The Four Dharmas of Gampopa


Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Tulku Urgyen's precious teaching came from the Web site of Rangjung Yeshe Gomde, Denmark. Rangjung Yeshe Gomde, Denmark is a European place for teaching and practice of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism following the lineage passing through Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The spiritual head is Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, the abbot of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, one of the largest monasteries in Nepal.

Grant your blessings that my mind may follow the Dharma.
Grant your blessings that my Dharma practice may become the path.
Grant your blessings that the path may clarify confusion.
Grant your blessings that confusion may arise as wisdom.


Since I do not possess any qualities of learning or accomplishment, I will simply repeat the flawless words of the Buddha in order to benefit those who show sincere interest in the Dharma.

The incomparable and world-renowned great master Gampopa condensed all the teachings that have been given and will be given by the one thousand buddhas in this good aeon into four sentences called the Four Dharmas of Gampopa. These extremely profound sentences are a combination of Sutra and Tantra, and were expounded upon by the great master Longchen Rabjam. If a practitioner receives these instructions and is diligent, he or she will be able to attain complete enlightenment within a single lifetime. It is amazing how extraordinary the vital teachings of the buddhas and accomplished practitioners are.

The buddhas have totally perfected all the qualities of abandonment and realization; they have abandoned the obscurations and realized the wisdom qualities. Out of their great love and kindness for other beings, similar to the love a mother has for her only child, the awakened ones taught the Dharma. The source of Buddhism on this earth is Buddha Shakyamuni, the completely enlightened one. His teachings have been transmitted through a lineage of bodhisattvas abiding on the bhumis, the bodhisattva levels. Thus these teachings have been passed down through an unbroken lineage of accomplished practitioners up to my own root teacher.

The first of the Four Dharmas of Gampopa is "Turn your mind towards following the Dharma!" This is done by reflecting on the four mind-changings. The first of these describes the difficulty of obtaining a precious human body endowed with the eight freedoms and ten riches. Since we are already human beings it might seem that we effortlessly obtained a human body; however, that was not the case. It takes a tremendous amount of positive karma accumulated in former lifetimes for an individual to be born in a precious human body. There are as many human beings as there are stars in the sky at night. But among these humans, those who have interest in practicing the sacred Dharma, beings with a precious human body, are extremely few, like the stars in the morning sky. Among people with interest in Dharma, those who have sincere diligence are even less. Genuine Dharma practice means to give up all worldly ambitions and to pursue instead the attainment of complete enlightenment in this very lifetime.

Although we have obtained a precious human body, it is governed by impermanence. Impermanence means that nothing, neither the world nor the beings in it lasts. In particular, the life span of a human is extremely short, as unpredictable and insubstantial as a flash of lightning or a bubble in water. On this earth no one lives forever; one after the other, people pass away. After death, if we end up in the three lower realms we will undergo unbearable, indescribable misery and pain. Currently we strive for perfect conditions, pleasure and wealth. But no matter what incredible state of worldly luxury and happiness we might now attain, we lack the power to bring any of it - our friends, family members or wealth - into the afterlife.

Although we feel love and affection for our family and our friends, at the moment of death we journey alone to an unknown place. We have repeated the same experience in all our past lives, leaving behind all our acquaintances and abandoning our possessions. No matter what happiness and abundance we achieve in this lifetime, it is as insubstantial as the dream we dreamt last night. To understand that nothing lasts, that everything passes by like a dream, is to understand impermanence and death.

If it simply were the case that our life ended in nothingness, like water drying up or a flame being extinguished, that would be perfect. There wouldn't be anything to worry about. But I'm sorry to say it does not happen like that, because our consciousness is not something that can die. After death we are forced to experience the effect of our former karmic actions. Due to ignorance we have wandered endlessly in samsara, unable to be liberated, continually circling between the three lower and three higher realms, one after the other. In order to free ourselves from the six realms of samsaric existence, we need to practice the sacred Dharma now while we have the chance.

