Freedom Through Understanding

By Lama Thubten Yeshe, By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
UK September 1975 (Archive #169)

In Lama Yeshe’s and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s first trip to Europe in 1975 they offered a seminar based on their Kopan meditation courses. Preceded by Lama Yeshe’s lecture on meditation, these teachings encompass the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

These historic teachings are also available on DVD. Watch video excerpts in Chapter Three and Chapter Five, or go to our YouTube channel.

8. The Shortcomings of Attachment (Lama Yeshe)

I hope you understand what I was talking about yesterday: how worthwhile it is to understand the nature of your own selfcherishing and attachment.

Sometimes you might think, “I want inner freedom; I want some kind of magic, higher meditation.” If you do, you’re dreaming, not facing the reality of what you are right now. Because what you always have to deal with throughout your life, with other people, with your mind, all the time, from birth to death, is attachment. All your problems - mental problems, external problems, internal problems, whatever you consider to be a problem, everything - comes from attachment. Understanding this to be your reality is wisdom and the path to liberation, the vehicle that carries you to everlasting peaceful enlightenment. It’s so worthwhile.

Also, it’s so logical - you don’t have to believe in something that’s hard to swallow; you don’t have to believe in anything. You can prove logically that attachment is your main problem, the principal cause of all your personal problems and the problems you have with those around you.

These are not merely dry words; they derive from life experiences. It’s very important to know this. That’s why Lord Buddha always emphasized understanding as the path to liberation.

These days in the West there are many books that talk about the magic and mystery of Tibet, so when people see that a Tibetan lama is coming to give a meditation course, they think, “Oh, maybe I can learn some magic,” and attend with that expectation.

But we don’t need to teach you magic - your mind is already magic; the magic of attachment has been within you from the time you were born until now. Magic is not the path to liberation; don’t expect me to do something funny. Some people do, you know. They expect lamas to do magic and make them hallucinate. Don’t expect that. Instead, simply understand what your life is, how complications arise, what it is that complicates your life, what makes you happy... those are the things you should understand. That makes your attendance at this seminar worthwhile. You’re not dreaming; you’re down to earth and realistic about the way to develop your mind. And with that attitude, you won’t be disappointed; you know clearly what you’re going to do, what your trip is - meditation, spiritual practice or whatever.

Otherwise there’s a danger of doing things without really knowing what you’re doing. Many people are like that. Intellectually they say, “I want liberation, inner freedom, nirvana, enlightenment” - they know all the big words but they don’t actually know what to do.

But at least you now know that in reality, all false actions, misery, unhappiness and negative energy come from the self-cherishing thought of attachment, and as long as you know that and prove it through your own experience, that simple understanding is enough for you to really change your actions, to really put a stop to selfish thoughts, and that’s what’s most worthwhile.

Otherwise what happens is that you learn all about this religion or that philosophy but don’t change your attitude or behavior; you can’t even stop smoking or drinking. Even though you say it’s not good to smoke or drink, because you haven’t changed inside, there’s no change in your external actions either.

From Tibetan lamas’ point of view, if your actions don’t change, even though you might think or say, “Attachment is the cause of all my problems,” it’s not really true for you; you haven’t realized it. Mere intellectual comprehension is not realization. It’s worthwhile to understand these things.

If we don’t identify the psychological root of problems we can never cut them off, never rid ourselves of them. In order to overcome an enemy we have to identify that enemy and know where to find him. Otherwise we’re shooting in the dark. Similarly, in order to destroy the root of our miserable energy we have to know exactly where it is; then the antidotes we apply will go to exactly the right spot. Even one atom of antidote will be part of the solution.

But that’s not what we normally do. Normally, our problems are here but we apply the antidote there. Like when things go wrong, we usually blame our family, friends or society. That’s totally misconceived. If we think that the cause of problems is external, there’s no way we’ll ever be able to stop them. In fact, that’s why, from the time we evolved on this earth we’ve never been able to put an end to problems. It’s impossible to do it that way.

