Thank you very much, everybody I’ve met in this life and in past lives. The reason we are gathered here is because we have met in past lives or past times. So, to all of you, my brothers and sisters, thank you very much for coming and I offer you my best wishes.
What are we going to talk about? I think the most important thing in the world is to realize how all our happiness and problems come from our mind—all our hour-to-hour happiness and problems, minute-to-minute happiness and problems, second-to-second happiness and problems come from our mind.
Sometimes in certain situations in our life we are able to recognize that thinking one way brings peace to others and ourselves whereas thinking another way brings harm. The way we act with others in any situation determines the outcome. Understanding this shows us that we have total freedom in our hands—freedom to stop problems and freedom to bring peace and happiness to others and ourselves.
Even when great anger arises, we can be aware there is a choice. Our usually uncontrollable self-cherishing thought arises, bringing self-concern, anger, pride and so forth, but sometimes that can make us aware that there is a choice. We can choose. We always have the choice of bringing either happiness or suffering to another person, but because of our anger, the wish to hurt, we generally choose wrong. This clearly proves that our mind is the creator of all our day-to-day life’s problems and happiness.
Seeing how this life’s problems and happiness come from our mind, we can go beyond that and see that all the suffering we have experienced and will experience throughout all our lifetimes comes from the mind, including the heavier suffering of the animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings. Everything we have experienced in the past and will experience in the future comes from the mind.
Samsara is Sanskrit for cyclic existence or circling, and nirvana is Sanskrit for the ultimate, blissful state of peace for ourselves, the total cessation of all the oceans of samsaric suffering. Both samsara and nirvana come from our mind. Enlightenment is the peerless happiness, the state of omniscient mind. The Tibetan term, sang-gyä, means exactly this, the total cessation of all obscurations and the completion of all realizations. Enlightenment also comes from our mind. It does not come from anywhere else, from temples or anywhere outside. It comes from our mind.
Every day, every minute, we have either happiness or problems. If we can learn to think in a better way our problems will disappear and we’ll have peace and happiness in our life. But when we don’t change the way we think, problems fill our entire life, day and night. Then we have to go to see psychologists and doctors. Seeing all these specialists makes our life very expensive! On top of the food and household expenses we generally incur there are all these extra expensive doctors’ fees, probably thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars! Life is so expensive because we don’t know how to take care of our mind, we don’t know how to take care of our life.
Actually, Dharma practice, meditation—there are many different names—is the best psychology for the healthiest mind. And the healthiest mind allows us to have the healthiest body. This is impossible if we don’t care for our mind, treating it like garbage, throwing it in the bin.
Failing to take care of our mind always brings unpleasant results, creating many worries, many problems, one after the other. No sooner have we solved one problem than another arises, on and on, our whole life getting worse and worse. Out of control, we receive more and more bills, incur more and more debt, over and over again. Like that, our whole life passes.
The key to happiness is the mind. With the mind, we can switch our life to suffering or we can switch it to happiness, just as we change television channels, choosing to watch programs about fighting and war, or peaceful things, like the nature programs people seem to enjoy. Experiencing happiness or suffering depends entirely on what we do with our mind.
Taking care of the mind, taking care of life, means meditating. Practicing meditation should be just that—taking care of our mind, taking care of our life, taking care of ourselves. This is what I’d like to talk about. I don’t know Buddhism well but I can say a few words about what I’m a little bit familiar with.
The method to transform the mind
Leaving aside the various higher levels of happiness we can obtain in this life and the happiness beyond this life, most people don’t know that even this life’s mundane happiness comes entirely from the mind. All they consider is this life, which might seem long now but is, in reality, very, very short.
This becomes very apparent at the moment of death. After having had this human body with all its comforts and pleasures—car, house, family and so forth—when the moment of death arrives everything is gone. One minute we have it and the next it’s gone. This is what we will experience as we die because during our life we never meditated; we failed to make use of this most important psychology to make our mind positive and healthy. This is what the Buddha taught in his fundamental teaching on the four noble truths, the main focus of the Hinayana: true suffering, true cause of suffering, true cessation of suffering and its cause and the true path that leads to the cessation of suffering and its cause.
Within this fundamental teaching of the Buddha are the teachings on impermanence and death. As long as we remain unaware of impermanence—not so much gross impermanence but mainly subtle impermanence—we will experience problems with our life, relationships and so forth.
