Commentary on the Four Dharmas of Gampopa



Dharma Apprenticeship Program Winter Retreat
San Rafael, California
12.01.00 - 12.03.00

Laying the Foundation

First, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for coming here for this event, and for participating in the DAP. This is the fourth DAP event we have held since we started a year ago. This first year we have focused on the fundamental teachings of the Buddha Dharma to explore how samsara has come into being, why we suffer, and what are the causes of our suffering. We have spent a lot of time on mindfulness training and the eightfold path in order to address these issues.

In the next few months we are going to synthesize this approach into a summary of the Hinayana path.  Practicing the fundamental teachings is like laying the foundation of one's Dharma practice. Imagine your Dharma practice is like building a house. Without a strong foundation it is like building a house on ice.  It may look fancy but it is going to collapse when the ice eventually thaws due to extreme weather conditions.

Sometimes I think we may have too much spiritual pride to admit that we are practicing the lowest vehicle. Sometimes people who practice Vajrayana Buddhism have trouble thinking they're practicing the lower path. It is defeating to their spiritual identity. But this isn't the lower path.  It's the foundation, recognizing egolessness. Even if we don't think about becoming Buddha, or a Vidyadhara, even if we just want to be a happy person, we have to practice virtuous deeds and mindfulness. To overcome our hope and fear, which is the source of our suffering that is deeply rooted in our consciousness, we must practice being in the moment, regardless of whether our motivation on the spiritual path is simply to be happy or to actualize our Buddha potential.

We have been practicing vipassana meditation, raising questions to ourselves, such as "Am I happy? Am I suffering? What are my karmic issues? What habitual tendencies keep me bound to a false self-image?" Our vipassana meditation isn't any particular practice.  It compliments any other practice we may be doing, whether we are practicing ati yoga or mahamudra or even following different spiritual traditions like Sufism or Christianity. Mindfulness meditation exists in every spiritual tradition, though they may not call it by that name in particular.  Regardless of what we call it, in order to experience the results of a lasting peace and happiness in our lives, we have to practice it. Laying this foundation of mindfulness is the basis for a radical spiritual transformation in our lives.

The point is that our commitment is to ourselves, that we address our issues honestly using this method of self-inquiry to create and sustain a continuity of mindfulness in our lives, which is the path and the goal of our vipassana meditation.

During this retreat, I would like for us to explore our meditation practice experientially, rather than intellectually.  Sitting meditation is a great gift we can give to ourselves, and sometimes I wish we would just do that in our sessions together. Meditation is a very simple exercise in paying attention and does not require extensive knowledge, which can actually be a hindrance. If we sit long enough, instead of chasing after the meditation with concepts about meditation and what we think we should be doing in order to meditate successfully, meditation will chase after us. So I'd like for us to do lots of sitting meditation this weekend.  

You may ask, "Why come here? Everyone knows how to sit, and we could do it at home." But, without a catalyst like this, we find it hard to make the time because of procrastination and laziness. In Tibet, we call these the two greatest dangers to spiritual realization.

Conviction in Our Buddha Essence

Enlightenment is something to be explored in this lifetime. It's not something to be achieved in the future or in the next lifetime. According to Vajrayana Buddhism, we have this potential to become the primordial Buddha Vajradhara in one lifetime, whether we are a saint or a sinner, wealthy or poor, man or woman. All human beings have this natural gift of becoming Buddha, so we must have faith in this essential truth.  We must have confidence that we can become enlightened, that we can actualize who we are, in this very lifetime.

There is a wonderful teaching by Dudjom Lingpa, Buddhahood Without Meditation, that says that enlightenment is not some far-off Buddhafield, not a utopian place where we can be reborn in the next lifetime. Enlightenment is when you become awakened to your true nature, which exists within each of us, in this moment, in this place where we sit.  This comes through awakening to our bak chak, our habitual tendencies, that we have carried through countless lifetimes.  

It is important to remind ourselves that we have Buddha essence.  I was giving a Dharma talk in Maui and I said, "All sentient beings have Buddha essence."  One person responded by saying, "I've heard this many times, but could you talk more about practices and techniques instead?" But this is an important point.  We have to have conviction that we have Buddha essence before we can rely on practices to liberate us, otherwise, how will we know what the aim of our practice is? Without that conviction there will always be subtle levels of hindrance, and we will not know how to practice properly. We have to cultivate this essence in order to become enlightened. If we rely on techniques our spiritual practice becomes mechanical. 

I think in many lifetimes we have each been monks, nuns, even saints. But through all of this spiritual experience we remain as sentient beings,  as deluded persons because we have not completely recognized our Buddha essence. Even though each of us have been meditators in past lifetimes we remain as sentient beings even now.  So you see that becoming a monk or nun, or becoming a spiritual practitioner doesn't guarantee that we are going to be enlightened.

Sentient being means deluded being. Buddha means awakened being. Buddhism is about developing absolute conviction in our enlightened essence. Once we have that confidence we can undergo a spiritual transformation in one life time.  We want to awaken, to have an inner metamorphosis.  That is the ultimate desire of people in spiritual practice. We want to change and have this revolutionary transformation.

Dharma in Tibetan is chhö, which means transformation.  How can we have change in our life? It doesn't have to do so much with saying prayers or practicing meditation, though prayer and meditation are useful tools if used properly.  What is essential to this transformation is the overcoming of all doubt that we can attain this inner freedom.  Doubt is the greatest inner hindrance preventing us from realizing who we are. When we live in doubt, we are not on the spiritual highway, we are on the exit. In Tibet, they say that Golok is the country of barbarians.  Without courage you can never go there.  And Amdo is the country of horses.  Without a horse you can never get anywhere.  Perhaps because I'm from Golok I'm sort of lawless and want all of us to drive straight up the middle of the highway.

We begin the journey to enlightenment the moment we have confidence in our Buddha nature.

Q.     How can we develop faith in our Buddha nature?

A.     One of the ways to cultivate our essence is to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In my own experience I am inspired by my own gurus, my tsawai (root) lamas.  By taking them as my spiritual guides, they become reflections of my Buddha nature, which serves as a catalyst to dispel delusion in my life. If they can be enlightened perhaps I can be enlightened too.  It is very easy to have doubt about yourself sometimes, but having a spiritual guide is a great way live in inspiration, to remove these doubts. This is why the tsawai lama in Vajrayana Buddhism is so important.

Another way to develop faith is to habitually remind yourself that you have Buddha nature.  When you doubt yourself, and have an inner crisis, remind yourself that you have Buddha nature. We also have to recognize that our doubt is wrong view. It is a misperception of who we are, but we are so familiar with this wrong way of perceiving that is seems valid to us because we've been stuck with it, in it, for many lifetimes.

When we practice the eightfold path, we talk about going beyond wrong view.  Wrong view is having misperceptions about who we are, about our ability to be enlightened, about the quality of ourselves simply as human beings. We are tortured by an abstract concept that is the false self, the sense of "I," which is habitually reinforced by our hope and fear. This in turn leads us to think that the phenomenon we experience is real, because it appears as separate from ourselves. This is a distortion of the deluded mind, and this misperception leads us into the constant search for happiness where happiness does not exist, and so we suffer in our failed attempts to make ourselves happy through inundating our senses with temporary forms of pleasure. Wrong views prevent us from looking within ourselves for the source of our suffering, which is also the source of our happiness.

We also have to have trust in the sacred teachings of the Buddha. This is very important.  We have to have critical intelligence to discern the meaning of the teachings.  Buddha implored his students not to take his words of advice without deeply questioning them.  We need to inquire into ourselves and question the validity of these teachings. Upon arriving at some definitive conclusion about what is real and what is not, our faith will develop and evolve until we completely actualize our Buddha potential. 

Buddha's Mission Statement

What is Buddha's ultimate message?  That all beings have Buddha nature.  If you're completely blind, you can't walk somewhere without depending on a guide.  In the same way we have to have this faith in the teachings of the Buddha, that we all have Buddha nature.

Dispelling Delusion's Myth

Since we grew up in a materialistic culture, we grew up without believing we have Buddha nature.  We have been taught to look outside our ourselves for satisfaction. In some way, our natural recognition of who we are has been educated out of us. Because of this, we have doubt about who we are, doubt about our limitations, and we live in constant fear of impermanence.  We have identified ourselves with ego, this limited entity, which is always being culturally reinforced. So we have not been informed or educated properly, that the way in which we live and the ideas have about ourselves are incongruous with finding lasting peace and happiness.

It requires tremendous faith, and in some way, a lot of work in approaching the tsawai lama and in realizing we have Buddha nature. If your parents were like Buddhas and convinced you that you had Buddha nature, it would be easy.  But parents are often ordinary beings with their own confusions, and under their influence and the influence of society we believe that we are imperfect.

However, we are already perfect. This is called Tathagathagarba. Spirituality is not about perfecting yourself but about purifying your misperception that prevents you from seeing yourself as you are – perfectly awake.  Our misunderstanding of the word "cultivation" may make us think that we have to change the way we are, or who we are.  We think that meditation is a way to improve ourselves. But these are misconceptions.

Imagine we have an amazing mirror.  This mirror is very clear and immaculate. It reflects everything perfectly, without distortion.  But if it has been covered by dust it cannot reflect flowers or mountains or space. Our job on the spiritual path is to clear the dust.  We don't have to buy a new mirror.

In the same way our true essence is already Vajradhara.  We don't have to change ourselves.  We don't have to change who we are.  We simply have to purify our mental conditions and misperceptions so we can see who we are in reality.

There is a beautiful confession in the Dzogchen teachings:  "I confess that I haven't recognized I am Buddha already, even though I have already been Buddha through many lifetimes." When you become enlightened you don't gain anything extra; you see who you are already in the primordial sense. 

Buddha essence, Tathagathagarbha, means each of us has potential to become Buddha, to awaken to our true essence in this very lifetime.  And this is a very important conviction to acquire.  It makes a huge difference on our path. When we don't have that conviction we die and are reborn.  We may be reborn again and again as great meditators without any change.  But if we have faith in our Buddha nature we can attain enlightenment in this very lifetime.

Developing Faith

The Buddhist notion of faith is not like the faith of many western religions, like having faith in a supernatural being. Buddhist faith is developing confidence in our own Buddha nature. Imagine we have the strength to move a heavy rock in the road, but without belief in our strength we will never go into action and move the rock.

We have to meditate on our Buddha nature everyday.  Dharma practice is not something we do once in a while, some physical discipline like doing prostrations or reciting mantra.  When we wake up in the morning we can just reflect upon ourselves, that we have Buddha essence.  How many times do we remind ourselves of this during the day?

At night we can ask ourselves, what was our mind's main activity during the day?  Did we worry all day long over things we couldn't control or were we reminding ourselves of our Buddha essence? We can practice this contemplation, that we have Buddha essence, in the traditional way of three sessions - morning, noon, and evening.  This is an inspiring reflection that enables us to cut through our habitual tendencies by developing faith in who we are.

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche has been in the United States for 15 years.  I asked him what the essence of his teaching was and he said, "Reminding everyone of their Buddha essence, that all of us have the potential or essence of Buddha."

We are both fortunate because we had parents who taught us that we had Buddha essence. I had parents and grandparents who taught me this, growing up in Tibet. So now I can share this with you, that you too have Buddha essence.

