Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo), Tsongkhapa's classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a twelve-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English. The transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. Webcast recordings of these teachings are available through His Holiness’ official website.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala.

Day Three, Morning Session, July 12 2008

Transcript #4


Chanting of the Heart Sutra in Tibetan. [not included in audio file #4 on labsum.org]

Different Religious Traditions All Serve Humanity1

His Holiness: Now today, I think in the beginning I want to say that on this planet there are different religious traditions, and at different times, in different locations, these different traditions developed. Each tradition is suitable to the people where these traditions started. So therefore, for the last more than a thousand years, in some cases two thousand, in some cases more than one thousand, these traditions really served humanity. And even today millions of people get inspiration from these traditions. It is a fact. And in the future also these major traditions will remain, serving humanity.

Occasionally some problems happened also in the past. I think now in the future maybe, hopefully, now better, less of that problem, because of closer understanding and better awareness about the value of other traditions.

So for the different people of different traditions, it suits them. Therefore in the West, generally, mainly Christianity is dominant, the Judeo-Christian background. So therefore it is better to keep your own tradition, your own religious tradition, because it is safer and better.

I often tell some stories which I myself observed. One Polish lady, a member of Theosophy, from maybe early 50s or late 40s even. At the 1956 Buddha Jayanti Celebration, I came. Then I visited the Madras Theosophical Society there, so I met her. Then after ‘59 that old Polish lady became very close with Tibetans. She also helped some young Tibetan students’ education. So eventually she accepted Buddhism as her own religion. But later, when I think her age was beyond 80, at the time of her final days, it seems in her mind the concept of God creator seems now becoming more alive. So certainly it creates some confusion in her mind.

Then another story. One Tibetan lady, her husband an official of the Tibetan government, he passed away. Then some small children remained with her. Then some Christian missionary took care about the education of their children. So then in early or mid-60s, I think mid 60s, one day she came to see me and expressed to me these sort of sad stories. Then she told me, for this life, now Christian missionaries are so helpful, so she also now became Christian. So for this life she’s Christian, but in the next life she’ll be Buddhist. So this also, you see, is a very clear sign of confusion. I think in reality neither Buddhist nor Christian.

Therefore it is much better to keep one’s own tradition. So when I give some lecture on Buddhism in the West, I always make this clear because sometimes I feel a little hesitant. Whereas when I give a Buddhist lecture to Chinese, or to Tibetans, or to Mongolians, or Japanese, or Vietnamese, traditionally the majority of them are Buddhist. So then no problem. In fact, I get a feeling of handing over their traditional teachings, their own religion. Particularly when I give some Indian… some Buddhist teachings to some Indian Buddhists, I really feel something very, very touching, very moving. Like that.

So I always am telling… or feel that all these, my sort of talks, my message in different parts of the world wherever I go, all these things, you see, are nothing except the ancient Indian thought. That’s all. The message of nonviolence, ahimsa, that’s the Indian tradition.

And all these now last few days of talks, are the treasure of the Nalanda institution. So like that. Therefore when I give some teaching or explanation to my Indian friends, I really feel how the treasure—which they generally lost—through centuries in Tibet we kept alive. Now this is returned to them. So I really feel something, something very happy, or sometimes very much emotion. Like that.

So it is important to keep one’s own tradition. Meantime, you can carry some practice from other traditions, for example, from Buddhist tradition. Some of my Christian friends practicing certain techniques or methods about compassion, about tolerance, contentment, in these fields they practice—they use some Buddhist techniques without changing religion. So that’s a healthy way. That’s very good.

Sometimes I’m jokingly telling some of my Christian friends who are showing interest about emptiness, then I am usually telling them, “This is not your business.” Not think, you see, these things. Then it may sort of harm their sort of solid sort of faith towards creator. Something absolute. Something very strong. So from Buddhist viewpoint this is difficult.

However, many years ago in England, one Christian group, they asked me for an explanation on gospel to the Christian community. So that’s a difficult task, isn’t it? As a Buddhist—from strictly speaking a non-believer about God, about Creator. So one non-believer trying to help to promote faith of creator!

Then I tried my best, you know, to utilize some of the reasons, you see, used by some of those ancient Indian traditions which believe Creator. So I used these methods, these sorts of reasons. So afterward, many of the audience were very much sort of pleased. After hearing my explanation about some passages of the Gospel, you see, they really get deeper understanding about God.

And of course, you see in all teachings, traditions, from the philosophical side there are big differences, but on the practical level—the same. The practice of love, kindness, and with that, forgiveness, tolerance, and also self-discipline and contentment. All these— same practice. And faith.

So one of my Christian friends in Australia, one I think a minister, he also you see very much involved helping poor people. Once, you see, in my public talk he introduced me at the beginning. So he described me as, “A good Christian.”

That’s nice, isn’t it? So sometimes I jokingly telling him, “I consider you as a good Buddhist.”
So there are reasons, you see, all these common practices are sincerely practiced and dedicated to well-being of others. That’s the purpose. As a result, you yourself feel, “Ah!”—fulfilled of one’s own purpose of our life.

Just a luxurious sort of way of life and spend a lot of money, and meanwhile, same planet, some people facing difficulties or even starvation. Isn’t it? So helping others, serving others is, I think, the real meaning of life.

After all, God created as a social animal. So there must be some meaning. So therefore as a social animal, the basis— the very basis of sort of survival of the community of the social animal—affection, taking care of each other, or taking a sense of concern and helping each other. Like that. So.