In the same way that most people do not understand the mind, they also do not understand death. Yet it is vital to understand what happens at death so that when we are actually in the death process we can be happy. Although we are still not free from death, by knowing about it we can make it most beneficial for ourselves and all the other living beings, who also have to experience the suffering of death.
We still have to experience death because we have yet to eliminate its cause, karma and delusion. Without a direct perception of emptiness, we cannot do this. So, this is what we need to do. Destroying the cause makes it impossible to experience the result: the suffering of death, the suffering of rebirth, the suffering of sicknesses, the suffering of old age and—again—the suffering of death, over and over, again and again.
People spend a lot of money to stop looking old—hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars. However, if we were to stop painting our body to beautify it but just let it remain natural, aging would show; we would notice it more and more with each passing year.
It also depends on how a person has lived life. Even within a year, someone experiencing great unhappiness can become externally old, her1 skin wrinkled, her hair quite gray. On the other hand, another person whose life is very stable and peaceful and without much suffering—especially if her mind is very happy—changes very little physically, even though the aging process is there in the same way.
We are getting old all the time—not only day by day but also hour by hour and minute by minute. We cannot remain the same because we are changing, even second by second. Geshe Lamrimpa, a Tibetan meditator, mentioned that even within a second, very subtle imprints causing changes occur. This is evolution; this is what happens. This is impermanence, the fact we are constantly aging, getting older. Here, of course, we are generally referring to external things, such as the body.
The happiest person is the one who always thinks positively, who practices Dharma, particularly bodhicitta, the most positive mind. With such a mind we can use whatever problem arises to make it most beneficial and transform it into happiness, using it to free ourselves from the oceans of samsaric suffering. Not only that, but we can use it to achieve peerless happiness, the state of omniscient mind, sang-gyä, the total elimination of obscurations and the completion of all realizations. We can use it not just for ourselves but for others, to free numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and also bring them into peerless happiness, the state of omniscient mind.
With such a mind, we can use whatever problem we experience in our life in this way, even death or cancer. That is truly unbelievable. We use problems to collect skies of merit; more than skies of merit. If such merit were to manifest in form it would be bigger than the sky. The Buddha explained this in a sutra and Lama Atisha said the same thing:
If the bodhicitta you actualized
Were to take form,
What you collected
Would be bigger than the sky.
This is the best purification. Bodhicitta purifies the obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths that bring suffering in this and future lives and cause us to be reborn in the lower realms. The minute we practice, the second we practice, this is what happens. This is the best way to practice.
In America it sometimes happens that small schoolchildren kill many people. Not only small children but adults as well. This happened last year and, from time to time, it has happened before; suddenly, surprisingly. I’m sure it’s not only in America but in the rest of the world as well.
For example, in America they have talked for years without ever deciding about the right to have guns. At present, everybody can have a gun, so if your enemy or somebody shoots at you, you can shoot back. That seems to be the ordinary mind in America. And so it has happened many times that even young children have killed many people.
After such a shooting incident, people talk about it on TV and elsewhere for weeks and weeks and weeks. They wonder how a small child could kill so many people. They talk and talk and talk but there is no solution. Once, after a man had killed many people, they checked for insanity but found he was a normal person, or what they call a “normal” person. He was just doing a normal job and living a normal life, like those who are regarded as sane by the government and other organizations. On that particular day, however, his way of thinking suddenly changed, he got a gun and killed many people. This happened.
Everybody was very surprised. On CNN, Anderson Cooper demanded to know how this could happen, but at the same time said he knew people wouldn’t have an answer. To his mind there was no answer as to how to stop this kind of killing. I’m sorry to say this but he was wrong, there is a way. If the killer had met the Dharma and listened to the teachings of the Omniscient One, he would know there is a method to transform his mind so that such things wouldn’t happen. The method is to purify past negative karma, the obscurations, not just from this life but also from all the beginningless rebirths; to confess and purify. If he could have purified the obscurations that caused him to change his mind and kill all those people, that negative thought would not have arisen and the shooting would not have happened. People might be shocked at what I’m saying but this is the solution.
Similarly, if the victims of the shooting had known the practice of purification then the result of being killed would not have happened. This is possible. In that way, both victim and perpetrator need purification.
There is a method, there is something we can do, and that is to work with the mind, not simply to try to effect change from outside but to transform the mind. It’s a purely mental action. Just working with the mind can do that. But unfortunately, because these people have not met the Dharma, they don’t know the method, the solution.