If there is no Buddha essence in each of us then there is no ultimate meaning to cultivating Dharma practice.  The point of Dharma is not to be healthy or strong, or even happy. The point of Dharma is to become who we really are.  When we say we have Buddha essence it doesn't mean we are more sublime than who we already are.  We are perfect in this very moment. We are absolute perfection itself. So this could be our intention for this retreat, to find out what this means.  We are coming here together to increase and enhance our faith in Buddha nature.

Establishing Right Motivation

In Tibetan, gelong takpa  is cultivating the right motivation.  We need a clear understanding for ourselves of why we are doing the retreat.  What is the purpose of our being here?  This is called developing right motivation, or intention. The right motivation for this retreat is to increase our faith in our own Buddha nature and actualizing that faith.   

Selfish or impure motivations are great obstacles to witnessing change within ourselves.  From personal experience, I can say that when I was in the monastery in Tibet,  I had many wrong motivations. Mostly, I wanted to be entertained.  At Pema Ösel Ling, I met one person and asked him why he came to POL every year for retreat and he said he was looking for a date, that he wanted to date a Buddhist practitioner. So there can be various legitimate and illegitimate motivations.  All of these are okay as long as we have the one great right intention, to become liberated from suffering by recognizing our Buddha nature.

Sometimes we may have the intention to learn Buddhism. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche used to say that we don't need the intention to learn Buddhism to become Buddha. Even the intention to use Vajrayana practice to get enlightened or have ecstatic experience will continue to lead us astray. The ultimate intention is to realize who we are, and this begins with cultivating right intention, which Patrul Rinpoche talks about in the first chapter of The Words of My Perfect Teacher.

Sacred Inheritance

We are very fortunate to have a connection to this spiritual lineage, the Nyingma, or Ancient sect, which emphasizes Vajrayana teachings.  Nyingma lineage contains the complete cycle of teaching to guide beings of all types and mentalities to enlightenment. We can become very fascinated with developing right intention and Bodhicitta, but without the support of lineage there is no way for us to learn how to practically apply the fundamental teachings. There are stages of the path to help cut through the various layers of our habitual tendencies, and it our responsibility to integrate these stages of the path into our everyday life if we are to develop the sincere motivation to be free of our delusion.

For example, according to the Vajrayana tradition, you have to practice and complete ngöndro.  If you don't accumulate the five hundred thousand you cant study Dzogchen.  Once you finish ngöndro you have to study tsa lung (practice of inner heat).  But if you jump straight into higher discipline, you miss things like developing correct motivation, which will prevent you from realizing your Buddha nature, because you may be stuck practicing from ego's point-of-view.

The Purpose of Dharma Practice

What is the purpose of Dharma practice?  We have many goals and dreams in our life based on our own ego.  But the goal of Dharma practice is about freeing oneself from one's own ego and attachment.  This is called an unworldly path with an unworldly goal. There is a beautiful prayer from Gampopa, Milarepa's main disciple, stated in four lines, that captures this essence of Dharma practice. The first line is:

"May my mind turns towards the Dharma."

I think this is most beautiful prayer, because first your mind must have faith that the ultimate meaning of life is enlightenment. It is very possible that our minds are randomly and rapidly turning toward something else, somewhere else, like marriage or relationship, money, longevity, health, shopping. These are all egoistic fixations. When our minds are turned in one direction, like success, we become successful.  When it is unsettled and goes in all directions we become a bit crazy or unstable.  But we have to turn our mind in one direction, toward Buddha Dharma. This is our job.

Atisha said the desire for enlightenment is all that matters because that absolute desire is what enlightens us.  Whatever we do becomes Dharma practice if we have the ultimate desire to attain enlightenment.  If we make Dharma the ultimate priority in our lives than everything becomes the path to enlightenment.

One of the principles of the DAP is bridging the gap between Dharma and ordinary life. Dharma is life, a way of life based on mindfulness and cultivation of wisdom and love.  Once we have that ultimate desire even our careers becomes enlightenment, because in our careers we have to go through hope and fear, through doubt and disillusion. We encounter the whole spectrum of human sufferings.  So there is always the perfect opportunity to cultivate Dharma. It is the same with relationships,  because we have to face inner obscurations and conflict and overcome them in order to be gentle, loving and kind, to be supportive and understanding.  Running away from life is not the best way to escape from samsara. There is a Sufi story that shows this.

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

There was an elder mystic who lived in a cave.  A young man was disillusioned with society and wanted to seek for freedom.  After days in the desert he ran into this saint and asked  him how he could remain in society without being annoyed by the corruption. The Elder said, "You come to the wrong person.  I was weak. I couldn't stand being in society, so  I ran away here, but I have learned nothing. People who live in society with a spiritual perspective must have great strength and courage.  I didn't come here with good motivation, so my growth has been limited."

When we run away from life we are running away from habitual tendencies. Life is present, not past and future.  Life is what we are experiencing now.  Maybe we are in a happy state of mind.  This is our life.  Maybe we are driving on the highway, stuck in a traffic jam.  This is also your life. The past is memory.  Last year is memory.  Childhood is memory. Future is fantasy.  They are fixations of the ego's imagination and have no substantiality. Life is only experienced in this moment. 

We could be experiencing favorable or unfavorable conditions. We could be sick, or losing our property or house or career. That's our life. Dharma practice is to be with this life and not to run away from any experience.  Life is not challenging.  The challenge is in me and you, in our faulty perception.  The challenge arises when we don't understand the nature of reality.  When we have faith in our Buddha nature, in the way things are, then there is no challenge. 

Pure Perception

Having the experience of seeing things as they are is what they call in the Dzogchen teaching pure perception.  Whatever is happening,  you accept as it is without resistance, because resistance is suffering, isn't it? Buddha's attendant Ananda asked, "Where is the island where there is no longer birth, death sickness and disease?"  That island isn't Hawaii.  It is inside of you.

This may sound very idealistic if we haven't experienced it.  It sounds too perfect to be true if we haven't experienced it.  But this is not fiction.  This is not myth.  We can achieve this unconditioned state if we follow the path with faith in our Buddha nature. 

There are countless beings who experienced this, like Buddha Shakyamuni, Milarepa, and Padmasambhava, as well as our own teachers.  Buddhahood is not a fiction. It is achievable, in this very moment.

While I leading a chöd retreat in New Mexico, I met an Indian medicine woman, who was our guide. We were a very relaxed group, acting somewhat wildly, telling dirty jokes.  Then one night this woman said she had led many groups but that they we were the weirdest she had encountered. I asked her about her spiritual beliefs. She said that the essence of her religion is walking in beauty.  I asked her if she meant like walking in meadows, chasing after juicy buffalo?  She said "No. Walking in beauty means walking in beautiful perception." The struck me as remarkable. Walking in beauty is the same as having pure perception.  It is the state when we transcend all our wrong views about who we are and directly experience reality.

So, the first Dharma of Gampopa is turning the mind toward the Dharma, that we may see things as they are. This is most important.  As you know, sometimes the mind is like a roulette wheel, always pointing a different direction.  It's good for us to have a consistent goal.

The Ultimate Goal

Lets talk about the goal.  What is the goal or the meaning of life?  Even though we have wealth and fame, without meaning we feel empty inside, destitute.  The meaning of life depends on the perspective we have in our everyday life.

Is my meaning of life different from yours?  Yes, because I want to be an artist, you want to be a musician, she wants to be a multimillionaire.  But we should share one ultimate goal.  The ultimate goal is realizing the Buddha nature within you.

As tonight is the first session,  it's very important to bring the right motivation.  Let us become aware of what our real motivations are for coming here, and simply observe them, without judgement. This is all that is required.  In being aware of our current state of mind, we can develop the right motivation by recognizing that ultimate happiness does not come from outside but from awakening to our Buddha nature, and that recognition requires a path.  It requires us to put wholehearted faith into our path. In this way we will see that every day is precious, and each moment is the perfect opportunity to awaken.

How many moments have we wasted in our life by not cultivating the path of Buddha Dharma?  We have to feel that we are so exhausted with samsara, that we are tired of being deluded in order to overcome our resistance to the beauty and preciousness of this life.  Have the determination to win your freedom by making a full commitment to put your heart onto the path. With this kind of devotion, we will overcome our inner obscurations and transcend all obstacles that prevent us from realizing who we truly are.  This is a high and precious mission. May our minds turn towards the Dharma!

"Grant your blessings that my dharma practice may become the path."

Paper Tigers, Conceptual Dharmas

Last night we talked about what our Dharma practice is. Practice means that we experience an authentic change in our lives. We don't have to change in our essence, but we do have to purify our mental conditions that obscure our ability to see who we are.

Once in a while, my teachers would ask me out of the blue, "What is Dharma?" They would strike down any conceptual answer I gave them, especially if I was being a smart Alec, thinking I knew something. Bodhidharma did the same thing when he arrived in China.  He asked the students who gathered around him, "What is Buddha essence?" He always forced them to look directly at their own minds.

Often, we are only familiar with the forms of dharma, which are like paper tigers -- they look very threatening, but they don't have the same function as a real tiger.  They can't jump and run, and they definitely can't bite you. It is the same with the forms of dharma -- they may look impressive, but they don't help us in transforming our lives.

I was giving a Dharma lecture once, and I met a person who has been practicing Dharma for almost thirty years.  He had an interview after the talk.  I asked this person when he started practicing.  He said, " 1965."  I said, "Then why are you coming to me?  You've been practicing dharma since before I was born. You should be teaching me."  He said. "I know, but I still don't understand Dharma."  It was very humbling for him, and amazing for me to see.

Relative and Absolute

Dharma is really simple, perhaps too simple for us sometimes.  We have a tendency to think that true spirituality is complicated, but actually its very simple in many ways. This is the fundamental problem that prevents genuine a understanding of what dharma is. We use the same conceptual interpretations that have caused us suffering, and apply them to Dharma, and this causes confusion on the path.

The Dharma is already in each of us. In Mahayana Buddhism, there are two kinds of dharma – the actual dharma that already exists in each of us as the potential for enlightenment, and the relative dharma, which is the actual method we use for attaining realization. It's important not to mistake the relative dharma for the ultimate dharma. Relative dharma is not the real dharma, but it helps us develop or manifest the dharma of inner realization that is already perfected in each of us.  So, the relative dharma is like a study aid that we can use to look towards the definitive meaning of the teachings, that we are already perfect Buddhas. Relying on this understanding,  we can then use the relative dharma clearly as the path to enlightenment, and not the path to Egohood.

The teachings of the Buddha are demanding because we are always talking about how important it is to have the right understanding of dharma as we practice.  We have to remember to lay a strong foundation for our dharma practice.  Once we have a strong foundation and we understand what is dharma, by applying our understanding of the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the four thoughts, then our path can become truly effective in transforming our lives.

Meditation is Not Dharma

One of the ways we mistake true Dharma for its method of actualization is with our practice  of meditation. With mediation we mistake the form of Dharma for the Dharma itself. Meditation is not dharma. It is just a tool. True dharma is already in each of us. 

I was in Los Angeles, staying with some friends, who are Tibetan.  They also invited another Tibetan teacher, a Geshe, who is a scholar at a big monastery in Southern India.  We started arguing about what is great shunyata, emptiness.  Our pretentious discussion just made the understanding of emptiness seem more confusing. This simple Tibetan woman said, "Why don't you stop arguing.  Your noodles are getting cold.  As long as you have a good heart, that is the essence of dharma."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama doesn't always speak about profound topics. He talks about basic human goodness, about love and compassion. Not Buddhist or Christian or Muslim goodness, but basic human goodness.