Answering Three Big Questions: What is the Self? 2

Now I want to… I want to start the three questions. On one occasion in India, some interfaith sort of meeting, I think one Jewish… I think one Jewish and also one Sufi practitioner raised three questions. First question: “What is self? What’s ‘I’?” Second question: “Whether there is a beginning or not of the self?” And third question: “Whether there is end of self?” So three questions.

Now in order to answer the first question, “What is self?” now the real demarcation— Buddhism and non-Buddhism. Buddhism, Buddha’s teaching’s emphasis—no independent soul or independent self. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Buddhism rejects any notion of a self that is independent of the physical and mental elements of the individual.

His Holiness: I think that’s the demarcation—Buddhism and non-Buddhism. All the rest of the non-Buddhist traditions, within non-Buddhist traditions, the theistic and non¬theistic—all accepted soul, soul theory, some independent self which owned this body and mind. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Of course, when it comes to identifying what exactly is the nature of that self, even within the Buddhist tradition there is a divergence of opinions, a diversity of positions.

Is There a Beginning to the Self?

His Holiness: Now second question: “Whether there is a beginning or not?” In order to answer that question, now concept of God comes. If there is a beginning that God created, so some (according to Christianity)—this very life created by God. It is wonderful, I think. Very, very wonderful sort of presentation…

Thupten Jinpa: …concept…

His Holiness: …concept. Because the very purpose, or very, I think, the essential, essential of Christianity is love or affection. So therefore, now this very life created by God. That brings strong sort of feeling of intimacy with God, like my… like our own mother. This body… comes from mother or parent, particularly mother. Therefore even animals, very close feeling. So similarly this very life given by God. So that means we are very close to the... towards God. The more feeling of intimacy, the more willingness to listen God’s sort of advice, or God’s wish. Like that.

Then, non-theistic religions, including Buddhism, now law of causality, so no certain sort of creator. Causes and conditions—actually causes are the creator of the result. So that cause is also result of previous sort of causes. So through that way, now, as far as Buddhism is concerned, logically cause-effect... that logic they use. Then if there’s a beginning without cause, then difficult. So every event must be... [have] its own causes.

[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So (although the discussion will come later on) for example in the context of the teaching on the twelve links of dependent origination (which will come up in Lamrim Chenmo and the later discussion) Tsongkhapa explains the Buddhist understanding of the origination of things. And there, citing from the Buddha’s sutra on dependent origination, he makes, cites, the statement where Buddha states that “because this exists, that exists,” and “because this arises... this has arisen, that arises.”

So with these two statements… In the first statement Buddha is pointing out that things come into being from their causes and conditions. And this is explained in terms of what is called the conditionality of absence of prior intelligent design. The idea here is that things do not come into being as a result of some intelligence, prior intelligence, that designs them and as a result they come into being, but rather they come into being from their own causes.

And then the second point, statement, when the Buddha says that, “because this has arisen, that arises,” Buddha is making the point that there is the second conditionality which is the conditionality of impermanence. And the idea here is that not only do things originate from their causes but the causes themselves are impermanent, and the causes themselves are products of their own corresponding causes. So in this way when you relate the chain of causation, events come from their causes and causes themselves, being transient, come into being as a result of their own corresponding causes which in turn come from their own causes and so on.

So in that way, when you trace the causation from the Buddhist point of view, if you try to posit a beginning, it runs into logical problems. And because if you posit a beginning there are two alternatives to this beginning; either one has to accept a notion of some kind of uncaused event, so one will have to say that that beginning point was totally uncaused. But then an uncaused event becomes problematic because the fact that events, particular events sometimes come into being and sometimes do not is an indication that they are dependent upon some causation. So the notion of an uncaused event is rejected.

The second possibility is to say that the first event was caused by a permanent cause, an eternal, permanent cause. Again here the problem with permanent causation is that then one will have to maintain that this cause can never produce an effect at all, or if it does produce an effect, then it should be producing the same event, effect, continuously, if it is a permanent causation. So on this basis, Buddhism rejects any notion of a beginning to the causal chain because that beginning will have to be either uncaused or caused by a permanent entity.

So, and then the Buddha makes the third statement where he says that, “because of ignorance, volitional actions arose.” And here he refers to what is called the conditionality of potential, potentiality. And the point being made here is that, not only do things come into being from their causes and conditions, but also the causes and conditions are impermanent, and even here, not anything produces everything. There should be a kind of commensurable relationship between the causes and effects so that the characteristics, the specific characteristics, of the effects are dependent upon the specific characteristics and qualities of the causes. So there needs to be a relationship of commensuration between causes and conditions.

So in the case of the twelve links of dependent origination, the first cause in the causation chain is identified as ignorance because, as explained before, at the natural level, none of us wishes for suffering, but at the same time, we continue to create conditions for suffering. And that’s why the root cause of our suffering is ignorance, and that’s why, in the twelve links of dependent origination, ignorance is identified as the first link, the first member in the twelve links.

His Holiness: So now in order to answer whether there is a beginning or not of the self—now since self is a designation on the combination of body and mind, so in order to get an answer, make an answer, whether there is a beginning or not, we have to find out the… [continues in Tibetan].