That is the reason I want to talk about the mind, about how to transform the mind, to stop thinking in unhealthy, nonvirtuous ways that brings problems to others and ourselves and to transform the mind into a positive way of thinking, to be able to live the happiest, most positive life.
In a well-cultivated field, whatever is planted will grow
In Heart Instructions of the Book of Kadam, Lama Atisha is quoted as saying these lines:
If the field is well cultivated, whatever you plant will grow.
With a good heart all your higher wishes will succeed,
And so whatever you do must come from the awakening mind.
Lama Atisha said this to the spiritual mentor Dromtönpa.
With perseverance and stability there will be no obstacles.
If you are learned in what to practice and what to abandon,
You will go to liberation abiding in the sphere of wisdom.
Lama Atisha said learning, discipline and kindness must complement each other.2
He starts with the example of the field. If it is well plowed and well cultivated, then whatever we plant there will grow well. In the same way, if we have a good heart, we will attain all our wishes. Everything we wish for will happen. When we have perseverance we will have no obstacles, which means obstacles to any happiness, most importantly, ultimate happiness—freedom from the oceans of samsaric suffering, and especially peerless happiness, the state of the omniscient mind. For example, I myself am lazy, so nothing is happening. But those who have perseverance have no obstacles. They will achieve whatever they want to achieve.
There’s a Tibetan saying that a turtle goes very, very slowly but reaches its goal, whereas a flea jumps all over the place and never gets anywhere. Somebody who has a little perseverance and is active for a short time but does not persevere continuously will not succeed. I think this Tibetan saying is very useful.
Even though we do a tiny amount of practice, it is very important that we continue it. We shouldn’t just practice for a short time but then, due to lack of perseverance, allow our mind to become weaker until we no longer feel we can practice. Then maybe, after having stopped practicing for a long time, we meet somebody or hear a talk and become inspired, causing us to try again for a few days or a few months. It should not be like that. Even though the Dharma practice we do might be very small, it is most important that we persevere with it.
As well as perseverance, we also need to know what should be practiced and what should be abandoned. Whether we want to practice the Dharma or not is up to us, but if we do, investigation and learning, or knowledge, are so important. If we know the Dharma, the Omniscient One’s teachings, we develop the wisdom to discriminate right from wrong in our life. Then we can abandon what is wrong and practice what is right and because of that achieve liberation, ultimate happiness, the blissful state of peace. This is the advice from Heart Instructions of the Book of Kadam.
I haven’t yet seen a commentary on this, but my view is that this is achieved by realizing the “skillful means of appearances,” the Prasangika view of very subtle dependent arising. The Madhyamaka school is subdivided into Svatantrika and Prasangika, and this is the view of the latter, the Prasangika—very subtle dependent arising.
The Buddha realized ultimate wisdom and then revealed it to us sentient beings. Because of that, numberless sentient beings have already been liberated from oceans of samsaric suffering and brought to peerless happiness, full enlightenment. “Abiding in the sphere of the wisdom” means gaining a direct perception of emptiness through equipoise meditation.
We can then lead the other transmigratory beings to liberation. In Tibetan, the word for transmigratory beings is dro-wa, meaning they are not free from the cause of suffering, karma and delusion, but have perpetually been circling in samsara. Hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, gods, demigods and human beings have been circling in the suffering realms from beginningless rebirths. If they don’t meet the Dharma, if they don’t know the Dharma, they will have to suffer like this endlessly, so they are called dro-wa, transmigratory beings. However, by the skillful means of appearances, we are able to liberate those transmigratory beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to ultimate happiness, the state of omniscient mind.
Just reading a little bit about Buddhism without really meditating is like a child playing at meditating. We must do more than that.
Happiness is a dependent arising
What we want is happiness and what we do not want is suffering. This is what everybody wants. Even ants running about busily, day and night, are doing so because of this. When I’m in Nepal, if I spill some sweet tea on my table, almost immediately there are ants crawling all over it. They come in the daytime but at night they are not there. Maybe they are sleeping, I don’t know. Maybe they have a good sleep at night. It seems that some ants do and others don’t, but generally ants are very busy, climbing up trees, climbing down them, so incredibly busy. Just like human beings and everybody else.
In that we are all the same. Just like the insects, like every being, we are all looking to have happiness and avoid suffering. For that reason we are all constantly moving about, looking for food, looking for comfort, looking for everything.
