The First Clear Step

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #443)

Lama Thubten Yeshe gave this teaching at Kopan Course No. 7, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov-Dec, 1974. This is one of four teachings given to new students by Lama Yeshe at the course.

This lightly edited transcript was first published as a booklet by Manjushri Institute for Wisdom Culture, England, in 1977.

Lama Yeshe studying at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo: Robbie Solick.

From Lama's point of view, Buddhism is about you. The subject of this meditation course is not Lama—Lama is not interested in talking about Lama—the subject of this meditation course is you; this course is about you.

So, learning Buddhism—learning about yourself—is that simple. It really is such a simple thing.

And Lama is not trying to be mystical, as written in some books, saying, "I am a magic Lama." We don't try to teach you that way. Actually, we don't need to show you how to make magic—your mind is already magic, isn't it? We've always made magic: for countless lives, and even from the time of our birth until now, we've been making magic, cheating ourselves. Nobody else has had to teach us—we've taught ourselves to cheat ourselves.

Our schizophrenic mind always blames others for our problems. From its point of view, "He is causing my problems, she's causing my problems, my parents are causing my problems, this society is causing my problems." From Lama's point of view, these are completely wrong conceptions; this way of thinking is schizophrenia, this is mental disease; with these wrong beliefs, misconceptions, you will never be able to solve problems.

We often think, "This is negative: that is negative." But we have a wrong conception about what causes negativity and the problems we experience are reactions to this wrong conception.

Therefore, you have to be determined that during this meditation course you are going to realize completely that the problem is your misconception and that the blame definitely does not lie with others.

We always think, "He makes my problems, she makes my problems," because our mind is not integrated. Our mind is split so we always blame this and that. We don't have straight understanding, right understanding, right view, right wisdom—that's why we're always confused.

But this time you have to decide clearly what really makes you happy and joyful and your life meaningful, and what makes you unhappy, sorrowful and depressed. If you come to this conclusion then your meditation course will have been worthwhile.

Don't think that meditation means merely sitting still trying to concentrate on only one thing. It's not just that—that's not nearly enough. If it were, that would mean that when you went back down to Kathmandu your concentration would disappear, and being left without wisdom there would be no benefit from having taken the meditation course. Rather, you should have great determination to develop discriminating wisdom by understanding perfectly clearly—at least intellectually—what really causes problems. In this way, even when you are not sitting cross-legged, trying to concentrate, but walking down a Kathmandu street or back in the West, you have something to hold onto, something that allows you to judge how your mind is interpreting things—you are aware.

Otherwise, if you don't have at least some intellectual method, how can you check yourself? There is no other way that you can check to see if your mind is on some illusory, samsaric trip, full of wrong conceptions or perceiving the right view. Without this, how can you know?

Why is it that many people say, "I"ve been meditating two years, six years, more ... but I'm nowhere. I've gained nothing!"? It's because they don't have understanding knowledge-wisdom; they cannot discriminate between right actions and wrong; they can't see.

Maybe you can say intellectually, "Oh, what is right? What is wrong? Right and wrong are the same thing." I'm sure many people in the West say "Oh what's right? What's the use of saying this, Lama? It's all the same thing. Samsara is the same as nirvana". But this is a wrong conception; everything is mixed up. They cannot discriminate between what is reality and what is false and all they are doing is using the terminology of Dharma wisdom in the wrong way.

Of course, in absolute terms the ultimate reality of right and wrong, or samsara and nirvana is the same thing. But when somebody makes you agitated or angry and you get red in the face and start to tremble, can you say your peacefulness and your anger are the same thing or not? So that example shows you reality and you should not get hung up on some intellectual point of view that is way up in the sky, while you are stuck down on the earth all tied up by that. It does not help because the words that you say are not true.

If somebody says to you, "Oh you are such a bad person", and someone else says, "Oh you are so good," it should never affect your mind. Good and bad comes from within you and other people cannot make you good or bad. You have to realize this, and once you have you cannot be moved by what people say.

But, if somebody tells you how good you are and you say, "Oh yes, yes, yes", grasping at it, and somebody else tells you how bad you are and you say, "No, no, no", getting depressed as a result, that shows that the words you say—"Good and bad are the same thing"—come from merely intellectual garbage rather than from the realization of reality. If you really realized reality, it is reflected in your actions, which are not in conflict with your words. So whatever situation you are in, it does not matter—your mind is not moved, you always have control.