Thupten Jinpa: So then the question of whether or not there is a beginning to our self really boils down to whether or not one can posit a beginning to the continuum of the mind and body, the physical and mental aggregates, which is really the basis upon which the notion of self arises.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if you look at what we call aggregates, or skandhas, physical and mental aggregates, we can summarize them into two main classes. One is a type of aggregate that has physical properties or material properties and form and so on. Then there is another class of phenomena that belong to the category of aggregates which are not physical, which are in the nature of subjective experience.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now if you compare the two, the physical and the mental aggregates, when it comes to the physical aggregates (although one can talk about a very subtle level of physical aggregates, so setting that question aside) generally when we talk about the physical aggregates, we are talking about the physical body of this life. So, the physical body of life of the individual changes from life to life.

So therefore the kind of the more enduring continuum that we find with respect to the individual’s existence is really at the level of the mental aggregate. So therefore, when we talk about the person or the self as being designated upon the continuum of the aggregates, we are talking about primarily designating the person on the basis of the continuum of the mental aggregate, the mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here it becomes important to contemplate whether or not consciousness has a beginning, the mind has a beginning.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So even with respect to material objects or physical phenomena, although one can speak of different types and different kinds in the physical world, but if we were to think about their continuum in terms of the kind of… the elementary material that composed their existence, then even in the case of physical entities, it would be very difficult to posit a real beginning, an absolute beginning.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact, from our current scientific understanding or point of view, all of the material phenomena that exist in the world, including the physical bodies of the sentient beings that inhabit the natural world—the sources of all of these can be traced back to the beginning of the universe, which in the scientific understanding is pointed toward the big bang, the event of the big bang. But even here we then have to ask where did the big bang come from? Where did that event come from?

His Holiness: There must be tremendous sort of energy so then the explosion happened. So there must be substance of that energy. So its own causes go like that. So even on the physical level, I think very difficult to accept beginning…. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the simple reason really is that things arise from their previous continuum and which share some relationship of continuity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So similarly, now if we think about the continuity or continuum of consciousness, then we are talking about a phenomenon that has no form, that has no shape, that has no color, that is in the nature of subjective experience, but that does have an effect in terms of our experience of happiness and suffering. So this is a phenomena, when we try to understand its existence, we will again, from the causal point of view, kind of attribute its existence to some kind of previous continuum that shares the same characteristics.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when it comes to tracing the source and continuum, earlier continuum, of our physical body, then in the case of our body we can trace it to parents’ regenerative fluids. However, when it comes to tracing the source and earlier continuum of our consciousness and mind, we cannot attribute that to the parents’ mental continuum or parents’ consciousness or mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this way, if we try to trace the kind of the earlier continuum of our consciousness, particularly from the point of view of the substantial cause of that phenomena, it would be very difficult to posit, again, a real, absolute beginning to consciousness.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Because if we were to posit an absolute beginning to our consciousness, then again we will have two alternatives, two choices. One is to say that the first instance of consciousness came from nowhere, so it was a totally uncaused phenomena; or we will have to admit that at that point, consciousness arose from a cause that did not share the same nature, similar kind of characteristics.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then of course, it is not just the Buddhists who accept the notion of previous existence, previous lives, and rebirth. So in all of these philosophical traditions that subscribe to the notion of previous existence and rebirth, one of the key arguments that is used is to cite the empirical example of individuals who recall their past lives’ experience.

His Holiness: According to my own sort of experience…

Thupten Jinpa: …observation…

His Holiness: … observation, you see, I met some Indian girl, at least two, memory of her past life so convincing. So in one case the four parents, parents of this life and the parents of the immediate previous life, the previous life’s parents also accepted this young girl, so convincing. So they accepted as their own girl. So one girl, I think fortunately, four parents.

In these cases you see some clear indication of reflection of the past life there. But they cannot read letter. Some ...on some occasion, in some instance, one Tibetan boy, although I never met, I was told—can read letter. So we need, you see, further investigation, why, in the same category of those who have very clear memory of past life— recognize their past sort of friend and recall their name and their own house, and what kind of articles in their sort of house, everything very clear, and found, you see, the books— but cannot read. In some cases they can even read. So what are the differences? [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: I am wondering whether one can begin to understand these differences on the basis of some genetic dispositions.

His Holiness: I don’t know. I really don’t know. So you see we need these further investigations. Like that.

So, now answer. From Buddhist viewpoint—no beginning of the self.

Is There an End to the Self?

Now the third question—whether there is end or not? Now within Buddhism… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So within the Buddhist tradition there are two different positions on the third question—whether or not there is an end to the self. There is one school of thought that maintains, or one group that maintains, that when one attains the final nirvana, mahabodhi, the great nirvana, at that point one has attained what is called the nirvana without residue, and at that point the very continuum of the self, the individual, completely ceases to exist. Like a flame of a butter lamp just going, blowing out.

His Holiness: So in order to answer these three questions, different traditions then come, or different traditions try to answer differently.

So then in meantime, I must say some of the Americans or Westerners who not only are showing interest about Buddhism but also, you see, become genuine Buddhist practitioners and also become professors, professors of Buddhism. So now I think I must say, generally, general public much better, safer, keep one’s own tradition.

Out of millions of people and, in Tibetan case also ninety-nine percent are Buddhist, but some Tibetans, at least in last four centuries in Lhasa area, there is a Muslim community. Originally they came from Ladakh. They settled in Tibet, and some Tibetan girls married them and ultimately became Muslim. So, no problem.

And some, I think since the beginning of the previous century, twentieth century, some Christians also there, very faithful Christians, although the number is very small. So out of … A few hundred thousand, out of sort of six million Tibetans, some, you see, attracted more towards other traditions.

