There is a statue of the Buddha in Buryatia, Russia, called the Sandalwood Lord60a that is supposed to have been made during the Buddha’s lifetime. The Buddha was so glorious that the artist could not look at him directly and so he drew the Buddha’s image from a reflection in the water. The statue is standing and because the image was copied from the reflection in water the robes are full of wrinkles. It is said that when the Buddha descended from Tushita, the Land of Joy, to Sankissa in India, this statue walked seven steps without touching the ground and greeted the Buddha three times. The Buddha then predicted the countries to which the statue would go in the future and benefit. The statue originated in India, then went to China and the story goes that the Mongolians, or Russians, stole it from China and brought it to Buryatia.
I had been thinking to go and see that statue. Kyabje Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche went there to pray and meditate and I thought to do the same. However, when I was in Mongolia last year I saw a photo of the statue. It is supposed to be made of sandalwood but in the photo it looked like bronze. The abbot of Ganden Monastery in Ulaanbaatar also told me that it didn’t look like sandalwood but bronze. In the picture, the statue looked more like something made in Japan in modern times and I lost hope that it was from the Buddha’s time. It seems that the real statue may still be in China. I heard that it is in a temple that is never open; it is always kept closed. So I asked a student, Dr. Chiu Nan Lai, if she could find out more about it and see if I can go there in the future, maybe secretly or something.
In Mongolia, the abbots, monks and lay people go to visit a temple in Buriyatia to see a lama who has been in meditation since he passed away more than 80 years ago.60b His subtle mind is still there meditating and even after such a long time his body has not shrunk or become skin and bones but remains the same. Before going into meditation the lama predicted that the Russian communists would come and he instructed the monks to bury his body underground until it was safe to dig him up again. They did as he said and he was buried in a box sitting up in the lotus position for over seventy years. When they eventually dug him up his body had not decayed, though they accidentally cut his nose off when they were digging, and so they brought him back to the monastery. He is still in meditation and when they do Palden Lhamo protector puja sweat comes onto his face.
The abbot in Mongolia told us that there is another meditator who is still buried underground. He has been there since the Russian communists came. They are keeping it secret but will eventually dig him up. Anyway, the abbots and monks go every year to see the lama in Buryatia. He must have been a high lama and very qualified to remain in meditation all this time to benefit the world. It shows the capacity of mind that he developed during his lifetime by practicing tantra. Otherwise, if he were ordinary, by now his body would just be bones, but it is not like that, the subtle mind is still there. This is a very good way of showing how the mind can be developed. We have to know more about the different levels of mind, gross, subtle and extremely subtle.
If the statue in Buriyatia had been the real one, I would have gone to see it, but I didn’t get a visa and it seems it is difficult to get Russian visas in Mongolia. Anyway, I think that particular statue was made in Beijing. I think that’s the real story.
The importance of guru devotion
Phadampa Sangye advised the people of Tingri,61
You should regard the guru as more exalted than the Buddha. If you do that, realization will come in this life, people of Tingri.62
Kadampa Geshe Chayülwa63 was an incomparable practitioner and disciple who correctly devoted to the virtuous friend, following his guru Geshe Chengawa perfectly. If he was doing his mandala offering, piling up the mandala to collect merit, and his guru called him, the moment he heard his guru’s voice, he would immediately stop his mandala offering and run to his guru. If he was writing something, for example, the Tibetan letter na, the moment he heard his guru’s voice, he wouldn’t even wait to finish that letter but would immediately run to his guru’s room to offer service. He had unbelievable devotion.
He cleaned his guru’s room every day, collecting the garbage in his lower robe, his shem-thab, holding the robe in one hand and going down the steps to throw it out. Cleaning was part of his practice. It was not a question of cleaning if there was garbage and not cleaning if there was none. It was a preliminary practice, a daily practice he did every day before sitting to meditate, whether there was garbage or not.
One day he collected the garbage, put it in his shem-thab and went down the stairs as usual, but when he reached the third step he gained a realization. We think that we can attain realizations only by doing formal meditation, with our eyes closed, but it’s not like that. There have been many practitioners who have attained vast numbers of realizations while actively practicing guru yoga, busy serving their guru. In his great commentary Pabongka Rinpoche has cited many stories of guru devotion, correctly devoting to the virtuous friend, that illustrate how many practitioners have achieved realizations by actively serving their guru rather than by sitting on a meditation cushion. My memory’s very bad, so some stories I don’t remember very clearly.