If we claim to be Buddhist or Christian, what are we looking for?  We may think we are looking for God or Buddhahood, but when it comes down to the essence, we are trying to manifest what we have already.  Christians say "God", the love and compassion in each of us.  In Dzogchen, we talk about Dharmakaya, the love and compassion intrinsic in each of us. So even though each tradition has different teaching styles, which all sound very different, they are all talking about the same intrinsic state of your mind that is love and compassion.

So when we mistake the spiritual path, or the actual method we use to liberate our habitual tendencies, for the true dharma, our practice can become very mechanical.  Our minds become very stiff.

There is a story about Patrul Rinpoche, who was a rascal saint. The old Patrul Rinpoche was travelling through the valleys of eastern Tibet. He encountered an old monk practicing seriously in a cave. He asked the old monk, "What are you practicing ?"  The monk said sternly, "I am practicing patience." "What?" asked Patrul, pretending not to hear him. "I am practicing patience, I said!" bellowed the old monk.  Again, Patrul said "What?" pretending to be oblivious. The old monk finally screamed, "I am practicing patience, you idiot!" So you can see we need to investigate our intention, and we have to be very clear about what actual Dharma is, in order to practice properly. We must be like Patrul Rinpoche, who was making sure the old monk in the story wasn't confusing the form of dharma with true dharma. We must check out ourselves with a very honest self-evaluation.

Q. Is the path the same or analogous to the raft crossing the ocean?

A. Yes.  Samsara, or the vicious circle of our habitual tendencies, is like a great ocean.  And the path is like a great boat or bridge across. But sometimes we mistake the boat or the bridge for the other side and we start circling around in the ocean on the boat.  But we want to get to the other side to the treasure island. Sometimes the boat is very comfortable and gives us direction and a conceptual meaning of life.

Q. So the tricky part is to determine when one can abandon the raft?

A. Yes, exactly.  And the teacher is very important, because then there is someone always checking out what you are doing.  And when we have challenging teachers like Patrul Rinpoche making sure we're not stuck, we can transform our lives very quickly.

We sometimes idealize a spiritual teacher as someone who has a beautiful face.  But sometimes a teacher can be very straightforward and tells you exactly what is happening.  My teacher was like that.

Sometimes we have to do lots of practice with great discipline, and sometimes you have to give up practice for a while, for a few days.

In general its good to do a lot of practice.  In Tibetan tradition we have the three retreat.  We have many monks and nuns who have done 3 year retreat again and again.  It's like their lifestyle.  But sometimes its important to give up everything for awhile. For example, in Chöd teachings, or rushen, you're not supposed to bring prayer beads or have anything to hang onto, so you can just see where you are, without any external fabrication.

Style of Practice

I realize more and more that if we are able to get up early, and do prostrations and prayers first thing in the morning, it will changes our lives forever. This way of practice is like dropping an anchor into the ocean. The anchor is our positive intention to transform our lives, and the ocean is our consciousness.

We often think, "Why does it take so much time to become enlightened?  We have met many great teachers and received their blessings and so forth.  But why are we not enlightened?  Perhaps because we have not established our intention, and followed through with it. We have been lazy and insincere in our efforts.

I will tell you one thing, you are not going to be enlightened listening to me because I have a difficult time getting up in the morning!

When I was in the monastery, we had to get up at five in the morning during summer retreat, but I only went as an obligation.  After one week I became quite comfortable. But before I started summer retreat, all I did was worry about going to summer retreat.  One time I thought I would pretend I was sick.  Or, I thought, maybe I could run away. Its a big obligation, starting at 5am and going really late. I would get up and the monks are blowing the conch and I hated the sound of the it. But then I got stronger and started seeing things clearly. I experienced more peace and dignity with a clear mind.  I saw this more and more. There wasn't any resistance, laziness, procrastination, and I felt so attuned with the practice. It made me feel good every day. My meditation was very sharp.

But, when we go back to the monastery or retreat center or to our hometowns after retreat we forget to get up early, as we did before. Jigme Lingpa said, "…going from your home to the monastery is going from small samsara to big samsara." We fall back into our old patterns. If we read the sutras of the Buddha he said that people who sleep too much or who eat too much cannot be enlightened. There is interdependence between the higher teachings and these practical teachings. It is about consciously changing our habits, and seeing that we have the power to do this.

There is also a phrase from the Bhagavad Gita that says people who eat too much or who eat nothing do not have a chance to realize God.  People who sleep too much or do not sleep at all do not have a chance to realize God.

I've come to the realization at end of our first year of dharma practice together that we need a lot of diligence to break through our conceptual obscurations. We can do this first by transforming the most mundane circumstances of our lives, our grossest habits, by applying mindfulness, and persevering through the periods of discomfort.

Q. When I exercise daily I eat less.  But I think that's concentrating on my body.

A. Physical exercise is an important aspect of this path.  In Tibetan Buddhism we practice prostrations, which are very physical. When practicing anything with the proper motivation, it becomes a spiritual exercise.

One point my teacher always made was that we should never meditate when we are sleepy.  If we are sleepy, we should exercise vigorously for a few minutes, or pour a bucket of icy water on our faces. That would definitely wake us up!


What I am presenting are the fundamentals, like getting up early in the morning to practice and exercise.  Without cultivating these basics we won't develop the discipline to break down our laziness and procrastination.  We need to cultivate spiritual discipline so that is becomes one with our everyday life. So I am going to talk about cultivating discipline in general, because it is the core essence of this first year's Dharma Apprenticeship Program.

Once we begin to practice with diligence and a full commitment it becomes very natural to our lifestyle.  We can get up at six every morning and read the blue book, our little bible of prayers.  Its very easy – it's much smaller than the big bible.  This is small and handy but it has the full teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni: taking refuge, generating bodhicitta mind and the altruistic aspiration, establishing motivation through committing to the practice of virtue, refraining from causing and harm and the taming of one's mind, as well as the dedication of merit.

Hinayana is not an esoteric teaching.  It is the base of the path. Having established a foundation, which is like establishing trust in oneself, in one's Buddha nature, we advance to teachings that enhance this trust on a deeper level, so that is becomes complete. Then it is called faith. This is the second year's teachings, in which we will focus on bodhisattva teachings.  Then in the third year we will practice Dzogchen, where we develop faith to it's complete fruition.

For this reason, we cannot jump into higher teachings without a grounding in fundamentals, otherwise our trust will not be complete. We will not live appreciating the fullness and richness of faith in our Buddha essence. We will always be searching for something more. The practice of the basic vehicle is cultivating practical disciplines and applying them to every situation in our lives. In this way, we will learn to be satisfied with who we are, and everything that we already have.

Eventually we will find a sense of naturalness in the practice, and our habitual tendencies will begin to fade very obviously in a very short time.  But we have to cultivate these disciplines, like mindfulness.  There's no spiritual magic, no miracle cure that we can take to become enlightened. We must do the work.

I wrote this poem last month.  It said:

"I have been suffering for many lifetimes,

Exhausted even of seeking liberation.

In this life, I want nothing,

Except spiritual magic!"

This poem is an expression of  frustration on the spiritual path, of a lack of willingness to challenge habits, which leaves us desperate for some solution outside of ourselves that we think will fix us. We are looking for some kind of guarantee, but unfortunately, there is none. The only guarantee is faith in our Buddha essence. That's all there is for us. It makes everything quite simple, really.

There is no spiritual magic. Ultimately, we have the responsibility of awakening to our true nature.  The Buddha said, "You have to regard me as the physician and the dharma as the medicine and yourself as a sick person.  Practicing dharma is taking the medicine."  So we can see, we have full responsibility for taking the medicine, for following the path of discipline.  The responsibility is ours. Not the Sangha's or the teacher's.  We have the perfect ability. However, we don't always recognize this. Its important to have confidence and faith in our ability to become enlightened.  We have to have faith.


The path is a dharma structure. It has a particular tradition. Some people follow Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana traditions.  We are following a structure.  Although all traditions are aiming toward enlightenment, like when driving from Santa Cruz to SF, we can take many different roads,  but ultimately we are going to the same destination.

However, it is more worthwhile to choose one road and follow that one completely, instead of using many different paths. If we follow many roads we'll never get to our destination sanely. We will encounter many obstacles. Perhaps we don't want to pay the tolls for the road because we think it is a rip-off, so we decide to get off the road and take shortcuts through the countryside, but we wind up getting stuck in a ditch. Then we blame the toll booths and the toll collectors for our problems. So we can see, this is not a wise choice. It is much easier, and much swifter for us to follow one simple structure. But Americans have a hard time following structure because we are rebels. In a political environment that is good, but in a spiritual environment it is not good.

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche said, "To get somewhere else you can fly on an airplane.  Although you could build your own airplane there's a good chance you will have a fatal accident." So it is important to use what has already been tried and tested and proven as successful, instead of conjuring up our own game.

Along the way, it is important that we respect the spirituality of other traditions, whether they are worshipping crystals, old age, or new age.  The main point is for us to follow through with one structure, one single discipline.  In this way, there's no doubt that we will experience some kind of transformation.

Its like gym exercise.  You have to go to a club, follow some kind of recipe, and do it every day. Our problem is that we have high expectations.  We want huge muscles the next day.  We don't see immediate results, we decide that want another videotape or book.  We want to try another recipe, one that cooks faster. We think, "…maybe if I do this new one... then I'll really get want I want." We go through this same habitual process again and again, without ever experiencing results.

To experience results, our dharma practice should be supported by patience and diligence. Sometimes we will see the results right away.  Sometimes we won't.  What is most important is that we follow the structure every day. This will surely lead us to maturity, inner strength and wisdom.

We are talking about cultivating discipline by following a spiritual structure which is the path in our every day life. There are many forms of spiritual discipline in this world.  Some are very different from each other. For example, there is a Zen teacher who said to his students that the difference between Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism is that in Zen Buddhism if you have an obsession with food or sweets, you don't eat food or sweets. But in the Tibetan tradition, one is encouraged to eat nothing but sweets and rich foods. We are encouraged to dive directly into our neurosis. One structure is not better than another structure. They all point to the same goal. It really depends on the practitioner. Each structure is capable of breaking down the habitual tendencies that prevent us from seeing who we are. 

One key point is that it's important to have a heartfelt connection with the teacher and the path in order to find some commitment which will lead us to spiritual achievement. If we are going from one structure to another, we don't allow ourselves to cultivate any discipline, and we won't experience any achievement.  Its sometimes called spiritual shopping.  We have to have patience, diligence and devotion. Working with a spiritual teacher over a long period of time helps because we are continually reminded of our commitment. It is always there for us, being reflected.

When Dromtompa, one of Atisha's disciples, had people come to him for essential oral instructions, he always said, "Yes, but first give me diligence!"  He bargained with his students. The students and teachers should give this to one another.  The students should give diligence and the teacher should give the oral instructions. It is a cooperative effort. Then, without a doubt, realization will be borne.

Grounding in Patience

Lets speak about the significance of patience.  We have many expectations on the path, based on our frustrations with our lives.  We are all exhausted with samsara, so we crave some sort of spiritual magic to liberate us, but there is no God or Buddha outside of ourselves.  We crave an instant solution that will help us overcome all of our fears and insecurities, especially if we think about all the lifetimes we have been stuck in the vicious circle of suffering. Naturally, we want to be free right now.

