The More Carefree You Are, the Better Your Dharma Practice
by Tsoknyi Rinpoche

It’s actually fine to be happy and carefree. The more carefree you are from deep within, the better your dharma practice is.

Carefree means being wide open from within, not constricted. Carefree doesn’t mean careless, that you are sloppy or that you don’t care about others. It’s not like you don’t have compassion or are unfriendly. Carefree is being really simple, from the inside. You need to be relaxed, yet without stupidity. Sometimes people relax like this: (Rinpoche lies back limply with eyes half-closed and a vacant expression). Especially around the swimming pool! You have a swim, then you climb out of the pool and lay down with your hat, sunglasses, and maybe a cold beer.

You’re very relaxed, but you’re relaxing into stupidity. You’ve relaxed into a very dull state. The point is to be relaxed and yet very clear. There is no need to create something by meditating, no need to achieve something — simply be very clear. Relaxed and bright.

You need to be in charge of yourself. Check yourself out, and if you find you’re missing some qualities, then work to develop them. It doesn’t help to go about with your hands outstretched, trying to obtain good qualities from others. Take charge of yourself. Be happy. Even when it’s not funny, still smile.

Think about how much time we put into washing ourselves, freshening up, brushing our teeth, putting on make-up, and so on. It’s just as important to fix up your mind. If your mind is down, pull it up. If you’re flying too high, ground it. Take charge of yourself. Of course, you can’t literally wash your mind or comb it. You can’t cut your mind’s nails when they’re too long. But you can be in charge of your attitude; you can take responsibility for your mental and emotional state.

In fact, that’s the main point of the Buddhist teachings. Be aware of your own mind. Let it be undisturbed and free of confusion, because only then can you be of help to others. Otherwise, you just remain confused, confusing yourself, and there’s no way to really be of help to anyone else. Don’t get too overexcited about this, either. Just relax, sit upright, and be open — wide open and carefree. The view in the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) tradition is to be totally open and carefree.

If we act a little too carefree, that is not so good either. That is called losing the conduct in the view. A lot of people do that. They revolt against a particular culture, against the system, against the establishment — against the fixed habits of this world. They shave off half their hair or half their beard, or they dress funny, or they wear no clothes at all. It’s all a reaction against cultural mores. Sometimes they take drugs and they try to be free in that way. Actually, that’s not being free at all. That is losing the conduct in the view.

Once I met a man who wore all his hair pushed up atop his head, had painted it blue, and had half his beard shaved off. I am not saying that he was a bad person; not at all. His behaviour was his way of reacting against stereotypes of how we should look. But if you’re carefree and open from within, you can fit in anywhere, anyway, without having to go to dramatic extremes or make shocking statements. If you’re not open or carefree from within, you’ll find you always get bumped up against things. Your life gets so narrow, so tight, so claustrophobic. The point is to be free, not to be crazy.

Be carefree and open, and feel free. Train in being free. It is said that when the dharma is not practised correctly, the practice could become a cause for rebirth in the lower realms. We’re supposed to practice in order to become free, to liberate ourselves. But if our practice only makes us more stuck, then what? What if we get stuck in the method? When you take the ferry, the ferry is the method. Once you get to the other shore you leave the ferry behind and go on. There’s no point in dragging the boat back to your house. Nor is it good to stay on the ferry, for twenty-four hours a day, forever.

The state of wisdom (rigpa) is not bound by any method. It’s not stuck at all. It’s naturally free. If that’s the case, what’s the point of sitting and making up ideas in meditation? The situation becomes completely claustrophobic — why try to accustom yourself to that?

If your hands are very dirty, you wash them with soap. Once you’re finished rubbing the soap, you don’t keep it on your hands. You rinse it off because you don’t need it any longer. The soap is used to get rid of the dirt. Once the dirt is loosened from your hands, why keep the soap?

Likewise, don’t hold on to the method; don’t hold on to the meditation technique. Just let it be and relax. This is called nonmeditation, undistracted nonmeditation. If you meditate, it’s conceptual. If you get distracted, you’re just a normal person. So, don’t meditate, and don’t get distracted.

The next point is don’t harm others, but help others. Liberate yourself, and after liberating yourself, help to liberate others. Someone who is really full of himself might think, “I am practising something that is special. Hey, I am really something!” If one has that type of attitude about oneself, really, what is the use? It doesn’t help anyone. Far better to run away and give up practising.