Anyway, on the third step Geshe Chayülwa’s level of mind reached the path of merit and of that path’s three levels—lower, middle and great—the great path of merit. Then, just there, because his mind had become purer, he was able to see numberless buddhas—not on the altar or somewhere else but from that step, just as he was going to throw out the garbage. He suddenly saw numberless buddhas in their nirmanakaya aspect.
This incomparable practitioner who correctly devoted to the guru, correctly followed the guru, said,
If you wish to attain something special separate from the guru—Vajradhara or a mind-seal deity—no attainment will happen in your mental continuum. You have to keep this in mind.
This was his own experience. He had the realization and was expressing what he knew. If we think that something special, like Vajradhara or our mind-seal deity, is other than the guru, then we will not attain it. Mind-seal is how I translate yidam. I don’t know what other people do.64
Also, the Sutra of the Stainless Sky gives very clear advice:
Regard the virtuous friend as more special
Than the tathagatas who have gone beyond,
Who see emptiness as it is.
No matter how skillful and compassionate the buddhas are,
Without the self-condition of the guru
In the mental continuum of sentient beings to be tamed
The buddhas’ holy actions and blessings cannot be received.
Without the guru, even the buddhas themselves cannot occur.65
We should regard the guru as more special than the tathagatas. The Tibetan for tathagata, de-zhin sheg-pa, literally means that they have gone beyond both disturbing-thought obscurations and subtle obscurations to knowledge (sheg-pa) and that they see emptiness as it is (de-zhin). They see all phenomena as empty, as tong-pa. Here, we do not say tong-pa-nyi, “emptiness only,” that all phenomena are emptiness only; we say phenomena are tong-pa, empty of being truly existent. Tathagatas see everything directly “as it is,” de-zhin, which is one part of the term, the other being sheg-pa, “gone beyond.”
Why should we hold the guru more special than the tathagatas? Even though a buddha is so skillful, so compassionate, if there is no self-condition,66 if there is no guru in the mental continuum of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued, they cannot receive the buddhas’ holy actions, the buddhas’ blessings. And then, even a buddha himself or herself cannot happen. (In English you have to say “him or her” but in Tibetan you don’t need to. Sang-gyä can refer to a buddha in a male and female aspect.)
Because a buddha cannot happen without a guru, we must hold the guru as more precious than the buddhas. As the quotation from the Sutra of Stainless Sky proves, that is what Guru Shakyamuni Buddha himself said very clearly.
The first time Lama Yeshe and I went to Australia there were two hundred people at the course in Diamond Valley, Queensland, near Chenrezig Institute. Our hut was some distance from the main tent and the kitchen, which were next to the mountain. The outside of the hut was made of logs cut in half whereas inside was neat and fresh, with the walls made of the stuff you make take-away cups from, Styrofoam. It was all white, except for the floor.
There was Lama’s room, my room and then, through a door, the kitchen. Although we usually had meals from the main kitchen there was a small stove where we made tea and cooked some food. Lama made it. He usually made food really quickly.67
At that time there was a tall man68 with a long nose who was supposed to practice Ganapati—not the Hindu Ganapati but the Buddhist Ganapati, the manifestation of Chenrezig. I think Lama had found a Ganapati statue for him somewhere in Australia. Lama had him help put together a Four-arm Chenrezig meditation for Lama’s upcoming visit to the Chinese Buddhist Society in Sydney. Anyway, he told Lama, “I don’t know who Chenrezig is but I know you, I can see a lama.” I just remembered that.
So now, this is a real story. At Buxa, there was a monk called Jamyang, who was Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s attendant in Tibet. Even though he couldn’t read texts because he was illiterate—he couldn’t even read the Tibetan alphabet—Rinpoche had told him that in the future he would be able to read the Guru Puja by himself, without anybody teaching him. Then, one day in Buxa, he was suddenly able to read the entire Guru Puja from beginning to end. This was the blessing of having served Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo in Tibet. By serving him he purified his mind and it happened exactly as Pabongka Rinpoche had predicted. This was the great benefit of having impeccable guru devotion to Pabongka Rinpoche. He didn’t tell me this himself; Lama Lhundrup told me.
