Ego, Attachment and Liberation

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Melbourne, Australia 1975 (Archive #329)

In 1975, Lama Yeshe undertook his most extensive international teaching tour, being on the road for nearly nine months. This book contains the teachings and meditations Lama gave at a five-day retreat he led near Melbourne, Australia, in March 1975. In line with Lama’s intentions, this book is dedicated to the awakening of inner freedom within the minds of its readers and all other sentient beings.

See the Related Links for each chapter to access the audio recordings and read along with the unedited transcripts.

Lama Yeshe teaching at Vajrapani Institute, California, 1983. Photo by Carol Royce-Wilder.
Chapter Eight: Taking Suffering and Giving Happiness

We are most fortunate to have been able to pinpoint attachment as the greatest of all problems. When we speak of evil, demons and so forth, it’s the inner devil of attachment we’re talking about. Even though for countless lives we’ve looked outside ourselves for the source of our problems, there’s nothing external to blame. Therefore we should rejoice that we have finally identified this inner cause of all suffering.

We can be quite foolish. Say you’re in a spooky old house some-where with a couple of friends. It’s late at night and you’re watching horror movies on TV. One of your friends says, “Don’t go into the basement; there’s something evil down there.” Then, if you do have to go down to the basement, you feel scared: “There really is something evil down here.” You’re so easily prone to superstition. This is completely silly. There’s no such thing as external evil and fear of it is simply a projection of the evil in your own mind. If you speculate enough your superstitious mind is sure to produce something and where once you were unafraid you now feel fear. All such foolishness comes from attachment.

Therefore finally recognizing that all these negative things— demons, enemies, evil or whatever other terms are used in everyday conversation, science or religion—come from the inner demon of attachment and bravely changing attachment to oneself into concern for others is both wonderful and wise.

There are countless living beings on Earth but very few know about exchanging self and others. This practice may be very difficult but it’s extremely worthwhile. If you can do it, it will help solve all your problems. Changing your outlook in this way transforms whatever misery you perceive into the peaceful path of liberation.

We desperately need a method such as this. Life is suffering; our minds are weak. Exchanging self and others is truly revolutionary and this inner revolution, which has nothing to do with radical external change, completely turns our mental attitude upside down.

If you were to think that Buddhism was simply about sitting in med¬itation practicing concentration, you might reject it: “My knees hurt; my body wasn’t built for this. Buddhism is just a Himalayan lama thing. Anyway, I can’t live without working and taking care of my worldly affairs. Dharma is not for me.” But Mahayana Buddhism is about much more than just sitting in concentration. If you are wise, you can practice twenty-four hours a day.

Whenever any difficulty or problem arises, instead of getting depressed, be brave. Think, “Fantastic. If this problem had not arisen I might have felt I had no problems. This problem is my teacher; all problems are my teacher. They give me knowledge-wisdom and help me recognize more clearly the nature of attachment. This is so wonderful. May all mother sentient beings’ problems ripen upon me right now and may they receive all my merit, fortune and wisdom.”

If you have difficulty taking the suffering of others onto yourself, first practice on yourself. The next time your knees hurt when you’re sitting in meditation, take that pain onto your ego and let it freak out. Let your ego freak out more and more. Practice that for a week.

Then practice taking onto yourself all the suffering you have ever experienced in your life. Your ego and attachment won’t like that either, but let them freak out again. Then slowly, slowly extend your practice to take upon yourself the sufferings of your parents, your friends, all the people in your country and all the people on Earth until you are receiving the problems and suffering of all sentient beings throughout the universe. Then, without hesitation, send out to them all your possessions, happiness and merit.

What is the technique for actually practicing this taking and giving meditation, which Tibetans call tong-len? You combine it with meditation on the breath in what is basically a nine-round breathing meditation.

Start by breathing out through your right nostril. Visualize the air you exhale in the form of white light, the essence of which is all your positive energy and wisdom. This white light radiates to all sentient beings in the six realms of samsara and beyond. It enters their left nostril, goes into their hearts and generates in them great bliss. Visualize the air they exhale in the form of thick black smoke, the essence of which is all their negativity, confusion and heavy suffering. This dark, polluted energy enters your left nostril and goes down into your heart. Don’t leave it outside of you; bring it right down into your heart so that your ego and attachment completely freak out.

The nature of attachment is such that when problems arise, it blindly pushes them away. This practice trains your mind to handle negativity, feel compassion for the others and take their suffering and problems onto yourself, which in turn helps you overcome self-cherishing and cherish others more than yourself.

Do the above cycle of breathing white light out through your right nostril and black smoke in through your left three times. Then breathe out through your left nostril and in through your right three times. Then breathe out and in through both nostrils together three times. At the end of each nine rounds concentrate for as long as you can that you and all other sentient beings have been completely purified of all suffering, negativity and dualistic mind and are fully enlightened, experiencing everlasting bliss that pervades your entire body and mind. When you lose focus on this, repeat the nine rounds once more. Repeat this cycle again and again for the duration of the session.

Don’t think that this is just a fantasy and that doing this meditation makes no difference to the suffering of yourself and others. Actually, it is a profound practice and each time you do it, it brings you and all other sentient beings closer to enlightenment. The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is self-cherishing, and taking on all the suffering, karma and delusions of all sentient beings and giving them all your happiness and merit is best way of overcoming it. The most effective way of training your mind to overcome self-cherishing is to practice tong-len meditation.


Now we have reached the end of this short, dream-like course. At the beginning I said that whether or not these five days become beneficial was up to you. To ensure that they did, you therefore dedicated them to discovering the true nature of your own mind for the benefit of living beings throughout the extent of space. But whether or not you benefit from this course probably depends more upon what you do with what you’ve learned from now on.

During our brief time together you’ve learned how to do both analytical and placement meditation and it would be wonderful if you could continue to practice these when you get home. Of course, as the old Tibetan saying goes, “Meditation without study is like armless rock-climbing.” In other words, you have to have something to meditate on when you do analytical meditation. For this purpose, we strongly recommend the study and practice of the lam-rim teachings—explanations of the steps of the path to enlightenment.

You have also learned some other meditation techniques: the vase-breathing meditation, with attention to the feelings throughout your body; dealing with distractions; listening to your inner sound while chanting the mantra of Lord Buddha; recalling your life’s experiences, going back all the way to when you were in your mother’s womb; the equilibrium meditation; and exchange of self and others with the taking and giving meditation of tong-len.

You also know how to take the eight Mahayana precepts. It would be fantastic if you could do this regularly throughout your life. It is a powerful method of dealing with attachment.

In my talks, the main thing I have tried to do is to give you an experience of how the two departments of ego and attachment are the source of every problem and suffering you and everybody else has ever had. These two minds are your worst enemy and if you are ever to find true freedom and joy, you must get rid of them forever.

Therefore dedicate your life to developing the wisdom understanding the nature of your own mind and working for the happiness of others. Try your best to avoid harming others and generate a warm feeling for all sentient beings.

Thank you so much for coming to this course. I myself have had a wonderful experience. Thank you; thank you so much.