Since we now realize that attachment is the cause of all our problems and acting under its influence causes us to create negative actions, we must determine that for the rest of our life we will not allow the actions of our body, speech and mind to follow after this deluded mind.

We have to change our mental attitude, our self-attachment to our ego, I, and to transfer that energy to others. That means we should concern ourselves more with others’ pleasure than always thinking only of I, I, I. We should make the determination, “Right now, for the rest of my life, I’m going to dedicate the energy of my body, speech and mind to others and change my attitude, my selfcherishing thought of attachment - excessive concern for my own pleasure - to greater concern for that of others. From the time I was born until now, all my pleasure is due to others’ kindness. Even my very existence is due to the kindness of other sentient beings; without it I would not exist, I would not have reached even the age of five.”

That’s true. For example, from the time we were born we’ve been drinking milk. It’s not our own milk we’ve been drinking; it’s that of others, it’s others’ energy. Think: this is scientific reality. And we need clothes; without clothes we’d die of cold. We don’t make our own clothes, do we?

Everything that preserves us - food, clothing, everything comes from other sentient beings. So think how others preserve our life and how without them we’d die. Most of us eat meat; without depending on animals, how could we eat meat? Animals are so kind; they give us clothes, meat and milk. Similarly, all the people who work for us one way or another are also kind.

To give you another simple example, think how Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ gave up their worldly lives and pleasures and totally dedicated their actions to the welfare of other sentient beings, released their own attachment and reached the highest goal of enlightenment. We, on the other hand, are always concerned with nothing but I, I, I and end up miserable.

Actually, psychologically, we’re suffering because of attachment, I, I, I, I, I... always I. This attitude of attachment itself is the suffocating mind; it suffocates us and makes us uptight. Attachment makes us feel a kind of intensity at our heart, a tightness; no release, no relaxation. All that comes from attachment.

Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ even gave their bodies for others; many times in previous lives they gave their hands, legs and kingdoms for others. With our present attitude of self-cherishing attachment we can’t even give somebody a cup of tea with genuine pleasure; we can’t give anybody anything without expectation.

You might be thinking, “Lama must be joking, putting us down, when he says we don’t do good things. We do plenty of good things.”

Well, perhaps you do give things, practice charity, but check with what kind of mind you do so. I’m sure that when you give others presents you have some kind of expectation. If you do give without any expectation, completely for the benefit of others, with no thought of enhancing your reputation, with no ulterior motive, such as “I have to give him a gift because he’s my relative” or “If I don’t give her a present she’ll freak out,” then it’s OK. But that’s not how we usually give; most of our giving has nothing to do with true charity and is simply an ego trip. As long as we give with expectation, that’s not true giving; we’re not really dedicating. We have the expectation “If I don’t give him a present for his birthday he won’t give me one for mine.”

Giving like this is just a joke. Out of the whole universe, we choose one atom - one girlfriend or one boyfriend - one tiny bit of energy, and say, “I love you.” With much attachment we put an enormous amount of energy into this one concrete object and thus from the beginning automatically set ourselves up for conflict.

By building up such tremendously powerful attachment we create within ourselves a psychological atomic bomb. Our internal energy is so dependent upon this external object - this girl, this boy, whatever it is - that when it moves we shake. Our mind shakes; our life shakes. But this external object is impermanent; by nature, it’s constantly changing, changing, changing. But the character of attachment is that it doesn’t want things to change; it wants things to stay as they are. So when they do change, great worry and paranoia arise within us.

And when the time comes to separate from our object of attachment through death or any other reason, we feel, “My life is over.”Of course, that’s not true; you can see how attachment exaggerates: “Now I have no life.” Before, you have life; now suddenly you don’t? Can you believe it? But that shows you what a totally overestimating, exaggerating mind the basic conception of attachment actually is.

So you can see how miserable feelings come from our building up certain conceptual philosophies on the basic conception of attachment, and that’s the way we end up suffering. There’s no way your pleasure can depend upon another atom; that’s impossible, the materialistic way of thinking. The whole thing’s completely wrong.