Lama Lhundrup and Jamyang both stayed at Lal Bangla, which was not within the grounds of the Buxa camp itself but on the hill just outside. This was also where Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s incarnation stayed, so Jamyang was again able to serve him in his next incarnation. I went up there to do Dolgyal puja with them a couple of times. While we were doing the protector practices there was a wind blowing and he was able to see the different protectors coming.
Dromtönpa was Lama Atisha’s translator in Tibet, translating Sanskrit into Tibetan. Toward the end of his time in Tibet, Lama Atisha showed the aspect of having sickness. He was sick for quite some time, making kaka and pipi in the bed. Dromtönpa cleaned it up with his hands with no thought of its being dirty. It was unbelievable purification; he purified many eons’ obscurations and collected extensive merit. Suddenly one day Dromtönpa was able to read the minds of sentient beings—even insects like ants—for a distance as far as an eagle can fly in eighteen days.
There are many other stories of people serving the guru who have suddenly realized emptiness or seen deities. That is the power, the benefit of showing devotion to and serving our guru. Our mind is not oneness with ignorance, with obscurations. It is only temporarily obscured and by serving our guru we can purify many eons of negative karma and develop higher realizations such as a direct perception of emptiness.
Correctly devoting to the virtuous friend is the root of the path to enlightenment. If we don’t know how important it is, nothing can happen. It is the root of all realizations from here up to enlightenment, on the Hinayana path to achieve nirvana and the Mahayana sutra and tantra paths to achieve enlightenment. If we correctly follow the virtuous friend with thought and action, if the root is there, we can have success up to enlightenment. Everything depends on this practice, on how much we know of it. This is the reason I have spent a bit of time explaining it, even though I got distracted here and there.
Otherwise we might have done this retreat or that retreat, this practice or that practice, received this teaching or that teaching, this initiation or that initiation, this and this and this, but nothing happens in our mind. Our mind is still like an empty container. Maybe we know the Dharma intellectually, but when a problem comes it looks like we don’t know it at all, like we have never learned it. This is why correctly devoting to the spiritual friend is called the root of the path to enlightenment.
Feeling regret purifies mistakes made in the past but in the West regret is considered bad. Therefore, since we don’t feel regret for the negative things we have done, our mind never changes. Regret can be negative or positive. Positive regret is like healing—when we regret all our past mistakes we naturally purify our negative karma; it becomes thinner. This is a very important aspect of the confession practice. Another is to determine not to commit negative actions again. This gives us the power or energy to destroy the habit of repeatedly creating negative actions. We can reduce and then destroy that habit. It takes time to do, and at the beginning there is still the chance that we will repeat that particular action, but by continuously trying to overcome it, the habit becomes weaker and weaker.
I always feel that if we don’t know the Dharma we don’t know how to enjoy life, whereas if we know the Dharma we can enjoy our life. And especially if we practice bodhicitta—especially if we practice bodhicitta—that is the real enjoyment in life, that is how to enjoy our life the most, to make it most beneficial for sentient beings and for ourselves.
The real beginning is guru devotion
Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion says,
A guru should be subdued in his action, cultivated in his speech, wise, patient and honest. He should neither conceal his shortcomings nor pretend to possess qualities he lacks. He should be an expert in the meanings of the tantra and in its ritual procedures of medicine and turning back obstacles. He should also have loving compassion and a complete knowledge of the scriptures.69
A spiritual friend needs to be wise in leading the disciple on the path to future lives’ happiness, to a perfect human rebirth and then to nirvana and full enlightenment. To do so he must be subdued in mind and manner.
Then also, from the disciple’s side, we have to have firm devotion, enjoy meditation and like virtue very much. I don’t remember the other qualities but anyway, those are the three main ones.70
Kadampa Geshe Chengawa mentioned,
A disciple who practices correct devotion to the virtuous friend, even if he is as foolish as a dog or a pig, will have no difficulty in becoming like Manjushri.71
The real meaning is that if the only thing we have is guru devotion and we know nothing about anything else—even if we are “as foolish as a dog or a pig”—because of that devotion we will have no difficulties in becoming like Manjushri. We can be completely foolish, knowing nothing other than guru devotion, but that will be enough.