Every single fish in the ocean is like this. I don’t know who guides all those billions and billions of tiny fish, but they are always looking for food while at the same time trying to escape their enemies. There are millions of them, not just the small ones, going everywhere for food and at the same time trying to escape their enemies. That’s just one example, but everyone is like that.
When we look down at the sea from an airplane it is so blue. It looks so peaceful, so calm, with a kind of happiness, without any sense of violence at all. But were we to go just below the surface of the water, the story is very different. There are whales and sharks and other big fish, all eating one another. Sea lions, those great fat creatures, come out of the ocean and laze on the rocks, then go back in and eat the penguins swimming there. The sea lions eat the penguins and then they are eaten by whales or other big animals. One eats another, another eats another and on and on and on.
This is what we would see if we were to go just below the surface of the water, the whole ocean full of numberless sentient beings being eaten by each other. They are always either trying to escape or trying to find food. Most of us humans, fortunately, don’t have that problem.
What a pleasant life we human beings have, what comfort, what freedom. We should use this great opportunity to benefit all living sentient beings, particularly those in this country and this world.
All beings want happiness and do not want suffering. We humans are the same, whatever we are doing, whether we are going by airplane, by boat, by car or by bicycle. The bike race has just finished in Leeds.3 I wasn’t there but I saw it on TV. Everyone everywhere—in the shops, in the restaurants, in the offices, on bicycles—everyone wants happiness and does not want suffering, including the tiny insects that we can only see through a microscope. We all have the same motivation.
What should we do to succeed in our wish to only have happiness? This is an important question, especially after the collapse of the world economy and the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. I even heard that many airlines went bankrupt in both America and other countries, impoverishing many people, making them unable to look after their children. So many people in many countries lost their jobs and were reduced to poverty when those two buildings were destroyed and the economy of the whole world suffered.
Success and happiness are what everybody wants, both believers and nonbelievers—people who are practicing Dharma and people who are not practicing Dharma.
I have just a tiny bit of understanding from hearing about Buddhism and from reading some texts, but what I would like to say is that whether we are believers or nonbelievers, practicing Dharma or not, since we are looking for happiness, since we want success, first we need to create the cause. The success that we want is not independent; it is a dependent arising. Because it depends on causes and conditions, we need to create those causes and conditions. Of course, there is no way animals can understand this. Ants and those small jumping ones, grasshoppers, cannot understand our language.
Not only from reading the Omniscient One’s teachings but maybe a little from my own experience, I can suggest that the first thing we need to do is to fulfill other sentient beings’ wishes, whether they are animals or people. In everyday life, whether we are believers or nonbelievers, whether we meditate or not, it doesn’t matter. If we want happiness and don’t want suffering, this is what we must do. We must serve others and fulfill their wishes for happiness. If we do that, by depending on that cause, the result of happiness will come to us. First we create the cause by bringing happiness to others and then we ourselves achieve the result, happiness.
Perhaps we wish for something and without effort it just happens. Perhaps it happens in the same month, the same day or even after just a few hours. And then it happens more and more, seemingly without effort. Logically, it seems impossible, but because we have created the cause it just happens without any effort. That is really amazing.
I’ll tell you this from my own tiny experience. Over the years I have made some small offerings to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Now, as a result, I’m able to offer more than I could in the past, when I was stingy, miserly, thinking, “If I offer this, what will happen to me in the future? I will lose everything; I will become sick.” Trying to keep everything for ourselves is the wrong way.
If we want success and happiness, first we need to cause others to have success and happiness. From that comes the result, achieving all our wishes—not only temporary happiness but even liberation from samsara and the ultimate happiness of enlightenment, sang-gyä, the total elimination of all obscurations and the completion of all realizations.
Of course, I’m not talking about that from my own experience, but to give a small example, I once offered a pearl mala; I got some pearls and offered them to the Twenty-one Taras. After that I got a dependent arising. From that cause, I received a pearl mala where the pearls were not just fake ones but real, and then more and more came and I was able to offer to the Twenty-one Taras in different places, not just at FPMT centers but at other centers as well, offering more and more. I’m just giving this small example to show how success comes as a dependent arising.