Because if spiritual practice really doesn’t help oneself, why bother? It’s much better to be genuine and real about how things are. Take the truth of impermanence more and more to heart, in a very sincere way. Be more loving, more kind, more compassionate. If you find that this is happening, then the dharma is really taking effect. To have less craving and more contentment — that is the point.

It’s quite okay not to be very educated. In fact, to be simple-minded is fine. It’s far preferable to being egotistical. Much better to be simple about oneself and not get into a lot of details about “what is good for me.” It’s all right to get into a lot of details and make a lot of fuss when it comes to being helpful, to helping others. But if we complicate our own lives and focus too much on ourselves, we forget how to be simple, and we are never happy.


First of all, when one’s being is liberated from within through this practice, one knows it personally. That atmosphere or feeling also seeps out in a way and is felt by others.

One of the qualities of recognising emptiness is that the thought “I” or “me” has no longer any basis, and thus it dissolves. There is no self-identity present. Through recognising and realising the empty essence, instead of being selfish and self-centred, one feels very open and free. It feels like everything is possible; one could just go anywhere; it is all okay. One is not really fixated or tied down.

In short, the bottom line during the meditation state is whether or not your delusion falls to pieces. By letting be in wisdom, the string of thought which ties confusion together is suddenly no longer tying anything together, and it naturally falls apart. When there is no pursuit of past thought and no inviting of future thought, that gap means that the whole delusory process vanishes.

The effect of that — the afterglow, you could say — shows itself in the post-meditation. In daily life, one has much less craving and compulsion to chase after things. One is much more content and at ease, and possesses much more devotion, appreciation, and compassion. That is how it shows itself outwardly.

This is actually a good question because we need to take care that there is real progress in our practice. Every so often, we may have to look back and assess: “What has happened to me? Is there any improvement in my personality, in my character? Am I more or less attached to things? Do I have more or less craving, more or less aggression? Am I more or less dull than before? In which direction am I really going? Am I improving or not improving?”

We may think, “Now I have been meditating for five years…ten years…fifteen years. But what has really happened? Can I discern any real improvement when I compare how I used to be with how I am now?” It’s very good to scrutinise yourself that way, to check and see if there is any progress.

It may sound a little strange to say this, but when one practice in a place where there is no external support for dharma practice — a place where people don’t necessarily respect and praise the fact that you are a spiritual practitioner — maybe it is more possible to be a really genuine practitioner. In fact, maybe it is much easier. Who knows? Conversely, in a place where there is a lot of support for practice, there may be plenty of people who are not really practising genuinely.

We should be concerned with these questions: Am I really practising in a genuine way? Am I really progressing? We need to check ourselves, again and again. As we practice more and more, the basic guideline is: Are our disturbing emotions diminishing? Is wisdom developing and increasing? Yes or no? We should examine ourselves honestly in this way.


Without understanding emptiness, compassion can never be authentic. There’s a very high chance we will confuse compassion with attachment and desire. One thinks that one’s passion is compassion, that one’s attachment to others and caring for others is true compassion.

Our ordinary version of compassion and affection is selfish in a way because it’s my family, my children. I care for them, we should enjoy ourselves together because I love them. It is compassion in a sense, but without the understanding of emptiness, it becomes very narrow, very limited.

Compassion is not that kind of attachment. It is not passion for or attraction toward something that one loves or likes. Compassion is called the “great passion,” but it is not the passion of latching onto something and not wanting to let go. True compassion is a very open and free atmosphere.

Compassion without the understanding of emptiness easily becomes selfish attachment, while understanding emptiness without compassion can also become selfish, one-sided, and limited. In order to avoid these dangers, it’s very important to understand the unity of emptiness and compassion. Your naked, present ordinary mind is the door to this unity of compassionate emptiness. Recognise that, and you’ve opened the door. The more we grow used to this, the easier it becomes.

Right now this door is closed by our preoccupation with an almost uninterrupted string of thoughts. But if we allow just one gap between one thought and the next, we may glimpse the naked ordinary mind, self-existing awareness. Then the door is opened right there to reveal compassion and emptiness united. It is a timeless moment.