With correct guru devotion, whatever we do in this life also becomes a preparation for our future lives, determining whether we will meet a qualified guru or not. This is extraordinary. This is not just for this one life but also for life after life. As we improve in following the guru correctly, as we come closer to becoming an arya bodhisattva and then a buddha, we have progressively fewer difficulties.
In my view, even if a person knows nothing but has very strong guru devotion, that person is the luckiest person. Even though somebody is very clever and knows many things—even if he is a great scholar who knows both the Kangyur and Tengyur by heart and can explain them perfectly—and even if he has a guru, if he has no guru devotion, if he fails to take care of that most vital practice, his life will not improve. The luckier of the two, the one who will achieve enlightenment quicker, is the one who has strong, stable guru devotion.
The other person, the knowledgeable one who fails to take care of his practice, will be unable to integrate all he knows into the lam-rim, the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, and will be unable to achieve the realizations of the two stages of tantra.
Then, when he tries to do shamatha meditation it goes wrong and he gets lots of lung, wind disease, and lots of sicknesses. Life becomes like that. He might look very clever, but not taking good care of his guru devotion practice robs him of any real success in life.
Kadampa Geshe Potowa advised that the guru who leads us should at least emphasize attaining the happiness of the next life so that the aim of the disciple is not just this life’s happiness. We need to renounce this life’s happiness but it should not stop there. There are numberless future lives. More important is to free ourselves from karma and delusion and to no longer need reincarnation, although I myself have no idea how long that takes!
One time, Lama Yeshe and Geshe Thubten were discussing the definition of Dharma, the definition of the renunciation of this life. Geshe Thubten said it was that in your heart you felt that future lives were more important than this life. Here “important” means making more effort for future lives than this life. Lama said maybe that’s not enough; he added that you should be free from the self-cherishing thought as well. Something like that.
The texts then go on to say that the happiness of future lives is still samsaric pleasure and so there is still samsaric suffering, albeit the suffering of change rather than the suffering of pain. Therefore, it is better that the guru emphasizes that nirvana is more important than that. Better still is the guru who emphasizes sang-gyä, the state of the complete elimination of all obscurations and the attainment of all realizations. Achieving enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings is better than achieving nirvana, the state of lower peace for oneself alone. That ultimate level of practice is the most important one.
All happiness comes from Dharma
People who have attained the most precious human body but don’t know Dharma do not know how to make this life useful. They have no idea of anything except how to create the cause of suffering day and night. Whenever they move, whenever they think, they create negative karma. It makes having a good heart difficult. Life is so full of positive things. Even not practicing Dharma, there are many good things they can do to benefit others and themselves but, because their mind is very weak, they cannot think of them.
After many lifetimes of praying and practicing morality they have attained this human body, but for what? What do they have this human body for? It’s so they can again create the cause of the lower realms, nothing else. Whether they are billionaires or zillionaires or whether they are beggars, it’s like that. It’s very sad.
An example is an Indian billionaire I was told about. He had a lot of money but didn’t know what to do with it, so he built a house in Bombay for more than a billion dollars with somewhere between fifty and sixty stories. There were quite a few swimming pools and a rooftop helipad. He needed six hundred people to take care of the house for him.
After the house was completed he had a feng shui expert come to check out the house. The expert said that the house was very harmful; it was not good for him. So then the whole family moved out, leaving the house empty.
If we were billionaires we could help a lot of poor people even just in India, without talking about other countries. There are many poor people who are suffering, who are homeless, without food, and there are many ways in which we could help bring them happiness. We could build houses for them or we could give them food. This man had an unbelievable amount of money and all he could think of doing was to build something for his family. That’s so poor, so sad.
If we were like that man and were to suddenly die in our sleep from a heart attack or something, what then? Many people die. They go to bed alive and the next morning they cannot get up because they’ve become a corpse. This happens to millions of people in the world every day. If we were to suddenly die like that, what is the connection between this life and the next? We collected all that wealth but only our mind continues into the next life. We cherished our body more than we cherished the buddhas and bodhisattvas, more than we cherished all the sentient beings, but even that has to be left.