Then there are the general offerings to the Sangha. At Sera Je there are about three thousand monks and we have been offering food to them for about twenty-five years. First they were served a portion of their lunch; then we could offer them a real lunch, and then dinner and breakfast as well. Before that, many monks who came from Tibet had to share their teachers’ food and they never got enough. Their stomachs were never filled and many of them had to return to Tibet, so there was no continual study. However, after we started offering them meals, they were able to stay and continue their studies.
I offer food to Sera Je, but of course, if I could, I would also offer to all of Sera, Ganden and Drepung. Altogether there are six main Gelug monasteries: Sera Me, Sera Je, Ganden Shartse, Ganden Jangtse, Drepung Loseling and Drepung Gomang, but Sera Je is the largest monastery in the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition and the monks who study there are able to continually study Buddhist philosophy, which is as vast and profound as the Pacific Ocean is wide and deep.
This is not just faith; this is also logical. If the monks complete their studies there they become geshes and we can invite them to teach Buddhadharma in the rest of the world. In that way, many sentient beings all over the world get the opportunity to learn and to awaken their minds and to eventually achieve enlightenment.
If conditions in the monasteries deteriorate, however, we won’t be able to get qualified teachers to teach in the rest of the world, like Geshe Tashi Tsering4 here in London, who has been enlightening beings in the United Kingdom for so many years, always teaching the lam-rim and helping the Westerners and Tibetans. If the monasteries become weak, sending great geshes like Geshe Tashi to other countries won’t be possible and sentient beings will no longer get any opportunity to awaken their minds and attain enlightenment.
Even just in the FPMT we have forty-five teachers teaching the Dharma and awakening the minds of students. And this is without considering the other great traditions: Nyingma, Kagyü and Sakya as well as the other organizations within Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition.
I was using myself, my little tiny bit of experience, as one example but there are many others. From the offerings I normally make to my gurus they build monasteries and khangtsens in different places. There are so many other things like this. Collecting more merit, I am able to benefit the teachings of the Buddha and sentient beings more and more. That’s what I do. That is just to show logically what you need to do if you want success.
Karma is definite. This is the first of the four outlines of karma. If we create virtue, engaging in positive, healthy karma, or action, we will definitely experience happiness in this life and future lives. If we create nonvirtue, engaging in unhealthy, disturbing karma, or action, then the result is suffering in this life and other lives.
The second outline is that karma is expandable. If we help somebody—if we give food to an ant or a person, if we fulfill the wishes of one sentient being—the result is that we will have happiness for many lifetimes, for ten, five hundred, even a thousand lifetimes from just that one action of helping somebody, from fulfilling their happiness just one time.
Cherishing even one sentient being brings us to buddhahood, the state of omniscient mind, the cessation of all obscurations and attainment of all realizations. Even cherishing just one sentient being. It helps to keep this in mind. Killing one insect means we will be killed by others for five hundred lifetimes. Cheating one sentient being means we will be cheated for a thousand lifetimes. This is mentioned in the commentary of Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses. Therefore, any negativity, any harm we do will bring us suffering from life to life to life to life. All this has come from our mind; it has not come from others. The reason others are forced to harm us, to cause us suffering, is because of our past mind. It has come from us, from our mind.
The last two outlines of karma are that if the karma has not been created, the result of happiness or suffering cannot happen, and that if the karma has been created, the result of happiness or suffering will never get lost—even after a billion, zillion, trillion eons we will experience it. It never gets lost. We can purify negative karma, but if we don’t purify it, then this is what happens. Similarly, if we don’t destroy the cause of happiness, then we will definitely experience it.
Success, all the way up to enlightenment, has to come from our mind. Therefore, the real, real meditation, the real Dharma practice, is to serve others, to cherish others.
If we help one sentient being, one insect, one person, that is the best offering to the numberless bodhisattvas and the numberless buddhas because that is what they cherish the most. This sentient being—even this one insect, even this one mosquito, even this one ant, even this one person—is most cherished by numberless bodhisattvas and buddhas.
1 Or his. Rather than use "they" or "their" for non-gender specific examples like this, we shall just alternate the genders. [Return to text]
2 By Yongzin Yeshe Gyaltsen, section 8, vv. 18–19. Cf. Thupten Jinpa’s translation in The Book of Kadam, p. 555. [Return to text]
3 The day Rinpoche started this series of teachings, the Tour de France, the most important cycle race in the world, was starting in Leeds city centre a few miles away, with an estimated million people in the streets watching. [Return to text]
4 The resident teacher at Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London, since 1994; author of the Foundation of Buddhist Thought series of books. [Return to text]