Is there a shortcut to enlightenment? Yes.  Those esoteric teachings, such as Dzogchen and Vajrayana are known for that. Dorje sanglam means the Varja shortcut to enlightenment. But it requires a foundation first. Hinayana is the first foundation.  It is not the ultimate foundation, but it provides us with the discipline we need in order to purify the gross aspects of our habitual tendencies so that we can receive the higher teachings. Laying the foundation is like developing this recipients mind. When we have the foundation we can become proper containers to receive the shortcut because our motivations are not confused. We then have the proper intention and understanding of what the Dharma is and what our practice is.

Usually, the ego gets in the way of the path and play many tricks on us. Ego is very sneaky. Ego manipulates us to make us believe that forms of Dharma are actually realization itself. So we have to be careful. In order to be careful, we have to take a long-term view, understanding that the journey we are on has no destination. In some way, this understanding is quite liberating because it can cut through our grasping for what is arrested and artificial concerning spirituality. Without a grounding in patience ego will always infect our understanding and hinder our growth, preventing transformation, which comes naturally when we are naturally relaxed and not chasing after something special that we think will save us.

No Sudden Enlightenment

Enlightenment is not a sudden experience.  It's a gradual evolution of our love and compassion.  It's not something we can grasp right now. Dharma is a lifetime journey without any destination, without any stopping, without any ending.

Then what is Buddhahood if  the path of Dharma is endless journey?  Actually, Buddhahood is not the destination of the path.  Enlightenment is the aspect of ourselves that is not bound to our habitual tendencies. Do we know what this aspect is?  Even when we become Buddha we still have to do Dharma practice. This journey is endless, which is a great relief for us. This is really good news.

The difference between sentient beings and Buddhas is that sentient beings are bound to habitual tendencies and are always creating further binds for themselves, while Buddhas are always purifying habitual tendencies.

Recipe for Success

I want to go through the recipe of the DAP 's everyday practice for the first year, since we are talking about following a specific structure.  We don't have to have any doubt about whether this structure will enlighten us or not.  This is like an already made airplane.

I want to remind you about what this structure is.  As a Sangha you play the role of practitioner while my role is that of spiritual guide. We have a common obligation, which is to get up early, around 6am in the morning, which isn't very good news to me! It would be great if we had a spiritual trainer for each of us to make sure we get up at 6am every morning, whom we could ask questions about practice!

There is a short poem by Rumi that says, "The one who cuts off your head is your friend.  The one who puts it back is your enemy."   This means the one who really challenges you, who is very truthful to you, about what kind of spiritual discipline you have to cultivate, that person can truly be called a friend.

I have confidence in the teaching because my ability to help you has nothing to do with who I am or what my realization is.  We are following the path that many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas went through.  This is not my invention.  Many countless beings have proved this path works very well. This path has the power to enlighten a person in one lifetime.

The structure for DAP participant is:

-          get up early [6am]

-          do daily sadhana in the blue bible

-          do prostrations 21 times

-          do yoga, exercise to loosen up

-          do sitting meditation for 15-30 minutes

-          try to carry understanding or mindfulness in every aspect of everyday life throughout the day.  Try to respond to every situation through love, tolerance, understanding, generosity and wisdom. Make  dharma a way of life no matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what your  profession. 

Beyond Dogma

Buddhism is not a doctrine. In many ways, it is not even a religion. I don't like the translation "Buddhism".  I prefer Way of the Buddha.  The Way of the Buddha is a virtuous way of life.

The principles of Buddhist teachings can be integrated with every aspect of life.  There is no dichotomy between Buddha Dharma and every aspect of our lives. The teachings are completely practical and therefore applicable to every experience in every moment in every situation.

When we read stories of the mahasiddhas they are all portrayed as having ordinary lifestyles.  That means we can integrate dharma practice with every aspect of our profession.  You can be a car washer, a lawyer, a student, work in an office, a homemaker, husband or wife, or be an ordained person in a monastery.  No matter what the lifestyle, political beliefs, or belief system.  Dharma is not a religion that excludes anything. It emphasizes training in virtue, refraining from causing harm and taming our minds. It is very simple approach: discipline, meditation and wisdom.

If dharma were not so simple, meaning practical, it would be hard to teach to westerners.  It would mean you would be learning Indian or Tibetan culture otherwise. The reason you can understand this teaching is that it is not culturally bound. It is the wisdom of timeless virtue, a virtuous, compassionate, mindful way of life. As long as we are bringing mindfulness to our way of life we are following the Way of the Buddha.

The disciplines do not interfere with your life.  Getting up at 6am doesn't interfere with your work and life.  It will even enhance your work, your relationships, even your hobbies.  You begin to experience more freedom and happiness by living with an open heart, which develops complete confidence in who you are. This is not modern Buddhism, integrating with everyday life.  This is what Buddha taught over two thousand years ago.

Making Dharma Practice the Path

We have been talking about how we can make our dharma practice become the path to enlightenment.  The main hindrance of the dharma becoming the path is when we mistake the practice itself for the real dharma. If you think the dharma is just sitting meditation and doing prostrations, then you forget that love and compassion are the ultimate dharma.  We don't want to become dependent on dharma practice. We want to be tender and sensitive, not mechanical and robotic in our lives. True dharma helps us live with fluidity. Conceptual dharma makes us very rigid, like the person who was challenged by Patrul Rinpoche. He was depending on the structure of practice, depending on the discipline, and that prevented any real experience from arising.

I think it is very hard for us to admit to ourselves our habitual tendencies.  We have to face these unpleasant, uncomfortable aspects of ourselves. This is true Dharma practice, venturing into the unknown. Security is not the highest goal.  It is a worldly goal. There is no security here. There are worldly goals and dharma goals.  When we have mixed motivations, its like tying two horses together.  You have to give up one horse.  Will we give up the worldly horse or the dharma horse?

Abandoning Samsaric Goals

What are samsaric goals?  Longing for security.  This is the ultimate samsaric goal, whether we are western or Tibetan or Chinese.  Regardless of whether we want to become rich, famous, strong in body or mind, or if we want to become spiritual, the goal behind all of this is wanting security.

Why do we need security?  Because we are insecure.  If we are secure, we don't need security. If we recognize our own Buddha essence, that is the ultimate security.  What is preventing us from recognizing our Buddha essence? Searching for security in places it does not exist. This is wrong view. This is what we have identified with.

For some of us, money seems like the ultimate from of security.  You can buy popularity, friendships, material things that provide the senses, the sense of I, with some temporary happiness, but this is just attachment to temporal experience of pleasure in disguise. It never lasts. But we resist this by thinking that if we acquire more, we will be more happy.  Ironically, we make ourselves more unhappy, more insecure, because we are resisting  the intuitive knowledge we have of ourselves, that searching for happiness outside of ourselves only cause us suffering. We know our attachments are the cause of our own suffering, but we are too afraid to truly face this fact.

In order to transform this dynamic, we have to give up security, our constant search for pleasure, and accept our insecurity, accept being insecure. In the book Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts, he says that the way to become secure is to accept that we are insecure.  We have this insecurity - that we are going to die.  We have to face this. Every moment of our lives we are perishing, changing. Everything around us is changing, ceaselessly. There in nothing "out there" to rely on. The only thing we can rely on is within ourselves.

First, we have to be aware that we are insecure, that we have certain weaknesses, that we have hope and fear, that we live bound to the past and project into the future. It is like taking an inventory, which requires tremendous honesty. We have to be honest with ourselves in order to befriend ourselves. Then, we just relax in this awareness, of what we are aware of, how our fears and insecurities manufacture the patterns of suffering that create our lives. It is really easy to do, but most of do not want to give up playing the game of ego.

This game usually surfaces as some form of judgment or resentment  towards ourselves, which is exactly what we are looking to overcome. The point is to rest in awareness without fabrication.

The Truth of Suffering

The First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering, is to become aware of our habitual tendencies. Dharma practice should not be a way to deny our weakness, or to experience shame. It is just a way to be aware what is going on within us, in our lives.  We can see how important it is to become aware of habitual tendencies.

I was talking about mistaking the raft for the other side, the shore. This is a very important element of the path, this misconception.  Suffering is the river.  The shore is mahanirvana, the great transcendence.  The only way we can get to shore is by using the raft. It will protect us on our journey. But we should not mistake the path for the goal. Don't get comfortable in the raft.

There's samsara, and there's dharma samsara.  Dharma samsara is a very pleasant place to be.  There is still hope and fear, but we live in denial of our habitual tendencies because we think have arrived, we have found something really good, and we hang on to it. It is our new toy, and we are fascinated by it. So we use this prayer: "Grant your blessings that dharma practice becomes the path."  We are praying to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities to give us the power to see our motivation.

When we are faced with hope and fear, if we approach them using dharma, hope and fear become the path.  But if we use dharma to gain security, its no different than wanting money, success, etc. Its important for each of us to see that we have this innate desire for security, and that we project that need for security onto people, things and circumstances.  We always live in fear for our security, in fear of losing what we see as the source of security  We have to see that we very much want to have security in our life.  That perhaps is the most powerful hindrance on the path.

While we are practicing dharma, we want to abandon security.  There is worldly goal and dharma goal. The worldly goal is to have more security in our life.  The dharma goal is to abandon security.

Q. Is it abandoning security or abandoning the desire for security?

A. Same thing. We feel miserable when we want to have security.  That desire comes out of feeling insecure.  Ask what do you really want to have in your lifetime? What is the motivation behind your life's activity?

Q.  I have to build financial security into my business.  Isn't that at odds with our dharma practice?

Q. All those things are fine, but ask "Who is Tina the musician?  Who wants to build financial security? Who is anxious and afraid? Perhaps there you will discover Buddha essence. You can be a musician, but what is the ultimate goal?  Is it to make money or have a comfortable life?  Or is it to open people's hearts?

Understanding enters our experience when we are certain of our motivation. Questions about lifestyle are really irrelevant. Security has nothing to do with what you do outwardly.  It is spiritual.  We have to have money to rent a place and buy shampoo to wash our hair. Security comes out of insecurity.  Its alright not to have security.  Permanent money, relationship, youth, being active and attractive, it's alright not to have security. That would mean you had only one circumstance forever.  That would be a big drag.

Q. I'm talking about intention.  I think its a copout. 

A.  There's a difference between insecurity and anxiety.  Insecurity is useful.  Appreciate that anxiety and find a way to love it. Imagine that we are going to die in the next moment.  What matters to us?

W can still make money and raise a family and be completely fearless. We can overcome hope and fear. In Tibetan its called jigpopa - no hope, no fear.  It's like being a loser, a cosmic loser, like Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman. He had no fear, no resistance to anything, yet this person had tremendous love and compassion.  To have this freedom we have to face our karmic habitual tendencies. 

Q. This is the first time that I have heard hope referred to as a negative thing.  Is it expectation?  From a Christian perspective, we have our lady of hope, our hope for realization, like Buddhahood.  What is your definition of hope?

A. Hope is expectation.  We want to see that Buddhahood is already in each of us.  It is already in each of us.  Hope is negative because it doesn't accept what is in this present moment. Hope and fear are twins.  With one you always have the other.

Clarifying Confusion

There is another translation that says "delusions may be purified on the path." It is the deluded mind, or deluded perceptions, that we are purifying on the path.  From the viewpoint of Buddha Dharma, we live in delusion as sentient beings.  Sentient beings means beings who are suffering from their own delusions.  Then there are enlightened ones who awaken from their own delusions. They are called Buddhas.