It is very difficult to feel confident that our next rebirth will be in the upper realms. It depends on whether we have created virtue or nonvirtue, and the nonvirtue we collect every day is very strong—it is perfect—whereas whatever virtue we might collect is very weak. Even if we do manage to create some virtue, we destroy it by getting angry and having ill will. Whenever we fail to practice patience and compassion, anger arises and blows away our merit. Since whatever little virtue we have created is not dedicated for enlightenment, our merit is completely destroyed by anger and the result is rebirth in the lower realms, which is utterly unimaginable.
When we look at the sentient beings in this world, including ourselves, our entire life is spent working for attachment, and not attachment to a good rebirth and the samsaric pleasure of the next life but attachment to this life, attachment only to this life. Except for those who are practicing Dharma, everybody in the world—billionaires, zillionaires, beggars—is working for attachment to this life, the eight worldly dharmas. We have become servants to money, servants to work, servants to attachment to this life.
Furthermore, we also get angry, so we are servants to anger too. And ignorance is there all the time, especially the ignorance that holds the I and the aggregates as truly existent, the ignorance that is the root of samsara. Day and night, all the time, we are completely servants to that as well. This is our life.
Happiness comes from Dharma; our job comes from Dharma; money comes from Dharma. That is the main cause, good karma, the positive mind, the positive actions of body, speech and mind. This is something that normally only people who know Dharma would understand. Worldly people do not know this; they do not know that everything positive, all happiness, comes from Dharma.
Practicing Dharma is more important than anything else but it is so difficult for the majority of people in the world to practice it. They are unable to create virtuous actions—the positive, pure, healthy actions that are the cause of happiness—because they do not know about the mind, they do not know about karma. Whether they are billionaires, zillionaires or beggars, they do not know about Dharma, and so day and night, whatever they do with their body, speech and mind becomes an action of attachment; it becomes nonvirtue.
There are people who are ignorant of Dharma but who naturally have a good heart. People who think of others can possibly collect merit, but without dedicating or practicing patience and compassion, that merit can easily be destroyed.
If, on the other hand, we dedicate whatever merit we create to achieving the state of the omniscient mind, then even if anger or heresy arise, that merit might become weaker but cannot be completely destroyed. As Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo said, even though you can remove many rocks from a big mountain, the mountain itself will remain. Merit that has been dedicated for enlightenment can be harmed but not completely destroyed. When it has not been dedicated it can very easily be totally destroyed.
The best way to dedicate is with emptiness. That is why, when I do the dedications at the end of a teaching, I do them with emptiness. If we dedicate our merit by meditating on emptiness—not just saying the word “emptiness” but meditating on emptiness—the merit will not be destroyed and later, if heresy or anger arise, they will not even weaken it.
Kyabje Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche said only emptiness, and nothing else, can directly eliminate the root of samsara, the ignorance holding the I as truly existent. Although it can help, even bodhicitta does not have the power to do this.
The importance of the Dharma and Dharma centers
Just a little investigation will show clearly how much suffering sentient beings are experiencing. Even if we don’t consider all sentient beings and simply look at the people in this world, we can see how much suffering they must endure by being ignorant of Dharma and how much not knowing Dharma harms them in this life. Even here in this world, where the Buddha descended in the past and where Buddhism still exists, human beings are still suffering so much. It hasn’t stopped yet. Looking at the plight of others, we should appreciate how greatly fortunate we are to not only know Dharma but be able to continue to study and assimilate it into our life.
From that perspective we can see how important a Dharma center is; a place with a teacher, a translator and a good, functioning organization. That is unbelievably important. It is so beneficial and so needed.
I want to use this opportunity to thank everybody who works for the Dharma centers in the different countries and here in England, at Jamyang London and Jamyang Leeds and the other study groups. I want to emphasize how important it is. Even small study groups are very important. Even just one person volunteering at a center is very important.
This is how a person’s connection with the Dharma begins. At the very beginning, her mind is totally closed and she has no idea what to do. But then she has a chance conversation with a center volunteer in the street or in the center’s café and that leads to her coming to classes and reading books. Just being able to see Dharma books opens the mind to think about new phenomena, to think about new ideas in life. From that she can discover new ways to attain happiness. Even just by chatting to somebody on a bus about compassion you are able to open that person’s mind. You take that opportunity and it starts from there.
