How to Reduce Egoism and Develop Compassion


Osel on how to reduce egoism and develop compassion

By Tenzin Ösel Hita
Maitreya Instituut, Amsterdam (Archive #2033)

Tenzin Ösel Hita gave this talk on easy ways to reduce ego and develop compassion at Maitreya Instituut, Netherlands, on January 25, 2017. Center director Paula de Wijs-Koolkin also shares an endearing story about Lama Yeshe during her introduction of Ösel.

Ösel was born in the small Spanish village of Bubión, Granada, in 1985. He was recognized as the incarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1986. Read Ösel's biography here.

Tenzin Ösel Hita at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore, November 2012. Photo: Tan Seow Kheng.

So I think maybe, many people think, that maybe we don’t meditate every day, but as a matter of fact I think we meditate half of our lives when we sleep. His Holiness he says sleep is the best meditation, so we are all meditators, by the way. So yeah, it’s a big deal. 

So let’s maybe do some meditation, some active meditation. If you want maybe we can just do one minute, two minutes. Breathing in and breathing out.

Breathing—instead of doing just nose breathing try to breathe down here from your throat. Like that, that type of breathing. [Ösel demonstrates technique] Can you do that? More deep, like that. As deep as you can. We can try to do that a little bit, and we close our eyes and we breathe in and breathe out.

The first feeling we have is gratefulness; gratefulness for the body we have, which is working for us since the moment we were conceived. The heart is pumping our whole lives. The body is functioning for us all the time. Non-stop.

Even if we mistreat the body, even if we abuse the body, it is still continuously working so hard for us, for our experience of life. So we have the gratefulness for having this. Then the clothes we have, the food we have in our stomachs, the energy we have, the mindstream, the air, the company, warmth and the possibility to take the time to just chill. Especially in a place like Amsterdam.

OK. So this time we just took is, relatively, it can be infinite or it can be just one minute, but it is always the same moment. It is always here and now, all the time.

So anyways, let’s get started, right?

What we are going to talk about is diminishing the ego. Is everybody interested in that? Because the first step is to recognize what the ego is. I think it is very important. I think that’s already maybe fifty percent of the job, would be to recognize.

We think the ego exists, that it is really there. But if you actually check, you can’t find it. Where is it? You can’t really find it. You can search all day and all night, but you will not find it. But the ego somehow there is something there that makes you react, when you feel unjustly treated or when you feel stressed or when you feel hungry maybe, right?

There is some kind of reaction, something happens that makes you react. Sometimes very strongly, sometimes more passively. But there is something there that makes you unhappy, right? And then when you react like that, maybe in a negative kind of a way, most of the time the result is suffering.  Does everybody agree with that?

When we react, like, for example, let's say, let’s talk about anger, for example.

Anger is like an uninvited guest that comes to our house when we are just like suddenly, we are relaxed and everything is OK, or at least it seems to be OK. For example, when you are at home and let’s say a family member just opens the door without knocking, and comes into your room, without even knocking, suddenly boom. Would you feel a little bit upset? Yeah? Yes, it would be like, "Why didn’t you knock, why didn't you call me?" It would be like, "Who invited you? What gives you the right to think you can just barge into my room like that?” That’s a family member. How about a friend? Somebody you know in your life suddenly just comes in like that. You would also feel a little upset, right?

So why is it that when the ego or anger, for example, they just come in and take over. They just barge in and suddenly “boom,” open the door and they act like they’re at home, that's their house, that they are the boss. Why is it that we invite them in and offer them a cup of tea? Why is it? As if that’s their right? It’s not!

That’s because we believe the ego exists. We have this sense of, this purpose of kind of like “me.” You know actually this “me,” this concept of “me,” it started very, very long ago when we were born. Well, a little bit after we were born, when we started speaking maybe. The first words you speak, which are they? Can someone help me? What are the first words you say?

Q: Papa, Mama

Ösel: Yeah, “My Papa, my Mama,” right? So already the first words that we learn implicate “me” “mine” so it’s something that’s part of society and the system, the individualistic point of view. Also the collective culture also has that, in a different way. But we all tend to follow this kind of concept as it is very important.