We continue in samsaric existence as long as we are covered by the obscuration of disturbing emotions and the cognitive obscuration. These two obscurations are precisely what hinder us from attaining the state of omniscient buddhahood. In order to remove them we engage in the practices known as the preliminaries. These practices are included under the Second Dharma of Gampopa, "Make your Dharma practice become the path!" First we take refuge and do prostrations, thereby removing the karmic misdeeds and obscurations of our body gathered in countless lifetimes. In order to remove the negative actions and obscurations of speech which we have accumulated since beginningless time, we practice the meditation and recitation of Vajrasattva. To remove the obscurations and negative actions of our mind gathered during beginningless lifetimes, we make the outer, inner and secret mandala offerings. Finally, to remove the negative actions and obscurations which have been gathered through a combination of body, speech and mind from beginningless time, we practice the outer, inner and secret aspects of guru yoga. It is said that "realization occurs spontaneously when the obscurations are removed." Guru yoga is an extremely profound practice which is excellent for removing obscurations and developing realization. Though it is placed among the preliminary practices, it is said to be more profound than the main part of practice itself.

The Third Dharma of Gampopa is "Let the path clarify confusion!" 'Path' here should be understood within the context of ground, path, and fruition, a structure that encompasses all the teachings of Sutra and Tantra. The ground is the Buddha nature, sugatagarbha, the dharmakaya of all the buddhas that is present in all sentient beings. It is compared to pure, undefiled gold endowed with supreme qualities and free from any defects. How is the buddha nature present in everyone? The example given is that of oil in a mustard seed. When pressed, a mustard seed always yields oil. In the same way, in all sentient beings there is the essence of buddhahood, the buddha nature. No one lacks it. All the buddhas and bodhisattvas have buddha nature, as well as all sentient beings down to the tiniest insect, without any difference whatsoever in size or quality.

The buddha nature, the sugatagarbha, encompasses all of samsara and nirvana. Space is beyond center and edge. Wherever space pervades there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient beings, buddha nature is present. That is what is meant by the statement that buddha nature encompasses all of samsara and nirvana, all worlds, all beings.

Although buddha nature is present in everyone, we fail to recognize it. This ignorance is the main cause for wandering in samsara. Due to the ignorance of not knowing their own nature, sentient beings have strayed into confusion, like pure gold that has fallen into the mud and is temporarily defiled. Buddhas did not stray into confusion but retained their 'natural seat'. The difference between buddhas and sentient beings is the difference between knowing or not knowing our innate nature.

Although gold is gold, when it falls in the mud it gets covered by dirt and becomes unrecognizable. Gold temporarily covered by mud is the example for sentient beings who fail to recognize their own nature. All sentient beings are buddhas, but due to temporary obscurations they do not realize it. The ground is likened to pure gold, while the path is like gold which has fallen in the dirt and is covered by defilements. In this context, the path means the state of confusion.

Buddhahood, the realized state of all awakened beings, means not straying onto the path of confusion but recognizing the state of the ground as being pure gold. Due to the power of confusion we have now strayed onto the state of the path - the pure gold is temporarily covered by mud. We are temporarily under the power of confusion. Because of the sleep of ignorance, we go through the dreams of the three realms, taking rebirth among the six classes of sentient beings again and again, endlessly.

Intrinsic to our buddha nature are qualities called the three kayas or the innate body, speech and mind, also known as the three vajras. The vajra body is the unchanging quality of the buddha nature; the vajra speech is its inexpressible, unceasing quality; and the vajra mind is its unmistaken quality. In this way the vajra body, vajra speech, and vajra mind are inherently present as our buddha nature.

At this time the unchanging vajra body is obscured by our transient, perishable, physical body. The unceasing, continuous vajra speech, the voice of the nature of equality, is temporarily obscured by the repeated utterances of our normal talk. Likewise, the unmistaken vajra mind is obscured by our deluded thinking. Although the body, speech and mind of all the victorious ones are present in our buddha nature, they are obscured by our ordinary body, speech and mind.

