Advice from Atisha
(Compilation of dialogues, words of advice, and reflections of Palden Atisha.)
Translated under Geshe Wangyal

One time Atisha was asked by his disciples, "What is the highest teaching of the path?"

  Atisha replied: "The highest skill is in the realization of egolessness. The highest nobility is in
subduing your own mind. The highest excellence is in having a mind which seeks to help others.
The highest precept is continual mindfulness. The highest remedy is in understanding the
naturelessness of everything. The highest activity is not to conform with worldly concerns. The
highest accomplishment is the lessening and transmutation of the passions. The highest giving
is found in non-attachment. The highest moral practice is a peaceful mind. The highest patience
is humility. The highest effort is to abandon attachment to activities. The highest meditation is
the mind without pretension. The highest wisdom is not to grasp anything as it appears."

Upon leaving the Western province of Nari, Atisha gave the following parting advice to his
assembled disciples: "Friends, until you have obtained enlightenment, the spiritual teacher is
needed; therefore depend upon the holy spiritual teacher. Until you fully realize the nature of
voidness, you must listen to the Teaching; therefore listen closely to the precept of the teacher.
Merely understanding the Dharma is not enough to become enlightened, you must practice

  "Go far away from any place that is harmful to your practice; always stay in a place that is
conducive to virtue. Clamour is harmful until you obtain a firm mind; therefore stay in an
isolated place. Abandon friends who increase your fettering passions; depend on friends who
cause you to increase virtue. Bear this in mind. There is never an end of things to do, so limit
your activities. Dedicate your virtue day and night, and always be mindful.

  "Once you have obtained the precept of the teacher, you should always meditate on it and
act in harmony with his speech. When you do this with great humility, the effects will manifest
without delay. If you act according to the Dharma from the depths of your heart, both food
and necessities will come naturally.

  "Friends, there is no satisfaction in the things you desire. It is like drinking sea water to satisfy
thirst. Therefore be content. Annihilate all forms of pretentiousness, pride and conceit; be
subdued and peaceful. Abandon all that which some call virtue, but which is really an obstacle
to the practice of Dharma. As if they were stones on a narrow slippery path, you should clear
away all ideas of gain and respect, for they are the rope of the devil. Like snot in your nose, blow
out all thoughts of fame and praise, for they serve only to beguile and delude.

  "As the happiness, pleasure and friends you have accumulated are of but a moment's duration,
turn your back on them. Future life is longer than this life, so carefully secure your treasure of
virtue to provide for the future. You leave everything behind when you die; do not be attached
to anything.

  "Leave off depising and deprecating others and generate a compassionate mind to those who
are your inferiors. Do not have deep attachment to your friends and do not discriminate against
your enemies. Without being jealous or envious of others' good qualities, with humility take up
those good qualities yourself. Do not bother examining the faults of others, but examine your
own faults. Purge yourself of them like bad blood. Nor should you concentrate on your own
virtues; rather respect those as a servant would. Extend loving-kindness to all beings as though
they were your own children.

  "Always have a smiling face and a loving mind. Speak honestly and without anger. If you go
about saying many senseless things, you will make mistakes; thus speak in moderation. If you
do many sensless things, your virtuous work will cease; give up actions that are not religious.
It is useless to make effort in unessential work. Because whatever happen to you comes as a
result of your karma from long ago, results never match your present desires. Therefore be calm.

  "Alas, it is far better to die than to cause a holy person shame; you should therefore always
be straightforward and without deceit. All the misery and happiness of this life arise from the
karma of this and previous lives; do not blame others for your circumstances.

  "Until you subdue yourself, you cannot subdue others; therefore, first subdue yourself.
As you are unable to ripen others without clairvoyance, make a great effort to achieve

  "You will surely die, leaving behind whatever wealth you have accumulated, so be careful
not to gather defilement due to wealth. As distracting enjoyments are without substance,
adorn yourself with the virtue of giving. Always keep pure moral practice, for it is beautiful
in this life and ensures happiness in future lives. In this world-age of the Kaliyuga, where
hatred is rampant, don the armour of patience, which nullifies anger. We remain in the world
by the power of sloth; thus we must ignite like a great fire the effort of achievement. Moment
after moment your life is wasted led by the lure of worldly activities; it is time to meditate.
Because you are under the influence of wrong views, you do not realize the nature voidness.
Zealously seek the meaning of reality!

