The Seven Point Cause-and-Effect Instruction
by Ribur Rinpoche

Bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, is something that is truly inconceivable, truly splendid and marvellous. One of the gurus of Lama Atisha told him that an attainment such as clairvoyance, or a vision of a deity, or concentration as stable as a mountain is nothing compared to bodhicitta. For us, these attainments seem amazing. If we ourselves, or if someone we heard of, had a vision of a deity, achieved clairvoyance, or through practising meditation attained concentration as stable as a mountain, we would think this to be unbelievably wonderful. However, Atisha’s guru said to him: “These are nothing compared to bodhicitta. Therefore, practise bodhicitta.”

Even if you practised Mahamudra or Dzogchen or the two stages of highest yoga tantra [generation stage and completion stage] and even if you achieved the vision of many deities, these are not beneficial if you do not have bodhicitta.

As the great Bodhisattva Shantideva said, “If you churn the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their essence is bodhicitta.” By churning milk we get butter, which is the very essence of milk. In the same way, if we examine and churn all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their very essence is the practice of bodhicitta. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to strive to achieve the uncontrived, effortless experience of bodhicitta. At the very least, we should try our best to generate the contrived experience of bodhicitta, the bodhicitta that arises through effort.

There are two main lineages of instructions on the basis of which you can practise and generate bodhicitta. The first is the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction, and the second is the instruction on exchanging oneself with others.

The first, the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction by which you generate bodhicitta on the basis of developing affectionate love towards all sentient beings, is a practice which was used by such great Indian pandits as Chandrakirti, Chandragomin, Shantarakshita and so forth. The second, the instruction on exchanging oneself with others, comes mainly from Shantideva. Whether you choose to train your mind in the seven-point instruction or in exchanging oneself with others, the result is that you will generate bodhicitta in your mind.

The great saint Atisha showed extraordinary interest in bodhicitta. In order to obtain the complete instructions on the practice of bodhicitta, he embarked on a long journey to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to study with the great master Serlingpa, not caring about the many hardships he endured on the way. Today we can travel to Indonesia by a very fast ship or by aeroplane, but at that time it took Atisha thirteen months to reach Indonesia. Once he arrived, he received the complete experiential instructions on both the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others from the master Serlingpa. He then practised for twelve years at his master’s feet, until he fully developed bodhicitta. Thus Lama Atisha came to possess both instructions — lineages: the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others. Although he held both lineages, Atisha would teach only the seven-point technique in public, to large assemblies of disciples, and would teach the instructions on exchanging oneself with others secretly to a select group of qualified disciples. When Atisha went to Tibet, he gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to his principal disciple, Dromtonpa.

Later, the great Lama Tsong Khapa, the Protector of all beings, incorporated the two sets of instructions into a single practice consisting of eleven points. When you are receiving teachings on bodhicitta, you receive the two sets of instructions separately, but when you are actually meditating on bodhicitta — training your mind then you combine both instructions and meditate on the eleven points. Combining the two instructions into a single practice for the purpose of training the mind in meditation is said to be a particular greatness of the Gelugpa tradition.

In a prayer composed by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang requesting to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsong Khapa, he wrote: “By merging the practices of the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others of the precious mind, this greatness which is not shared by others, may I thus be able to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsong Khapa.” “Not shared by others” means that this merging of the two practices devised by Je Rinpoche is a unique approach which is not found in other traditions.

I first received these teachings from the holy mouth of the incredibly kind Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, when he taught the eight great lam-rim texts over a period of four months at Sera Monastery in Tibet. At that time I was very young. When he reached the point of explaining exchanging oneself with others, he gave teachings on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation. Later I received these teachings twice from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.


As for the seven points of the cause-and-effect instruction, one begins by meditating on equanimity and then proceeds through the following steps:

1. Recognising all sentient beings as one’s mother
2. Recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings
3. Repaying their kindness
4. Affectionate love
5. Great compassion
6. The extraordinary intention
7. Bodhicitta

The first six points, recognising all sentient beings as one’s mother and so forth, are the causes which give birth to the result, bodhicitta.

The way in which these realisations come about, step by step, is that bodhicitta, the thought of attaining enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, arises from and must be preceded by a sense of responsibility. In Tibetan the term is “lhagsam”, which is sometimes called “extraordinary intention”, or “exceptional attitude”, or “universal responsibility” — it is a feeling of responsibility to benefit all sentient beings. For this intention to come about you must have a powerful wish for all sentient beings to be free of suffering — that is great compassion. For that to arise you must have developed affectionate love towards all sentient beings. At the moment we have affectionate love for our dear ones, but we don’t have affectionate love for those who are not dear to us. In order to generate this affectionate love for everyone, you must develop a deep sense of closeness towards sentient beings, and the way to do that is by recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and generating the wish to repay their kindness. This instruction is called the cause-and-effect technique because the later points arise after having generated the preceding points.

You should not approach this practice with a short-sighted mind, thinking, “Oh, this practice is too advanced for me. It will require so much time, so much energy. I will not be able to develop such a precious mind.” This is not the right attitude. You should not have such fears because these instructions are very profound and powerful. If you continuously train your mind, step by step, with persistence, there is no doubt that you will succeed. Generally speaking, all the instructions from the old Kadampa tradition are very powerful and effective. On top of that, there are the instructions combined by the great Lama Tsong Khapa, whose experience was based on his special relationship with Manjushri, with whom he had direct communication. These instructions are extremely powerful and effective, so you should not think that they are too advanced for you and that you will not be able to develop bodhicitta.


Before beginning to train your mind in the first step, recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you should develop the thought of equanimity. It is similar to painting a picture: if you want to paint a picture on a surface, you must first make sure that the surface is smooth and even and has no rough or uneven spots on it. In the same way, before you can train your mind in the meditation on recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you must make your mind even with equanimity towards everyone. In other words, you must learn to stop discriminating among sentient beings, feeling close to some and distant from others, and the way to do this is by developing equanimity.

Now I will explain the way to meditate in order to develop equanimity. Those of you who are familiar with these instructions, please meditate as I am explaining. Those who are new, please pay special attention and try to retain the instructions in your mind. All of you please try to have the intention to develop bodhicitta, thinking that you really must generate this realisation in your mind. As I mentioned before, these instructions of the Kadampa lamas are so powerful and effective, especially the instructions on merging the seven-point cause-and-effect technique and exchanging oneself with others as taught by Lama Tsong Khapa. So please be attentive and generate this strong intention: “I am definitely going to practise and develop bodhicitta in my mind.”

Visualise in front of you three people: first, someone who upsets you — just by seeing or thinking about him or her, your mind becomes unhappy. Next to him or her, visualise someone you love and are close to — just by seeing this person, your mind becomes happy. And next to that person, visualise a stranger, someone who is neither beneficial nor non-beneficial. When you think about these three people, you feel aversion towards the person you dislike, attachment towards the person who is close to you, and indifference towards the stranger.