Of course, you can make a reasonable judgment: “My friend is transitory, changeable; I understand that. When change comes, it comes; when it goes, it goes. Even I have to die; my friend has to die.” That’s OK; you can make a reasonable judgment. But attachment doesn’t do that. Attachment makes this tremendous overestimation of things and that’s how we end up incredibly miserable.

You can just see in the world today how people worry about losing others. People worry, “My wife is going to die... my boyfriend is going to run out on me... my girlfriend is going to disappear.” All this worry comes from attachment, excessive concern for one’s own pleasure. Ironically, even though we call it pleasure, it’s not actual pleasure.

Philosophy
Attachment considers relationships to be happiness but if you check with knowledge-wisdom you’ll find that they’re actually suffering. Why? Because they result in suffering. We think that worldly pleasure is happiness, that we’re using our body and mind for enjoyment, but in fact our body and mind are in the nature of suffering. Why? Because they cause us to suffer. That’s why Buddhist literature, especially that of the Hinayana school, emphasizes that everything changeable and transitory is suffering in nature.

If you understand that philosophy and ask yourself, “Why does it say that?” when you reflect on your everyday life and how the subject - your mind - interprets the object - the sense world - and how you relate to it, you’ll see that such Buddhist philosophical assertions are very true.

We should have some understanding of philosophy. Many Westerners approaching Dharma think, “Enough with philosophy; I don’t like philosophy All I want to do is practice.” They’re dreaming. Attachment itself is philosophy - you were born with it. You didn’t learn your attachment at school or from other people; you were born a philosopher. Don’t think philosophy comes from books, like you read something and go, “Now I know something; I’m a philosopher.”

People need philosophy. The ancient Christian and Western worlds had fantastic philosophy. But then people had difficulty because religion and philosophy often contradicted each other - so some gave up religion, others gave up philosophy.

Nowadays, therefore, we find religion is mostly separate from philosophy because many people think religious teachings are wrong because they’re contradicted by science. Actually, Christianity contains wonderfully relevant philosophy that is really worthwhile taking into our lives, but people just don’t understand.

As I said, many people say they just want to meditate and don’t want anything to do with philosophy but they’re wrong; we all need philosophy. Philosophy gives us the whole picture and within that context we can discriminate how our energy is going. If we don’t have some kind of overarching philosophy and have the attitude, “Whatever comes, comes; whatever goes, goes,” that kind of hippie thinking is wrong. We have to have some kind of understanding, otherwise we’ll get lost.

This earth is home to so much superstition, so much garbage philosophy, that if you don’t have a correct philosophy, right understanding, you’ll led by the nose first in one direction, then another, by whatever you hear. Somebody says “This,” and you say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” and run after that; somebody else says “That,” and again you say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” and run off following that. You have no direction, no precise understanding. But you need direction and understanding, otherwise it’s very dangerous. If you don’t have a philosophy that can help you judge between right and wrong - what is the right attitude, what is the wrong attitude - if you don’t have the discriminating knowledge-wisdom to distinguish between positive and negative, you don’t know where you’ll end up. That’s why I say it’s very dangerous.

I recently saw a film set in India - you might have seen it yourselves - where a man seeking realizations goes to a yogi for guidance and is given instead the misconception that if he kills a thousand people he’ll receive inner realizations and liberation. Believing this wrong advice, he goes out and kills many people, cutting a finger off each person, making a finger rosary and wearing it around his neck. Thus he was called Angulimala [Tib: Sermo Threngwa]. 11 So this is not a Tibetan story; it comes from India at the time of the Buddha.

The Buddha saw with his clairvoyance that Angulimala had killed 999 people and was looking for his thousandth victim, so he went to where Angulimala was and appeared on the road in front of him. Seeing what he thought was his final victim, Angulimala ran towards him, but even though the Buddha manifested walking extremely slowly, no matter how fast Angulimala ran he could not catch him. Somehow, this made him reflect on what he’d been doing and he gradually realized how wrong he’d been. He vowed never again to do such actions, became a Buddhist monk and eventually attained arhatship.