We usually think that our point of view is correct. Yet if somebody comes along and says, "You're completely wrong," we get nervous because we've picked up his idea—and that's all it is—and believed what we are doing is wrong. The idea alone makes us freak out. So our becoming agitated and freaked out does not come from absolute reality, does it? All we have picked up is the relative idea, yet we have become confused and upset. So this shows how we are, how our relative mind functions in normal, everyday life.

So, checking this is much more interesting than talking a lot about some philosophical point of view, some higher subject. This isn't interesting—it does not help us because it is merely intellectual, it is still an idea. So when you get angry...? Your anger is not an idea! Your jealousy is not an idea!

And also, you should know that Buddhism is not a diplomatic religion. Lamas are not diplomatic people! Without hesitation Lama will tell you about dirty things and kaka. It's true!

We always talk diplomatically, saying "Oh you're nice, you're nice," or "How are you today?" and so on. Of course, this is necessary in everyday life when we contact other human beings; being respectful to others is worthwhile. But when talking about the truth, Dharma wisdom, being diplomatically nice cannot help. You have to check up the nature of negativity; you have to check up the nature of positive. You should check up everyday. But I'm sure you people—all European people—always want to see only positive things in their life—the negative side gets hidden beneath your sweater!

But this is not the character of Lord Buddha. This is not the character of Buddhism. Really! Buddhism tells you exactly the way you think, the way you lead your daily life. Therefore, when you really communicate with Lama or with a Dharma book or whatever, you can correct your actions. It is fantastic for your mind—you can solve your schizophrenic mental problem. And then, whether others tell you you are right or wrong, it does not matter. Your being right or wrong does not depend upon the words of other people.

So you can see how much we're suffering from schizophrenic mental disease. Somebody will tell you that you are good: "Oh yes, yes—I'm good," you're up. Somebody tells you that you are bad: "Oh no, no—I'm bad," you're down. So that's really our mind's nature. That mind is samsara. Lama thinks that is samsara. Lord Buddha thinks that is samsara.

So what I am saying is that you should have perfect determination, knowing that understanding knowledge-wisdom is the only solution to problems, the only source of happiness and joy.

So that we call Dharma. Understanding wisdom is Dharma. Dharma is not this robe! And actual Dharma has nothing whatsoever to do with the culture of a particular country: it is not the culture of Western people nor the culture of Eastern people. Culture is the point of view of the ordinary people, the unwise majority who spend their whole time grasping at sense pleasures with attachment. Dharma wisdom has nothing whatsoever to do with the point of view of the foolish common people. Perhaps you could say that your understanding knowledge-wisdom is your own culture!

Lama does not discriminate in favor of Eastern culture. You try to interpret the nature of your own mind, the nature of your own motivation. So when you come to the conclusion that understanding knowledge-wisdom alone can make your life happy, joyful and meaningful, and is the only solution to problems, then you no longer hold the common view, that, "As long as I have ice-cream, I'm happy ; if I can't get ice-cream, I'm unhappy."  I mean, this is just an example, but we always think this way, don't we? It's a wrong conception, a wrong conception.      

You know the Western way of life; since you were born, your parents have been teaching you what are the best things to eat, how to be healthy and, especially, how to show that you are good. Everything is for show, for showing others how good you are, for ego. So your mind also grows that way. You think, "I should have good things. Comfortable property, a comfortable house, a comfortable wife, a comfortable husband. Perfect this, this, this..." So much dreaming! You check this up—it's not just Lama's words, you know. You check up.

Check your own life's experiences. Once you might have dreamt, "If I could only get this I'd be happy, perfectly happy." You decided something like that. So you got what you wanted but two or three days later: "Oh if only I had that, then I'd be happy". So such experiences accumulate, because the wrongly-conceiving mind, believing incorrectly, always functions in this way. The constant interest, "I want this, I want this," can never finish. Desire is unlimited.

But of course, in the West the great explosion of material makes people think, "Ah, I can feed my desire. As long as I have money, I can buy everything and satisfy myself." You think like that, but it's a wrong conception; it's not true. How can you satisfy desire by feeding it? The philosophical or psychological point of view of Lord Buddha is that this is impossible—desire is unlimited and there is no way that you will be satisfied by feeding it with objects of desire. Impossible! Impossible! You check up now—we can debate on it! True, really!

So you can really see, to make your life meaningful, to satisfy your mind, the only solution is Dharma knowledge-wisdom; knowledge-wisdom—understanding your own psychological nature. That is what makes you really happy; that makes you controlled—it's natural, it's natural.