In Buddhism, in Dharma, it talks about selflessness. It talks about the non-cherishing mind. Because we are very accustomed to cherishing ourselves, to have this self-cherishing point of view, which we don’t realize at the moment, but it causes a lot of suffering. In the long run it causes a lot of suffering.

And we don’t want to suffer, do we? I mean, who wants to suffer? Maybe some masochist but their suffering is still pleasure so it’s not really suffering, right?  It is a different type of concept of suffering. So I don’t even think a masochist wants to suffer because their suffering is different from ours. But still it’s the same idea of pain or happiness.

So nobody really wants to suffer but we make the conditions to suffer all the time. It’s a little bit like the example, I like the example, does anyone know Pema Chodron? I went to one of her talks, which I found very interesting, very helpful. And she was talking about one of the examples of the monkeys in India; how they capture the monkeys in India, the monkey traps. Do you know how they capture the monkeys in India? It’s very interesting.

They have these coconuts with a hole inside and they put candies or goodies inside the coconut. The hole is just big enough for them to put their hand inside. But once they grab the candy and make a fist, they can’t take it out any more. So they are holding the candy; sometimes they really believe they can run away with the candy. So when the hunters come and they are scared for their life. Some of them even have two coconuts in their hands, two candies; some only one candy, some two candies. More greedy, right?

So they really think they can run away with the two candies, they really believe that. And they will not let go. I don’t think any of the monkeys actually let go of the candy, literally. And they will try really hard to try to run and try to climb the trees, but they can’t because they are handicapped. Maybe even some have four candies, I don’t know.

So the hunters come and capture the monkeys. And then the monkeys have to spend the rest of their lives in the hands of the hunters, maybe in the circus or as meat for food. I don’t know, but either way they have a pretty bad time. This is because they thought that they could really get away with the candy, and they did not want to let go of the candy, because if they let go of the candy than they can take out their hand and then they can run away.

So this is a little bit like a metaphor of samsara. Is everybody familiar with the concept of samsara? Yes? If anybody wants to know what samsara is? Anybody?  OK.

Samsara is; the concept of samsara according to Dharma or Buddhism or the Buddha’s teachings, is the wheel of life. It’s a never-ending story, where we are not able to escape from suffering and the cycle of this kind of way of being born and dying and being reborn again. Always being stuck in this kind of duality, this kind of concept of me, attachment, fear, misery, suffering. And somehow we are stuck there in life after life, and sometimes we even go backwards. We devolve, so we create the cause to be reborn as sentient beings who create more bad karma.

Karma, you know what karma is? It is the law of cause and effect. So what you give, you receive. Karma is like an imprint that you create in your mindstream, which follows you from lifetime to lifetime. It can be very subtle. There are different types of karma, but the main concept of karma is like the law of physics, connected with our self, our being. So it’s an imprint that stays with us and follows us.  And according to how we act and what we do through the body, speech, and mind, then it creates the cause for the future lives or even this life to somehow receive something. Sometimes, many times it is multiplied, good things and bad things. That’s a theory at least. I’m sure we can kind of relate to that.

So, going back to samsara. We are stuck in samsara also through the karma and lifetimes. And one of the reasons we are stuck in samsara is because of attachment, right? So the monkey example is very good because it is a little bit like that metaphor. We can let go of attachment, we can let go of that, but we don’t want to. It is too juicy. You know pleasure or happiness, the concept of happiness, which is temporary, it is not really stable.

I mean if happiness really were stable, if it really existed the way we think that it does, it would be a state of mind. We would always be happy. But it is up and down, up and down. In a way, it makes it more interesting maybe, but at the same time, it makes it very difficult. But also thanks to that, it makes us think, and desire to be free from samsara, because, for example, like the gods.

There are many different types of gods, the god realms. Some gods live up to ten thousand years. These are the theories, but they say some gods live up to ten thousand years, in another dimension, in another place. So when you create certain karma you create the cause to be reborn as a god, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. I mean, of course, you live for ten thousand years with no sickness, no suffering, total pleasure every day, all the time, just enjoying, good smells, good food, good views, pleasure, physical, everything, amazing all the time for ten thousand years.

The thing is that at the end of the ten thousand years; they have exactly ten thousand years, depending on the level of the gods, some have less and some have more. But in that realm, it would be ten thousand years. So that is just an example I am using. At the end of those ten thousand years, let's say the last couple months maybe of their life span, their body starts to smell a little bit, you know.