Since we are under the power of confusion we are at the state of the path. Teachings are given in order to let the path clarify this confusion, thus purifying the obscurations of our body, speech and mind. The different practices taught are: development stage, to visualize our body as the form of the buddhas; recitation stage, to chant the mantras with our voice; and completion stage, to let our mind rest in the state of samadhi.

Development stage or visualization does not mean to imagine something which is not already present. The vajra body of all the victorious ones is within ourselves, intrinsic to our buddha nature. By practicing the development stage we remove the obscuration that covers this nature and prevents us from realizing it. The unceasing vajra speech of all the buddhas, the king of all melodious expressions, is also present in ourselves. Recitation of the three types of mantra - vidya, dharani, and guhya - enables us to remove the obscuration of our ordinary voice. The mind of all the buddhas, nonconceptual wakefulness, is also inherent to our nature, but it is covered by our momentary conceptual thinking. Simply resting in the evenness of the state of samadhi reveals our innate vajra mind.

Do not consider development stage to involve imagining something which is not real, like pretending that a piece of wood is pure gold. Development stage is not at all like that. It is simply acknowledging what already is, what already exists. Development stage means to mentally create or imagine the form of the buddhas. Even though visualization is at this point an artificial construct, a mentally fabricated act, still it is an imitation that resembles what is already present in ourselves. Until we are able to practice the ultimate development stage, we need to visualize or mentally create pure images in order to approach that absolute state.

The ultimate development stage involves simply resting in the essence of mind of all the buddhas, out of which the two form kayas - the sambhogakaya of rainbow light and the nirmanakaya of a physical body - spontaneously manifest. In fact, the buddha nature is the starting point for development stage, and this innate nature is actualized through practicing the samadhi of suchness. Development stage is created out of the samadhi of suchness, which is the dharmakaya of all the buddhas. Out of dharmakaya unfolds sambhogakaya, which is the samadhi of illumination, and from sambhogakaya the nirmanakaya appears by means of the samadhi of the seed syllable. That is how the development stage should take place.

The samadhi of suchness is the recognition of the buddha nature itself, the flawless and primordially pure state of dharmakaya. If we have not recognized this nature in our personal experience, we can approximate or fabricate it by imagining that all phenomena, all worlds and beings, dissolve into emptiness, by chanting, for instance, the mantra OM MAHA SHUNYATA JNANA VAJRA SVABHAVA ATMA KOH HANG. Out of the great emptiness, the clarity of cognizance unfolds like the sun rising in the sky and spreading light. That is called the samadhi of illumination, which is in essence the sambhogakaya. Out of space there is sunlight, and from the sunlight a rainbow appears. This is the analogy for nirmanakaya, the samadhi of the seed syllable from which the form of the deity manifests. Nirmanakaya is visible but not tangible; we cannot take hold of it with our hands and yet it appears. We should imagine the form of the deity as apparent but without self-nature. Just as a rainbow in the sky is not substantial or material in any way whatsoever, the deity is not composed of flesh and blood.

To reiterate, the development stage takes place within the framework of the three kayas. Dharmakaya is all-pervasive like space. Within this "space," the sambhogakaya is vividly present like the light of the sun. Nirmanakaya appears like a rainbow to accomplish the welfare of beings. Just as the sun cannot rise and shine without the openness of space, the unceasing sambhogakaya cannot manifest without the nonarising nature of dharmakaya. Without space the sun cannot shine; without sunshine a rainbow cannot appear. In this way the three kayas are indivisible.