But perhaps you people think that being happy through control is pretending—a pretense by religious people. But it's not pretending, it is natural. You check up now, your experience of these first seven days of the meditation course. Just one hour's good meditation and good concentration in the morning and the whole day goes so smoothly. Just one hour's meditational experience and for all the hours of the day you can be healthy and happy, communicating with others well instead of nervously. So this is your own experience—experience, not just an idea. So, that's much better, isn't it?

You know—after one hour you can control your mind and be happy, just naturally. From Lama's point of view this is much more realistic than saying, "Everything is the same thing; I don't want to hear that it is not". That's just an idea. An idea is not realistic.

Realistic means action! Action! Your action. For instance, your present action of checking is more realistic. Although relative, of course, still relative.

So you see, through your own small experience—the experience of your morning meditation—you can discover that your life—your body and mind—can progress continuously until you discover everlasting, blissful peace within your mind. You don't discover it with intellect or Lama's words but through your own experience.

It's so logical: if meditating for a short time in the morning gives you the control to be evenly happy all day, instead of up and down, then by keeping this meditation up for a year, you can be peaceful for two or three years. So that peaceful mind can be developed continuously until you become everlastingly peaceful, joyful and understanding with people. I mean, you can see this possibility; that's what Lama's talking about.

So I think it is most worthwhile each morning you people putting much effort into sitting here in this unusual position, with pain in your knees. You have some understanding to do this; it is meaningful. It is action rather than hypocritical talk about Dharma or religion.

Dharma or religion are not merely a philosophy, a doctrine, an idea, not just words. When you put it into action you can feel, "My life is hopeful, meaningful." But if you don't put it into action, keeping only the idea, you become depressed. Then you think, "Oh I am hopeless. I cannot do that. My life is not meaningful."

You don't put the idea into action, so you think like this. But if you do, you will know it's really worthwhile, because you can see the result within you. You can see your karma—acting with such wisdom brings such a good result—through your own experience. Then you can say: "Ah, I think my life is hopeful and useful; it can be meaningful." Then you can solve problems and eradicate depression.

Often you are up and down. Many times you say "Oh I'm hopeless." This comes from being hypocritical. You talk about Dharma, but don't act. You don't actualize: you're not integrating your life with Dharma. Therefore, you get depressed.

You people think that Dharma or religion is just an idea, but it is not. Therefore, we make mental rules for you to observe while you are here. Those rules are to help you—it's not that Lama is on some power trip! It is useful very useful, really useful. You see, Lord Buddha's psychological treatment of the patient is not wrathful, not wrathful. We don't put you in jail. Instead, we put your mind into such an atmosphere of discipline. This is Lord Buddha's treatment, psychology. The environment created by mental rules is our mental hospital.

Of course, you people are mentally healthy. I'm joking when I say "mental hospital." But we can interpret the rules in such a way. Still, you need to check up continuously, and develop by realizing your own mental attitudes, which is not the approach of Western psychologists. The way psychiatrists tend to interpret problems only increases the patient's superstitious mind instead of decreasing it. For example, telling a person his suffering experience is the result of something his mother said or did during his childhood only produces more problems. It makes him angry with his parents, which merely makes him more sick. These are wrong interpretations. Instead of trying to get you to understand your own nature they use different methods; the Buddhist methods of psychological treatment and those of the West are not the same. But that's just for now—who knows how it will be in the future? Western psychologists often take something from here, something from there and put it into Western terminology, so you can guess how it might go.

Therefore, this meditation course is not easy—we know it is not easy. Why? Because Lama wants you to become the perfect psychologist, fully knowing your own mind and others. So for you to become a psychologist through Lord Buddha's method takes time; and the process itself is difficult. We understand that it really is not easy, and you also should understand this point. I mean, how many years does it take for a Western student to become a psychologist. And we only have a month to try to make you a psychologist, to make you perfectly healthy mentally, understanding what you are, how you are. That is all we try to do, but it's a lot, isn't it? I think so! I think it is a lot. But worthwhile.

It is possible, you know. For one who has wisdom and can put it all together, it is possible to quickly discover all this, rather than always changing one place for another, thinking, "Oh, this place is no good"; going somewhere else, and then leaving that place for yet another. One day playing with monkeys, then, "Oh monkeys are no good," then playing with dogs. Then, "Oh cats are not good," and then another something...

So this is not like that. This school, or whatever it is called, is not for only learning ideas. Here, at the same time ideas are received, they are put into action. Action! Action! That's the way you learn. So learning with action is much more difficult than learning ideas at the university from professors; putting yourself into action is much more difficult than just talking about ideas.

So I think that's all. Thank you so much, thank you. You check up, wisely check up. Thank you. I'm very happy, thank you so much! Excuse me, thank you...