So like that, among millions of Europeans or Westerners who are basically Christian tradition but some, with sort of special interest about Buddhism, in any case some sort of desire, have some spirituality. And in the meantime your own traditional sort of spirituality not much effective, and in such a case you look at some other tradition, then found Buddhist way of approach is more suitable—then accept. So that’s okay.

And meantime it is important to keep genuine respect towards your traditional religion. That’s important. Like that.

Practical Steps for Improving Oneself3

His Holiness: Now… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now, to return to the teaching itself of the text, at the beginning I would like to cite a stanza from Gung-tang Jam-bay-ang, Gung-tang Rinpoche, where, and this is from his songs on, evoking, impermanence, awareness of impermanence, where he says that:

“At this moment once when I have attained the precious human life of leisure and opportunity, there is a danger that I may lose it without having made this existence meaningful, and therefore now the time has come for me to try to reach towards liberation.”

And therefore, and he admonishes himself, he’s talking to himself, he says that,

“Now therefore I must be held by, seized by, the iron hook of impermanence awareness.”

So what Gung-tang is pointing out here is that we need to recognize the tremendous opportunity that has been accorded to us by our attainment of human existence, when we possess such resources of intelligence and all the facilities of human intelligence. Therefore if we do not recognize this opportunity, there is a danger that we might waste it away. And so what he is saying is that there is a real danger that we may waste it away without fully appreciating the opportunity, the precious opportunity that it provides us.

Therefore he says that, by invoking the notion of impermanence, the awareness of impermanence, particularly of the two important points, facts, that death is certain but how, when, it might befall upon us is totally unpredictable. Therefore one can lose this precious human existence in any moment. So with awareness of that kind of uncertainty and unpredictability of the death and certainty of death’s occurrence, we must motivate ourselves and make our precious human existence meaningful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: In order to make one’s human existence meaningful, the most effective method is to try to really engage in the practice of Dharma by making distinctions between the state of mind during the formal sitting meditation and the state of mind during the post-meditation periods, so that during both of these periods, we maintain our application of mindfulness and introspective awareness, or meta-awareness. And based on that, through the application of these two faculties of mindfulness and awareness, we constantly observe our own mind, and in this way make our human existence meaningful.

His Holiness: These practices are common to all traditions. And in order to carry out these sort of practices, whether we accept religion or not, up to individual. In order to become a good human being, sensible human being, not necessary become religious person. Non-believer are… Wonderful non-believer people also there. But if you accept religion then we should be serious and sincere so that the teaching of one’s own tradition becomes part of our life. So our daily life, from early morning when we start our daily life, one corner of our mind watching our mind, our behavior.

Now for example, on one occasion in Jerusalem, one meeting with some Jews and some Palestinians and some different people. One Jew, one Israeli (profession as teacher) he told our meeting, once he told in his class to his students, “Whenever you meet some people whom you don’t like…” I mean he told the Palestinian students, “…when you meet some Israeli check posts or these things,” (usually they got some irritation) so he advised, “whenever you meet such people, you should think that person—image of God. Remember that.”

So later a student reported to him, “Oh, that advice is so sort of helpful. After that, I heard that sort of advice…” then their mind much calmer, much easier, without much sort of irritation, when they meet, you see, they...

Thupten Jinpa: …when they meet the guard at the checkpost.

His Holiness: So that’s the practice. Implement it. The idea, or religious sort of teaching—implement it on the practical level.

So that’s wonderful. So in order to carry such practice, constantly watch our mind. And for that also, as soon as you get up, try to make some kind of pledge…

Thupten Jinpa: …determination…

His Holiness: …determination. Now, rest of this day, I should be, I should implement what I believe as much as I can. So that’s important. As soon as get up, try shaping our mind, and remind rest of day, rest of the day, I should follow what I believe. Then, end of the day, each, check what happened.

Thupten Jinpa: Review, review the day.

His Holiness: And if you carry that whole day according to your kind of morning’s determination then…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: …rejoice.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then reinforce further your motivation to continue in the same line.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: However, when you do your reviewing, if you do discover that there were certain things that you had actually committed during the day that were contrary to your own religious values and beliefs, then at that point, you should acknowledge them and cultivate a deep sense of remorse, and then reinforce your resolve not to indulge in these actions in the future. And if you continue in this way, then clearly, slowly there will be a real change and transformation within your mind.

His Holiness: So that’s the way to improve oneself. Change, out of just one session prayer—that’s impossible. Constant sort of watching our minds and, day by day, year by year, decade by decade, carry these practices, then improvement definitely come. So that’s common to all believers, all traditions, like that.


Deeper Understanding of the Three Jewels4

His Holiness: Now… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, yesterday we were talking about taking refuge in the three jewels, and, generally, when the object of the refuge is described in the texts, Buddha is described as the supreme among the two-legged human beings. And the Dharma is described as the supreme teaching or supreme truth that is devoid of, or that is free from, attachment and that is tranquil. That is peace. And the Sangha is described as the supreme assembly.

However, if we confine our understanding of the nature and characteristics of the three jewels only at that level, that kind of characterization need not necessarily be very uniquely Buddhist. Because there is some form of taking refuge in other spiritual traditions as well. And also we can apply these qualities to the object of refuge in other spiritual traditions as well.

For example, maybe all the other spiritual traditions would see their own teacher, original teacher, as being supreme among the two-legged human beings. And they will all acknowledge that their dharma, their own spiritual teaching, represents truth that is free of… that is tranquil, peaceful, and that is free of attachment. And similarly they will also have a notion of community because, if it is a spiritual tradition, there will also be a notion of a community.