Therefore, it’s very dangerous if you don’t have a well-founded guiding philosophy and just accept whatever people say at face value. You have to be careful. Tibetan followers of Mahayana Buddhism are very concerned about this kind of thing. You have to check up for yourself. In the West there are so many trips that you can get caught up in; there are thousands of things going on. Of course, there are some good ones among them, worthwhile things, but there’s also a lot of garbage, and that’s what’s dangerous. So be careful.

That’s why we always say to take the middle way and avoid the extremes of overestimation and underestimation. We have to take the middle path. To do that we have to understand the wrong paths - how our mind overestimates and underestimates things. We always have to check up, and to do that we need to develop the discriminating knowledge-wisdom that knows how our mind is functioning.

Losing your mind
For example, people considered crazy by society lack the ability to discriminate between normal behavior and extremes. Whenever they encounter great problems, that energy hits their heart or brain or mind - whatever you want to call it - and they become completely unconscious, in that they don’t know what they’re doing or afterwards remember what they did. I’m sure you know what I mean; I don’t need to describe the actions of crazy people. If such people could understand the direction in which their energy and mental conceptions were headed and had control over their actions, they’d be able to pull themselves back from going there and appearing crazy.

It’s true; what I’m saying is clear. If you possess discriminating knowledge-wisdom, the ability to check up in the right way, you’ll never go crazy because you’ll be able to tell when your mind is tending toward extremes and bring it back. By knowing when your mind is becoming extreme, you can prevent it from going there. Otherwise, you think you’re OK - “I’m all right, my life is going well, I hang out with my friends, I have enough to eat, I can take care of myself” - but along comes one piece of bad news that taps into the tremendous energy of your attachment and you become unconscious, lose control and become, in other words, crazy.

How does this happen? It’s because the potential energy for us to become crazy exists within us right now. Don’t think, “There’s no way I can become crazy.” You can. As long as you have the up and down mind of attachment it can break down any time. It’s possible. Therefore it’s worthwhile to continuously develop the knowledge-wisdom with which you can cut through that kind of situation and protect your mind by keeping it in a peaceful environment. You must develop knowledge-wisdom, otherwise it’s in there and you can go crazy at any time. Don’t think I’m exaggerating; check up.

At the moment you have perfect conditions and the intelligence to discriminate between right and wrong; you have tremendously powerful positive energy potential and to use it well is really wonderful. That’s how you distinguish yourself from animals. Otherwise, as I said before, what’s the difference between humans and birds? Birds also lead everyday lives: they eat food, fill their stomach, go to sleep, get up the next morning . . . how is that different from most human beings? We’re a lot like that. We go to the supermarket, buy things, talk about this and that and go to sleep. Don’t think that these are the limits of human ability; even animals can do all that.

Therefore, dears, it’s worthwhile to determine to do something really meaningful with this life, and that is to dedicate your life’s energy to the benefit of others. As long as you sincerely dedicate yourself to others with the understanding that attachment is the cause of all problems, you will automatically be happy. If you realize this you will naturally enter the path to happiness and joy and will have nothing to worry about.

What I’m saying is that it’s necessary to reach a conclusion at the end of each analytical meditation. If you do an analytical meditation, understand something, but then just leave it at that - “Oh, OK, now I understand something” - your meditation has no power; there’s no conclusion. You don’t have the strength or energy to put what you’ve understood into action in your everyday life.

However, in general, the conclusion you need to come to is the great determination that “for the rest of my life, as much as I possibly can, I will avoid the mental attitudes of attachment and self cherishing and to the best of my ability dedicate myself to and concern myself with the welfare of other sentient beings. In particular, since other sentient beings’ main problems are not material but attachment and ignorance, a lack of knowledge-wisdom, the best way in which I can help them is to give them the light of knowledge-wisdom, to put the energy of their body, speech and mind in the right direction. In order to do that, I first have to correct my own actions and slowly, slowly gain knowledge-wisdom and realizations myself. In that way I can automatically give others good vibrations and knowledge-wisdom.” To dedicate in that way is extremely worthwhile.

Giving
Also, Tibetan lamas have a special mind training technique for releasing attachment and the self-cherishing thought where we transform our body into thousands, millions and billions of bodies and give them to all sentient beings. Actually, we should do this meditation right now.