When you simply talk to people about Dharma or Buddhist philosophy and they get interested, you can gradually help guide them. You are able to benefit sentient beings one-by-one like that. You can give them Dharma books or show them how to find teachings online. Nowadays there are so many more possibilities than there were before. There are many different ways of helping, so many different books they can read according to their particular problem. That’s how even small study groups are very important.
All of us came to Buddhism through somebody’s introducing us to it. Of course, this is all on the basis of previous karma, our past lives’ karma. Then we went on to learn and practice and become more involved. There are many ways of helping and, of course, because we can’t stand seeing all sentient beings suffering so much, we need to achieve enlightenment ourselves.
So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody from the depths of my heart, especially the people who have been serving the FPMT organization, working for centers in different countries, and especially everybody in England. You have been helping others, teaching, giving happiness to others. That is vital. Others have helped us, so now we should help them. On behalf of Lama Yeshe, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, all the buddhas and bodhisattvas and all sentient beings, I would like to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart.
Rinpoche learns English
We all need enlightenment. I don’t know who used the word “enlightenment” as a translation for jang-chub. It might have been the Sikkimese person who made the very old dictionary I had in Buxa.72 It was very old and was printed on very bad paper; even if you put a paper clip on it, it would tear.
I tried to memorize the dictionary. Lama Yeshe and I tried to learn English the way we learnt Dharma texts, by memorizing the whole book. There was no other way because at Buxa we had no opportunity to use English. When I met the head of the lama camp, the Punjabi Sikh from the Second World War that I mentioned before, I would say, “How are you?” or something. There was no other conversation.
There were two lower caste Indians working in the khangtsen kitchen. One of them was called Pokang Babu, but I don’t remember the name of the other one. Anyway, there wasn’t much conversation with them either. Because we didn’t have a chance to use it, we forgot it. I could memorize most texts well but not that dictionary! The husband of a relative in Ghoom gave me some English books.73 He taught at St. Joseph’s School, a very good quality Christian school in Darjeeling. I checked the meanings of various words and tried to memorize them but then forgot them and had to memorize them again. I did that a few times. Otherwise, the books were of no use.
And of course there was the pronunciation. Because I didn’t learn from somebody, when I tried to use a word it just didn’t work, like the word “ritual.” Freda Bedi, who I also mentioned earlier, ran a school in Delhi for young lamas and invited me to go there many times, but I didn’t go until I got TB. Then I went and stayed there for six months. Later on she moved the school to Dalhousie, which I also attended. Once she asked me about His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, but when I tried to say he was doing many pujas and used the word “rites,” she didn’t understand at all. She thought I’d said he was writing! So then we had to look for a translator.
It’s very strange how life turns out; very, very strange. I must tell you this. When I was in Darjeeling somebody took me to see an English movie, the only time I saw one. English movies were shown in the evenings, while the Hindi ones played in the daytime. Sometimes an elder monk from Tibet would take us to see a Hindi movie and they were OK, but the night I was taken to see the English movie and saw how busy people were, going all over the place in airplanes and running around so busily, I made many prayers to never be reborn in the West! Even the Tibetan ladies who were sitting behind me watching the movie could hear me praying. I remember that, my very first Western movie. But now I live in the West! I’m in Asia from time to time but I live in the West. That’s why I said it’s strange the way the life turns out.
Vajrayana is like the sun and moon
As Lama Tsongkhapa, the omniscient one, explained, there are two vehicles, or yanas, that can take us to enlightenment, the fully purified and completely realized state. They are the Paramitayana and the profound Vajrayana. Of those, the Vajrayana, or Secret Mantra, is more special, more exalted than the Paramitayana. He said it’s like the sun and the moon, which means it’s supreme, the best, in terms of attaining enlightenment.
If we don’t have bodhicitta, we can still develop renunciation of samsara and achieve the five paths of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle. In this way we can free ourselves from the oceans of samsaric suffering and attain the ultimate happiness of lower nirvana, the blissful state of peace for oneself alone. But we can’t attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. For that, we need bodhicitta.
