, as Zen stories always say, “enlightened.” He bows and readies to leave. As he is going, Cuiwei says to him, “Don’t fall down!” Meaning, “In this sad world of birth and death, do your best to remain on your feet and do the right thing.” And also meaning, “Of course you won’t be able to do that. You’ll be constantly placed in moral dilemmas, you’ll make mistakes all the time. So when you fall down, get up as gracefully as possible.”

To die the great death is to see and feel life as being/non-being itself, sadly and beautifully beyond good and evil. But death is useless; it can’t produce anything in this world. You have to come back to life, and, as Touzi says to Zhaozho in our original story, you can only do that in the daylight, not in death’s darkness.

Yes, “life and death are one” is a deep and ineffable truth. Killing and being killed, one. All victims of violence would have died soon enough anyway. All of them were, like us, more or less already dead — impermanence, emptiness, means that we are all already dead, losing our lives (evanescent as smoke) moment by moment anyway. Our having an actual possessable life has always been a painful illusion. The change of state from life and death is slight, the curtain between them far thinner than any of us believe. From within the great death, everything is acceptable; everything is all right all of the time. Things are just as they are, not some other way. But this, monstrous as it sounds, is so only when you are dead — only when you have entered the samadhi of the absolute, which is stasis.

We can’t stay dead. We have to come back to life because this is our condition, privilege, and obligation. We enter the world of face-to-face encounter, of the difference between us. Oneness isn’t anything other than this. There is no difference between oneness and manyness. These are just ways of speaking. In the light of life, there’s only me and you, Touzi, Zhaozho, and Cuiwei, and what we and they can do together to bring some goodness to our lives. Following precepts is very clear. There are no two ways about it: don’t kill, never kill, don’t support killing, try to prevent killing when and however you can. Support and promote life and do what you can to nurture it. And when killing happens anyway, grieve with bitter tears the innocent death, because you are a human being, and it is very sad and terrible.

A person who’s died the great death before re-entering the light understands how all this happens, and knows that in some form or another it will always happen as long as we are human. Of course, it can happen more or less drastically, and one needs to work daily and tirelessly to make it better. But there will never be an end to this work of making things better because it is our human birthright to make things worse and to make them better.

Are human beings basically good or basically evil? This isn’t a sensible question. Human beings are Buddha, because life is Buddha, all-inclusive. Understanding this, you know you have to forgive, although not forget. You know that you can’t go forth with vengeance and hatred, or with a sense of moral superiority. Because you are you and not someone else, you know that there will always be foul water in your mouth — that the evil deeds of others are yours as well, that they are ours collectively. So you protect and defend as you can, but you don’t condemn. Evil is part of all of us — and part of Buddha too, according to the Zen teachings.

There’s a line about this story of dying the great death that appears in The Blue Cliff Record, a Zen koan collection: “Where right and wrong are mixed, even the sages cannot know…. She walks on thin ice, runs on a sword’s edge.…”

Moral choice is fraught. The more you know and the more you appreciate about a given situation, the more fraught it is. At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned drone attacks. Are they good or evil? Do they kill innocent civilians? Yes, they do. But even when they don’t, are they targeting the right people? Who are the “right people”? If someone is forced, by social pressure and the threat of murder, to harbour a so-called terrorist, or even to commit so-called terrorist acts, is such a person worthy of being targeted? Is anyone? And who decides? On what basis?

Can anyone, in this corrupt, unjust, unfair, confused world, claim a position of moral superiority? Is there anyone who can sit on a pristine throne of moral rectitude from which to proclaim the judgement of who shall live and who shall die? According to this commentary, not even the sages can say. They, like us, are walking on thin ice that might breakthrough at any moment. Yet we must walk and run; we must make ethical choices based on our best understanding of and firm commitment to precepts and the goodness they represent.

A verse on this story says: Even the ancient Buddhas, they say, have never arrived / I don’t know who can scatter dust and sand.

In Zen, teaching is a dubious proposition. That’s why it’s called “scattering dust and sand.” Like Cuiwei, with his “ladleful of foul water,” Zen ancients recognised that all religious and moral systems, however necessary, must be taken lightly. They will always be partial and therefore potentially destructive in this checkered world. Even the Buddhas, as Zen sees them, are still working on being able to understand their own lives, and ours, well enough even to be able to spread the half-truths that constitute Buddhist teaching.