Thus, the practice of the three samadhis provides the framework for visualizing the deity. Next, we invoke the ultimate deity from the realm of Akanishtha and dissolve it inseparably into ourselves. Then we make praises and offerings and so forth. All these seemingly conventional activities in the development stage resemble the activities of ordinary human beings, just like when we invite important people to visit, praise them, and give them good food and presents. The purpose of the development stage is to purify our habitual tendencies as human beings. It is not to appease some external gods by giving them offerings. Deities are not subject to pleasure when being worshipped or displeasure when not; it is we who benefit by purifying our obscurations and gathering the accumulations.

When practicing development stage, do it with a sense of vastness, immensity and openness. Don't visualize the deity in your own little house, in this little world. Everything is first dissolved totally into great emptiness, into vast space. Within the vastness of space, the mandala of the five elements is created. On top of it we imagine the immense Mount Sumeru. At the summit of Mount Sumeru is the celestial palace, and inside it is the throne with a seat of a sun and moon disk. It is on top of this throne that we appear in the form of the yidam deity, whichever it may be. This is how we should practice the development stage, not imagining we are sitting in our own little room.

The main purpose of development stage is to destroy our clinging to a solid reality. It is our fixation on concreteness that makes us continue in samsaric existence. The development stage dismantles that. How do we approach that? By imagining the world is a buddhafield, our dwelling place is the celestial palace, and the beings in it are the divine forms of deities, visible yet intangible like a rainbow in the sky.

Similarly, the recitation of mantra destroys our fixation on our normal discontinuous speech, which stops and starts. Mantra is called the king of verbal expression. It is the unceasing vajra speech. Finally, the unmistaken vajra mind destroys our normal conceptual thinking.

At the end of the period of recitation comes the completion stage, which in this context is the dissolution of the palace and the deity into emptiness and the reemerging from the state of emptiness in the form of the deity. The purpose of dissolving is to eliminate our habitual fixation on appearances as being real and permanent, as well as the tendency towards the view of eternalism. By re-emerging in the visible yet insubstantial form of the deity we also destroy the basis for nihilism, the view that nothing whatsoever exists. Thus, by training in eliminating the tendencies for both wrong views, this practice truly is the path that clarifies confusion.

In short, this was about how to let the path clarify confusion. At present we are under the power of confusion. Through these practices we will be able to eradicate this confusion and realize the vajra body, speech, and mind of all the buddhas. A good metaphor for this confusion is the hallucinations caused by the psychedelic drug datura. Normally we see ourselves and other people as having one face, two arms and two legs. But when intoxicated by datura, all of a sudden we see people not as they are but with ten heads, twenty arms, fifty legs, or the like. Currently we are under the influence of the drug of ignorance and continue deluded within the six realms of samsara. When the effect of datura wears off, we again perceive people as they are in their natural state. But right now the effect of the drug of ignorance has not yet worn off; we are still under the power of confusion. In order to clarify confusion on the path we need to practice the stages of development, recitation, and completion.

The fourth teaching of Gampopa, "Let confusion dawn as wisdom!" refers to the completion stage. The earlier mention of the completion stage is defined by and dependent upon a visualization that is either dissolved into emptiness or re-appears from emptiness; thus it is called 'completion stage with attributes.' The true completion stage, the topic of the Fourth Dharma of Gampopa, involves recognizing our buddha nature. When pure gold is covered by dirt it is not obvious that it is gold, even though this dirt is temporary. But once it is removed we realize that the gold is gold. In the same way, when our confusion is purified, the wisdom which is our basic wakefulness is made manifest.

At present the state of ordinary people is like pure gold covered with dirt. Our buddha nature is covered by temporary obscurations. One of the main obscurations that needs to be purified is our fixation on duality, on solid reality. Once it is purified then gold is just pure gold. As long as our mind is confused, bewildered, deluded, and mistaken, our buddha nature continues to be dragged through the realms of samsara. But when the mind is unconfused, unmistaken, and undeluded, it is the buddha nature itself. It is not that the buddha nature is one thing and our mind is another separate thing. They are not two different entities. The undeluded mind itself is the pure gold, the buddha nature. Sentient beings do not have two minds. When the mind is deluded it is given the name 'sentient being.' When the mind is undeluded, unmistaken, is called 'buddha.'