Now, thinking about the person you dislike, ask yourself, “Why do I dislike this person? What is the reason I get so upset? What has he done to me?” You will realise that it is because he has harmed you a little bit in this life. At this point, you should think about the uncertainty of friends and enemies as explained in the lam-rim, in the section for the person of the intermediate scope. This is one of the disadvantages of cyclic existence: you cannot be sure of friends and enemies; sometimes a friend becomes an enemy and sometimes an enemy becomes a friend. Think in this way: “Although this person has given me a small amount of harm in this life for a very short time, in many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, this person has shown me great affection and has been very close to me for a very long time. The harm he has given me in this life is so small compared to the closeness and affection we have had since beginningless time, yet I treat him like my ultimate enemy, the ultimate object to be avoided. This is completely wrong!” You need to think in this way again and again in order to subdue your feelings of aversion towards this person.

Next to him is the person you feel close to, who makes you feel so happy as soon as you see him or her. You regard this person as your ultimate friend, the person who is closer to you than anyone else. You have so much attachment for this person you may feel that you don’t want to be separated from him or her even for a moment. If you examine the reasons why this is so, it is because in this life he has benefited you in some way such as with resources and so forth. On the basis of some very small benefits and for very limited reasons, your mind becomes so happy and excited. However, you should think, “Although in this life he has benefited me a little, he has not always been my friend. In many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, he has been my enemy. He harmed me so much that just by seeing him I felt very strong aversion. It is not reasonable for me to have so much attachment and desire for this person just because he has benefited me, is beneficial to me and will benefit me, because he has also been the opposite.” By thinking in this way over and over again, you can subdue your feeling of attachment.

Now turn your attention to the stranger. The attitude you have towards this person is: “I don’t know this person and I don’t care about him. He hasn’t connected with me in the past, he is not connecting with me now and he will not connect with me in the future, so who cares.” This attitude is also completely wrong, so you should think, “In this life, this person is neither an enemy nor a friend, but in previous lives, he was my enemy many times, and also many times he was my dearest friend, someone I was very close to. Therefore, it is completely unreasonable to be indifferent towards this person.” Just as you equalised your feelings towards the friend and the enemy, you should equalise your feelings towards the stranger by thinking in this way again and again.

Therefore when you meditate, you first think that there is absolutely no reason to be so upset and to feel so much aversion towards the enemy who has been your dearest friend so many times. You need to think about this again and again in order to subdue your aversion and equalise your mind towards this person. Likewise, think that there is no reason to be so attached to the person you are close to, your friend because he has been your enemy so many times. Think about this, again and again, to subdue your attachment and equalise your mind towards this person.

“When we perceive these three different people, we perceive them in terms of these three categories: friends, enemies and strangers. However, none of them exists in this way forever no one is a friend, enemy or stranger for all time. Therefore, they are all the same. There is absolutely no reason to feel an attachment towards one person, to feel aversion towards another, and to feel detached and indifferent towards yet another.

If we examine what they actually are, from their side, they are sentient beings. And they are all exactly the same in that they all wish to be happy and free from suffering. Thus there is not the slightest reason to discriminate between them with attachment, aversion and indifference. They are all exactly the same. You must come to this conclusion and meditate on it again and again. By meditating on this over and over again, you will reach the point where you actually develop equanimity towards all sentient beings. You will feel that they are all the same to you; your feelings towards them will be equal. This is the result that should come about.

Although you might recite every day the prayer of the Four Immeasurable Thoughts-“May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; May all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes” and so forth — until you have actually developed equanimity, in reality, it will be as though you are saying, “May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes-but only chose I like and not those I dislike.” No matter how frequently and fervently you recite the Four Immeasurable Thoughts until you have developed equanimity, they are only words. They don’t become the actual Four Immeasurable Thoughts. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop equanimity, and even if you spent months and years meditating solely on equanimity in order to develop this realisation, it would be an extremely worthwhile way of practising meditation. If you can pacify your feelings of attachment and· aversion towards friends and enemies, it will be very beneficial for your peace of mind.


The next point, recognising all sentient beings as one’s mother, is actually the first step in developing bodhicitta. Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang said that this point is not easy and takes quite a long time to develop. However, it is crucial and indispensable, because only on the basis of this recognition can you develop the following steps. We cannot progress without it, so it is very important to give it a lot of attention.

In general, when you meditate you use perfect reasoning as well as quotations. Here, with this point of recognising all beings as your mother, it is very important to use reasoning. Although you can also develop the same understanding on the basis of quotations, there is a difference in the way the mind is activated on the basis of quotations and on the basis of reasoning — it is more powerful on the basis of reasoning. The specific reasoning to be relied upon here is the beginningless continuity of the mind.

First, you have to establish that the continuity of the mind is beginningless. Start by thinking that your mind of today is the result of the mind of yesterday. And yesterdays mind came from the mind of the day before yesterday. In that way, you go back, day by day. Each day’s mind is the result of the mind of the preceding day. Also, the mind of each moment is the result of the preceding moment. By going back in this way, you discover that the mind is a continuity. Each moment is the result of the preceding moment.

Continue to go back, all the way to the moment of conception, and think about how the mind of the newborn baby is also a continuity which needs a preceding moment of mind in order to be generated. The mind of the newborn baby is the continuation of the mind of the foetus which was in the womb of the mother. And if you continue to go back in this way, you will not be able to find a beginning. You cannot find a moment which you can point to as the beginning of the mind and say, “The mind began there.” This is because any moment of mind would need a preceding moment in order to be generated. In this way, you can establish chat the continuum of the mind is beginningless. There is no single moment of mind which you can point to as being the first.

Following these reasons, you conclude that the number of times you have taken rebirth is countless. Not only that, but in all those rebirths, just as in this life, you needed a mother. For one hundred rebirths, you would need one hundred mothers; for one thousand rebirths, you would need one thousand mothers, and so forth. Since you have had countless rebirths, you have had countless mothers.

So if you think very carefully about these points, you will realise chat not only have you had countless rebirths, you have also had countless mothers. Furthermore, although sentient beings are also countless, the number of sentient beings that exists is fewer than the number of mothers you have had. You have taken rebirth countless times in all of the different types of bodies, and the number of sentient beings you need to have been your mother is greater than the number of sentient beings in existence. Therefore, since the number of times you have taken rebirth and the number of mothers you have had is greater than the number of sentient beings, it means chat every single sentient being has been your mother not just once, but countless times.

Start with your own mother, thinking that your mother of this life was your mother countless times in previous rebirths. When you have gained some experience of this idea such that your mind is transformed towards your mother, then think about it in relation to your father-that your father has been your mother countless times. Following that, think about how your friends have been your mother countless times. Then think about your enemies — even your enemies have been your mother so many times. Finally, widen your scope to include all sentient beings-meditate on how all sentient beings have been your mother.

You have to meditate on this subject again and again over a long period of time. While you are training your mind in this subject, you should rely on the different lam-rim scriptures which explain various points and ways of meditating and can give you a lot of inspiration. You should request your spiritual teacher to give explanations to help clarify your mind, and you should also discuss the subject with your Dharma friends. By thinking in this way, again and again, you will reach the point where you realise that all sentient beings have been your mother, even down to a tiny insect-like ant. Even when you see a tiny insect you will feel certain that many times this being has been your kind mother, who took the greatest care of you and in whom you placed your trust. It is said that the great Atisha — who completely realised this point — would be immediately filled with a deep sense of respect whenever he met any sentient being. He would fold his hands and say, “Precious sentient being, so kind.”