The three pure precepts of Zen come from the earliest Buddhism, long before Zen. They are: “To avoid evil, To do good, To benefit all beings.” We may not really know what this means. We may not know how to do it. But it is our commitment, the effort of our lifetime, to be carried out with energy, appreciation, forgiveness, non-condemnation, understanding, and grief.

Norman Fischer 19.

Not to listen is to be like a pot turned upside down. Not to be able to retain what you hear is to be like a pot with a hole in it. To mix negative emotions with what you hear is to be like a pot with poison in it.

The pot turned upside down: When you are listening to the teachings, listen to what is being said and do not let yourself be distracted by anything else. Otherwise, you will be like a pot turned upside down, on which liquid is being poured. Although you are physically present, you do not hear a word of the teaching.

The pot with a hole in it: If you just listen without remembering anything that you hear or understand, you will be like a pot with a leak. However much liquid is poured into it, nothing can stay. No matter how many teachings you hear, you can never assimilate them or put them into practice.

The pot containing poison: If you listen to the teachings with the wrong attitude, such as the desire to become great or famous, or a mind full of the five poisons, the Dharma will not only fail to help your mind; it will also be changed into something that is not Dharma at all, like nectar poured into a pot containing poison.

— Patrul Rinpoche

Patrul Rinpoche (华智仁波切) 4..jpg





如果每天持大悲咒:“南无喝啰怛那哆罗夜耶 南无阿唎耶”,然后其他的听经闻法不听、不看、不闻。然后:“喔!我念到了见佛、见光”,就生大我慢,这就是佛道一修……修到最后变外道。





Ven Hui Lu 158.

The mind is hard to check, swift, flits wherever it listeth: to control it is good. A controlled mind is conducive to happiness.

— The Buddha

Buddha 844.

In times of Trouble, Broaden Your View
Original Chinese article, 失意时要懂得心宽 by Qing Liang (清凉)
translated by Oh Puay Fong

Disappointments and setbacks are inevitable in life — what’s important is to see them from a wider perspective.

Disappointments and setbacks are inevitable; a smooth life without obstacles makes one smug. Moaning, mourning, blaming failures or protesting against reality are futile exercises. The only resolution comes from expanding one’s perspective.

There is a Chinese saying that goes “in life, bad experiences happen more frequently than good ones.” Isn’t our human existence condemned to suffering then? You’ve probably heard the saying, “the road to success is paved with failures”. Thus, we should adopt this mindset instead: Hindrances are part of one’s growth and transformation; a resolute mind does not waver in the face of challenges. The Chinese also believed that heavy snowstorms foretell prosperous years. It’s been said that “the sky is more expansive than the sea, but what is even more expansive than the sky is the mind.” No matter how difficult your life may be, how you may be cramped into a tiny square box of space, your mind is free from any constraints and can wander without restrictions. It’s boundless, you are free to roam as you please. This is the charming allure of being alive and conscious!

If you step onto higher ground, you will see farther. A colourful life encounters a rainbow of hues from red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo to violet. Among the five tastes of sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty, different people have different preferences. In life, we cycle endlessly through the seven emotions of happiness, anger, pain, joy, sadness, fear and surprise.

There is no smooth-sailing life. If there were no upheavals, our lives would be so monotonous, uninteresting and boring. Without the embarrassment and humiliation of failure, how could success taste sweet?

We will inevitably face disappointments and setbacks. Instead of treating them as rocks standing in our way, why not reposition them so we can step upon them to see even farther into the horizon? When you do, your view will be more inclusive and your heart will open wide as a result!

Humans are instinctively kind. We often make allowances for strangers and show gentleness to our beloved, but forget to leave some compassion for ourselves. Here’s a useful phrase: “It’s all right.” To others, we often utter it, either out of politeness, thoughtfulness, pretence, helplessness, sheer nonchalance, or an ulterior motive. Whatever the intention, if you need to console yourself in the face of inevitable hardships that life throws at you, utter this phrase to yourself. Without sunny days, life would be depressing indeed, so you need to tell yourself, “It’s all right.” When you lose your friends and feel lonely, learn to say, “It’s all right.” When you’re completely exhausted, utter it to yourself, and to your weary heart. Uttering it is not an excuse to dismiss all the past wrongs or to forget all your regrets completely, but to free yourself from unnecessary burdens or falling into hopelessness. Psyching yourself up is an effective way to recover.