It’s said that we can attain full enlightenment by following the Paramitayana path, practicing the bodhicitta aspect of the three principal paths. In reality, by following this path, when we’re about to attain enlightenment, without receiving initiation and actualizing the clear light, we can’t.
So finally, even though we’ve collected all the merit—the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue—and purified all the defilements necessary to attain the dharmakaya, the buddha’s holy mind, and the rupakaya, the buddha’s holy body, and it has taken us three countless great eons to do so, when we’re close to enlightenment we still can’t get there without the Vajrayana.
As the great lay pandit, the great holy being Lobpön Chandragomin pointed out, during the three countless great eons that we’re accumulating the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue, sentient beings are undergoing sufferings in samsara, and that’s unbearable. It takes so long to reach enlightenment following the Paramitayana path. It’s unbearable that the transmigratory beings have to suffer that much and for that long.
Therefore we should practice the quick path of tantra, but not with the attitude, “Great! I can get enlightened quickly and then I can relax. I can bliss out,” like taking LSD or some other drug. It’s not like that, where you’re totally hallucinated and spaced out and don’t know what’s going on in the world or even if it’s day or night. There are many people like this. They either don’t know Dharma or don’t practice it. But even if you practice just a little Dharma, it reduces attachment, you have some renunciation and it helps bring peace.
If you don’t know the Dharma or don’t practice it, you have no protection and no method to bring happiness into your life. Then all you see is problems. The only life you know is one of dissatisfaction. And then, like many other people in the world, you get fed up and perhaps even commit suicide. This probably happens every day. People don’t know what to do, they don’t know how to bring themselves happiness and are overwhelmed by problems. It’s such a pity; this is very sad.
So, we must help sentient beings but we cannot wait the three countless great eons that it takes to become enlightened following the Paramitayana path. Therefore we have to practice tantra, the Vajrayana, which allows us to become enlightened in an incredibly short time.
As the omniscient Lama Tsongkhapa said,
Please bless me to enter
The holy gateway of the fortunate ones:
The supreme vajra vehicle.74
Of the three vehicles, Hinayana, Mahayana Paramitayana and Mahayana Vajrayana, the latter is supreme. It is the holy gateway of the fortunate capable beings, who, among sentient beings who are objects to be subdued, are like jewels, with so much merit and intelligence. To achieve full enlightenment in one life, this is the holy gateway we must enter, so, “Please grant me blessings to enter that.”
We must practice the various levels of tantra: Kriya Tantra, Charya Tantra, Yoga Tantra and Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra (or Highest Yoga Tantra). Doing so will give us the skillful means we need to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime.
As I mentioned before, transmigratory beings are completely under the control of delusion and karma, totally without freedom. All the time they migrate through the six realms again and again and again, and suffer and suffer and suffer unbelievably, continuously. There is nothing new that they have not already done from beginningless rebirths but they are unable to remember.
To free these transmigratory beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment, we must practice tantra to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. This is the motivation for practicing any of the four classes of tantra. But with the lower tantras, we begin by achieving a long life, where we can live for hundreds and thousands of years, and eventually achieve enlightenment.
With Highest Yoga Tantra, however, there is no need to do that. Even though the practices of the lower tantras are more skillful than those of the Mahayana Paramitayana, the sutra vehicle, Highest Yoga Tantra is even more skillful than those, and through it we can achieve full enlightenment, the unified state of Vajradhara, in one brief lifetime of these degenerated times, with no need to prolong our life. So, because of that, it has the greatest skill.
How can we be happy while others suffer?
As the bodhisattva Thogme Zangpo mentioned in his Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva,
When your mothers, who’ve loved you since time without beginning,
Are suffering, what use is your own happiness?
Therefore to free limitless living beings
Develop the altruistic intention—
This is the practice of bodhisattvas.75
Totally ignorant of the cause of happiness and the cause of suffering, we worldly beings think we’re always working for happiness but in reality we are constantly creating the cause of suffering. We keep ourselves totally busy, day and night, like ants frantically running around, up and down trees or whatever. Because our motivation is not even attachment to future lives but just attachment to this life, every action of our body, speech and mind becomes negative karma.