So in that sense understanding the nature and characteristics of the three jewels only on that level doesn’t really make one’s understanding very deep. And also, if that is the case, then it becomes very difficult to maintain the position that it is the taking… the going for refuge in the three jewels that defines someone as a practicing Buddhist.

So now how do we understand this? And here, a deeper understanding of what is the nature of the Buddha, what is the nature of Dharma that we seek to cultivate within us? What is the nature of the Buddha that we go for refuge to? And what is the nature of the Sangha that we perceive to be the supreme community here?

So with respect to the Buddha, as explained before, of course within the Buddhist tradition there is a divergence of opinion, as explained before. Some schools maintain that when the Buddha attained final parinirvana, nirvana without residue, the entire continuum, continuity, of the Buddha’s existence came to an end. However there is also another opinion on this which is the understanding of buddhahood in terms of the theory of the four kayas, the four embodiments of buddhahood. And in this case, the idea of an absolute end to the continuity of the Buddha’s existence is rejected.

For example in Nagarjuna’s writing, particularly in the Sixty Stanzas, Nagarjuna presents a very explicit argument against the idea that the final parinirvana of buddhahood, Buddha, constituted the absolute end of the Buddha’s existence. And Nagarjuna here says that if that is the case, then the whole concept of someone attaining…The whole notion of someone attaining the nirvana without residue becomes incoherent. Because when the person is alive, the nirvana without residue is not present, and when the nirvana without residue is attained the person is no longer there. So someone attaining… The idea of someone attaining the nirvana without residue just doesn’t make any sense if the continuity of the existence of the individual comes to an absolute end.

And furthermore, the point he raises is that if you look at the various mental states, it is understandable that those mental states that are distorted—that are grounded in a false way of understanding the world and a false way of perceiving the world—since these distorted mental states have powerful antidotes that can bring these distortions to an end, so these distorted mental states will have an end.

However, so far as the essential quality of mind itself is concerned, mind as this mere luminosity and knowing, there is no force, or there is no reason why the continuity of this would not carry on. And there is no force that undermines the continued existence of the essential quality of the mind itself.

And furthermore, from the highest yoga tantric point of view, when we understand consciousness at a very subtle level, we understand consciousness as having dual characteristics. One is the knowing aspect of it. The other one is the kind of moving aspect of it, which we can call energy. And this energy and the knowing aspect of consciousness, they are an inseparable unity. And so on that basis, the continuity of consciousness at this very subtle level, together with this energy, will continue to exist.

And in fact when…. And another point Nagarjuna raises is that…sorry. So in terms of the continuity of this subtle consciousness and the energy that is part of its unity, then one can understand when the individual gains full enlightenment, the consciousness itself, being dependently arisen, its essential nature is emptiness, and this essential nature of emptiness is the ultimate nature of the mind. And so when the individual attains Buddhahood this essential nature of mind, this emptiness of mind, evolves into the natural embodiment of the Buddha, the natural body of the Buddha, svabhavivakaya.

And so at that point, although the mind is by nature unpolluted, but it is tainted by adventitious pollutants and stains. So when one attains buddhahood, the adventitious pollutants are removed. So at that point the natural purity of the mind becomes accompanied by a purity that has been attained through cultivation of the path.

At that point, the emptiness of the mind, the nature of the mind of the individual, becomes the natural embodiment of the Buddha, svabhavivakaya. And the consciousness itself becomes the wisdom dharmakaya, and the energy that is accompanied by that wisdom mind becomes the form embodiment of the Buddha, the Buddha’s rupakaya, and within the rupakaya you can also have the speech and the physical body of the Buddha as well.

So in that sense, from this point of view, one understands that when we talk about buddhahood, it is a state where body, speech and mind, all three of them, have become totally inseparable, a single unity. And in this way, at the state of Buddhahood—because they are all expressions of this single unity of subtle mind and energy—so the Buddha’s body, speech and mind become a single unity.

And then also Nagarjuna explains that, given that there is such a tremendous difference between the arhats and buddhahood, therefore it is untenable to maintain that, as far as the path is concerned, the entirety of the path of buddhahood is exhausted by the practices of the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment and the only difference between the arhat and buddhahood is a matter of, a function of, time difference.

Nagarjuna rejects that notion and says that, because there is a tremendous difference between the two levels of fruition of attainment of arhat and attainment of buddhahood, therefore there must be differences in the actual path that leads to these two fruitions. So therefore in addition to the path of the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment, the path to buddhahood must also include the six perfections, the practices of the six perfections, and so on.

And also the attainment of Buddhahood is fundamentally motivated by an altruistic intention to bring about the welfare of an infinite number of sentient beings as long as space remains or until the furthest reaches of space. When buddhahood is attained the Buddha cannot cease to exist because, just as the motivation projects that kind of time frame, the buddhas continue to exist to bring about the fulfillment of their aspiration to be of benefit to countless numbers of sentient beings until the end of space.