Humans are empathetic by nature. When others are sad, unless these are their enemies, they will feel bad too and offer a kind word to encourage others. Yet, even as the advice is well-intentioned, and the logic impeccable, the listener may not accept it, or even act according to the advice because extreme pain is numbing. A writer once said, “I don’t give advice to anyone on anything. The one who tied the knot should untie it. The emotional scars in your heart can only be removed by your own hands. Advice from friends or kind people is only catalyst. You are the deciding factor.“ In short, disappointments and setbacks are unavoidable, what’s important is to widen your perspective to a panoramic view.”

Lotus 297.

Just as worn-out clothes can never again be made as new, it’s no use seeing a doctor once you’re terminally ill; you’ll have to go. We humans living on this earth are like streams and rivers flowing toward the ocean – All living beings are heading for that single destination.

— Mahasiddha Padampa Sangye

Padampa Sangye 2.





「根性有異學亦別」:「根」,指的是過去世的栽培;在此生之前的生命,曾在佛法中熏習過戒定慧的善品加行,能為後世善品加行現行之因,故名為「根」,即指善根而言。「性」者心也;就是現在的心情歡喜靜坐、歡喜佛法,或歡喜做種種功德等,這就叫做「性」。「根性有異學亦別」者:因為過去生的熏習與栽培不同, 這一生表現出來的思想、樂欲亦不同,學習佛法的情況,也就有各種差異了。









《易經》說:「積善之家,必有餘慶;積不善之家,必有餘殃。」此「餘」字何解?儒家未能明說人的生命是不中斷的,所以只好解說為:父母做了很多好事,由兒女來承受功德果報,所以名「餘」。這雖然也有鼓勵人做善的作用,但是在佛教的理論上觀之,卻有所不足!有時父親有某種病,兒子也得這種病,就說這是遺傳。 但按佛法說,這是「共業」,而非遺傳!也是過去世中,父親與兒子共同做過某種有過失的事,所以今生同得一樣的果報!其實父子或夫妻,都有共業;若無共業, 就不能為父子、也不能做夫妻了(當然其中亦有別業)。大家一起做功德,共同享吉慶;共同做惡,也就共受苦果。所謂「自作自受」,沒有自己作善作惡餘人受報之義;這是自己做的自己負責的意思。



決定勝利、永不失敗,即名「決定勝」。例如,漢高祖劉邦與楚霸王項羽作戰,劉邦敗多勝少,楚霸王勝多敗少,但這都不算數;後來,項羽烏江自刎、劉邦稱帝, 最後勝利的才是勝利。這樣,勝利以後永久不再失敗,就叫做「決定勝」。學習聖道的人,聲聞種姓者於初果須陀洹以上,大乘菩薩證得無生法忍、乃至成佛,這是「決定勝」!就是從彼時以後,決定不再退轉了,故名「決定勝」。















再說一個故事。佛在世時,羅閱祇國有婆羅門兄弟兩人,哥哥叫大軍,弟弟叫小軍。哥哥與長者女訂婚後,遠到他國做生意,經過時日頗久都無音訊。長者就到其弟小軍這裡來,對小軍說:「你哥哥遠行很多年都無音信,也不知道情形如何。現在我的女兒年紀漸長,不能再等了。你和我女結婚好不好?」小軍當時很堅定的拒絕了這件事。多少時日後;爾時長者數來陳說:「你哥哥還沒有消息回來,你不要拒絕,你們結婚好了。」小軍意堅未曾迴轉。爾時,長者想了想,就想出主意來了。 過不多久,從遠方來了一個生意人,捎來一封信,說他哥哥死了,朋友為他辦了後事云云。弟聞兄死,心乃愕然。幾天後,長者又來了,說:「我聽說你哥哥的朋友來了一封信,說你哥哥已經死了,你可以和我的女兒結婚了嗎?」小軍默然不出聲。長者又說:「你若再不同意,我就要將女兒許配他人了。」這麼一說,小軍被逼急了,就與這個女孩子結婚了。婚後沒多久,他哥哥捎信說就要回來了。小軍聞兄還國,心懷慚懼,便離開家,逃至舍衛國,到於佛前求索出家。佛知可度,即時聽許。出家後修四念處,不知經過若干時日(應該不會很久),得了阿羅漢道。