Samsara is a vicious circle.  Neither samsara or nirvana exists outside of ourselves.  It is all our state of mind.  We don't realize this though because we have been accumulating habitual tendencies lifetime after lifetime.

While we are on the path we may experience more delusions, too. We may have to face more internal challenges.  The path may seem to create delusions. Actually, the path shows us how and what we have been blind to in ourselves.  We do not become more deluded. We become aware of our present state of delusion, which can be painful for some of us. But we have to face these delusions.

Engaging in dharma practice doesn't make our lives easy sometimes, but it does let us see why we are suffering.  And it shows us how we can be free from suffering.  Sometimes it seems easier to sleep than to practice dharma.  Dharma challenges us constantly. It spoils the games ego like to play.

I notice that most people on the spiritual path are motivated by suffering.  I haven't noticed a lot of people coming to the path with a lot of good news about their lives.

One day I was giving these meditation sessions with three or four people, and we asked whether we were complicated people compared to others.  We thought "yes."

In  Tibet, people are raised in Buddhist culture.  They may have faith in the Buddha, may practice some virtue like not stealing, but they aren't so deeply involved in it.  Its a cultural religion for them.

For us, we are looking for self-knowledge. This is real sincerity. Dogen Zenji says to study dharma is to study oneself. Even though we are studying many different teachings, they all have the same theme, that is to know ourselves. The reason we are studying Buddhist meditation is that we want to know what our true nature is. When we know, we will be free from our mental delusions and afflictions.  We will be free in the truest sense.

Guru Rinpoche said suffering is the guru of all Buddhas, past present and future.  So we have to be more conscious of our suffering. Buddha talks about suffering very much.  It may sound very pessimistic, but it isn't.  Suffering exists, but it can be resolved.  It is delusion.  It is mental projection.  Believing there is death, suffering, good and bad, samsara and nirvana is all delusion, and has nothing to do with reality. This fundamental dualism is the source of conflict in our lives.

Lost and Found

We have been lost through many lifetimes, not only in this lifetime.  We are wandering through endless samsara looking for ultimate satisfaction, but we have not found it.  We are like a thirsty man in the desert, chasing after the mirage, looking for water.  We are looking for freedom and happiness but we misperceive false happiness as happiness. We mistake pleasure for happiness.

Buddha says, "Alas, sentient beings are infantile.  They desire happiness but are involved in actions which bring suffering."

When we look for happiness, we look somewhere other than the spiritual path. We look outside of ourselves, in the material world, in external conditions.  This is called wrong view, believing that happiness and suffering are created by outer circumstances, not knowing that happiness and suffering are created by our own minds.

The good news is that we are free already!  We do not have to depend on outer circumstances to be happy.  We have this choice, this ultimate choice.  This is revolutionary thinking.  We have the choice to experience freedom and the choice to experience suffering too, because both are a projection of our own mind.

Samsara is the place in our mind where we get lost, not recognizing who we are, not finding true freedom, not finding happiness.  That's called being lost or being confused. And sometimes we believe that suffering is outside and we conceptually label certain circumstances that cause suffering as unfavorable circumstances. Like death, for instance.  Most people consider it an unfavorable circumstance. But is it really? What do we know about death? It is what we don't know that frightens us.

We have lots of prejudice towards reality.  We judge circumstances as good and bad based on our own perception of reality. This is why we suffer, because of ignorance, which arises as our sense of I. However, what is a favorable circumstance to you may not be one to me.   What you are trying to avoid I may be trying to gain.  What we call reality is really a product of our own minds and mental projections. So Buddhism is based on mind training and purifying obscurations.

Q.  The purification of obscurations is changing a point of view?

A. Yes, the perspective of non-duality is the ultimate perspective, so solidify and confirm that perspective.

The source of samsara is called ego, or sense of a separate "I".  And the source of samsara is called bakchak, or habitual tendency, believing that there is an "I" and an external world. This misperception becomes a deeply rooted habit.  The attachment to the delusion is called samsara.

Even Buddha may experience delusion, but Shakyamuni knows that it is a delusion and doesn't attach to it.  If we don't attach to delusion, delusion becomes a wisdom experience.  Buddha can have all kinds of experience but Buddha does not project onto reality.

As spiritual practitioners we are not trying to get rid of delusions.  There's no way we can get rid of them completely.  We are trying to recognize them simply as delusions. That's all.

Today it's easy not to have delusion because we are being good practitioners. But the day after tomorrow our mind may stray into the past and become attached to it.  Or mind may project into the future and get attached to that, which in turn creates hope and fear, anxiety, and we get lost in that fantasy realm.

When we start to experience some habitual tendency, we can say, "This is just delusion." We can just sit with ourselves, in the discomfort and realize "This is my own delusion." In this way delusion becomes a wisdom experience because we are not projecting it onto something else. It's essential nature is revealed. This nature is freedom, recognizing delusions as delusion. So it is okay that we have delusion. If we did not have delusion, we could not be Buddha.

Even Patrul Rinoche says, "As many delusions as there are, if you are able to recognize them as delusions, you will become a great meditator."

This is a fundamental teaching of Buddhism: the world of samsara is like a mirage that has no definable characteristics. It isn't good or bad.  There isn't any view in Buddhism more profound than this.

Giving Up Our Special Illusion

Marpa had a lady come to him and she was crying because her son just passed away.  Marpa said, "Don't worry. Death is just an illusion." Then a few years later his oldest son died by falling off a horse.  Marpa was crying.  The old woman became very vindictive and said, "If death is just an illusion, why are you crying?  Marpa said, "Yes, he was an illusion, but he was a very special illusion."

We should realize we all have this very special illusion. We are attached to our self-identity. 

It's easy to say that everything is illusion.  But when it comes to applying it to our life it is very difficult to apply. The path of dharma is going to bring up our delusions on the path. So we will always have plenty of opportunity to practice.

There is a DAP participant from Texas who considers herself a very happy person. If she is truly happy, then she has no reason to practice, I thought. But most of us have something to complain about which is making me very happy because I think dharma is bringing up our issues. I asked this person, "Why are you practicing dharma if you are truly happy?"  In a few weeks she moved into a new place and was beginning to experience anxiety, which is good because it showed her issues being brought up to the surface.

We have to have this view: that whatever we experience of hope and fear isn't real.

We like to find superficial comfort in our spiritual ideas.  But that is like sitting on a nice Persian rug with lots of shit buried underneath. Now is always the best time to awaken to our habitual tendencies.  Maybe you don't feel that you can handle them, but now is always a good time to go into reflection and meditation upon them.

The Ultimate Weapon

Dharma is the ultimate weapon and armor. Without the teachings, challenging our delusion would be like fighting a tiger without a weapon or being a warrior in battle without any armor.  The teaching tells us that we have Buddha nature, that this delusion is not real, that it doesn't have inherent existence. It can be resolved in our own minds by changing perspective.

So, "grant your blessings, that the path may clarify confusion."

Sometimes I think it's very difficult for us to see that there is meaning and deep significance to practicing dharma if we are engaged with practicing great comfort in our lives.  I used to have a hard time explaining what I was doing in the monastery to my relatives. They were successful in business  and didn't understand why I was a monk. They didn't understand what I was doing in the monastery. They saw me as some kind of loser or a sick-headed person.  They thought I should be in the world, and building big houses like them.

We have to bring up all of our delusions. But most of us don't experience them. The poet Robert Bly says that we have all these tendencies, and we stuff them in a bag, and then we toss it over our shoulder and the bag stretches miles behind us. These are the things in our lives that we don't acknowledge, that we don't want to face. The only way the path can clarify confusion is if we are aware of our confusion. Otherwise, this statement has no real significance for us.

Once we begin to experience delusion and remember that "This is my own delusion, this has nothing to do with reality," the delusion goes away, it dissolves. The delusion comes again and you liberate it again. And it comes again and you liberate it again. This is all meditation.  The art of meditation is raising delusions and liberating them.  It is developing the capacity to perceive delusion as delusion, which is the function of the nature of mind, this awareness.

Naropa was asking Tilopa about the nature of mind. Tilopa said delusion doesn't bind you. Its the attachment to delusion that binds you.

You can practice breathing exercises or use the syllable "Phat!", imagining that you are cutting through delusion. 

Q. What does phat mean?

A. It has many meanings.  It is the sound of cutting through of ultimate reality.  It is the sound of dharmakaya.

What we are trying to cut through is the attachment to the delusion. When we begin to see that worldly concerns, like wealth and possessions and favorable circumstances cannot make us happy, we lose our attraction to worldly phenomena. We begin to see that none of these phenomenon can give us ultimate satisfaction.

Again, when delusion arises, we ask: "Where is the source of freedom and enlightenment?" It's in us, but we have to encounter it again and again.

Crisis Hotline

As dharma practitioners, if we are processing our emotions, if the practice is bringing up emotional crisis, that's good!

We think we have to have very strong mind and feel very good about ourselves, then suddenly we experience delusion and we wonder what happened. When we experience delusions or upheaval on the meditation path, we should look at it as a sign that we are practicing on the meditation path.  One sign of the meditation practice is that we experience a lot of inner challenges.  No matter what we face, it's just our own inner projection.  We shouldn't give in to those projections.  Eventually we are welcomed to the realization of our true nature, which is non-duality, we do not engage with our habitual tendencies.

So this is a very good sign that we experience challenges internally.  It is also good because we have real question for the teacher about the path, instead of just theoretical questions.  If you just ask what is Dharmakaya, what is Sambhogakaya, it puts me to sleep. But if you call up and say, "I cant sleep. I'm having all this anxiety," it entertains me. Then I feel like I am being useful.

An Intimate Encounter With Ourselves

Sometimes I wonder if there is a cultural thing with Buddhism, which becomes a barrier or an obstacle to liberation.  We don't have to learn a theory, like in a philosophy class.  We are doing dharma practice, which is going to change our lives if we practice with genuine understanding, which only comes from experience, applying the teachings directly to our lives. Sometimes we can become overly intellectual, if we become fascinated with the knowledge of dharma.  Then Dharma become useless. It is not going to have an impact on us. Dharma is not like a computer, where you learn a method objectively.  You can learn the keyboard and apply all the guidelines and it works very well. With dharma its very subjective experience. We have to connect with our feelings, our emotions, our habitual tendencies. We should have practical experience, not just esoteric technology, not just pushing buttons.  It's not like that.  It's an intimate encounter with ourselves.

Confusion Arising As Wisdom

I once met a mendicant yogi named Chatral-pa. He traveled from one place to another, camping and doing practice. He lived very simply. Once, he came to my monastery and looked at my room and thought it looked very fancy, filled with statues and texts. I asked him what his practice was and he said, "I have only two things in my life -- this small tent and the Four Dharmas of Gampopa.  I don't need all those volumes of scriptures and sadhanas."  When I compared my realization with his, he was clearly able to demonstrate fearlessness and compassion.

We are so fortunate to have the lineage of this teaching, the Four Dharmas of Gampopa.  I've received it from many teachers.  This teaching is amazing because its something we can practice in everyday life. From my own understanding, the wonderful part of this teaching that we are directed to confront and acknowledge our kleshas, and recognize that the path of meditation and reflection is the only way can get past our habitual tendencies through recognizing them as delusion.

As we are human, the main source of our suffering is that we project onto what we perceive as being outside of ourselves.

In terms of practicing love and compassion, I think we have to free ourselves from our own habitual tendencies of hope and fear. Then we will be able to manifest our intrinsic enlightened qualities more and more.