When we did the equilibrium meditation before, we saw ourselves surrounded by all living beings in the universe; it’s the same thing here. We transform our body into beautiful things - not horrible ugly things that we don’t want - and give them to all sentient beings. We do this because at the moment we cling to our body with tremendously powerful attachment energy; giving it away to others begins to break that down.

Not only do you give your body to others - now meditate on giving them all your possessions. Your house transforms into thousands of houses, the food in your refrigerator multiplies thousands of times, and so forth with all your other enjoyments. Send all this out to all sentient beings with much compassion, realizing that all beings are equal in wanting happiness and not desiring suffering, but always act out of ignorance and therefore have to constantly experience suffering, confusion and dissatisfaction.

This kind of meditation is not a joke or something funny. It’s very useful. Prior to practicing it your attachment might make you feel unhappy when giving somebody even one cent or a cup of tea, but through training your mind you can slowly, slowly reach the point where you give things away with much joy and pleasure. This is experience - I’m not saying it’s my experience but there are many people whose it is, in both the East and the West. So it’s something we too need to gain - the ability to happily give away our body and all our material possessions.

There’s a true story about a Tibetan lama who was incredibly miserly; he couldn’t give away even one cent let alone any of his other possessions to others. He asked his teacher what he could do about his incredible miserliness. His teacher said he should start by giving something from one hand to the other, thinking, “Now I’m giving this,” visualizing that he was actually giving to other sentient beings. That was how his teacher taught him to start learning to give to others with pleasure, and that’s the kind of charity that we have to develop by training our mind - giving without attachment.

When they hear the word “charity,” many people probably think it has something to do with religion. From the Buddhist point of view, charity is the antidote to attachment. Also, people think that we can only make charity by giving material things but that’s not what charity actually means. True charity is giving sincerely without expectation. That mind is charity. Giving others material things is not necessarily charity.

For example, if, with attachment to having a good reputation, you think, “I’m a very religious person and want others to know it, so I’m going to donate a million dollars to charity,” that’s just an ego trip. Instead of becoming an antidote to attachment and helping you develop knowledge-wisdom, that way of giving merely strengthens your ego.

Often, what you think to be a spiritual practice is simply an ego trip, attachment. You need to check up on that. That’s why, despite your practice, you still haven’t found a solution to your problems. You’re hypocritical, because you have no understanding of what spirituality really is; your actions aren’t serious Dharma actions. If you’re going to act, don’t do so out of some pretentious, highsounding intellectual philosophy but act simply, sincerely. Start off small; practice what makes sense for the level you’re at. If you begin your Dharma practice that way, you’ll really solve your problems. If you get lost in the intellectual and don’t act appropriately, what’s the point? You’re still wallowing in garbage.

Although actions are very important, don’t overreach. Don’t attempt advanced practices before you’re ready; start off slowly, small. Don’t think that you can start at the end. Do a little bit every day and gradually, gradually you’ll progress and see yourself develop.

Even Lord Buddha said, “Don’t accept what I say just because I said it. That’s the wrong approach.” He said, “Check what I teach, and if you think it suits your level of mind, with clear understanding, adopt it.” It’s like shoes . . . you should wear only comfortable ones that fit your feet. In other words, before you start meditating or doing any spiritual practice, make sure that you’re one hundred percent certain of what you’re doing. In that way, your practice will be very comfortable and through your own actions you’ll be able to see how you’re developing.

Often, the problem with the Western way of thinking is that you want too much of everything. You have too much samsara, too much sense gravitation attachment . . . everything is exaggerated for the sake of sense pleasure. And then, when you get into meditation or some other spiritual trip, you bring that energy with you; you bring that materialistic attitude into your Dharma practice. That’s a big misconception. Be down to earth; that’s the more realistic way to develop spiritually. It’s so worthwhile, very worthwhile.

Also, human potential is so powerful. Normally we think that rockets and atomic energy are very powerful but the power of rockets and nuclear energy comes from human beings, from the power of human intelligence, which understands how to manipulate material things to make them powerful. Look around at all the large, fantastic buildings on earth - where do you think they came from? They were designed and made by human beings, not by God.