後來,舍利弗尊者將此事報告佛,問佛:「小軍比丘能出家精進用功得阿羅漢果,是非常難得的修行人,為什麼會為毒蛇所害?」佛說:「這是有因緣的。很久很久以前,有一個歡喜打獵的人,常到曠野山林裡,用網捕天上的飛鳥、用箭射地面上的走獸。那時山裡有一位辟支佛在那裡住,他知道獵人常在這裡打獵,不忍動物受到殺害,所以常常將這些鳥獸趕走。獵人打不到野獸,心中怨恨,就以毒箭射這位辟支佛。辟支佛中了毒箭,自知不久將死,就飛至虛空現種種神通變化。而獵人一看,知道自己殺害聖人,恐怖自責,歸誠謝過,求哀懺悔,並發願將來還能遇見聖人、得聖道,具足種種神通道力。這個獵人就是小軍比丘,他以毒箭射死辟支佛, 所以五百世以來一直是中毒而死,最後一生得了阿羅漢道,還是要中毒而死。」





我們讀歷史,劉邦打垮楚霸王,劉邦快樂乎?《史記》卷八云:「漢十年八月,趙相國陳豨反代地;九月上自東往擊之。十一年春,淮陰侯韓信謀反關中,夷三族。 秋七月,淮南王黔布反。十二年十月,高祖已擊布軍會甀;布走令別將追之。高祖歸還,過沛。置酒沛宮,悉召故人父老子弟縱酒,發沛中兒得百二十人,教之歌。 酒酣,高祖擊筑自為歌詩曰:『大風起兮雲飛揚,威加海內兮歸故鄉,安得猛士兮守四方!?』令兒皆和習之。高祖乃起舞,慷慨傷懷,泣數行下。」劉邦反叛秦帝,滅項羽而稱皇帝後,時有反叛,其心安樂乎?讀其歌詞「泣數行下」,可知非樂也!


又其太子李承乾與功臣侯君集謀反,又其子齊王祐反於齊州,此類事不令李世民心煩乎?又如晉朝大富翁石崇,最後也是很悽慘的鳴呼哀哉!積了很多的財富、奪到很大的權力,結果苦苦惱惱的嗚呼哀哉了,有什麼好? 世間上的富貴榮華都是虛假的,實在是苦而非樂。只有修學聖道,才是真實有義利的,大安樂、大自在的。

Ven Xuan Jing (玅境長老) 18.

Don’t prolong the past,
Don’t invite the future,
Don’t alter your innate wakefulness,
Don’t fear appearances.
There is nothing more than that!

— Patrul Rinpoche

Patrul Rinpoche (华智仁波切) 9.

Vajrayana Explained
by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

The root meaning: the path of generation and completion’s union.
This has what has to be known and what has to be meditated.

In the fifth song of The Quintessence of the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen: The Practical Instructions of the Noble Great Compassionate One, Chenrezik, Karma Chakme Rinpoche describes a path that consists of the unification or integration of the generation stage (the visualisation of a deity or deities) and the completion stage (which in this case refers to recognition of the mind’s nature). This path is presented as two things that can be practised simultaneously and do not necessarily have to be practised separately. The song has two parts: what is to be understood and what is to be meditated on. The meaning is profound and extensive. What is to be understood is the actual view behind all deity meditation, and what is to be practised is the main meditation of this path.


The essence of the mind of all beings
Is primordially the essence of buddhahood.
Its empty essence is the birthless dharmakaya.
Its clear distinct appearances are the sambhogakaya.
Its unceasing compassion is the variegated nirmanakaya.
The inseparable union of those three is the svabhavikakaya.
Its eternal changelessness is the mahasukhakaya.