The great wisdom qualities of the buddha’s mind — the wisdom that sees the innate nature as it is and the wisdom that perceives all possible things — are blocked again and again, almost continuously, by the concepts that we form. These concepts are actually temporally based; they are, in essence, time. The moment we start to allow gaps in this flow of concepts, the innate qualities of the awakened state begin to shine through.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche in Oslo III

It is important to avoid criticising yourself when your mind is distracted or dull. Do not fall into discouraging thoughts or self-hatred because these are unproductive and are to be abandoned on the path. Remember that internal transformation takes time and rejoice in your opportunity to learn and practice the Dharma. “Slowly, slowly,” as Lama Thubten Yeshe used to say. Learn to be satisfied with what you are able to do now while you aspire to improve in the future.

— Venerable Thubten Chodron

Thubten Chodron 30.










Ven Hui Kong 惠空法师 15.

Through this journey in life, we achieve the realisation of life at different levels. It is common sense that the realisation of life can bring us freedom and happiness. When we reach the highest level, however, there is no distinction between happiness and unhappiness; no distinction between freedom and bondage, such that everything abides in its own nature as self-liberated. This is the ultimate realisation of life.

— Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche

Khenpo Sodargye (索达吉堪布) 42.

农历七月盂兰盆 孝亲祈福吉祥月






Ullambana Festival — The Auspicious Season of Filial Piety

Ullambana is an important Mahayana Buddhist festival based on the story of ‘Maudgalyayana Saving His Mother’. Ullambana is a Sanskrit term that means ‘rescuing those who are hanging upside-down’ or ‘seeking deliverance for the anguished ones in hell’ in layman’s terms. According to the legend, a disciple of Buddha, Maudgalyayana (Mogallana), on obtaining the six spiritual penetrations, used his spiritual eye and meditative skills to locate his deceased mother only to find that she has been reborn and suffering in the realm of the hungry ghosts. Deeply saddened, Maudgalyayana journeyed there. Finding her tormented by hunger and starvation, he tried offering her food but before she could eat, the food turned into burning charcoal.

Dejected, Maudgalyayana implored Buddha Shakyamuni to provide him with a solution for his mother’s deliverance from this lower realm of rebirth. The Buddha answered, “her past sins are too deep-rooted for you alone to save. Your filiality is admirable but does not have sufficient strength for her redemption. Hence, the noble spiritual power of the holy community of Monks, the ‘Sangha’ from all ten directions, is necessary for her deliverance”.

The Buddha advised Maudgalyayana to offer delicacies, five fruits, incense, oil, lamps, candles, beds and bedding to the assembled order of monks of the ten directions at the end of the rainy retreat. In the retreat, members of the Sangha would dedicate themselves towards diligent Dharma practice and gain insights and realisations. Offering the Sangha on this day would help one to accumulate immense merit. The merit will enable one’s present parents, parents of the past seven lifetimes, and close relatives to be delivered from the lower realms of rebirth. If one’s parents are alive, they will have a blissful lifespan. If one’s parents are deceased, they will be reborn in the higher realms and attain heavenly bliss.


Ullambana Festival reinforces the concept of filial piety. It signifies the importance of performing “good deeds” to accumulate spiritual merit by offering to the Noble Sangha (spiritual community of practice) and sharing the merit with the departed, to help them be reborn in good realms and end their suffering.

The story of Ullambana has been passed down over the ages. Buddhists all over the world celebrate this day by holding ceremonies of charity and performing acts of philanthropy to accumulate merit to help the departed have good rebirths. Thus, the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar moon has become an occasion for teaching the virtues of filial piety.


It is great that even before we become enlightened or generate any lam-rim realisations we are able to offer incredible benefit to others. The person who does this is a very fortunate person and should rejoice very often.

— Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Zopa Rinpoche 5







虽然众生看佛是有“我”的,例如在《金刚经》中,释迦牟尼佛就常以“我”自称,但是在其它佛经里,如来也常说:“我是佛”、“我在说法”、“我在度众生”, 这些都是“假名我”,是为了让众生了解佛所说的法,才必须有个指称的对象。事实上,佛的“我”就是“无我”,拿掉凡夫的自我,只剩下佛的无我,才是究竟的我,也才能在这个世界上,发挥绝对正面的影响力。

Ven Sheng Yen 84.