  "Friends, samsara is a vast swamp in which there is no real happiness; hurry to the place
of liberation. Meditate according to the precept of the teacher and dry up the river of samsaric
misery. Always keep this in mind. Listen well to this advice, which is not mere words but
comes straight from my heart. If you follow these precepts you will make not only me happy,
but yourselves and all others as well. Though I am ignorant, I urge you to remember these

At another time, Atisha stated: "This Kaliyuga is not the time to display your ability; it is the
time to persevere through hardship. It is not the time to take a high position, but the time to
be humble. It is not the time to rely on many attendants, but the time to rely on isolation. Nor
is it the time to subdue disciples; it is the time to subdue yourself. It is not the time to merely
listen to words, but the time to contemplate their meaning. Nor is it the time to go visiting here
and there; it is the time to stay alone."

When the venerable Atisha was staying in Yerpadrak, near Lhasa, he gave the following precept:
"Noble sons, reflect deeply on these words. In the Kaliyuga lives are short and there is much to
be understood. The duration of life is uncertain; you do not know how long you will live. Thus you
must make great effort now to fulfil your right desires.

  "Do not proclaim yourself a monk if you obtain the necessities of life in the manner of a layman.
Though you live in a monastery and have given up worldly activities, if you fret about what you
have given up, you have no right to proclaim, 'I am a monk living in a monastery.' If your mind
still persists in desire for pretty things and still produces harmful thoughts, do not proclaim, 'I am
a monk living in a monastery.' If you still go about with worldly people and waste time in worldly,
senseless talk with those with whom you live, even though you are living in a monastery, do not
proclaim, 'I am a monk living in a monastery.' If you are impatient and go about feeling slighted,
if you cannot be even the least bit helpful to others, do not proclaim, 'I am a bodhisattva-monk.'

  "If you speak thus to worldly people, you are a great liar. You may get away with saying such
things. However, you cannot deceive those who have the boundless sight of clairvoyance, nor
can you deceive those who have the Dharma eye of great omniscience. Neither can you deceive
yourself, for the effects of karma follow after you.

  "To stay in a monastery it is necessary to give up worldly ways and attachment to friends
and relatives. By renouncing these, you are getting rid of all the co-operating causes of
attachment and longing. From then on you must seek the precious mind of enlightenment. Not
even for an instant should you allow your past obsession with worldly concerns to arise. Formerly,
you did not properly practise the Dharma, and under the influence of past habits that sapped
your strength, you continually produced the concepts of a worldly person. Because such concepts
are predominant, unless you make use of strong antidotes to them, it is useless to remain in a
monastery. You would be like the birds and wild animals that live there.

  "In short, staying in a monastery will not be helpful if you do not reverse your obsession
for fine things and do not renounce the activities of this life. For if you do not cut off these
inclinations, thinking that you can work for the aims of both this and future lives, you will
perform nothing but incidental religious practice. This type of practice is nothing but
hypocritical and pretentious practice done for selfish gain.

  "Therefore, you should always seek spiritual friends and shun bad company. Do not become
settled in one place or accumulate many things. Whatever you do, do in harmony with the
Dharma. Let whatever you do be a remedy for the fettering passions. This is actual religious
practice; make great effort to do this. As your knowledge increases, do not be possessed by
the demon of pride.

  "Staying in an isolated place, subdue yourself. Have few desires and be contented. Neither
delight in your own knowledge nor seek out the faults of others. Do not be fearful or anxious.
Be of good will and without prejudice. Concentrate on the Dharma when distracted by wrong

  "Be humble, and, if you are defeated, accept it gracefully. Give up boastfulness; renounce
desire. Always generate the compassionate mind. Whatever you do, do in moderation. Be
easily pleased and easily sustained. Run like a wild animal from whatever would entrap you.

  "If you do not renounce worldly existence, do not say you are holy. If you have not renounced
land and agriculture, do not say that you have entered the Sangha. If you do not renounce
desire, do not say you are a monk. If you are without love and compassion, do not say you are a
bodhisattva. If you do not renounce activity, do not say you are a great meditator. Do not cherish
your desires.

  "In short, when you stay at a monastery, engage in few activities and just meditate on the
Dharma. Do not have cause for repentance at the time of death."