The view is to be understood as follows: The nature of the mind of all sentient beings, irrespective of any obscurations that may obscure or conceal it, has from the very beginning been Buddha. There is an inherent wakefulness and perfection to the mind of each and every being. In fact, this is what the mind of each and every being is. In and of itself, it is free of all defects and complete with all qualities, and therefore the nature of the mind can be called Buddha. Even though we have become confused and wander through samsara, that basic nature has not degenerated, and even when we attain full awakening, that nature itself will not improve. The nature of the mind remains unaffected; in other words, it is the same in both the context of ground and in the context of fruition. Its essential emptiness is the dharmakaya, the essential nature of the mind that is free from arising, abiding, and cessation. Nevertheless, your mind is not just empty; it is vivid, lucid, and cognitive. That characteristic or appearance of the mind as a lucidity that is unmixed in its experience of appearances is the sambhogakaya, or body of complete enjoyment. The actual display of that lucidity, the goodness or responsiveness and compassion of the mind, which is unlimited and unceasing in its variety, is the nirmanakaya.

When we speak of them in these terms, these three seem different from one another. The mind’s emptiness, its clarity, and the arising of appearances within the mind are not in and of themselves substantial, but rather they are the appearance of that which is without inherent existence, like a rainbow. Although these three sound different, they are not three different things but are in fact a unity. That unity, which is the mind itself, is the svabhavikakaya, or essence body. This unity also never changes: it does not improve at the time of fruition, nor does it degenerate under other circumstances, so therefore it is called the mahasukhakaya, or body of great bliss.

This primordial innate presence in yourself
Was not created by the compassion of the Buddhas, by the blessing of the gurus,
Or by the profound special essentials of the dharma.
Wisdom has primordially been present in this way.
All sutras and tantras are in accord on this.

From the very beginning, this primordial wisdom has been inherent in each and every person. It is innate; it is something that we are never without; we never lose it nor deviate from it. Because it is and has always been the unity of emptiness and lucidity, the path that corresponds in characteristic to the ground is, therefore, the unity of these two stages, generation and completion. This unity itself, which has always been the nature of our minds and which we have never been without, is not produced by the path. The path corresponds in characteristic to the qualities of the ground, but the path does not produce the ground, it only reveals it.

This perfect nature of mind has not arisen because of the compassion of the buddhas, the blessing of the guru, nor through the profound meaning of dharma, such as through its understanding or practice. It is not produced by any of these things; it is not produced at all. It has always been there, from the very beginning, although we can never find a beginning; therefore not only was it not produced, but it is also not the case that at some point this nature was pure and then somehow we degenerated from it. The mind has always been what it is in and of itself, but it has not been recognised. This has been presented the same way in all the sutras and tantras. Here, all sutras primarily refer to Mahayana sutras.


We do this because of the delusion of not knowing ourselves.
For example, it’s like seeing a man who has gold hearthstones
But does not know they are gold and suffers from starvation.
Being given the direct recognition of this is the great kindness of the guru.

If your mind has from the very beginning been uncreated purity and perfection, then you might ask why we wander in samsara. It is because from the very beginning we have never recognised our own nature. This is not to say that we degenerated from a former state of recognition, but rather there never was such a state of recognition. We have always looked outward at appearances, and because we look at them and do not recognise them, we mistake them as being fundamentally separate from the mind to which they appear. In other words, although appearances as the display of the mind are the spontaneously present three kayas, we do not recognise them as such, and therefore we misapprehend them to be what they are not. The use of the word bewilderment or mistake or confusion indicates that we are not seeing things as they are. Our way of seeing things in samsara is a deviation from the truth. We are mistaken. We are seeing things as they are not, and this in fact is what samsara is.

The text gives an analogy that concerns an extremely poor person whose entire house is made of gold, but he does not realise this. The person is so impoverished that he is actually starving. Of course, the person could feed himself if he knew there was gold in the house, but not knowing that, he is starving. This is why the pointing out of the nature of your mind to be gold, to be perfect, is such an act of kindness. If someone came to that poor person and said, “You do not have to starve; there is gold right there,” that would completely change that person’s life.

You may recognise the gold, but that will not dispel the hunger;
You must sell it, and prepare food by frying,
Cooking, or roasting it, and then eating it will end the hunger.
In the same way, after the guru gives you the direct recognition,
Through practice, your mistake will be eliminated and you will be liberated.