Cause and effect
So, as a human being, you should always remember how powerful you are and not devalue yourself, thinking, “I’m nothing; I can’t do anything.” That’s ridiculous. You are really worthwhile, incredibly intelligent and endowed with powerful energy. Of course, you can use your powerful energy in a positive or a negative way. Therefore human beings can also be dangerous. Why is the world today dangerous? It’s because of the human mind, which has created weapons, war and environmental problems.

We often hear people lament, “The world is so miserable; there are so many wars.” Instead of worrying about war, what you first need to worry about is integrating yourself, making yourself clean clear. Then your pure vibration will automatically contribute to world peace and benefit others. Otherwise, if out of confusion and a lack of understanding you say, emotionally, “This miserable world is just too much for me now,” that’s useless. It’s just emotion; it’s not compassion. No wisdom; no method.

Certain problems can be solved but there are others that, at the moment, are beyond solution. For example, Buddhism always talks about karma, but the karma we talk about is not something fixed. Karma means cause and effect. When a cause is already in our mind, there, right now - such as the cause to become crazy - if we apply the right method we can get rid of it before it ripens. But once that cause has brought its result and we’ve become crazy, it’s too late. That problem is pretty much beyond solution. So the time to implement a solution is before a karmic result has ripened. Once a problem has manifested it’s much more difficult to solve.

Both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy use the Sanskrit word karma but the connotation is different. Hinduism believes that karma is completely unchangeable, predetermined... something like that. Buddhism asserts that as an impermanent phenomenon, karma is changeable. Karma is your mental attitude putting your energy in a certain direction, producing a chain reaction, and you can break that chain before the result ripens.

Also, karma is the energy of your body, speech and mind. Don’t think it’s something else. Why do we call it karma? Because the energy of the cause relates to another energy and that produces a reaction in yet another energy. That’s all. It’s scientific; I’m not talking about some religious thing. Scientists themselves have discovered that the energy of the four elements - earth, water, fire, wind - doesn’t arise without cause; there’s always a cause: one energy relates to another and produces a third, and so it goes on. If you don’t know that, please visit a scientific laboratory! I’m joking - I haven’t been into a scientific laboratory in my life! Anyway, it’s true - you check up. Maybe I’m joking, maybe I’m not... I’m not sure!

Everything you see, hear, smell, taste or touch produces a reaction, either positive or negative. This is karma. That’s why I say Buddhism is scientific: you can experience this for yourself today, right now. It’s true; it’s so simple. That’s why we say that meditation develops higher conscious awareness; and when you develop it, you can see how each movement you make produces a different reaction.

Take Time magazine, for example. The publishers there are expert psychologists; at some level they understand karma. They put something special on the cover that they know will attract people’s attention - often the face of a man or woman. People see the cover, react to it, buy the magazine and Time gets the money, that’s all! Actually, that’s karma.

It’s the same with other advertisers in the West. I think they’re fantastic. If you investigate why they do what they do, you get a glimpse of Buddhist psychology. I myself learn from that; it helps me understand how the Western mind works. It’s incredible, really, the way the human mind thinks: “If we do this, people will react like that....” Marketers know; that too is karma.

When you walk down a London street you see, hear and smell things, but mostly you’re unconscious of them all; whatever you perceive automatically reacts in your mind, but you’re completely unaware of it. When we practice meditation, we gradually become more conscious; if we don’t practice meditation, our unconscious mind gets stronger and instead of developing, our mind degenerates and we become more and more unconscious. You can see how that’s possible, can’t you?

If you understand true human psychology, the nature of the human mind, you’ll be able to integrate your mind and life; they’ll work together harmoniously. If your mind is split, your life is split; it has no direction and you’re unhappy and lost - even if you know precisely where in the world you are.

Notes
11 Skt: anguli, finger; mala, rosary; Tib: sermo, finger; threngwa, rosary. See the entry for Angulimala in Wikipedia. [Return to text]