The mind captivated by a state of craving has no clue as to what pain and pleasure really are. When we hanker after objects, do we experience peace and bliss? Are we in control? Do we feel at ease? Or do we feel restless? Stressed and worried? Insecure and desperate? The slippery thing about attachment is that, in our bewilderment, we can’t tell the difference between pleasure and pain, love and desire, happiness and sorrow. The craving mind can mistake anything for pleasure — even pain! It’s like an addiction.

— Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche 33.

On the Importance of Relating to Unseen Beings
by Reginald A. Ray

Truth makes little sense and has no real impact if it is merely a collection of abstract ideas. The truth that is living experience, on the other hand, is challenging, threatening, and transforming.

Tibetan Buddhism is a way of experiencing the world. In many ways, it is quite different from the dominant trends not only in the West but in the “modern, technological culture” that is now rapidly encircling the globe. There are many parts of the traditional, conservative, medieval culture of Tibet that we will never be able to appreciate or understand. But there are other parts, particularly its Buddhist heritage, that can help us see with new eyes the limitations and possibilities of our own contemporary situation.

Buddhism is a particularly interesting tradition because it has one foot in the past and one in the present. On the one hand, it arose at a time when India was undergoing transformation from a more primitive to a “high” civilisation. Buddhism has the same literacy, scholasticism, professional elites, institutionalisation, hierarchies, political involvements, and monetary concerns as do the other “high religions” that evolved after the invention of agriculture and that we now largely identify as our own ways of being religious.

At the same time, the Buddha claimed, “I follow the ancient path,” and by this, he meant to show a “way back” to a more fundamental experience of human life than the one evolving in his day. Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps more than any other form of Buddhism, has retained the raw and rugged experience of this “primordiality” as the basis of its spirituality. In this sense, it is concerned not with the truth that is fixed and dead, but with the truth that is alive and constantly emerging.

Traditional Tibetans lived in a world that is, in many respects, quite different from the one assumed in modern Western culture. It is not so much that the classical Tibetan worldview contradicts the findings of modern science, but rather that it emphasises different things and has a different overall shape and configuration.

Most importantly, in the classical Buddhist view, the world is defined not only by what we can perceive with our physical senses and think about rationally. It is equally made up of what cannot be seen but is available through intuition, dreams, visions, divination, and the like. The senses and rational mind provide access to the immediate physical world, but it is only through the other ways of knowing that can one gain access to the much larger context in which this physical realm is set. Can modern people experience this traditional Tibetan cosmology? Tibetans will tell you that their experience of the universe is accessible to anyone who cares to know it. If you know where to look and how to look, they say, you will see for yourself what we are talking about.

The Tibetan cosmos is a vast one, beginningless and endless in terms of time, and limitless in extent. Worlds, each inhabited by sentient beings, extend on and on throughout space, with no end. This context of infinite space and time, with innumerable worlds, provides the arena for samsara, cyclic existence. Samsara refers to the condition of beings who have not yet attained liberation, whose existence is still governed by belief in a “self” or “ego.” Those still within samsara are thus blindly driven, through the root defilements of passion, aggression, and delusion, to defend and aggrandise the “selves” that they think they possess. This action produces results or karma, that become part of who they are. When samsaric beings die, they are subsequently reborn in the same or another realm, in accordance with their karma. Normally this process, and the cycles of pain and pleasure that it entails, go on without end. The various samsaric worlds are known as “impure realms,” that is, places where the condition of samsara prevails among the inhabitants.

The situation is not hopeless, however, for there are other realms of being that stand outside of samsara. These are the “pure realms,” characterised by enlightenment, the abode of the “realised ones,” those who have attained liberation from samsara and who dwell in various pure lands. These beings are the celestial Buddhas with their various manifestations; the yidams (personal deities), male and female, also called wisdom dakinis and herukas; the great Bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara and Tara, who will come to the aid of beings; the dharmapalas (dharma protectors), who watch over and guard the dharma itself and those on the path; the enlightened men and women who have passed beyond this world, and others. These various enlightened ones represent a state of realisation that is available to suffering sentient beings. In fact, according to the type of Buddhism followed in Tibet — Mahayana Buddhism — the state that they embody is the ultimate and final destiny of all humans and other sentient beings. All sentient beings are on the path that will one day lead to the attainment of the complete and perfect enlightenment of a fully realised Buddha.