This illustrates why merely receiving the pointing out of your mind’s nature is not sufficient by itself. If someone came and told the person that they had gold, that alone would not alleviate their hunger; they would have to use the gold, exchanging it for grain or other food, which they would then have to cook and prepare for eating. The text follows the model of tsampa, or roasted barley flour. You first have to roast the barley and then grind it into flour. The poor person could use the gold to buy provisions, cook the food, and then eat, and in that way alleviate all hunger.

Similarly, merely receiving the introduction to your mind’s nature, the pointing out of your mind’s nature, does not remove your bewilderment or misapprehension. You can only become liberated from bewilderment by applying in your practice what was pointed out.


The Mahayana sutras and the Mantrayana tantras are in agreement
That your own mind is, in that way, Buddhahood.
However, the sutras do not provide the direct recognition
That your body is Buddhahood, and therefore it is a long path,
Achieving Buddhahood after three incalculable aeons.

All the sutras of the Mahayana and the tantras of the Vajrayana are in agreement on the nature of mind being Buddha. The difference is that the path of the sutras is very long because the fact that the nature of the physical body is also Buddha is not actually pointed out, whereas the path of the tantras is short because this is pointed out. Further, in the tantras and in the highest and final level of the Mahayana sutras, the third dharmachakra, there is a more direct identification of the innate qualities that are spontaneously present within the mind’s nature. Below that — in the common sutras up to and including the second dharmachakra — the nature of things, and therefore the nature of the mind, is primarily described in terms of what it is not; that is, it is mostly pointed out as being emptiness. But here a distinction is being made more in terms of pointing out spontaneously present qualities within the mind (the text simply says, the direct recognition that your body is Buddhahood) as opposed to simply pointing out the mind.

Because of the lack of a precise identification of the inherent qualities within the ground in the common path of the sutras, it takes even those of the highest capacity three periods of innumerable aeons to complete this common path and attain Buddhahood. For example, that is how long it took Buddha Shakyamuni. Many other Buddhas take as long as thirty-seven periods of innumerable aeons.

The highest tantras have the methods for attaining Buddhahood within one lifetime.
They are profound because of the direct recognition of your own body as the deities.
Therefore, the highest tantras teach in complete detail
That your own body is the mandala of the deity,
Such as Samvara, Guhyasamaja, the eight herukas, and so on.

The reason why you can attain Buddhahood in one lifetime according to the higher tantras, the anuttara yoga tantras, is that the method of those tantras is based on the identification of the nature of your body as Buddha. Each of the higher tantras has its own way of explaining that the nature of your physical body is the mandala of deities. In specific terms, it will be described as the mandala of that specific tantra, such as Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja of the new tradition, or the eight great sadhanas or eight herukas of the old tradition. In any case, the fact that the nature of not only the mind but also the body, is Buddha is explained extensively in all anuttara yoga tantras.…

What does the practice consist of that brings about the manifestation of these qualities? It consists of all the practices of purifying obscurations and gathering the accumulations, but especially the visualisation of deities, recitation of mantras, and resting your mind in the even placement of samadhi. As you go through these practices, gradually as your familiarisation with these innate qualities increases, your degree of obscuration — cognitive obscuration, mental afflictions, and karmic obscuration — decreases. As this happens, you come correspondingly closer and closer to Buddhahood or awakening.…


Then look directly at the meditating mind.
All that is meditated upon will vanish into emptiness.

The second part, the completion stage, is as follows: by looking directly at the mind that is meditating, all that was previously visualised dissolves into emptiness. You do not actually think, “It dissolves into emptiness,” but rather you direct your mind toward the visualisation and look directly at the mind that has been visualising. Then, the sense of a person visualising something just dissolves.

The mind has no form, colour, or substance.
It does not exist outside or inside the body, nor in between.
Even if you search for it in every direction, it is unreal.
It has no origin, location, or destination.
It is not nothing; your mind is vividly lucid.
It is not single, for it arises diversely as anything.
It is not multiple, for everything has one essence.