The next step in the meditation is recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings. It is not enough just to recognise that all sentient beings have been your mother, you must also recognise the depth of their kindness. For example, your mother of this life was so kind, carrying you within her for nine long months from the time of conception, always being very careful about what she ate and drank, and doing everything with the sole thought of taking care of you. Even the fact that you are alive and are able to learn and practise the Dharma is completely due to the kindness of your mother, who carried you in her womb and took such good care of you since the time of conception.

She took good care of you while you were in her womb, and also after you were born. When you were born you were completely helpless, like a little bug, unable to do anything. Nevertheless, your mother created you as if you were a priceless jewel — continuously taking the greatest care of you, day and night, with no other thought in her mind than concern for your welfare. She fed you, bathed you, dressed you in soft clothing, took you here and there to make you happy, and even made funny faces or gestures to make you smile. Because of her constant feeling of love and concern for you, her mind was always full of worry that you might get sick or hurt-so much so chat she would have difficulty sleeping at night.

You learned how to walk because of the kindness of your mother — she would help you stand up and take your first step, then the second step, and so forth. You also learned how to pronounce your first words because of the kindness of your mother and also your father. As time went on, you were able to study and learn many other things, but only on the basis of knowing how to walk and speak, which you learned because of the kindness of your mother.

In the preceding step you realised that all sentient beings have been your mother, and with this meditation, you realise that not only has your mother of this present life been incredibly kind to you, but all the countless sentient beings have been just as kind.


The next step is generating the wish to repay the kindness of all mother sentient beings. Ask yourself: “Am I able to repay their kindness?” Then think: “I should be able to repay their kindness because I’m in such fortunate circumstances: I have met the Dharma, I have met perfect teachers, I have met the path, and I have all the right circumstances to practise. Therefore I must do as much as I possibly can to liberate them from their suffering and to bring them the happiness that they wish for. I must do this in order to repay their kindness.”

Of course, repaying the kindness of sentient beings also includes helping them on the conventional level, by doing as much as you can to give food to those who are hungry, drink to those who are thirsty, clothing and other material things. But the most important way of helping is by completely relieving all sentient beings of all their sufferings and giving them all the happiness that they wish for. You should bring this thought to your mind again and again.


The next step, affectionate love, is the kind of love that a mother feels when looking at her only child. When a mother looks at her child, he appears to her in a very beautiful way, and she feels great love for him. Here, you generate this same kind of affectionate love towards all sentient beings, perceiving all beings in a beautiful, glowing way.

Actually, if you generated the previous steps of recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and wishing to repay their kindness, then you won’t need extra effort or extra thought in order to develop affectionate love. It will arise spontaneously, due to the force of the preceding realisations.

When you meditate on affectionate love, you also need to reflect on the fact that all sentient beings, although wishing to be happy, are completely devoid of happiness, especially pure, uncontaminated happiness. By meditating in this way, you generate the strong wish that all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes and that they actually abide in happiness. On top of that, you should also generate the wish that you yourself will make that happen. From the depths of your heart, request your lama to grant you blessings to be able to do this.


The next step is great compassion. This is one of the special characteristics of the Buddha’s teachings, and Lama Tsong Khapa in particular placed a great deal of emphasis on it as a very special cause that gives rise to very special effects. Also, the great Chandrakirti, in the introduction to his Entering the Middle Way, pays homage to great compassion, saying that it is extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. In the beginning, it is the seed that enables you to enter the Mahayana path. In the middle, while you are engaging in the bodhisattvas’ practise of the six perfections, it is the very soul of your practice. In the end, it causes the result, Buddhahood, to ripen and it makes possible all the Buddhas’ wonderful deeds for the benefit of sentient beings. Therefore, great compassion is praised as being extremely important at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

Ir is said that in the beginning, in order to develop great compassion, it is very beneficial to observe and reflect on the way a butcher slaughters an animal — cutting its throat, ripping out its insides, pulling off its skin. Using that as an example is an easy and powerful way to meditate on great compassion. Here in Singapore, there is a market where we go to buy animals to liberate. It would be extremely beneficial to go there and observe the situation, reflecting both on the animals which are being slaughtered and on those who are slaughtering them.

Once you have started to generate great compassion, then you reflect on the same meditations that you used while training your mind in the small scope section of the lam-rim, by thinking in detail about the sufferings of the three lower realms, the hells and so forth. However, this time you generate compassion by chinking of the sufferings of the specific sentient beings: the sufferings of extreme heat and extreme cold of the hell-beings, the sufferings of extreme hunger and thirst of the pretas, and the sufferings of the animals.

What is the measure or sign of having generated great compassion in your mind? It is that you feel towards all sentient beings the same wish for them to be free of suffering that a mother would feel for her only child. When a mother sees her child going through intense suffering, she feels an unbearable wish for the child to be completely free from this suffering. Feeling this same strong wish towards each and every sentient being is the sign that you have generated great compassion.


The next step is the extraordinary intention. This is when you have the feeling that you yourself, alone, have the responsibility of eliminating all the sufferings of all sentient beings, and bringing to them all the happiness that they wish for. It is the same sense of responsibility that a child would feel towards his or her mother — feeling responsible to make her happy and free from suffering. So when you feel that way towards all sentient beings and feel that you yourself alone will achieve this goal, then you have generated the extraordinary intention. It is “extraordinary” because it is more exceptional or supreme than the intention of the Hearers and Solitary Realisers, those who practise the individual vehicle.

The extraordinary intention is similar to being in the position of saving someone from falling off a cliff, where you feel responsible to save the person. In the same way, when you feel a deep sense of responsibility for eliminating the suffering of all sentient beings and for giving them all the happiness they wish for, that is an extraordinary intention. It can also be called the “exceptional attitude” or “universal responsibility”.


The next step is the actual generation of bodhicitta, also called “the generation of the mind”. This comes by reflecting, “Do I really have the capacity to accomplish this goal of eliminating all the suffering of sentient beings and bringing them every happiness? Actually, at this point, I can’t accomplish that even for one sentient being. And if I check who does have the complete capacity to accomplish this goal, it is only the Buddha. Only the Buddha has the right qualities, because of his power, his knowledge, and his capacity to accomplish spontaneously the benefit of all sentient beings.” At this point, you have to reflect on the qualities of Buddha as a worthy object of refuge, as you did in the lam-rim meditation of the individual of the small scope.

Following this, you generate the thought that you will accomplish the benefit of all sentient beings by achieving the qualities of Buddha yourself. This means that you generate the mind of bodhicitta, thinking, “I must achieve the supreme enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings.” This wish to become a Buddha is not just to abandon whatever has to be abandoned in order to achieve the complete purpose for yourself. Previously you generated great love and great compassion in order to achieve the benefit of all sentient beings, therefore it is for that purpose that you now generate the wish to become a Buddha.