It is said 'there is no buddha apart from your own mind.' We do not have two minds. There is just one mind which is either deluded or undeluded. The buddha nature is exactly the originally unmistaken quality of our mind, also called the dharmakaya buddha Samantabhadra.

According to one system, the dharmakaya aspect of this primordially unmistaken quality is Samantabhadra. Its sambhogakaya aspect is Vajradhara and its nirmanakaya aspect is Vajrasattva. For example, space, sunlight, and the appearance of a rainbow are impossible to separate. Sunshine does not manifest anywhere else than within space, and a rainbow does not occur in any way other than as a combination of space and sunlight. Dharmakaya is likened to space, sambhogakaya to sun, and nirmanakaya to the rainbow. In the same way, the three buddhas, Samantabhadra, Vajradhara, and Vajrasattva, are not three different enlightened beings. They are indivisible, of the same nature, just as the three kayas are inherently present, indivisibly, in our buddha nature.

There is a difference between being deluded and undeluded, between recognizing and not recognizing our nature. The primordially unmistaken quality is called enlightenment, buddhahood, or the awakened state of dharmakaya. The primordially deluded aspect is called ignorance, or the deluded experience of sentient beings. Although we have the essence of buddhahood within us, it is temporarily obscured.

The essence of the Buddha's teachings is the method on how to let confusion dawn as wisdom. The most vital point here is the introduction to and recognition of the buddha nature, the innate wisdom of dharmakaya that is already present within oneself. The Fourth Dharma of Gampopa is a teaching on how to recognize, train in, and stabilize this recognition of the buddha nature. Understanding it is called the view, practicing it is called samadhi, and stabilizing it is called buddhahood. Buddhahood is not outside. It is not something else that all of a sudden is absorbed into ourselves and magically transforms us into a buddha.

We have one mind but we need to distinguish between its two aspects: essence and expression. Understand this example for the relationship between the two. The essence is like the sun shining in the sky. The expression is like its reflection upon the surface of water. The sun in the sky is the real sun. The reflection of the sun appearing on the surface of water looks like the sun but is not the real sun. Let's call the sun in the sky the buddha nature, the unmistaken, undeluded quality, the essence itself. The reflection of the sun upon the surface of water is an example for our normal deluded thinking, the expression. Without the sun in the sky it is impossible for a reflection of the sun to appear. Although there is actually only one sun, it looks like there are two. That is what is called one identity with two aspects. The essence, the buddha nature, is like the sun shining in the sky. The expression is our thinking, compared to the sun's reflection.

The state of being a buddha is unconfused and undeluded, just like the sun shining in the sky. The state of mind of sentient beings is like the reflection of the sun on water. Just as the reflection is dependent upon water, our thoughts are dependent upon objects. The object is what is thought of, the subject is the perceiving mind. Subject-object fixation is the cause for continuing in deluded samsaric existence, day and night, life after life. The fixation upon subject and object, the perceiving subject and the perceived object, is solidified again and again each moment and thus re-creates samsaric existence. Right now we have the five sense objects of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. In between, as the gates, we have the five senses, and there are also the various consciousnesses which continuously apprehend these different sense objects.

Can the reflection of the sun on the water illuminate the whole world? Can it even shine over the whole lake? Can it make things grow? No, because it does not have the qualities of the real sun. In the same way, the aspect of mind known as expression, our thinking, lacks the qualities of the real state of buddhahood. But the sun in the sky by itself is able to shine and spread its warmth throughout the whole world, illuminating all darkness. To put it simply, the mind of the buddhas is unobscured, while the mind of sentient beings is obscured. What is the obscuration? It is our own reoccurring fixation on subject and object.

