The Three Principal Aspects of the Path (LTY)

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
France 1982 (Archive #377)

During His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 1982 teachings at Institut Vajra Yogini, France, Lama Yeshe was asked to "baby-sit" the audience for a couple of days when His Holiness manifested illness. The result is this excellent two-part introduction to the path to enlightenment, in which Lama explains renunciation, bodhicitta and the right view of emptiness.

These talks are included in Lama Yeshe's book The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism. You can also view the talks on our YouTube channel or listen to the audio recordings online. 

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path: Second Teaching

Good afternoon. Again, unfortunately, I have to come here and talk nonsense to you. However, I heard that His Holiness is feeling much better this afternoon.

This morning I spoke very generally on the subjects of renunciation and bodhicitta. Now, this time, I will talk about the wisdom of shunyata.

From the Buddhist point of view, having renunciation of samsara and loving kindness bodhicitta alone is not enough to cut the root of the ego or the root of the dualistic mind. By meditating on and practicing loving kindness bodhicitta, you can eliminate gross attachment and feelings of craving, but the root of craving desire and attachment are ego and the dualistic mind. Therefore, without understanding shunyata, or non-duality, it is not possible to cut the root of human problems.

It's like this example: if you have some boiling water and put cold water or ice into it, the boiling water calms down, but you haven't totally extinguished the water's potential to boil.

For example, all of us have a certain degree of loving kindness in our relationships, but many times our loving kindness is a mixture—half white, half black. This is very important. Many times we start with a white, loving kindness motivation but then slowly, slowly it gets mixed up with "black magic" love. Our love starts with pure motivation but as time passes, negative minds arise and our love becomes mixed with black love, dark love. It begins at first as white love but then transforms into black magic love.

I want you to understand that this is due to a lack of wisdom—your not having the penetrative wisdom to go beyond your relative projection. You can see that that's why even religious motivations and religious actions become a mundane trip when you lack penetrative wisdom. That's why Buddhism does not have a good feeling towards fanatical, or emotional, love. Many Westerners project, "Buddhism has no love." Actually, love has nothing to do with emotional expression. The emotional expression of love is so gross; so gross—not refined. Buddhism has tremendous concern for, or understanding of, the needs of both the object and the subject, and in this way, loving kindness becomes an antidote to the selfish attitude.

Western religions also place tremendous emphasis on love and compassion but they do not emphasize wisdom. Understanding wisdom is the path to liberation, so you have to gain it.

Now, as far as emotion is concerned, I think for the Western world, emotion is a big thing, for some reason. However, when we react to or relate with the sense world, we should somehow learn to go the middle way.

When I was in Spain with His Holiness, we visited a monastery and met a Christian monk who had vowed to stay in an isolated place. His Holiness asked him a question, something like, "How do you feel when you experience signs of happy or unhappy things coming to you?" The monk said something like, "Happy is not necessarily happy; bad is not necessarily bad; good is not necessarily good." I was astonished; I was very happy. "In the world, bad is not too bad; good is not too good." To my small understanding, that was wisdom. We should all learn from that.

Ask yourself whether or not you can do this. Can you experience things the way this monk did or not? For me, this monk's experience was great. I don't care whether he's enlightened or not. All I care is that he had this fantastic experience. It was helpful for his life; I'm sure he was blissful. Anyway, all worldly pleasures and bad experiences are so transitory—knowing their transitory nature, their relative nature, their conventional nature, makes you free.

The person who has some understanding of shunyata will have exactly the same experiences as that priest had. The person sees that bad and good are relative; they exist for only the conditioned mind and are not absolute qualities. The characteristic of ego is to project such fantasy notions onto yourself and others—this is the main root of problems. You then react emotionally and hold as concrete your pleasure and your pain.

You can observe right now how your ego mind interprets yourself, how your self-image is simply a projection of your ego. You can check right now. It's worth checking. The way you check has nothing to do with the sensory mind, your sense consciousness. Close your eyes and check right now. It's a simple question—you don't need to query the past or the future—just ask yourself right now, "How does my mind imagine myself?"