You must also check: “Am I actually able to do it?” Yes, you are definitely in a position where you can become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, there is no better situation than the one you are in now. You have a precious human rebirth, and you have met perfect teachers and the Mahayana path. This means that you are actually in the best situation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Furthermore, you have met the perfect teachings of the great Lama Tsong Khapa. By relying on these incredible teachings, many practitioners of the past, on the basis of having achieved a precious human rebirth, were able to achieve the supreme realisation in that very lifetime. Some individuals, such as the omniscient Gyalwa Ensapa, were able to achieve this realisation in an even shorter period of time — twelve years or even three years. These practitioners had the same basis-the precious human body and the other conditions-that you now have. Therefore you should feel a sense of confidence in having the basis that enables you to become a Buddha.

The contrived form of bodhicitta — the experience of bodhicitta which arises through effort-is known in Tibetan as “the bodhicitta which is like the outer layer of the sugarcane”. The uncontrived form of bodhicitta is when the thought of wanting to achieve supreme enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings arises spontaneously in your mind as soon as you meet any sentient being, no matter who he or she is. Having that uncontrived, effortless experience is the sign that you have achieved the actual realisation of bodhicitta. And once you have generated the realisation of bodhicitta, you earn the name “Child of the Victorious Ones”.

This concludes the explanation on how to generate bodhicitta by way of the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction.

Ribur Rinpoche 21.


We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we know only our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person, we cannot love.
— Thich Nhat Hanh




















Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok Rinpoche (益西彭措堪布) 18.

In our lives, we may often make mistakes, often out of negligence, and sometimes even unknowingly. However, making mistakes is not useless — there is actually a lot that we can learn from our missteps if we reflect on them and use them as an opportunity to improve ourselves. Of course, it also depends on how we make our errors. If we are making mistakes out of carelessness, then we should simply take more care with our actions. However, if someone makes mistakes even when being careful, then this is a good chance to learn and improve oneself in the future. Firstly, mistakes give us opportunities to explore our own shortcomings. Having recognised our shortcomings, we can then become more conscientious of our actions in the future. Finally, we can acquire the knowledge of correctly distinguishing between what is right and what is wrong. Making the same mistakes again and again will lead us nowhere, but proper reflection on our mistakes and changing our behaviour as a result can lead us to better prospects. Sometimes we might think that it is easy to judge others and pretend to know others very well. However, knowing the true personality of others is difficult because what we are able to see from appearances does not give us the total picture of a person. Even if we have known someone since we were young, it is still hard to learn everything about that individual as many characteristics may be hidden deep inside. Therefore, it would be really wise and safe from our side not to jump to conclusions.

— Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche

Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche 77.

Preparing to Die
by Andrew Holecek

Death is one of the most precious experiences in life. It is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The karma that brought us into this life is exhausted, leaving a temporar­ily clean slate, and the karma that will propel us into our next life has not yet crystallised. This leaves us in a unique “no-man’s-land,” a netherworld the Tibetans call bardo, where all kinds of possibilities can materialise. At this special time, with the help of skilful friends, we can make rapid spiritual progress and directly influence where we will take rebirth. We can even attain enlightenment.

Buddhist masters proclaim that because of this karmic gap, there are more opportunities for enlightenment in death than in life. Robert Thurman, a translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, says, “The time of the between [bardo]… is the best time to attempt consciously to affect the causal process of evolution for the better. Our evolutionary momentum is temporarily fluid during the between, so we can gain or lose a lot of ground during its crises.”

But even for spiritual practitioners, death remains a dreaded event. We dread it because we don’t know much about it. We do not look forward to death because we don’t know what to look forward to. For most of us, death is still the great unknown. It is the ultimate blackout, something to be avoided at all costs. So we have a choice. We can either curse the dark­ness or turn on the light.

Death is not the time for hesitation or confusion. It is the time for confi­dent and compassionate action. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “This is when people must do something for the person who has died; this is the most crucial time for the person.” The Tibetan Book of the Dead says, “This is the dividing line where buddhas and sentient beings are separated. It is said of this moment: in an instant, they are separated; in an instant, complete enlightenment.”

The moment of death, like that of birth, is our time of greatest need. The beginning and the end of life are characterised by vulnerability, bewil­derment, and rich opportunity. In both cases, we are stepping into new territory — the world of the living or the world of the dead. The person who is dying, and his or her caretakers, have an opportunity to create the conditions that will make the best of this priceless event.

Tibetan Buddhism is not the only Buddhist tradition that teaches the bardos, but it offers the most complete set of instructions for the bardos. The central orienting view in the Tibetan world is that of the three death bardos: the painful bardo of dying, the luminous bardo of dharmata, and the karmic bardo of becoming. The painful bardo of dying begins with the onset of a disease or condition that ends in death. In the case of sudden death, this bardo occurs in a flash. It is called “painful” because it hurts to let go. The luminous bardo of dharmata begins at the end of the bardo of dying. For most of us, it passes by unrecog­nised. Dharmata means “suchness” and refers to the nature of reality, the enlightened state. It is fantastically brilliant, hence “luminous.” It is so bright that it blinds us and we faint. We then wake up dazed in the karmic bardo of becom­ing. Suchness is gone, and confusion re-arises as karma returns to blow us into our next life.

While the Tibetan Buddhist tradition offers many helpful guidelines, they are not meant to restrict the sacred experience of death. The map is never the territory. Even though death and rebirth are described in extraordinary detail by the Tibetans, dying is never as tidy as the writ­ten word. It is important for the dying, and their caregivers, to study and prepare. But prepara­tion only goes so far. Fixating on the idea of a “good death” can paradoxically prevent one. If we think that our death will follow a prescribed order and that perfect preparation leads to a perfect death, we will constrict the wonder of a mysterious process.

Surrender is more important than control. A good death is defined by a complete openness to whatever arises. So don’t measure your death against any other, and don’t feel you have to die a certain way. Let your life, and your death, be your own. There are certain things in life that we just do our own way.

The vast literature about conscious dying is therefore both a blessing and a curse. At a certain point, we have to leap into death with a beginner’s mind and a spirit of adventure. Visions of the perfect death create expectations, a model that we feel we have to match. If experience doesn’t match expectation, we might panic: “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” “I didn’t plan on it ending this way.” Death is about letting go. That includes letting go of any expectations. The dan­ger in learning too much about death is that we end up pre-packaging the experience, forcing real­ity into the straightjacket of our concepts.

The best approach is that of the middle way. Learn as much as you can. Study, practice, and prepare. Then drop everything and let this natu­ral process occur naturally. Throw away the map and fearlessly enter the territory. It’s like prepar­ing for a big trip. We want to pack properly, review our checklists, and ensure that we have enough money and gas. But when the trip starts, we just enjoy it. We don’t worry about doing it perfectly. Some of our greatest travel adventures happen when we take a wrong turn or get lost. Having thoroughly prepared, we relax in know­ing we have everything we need.