Buddha nature is continuously present in ourselves as well as in everyone else, without any exception whatsoever. It is in essence forever unobscured. It doesn't increase or decrease. It is not sometimes covered or uncovered. It is totally beyond mental constructs. It does not change in size. It is not that someone has a big buddha nature and somebody else a small one. There is no difference in quality either. It is continuously present to the same extent in everyone.

To recognize the buddha nature present in oneself is called the view. To sustain the continuity of that correctly is called meditation or training. To mingle that with daily activities and act in accordance with the Dharma is called action or conduct. And to realize it as totally unobscured, like the sun shining with unchanging brilliance in the sky, is called fruition. We need to recognize the view; we need to recognize our buddha nature. Although it is something we already have, we need to acknowledge what we possess. The preliminary practices, the development stage, and so forth are all meant to enable us to recognize the buddha nature. They are like helpers, assistants.

To say "recognize your own nature, the buddha nature!" does not mean that we have to produce something which does not exist, like trying to squeeze gold out of a piece of wood, which is impossible. We must simply recognize what we already possess. But humans, who are the most clever and capable of all the different types of sentient beings, seem to be bent on totally throwing away this most precious wish-fulfilling jewel. The normal state of a human being is like someone who has found a precious wish-fulfilling jewel but ignores it, thinking that a fake piece of jewelry is more valuable. There is nothing sadder or of greater waste than this.

Think very well about this. Try to understand that the situation we are in now is like holding a wish-fulfilling jewel right in our hand. It is not easy to take rebirth as a human being, and it is definitely not easy to gain a precious human body with its opportunity to practice the Dharma. It is an extremely rare occasion that occurs so infrequently that it's like enjoying a good meal once in a hundred years. If we had a good meal only once every century, wouldn't we truly appreciate it and be overjoyed, saying "Finally I got a delicious meal!" We would be so happy. But this opportunity is even more precious. No amount of good meals is going to help us, ultimately. The body is still a corpse when it dies, whether or not it ate well. The precious human body is something extremely rare. If we do not use the opportunity we have right now, there is no guarantee whatsoever that we will be human in our next life. In fact, it is almost certain that we will not, because the habitual negative karmic patterns are so strong. This short opening right now will soon be covered up again for aeons and aeons before we have another chance to be a human. Please think sincerely about this: is there any greater waste than throwing away a wish-fulfilling jewel when you finally find one?

If we didn't already have this wish-fulfilling jewel it would be difficult to find. But, as a matter of fact, through all our beginningless lifetimes we have never been without it. If we were told, "You must possess a wish-fulfilling jewel!", then we would be in trouble because we would suddenly have to come up with something we don't possess. But the wish-fulfilling jewel of buddha nature is already present in ourselves. It is because of our ignorance and delusion that we do not recognize it, and continue life after life among the six classes of sentient beings. How sad that people throw away what is really valuable and instead chase after food, wealth, good reputation, and praise. But if we do not take hold of what is truly valuable in this lifetime we will just continue endlessly in samsaric existence. I'm not asking you to understand this, because of course you already do; I'm simply reminding you.

The buddha nature, the sugatagarbha, is already present as the nature of our own mind, just like the unchanging brilliance of the sun shining in the sky. But due to our ordinary dualistic thinking, this sun of the buddha nature is not evident; we don't see it. Not even a fraction of the innate qualities of buddhahood are manifest in the state of mind of a normal person. The conceptual thoughts we have day and night obscure our buddha nature, just like the sun in the sky is momentarily covered by clouds and seems to be obscured. Due to the passing clouds of ignorance we do not recognize the buddha nature.

The ever-present buddha nature is like the unhindered sun shining in the sky, but sunshine never reaches inside a cave facing north. This cave is an example for misunderstanding, wrong view, or partial understanding.

Buddha nature is primordially all-pervasive, present in everyone from Buddha Samantabhadra down to the tiniest insect. This enlightened essence can be given different names: dharmakaya, Samantabhadra, self-existing wakefulness, or supreme enlightenment. The ignorant state of sentient beings has also many names - it is called thinking, conceptual mind, dualistic consciousness or intellect.