You don't need to search for the absolute. It's enough to just ask about your conventional self.


Understanding your conventional mind and the way it projects your own self-image is the key to realizing shunyata. In this way you break down the gross concepts of ego and eradicate the self-pitying image of yourself.


By eliminating the self-pitying imagination of ego, you go beyond fear. All fear and other self-pitying emotions come from holding a self-pitying image of yourself.


You can also see how you feel that yesterday's self-pitying image of yourself still exists today. It's wrong.


Thinking, "I'm a very bad person today because I was angry yesterday, I was angry last year," is also wrong, because you are still holding today an angry, self-pitying image from the past. You are not angry today. If that logic were correct, then Shakyamuni Buddha would also be bad, because when he was on earth, he had a hundred wives but was still dissatisfied!

Our ego holds a permanent concept of our ordinary self all the time—this year, last year, the year before: "I'm a bad person; me, me, me, me, me, me." From the Buddhist point of view, that's wrong. If you hold that kind of concept throughout your lifetime—you become a bad person because you interpret yourself as a bad person.

Therefore, your ego's interpretation is unreasonable. It has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. And because your ego holds onto such a self-existent I, attachment begins.

I remember His Holiness once giving an audience to about twenty or thirty monks at a Christian monastery and His Holiness asking one of the monks, "What is your interpretation of emptiness?" One of them answered, "From the Christian point of view, non-attachment is shunyata." What do you think about that? For me, somebody's having an experience of non-attachment is super. Don't you think it's super? Attachment is a symptom of this sick world. This world is sick because of attachment. Do you understand? The Middle East is sick because of attachment. Oil-producing countries are sick because of attachment. Am I communicating with you or not? And that Christian monk experienced non-attachment. What do you think of that?

From the Buddhist point of view, it is very difficult for a person to experience non-attachment; it's very difficult. For that reason, for me, it is extremely good if somebody—even somebody from another religion—experiences it. And that, too, is a reason for having the confidence to respect other religions.

How many Buddhists here have experienced non-attachment? None? Surprise, surprise! Well, excuse me; I'm just joking. But it is very important to have the experience of non-attachment; it is very important for all of us.

Now, I want you to understand what attachment means. We can use this piece of electrician's tape as an example. From the Buddhist philosophical point of view, attachment for something means that it's very difficult for us to separate from it. In this example, the attachment of the electrician's tape is no problem because it is easy to loosen, easy to reattach and easy to loosen again. But, we have a very strong attachment—strong like iron—for the things we think of as being very good. So, we need to learn to be flexible.

Let's look at this flower from the Buddhist point of view. My attachment for the flower is a symptom. It shows that I overestimate the value of the flower. I wish to become one with the flower and never separate from it for the rest of my life. You understand now, how sick I am?  It is so difficult for me to let go of it. What do you think? Am I crazy? This craziness is attachment. But, non-attachment is flexible; it is a middle way, a reasonable way. Let go.

Do you understand? The psychology of attachment is over-estimation; it is an unrealistic attitude. That's why we are suffering; and for that reason Buddhism emphasizes suffering, suffering, suffering.

The Western point of view is that Buddhism overemphasizes suffering. Westerners can't understand why Buddhism talks about suffering so much. "I have enough money. I can eat. I have enough clothes. Why do you say I'm suffering? I'm not suffering. I don't need Buddhism." Many Westerners say this kind of thing. This is a misunderstanding of the term "suffering." The nature of attachment is suffering.

Look at Western society. The biggest problem in the West is attachment. It's so simple. From birth, through school and up to professorship, or whatever one achieves, the Western life is built by attachment. Of course, it's not only the Western life—attachment characterizes the life of each and every sentient being—but why I'm singling out the West is because Westerners sometimes have funny ideas about the connotation of happiness and suffering.