So if you understand the Buddha in this manner, then there is a difference in your understanding of the Buddha as the object of refuge. And similarly, therefore in Uttaratantra (the Sublime Continuum) Maitreya gives, identifies, eight main qualities of buddhahood. And similarly, when he identifies the key qualities of the Dharma, he does not characterize Dharma purely as freedom from attachment, but he characterizes Dharma as being beyond concept, beyond thought, beyond verbalizations and so on. So again he lists different qualities there. And similarly he explains Sangha as a community of practitioners who embody this Dharma with such characteristics.
So when you have that kind of understanding of the nature of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and when you seek refuge in those three objects of refuge, then going for refuge has a very different quality about it. And in this sense, not only it’s an act of going for refuge to the three jewels, but also that act is accompanied by acceptance of what is called the four fundamental seals of Buddhadharma.

So in that sense then, the philosophical approach to becoming a Buddhist (from the point of view of the philosophical view) and the act of going for refuge then converge together.

The Truth of Suffering5

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we’re now in the second part of the main section of the Lamrim Chenmo, which is the stages of the path relevant to the practitioners of… a person of intermediate capacity or middle capacity, medium capacity, and the main practices, teachings, here are the four noble truths. And so these have been explained yesterday so we’re not going to repeat them.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here, to give a broad outline, we can cite from Tsongkhapa’s Songs of Spiritual Experience, a lam-rim in verse, where he writes the following. He says that if one does not strive in the contemplation of the faults of the truth of suffering, then the genuine aspiration to seek liberation will not arise in one.

And this is true because, for example, if we happen to believe that existence in samsara is not a big problem and that it is actually quite joyful and so on, then the genuine wish to seek freedom out of it simply wouldn’t arise. So he…So therefore Tsongkhapa explains that, without striving to contemplate the faults of the truth of suffering, the genuine aspiration to attain liberation will not arise.

Similarly, if one does not contemplate upon the process by which one revolves in cyclic existence on the basis of the origins of suffering, then one will fail to have the knowledge of how to sever the root of cyclic existence. And therefore what Tsongkhapa is saying is that even if you have recognized the nature of suffering, if you do not contemplate upon the origins that lead to the suffering, then simply making a wish, some kind of prayer, is not going to do the task. So therefore Tsongkhapa says that one must therefore cultivate a sense of disenchantment towards cyclic existence and recognize what are the factors that bind us in samsara, in cyclic existence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Now on the question of contemplation on the nature of suffering, in Lamrim Chenmo Tsongkhapa provides three broad sections: the first one reflecting, contemplating upon the eight types of suffering; the next one on the six types of suffering; and then the third one on further meditations on suffering.

So we will read from the eighth of the first eight types of suffering. So this is on page…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan, including brief un-translated discussion with Thupten Jinpa]

Thupten Jinpa: It’s on page 279 (279 of the English translation).

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here we will read from Tsongkhapa’s text. It’s on page 279, second para, sorry, the first para, where he writes the following:

“The Buddha said, ‘In brief, the five appropriated aggregates are suffering.’ Reflection upon the meaning of this teaching again takes in five points. It is the nature of the five aggregates appropriated by karma and the afflictions to be:

(1) vessels for future suffering;
(2) vessels for suffering based on what presently exists;
(3) vessels for the suffering of pain;
(4) vessels for the suffering of change; and
(5) vessels for the suffering of conditionality. Reflect on these again and again.
Here, with regard to the first point, you induce suffering in future lives by taking up these appropriated aggregates.”

So the point Tsongkhapa is making here, by commenting upon these five aspects, is that the first one, with relation to the first one, he’s explaining that the fact that our aggregates have come into being conditioned by karma and afflictions, they have a characteristic and nature that is very close to the, kind of the, forces of karma and afflictions. Therefore one can see they are much more conducive to further aggravation of karma and afflictions. Therefore they are very receptive to suffering, and…

His Holiness: [Begins in Tibetan] …biological factors…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here, you know, we can understand this even in biological terms, and this in fact reminds me of a story. There was a Mongolian scholar, a very learned scholar in Tibet during the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s time, and he happened to be involved in something which led to him being reprimanded, so was kind of slightly disgraced. And he was at that point feeling really sorry for himself. And it is said that he then touched his own body and said, “Well, all of this pain and all of this misery becomes possible because I happen to have this karmically conditioned, appropriated body.”

And similarly, if you look at all the problems in the world, whether it is societal or individual, all the problems exist because, from the Buddhist point of view, we happen to possess an existence that is karmically conditioned and conditioned by afflictions, and there is… we have the basis for all these sufferings to arise.

Then Tsongkhapa writes: “As for the second, the appropriated aggregates form the basis for states, such as illness and old age, that are grounded in the already existing aggregates. The third and the fourth both come about because the appropriated aggregates are linked with dysfunctional tendencies toward these two types of suffering,” referring to the evident suffering and suffering of change. “As regards the fifth, the very existence of the [appropriated] aggregates constitutes the nature of the suffering of conditioning, conditionality.” Then he gives the reason why this is so. He says that, “because all of the compositional factors which depend,” all of the motivational factors “which depend on previous karma and afflictions are the sufferings of [conditionality],” conditioning. Then basically that final point deals with the fact of suffering at this the third level, the suffering of conditioning.

The Sufferings of Change and of Conditioning6

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then we will move to the next one, the six types of suffering… but we will move on to the next one after that, which is the contemplation on the three types of suffering.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, on the contemplation on the three types of suffering, which is on page 289 [vol.1], Tsongkhapa writes, first talking about the suffering of change, he writes the following: “Pleasant feelings experienced by beings in cyclic existence are like the pleasure felt when cool water is applied to an inflamed boil or carbuncle: as the temporary feeling fades, the pain reasserts itself.” So that’s the reason why even what we conventionally identify as pleasurable experiences are recognized to be ultimately in the nature of suffering.