When you look directly at your mind, the mind that has been meditating on Chenrezik, you will observe that it has no physical form or colour; in short, it has no substantiality. As far as where the mind is, if you look directly at it, you will see that it is not limited to one location; therefore you cannot say the mind is outside the body, but you also cannot say that it is just inside the body, or that it is somewhere in between. No matter where you look for it — and you can look for it all over the universe — you will not find it in the sense of finding a substantial thing that you can honestly call your mind. If you look to see where it comes from, you will see that it does not come from anywhere. If you look to see where it is, you will see that it does not seem to abide anywhere. If you look to see where it goes, you will see that it does not go anywhere.

Since the mind has no substantial characteristic, no substantial existence, no location, and so on, you might think, “Well, the mind is nothing.” The mind is not nothing, because it is your mind, which is extremely vivid or glaring in its cognitive lucidity. Likewise, you cannot say, “That mind, being a cognitive lucidity, is one thing,” because this cognitive lucidity is infinite in its variety. It can arise as the experience of anything. Yet at the same time, you cannot say that the mind is different things either because all of this infinite variety of cognitive experience has the same essential nature.

No one knows how to describe its essence.
If one describes it by analogy, there will never be an end to describing it.
You can use many synonyms and terms for it,
Names such as “mind,” “self,” “alaya,” and so on,
But in truth, it is just this present knowingness.

You cannot say the mind is something; you cannot say the mind is nothing; you cannot say it is substantial; you cannot say it is nonexistent and utterly insubstantial. Its nature cannot be described by anyone. This means that no one, including Buddhists, scholars, siddhas, and so forth, can actually say what the mind really is. It is not because they are ignorant of what the mind is; rather, it is because the mind is inconceivable, unthinkable, and indescribable, as we say in the common praise of Prajnaparamita. In and of itself, it is inexpressible; therefore when we try to describe it, we use some kind of analogy or we say what it is not. “It is not this” and “It is not that.” If we limit ourselves to analogies saying what it is not, there is no end to what you can say about it. There is so much to be said, but you are never actually saying what the mind itself is; therefore all of the terms and concepts that we have come up with for the ground or basis of experience are all themselves of the mind. We call it “mind itself”; we call it alaya, “all-basis.” We impute all kinds of things to it; we develop innumerable attitudes and theories about it. All these are really just concepts about, and names for, this very cognition or experience of the present moment.

This itself is the root of all samsara and nirvana,
The attainment of Buddhahood and falling into lower existences,
Wandering in the bardo, good and bad rebirths,
Aversion, anger, craving, attachment,
Faith, pure perception, love, compassion,
Experiences, realisation, qualities, the paths, the bhumis, and so on—
It is this very mind that is the creator of them all.

This mind is itself the ground of all experience because it is that which experiences everything. It is therefore the root or source of both samsara and nirvana. If the mind’s nature is recognised, that recognition and the qualities inherent within the nature of the mind are the source of everything we call nirvana: all the qualities of Buddhas, of their bodies, realms, and so on. If the mind’s nature is not recognised, that lack of recognition, that ignorance, is the fundamental cause or root of all samsara, all of its suffering and lack of freedom. It is this mind that, when its nature is recognised, attains Buddhahood. It is this mind that, when its nature is unrecognised and on the basis of which karma is accumulated, falls into the lower realms. It is this mind that wanders through the bardo, and it is this mind that undergoes various forms of rebirth that are relatively better or worse depending on the particular karma accumulated as a result of the lack of recognition of its own nature. It is this mind that, under the power of the mental afflictions we generate through ignorance of the mind’s nature, gets angry and holds grudges. It is this mind that wants, and it is this mind that falls prey to craving and attachment. In short, it is this mind that retains or engages in the root and branch mental afflictions.

Through some degree of recognition, and through the accumulation of merit, it is this mind that experiences faith and develops a pure view. It is this mind that feels compassion and love for others. It is this mind that generates experience, realisation, and all the other qualities of the path, so it is this mind that traverses the path and achieves its various stages and levels. It is just this mind itself that does and experiences all of these things.

This very mind is the root of all bondage, the root of all disaster.
When the aorta is cut through, all the senses stop.
For one who has understood and practised this
There is no dharma that is not included within it.