Maybe we are trying to practice generating Bodhicitta mind or resting in the view of Dzogchen.  But unless we can overcome our tendencies we cannot have direct, empirical experience of Buddha mind.  That's what we are trying to do.  We have to essentialize these teachings for ourselves to we can expereince success in examining and realizing the nature of our immediate experience.

All beings have Buddha nature, including myself, and all sentient beings have potential to overcome their habitual tendencies. Simply, to be free from samsara we have to overcome our delusions. When we are experiencing comfort and permanence, often we are in the deluded state. When we experience hope and fear, we will experience confusion. 

In some way, we lose hold of everything when we are on the spiritual path - not physically but mentally, because we have to overcome our ego and our belief system of who we think we are and what we think is reality.  Perhaps this is what Christians call the dark night of the soul, or when Zen practitioners say: "You have to die on the cushion. " In some way we have to lose everything, give up security, abandoning notions of permanence.

There is a poem I wrote that says,

"Sometime ago I was truly disillusioned with this world,

Yet, any true happiness I haven't found.

I'm not deluded, not undeluded,

But stuck in the middle of the spiritual path,

Like Purgatory!"

Sometimes the spiritual path is like purgatory.  Nothing from outside can give us satisfaction, not our careers or our relationships.  When we experience hope fear and self doubt we experience this more than ever. We have to remember this is a sign of our practice progressing along the path, so we have to be happy. We can rejoice and pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and deities for power to see delusion as delusion and not be trapped by delusions.

When you meditate always remember, "This is my own delusion.  It has nothing to do with my own reality.  It was not created by society.  It was not created by sickness.  It was created by my own mind.  I am going to see the nature of my own mind."  If you experience hope, see that as your own.  If you experience fear, or guilt, or crisis, see that as manifestation of your own mind.  See all phenomenon you experience  as your own mind, instead of believing in your misperceptions.

There is a beautiful Buddhist story that illustrates that everything is mental projection.  A wife died before the husband.  The husband started dating another woman.  Suddenly, his wife would pop up and say, "You're not going to date this woman or I'm going to kill you."  The man was afraid, so he didn't date.  And again it happened. Defeated, he went to see his master, and his master said, "It is just your own projection.  Grab a handful of rice and ask her how many grains of rice are in your hand." He saw his wife once more, and he said, "You know everything about me. But you are only a projection of my own mind. I have nothing to be afraid of anymore."  Then he grabbed the rice and tossed it high up into the air, making offerings to all the Buddhas for helping him to realize the nature of his own mind.

Recognizing Phenomenon As Mental Projection

Recognize everything as your own mental projection.  No matter how challenging things are, recognize it as your mental projection.  Don't label it as negative or positive, just see it as mental projection.

First, we have to have the view that everything is mental projection.  Second, we have to have the intention to do it, to improve the realization through action.  Its not just recognizing this, it is engaging with difficult situations, like being with difficult people, like homeless people, or giving something you don't want to give., or wrestling with our own habitual tendencies. If we go through this process once, then we are always going to be victorious.  The question is, have any of us overcome any challenge in our life.  Have I ever overcome delusions in a true way? Have we been able to give up our attachment to faulty self image, to give something to someone with perfect generosity without any expectation? Meditate on that for a few seconds.

I feel that somehow as a Tibetan person we have the greatest chance to overcome our own fear and hope, our own karmic issues with our current history.  The only way we can overcome our pain and wounds is through kindness to Chinese people, and I think the Dalai Lama sets a wonderful example in a  very real way.  You could be very pretentious when you do that, but he is very sincere. There is always ego that can make our spiritual practice insincere.  In dharma practice we have to be spiritual warriors facing all the challenges in our life, not just the easy ones, but all of them. We always think that challenges mean difficult person or difficult situation, but the really difficult situation is to confront an uncomfortable situation, which occurs only in our minds. Regardless of whether we are having hardships or we are having success, it is important to remember who we are, as Buddha, and to discover our bakchak, our habitual tendencies.

Its also beneficial to try something in real life we have been resistant to.  Like giving away something.  or giving up our self image, or engaging with certain people or certain circumstances that have proven difficult for us in the past.  Sometimes its good to encounter and face circumstances we have been avoiding to in order to bring up latent hopes, fears and paranoia, so we can recognize those perceptions as our own projections and recognize that they are not outside of us.

The Sacredness Of The Path

On the path we may fail to recognize projection as projection, but we can try again not to fail.  But if we are not on the path, we will never notice that our world is an illusion fabricated by the projections of our minds.  We will not notice what is underneath the reality of life. So we have great fortune to be discovering ourselves in this way, even if it is unpleasant.

You may come to retreats or go to teachings, and you may fail many times, not recognizing your mental delusions as illusory.  But you will come again and again and eventually overcome them. If you are not on the path then you will not even have a chance to engage in dharma practice.

When we first begin dharma practice, we may cut through concepts and projections, and become enlightened right away.  It's possible.  But most of us will fail and have to try again, and fail and try again.  We will have glimpses, and we will learn to extend those glimpses. This is the value of being on the spiritual faith: we are constantly being reminded of who we are. Awareness is unmistakable in this way.

So we have to engage in situations that bring up hope, fear and doubt, and try to apply the teachings and recognize our various states of mind as delusion. Buddha failed many times.  He went through many stages of his dharma practice.  He failed with his challenges.  He went through many reality checks.  We may have to do that too. Eventually our minds will be completely pure, and we will manifest our primordially enlightened nature, the same as Buddha did.

Liberation Is The Goal

What we are seeking for as a goal in meditation is liberation, whether we are practicing insight meditation or mahamudra, the great seal, our goal is  drolwa, or liberation. This has nothing to do with external liberation but internal liberation -- liberating oneself from ones own habitual tendencies.

From the point of view of Dzogchen, liberation doesn't come from rejecting our emotions,  but from seeing them as simply emotions, and not projecting them onto outer circumstances.  If we project these emotions, we think that life is miserable and conflicted, full of highs and lows, beauty and ugliness. 

Yesterday , we discussed this particular subject over and over, but this is the core essence of Buddhism, whether we are practicing Hinayana or Mahayana disciplines, or whatever. There isn't any duality of samsara and nirvana in the higher teachings, because both are the projection of our emotions.  So from the perspective of Dzogchen, both of these flavors exist only as our projections. This realization is mahanirvana, the great nirvana, beyond both samsara and nirvana, beyond all conceptual fabrications, beyond all duality.

We Are What We Are Searching For

As meditators, we aren't looking for meditation experiences.  Nirvana is just temporary.   Most people are looking for small nirvana - peace.  We can accomplish that by going into a cave and giving up contact with people. In small nirvana, our habitual emotions have been suppressed and denied, giving the temporary experience of liberation.   This experience is blissful, quiet, peaceful, resounds with a sense of well being. It is cozy, so most meditators stop there. But do we really want that small nirvana? Are we merely interested in our own comfortable little niche? In some ways small nirvana and great samsara are really the same. They are both concerned with personal comfort and individual well-being.

My teacher used to tell us that after we graduate from the whole process of training and study in the monastery, we should go into the real world and listen to real people and hear about their conflicts and sorrows.  But its very possible that we mistake temporary liberation as the absolute liberation, and therefore do not have to be in the world.  This state is so deceptive, that we can be in temporary liberation without knowing we're in it.

People with small nirvana die, then they're reborn again. There's a teaching in the sutras that characterizes this. There were a few monks who experienced great bliss practicing the Hinayana teachings.  They went into a cave and didn't come to hear the Mahayana or Vajrayana teachings  (the Vajrayana teachings present the final path of practice required to become fully enlightened).  These monks stayed in the cave without dying through the power of their samadhi bliss.  A Buddha came and went, and then another.  Meanwhile many monks and nuns became completely enlightened, but this group of monks remained in the state of their individual liberation. Finally, the last Buddha came and snapped in their ear to wake them up. Then they practiced Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings and became arhats.

This comfortable state of samadhi is very appealing because everything is perfect and peaceful and fine.  It appears to you that you're wise and mature, and are able to see the confusions of other people, but you can't see your own. Actually, it's good to have this wonderful experience at the beginning of the path or else we would run away from it.

Sometimes our mind is like an old grave with stuff that has been buried for hundreds of years. Our habitual tendencies are affecting our life right now. So we have to confront everything in our life in order to be free from it. Liberation isn't a peaceful state of mind where one no longer experiences confusion.  That kind of peacefulness is called small nirvana.  Liberation is the aspect that we are liberating ourselves out of the confusion of our habitual tendencies.

How are we going to liberate ourselves out of habitual tendencies?  Just see them as a manifestation of our own Buddha mind, our pure consciousness, without judging them or being attached to them. Just see these confusions as manifestations of our minds.  Whether we are experiencing confusion or peacefulness or hope or fear, see everything as manifestation of Buddha mind.

In Dzogchen its called manifestation of Buddha mind, in Mahayana it's called shunyata, great emptiness, in Hinayana, it's called egolessness, or selflessness. They are all the natural state of your mind. Can you find this mind?

Our Mind Is Like The Sun

Our mind is like the sun, and the arising thoughts are like the rays of the sun, which aren't separate from the sun.  Whatever we are experiencing, whether it is a wonderful experience, like love or compassion, or awful experience like anger or jealousy, see all of them as a manifestation of our consciousness.  Our consciousness is an entire world, like space. It is the enlightened mandala of love and compassion.

Virtue, vice, the six realms, samsara, nirvana – all are in our minds. In Dudjom Lingpa's Troma sadhana, he says "Sentient beings are me.  Buddhas are me!" This is a revolutionary teaching,  and many scholars of his time wrote refutations against it.  Sentient beings and Buddhas do not exist outside ourselves. Enemies and friends, virtue and vice are all within our own mind. See that it is so.

Q. Even non virtuous thoughts are manifestation of Buddha mind?

A. Yes. I can explain.  What is good?  What is bad?  What is beautiful and ugly?  What is samsara and nirvana?  We cannot find them outside ourselves.

When we read the four immeasurables, the last one is great equanimity.  This is called the highest realization we can have on the path.  Great equanimity means there is no longer perception of samsara or nirvana, friend or enemy, good or bad. All things are seen in their true state of emptiness.


I was with another monk from Golok, who had a kind of wrathful personality. We were going to meet a Theravadan monk in LA. We all got together at the dinner table.  And the lama wanted to debate with this Hinayana monk.  "I'm going to debate with him from Dzogchen perspective," this monk boasted. He said, "I'm going to ask what is the essence of their path."  Maybe its vipassana meditation or pranayama [breathing] exercises. And he asked the monk what he practiced?  The Theravadan monk said, "Great equanimity!"  And that answer shut my Golok friend up. Since that his idea of Hinayana has changed. 

Whether we are practicing Vajrayana or Hinayana or Sufism or Christianity, once we see the depth of all the traditions, we realize they are talking about the same thing.  recognizing great equanimity, called nyampa nyi chenpo in Tibetan. Great equanimity is to see that everything is a projection of our own minds.  If we see good, we have to realize that is a manifestation of our own mind.  If we see bad, it is the same.  With this awareness, we can practice not projecting any of them onto outer circumstances.