Although the “home” of the Buddhas and high-level Bodhisattvas is outside of samsara, they appear in our world to help us enter the path of liberation and follow it to its conclusion. The human Buddha Shakyamuni thus appeared twenty-five hundred years ago, bringing the dharma to this world for the first time and founding a lineage of the study and practice of the teachings. Likewise, the celestial Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, protectors, dakinis and departed teachers appear in our world in various ways, bringing blessings, protection, and guidance on the path.

The Tibetan cosmology, then, is not meant to present a disembodied, abstract “scientific” picture. It rather shows us the realms of potential experience that make up this cosmos. It describes the various realms of being — only one of which is human — that are possible and exist within the totality of being. Some of these modes of being are defined by the suffering of samsara, while others represent liberation from samsara. Traditional Tibetan cosmology, then, contrasts with modern conceptions of the universe that are essentially rationalistic, gained by ignoring all experiential data except ones that conform to limited physical criteria such as matter, extension and motion, and that can be proven to any observer through logical demonstration. The Tibetan picture has been gained through different means and includes different “data.”

There are now many Tibetan teachers who understand very well the kind of universe that is described by modern science. Their response to our ideas is, “Yes, but all of this is just the human world. There are other realms, and these are outside of and beyond this human realm. You cannot see them by using scientific instruments.”

Moreover, even this realm has more dimensions and subtleties than modern people usually ascribe to their world. In the traditional Tibetan view, the animate and inanimate phenomena of this world are charged with being, life and spiritual vitality. These are conceived in terms of various spirits, ancestors, demigods, demons, and so on. Every river and mountain has its spirit embodiment or inhabitants. Each human habitation has a spiritual presence as part of its own being. As this variety suggests, spirits appear with various levels of development and motivation. Some are malevolent; some are neutral, and others are generally beneficent.

These traditional cosmological perspectives create a uniquely powerful environment for the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. The boundless temporal and spatial vistas reveal the fragility, brevity and ultimate futility of human life, taken on its own terms. The view of the phenomena of this world as spiritually charged allows intimacy, relationship and mutuality with the relative world. The understanding of samsara as the endless repetition of life followed by death followed by life, all governed by karma, suggests that lasting happiness in the ordinary sense is not attainable. The introduction of Buddhahood as standing outside of samsara provides an alternative to this daunting and frightening prospect. The fact that Buddhahood is not only available but is the ultimate and final destiny of all instils fundamental optimism and a sense of the value of life. And the limitless time frame in which this can be achieved enables people to relax and take their spiritual journey at their own pace. In this way, Tibetan Buddhism has achieved the seemingly contradictory goals of revealing the radical inadequacy of samsara, leaving its adherents little option but to look to a spiritual path, while at the same time rousing them to a sense of confidence, joy and well-being at their human condition and its literally infinite possibilities.

To what extent can the contemporary Western Tibetan Buddhist practitioner dispense with some or all of these unseen, nonhuman beings? From the Tibetan point of view, relationships with the unseen world are essential to a full and successful human life. Ignoring one’s relationships with the whole world of unseen spirits and spiritual beings is, in fact, as senseless and counterproductive as ignoring the people and conventions of one’s own immediate human society. It is simply not possible to live in such a way.

Buddhism is normally thought of as a nontheistic tradition, and this raises the question of how such spirits, gods, and deities are to be understood within the Tibetan Buddhist framework. Certainly in Tibetan life, whether it is a question of the malevolent mamos, the potentially beneficent hearth god, the deities of the god realms, or the dharma protectors or tantric yidams, the nonhuman beings are understood at least on one level as more or less independent, objective entities. They are beings with whom one must be in constant relation, even though they are nonhuman and usually not visible.

At the same time, however, from the point of view of the philosophical and meditative tradition, all such nonhuman beings are ultimately seen as aspects of one’s own mind and not separate from it. But what does this actually mean? Frequently, particularly in the West, this standard Buddhist assertion is taken to indicate that such spirits and deities, taken as external beings by ordinary Tibetans, are not really external at all; that in fact, they are mistaken projections of psychological states. This, then, becomes a justification for treating them as nonexistent and provides a rationale for jettisoning them from Western adaptations of the tradition. The problem with this approach is that it reflects a misunderstanding of what is meant by the statement that such entities are aspects of the mind and inseparable from the mind.