Philosophically, of course, you can research shunyata very deeply; you can analyze the notion of the self-existent I a thousand ways. But here I'm talking about what you can do practically, every day, right now, in a simple way. Don't think about Buddhist terminology; don't think about what the books say or anything like that. Just ask yourself simply, "How, at this moment, do I interpret myself?" That's all.

Each time you ask yourself that question you get a different answer, I tell you. Because sometimes you're emanating as a chicken; sometimes as a pig; sometimes as a monkey. Then you can laugh at yourself: "What I'm thinking is incredible! I'm a pig." But you shouldn't worry when you see yourself as a pig. Don't worry; just laugh. The way you check, the way you question yourself, should just make you laugh. In that way you get closer to shunyata. Because you know something—through your own experience, you know that your own projection of yourself is a fantasy and, to some extent, you experience selflessness. You no longer trust your own ego, and your concepts become less concrete.

Analytical meditation shouldn't make you sad or serious. When you really understand something, you can laugh at yourself. Of course, if you're alone, you shouldn't laugh out loud too much, otherwise people will think you're clinically sick! Milarepa is a good example. He stayed alone in the snowy mountains and laughed and sang to himself. What do you think about that? Do you think he was sick? No. He laughed because his life was rich and he was happy.

Your entire life is built by dualistic concepts. If it's not, you can't function in society, in the relative world. In order to become a part of normal society, you have to develop incredible dualistic concepts. Many of the things in this world that we consider to be knowledge, wisdom and education are aspects of the dualistic mind; the reaction they bring is just more suffering.

What is the dualistic mind? Actually, "dual" means two, but in Buddhism, our complaint is not that two phenomena exist. The problem is their contradictory, competitive nature. Is the competitive mind comfortable or not? Is the competitive life comfortable or not? Is competitive business comfortable or not? The mind is irritated. The mind in which there are two things always contradicting each other is what we call the dualistic mind.

Simply put, when you get up in the morning after a good night's sleep, do you feel peaceful or not? Yes, you feel peaceful. Why? Because during sleep, the dualistic mind is at rest—to some extent!

As long as the dualistic mind is functioning in your life, you are always irritated; you have not attained the peace of ultimate reality. That's why single-pointed concentration is very useful. Single-pointed concentration is very useful for cutting the gross dualistic mind, especially when you want to recognize and contemplate on your own consciousness. It's very powerful for eliminating dualistic concepts. This is what is taught in Tibetan mahamudra, or dzog-chen.

The purpose of meditation is to stop the irritating concepts that we call dualistic mind. Of course, there are many levels to this. The dualistic mind has many gross levels and many subtle levels, and the way to eliminate it is to start with the gross [and progress to the subtle].

But now I don't know what I'm talking about, so instead of my going on, "Blah, blah, blah," why don't we do some questions and answers? If I keep on talking, I'm sure I'll just create more confusion—more dualistic mind—for you. Therefore, it's better that we have a question and answer session. 

Q: If you think that detachment is necessary, non-attachment is necessary, why should we be attached to one philosophy?

Lama: We should not be attached to any philosophy. We should not be attached to any religion. We should not have any objects of attachment. We should not be attached to God. We should not be attached to the Bible. We should not be attached to Buddha. That's very good. Thank you; that's a very good question. That question is very important. It shows us the character of Buddhism. Buddhism has no room for you to be attached to something, for you to grasp at something. Buddha said even grasping at or having attachment to Buddha is wrong. As long as you are sick, even if you possess diamonds, you are still sick. All symptoms of attachment have to vanish for you to become a completely liberated human being. For that reason, Buddhism has room for any philosophy, any religion, any trip—as long as it is beneficial for human growth.

Q: What is the difference between attachment and compassion?

Lama: Compassion understands others' lack of pleasure and their suffering situation. Attachment is "I want; I want"—concern for our own pleasure. Compassion is concern for others' pleasure and the determination to release other sentient beings from their problems. But many times we mix our compassion with attachment. We begin with compassion but after some time attachment mixes in and it then becomes an attachment trip. Thank you; thank you so much.