And another consideration is here, as Dharmakirti points out in his Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition) where he writes the following line. He says that, therefore, on the basis of impermanence, one must recognize our existence to be that of suffering. And the point he’s making here is that, given that our existence is transient and impermanent, then anything that is impermanent is subject to change, and not only subject to change, but subject to change on a moment by moment basis.

And this nature of being susceptible to change on a moment by moment basis is really not created by some other third condition. But rather, the very causes and conditions that brought that phenomenon into being also brought that phenomenon into being equipped with that transient nature.

So although the Vaibhashikas, when they explain impermanence, they explain it in terms of the continuum, continued existence, of something, so they speak of what is known as the four characteristics of conditioned phenomena, which includes arising, abiding, enduring, and decay and then cessation. All the other Buddhist schools, including Sautrantika, they understand impermanence in terms of the moment-by-moment existence, this momentariness.

And this momentary nature of phenomena is not contingent upon phenomena coming into contact with a third factor. Rather, the very cause that brought the phenomena into being also brought that phenomena into being with this nature of transitoriness, this nature of momentariness. And therefore anything that has that kind of character, that nature, by its very nature demonstrates itself to be dependant upon causes and conditions. And therefore any transient phenomena are governed by their causes and conditions. They are under the power of causes and conditions.

Now here, particularly in the context of our conditioned existence, then the question is: what are the causes and conditions under whose power our existence is governed? Then here the causes and conditions are karma and the afflictions. And when we talk about particularly the afflictions, then from the point of view of the teaching on the twelve links of dependant origination, then the first in the chain is fundamental ignorance.

So even the very term ignorance or ma rig pa, avidya, suggests something inauspicious because it is an ignorant state of being. And therefore a fundamental cause that is inauspicious, its result or its consequence is bound to be inauspicious as well. So possessing such a conditioned existence, caused by such an inauspicious existence, an inauspicious cause, there is, if you think carefully, there is really no basis for having any sense of satisfaction in that kind of existence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in explaining the suffering of conditionality, Tsongkhapa writes the following: he says that (this is on page 290, second para):

“Contaminated neutral feelings are like an inflamed boil which is in contact with neither soothing nor irritating substances.” (So he’s carrying on the same metaphor that he used earlier), “Because these feelings coexist with dysfunctional tendencies, they constitute the suffering of conditionality, which, as explained above, does not refer to the feelings alone. Insofar as…”

And then, earlier Tsongkhapa explained that it’s not just the feeling but also all the mental states, the mind and mental factors that are concomitant together with the feeling, that also belong to the category of suffering. So he writes that [p. 289]:

“This is called the suffering of change and includes not only the feeling itself, but also the main mind and other mental processes,” or mind and mental processes, “that are similar to it, as well as the contaminated objects which, when perceived, give rise to the feeling.”

So in other words Tsongkhapa identifies not only the three types of feelings (pleasurable, painful and neutral feelings) but also all the various mental states that are concomitant with that experience of a feeling, including the sensory faculties that are involved in that experience as well as the objective condition that gives rise to the afflictions—all of these, since they all have the potential to engender suffering, they are all perceived to be belonging to the class of suffering.

The Four Seals and the Suffering of Conditioning7

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So therefore in the statement on the four seals of Buddhadharma, the first statement is that, “All conditioned phenomena are impermanent or transient,” and the second is that, “All contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering,” so this is the point Tsongkhapa is making.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if you look at the statement of the four fundamental seals of Buddhadharma, after having explained that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent and all contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering, then Buddha does not stop there, because, otherwise, it can just result in further depression and a feeling of discouragement. However, then the question is raised that, “Is suffering that we are concerned about here, is it endless or is there a possibility of an end to it?”

So here the third seal becomes very important. Here the Buddha states that, “All phenomena are empty and devoid of selfhood.” And of course there are different ways in which, depending upon the philosophical understanding of the Buddhist schools, the teaching on no-self is explained differently. But generally all Buddhist schools accept that it is the grasping at self-existence or selfhood that lies at the root of our suffering, that lies at the root of our distortion.

And furthermore this grasping at the self-existence can be demonstrated to be a distorted form of perceiving and experiencing the world that is not consonant with the reality. And so therefore there is a powerful antidote that exists which can be cultivated. And it’s not only that there is a powerful antidote, but also this powerful antidote, when applied, can eliminate and eradicate this grasping at self.

Therefore he makes the fourth statement which is: “Nirvana is true peace.” And so by applying the powerful antidote against the root of suffering, which is the grasping at self, then one can cultivate insight into the nature of reality which then leads to attainment of nirvana, which is true peace. So when you correlate these four seals and understand them in an integrated manner, then, of course, the teaching becomes very beautiful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this context Tsongkhapa writes the following, where he says that, “Insofar as the suffering of conditionality is affected by previous karma as well as the afflictions, and coexists with seeds that will produce future suffering and affliction, it coexists with persistent dysfunctional tendencies.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa goes on to explain why the suffering of conditionality is so pervasive. And in that context, explaining the pervasive nature of this degree of… this level of suffering, he provides two citations from the sutra Descent into the Womb, known as the Descent into the Womb. And here (this is on page 291) and in the citation the Buddha states the following:

“Nanda,” (referring to Buddha’s own brother) “ the physical activities of walking, sitting, standing, or lying down must each be understood as suffering. If meditators analyze the nature of these physical activities, they will see that if they spend the day walking and do not rest, sit down, or lie down, they will experience walking exclusively as suffering and will experience intense, sharp, unbearable and unpleasant feelings. The notion that walking is pleasant will not arise.”