Before this life we were born in another place and before that life somewhere else, and so on. We have had countless previous lifetimes. Our mind did not spontaneously appear out of nothing. It is beginningless. Our mind has taken birth again and again since beginningless time. We have had countless lifetimes - and now we have reached this life. It is like a dividing point in the road where we can take a path that leads either up or down.

Our mind creates virtue and evil, and our voice and body act as the mind's servants or employees. What is meant here by evil? It is basically attachment, anger and dullness. I have explained enlightened mind; now I will point out dualistic mind.

Take for example visual objects. When we see a beautiful piece of brocade, at first glance we think "How nice!" That is called attachment. If we see a used handkerchief we don't like it. That is called aversion or anger. If we see a clean plain handkerchief we don't care much either way. That is called indifference or dullness. We are all alike in this respect: when we see something beautiful, we like it, something ugly we dislike it, and something neutral we don't care about it. We like melodious sounds, not harsh, unpleasant ones. Our liking is attachment, our dislike is aversion, anger, and our indifference is dullness. Our reactions are the same with regard to what we eat, smell, or touch. Those three basic negative emotions manifest in relation to our five senses and the outer sense objects. The subject, our mind within, likes pleasure, dislikes pain, and can also remain indifferent. These six types of experience - visual form, sound, smell, taste, texture and mental objects - are called the six collections of consciousness.

From primordial time until this very moment, the main actions we have performed have been the activities of the three poisons - attachment, anger, and dullness. We have continuously engaged in liking, disliking and remaining indifferent, not just in one or two lives, but throughout countless lifetimes. This was the instruction pointing out dualistic mind.

'Mind beyond concepts' refers to the situation of being free of the three poisons. A normal person is totally engrossed in the three poisons through his whole lifetime. To attain liberation from samsara we need to leave behind the three poisons. How can we be free from them? We cannot bury them underground, flush them away, burn them, blow them up or even throw a nuclear bomb at them and expect the three poisons to disappear. Our continuous involvement with them is like an evil machine. The perfect Buddha described samsaric existence as an ocean of endless suffering, or like the continuous revolving of an evil machine, like a vicious circle. Buddha told us we need to apply a method in order to liberate ourselves and all other sentient beings from the ocean of samsara.

The primary cause of samsaric existence is our own dualistic mind, as I just pointed out. Some people might claim "I don't commit any evil! I don't kill, I don't steal and I don't lie. I don't do any negative actions!" While we might not perform such coarse negative actions, subtle negative actions are continuously created in our mind. As long as our liking, disliking and indifference are not purified, they block the path to liberation and complete enlightenment. So what can clear away and eradicate the three poisons in our own mind? The recognition of buddha nature, self-existing awareness.

This self-existing awareness is itself the path followed by all the buddhas of the three times. The buddhas of the past followed the path of self-existing wisdom, rangjung yeshe, and attained enlightenment. The buddhas of the present follow the path of self-existing wisdom, and in the future anyone who attains enlightenment will do so only by recognizing self-existing wisdom. There is not even an atom of any other path that leads to true enlightenment.

Let's take another example: imagine a room that had been completely sealed off and has remained in complete darkness for ten thousand years. The ignorant state of mind of a normal person who does not recognize the nature of mind, the buddha nature, is like the dense darkness inside that room. The moment of recognizing self-aware wisdom is like pressing the switch to turn on the light in the room that has been dark for ten thousand years. In that instant all the darkness is gone, right? Ten thousand years of darkness are dispelled in one moment. In the same way, the wisdom of recognizing one's nature dispels aeons of ignorance and negative actions. When you press the switch to turn on the light in a room that has been dark for ten thousand years, doesn't the darkness disappear at once? Understand that example.