Practices to Prepare You for Death


Two central themes are repeated throughout The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The first theme is “Do not be distracted.” This relates to shamatha, calm abiding meditation, which is the ability to rest your mind on whatever is happening. The stability gained through shamatha enables you to face any experience with confidence. In life, and especially in death, distraction is a big deal. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” Shamatha removes the misery.

Shamatha is a fundamental form of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a powerful preparation because as mindfulness matures into its more advanced levels, it does not disintegrate at death. If we cultivate proficiency in this one practice alone, it will act as a spiritual lifeline that we can hold on to during the bardos, and that will guide us through their perilous straits.

One of the best preparations for death is learning to accept it and to be fully present for it. Being fully present is the essence of mindfulness, which is developed through shamatha. Because death isn’t comfortable, it’s difficult to be with. As Woody Allen said, “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Most of us aren’t there for our deaths and there­fore make it more difficult. To get a feel for this, recall how hard it is to be fully present when you’re sick. Most of us just want out.

Even for an advanced practitioner, it can hurt when the life force separates from the body. Resistance to this hurt, to death, or to any unwanted event is what creates suffering. We can prepare to embrace the discomfort of death by embracing every moment with mindfulness now. Replace opposition with equanimity. As Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, when we are a dying person, we should be a dying person fully. Don’t try to be a living person when living is not what’s happening.

Mindfulness is initially cultivated by practic­ing shamatha with form or referential shamatha. This type of shamatha uses the reference of the body, the breath, or an object to steady the mind. The idea is to use a stable form — while we still have one — as a way to stabilise the mind. When physical stability disappears at death, mental sta­bility becomes our primary refuge.

When we die, the anchor of the body is cut away and the mind is set free. If we’re not pre­pared for this freedom, we may panic. Imagine being tossed out of a rocket into outer space. The ensuing freak-out impels us to grasp at any­thing that can re-establish a sense of ground. Like catching ourselves just before taking a bad spill on a patch of ice, we reflexively reach out to grab on to anything that keeps us from falling. This grasping reflex can spur us to take on an unfortu­nate form — and therefore an unfortunate rebirth.

The fruition of shamatha is the ability to rest your mind on any object for as long as you wish and to do so without distraction. Wherever you plop your awareness it stays there, like a bean bag hitting the ground.

Shamatha with form develops into formless shamatha. This is the ability to rest your mind on whatever arises, not just a specified form. You take off the training wheels and ride smoothly on top of anything.

Formless, or non-referential, shamatha is important because when the body drops away at death, we no longer have any stable forms upon which to place our mindfulness. There’s noth­ing steady to refer to. At this groundless point, instead of mentally thrashing about trying to find a form to grasp, formless shamatha allows us to rest on any experience without being swept away. It’s not a problem if we don’t have a body to come back to. We simply place our minds on whatever is happening and gain stability from that. Formless shamatha is a lifesaver that keeps us from drown­ing in a bewildering ocean of experience.

The simplicity of mindfulness belies its profundity. It is the gateway to immortality. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “If by eternity is understood not endless temporal dura­tion but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Padmasambhava agree. They taught the four ways to relate to the experience of time, emphasising the fourth moment. The first three moments relate to the conventional experiences of past, present, and future. The fourth moment is timeless and there­fore immortal. It’s beyond the first three. The fourth moment is the immediate experience of the bardo of dharmata, which transcends time and space. We don’t have to die to experience the deathless dharmata. It lies quietly between each thought — not just between each life.

Even though it transcends the first three moments, the only way to enter the fourth moment is through the inlet of the present. Nowness, in other words, is the funnel into eternity. B.K.S. Iyengar, the modern yoga mas­ter, says, “The yogi learns to forget the past and takes no thought for the morrow. He lives in the eternal present.”

If you can’t see this in the gap between your thoughts, you can get a feel for it when you’re immersed in an activity. If you’re one hundred percent present, whether it’s playing with your kids, being at a great concert, or engrossed in work, time seems to stand still. You may come out of such an experience, look at the clock, and be startled by how much time has flown by.

This is a concordant experience of the fourth moment — the entry into the realm where time, and therefore you, disappear.

These magical states, akin to what psychologists call the state of “flow” and athletes refer to as the “zone,” don’t have to be accidental. The zone of the fourth moment can be cultivated by training the mind to be present. In this regard, as Zen teacher Baker Roshi puts it, mindfulness makes you “accident prone.” The more you practice mindfulness, the more you stumble into the zone. Those who achieve shamatha can rest their minds in meditative absorption, or samadhi, and taste immortality. They have tripped into the deathless zone of total presence.

Despite the complexity of the bardos, the meditations that prepare us for them don’t need to be complex. Simplicity and relaxation are two key instructions for the bardos. Don’t underesti­mate the power of mindfulness. The Indian mas­ter Naropa said, “Since the consciousness [in the bardo] has no support, it is difficult to stabilise mindful intention. But if one can maintain mind­fulness, traversing the path will be trouble-free. Meditating for one session in that intermediate state may be liberating.”


The second main theme in The Tibetan Book of the Dead is that “recognition and liberation are simultaneous.” This relates to vipashyana, the practice of insight meditation. Shamatha pacifies the mind; vipashyana allows us to see it. By seeing our mind more clearly, we’re able to recognise how it works. This helps us relate to it skilfully. In the bardos we’re “forced” to relate to our mind, simply because there’s nothing else. Outer world is gone, body is gone, so mind becomes reality. Through insight meditation we discover that whatever arises in the bardos is just the dis­play of our mind. That recognition sets us free.

Just as recognising that we’re dreaming while still in a dream (lucid dreaming) frees us from the suffering of the dream, recognising that we’re in the bardos frees us from the suffering of the bar­dos. Before we became lucid, the dream tossed us to and fro like Styrofoam bobbing on turbulent waters. But once we wake up to the dream — while still being in it — the tables are suddenly turned. We now have complete control over an experience that just controlled us. Whether in dream or death, this level of recognition and ensuing liberation is cultivated with vipashyana, or “clear seeing.”

Instead of taking the terrifying visions of the bardo to be real and getting caught in the result­ing nightmare, we can wake up in the bardos. We do this by recognising all the appearances to be the display of our own mind. This recognition is exercised in meditation. The meditation instruc­tion is to label whatever distracts us as “think­ing.” For example, a thought pops up of needing to buy some milk. We mentally say, “thinking,” which is recognising that we have strayed, then return to our meditation. Our clear seeing melts the distracting thought on contact. Labelling and liberation are simultaneous.

Unrecognised thought is the daytime equivalent of falling asleep. Each discursive thought is a mini-day dream. Drifting into mindless thinking is how we end up sleepwalking through life — and therefore death. Saying “thinking ” in our medi­tation is therefore the same as saying, “Wake up!” We wake up and come back to reality — not to our dreamy visions (thoughts) about it. If we can wake up during the day and be mindful, we will be able to wake up in the bardo after we die. This is what it means to become a buddha, an “awakened one.” And this is the fruition of shamatha-vipashyana.

Earlier we said that in the bardos, mind (thought) becomes reality. What do you come back to if there is only mind? You come back to just that recognition. As in a lucid dream, you realise that whatever arises is merely the play of your mind. This allows you to witness whatever appears without being carried away by it. Since you no longer have a body, or any other material object to take refuge in, you take refuge in rec­ognition (awareness) itself. From that awakened perspective, it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s all just the display of the mind.