This mind is the source of everything, and therefore this mind is the source of all bondage and all disaster. It is this mind that becomes confused through failing to recognise its own nature and thereafter becomes bound by mental afflictions. The recognition or absence of recognition of the nature of this mind is the deciding factor in whether this mind experiences nirvana (in the case of recognition) or samsara (in the absence of recognition). Here Karma Chakme gives an analogy. If you kill someone by cutting their aorta, all their senses stop when they die. In the same way, if you kill the whole process of ignorance by recognising the mind’s nature — because ignorance is, so to speak, the life force of samsara — all suffering and mental affliction of samsara cease. All dharmas without exception are therefore included in the recognition and the cultivation of the recognition of the nature of your mind. That is the point of all dharma.

There is not a hairsbreadth of anything to be meditated on in this.
But it is enough to look at the essence without distraction,
Without hope for good and fear of the bad,
Without thinking what it is or what it isn’t.
Whether still or in movement, whether clear or unclear,
Whatever arises, look fixedly at its essence.

There is no object of meditation because your mind is simply experiencing itself just as it is, in the present moment. It is sufficient here to look at the nature of your mind without distraction. The words look fixedly at are by nature dualistic language, and are misleading in the sense that the mind that is looked at is not something other than the mind that is looking.

While doing this, it is unnecessary to hope that things will go well and that you will recognise your mind’s nature, or to fear that things will go poorly and you that will become distracted or lose the recognition. It is unnecessary to think, “Is this it, or is this not it?” It does not matter whether your mind is still or moving. If it is still, it is not going to stay still forever, so it shouldn’t matter anyway. It does not even matter whether your mind is particularly lucid in that moment or for that day. Regardless of whatever is happening in your mind, simply look with an intense or glaring awareness at the nature of whatever arises. The term vivid means “one-pointedly without distraction.” This means not allowing the distraction of thoughts to divert you from looking at the nature. That itself is the main practice here.

When you are meditating in this way in the main practice,
If you are resting blissfully and unwaveringly, that is “stillness.”
If you are not resting, but running into the ten directions, that is “movement.”
Being aware of whatever appears, whether stillness or movement, that is “awareness.”

While doing this, different things can happen. Sometimes when looking at the nature of your mind, your mind does not move; it stays put, evenly, peacefully at rest. That is stillness. At other times it wanders all over the place. That is movement. There is also the faculty of awareness, the recognition of whether the mind is still or moving.

Though they appear to be different they are one in essence.
Stillness is dharmakaya, movement is nirmanakaya,
Awareness is sambhogakaya, and their inseparability is the svabhavikakaya.
They are the seed or cause for the accomplishment of the three kayas.

When you experience stillness, movement, and awareness in meditation, they seem like three different things. There is stillness, there is movement, and then there is the awareness of both of these; yet all three are of the same nature, they are three states of the same mind. Here Karma Chakme says that the mind in stillness is the dharmakaya; the mind in movement is the nirmanakaya, and the awareness that recognises stillness and movement is the sambhogakaya. Furthermore, because they are not three different things, but rather three different manifestations of the same mind, they are collectively the svabhavikakaya, or essence body. In that sense, they are the cause of, or the seed for, the attainment of the trikaya, or three kayas. Here seed refers to the fact that this mind is fully revealed in the context of the fruition, and that recognition or familiarisation with this essence is the seed of liberation.

Therefore there is no good or bad in terms of stillness and movement.
Therefore do not choose, but maintain whatever arises.
At first repeatedly look for brief periods many times,
Then gradually look for longer and longer.

Because they are of the same nature, there is no need to prefer stillness over occurrence or movement; one is not better than the other. Do not be selective, just look at the nature of whatever arises, without feeling that it needs to be one thing and not another. When you first start to practice this, it is important to do so for brief periods. If you try to prolong it for too long, the effort, which is initially unfamiliar to you, will be tiring, and as a result, you will get sloppy and allow yourself to become distracted while you are sitting there. For that reason, initially, it is best to look at the mind’s nature for very brief moments. Then gradually, as you become more familiar with it, you can prolong the periods of looking at the nature of mind.

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Look at the man walking past you on the street. He is not a stranger, but a potential friend. Let us leave behind the hostility we associate with people we have never met.

— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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