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Seeking an Inner Refuge
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. He came to India after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959. Ever since then increasing numbers of non-Tibetans have been becoming aware of his enlightened and compassionate wisdom. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his unwavering advocacy of non-violent resistance to the shockingly cruel and violent Chinese occupation of his homeland. Here is an extract of a teaching given in Delhi in the early 1960's, translated into English for the first time.

From the buddhist point of view, the mind of an ordinary person is weak and distorted through the power of the delusions and emotional afflictions he carries within himself. Because of this weakness and distortion he is unable to see things as they are; what he sees is a vision twisted and defined by his own emotional neuroses and preconceptions.

The purpose of Buddhism as a religion is to remove these distorting elements from the mind and thus facilitate valid perception. Until the distorting elements have been uprooted one's perception will always be tainted, but once the delusions have been removed by their very roots, one enters into a state of always seeing reality as it is. Then, because the mind exists in perfect wisdom and liberation, the body and speech automatically course in wholesome ways. This benefits both oneself and others immediately in this life and also on the road that follows after death. Therefore Buddhism is said to be not a path of faith but one of reason and knowledge.

We Tibetans are fortunate to have been born into a society where spiritual knowledge was both available and highly appreciated. However, having been born into it perhaps sometimes we took it for granted. Buddha himself said, "Test my words like a gold analyst buys gold and only then accept them." Buddha taught for a long period of time and to people of all backgrounds and levels of intelligence. Consequently each of his teachings must be weighed carefully for meaning and evaluated to determine whether it is literally true or only figuratively so. Many teachings were given in particular circumstances or to beings of limited understanding. Accepting any doctrine or aspect of a doctrine without first scrutinizing it analytically is like building a castle upon ice. One's practice will always remain unstable and will lack fundamental strength and depth.

What does it mean to say "practise Dharma"? Dharma is defined as "that which holds," that is the spiritual lore that holds or leads one out of suffering. Buddhism asserts that although at the moment our mind is overpowered by delusion and distortion, ultimately there is an aspect of mind which is by nature pure and unstained, and that by cultivating this purity and eliminating mental obscurations we are "held back" from suffering and unsatisfying experiences. Buddha taught this potential purity as a fundamental tenet of his doctrine, and Dharmakirti, the Indian logician who appeared a millennium later, established logically its validity. When this seed of enlightenment has been sufficiently cultivated one gains the experience of nirvana, freedom from all the shortcomings of samsara. As well as the concept of the seed of enlightenment, Dharmakirti validated logically the entire spectrum of buddhist tenets, including the law of karma, the concept of rebirth, the possibility of liberation and omniscience, and the nature of the three jewels of refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

As for the actual mode of practice, it is wrong to practise without a logical understanding of the doctrine. The practitioner should know well just what he is doing and why. Since those of us who are monks or nuns are dedicating our entire lives to the practice of Dharma we should be careful to practise immaculately. The Sangha is very important to the stability of the doctrine, so we should do our best to emulate Buddha himself. Anyone considering taking ordination should first think well; there is no need to become a monk just to be an inferior monk. The Sangha has the responsibility of embodying the precepts. If one wishes to continue living an ordinary life it is better to leave monkhood to those of greater spiritual inclination and simply to practise as a layman as best one can.

All religions in the world are similar in that they provide methods for cultivating wholesome aspects of mind and eliminating unwholesome ones. Buddhism is a particularly tasty religion because, having developed in India when the country was at a high point spiritually and philosophically, it presents both a total range of spiritual ideas and a rational approach to the methods of spiritual development. This is particularly important in this modern era, when the rational mind is given such credence. Because of this facet of rationality Buddhism finds little difficulty in confronting the modern world. Indeed, many of the findings of modern science such as those of nuclear physics, which are considered new discoveries, have long been discussed in ancient buddhist scriptures. Because Buddha's last advice to his disciples was that they should never accept anything on faith but only through rational investigation, the buddhist world has always managed to keep the spirit of inquiry very much alive within its precincts. This is unlike many other religions of the world, which lay claims on the truth and thus never allow any type of investigation that seems to threaten their limited descriptions of reality.

Whether or not a person is a buddhist is determined by whether or not he has taken refuge in the three jewels of refuge purely, from the depth of his heart. Merely saying buddhist prayers, playing with mantric rosaries and walking around temples do not make one a buddhist. Even a monkey can be taught to do these things. Dharma is a matter of mind and spirit, not external activities. Therefore, to be a buddhist one must understand exactly what the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are, and how they relate to one's spiritual life. There is the causal Buddha refuge, or all the buddhas of the past, present and future, of whom the most relevant to us is Buddha Shakyamuni, and the resultant Buddha refuge, or refuge in one's own potentiality for enlightenment, the buddha that one will become. As for the Dharma, there is the Dharma that was taught in the scriptures, and the realization of what was taught, which is found in the minds of those who have received a transmission inwardly. Lastly is refuge in Sangha, both the ordinary monks, who are symbols of the Sangha, and the arya Sangha-those beings who have gained meditational experience of the ultimate mode of truth. Therefore it is said that Buddha is the teacher, Dharma is the way and Sangha are the helpful spiritual companions.

Of these three, the most important to us as individuals is the Dharma, for ultimately we can only be helped by ourselves. No one else can achieve our enlightenment for us or give it to us. Enlightenment comes only to those who practise Dharma well, who take Dharma and apply it to the cultivation of their own mental continuums. Therefore, of the three jewels it is the ultimate refuge. By hearing, contemplating and meditating upon Dharma, our lives can become one with it, and enlightenment an immediate possibility.

