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New Dharma Talks

Author's Introduction

Updated 12 Apr 2005



Author's Introduction


Buddhist wisdom is called Dharma. Dharma means truth, cosmic law, teachings, religion, spirituality, as well as morality, duty, and reality. Etymologically, it is derived from the meaning of that which carries or upholds, bears up and sustains us, like the earthDharma as our very ground, the ground of being and existence.  Dharma also means good medicine that heals what ails us, relieving suffering and confusion. To me, the Dharma is like a splendid spiritual jewel, radiant with wisdom, love and a multitude of blessings. There are many kinds of Dharma—or spirituality and religion—in the world, as well as worldly wisdom and knowledge, which is a kind of Dharma too, as it helps us to live better and flourish—in this life, at least. But Buddha Dharma is what we Buddhists call Noble Dharma or Liberating Dharma, for it emancipates and frees us from illusion, suffering and confusion, bringing about total enlightenment—the ultimate accomplishment of our deepest, truest aspirations.


Dharma, like true higher education, brings out the best in us. Dharma teachings unveil a new way of being, a new world available through the enlightened life—a good and beautiful life, rich with meaning and connection, love, wisdom, peace, heart and soul.  Dharma is for smarties and dummies both, benefiting us individually and collectively. Dharma is ageless, timeless; it knows no national boundaries, language barriers, or gender limitations. The gospel of Buddhism is that anyone can become enlightened through pursuing the path of awakening; that is, through formal Dharma practice—such as meditation-- and bringing Dharma principles and mindfulness practice into daily life. While a great deal of religion generally concerns history, tradition and culture; theology, cosmology, ritual, the after-life and beliefsand Buddhism is no exceptionDharma itself is timeless truth, beyond relative time and place, culture or conditions. Dharma is about what is happening now. Still, there is nothing new under the sun. New Dharma talks are like old wine in new bottles. May these talks bring blessings and auspiciousness, and help illumine the Way


It is traditional in Buddhist retreats to hear at least one Dharma Talk each day from the resident teacher, master or leader; this tradition reaches back into antiquity, and is carried on today in Buddhist monasteries and meditation centers throughout the world. A daily Dharma Talk helps exhort and encourage us along the path while furthering one study, reflection and actual practice. Since I started teaching Buddhist meditation and practice around 1990, I must have given over one thousand talks in Europe and North America, including two each day at the regular intensive meditation retreats I conduct around the world, as well others at weekly sangha evening gatherings in my Dzogchen Centers in various cities. (I do not include in the category of Dharma Talks the lectures I give at schools and college campuses, bookstores, companies and conferences.) Here I have taken a representative sample of these new Dharma Talks from the Nineties, and put them together here in a lightly edited form. Over the past nine years, most of these particular talks were given to my Dzogchen Center Sangha in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at our weekly Monday night meditation gatherings. Some material from the lively question and answer period that typically ends each evening Dharma Talk has been enfolded into the body of the talk. It is due to the auspicious coincidence of the sincere aspirations and requests of these students and the blessings and inspiration of my own lineage gurus and masters that these talks have come into being.


.There is a great spiritual hunger in this land today. Many are looking deeper for satisfaction and fulfillment, having discovered that material and technological progress still leaves us wanting. Milarepa sang his extemporaneous songs outside his Himalayan cave; later, they were memorized and eventually written down by his disciples. Han Shan inscribed his poems on the rocks and trees of Cold Mountain, while Li Po folded many of  his handwritten poems in the shape of  paper boats and set them a-sail on river waters. Today we seem to have Bookstore Buddhism and the Internet—among other, deeper connections-- to link us together, like Indra’s cosmic net in which each sparkling interstice reflects and contains the others. To help alleviate spiritual hunger and thirst today, in conjunction with the request of my students, these Dharma Talks have been transcribed, edited and offered in print.


The sole purpose of Buddhism is enlightenment, awakening, and the spiritual transformation that brings us inner peace, nirvana, freedom. The path of mindfulness and meditation awakens us to our innate Buddha nature, to pure presence, bringing with the experience of that serene inner center an understanding and acceptance of what is, and the realization that we are one with whatever we experience. Anyone can achieve spiritual realization by following the practice path laid out by the lineage of  teachers, beginning with the Buddha and continuing down through the centuries to us today. This timeless legacy transcends distance and time, offering us instruction and guidance, inspiration, and illumination.


That is why we rely on a spiritual teacher, the spiritual teachings and practice, and spiritual friends and community, to reach that goal. These are traditionally called the Three Jewels:  Buddha, Dharma and Sangha— enlightened teacher, liberating teachings and practice, and spiritual community. Some of the rich outer and inner dimensions of these Three Jewels will be unfolded in these Dharma Talks, to help us assimilate these ancient, timeless wisdom teachings on enlightened living, and integrate them into daily life.


Truth is ever fresh, and speaks for itself. So does Dharma. There should be little or no personal bias or distortion in its teaching and transmission. Of course this is all but impossible, given human nature; yet the ideal remains, like a pole star, to guide us. My own late teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, in giving permission and blessings for me to begin teaching around 1989, said: “Go wherever you are invited; do whatever is wanted and needed; and want and need nothing yourself.”  This is a high ideal to live up to, but an ideal which that master himself embodied. He remains like a pole star to guide us. As for myself,  I feel more like Henry James’ artist in his story “The Middle Years,” who says: “We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have.”


Talking about Dharma teaching, I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Diane Di Prima:




“I don’t imagine I’ll manage to express Sunyata

in a way that all my students will know & love

or present the Four Noble Truths so they look delicious

& tempting as Easter candy.  My skillful means

is more like a two-by-four banging on the head

of a reluctant diver

I then go in and save –

what pyrotechnics!


Alas this life I can’t be kind and persuasive

slip the Twelve-part Chain off hundreds of shackled housewives

present the Eight-fold Path like the ultimate roadmap

at all the gas stations in Samsara


But, oh, my lamas, I want to

how I want to!

Just to see your old eyes shine in this Kaliyuga

stars going out around us like birthday candles

your Empty Clear Luminous and Unobstructed Rainbow Bodies

swimming in and through us like transparent fish.”


For over thirty years I have dedicated myself full-time to the Dharma, including twenty years of monastic meditation retreats and learning Tibetan in the Himalayas. I found that the wisdom and joy of Dharma best explains and makes sense—for me, at leastof the central fact and ultimate mystery of being alive. I am a Dharma farmer; we plant seeds of enlightenment for other generations, other lives, other ages.


My Tibetan lamas taught me to reaffirm daily the Bodhisattva’s altruistic vow of selfless service, in order to serve the Dharma and all beings as part of my path to enlightenment. I have tried to live up to their shining example by helping to bring the practical values and contemplative benefits of Buddhist Dharma to the West—including presenting authentic teachers and their genuine teachings—and making Buddhadharma both accessible and practicable for people today. 


Wisdom is the essence of Buddhism; meditation is its most essential practice; and love, service, and compassion in action are its ultimate expression. Truths are many, but truth, reality, is one; may all realize it.


May peace and harmony prevail.

Sarva mangalam.


Lama Surya Das
Dzogchen Center
Cambridge, Massachusetts

April  2001



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Page Version: 12 Jul 2001 01:36