Q. So habitual tendencies would be manifestation of Buddha Mind?

A. Manifestation of them is Buddha mind.  The attachment to them is habitual tendency.

Q.  So cutting the root is?

A. It is cutting attachment.  Imagine a poison tree next to your door.  If you just cut the branches, it will never go away.  If you try to get rid of your emotional thought, its like cutting the branches. The root of the tree is attachment, becoming attached to dualism, our emotions of hope and fear.  We are attached to the emotions because we haven't realized that they are a manifestation of our Buddha mind.

If one realizes hope is a manifestation of Buddha mind, one is liberated right there.  But we begin to think that hope or fear is caused by outer circumstances, and we become attached and cling to the emotion.  That becomes habit.

Q. We were talking about the tree and the root, but if we search for them do they even exist?

A. Yes, they exist. 

Q.  If we look for the "I" we can't find it.

A. Yes, but hope and fear exist as mental projections.

Q.  When you take a bodhisattva vow you have hope that people are going to liberate?  Is a bodhisattva also fearful that people aren't going to liberate? 

A. There is a quote from the Buddha that says, "I have come to the illusory world to give illusory teachings to illusory sentient beings."

Q.  So is it the idea that as we engage in spiritual practice, confusions arise.  I had all these strange feelings and thoughts when I woke up this morning and wasn't sure that to do with them.  So confusion is a good thing?

A. Yes.  Don't seek for the source of that in outer circumstances.  What did you do when you experienced it?  Did your mind go into past and future and try to find source outside of yourself?

A.  Sometimes.  Like I woke up after dreaming of designing a blender that wouldn't make so much noise.

Most of the time, when we experience hope, fear and confusion we project it onto outer circumstances. We think there is something wrong with our life, or we think there is something wrong with money, or lifestyle or health, and we try to find the source of the emotions in circumstances.  Then we regard those circumstances as negative and try to change them. This is how  we always fight with reality.  If we're sick or dying or getting old, we are always struggling with it.   We believe that our inner suffering is caused by outer circumstances, so we label situations as positive or negative, depending whether the situation appeals to our sense of "I."

No matter how much fear and crisis we are experiencing, we must remember that the cause of these emotions does not exist outside ourselves. We must see them as manifestation of our Buddha mind. Its like learning to shoot an arrow.  At first you miss the target. Then you get closer with practice.

Recognizing Buddha Mind

In meditation you don't find the experience of liberation at first.  But we must try to meditate and see everything as manifestation of Buddha mind.

The Dzogchen teachings say that there are three ways of liberating oneself from one's mind. One of the three ways is that the meditative mind becomes like a snake that ties himself in a knot.  He ties himself into a knot, and he can untie himself again.

We may experience confusion and hope when we meditate, but somehow our minds will be liberated from confusion immediately.  We may experience confusion just as before, but we don't have to be attached to our emotions as being real if we recognize the confusion as our own Buddha mind.

It's important to distinguish between suffering and emotion.  Suffering is attachment.  Pain is pure emotion.  Pain is pure, it is instinctive and can be experienced purely as jealousy, love, devotion, joy.  Buddhas have same emotions as we do.  But Buddhas are free from suffering because they are not attached to their emotions.  Suffering comes when we attach to emotions, thinking they are real. This is why we don't recognize that emotions are just manifestations of Buddha mind.

Lets meditate and see if we can see any confusion.  I hope we have some packages of confusion today.  Try to experience confusion or fear.  This is a good time and safe place to experience them.  Our general tendency is to project them onto outer circumstances.  Now we know , at least intellectually, that we are projecting them.  And we project onto people, onto our identity, onto possessions, and this habit or projection is the very element which causes suffering and conflict. Emotions are not source of suffering, but when we project them, they become suffering. 

Emotion Itself Is Not Suffering

Almost every spiritual teacher has a different way of defining suffering. Maybe one way is to define it as conflict with reality. To be Buddha if it means having no emotions is to be a happy vegetable.  I'd rather be myself than be that kind of Buddha.

Emotions are manifestations of Buddha consciousness.  All of them, pain and joy, are all very beautiful.  If we open our mind to them we become more like Buddha.  But if we attach to them, we suffer.  We are trying to fix reality and push away what is unpleasant and crave what is pleasant in every circumstance when we play the game of attaching to the seeming reality of our emotions. This is our way of trying to control reality. But we are never able to control reality.  There is only impermanence and death. There is no control.  And conflict with that is suffering.  Emotion itself is not suffering.

Meditation is not denial.  It is not a transcendent state. That comes out of the idea that emotions are dirty and samsaric. When you say transcendental you may understand that it transcends all emotion, but genuine meditation is the perfect state of your mind where everything is holy, religious, spiritual. 

True meditation is opening your mind to everything - pain, sorrow, devotion, love, without any resistance. Resistance is a preconception that something is good or bad.  Let's just try to open our heart to everything.  We can experience absolute love and devotion. However, we may think we are going to experience more confusion if we reveal ourselves so nakedly, if we make ourselves so vulnerable. But this is the only way we can experience genuine liberation. We have to take some risk in order to gain some achievement.  Some styles of teaching encourage love and devotion.  Mine encourages you to feel confusion and delusion.

Q. It's like Thich Nhat Hanh says about treating emotions like treating a child in your arms.

A. Yes! That's beautiful!  More than a mother loving her child, see them as manifestation of Buddha mind.  Also, see negative emotions as manifestation of Buddha mind.  We always find ways to project hope and fear.  Be with that feeling or perception without any fear or attachment. Do not hesitate to embrace yourself completely.

When you experience that last dharma, may confusion dawn as wisdom, everything is wisdom, absolutely divine. Everything becomes a sacred manifestation of Buddha mind.  Pain is as divine as bliss.  Confusion is as divine as wisdom.  You begin to see everything as yeshe, primordial wisdom.

Did everyone understand?  No one is going to leave without understanding this teaching.  Tseringma would you lock the door please (laughter)?

Q.  Watch your emotions watch you feelings and thoughts and experience them all as Buddha consciousness?

A. Yes, you can go outside now (laughs)!


When emotions arise, it could be very overwhelming or depressing, unless we see the divinity of them.  Then pain becomes equal to love and anger becomes equal to compassion.  So the whole point is to see the divinity in all emotions because they are all manifestations of Dharmakaya mind.  All thoughts and emotions are manifestations of Dharmakaya, like rays are manifestation of the sun.  When you see the divinity in each emotion, thought, and perception, then you are Buddha.

What is bakchak [habitual tendencies]?  It is not mind or consciousness.  It is attachment to emotions as being real and solid.  We are trying to cut through our bakchaks during this process of meditation.  We are cutting through these emotions, recognizing them as manifestations of our Buddha mind. In this way, though we may not always see it, emotions and thoughts are already liberated. So we are using liberation as the method.

When we experience confusion are we able to experience liberation of it?  When we experience hope and fear, there is also an amazing experience of gratitude that arises from  of absolute peace.  That is liberation. In meditation, we are trying to continuously experience that liberation by recognizing that every mental activity is manifestation of Dharmakaya mind. Let yourself perceive everything as manifestation of Buddha mind.

Q.  Seems like this requires courage, to bare one's heart and bare one's chest, to pick up the screaming child of one's emotions and just be with it.

A. Yes.  It takes a while to see these delusions in each of us.  It requires some kind of process to see it.

There are two stages of meditation. Analytical - a self-investigation, and this is taught by all Buddhist teachers.  It is introspection, how to see where the sources of suffering in our lives lie, and what is the potential for their liberation. Eventually we realize we do have Buddha nature but that we project the source of conflict onto the outside world. But in reality, there is no outside world.

The second type of mediation is equipoise. This is a little more fun, according to my small opinion.  Just relaxing into the natural state of mind, we see everything as the manifestation of mind.  It's a nice ride.  From this natural state we are liberating spontaneously in every moment. But without emotions, there isn't anything to liberate.  So when they arise we liberate them immediately.

Q.  So afflicted emotions,  are they afflictive because we are attached to them?

A. Yes. In this teaching, even devotion and compassion are afflicted because you're attached to them.

Spiritual Tools

There are a lot of techniques presented for liberating emotions in Vajrayana Buddhism.  We aren't talking about them because we have been practicing Hinayana path this year, so we have been practicing mostly doing breathing exercises, our mindfulness trainings.

One method we could use is to exclaim the "PHAT!" mantra to dispel any confusion or to prevent us from becoming attached to our meditation. It is a way of dissolving mediations. It is a very powerful method for witnessing the nature of mind.

Or you could do deity yoga, visualizing a peaceful or wrathful deity like Chenrezi or Vajrakilaya, which is a very powerful way for realizing everything as a manifestation of our Buddha mind. HHDL said that if you are experiencing more negative state of mind, visualize yourself as a wrathful deity like Vajrakilaya or Troma.  If you are experiencing more peaceful then visualize Chenrezi or Green Tara.

Milarepa told Gampopa, "Do not practice mantra or prostrations.  They will cause you to fall into samsara."  This is radical, because Milarepa told him to just be there.  But we have to understand the pure connotation of that.  If you are able to liberate your emotions directly, then maybe it's good not to do anything.  Then we wouldn't have to recite mantra or do anything.

Outwardly, many great Dzogchen yogis seem very ordinary, like jigpopa, or great loser, dharma bum.  They don't do any practice. They're not diligent.  But they have the ability to liberate their emotions instantly because they recognize that everything is manifestation of Buddha mind.

But if we cant do that we have to use techniques.  And there are many, like trekchod [cutting through], togal [passing through, recognizing spontaneous presence], tsa lung [advanced yogic practices, including inner heat].  We can use some of those techniques too.  But sometimes it's easier to use techniques than being in the view.

For example if you are experiencing self-hatred, it sounds like maybe you are stuck in your mind with thoughts.  So you could use the exclamation of PHAT! or mudras or prostrations, or simply pray to Buddha with mantras, or practice visualizing Avalokiteshvara. There is endless practice for endless confusions. We simply have to find what is right for ourselves. If we have faith in the spiritual master, or Buddha or Christ, we can visualize him or her in front of us.  That is why there is guru yoga.  We can pray to them to give us the power to liberate ourselves from unhealthy attachment to emotions.

Q.  So the prayer is not to make the emotion go away

A. No.  To liberate it.  To see the emotion as your Buddha mind.

Q.  Or just sitting in the fire of it?

A. Yes.  Like Gampopa told Milarepa about just being there with whatever arises.


This afternoon I'm going to talk about how we can take our dharma teachings into everyday life. It's very important for us to get together four times a year and to have Sangha near where you live, because they inspire us in our practice. We are not ordinary people in some way.  I'm not trying to convince you to have spiritual pride,  but we are not just thinking about basic need but also highest need.  Spirituality is a career our true vocation.

When we think about careers, we have to think about two kinds of careers.  One kind is worldly career, which is good because it helps pay the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge, buys food and medicine. Buddhism does not discourage people from their worldly careers. I don't discourage people from following worldly career, making money or whatever.  I don't think there is any contradiction between Buddhism and every day life.

But Paramahansa Yogananda said, "Do not neglect work for God, and do not neglect God for work." Sometimes spiritual people run away from life because they are afraid of taking responsibility for themselves. And then there are ordinary people who do not use or take advantage of having Buddha essence. 

But people who have no interest in the spiritual path and those who do both have equal Buddha essence. Both have equal potential to be enlightened.  Just like two people may have great musical talent – one works hard to develop it while the other takes it for granted, squandering their gift. One becomes a great artist and the other doesn't.