All the great Kadampa masters of the past stressed that refuge must be practised in the context of an intense awareness of the law of cause and effect; it requires observance of the law of karma as its support. Buddha said, "We are our own protector and our own enemy." Buddha cannot protect us, only our own observance of the law of karma can. If we keep our refuge purely and strive to live in accordance with the ways of karma, we become our own protector. Alternatively, if we live in contradiction to the spiritual way we become our worst enemy, harming ourselves in this and future lives.

The mind of an ordinary person is undisciplined and uncontrolled. To be able to take up higher buddhist practices, such as the development of samadhi or insight into emptiness, or to engage in the yogic methods of the various tantric systems, we must first cultivate a disciplined mind. With refuge and self-discipline as the basis we can easily develop ever-increasing experiences in higher dharmic practices. Without a foundation of discipline, higher practices will yield no fruit. Everybody wants to practise the highest techniques, but first we must ask ourselves if we have mastered the lower prerequisite practices such as discipline. The aim of refuge is to transform the ordinary person into a buddha; when this has been accomplished the purpose of refuge has been fulfilled. The moment our mind becomes Buddha, our speech becomes Dharma and our body Sangha. However, the attainment of this exalted state depends upon our own practice of Dharma. To leave the practice to others and hope for spiritual benefits for ourself is an impossible dream. To purify our mind of karmic- and perception-related mistakes and cultivate the qualities of enlightenment within our stream of being, we ourselves must perform the practices and experience the spiritual states. The 108 volumes of Buddha's words that were translated into Tibetan have one essential theme: purify the mind and generate inner qualities. Nowhere is it said that someone else can do this for us. Therefore the buddhas are somewhat limited—they can only liberate us by means of inspiring us to practise their teachings. Many buddhas have come before but we are still here in samsara. This is not because those buddhas lacked compassion for us but because we were not able to practise their teachings. Individual progress along the spiritual path depends upon the efforts of the individual himself.

The process of self-cultivation has many levels. For beginners, however, avoidance of the ten negative courses of action and observance of their opposites, the ten positive courses, is the first necessity. Three of these concern physical actions: instead of killing we should value and cherish life; instead of stealing we should freely give what we can to help others; and instead of taking others' wives we should respect others' feelings. Four concern speech: instead of lying we should always speak the truth; instead of causing disharmony among others by slandering them we should encourage virtue by speaking about their good qualities; harsh and cutting speech toward others should be exchanged for soft, gentle, loving words; and meaningless conversation should be avoided and replaced by meaningful activities. Finally, three concern the mind: attachment is to be overcome and non-attachment cultivated; ill-will towards others is to be exchanged for feelings of love and compassion; and incorrect beliefs are to be eliminated and realistic attitudes cultivated.

These ten fundamental disciplines are to be followed by every buddhist. Not to do so while engaging in so-called higher tantric methods is to fool oneself. These ten are simple practices, observances that anyone can follow, yet they are the first step for anyone wanting to work toward the powerful yogas that bring enlightenment in one lifetime. When we take refuge and become a buddhist we must honour the family of buddhas. To follow any of the ten negative courses of action after having taken refuge is to disgrace Buddhism. Nobody is asking us to be a buddhist. If you are a buddhist it is a result of your own choice. Therefore you should qualify yourself accordingly. The minimal qualification is to avoid the ten negative courses of action and cultivate their opposites. Granted, nobody is perfect; but if we want to call ourselves buddhists we have to make some effort. When we see something that causes attachment or anger to arise within us the least we should do is make an effort not to be overcome by these distorted states of mind and instead maintain a free and loving attitude.

The essence of Dharma is cultivation of the mind, for all the positive and negative karmas collected by the body and speech originate in and are given direction by the mind. If we do not cultivate an awareness of our mental processes and the ability to cut off negative streams of thought as they arise, twenty years of meditation in a remote cave will be of little value. Before looking for a cave we should look for good qualities in our thoughts and develop the ability to live in accordance with Dharma. Only then will our sojourn in the distant meditation cave be better than a bear's hibernation. People who talk about tantric retreats while the ten dharmic foundations are still beyond them just make laughing stocks of themselves.

As humans we are able to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime. However, life is short and much of our lifespan has already passed by. We should ask ourselves how much spiritual progress we have made. Death can come to us at any moment and when it does we must leave behind everything except the mental imprints of our life's deeds. If we have practised Dharma during our life, have tried to live in accordance with dharmic ways, or have gained realizations of Dharma, this energy will be there with us. Alternatively, if our life has been spent in negativity, the consciousness travelling to future worlds will be immersed in negative thoughts and haunted by memories of our samsaric ways. Now, while we have the power to practise Dharma, we should do so intensely and purely. Dharma practice brings peace and harmony to both ourselves and those around us, even in this life and, should we not achieve enlightenment in this lifetime, it will give us a wish-fulfilling jewel that can be carried into future lives to aid us on the spiritual path.

Ultimately, our future is in our own hands. Most people make fantastic plans for next week, next month and next year, but what counts most is to practise Dharma right now. Were this to be done, all plans would be fulfilled. When we cultivate virtuous activities today, the laws of dependent arising ensure that a positive stream of change will be set in action. This is the preciousness of being human. Mankind is able to affect dynamically its own future state of being through applying discriminating wisdom to all activities of body, speech and mind. To use and cultivate this distinguishing wisdom is to extract the very essence of the human life.