And then, in the next quotation, citation, then towards the end there is a conclusion when Buddha states that,

“Nanda, when this contaminated feeling of pleasure arises, it is only suffering that is arising; when it ends, it is only this nature of suffering that ends. When it arises yet again, it is only ‘conditionality’ that arises; when it ends it is only ‘conditionality’ that ends.”

So in other words, the suffering of conditioning pervades every aspect of our existence, and that’s what’s being pointed out.

His Holiness: So now that is the… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So therefore, in order to really follow the Buddha’s advice that we must recognize the truth of suffering—unless we contemplate on these explanations of suffering—we will not be able to put that into practice.

The Origin of Suffering: Afflictions and Karma8

His Holiness: [in Tibetan] 

Thupten Jinpa: So now having covered the first statement of the Buddha— that we must recognize the truth of suffering, the next one is— we must abandon the origin of suffering. So here Tsongkhapa explains this in the following outlines.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here Tsongkhapa explains this section in three broad outlines. The main outline is, “Reflection on the process of cyclic existence in terms of its origin” which is explained in three broad outlines, these being “How the afflictions arise,” “How you thereby accumulate karma” and “How you die and are reborn.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the first one is identifying the nature of the afflictions, and here Tsongkhapa cites from Asanga’s Abhidharma-Samucaya.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in explaining the nature of the afflictions, Tsongkhapa cites from Asanga’s Abhidharma-Samucaya (Compendium of Knowledge) where Asanga writes the following, he says that, “An affliction is defined…” (so this is on page 298, last para), “An affliction is defined as a phenomenon that, when it arises, is disturbing in character and that, through arising, disturbs the mind-stream.”

So the point Asanga is making here is that if you compare your own state of mind to its kind of natural state of equilibrium, then, when a certain state of mind (or thoughts or emotion) arises in you that has a tendency to immediately kind of dislodge that equilibrium and disturb it—that’s the kind of idea Asanga is getting at. So afflictions are those mental states, thoughts and emotions, when— the moment they arise— they have this tendency to bring about a disturbance within one’s mental equilibrium of the mind.

And of course, when we talk about the nature of afflictions, we also need to know that there are various levels of subtlety in the afflictions themselves. In fact within the Buddhist schools, Buddhist tradition, one can broadly characterize two classes: one group of Buddhist schools that on the whole accepts some notion of intrinsic nature, some notion of inherent existence; and then there is another group, which is principally Prasangika Madhyamaka, which rejects even the notion of inherent existence.

And so the first group of Buddhist schools have a broader consensus on understanding the nature of afflictions. However, in the Prasangika Madhyamaka school that rejects the notion of inherent existence, given that they have a much more subtle way of understanding what constitutes a form of grasping at true existence, therefore associated with that level of subtle grasping at true existence there is also a way of understanding various classes of afflictions such as attachment, aversion, delusions and so on.

However, maybe Asanga’s definition of affliction provided here, maybe we can say this has to be understood at a very broad level. Or we can define what he means by causing this “disequilibrium,” causing this “disturbance” within the mind—we can understand that corresponding to different levels. So, in any case—this is my own guess, supposition.

In fact, recently, when I was giving teachings in Australia where Geshe Damdul was translating, I ended up making a series of these lists of my own guesses and suppositions. In fact I numbered them. This is my first guess, this is my second guessing and third guessing and so on. So here this will be one of my first guesses.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact if you read on page 300, the third paragraph, Tsongkhapa writes that, “I have explained these ten afflictions in accordance with the Compendium of Knowledge and Levels of Yogic Deeds,” Sravakabhumi, “and with Vasubandhu’s Explanation of the Five Aggregates.” One can read this to suggest that Tsongkhapa accepts that there may be a different way of understanding the nature of afflictions in a subtle way.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Sorry, so with relation to this, one of the aspects of the definition of affliction that Asanga gave, which was, “creating this sense of disturbance and dislodging the equilibrium,” maybe we need to add a caveat here, which is ‘causing this disturbance and dislodging the equilibrium without any control on our part’ may be important. Because, for example, when a practitioner cultivates compassion and when the compassion becomes strong as a result of the experience of compassion (sharing in someone’s pain) there is an element of disturbance within the person, but that kind of disturbance does not arise without any control on one’s part. In fact there is a voluntary dimension to this because one chose to share in others’ suffering and actually cultivate that compassion for the other.

His Holiness: There are two kinds of emotion. One emotion, although some cases this is due to some reason, but basically spontaneous. So that category of emotion usually, most cases, negative by nature. Then another category of emotion, through reasoning, through training. So these emotions with reason or through training, these are usually positive. Like that.

So, full stop. Lunch.  


1 See Newland ch. 1: 7-10. [Return to text]

2 See Newland ch. 4: 39-47, for this and the following two sections. [Return to text]

3 See topic “Truly Practicing” in Newland, From Here to Enlightenment, ch. 1: 11-12. [Return to text]

4 See Newland, ch. 4: 44-47. [Return to text]

5 See Newland, ch. 5: 56-58.[Return to text]

6 See Newland, ch. 5: 56-60. [Return to text]

7 See Newland, ch. 5: 60-62. [Return to text]

8 Newland, ch. 5: 62-63. [Return to text]