In the same way all of us has the same potential to be awakened.  We all have the ability to overcome our mental and emotional obscurations.  Today I listened to all of you with full attention and I heard some of your conflicts.  Some have doubt or self-hatred.  All beings have some kind of conflict, which is habitual tendency.  So there is a habit or conflict in each of us that we have not overcome in our lifetime, like self-doubt, or self-hatred, or guilt.  We can't find anyone in this world who doesn't have any conflict or issues.

Because we live stuck with these habits, its hard to believe or have faith in our potential to overcome these habitual tendencies.  When you overcome them, with a whole heart filled with pure devotion, then there is the truth of transformation in each of us.

Lets say you are stuck with self doubt or fear or guilt.  And you follow the path and one day you realize that you have been suffering for nothing.  You being to laugh because you have been torturing yourself and not recognizing your true potential. Everyone has this potential in themselves, even has the potential to be enlightened in this very moment.  There's no particular time to become enlightened.  You don't have to consult a Tibetan astrologer to find the best time.  Ask yourself: "If I do have Buddha essence, why don't I recognize it,"

If we are not enlightened it is because we don't use our potential.  We may say its because we haven't met the right teacher. But if we are using our days to practice and develop our awareness, then regardless of the teacher or any obstacles we may encounter, we are going to actualize our true nature, our Buddha essence.

Simplicity and Diligence

Dharma can be simple.  In a Tibetan story, a woman became enlightened by worshipping a dog's tooth.  Or the three hermits in Tolstoy's story who asked Rome to send a priest to teach them rituals.  He came and taught them all summer, then left, fed up with their seeming crudeness and ignorance.  As he was rowing back across the lake, the priest heard them calling after him, "Hey! We forgot the last prayer!" They were barefoot walking across the lake towards his boat.

Patrul Rinpoche said people are not lacking in knowledge of spirituality, but they are only lacking in diligence.  Everyone in Tibet knows "OM MANI PADME HUNG" and that itself is a complete path, but very few are diligent in following it.

It is important to be diligent.  Today I may remember to practice, but tomorrow I forget.  Then the next day I forget.  Then the next day I forget again.  Its very easy to forget daily practice unless we are careful.

Coming to retreat is wonderful because the environment encourages us to practice.  The teacher is there and everyone is practicing. It's impossible not to practice.  It's like a spiritual honeymoon.

My own practice in big retreats was...I'll tell you about my own experience.  I had great nyams [mystical experiences].  I was doing this Chenrezig practice for a  few days and I began to experience amazing things - beautiful visions and feelings, cosmic love, like the way you love trees and rocks and even skunks.  But when I came out of retreat and talked to someone on the phone, I lost it all and went back to normal.

So how do we integrate our worldly practice with driving car and working and being a citizen.  I don't have any issues concerning the faith of dharma practitioners.  They all seem to have faith and devotion in their Buddha nature, and they are extremely intelligent and understand the teaching right away.  The problem is that we have a little weakness in how we can bring the dharma practice to everyday life.

This kind of program is wonderful because we don't have time to go into three year retreat.  But this program gives us structure.  We have early morning practice and evening Sojong [daily confession]. We maintain our practice of practice mindfulness all day by seeing everything with the open heart of love and compassion.  how can we keep those practices every day?

If you want to be an excellent pianist you will have to practice two hours a day.  Fifteen minutes a day doesn't do it.  If you can spend more time to do sitting meditation and prayers and reading the books on the book list, then you will reap greater rewards. I think there's a time in the future, or perhaps now for some of you, that you don't need formal practice, but for most of us, we do need.

Lama Sherab, who was Lama Tharchin Rinpoche's uncle, practiced every day.  His teacher Dudjom Rinpoche told him not to practice anymore, but he practiced anyway.  And Dudjom Rinpoche told someone, "… its funny that people who don't need to practice dharma keep practicing and those who do need to practice don't."

Until we reach the highest level of realization, we need to do daily practice.  As human beings we are like patients who need to take medicine.  Like Patrul Rinpoche said, "First the meditator chases the meditation, then the meditation chases after the meditator."

At first we have to spend at least half an hour, even at Christmas time when we are busy, we have to practice dharma.  Dharma is as essential and important as eating food, or working at our career.  It is  our spiritual career.

You can meditate on the Four Dharmas of Gampopa or practice breathing exercises.  It's not so important to do a variety of practices.  It's essential to follow the structure of one path at one time.  So if we are practicing vipassana meditation, we should follow that path for some months or years until we gain some direct experience of our Buddha nature.

Dharma is not a physical activity.  Like holding mala and reciting mantra is dharma, but it depends on our motivation.  Maybe I'm a cook and I have to wake up at 6am and work in my restaurant.  But then I can do my practice right there in a public place.  I can practice mindfulness and compassion right there.  I can liberate my emotions and be in the present.

When you eat just eat.  There was a Korean Zen master who was teaching about this, then one day he was in the coffee shop with his students reading his paper and eating his food.  His student said, "Isn't it contradictory to read while you eat?"  The master said, "There is no contradiction.  When you read and eat and sit, just read and eat and sit."

The Power of A Spiritual Presence in The World

There's more power being in the outside world and not being afraid of connecting with people. You really see the suffering other beings, you see it's nature, and you see the sacredness of other beings as well.  Dharma comes out when you open your heart in a real way.

You cannot exist by yourself in this universe.  Buddha taught interdependence.  I am connected to each of you and you are connected to everyone else. We have to embrace everyone who comes into our life and appreciate their suffering, their beauty, their sacredness.

When we live with an open heart, all those doubts and issues and emotions come up. Then we can apply these teachings,  and realize great emptiness, knowing that suffering and happiness do not exist outside ourselves. Rather, they are a projection of our own consciousness.

We are extraordinary beings because we found this path.  We found there is Buddha potential in each of us.  The beings who haven't found the path to love and wisdom are spiritually blind.  And those who have found it have wisdom eyes.  The beings who haven't found the path are wandering through samsara and we have to have compassion for them. But those who have found the path but don't take advantage of it, that would be a great loss and we must also have compassion for them as well.

Sometimes we worry too much abut our worldly life: our education, self image, loss of youth.  We spend a lot of time worrying about things that are illusory and have nothing to do with finding happiness in our lives. 

One of the reasons why we worry about our life, death, old age and self image is that we forget how precious it is to find holy dharma.  How precious that it is to find this path!  How precious it is to find our we have Buddha nature!

One day I went to visit Khenpo Chodzod, who is a very good teacher and is my contemporary, which means we're the same age. I was with him on Losar [Tibetan New Year}.  We were with lamas from Western Tibet who were celebrating Losar in a different way.  He and I were celebrating Losar in the Golok way, by going out and throwing rocks at a target and hanging around.  He was sitting on my couch with his feet up on my table, drinking a coke and he said: " Tulku, we should be happy!  We found this amazing path!"

Love and Compassion Starts With Ourselves

Before generating love and compassion toward other beings, we should find happiness in ourselves.  Do not seek happiness outside.  Don't think that the perfect society or the perfect leader or perfect job can make you happy. Nothing can make us happy.  Happiness only arises in us finding out the meaning of life.

When we transcend guilt about our negativities, which arise from doubt about who we are, then we discover inner freedom. Happiness is the ultimate desire of all beings.  Buddha said that.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that. Desire for happiness is very spiritual.  It's not a very negative attachment. But when you have desire toward happiness aversion comes with it.  You develop aversion to samsara or society. So we must always pat attention to our minds, and not project.

Acharya Asanga said one of the signs that human beings have Buddha nature is their aversion to worldly life. But sometimes that turns into depression and anger and judgement.  The true message of that aversion you experience is that you are desiring higher spiritual achievement and are not content with superficial spiritual achievement.

The difference between finding the path and not is that the ones who are on the path are seeking for the cause of suffering in their lives, and the result is finding the cause of happiness. This is dharma practice.  The ones who aren't on the path have no idea where suffering comes from and how it arises. Sentient beings are infantile spiritually.  They want happiness but they only create more suffering, by being attached to hope, fear, and projecting onto outer circumstances.


What is the cause of enlightenment? We must start with at least some intellectual understanding or conviction that we have Buddha nature.

But we don't need to get a spiritual revelation from God or Shiva or even Buddha.  We already have it.  We just have to use it. Kabir said that many spiritual people are like a fish who is thirsty in the water. We suffer and are destitute spiritually but it is very ironic.  What we are looking for, freedom, enlightenment and happiness, is already in each of us.  The only problem is that we have yet to dispel the illusion that we are not enlightened already.

Being enlightened means we are filled with inexhaustible qualities of acceptance, love and forgiveness for all beings. For instance, if Buddha came to your house he would be a very good worker, very tolerant and disciplined, also very humble.  Spiritual practice would affect every aspect of his life, filled with great discernment, overflowing with compassion in every moment.

I think sometimes dharma should be the vital force of our life.  It should be the foundation of our career, all of our worldly activities.  This means embodying principles of love and wisdom. Breaking down hope and fear and developing love and compassion is spirituality and it is not separate from everyday life. 

There are different ways of being a good citizen. Milarepa said, "Everyone looks crazy to me, and to them, I look crazy too."  Do you remember from Milarepa's biography?  After he achieved Buddhahood, he was a wandering monk and so he stayed in a monastery one night.  He begged from a monk to share his space.  The monk said, "I'm very careful with guests.  Why don't you sleep under the overhang on my deck."  The monk had no idea that Milarepa was the most amazing yogi. But Milarepa was omniscient.  This monk had a yak he was going to sell to a butcher, to get meat and skins, and sell every part of the animal to make big profit. The monk didn't sleep all night because he was busy pricing all the parts of the yak – the liver, the leg, the lungs, etc.

The monk got up early and started practicing sadhana, just going through the motions.  During the monk's practice Milarepa started  snoring loudly.  The monk kicked him and said, "You wear clothes like a practitioner but look at you. You're a lazy bum."  Milarepa said, " I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep all night because I was so busy thinking about the yak I'm going to sell to make big profit."

Somehow we have to bring together dharma practice and daily life.   Dharma is like an arrow.  Its not enough to just have an arrow.  We have to have a target. Dharma is an arrow, but our lives, our careers, relationships are the targets.   In Vajrayana Buddhism they talk about increasing the level of dharma practice through actions.  Even driving a car can be spiritual practice.

So life is always about encountering situations with an open heart, in every moment.  All situations, impermanence, sickness, death, good health and well-being, being at a party, going to the movies, making huge plans, getting divorced, getting married.  We are constantly encountering situations.  That is what we call reality.  How are we going to relate and respond to those situations?  That's where we can find freedom or sorrow.

If we respond from projection, anger, the result is sorrow.  But if we change the way we respond from habitual way through more Dharmic way, through accepting reality by understanding people and situations with love, then life becomes more full of this same love, understanding and insight. We need to use dharma situations to respond to whatever is in front of us. The Truth is always apparent, Buddha is always smiling at us.

Buddha is Now

Death will push all of our buttons.  It will bring up all of our habitual tendencies.  If we respond to Death with our usual way, with hope and fear, then death can be a very  miserable experience for us.  But if we apply the view of emptiness, infused with love and forgiveness, then death becomes a beautiful process, a doorway to enlightenment.

No matter where we are, everything is sacred and divine when we are not resistant to any situation.  Just accept whatever is happening in this moment.  If we can, then we become like a bodhisattva, loving and caring for everyone around us.

I found this book called Now or Never, and I liked the title so much I used it in Dharma talks.  Now is the best time to wake up!