Tonglen, which is the practice of taking in the suffering of others and giving out the goodness within ourselves, is a strong preparation for death. It is especially powerful for a dying per­son to practice and for others to do when some­one has died. The rugged quality of this practice can match the toughness of death. The more I’m around death, the more I find myself taking ref­uge in tonglen.

The reason we suffer during life, or death, is because we are selfish. When we think small, every little irritation gets big. Conversely, when we think big, difficulties get small. Tonglen is about thinking and feeling big. To think big, we should first reflect upon our good fortune. We have the precious dharma to guide us through the bardos, and we have the potential to transform death into enlightenment. We are incredibly fortunate to die held by the teachings of the Buddha, the awak­ened one who transcended death.

Now think about the millions who are dying without being held. Imagine all those who are dying alone, under violent conditions or with­out physical or spiritual refuge. We can reduce our anguish by putting our death in perspec­tive. Tonglen instils that perspective and brings greater meaning to our death.

If you take a teaspoon of salt and put it into a shot glass of water, the water is powerfully affected. It gets super salty. If you take the same amount of salt and put it into Lake Michigan, it has virtually no effect. Tonglen transforms our mind from a shot glass into Lake Michigan. On every level, suffering is the result of the mind’s inability to accommodate its experience. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says:

Try to die with this motivation. If you die with this bodhichitta thought, your death becomes a cause of your enlightenment and a cause for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Live your life with this precious thought . . . . As you get closer to death, you should think, “I’m experiencing death on behalf of all sen­tient beings.” Try to die with this thought. In this way, you are dying for others. Dying with the thought of others is the best way to die.

— from Wholesome Fear, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Kathleen McDonald

The Indian sage Shantideva said, “If you want to be miserable, think only of yourself. If you want to be happy [even in death], think only of others.” Tonglen is therefore a way to practice the good heart of bodhichitta. When asked what practice he would do during death, Trungpa Rinpoche once replied, “Tonglen.”


Tonglen is part of a family of practices we could call “reverse meditations.” They are called reverse because with these practices we do things that are the opposite of what we usually associ­ate with meditation. Reverse meditations expand our sense of meditation and prepare us for death. They are based on the tenet that if you can bring unwanted experience into the sanctuary of sanity provided by meditation, you can transform that obstacle into opportunity. This approach applies to life and especially to death. If you can bring death onto the path, you can flip it into enlight­enment. The most unwanted experience trans­forms into the most coveted experience. Tonglen is a classic reverse meditation because it takes in the darkness of others and sends out our light. This is the reverse of how ego operates.

Pain meditation is a reverse meditation that prepares us for the painful bardo of dying. In addition to the emotional pain of letting go, there is often physical pain associated with disease. To prepare for this pain, we voluntarily bring it into our experience now, on our terms.

Reverse meditations are done within the con­text of shamatha meditation. This provides the crucible for establishing a proper relationship to the unwanted experience. For the pain medita­tion, after doing shamatha for a few minutes you can bite your lip or tongue, or dig your fingernail into your thumb, and explore the sensation. Go into the pain. What is pain? What is it made of? What happens if I dissolve into it? Reverse medi­tations are not pleasant. But neither is death. Do them for short sessions, and remember that mas­ochism is not the point.

While the pain may not disappear, the suffer­ing does. Pain meditation helps us erase what Trungpa Rinpoche called “negative negativity,” which is the resistance to the pain. Negative negativity is like being shot with two arrows. The first arrow hurts you physically. If you can stay with that pain and relate to it directly, it will still hurt, but not as much as when you bring in your storylines. The second arrow is the mental commentary that transforms simple pain into complex suffering.

By becoming one with the pain, there is no one to hurt. And the character of the pain changes. This practice radically alters our relationship to discomfort. It reverses it. The next time you get a headache, turn that pain into meditation. Watch the pain transform before your eyes.

Reverse meditations require diligence. We would rather sit in tranquillity than plunge into pain. But to establish a healthy relationship to unwanted experiences, we have to spend time with them. It’s always easier to do so on our own terms. We may think we’ll be able to relate to pain or death just by having read about it, but that attitude is seldom realised when we actually hurt or die.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says:

It is very difficult to transform an experience of intense suffering if we have no basis for work­ing with pain to begin with. Therefore, it is ini­tially necessary to work with minor pains and illnesses and discover how we can bring these to the path. Then, as more severe sicknesses come to us, we are able to bring those to the path as well. Eventually, we become capable of bringing even the most debilitat­ing conditions to the path.… If you become accustomed to looking at the experience of pain — if that looking is genuine and you can rest your mind in the pure sensation — then you will see a difference in how you experience the pain.… When a greater sickness strikes us, we will not be hit by it in the same way. It will not be such a problem or a shock. We can face even the pain and suffering of dying with greater confidence because we are facing familiar territory instead of the unknown. When the actual moment of death arrives, we will be able to look at that pain and transform it.

— from Mind Beyond Death, by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Having done this pain meditation for years, I now relate very differently to the sting of an insect bite or a stubbed toe. Instead of my knee-jerk aversion to pain, it almost becomes spiritual. My throb­bing toe reminds me to meditate, which alters the intensity of the pain. I’m begin­ning to bring pain onto my path.

Another reverse meditation is to cre­ate as many thoughts as possible. Instead of calming your mind down, whip it up. Again, start with shamatha, then make your mind as stormy as possible. Think of yesterday, think of tomorrow, visual­ise Paris, New York, or the pyramids. Do so as quickly as you can. Now is your chance to do what you always wanted to do on the meditation cushion: go hog wild mentally. This is particularly helpful for the karmic bardo of becoming, where the gales of karma rearise and blow us into our next life. By becoming familiar with those winds now, we’ll be able to sail in stormy seas later.

Notice that you can sit quietly in the centre of this voluntary cyclone and not be moved by it. You’re practising how to hold your seat in the midst of men­tal chaos. Don’t buy into the thoughts and emotions. Just watch the upheaval. This practice expands the sense of sha­matha because even though your mind is howling, you’re able to maintain inner peace. As the sage Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “It is disinterestedness that liberates.”

Do the meditation for a minute. Rest in shamatha, then do it again. Because reverse meditations are intense, short sessions prevent resentment. Don’t underestimate the power of short medi­tations. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, “We usually view anything small as unimportant and not really worth doing. For example, if we only have five min­utes to meditate, we tell ourselves, ‘Oh, five minutes is nothing. It is not enough to change my life. I need to practice for at least an hour.’” But with meditation, short is sweet. It’s like running. You don’t start with a marathon. You start with short runs and work your way up. Short sessions repeated frequently are just as effective as longer sessions done infrequently, if not more so. And when it comes to mixing meditation and post-meditation, which is how to transform your life into meditation, short frequent sessions reign supreme.