Q: Are non-duality and bodhicitta the same thing?

Lama: No. Remember what I said at the beginning: it is not enough to have just renunciation and loving kindness bodhicitta. That's not enough for us. We need wisdom to cut through dualistic concepts and see the universal reality behind them. This is very important. Without wisdom, our bodhicitta and love can become fanatical. If we understand non-duality, it's all right—bodhicitta can develop easily.

[The following three paragraphs are not on the video:]

Q: There's a Zen koan that says if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him. Would the interpretation of this be that if you see the Buddha on the road, you have attachment to Buddha, so kill the attachment, not the Buddha?

Lama: No. But this can be interpreted in many different ways. Let's say I see you as the Buddha. I probably have an incredible projection, so it's better that I kill that. First of all, the way to seek the Buddha is not outside. The Buddha is within; that's where we should seek. When we begin, we seek in the wrong place. That's what we should kill. But we should not kill like Jim Jones did, by poisoning his followers.

Q: Is it enough if we stop the conceptualization of the mind so that the "I" ceases to exist?

Lama: Yes. For practical purposes, yes. But philosophically, it's not so clear. Practically speaking, whether we talk a lot about it or not, we know that in our own lives, it is extremely difficult to stop our obsessed concepts. And we are not flexible. Therefore, it is better to stop them as much as you can, but you can't stop them completely, just like that—unless you completely extinguish yourself.

Q: Is mantra important to destroy the ego?

Lama: Yes. But of course, it has to be an individual experience. By the time you're a first stage bodhisattva, you no longer need mantra. Then, there's no such thing as an external mantra. You yourself become the nuclear essence of mantra, because at that time you have discovered the absolute mantra. At the moment, we play around with the relative mantra, but let's hope that we eventually discover the absolute mantra.

Q: I understood from what you said before that emotions are negative, but is not the quality of the emotions the qualities of the person, him- or herself?

Lama: I said if your daily life is tremendously involved in emotion, you are completely driven by them and psychologically tied. Therefore, you have to learn to sit back instead of being impelled by your emotions. Also, I did not say that emotions are necessarily negative. Emotions can be positive too. But what I'm saying—and I'm making a generalization—is that in the Western environment, when we relate with each other we get tremendously emotional. In other words, our physical emotions get too involved and we don't understand the functioning of our six sense consciousnesses.

Q: How can we live without attachment and without desire? It's too difficult.

Lama: I agree with you! Yes. It's too difficult. That's why we human beings do not find it easy to develop responsible attitudes and stop our own problems—we need to be involved in doing this our entire life. Being mindful, being conscious, is not an easy job. You're right. But there's a way to transform desire, a way to transform attachment. In that way, the energy of desire and attachment becomes medicine, the path to liberation. It's like when you mix poison with certain other medicines it can become medicine. What is an example? Marijuana and hashish can be medicine, can't they? They may not be good, but when you can transform their energy they can become medicine. That is the beauty of the human being; we have powerful methods for transforming one thing into something else.

Tibetan Buddhism has many methods for transforming desire and attachment into the path to liberation. We place great emphasis on these methods. Red chili, for example, is not so good alone, but when you mix reasonable quantities of it with your food, it becomes delicious.

Therefore, I want you to understand this question. According to the Buddhist point of view, there is no human problem that cannot be solved by human beings. Each one of you should understand this personally and encourage yourself by thinking, "I can deal with all my problems; I can solve my problems." That attitude is essential for your spiritual growth. Even though we may not be much good as meditators or spiritual practitioners, I truly believe that if we have some understanding and encouragement, we can all solve our problems. Most of the time, we fail to understand our own capacity. We put ourselves down. That's why in Tibetan Buddhism we see ourselves as Buddha. I'm sure you've all heard that kind of thing. [Video ends here.] Don't make a tremendous gap by thinking that Buddha is way up in the sky and you are way underneath the earth. That is good enough.

Thank you; I won't take up any more of your time. Thank you so much.