The deities are more properly said to be aspects of one’s own innate mind or reflexes of one’s awareness. For example, the Buddhas, although apparently objectively existing beings, are fundamentally nothing other than our own enlightened nature. The protectors are representations of the wrathful and uncompromising energy of our own awareness. And the gurus are the objectification of the teaching and guiding principle as it exists within each of us. In a similar manner, the various samsaric spirits and demons may be seen as embodiments of peripheral states of one’s own mind. These apparently externally existent beings, then, are false bifurcations of the primordial nondual awareness that lies at the basis of all experience.

So far, so good; but here is the really critical point: it is not only the beings of the unseen world that have this status but all of the phenomena of duality. In the Tibetan view, ourselves, other people, trees, mountains and clouds — indeed all of the phenomena of the entire so-called internal and external universe — are nothing other than false objectification and solidifications of nondual awareness.

To say this is not, however, to discount their external and “objective” existence within the relative world of apparent duality. The samsaric beings of the six realms, as well as the Buddhist deities existing in the state of nirvana, initially make themselves known to us ordinary, unenlightened people as external, objectively existing beings. In fact, on this level, they can appear significantly more real, vivid and powerful than the ordinary physical universe that surrounds us. On one level, then, such beings certainly do exist and are important co-inhabitants of our cosmos. Thus to say that they are aspects of the mind is not to deny their existence on the relative level. Nor does it obviate our responsibility to deal with them and relate to them on their own level and as they present themselves to us.

What, then, does it mean to say that these unseen beings are all aspects of the mind? It means simply that the way we experience and conceive of them has to do with our own psychology and level of awareness. Ultimately, the apparent duality of subject and object is not given in reality. It is a structure that we, out of fear and ignorance, impose on the world. When we see the phenomenal world truly as it is, we realise a level of being that precedes the subject-object split. This is the true nature of “experience,” “awareness,” or “nondual mind,” understood at this point as interchangeable categories. When Tibetans say that the spirits, gods and deities are aspects of the mind and nothing other than the mind, they mean it in this sense, that their fundamental nature — as indeed the nature of all phenomena — is nondual awareness.

We humans, then, are just one part of a vast, interconnected web of relationships with all other inhabitants of the cosmos, both those still living within delusion and those who are awakened. An awareness of these relationships is critical because, to a very large extent, who we are as humans is defined by this network of relations. From the Tibetan perspective, to live a genuinely human and fruitful life, we need to discover our relationship with all these various beings of samsara and beyond, and to act in ways appropriate to our connection. The way we do this is through ritual.

A ritual is an action that expresses a relationship. It is the vehicle of communication with another and is itself that communication. In Tibetan Buddhism, ritual is used in relation both to the seen and the unseen worlds, and the essence of Tibetan Buddhism is communication with the awakened ones — departed masters, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and so on. We call them to mind, open our hearts to them, and receive their blessings.

In revered teachers, a state of realisation is embodied in the human form. In the celestial Buddhas and high-level Bodhisattvas, however, the embodiment is more ethereal and not within the human realm. Nevertheless, it is not only possible but essential that, as we go along the path, we also discover and deepen our sense of communication with these nonmaterial, awakened ones. According to Tibetan tradition, in fact, as we mature, the “sky draws closer to the earth,” so to speak, and the celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas seem more and more our ever-present protectors, mentors, and guides.

One of the most common rituals means for communicating with the realised ones is the sevenfold offering of Mahayana Buddhism: one visualises the being or beings in question, then [1] offers salutation, [2] makes real and imagined good offerings, [3] confesses one’s shortcomings and harm of others, [4] rejoices at the existence of the awakened being or beings who are the beloved object(s) of devotion, [5] requests them to teach, thus expressing one’s openness and longing for instruction, [6] asks them to remain in connection with suffering samsaric beings and not disappear into nirvana, and [7] dedicates whatever merit or goodness one has accumulated to the welfare of all beings. In this simple, brief rite, one makes a link with the transcendent ones, affirming and actualising a specific kind of relationship with them.

The reason that we can do this in the first place is that the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and departed masters already represent who we most essentially are and must in fact become. This is why, in Tibetan Buddhism, even the most devotional supplication to the most seemingly external being is not finally theistic. For, in truth, we are longing to meet our deepest selves face-to-face, and we are supplicating our own hidden being. The path to this goal is first, to discover our innermost being in the other, the awakened one, and then, through our relationship with him or her, gradually to come to the awareness of that transcendent nature within ourselves.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are many ritual stages along this path to awakening. What they share is visualisation. We create a mental picture of a departed teacher, a high-level Bodhisattva, or a Buddha. Then we carry out a ritual in which we open ourselves and communicate with this being in various ways, ritually participating in his or her awakening. In this way, we cultivate our own awakened state.