Another meditation is to place your­self in a loud and overly stimulating envi­ronment, then work on staying centred. Flip on the television, crank up the ste­reo, turn on the alarm clock, and sit with the cacophony. Go to a loud and crazy place and meditate. If you have kids, this environment is already part of your life. One of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s sons once complained to him about how hard it is to meditate in Kathmandu because of all the noise and distraction. Rinpoche said to him, “If you can’t practice under these conditions, how will you ever prac­tice in the bardo?”

As with all reverse meditations, find the silence in the noise, the stillness in the motion. Even if you never do these meditations, just knowing about them helps you reverse your relationship to unwanted experiences. The next time you’re in a crazy environment, like a subway station or Times Square, you might remember these instructions and transform the mayhem into meditation.

I frequently travel to India, a land of intense chaos. Instead of getting irritated when the flies, heat, noise, beggars, and pollution assaults me, I try to relax into the pandemonium. I reverse my usual defensive approach to these unpleasant situations and bring them onto my path. There are times when I just can’t do it and run away. But even then, I remember the spirit of these strange meditations and try to convert my automatic aversion.

All the reverse meditations culminate in equanimity, which is the ability to relate to whatever arises without bias. At the highest stages of the path, one no longer has any preference for chaos or calm, samsara or nirvana. Everything is experi­enced evenly. Pleasant experiences are not cultivated; unpleasant ones are not shunned.

As we have seen, distraction is one of the biggest prob­lems in life and death. Therefore, one of the most important instructions is “do not be distracted.” The reverse medita­tions are a formidable way to end distraction because they bring distraction onto the path. They show us how to reverse our relationship to distraction. Instead of feeling that our meditation is constantly being interrupted — by a thought, a noise, or even life itself — the reverse meditations bring these interruptions into our practice. They become our practice. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche said that if you’re in retreat and hear a noise that makes you angry, it’s a sign that you’re unable to bring distraction onto your path.

Since fear is common in the bardos, Khenpo Rinpoche recommends watching horror movies as a way to work with it. This is a potent reverse meditation for all the bardos, but especially for the bardo of becoming. Because we don’t rec­ognise the appearances of this bardo to be projections of our mind, the farther we go into it the more terrifying it becomes. The fear becomes so piercing that it can force us to grasp an unfortunate rebirth just to escape the intensity of our own minds. Establishing a relationship to fear now helps us relate to it then and can prevent such a birth.

I find this reverse meditation really challenging. The films are wretched, violent, and extremely difficult to watch. I usu­ally have to look away, or pause the movie, to bring any sense of meditation to it. My normal response is tremendous revul­sion. But as contrived and almost silly as this practice appears, it does evoke a host of nasty feelings. It allows me to become familiar with the shadowy side of my being, a dark side that comes to light in the bardo of becoming. Horror movies give me the opportunity to befriend horrible feelings I would oth­erwise never encounter.

A key instruction in life or death is to join whatever we experience with meditation. But without actually practising this, it’s hard to do. An unwanted experience arises, habitual patterns immediately kick in, and we run from the experience or relate to it poorly. The reverse meditations allow us to replace these bad habits with good ones. When difficult situ­ations arise, wisdom kicks in instead of confusion.

Lotus 138.

When Lord Buddha spoke about suffering, He wasn’t simply referring to superficial problems like illness and injury, but the fact that the dissatisfied nature of the mind itself is suffering. No matter how much of something you get, it never satisfies your desire for better or more. This unceasing desire is suffering; its nature is emotional frustration.

— Lama Thubten Yeshe

Lama Yeshe with students, 1970









1. 从思维极乐世界的功德方面去观想。

* 首先阿弥陀佛的发心和过去的成就。
* 其次阿弥陀佛的大愿和十方诸佛菩萨的加持力。

2. 观想极乐世界的殊胜庄严。













阿弥陀佛现比丘相,一面双手,双盘,红色身,双手持钵。阿弥陀佛威神光明,最尊第一,胜于日月千万亿倍。所以,无量寿佛,亦号无量光佛(藏语称“俄华美”,寿命和光无量无边的意思)。阿弥陀佛对众生有着无量无边的慈悲心,所以示现红色的身体。红色的身体代表了佛内在的爱心,这是一种无分别无执着的大爱,即菩提心。佛陀的头顶有肉髻,凡夫甚至六地菩萨都永远看不到佛陀的头顶。证明佛陀的功德无量无边,无法衡量。佛陀的脚心中各有一个法轮。佛陀的相貌具足三十二相八十种好,证明佛陀的功德至高无上。佛陀的两只手,一只代表智慧,一只代表方便。 佛跏趺而坐,代表智慧和方便双运而得到这样的成就。所以,我们不能只修空正见而不修方便法。反之亦然。佛左手持钵,钵中装着甘露水,代表佛以甚深广大的佛法度化众生,以清净的戒律摄持而讲法。佛现比丘相,代表佛陀用戒律和清净心度化众生。阿弥陀佛坐于有无量无边的五色或八色的莲花瓣上,莲花座由八只孔雀抬着,莲花瓣上有洁白、圆满的月轮,阿弥陀佛跏趺坐于其上。



凡夫以世俗之理去推,阿弥陀佛的西方极乐世界那么遥远,我一个凡夫根本看不到阿弥陀佛的心,我在这里求阿弥陀佛,佛能听得见吗?佛能帮助到我吗?这是我们凡夫人的心态,也是我们的疑虑。但是,佛具有身、口、意不可思议的功德。“身”体化现无数无边的佛,而且相等于虚空;“语”言也具有不可思议的功德,如一言一句一字能讲授无数不同的语言、和意义等等; “意” 具有不可思议的功德,如一切众生的每一个念头佛是了如指掌,只要因缘具足何时都在显现。



































第四种:不退转信。对阿弥陀佛的功德生起永不退转的信心,永不退转地依靠阿弥陀佛,不仅是阿弥陀佛, 把阿弥陀佛看成十方诸佛的显现, 视为上师三宝的综合体,这样才能使我们的信心提升,最终得到阿弥陀佛的殊胜加持。


































































































佛经和寂天菩萨的《入菩萨行论》里说:刹那间发菩提心,就断除了去恶道尤其是去畜生道的业力。过去释迦牟尼佛在地狱中时,见到同行的人太痛苦了,于是向狱卒请求:他的痛苦我来承受好了。这样一刹那的发心,是佛陀在凡夫身时最初的第一次发菩提心。因此他立刻往生天界。现在,我们也算是头一次发菩提心。所以,我们祈求佛菩萨们加持,从此以后做任何事都为一切众生,所作所为都成为菩萨道, “时时常行菩萨道”。

















Droge Yonten Gyatso Rinpoche (卓格仁波切) 3..jpg

The basic teachings of all sacred traditions in one way or the other emphasise that knowledge is ultimately related to intelligence, the instrument of knowledge within man, which is endowed with the possibility of knowing truth. A traditions hold that true knowledge is the means of deliverance and freedom; to know means ultimately to be transformed by the very process of knowing.