If all the windows and the doors in the room were closed we would be unable to see anything, but when the light comes on we can see everything perfectly clearly. It is possible to purify countless aeons of negative karma and attain the state of complete enlightenment in this very lifetime because self-existing wisdom is so potent, so effective.

Now I will give a name to our buddha nature. It is called empty and cognizant self-existing wakefulness. The empty aspect, the essence, is like space that pervades everywhere. But inseparable from this empty quality is a natural capacity to cognize and perceive, which is basic wakefulness. Buddha nature is called self-existing because it is not made out of anything or created by anyone. Self-existing means not created by causes in the beginning and not destroyed by circumstances in the end. This self-existing wakefulness is present in all beings without a single exception. Our thinking and self-existing wakefulness are never apart. The thinking mind is called expression, while the basic wakefulness is called essence. Thus there are actually two names for the mind. In the case of an ignorant sentient being the mind is called empty cognizance suffused with ignorance (marigpa). The mind of all the buddhas is called empty cognizance suffused with awareness (rigpa).

In order to enable us to recognize or know our own essence, the teacher, the vajra master, gives what is called the pointing-out instruction. It is for that single purpose. And yet, what he points out is not something we don't already have. We already possess the buddha nature.

First, we must recognize our own nature, our essence. Next we must endeavor with great diligence to continuously sustain that recognition, which is called training. Finally, to reach the state where not even an iota of conceptual thinking remains, when conceptual thinking is totally purified, is called the attainment of stability. This stability is also known as the complete enlightenment of buddhahood.

The teachings of both Mahamudra and Dzogchen give a traditional example for this sequence. On the first day of the lunar calendar when we look in the sky we don't see anything; the moon is invisible. But on the evening of the third day we see a sliver of the moon. At that time it is possible for someone to point at the moon and say, "There is the moon!" We look and we see that the moon is the moon. That is called recognizing. Each following day the moon grows larger and larger, until on the night of the fifteenth day it is totally full and brilliant, shining in the sky. That is the example for the dharmakaya of self-existing awareness free from constructs. Again, pointing out the moon is called recognizing. That it grows further and further is training. When it is finally a full, complete moon, that is the attainment of stability, complete enlightenment.

Another example is the seed of a flower. Knowing it's a seed is the example for recognizing our buddha nature. After it has been planted and watered and starts to sprout leaves, stamen, and petals, that is called training. When the flower is finally fully grown, with beautiful, multicolored blossoms, that is the example for the attainment of stability. The seed of a flower does not look like a flower in full bloom. But a seed which is unmistaken the seed of a beautiful flower can be planted and it will grow into one.

Although when we see a flower it is amazingly beautiful, we wouldn't find the seed of that flower spectacular at all. In the same way, do not expect the recognition of mind essence to be something spectacular. But when the recognition has been stabilized, as in the case of a buddha, the state of complete enlightenment contains many great qualities like the fourfold fearlessness, the ten powers, the eighteen unique qualities, and so forth. The state of buddhahood also contains the capacity to transform an instant into an aeon and an aeon into an instant. The qualities of buddhahood are inconceivable, and all these qualities are inherently present in the buddha nature. They are not some new qualities that are achieved later on. There are not two different types of buddha nature - it is not that the buddhas have one type of buddha nature and we sentient beings have another type.

Humans are as numerous as stars at nighttime, but those with precious human bodies are like stars in the morning. All of you are like morning stars. Although I needn't ask you to treasure this teaching, to regard it as really important, still it is necessary to repeat that the practice of recognizing buddha nature should continue throughout our lives. We must equalize life and practice. In other words, we should not only practice for a short time and then abandon the Dharma. We should train for as long as we live.

Extracted from “Repeating the Words of the Buddha”, by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1992)

“Repeating the Words of the Buddha” can be obtained from Rangjung Yeshe Publication, c/o Clark Fulfillment Systems, Inc., 994 Riverview Dr., Totowa, NJ 07512, USA, telephone (973) 890-8901, fax (973) 812-1148.

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