This process of visualisation is a powerful one. For example, in our ordinary life, what we do not visualise as existing does not exist for us. If we do not see another person as human, then for us their humanity does not exist. The same is that much more true for beings who live in nonmaterial forms outside of samsara. We may be surrounded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all the time, but until they have a shape and a name, we do not see them or have access to a relationship with them. For us, they might as well not exist. But the moment we give them a form in our mind and begin to communicate with them, they exist, and their wisdom, compassion, and power can enter into our own systems.

It is the many ritual forms of Tibetan Buddhism that enable us to do this, and within traditional Tibet, the reality of ritual is simply accepted as a matter of course. It is assumed that just as there are forms by which to relate to other human beings, so there are other forms that are used to communicate with the nonhuman and nonmaterial realms.

The status of ritual among Western followers of Tibetan Buddhism is, however, more in question. Many have felt unable to entertain the ideas of reincarnation or of the six realms. For them, many of the traditional Tibetan rituals dealing with other beings and other realms do not make sense. Sometimes this extends to thinking that even talk of nonmaterial Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and protectors is “symbolic,” and that there is nothing that really corresponds to these designations. In that case, many of the Tibetan liturgies are seen as directed to no real object but are rather understood as psychological ploys to bring about certain effects.

Even if we Westerners do pay lip service to the traditional Tibetan cosmological ideas, often, as Jeremy Hayward has argued, we remain at heart what he calls “scientific materialists.” In other words, while we may accept the idea of other realms and other beings within and outside of samsara, we do not actually believe in them. Instead, we live as if the world were dead and this reality is the only one that exists.

This attitude is reflected in many Westerners’ difficulties with Tibetan rituals. Among Western practitioners, there is frequently a kind of dead feeling in ritual, and many of us fall back on the idea that rote repetition, without any particular engagement or feeling, is sufficient. We fall back, in other words, on attitudes to ritual learned in our upbringing, where simply to be physically present was all that was required. In order to survive the many meaningless rituals we may have been subjected to, we also learned to disengage ourselves psychologically and to occupy our time thinking about other things. What is missing here is the understanding that ritual is a way of communicating with beings who, on the relative plane, really are there and really are important to us. This lively and compelling sense of ritual is, at present, sometimes hard to come by in Western adaptations of Tibetan Buddhism.

Through ritual, genuinely undertaken, one is led to take a larger view of one’s life and one’s world; one experiences a shift in perspective — sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. This shift feels like a diminishing of one’s sense of isolated individuality and an increase in one’s sense of connectedness with other people, with the nonhuman presences of our realm, and with purposes that transcend one’s usual self-serving motivations.

Ritual is a way of reconnecting with the larger and deeper purposes of life, ones that are oriented toward the general good conceived in the largest sense. Ironically, through coming to such a larger and more inclusive sense of connection and purpose, through rediscovering oneself as a member of a much bigger and more inclusive enterprise, one feels that much more oneself and grounded in one’s own personhood. Through ritual, one’s energy and motivation are roused and mobilised so that one can better fulfil the responsibilities, challenges and demands that life presents.

Reginald Ray 1.

Again and again, develop compassion for all sentient beings in general, and particularly for those who dislike you. It might be difficult at first, but you will never attain enlightenment as long as you continue to feel ill-will towards your enemies. Those who are now your enemies were in former lives your parents, and there is nothing fixed about the status of an enemy or friend. To feel hostility towards enemies and affection towards your friends is nothing but a deluded form of perception. If you train your mind to recognise everything as insubstantial like a dream, hostility towards enemies will lose its meaning entirely. This is crucially important because ordinarily our lives are driven by the yearning to acquire food and clothing, possessions, partners, status and acclaim. We put a great deal of thought into devising the cleverest, most efficient ways to obtain them, and we think, “So-and-so has this much money, my friends have this much, so I need more.” Or: “In the past, I stayed in this kind of house, in this part of town, but now I shall move to a better place.” We must put a stop to all such thinking.

— Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (顶果钦哲仁波切) 83.