— 5th Samdhong Rinpoche, Lobsang Tenzin

5th Samdhong Rinpoche, Lobsang Tenzin 28..jpg

Four Dharmas of Gampopa
by Khenchen Konchok Gyaltsen Rinpoche

It is the nature of sentient beings to want happiness and freedom from suffering, but these objectives cannot be obtained merely by wishing or striving. One must also employ effective methods. Everything arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, and nothing occurs without a cause or through an incomplete or unrelated cause. Buddhist philosophy clearly explains the workings of cause and effect this way: non-virtuous thoughts and actions give rise to suffering, while virtuous thoughts and actions bring about happiness. Karmic causation is inexorable.

Samsaric peace and happiness are transient and ephemeral. This is the suffering of change. Even though we might attain the happiness of the higher realms, there is no reason to become attached since it will not last. We must make an effort to achieve total freedom from samsara. Perfect happiness can only be attained through liberation from conditioned existence.

Whether one wishes to achieve complete enlightenment, personal liberation from samsara, or simply temporal happiness, the fundamental practice is to perform the ten virtuous actions and to abandon the ten non-virtuous actions. Practising the ten virtuous actions without renunciation of samsara will serve as a cause to be reborn in the higher realms of humans and gods, but one will still not be free from the cycle of suffering. If one practices these same actions based on renunciation of personal suffering, then one will achieve individual liberation. And if one practices them on the basis of bodhicitta, then one can achieve Buddhahood.

The Four Dharmas of Gampopa explain the way to meaningfully implement our desire for happiness in a very succinct way. The four are:

* turning the mind to the Dharma
* the Dharma becoming the path to enlightenment
* dispelling error from the path and
* the dawning of confusion as wisdom

These four are simply stated, and yet they encompass the entire teachings of the Sutrayana and Vajrayana.

Turning the mind to Dharma means, first of all, appreciating one’s precious human rebirth and its eighteen qualities of leisure and endowment. At this moment, we have the opportunity to become completely free from samsara and to achieve complete enlightenment. All phenomena, including sentient beings, are impermanent and momentary. Humans must experience birth, ageing, sickness, and death. No matter how much energy we may expend in improving the conditions of this life, it will all just pass like a dream. To achieve even a small amount of pleasure, one must undergo hardships and make sacrifices. Then at the time of death, the only thing that will be of any benefit is the realisation that one has gained through Dharma practice. Even our body that we have cherished and protected will be of no help and, in fact, it will only be a source of misery. All compounded phenomena are subject to change. No matter how much one may strive for it, there is no absolute happiness in samsara.

The suffering of conditioned existence involves both physical and mental pain. The contaminated skandhas, or aggregates, are caught up in the suffering of misery, the suffering of change, and pervasive suffering. Sentient beings suffer from not attaining what they strive for, from being separated from what they are attached to, from coming into contact with enemies, from losing friends and loved ones, and from being dissatisfied even when they get what they want. No matter how much pleasure we experience, there is never any satisfaction. We always seek further happiness. This is the reality of samsara. When this is recognised clearly, one naturally seeks a way to be free of these things. Then, when one understands how the Dharma can purify defilements and lead one to enlightenment, one’s mind turns to that direction. Contemplation of the four thoughts (the precious human rebirth, impermanence, suffering and karma) is thus the means for turning the mind toward Dharma.

Dharma becoming the path means using the Dharma to achieve Buddhahood. On the foundation of the four thoughts, one has to genuinely develop immeasurable loving-kindness, compassion, and bodhicitta. This is a special method for developing one’s mind to create happiness for oneself and others. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past achieved their realisations by developing bodhicitta, and all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the future will do likewise. There are none who have achieved realisation without it.

Dispelling error from the path means dispelling the three poisons of ignorance, desire, and aversion. Whether we practice the Sutrayana or Vajrayana form of the teachings, our main focus should be on eliminating these poisons. If, in the name of Dharma, we develop desire and other afflictions, then rather than practising Dharma we are just becoming more deeply enmeshed in samsara. When we study or practice Dharma, we must watch our own minds. If our minds become more clear, open, calm, patient, aware, and understanding, then this is a sign that error is being dispelled from the path. If, on the other hand, we practice advanced Dharma teachings such as the Vajrayana, and yet only become more arrogant, undisciplined, confused, proud, and only see negative qualities in others, then error is not being dispelled from the path. So in order to practice successfully, one must always recall the four thoughts, loving-kindness, compassion, bodhicitta, and interdependence, and maintain the awareness that all phenomena are illusory like a dream. Lord Jigten Sumgön said that these preliminary points are much more profound and important than the advanced practices. Without a firm foundation in these preliminaries, advanced practices such as tantra and Mahamudra will not be effective.

The fourth dharma of Gampopa is the dawning of confusion as wisdom. Since buddha-nature completely pervades all sentient beings, there is nothing to attain that we do not already have. Rather, our study and practice of Dharma are for the purpose of recognising the reality of the primordial state, the ultimate mode of abiding that has not been previously recognised. So if we develop more ignorance, desire, and aversion, there will be no way for confusion to dawn as wisdom. We cannot achieve Buddhahood by developing more afflicting emotions but only by purifying defilements. This was emphasised by all the great masters of the past. I am merely repeating it here.

For those of you who are interested in following the path of Dharma, it is necessary to practice sincerely and with mindfulness. Understanding Dharma is not so difficult. What is difficult is practising it. Without a proper method of practice, there will be little sign of progress. Laziness is deeply ingrained and it always causes us to postpone practice. The current of negative propensities is very strong, and it sweeps us along without choice. Letting ourselves become slaves to our merciless negative thoughts, we suffer unnecessarily. The Dharma is the only means by which we can free ourselves, but it must be practised with mindfulness and sincerity. If we do not abandon the Dharma, the Dharma will never abandon us. Dharma is the real refuge that can lead us to Buddhahood.

Khenchen Konchok Gyaltsen Rinpoche 17.

To really receive the empowerment, you must know the precise meaning of the words used and then take that meaning into meditation. Without knowing the meaning, the feel of the bumpa as it touches your head or tasting the water from it will not necessarily mature the mind. However, the root of mantrayana is pure perception, and therefore to see the lama as the principal deity of the mandala and the empowerment substances as blessing nectar, and with devotion free of doubt to view the mandala and hear the names of the deities purely, will have great benefit. In that manner receive the empowerment.

After receiving the empowerment you have to protect the samaya. Your relation to the vajrayana samayas can be compared to a snake’s options for movement when placed into a hole in bamboo: keep samaya and go straight up to the pure lands, destroy samaya and go straight down to the lower realms. There are only two ways to go. There is no third way. You need to understand that keeping samaya and practising dharma, rather than merely an obligation, brings great benefit to oneself. There are many samayas to protect and many dharmas to practice, but you must always remember to bring them all into a single essential practice. In general, all of us who claim to be practitioners soon discover that our actions are not in accord with dharma, and that is our biggest mistake. Therefore don’t confuse your high purpose with your actual behaviour. Your actions should be the same in private as they are in public. If your mouth proclaims, “I take refuge, I take refuge,” and “I act for the benefit of all beings,” but you act like the ringleader in your own circus of self-important, ego-clinging tricks, then in reality you ignore karma and samaya and this is no good.

— His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche

Dudjom Rinpoche 18.