In that, we are no different from insects, spiders, crickets, ants and so forth. Our motivation is identical to theirs. Likewise the billionaire, the zillionaire, the trillionaire—there is no difference; their motivation is identical. We have all been billionaires, zillionaires, trillionaires, kings in the god and human realms, Indra and Brahma, numberless times.
We are just like those slugs that come out when it rains. Just like them, we work only for this life, so every action we do is nonvirtuous. And even if we do collect a little virtue, because we have so many enemies, anger arises frequently and very easily due to the habituation of our mind, and whatever merit we might have accumulated is continuously destroyed.
We might intellectually know about merit, thinking, “I’ve done this retreat; I’ve done that preliminary practice; I’ve studied this and studied that; I’ve done so much, so much,” but, as I mentioned, our mind is the same as it ever was or even worse. It’s as if we never met the Dharma. Problems still come. Before they meet the Dharma, some people have very few negative emotions, but the more they engage in intellectual study of the Dharma, if they don’t practice, the stronger their negative emotions grow. More pride, anger and so forth arise, causing constant suffering now and in the future.
So, Thogme Zangpo asks how can we be happy while numberless sentient beings are suffering? What use is being happy like that? He then says that in order to free others from the oceans of samsaric suffering we must generate bodhicitta, the practice of the bodhisattvas.
Until we are free from the control of karma and delusion we must constantly suffer: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change and pervasive compounding suffering. We encounter the suffering of the six realms and suffer again and again, endlessly. Therefore, we need to be free from the whole of samsara and achieve lower nirvana, the blissful state of peace.
But that alone is not sufficient. Rather, we must achieve great nirvana, full enlightenment. We must free ourselves from even the subtle obscurations, the obscurations to knowledge, especially for all sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment as quickly as possible. We must achieve full enlightenment as quickly as possible. This is why we must practice Highest Yoga Tantra.
60a Tibetan: Tsandan Jowo; Chinese: Zhantan foxiang ji; Mongolian: Candan Juu. For more on the history of this statue, see From North India to Buryatia, The “Sandalwood Buddha” from the Mongols’ perspective, Isabelle Charleux. The statue Rinpoche is referring to in Buriyatia is in Egituysky Monastery, Yeravninsky District, around 200 miles from Ulan Ude. [Return to text]
60b Dasha-Dorzho ltigilov, or “Hambo Lama,” was a Buryat Buddhist master who passed away in 1927 and whose body is still preserved sitting in the lotus position at his temple in Ivolginsky Datsan near Ulan Ude, Russia. It is close to the border with Mongolia and around 350 miles from Ulaanbaatar. Rinpoche has not been. For more information and photographs, see Wikipedia. [Return to text]
61 A town in southern Tibet not far from the Nepalese border. [Return to text]
62 Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 176. [Return to text]
63 See also Heart of the Path, pp. 109–10. [Return to text]
64 In other teachings Rinpoche has explained that “seal,” as in mahamudra, or “great seal,” refers to sealing the mind, as one does an envelope, making it inseparable with the meditational deity, or yidam. [Return to text]
65 Also known as The Sutra of Immaculate Space (Tib: nam-kha dri-ma me-pä do). See a similar quote in A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar, p. 32. [Return to text]
66 Tib: dag-kyen, also called dominant or main condition; one of the four conditions giving rise to a moment of consciousness, the others being the focal condition (mig- kyen), the immediately preceding condition (de-ma-thag-kyen) and the causal condition ( gyu-kyen). See How Karma Works, p. 135, n. 49. [Return to text]
68 The American student John “Jampa” Laine. [Return to text]
69 V. 8. [Return to text]
70 For extended teachings on the qualities of the guru and of the disciple, see Heart of the Path, pp. 29–48. [Return to text]
71 Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 114. [Return to text]
72 Kazi Dawa Samdup (1868–1923), who published An English-Tibetan Dictionary in Calcutta in 1919. He also translated and published with W. Y. Evans Wentz as editor the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa and Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. See his very interesting entry in Wikipedia. [Return to text]
73 Ghoom is a small hilly locality five miles from Darjeeling, West Bengal, where Samten Chöling, Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery, is located. This is where in 1967 the Lamas met Zina Rachevsky, their first Western student. [Return to text]
74 The Foundation of All Good Qualities. [Return to text]
75 V. 10. [Return to text]