So the other gods they smell it and then somehow they don’t want to recognize it; that they too are impermanent in that way and that one day they will also die and their life span will finish. So they decide to ignore those gods, the gods that are starting to smell a little bit, they ignore them. So they become kind of outcasts; nobody wants to talk to them, nobody wants to look at them, they don’t exist anymore. So they are, for the last months or years, I'm not sure, they spend in solitariness.

And because they are gods they have the ability to be able to see their future lives and they have certain realizations also. So maybe after ten thousand years they have spent all their good karma. It’s like having money in your bank, and then you spend all the money in the bank and you have the last euros or dollars, and then you’re like, “OK, what am I going to do now? I am going to have to start working again, or I have to,”

So in that case, maybe they will see that they are going to be reborn as pigs or they see a family of pigs living in a dump, like dirt, in really dirty conditions. The kind of suffering they have, the ignorance, the greed and attachment is so strong. You know, some pigs don’t see the sky until they die. The Tibetan saying is, “Don’t be like a pig, that you only see the sky when you die.” Which is kind of true sometimes because pigs are always looking at the ground looking for food, right? So, they don’t really look up. If they did they would see the sky and be like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” 

Anyway, so these gods that are dying, the amount of suffering for those gods at that time is so big, because they have the ability to see their future life and they have the knowledge to understand that they spent their good karma, they've enjoyed a lot, and now it is time to suffer.

So their suffering is so big. And then that’s when the regret comes, "Oh, I didn’t practice Dharma. I didn’t create the condition for a future life to have the potential or the possibility to be able to practice Dharma or to create a good cause, helping other people, you know?”

So we humans have that potential, that opportunity, because we suffer. So it’s good, we can actually use the suffering in order to make the decision to say, “Oh, I want to do something about this.”

OK, so ego and self-cherishing mind are very similar, right? The self-cherishing mind brings a lot of suffering, which in this case is actually not very good, because through suffering we just kind of hurt ourselves and especially when we don’t see it. But the moment we start to see the pattern of our mind, of how through self-cherishing we create more suffering, then we can really start evolving. We can really start working that and we can use it to really start changing the pattern and the habit that somehow maybe society has kind of, you know, influenced us.

So that’s why they say the perfect human rebirth because we have the capacity to practice Dharma, to help other people, to have the understanding of our potential and also because we suffer it makes us more, in Spanish we say ... more aware, awake. If we didn’t suffer we would be like the gods. We wouldn’t have that wish to improve or to actually create the cause to keep evolving.

So in karma you evolve, you devolve. The more you do something positive, the more you create the habit to do more positive things, so it becomes easier to do it and you actually take pleasure doing it and enjoy doing it. And maybe when you are reborn, you are reborn into situations where it is much easier and much faster to keep evolving. And when you devolve it is the same thing but the other way.

So maybe you are reborn as a tiger who has to kill and to make other animals suffer in order to survive. Or maybe you are reborn into a very violent neighborhood where in order to survive you have to become part of a gang. And in order to be part of a gang you have to show that you are worth it, so you have to kill another human being. If not, you will die or they will kill you. So you have to survive. And that is the situation where you are put in.

And sometimes because of ignorance, because of a lack of understanding, a lack of information, it’s very hard to get out of those situations. Maybe your family has been butchers all their lives and so you have to be a butcher, too. And you don’t have the capacity to understand that that’s bad even though when you are doing it, maybe you don’t feel good.

But as you devolve, some people actually take pleasure in hurting other sentient beings. They actually take pleasure; they actually enjoy it. That is even more devolving, so you are creating the habit; it is easier every time to do that. That is so dangerous because it is so easy to go one way or the other.

So right now we have the opportunity to evolve, to go forward, you know? And so that’s something to really be grateful about, to have this opportunity. And on this planet as human beings there are many places where people don’t even have the opportunity to sit down and think about that.

In China, for example, in some work places they have anti-suicide nets. For example, people in America, soldiers who served in Afghanistan, ex-veterans, I think there’s an estimate of, average of twenty-five ex-veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq who commit suicide a day, per day, twenty-five commit suicide a day on average. It’s not easy for many people. It’s very difficult. So that’s where I think compassion comes in, and also realizing that we are very lucky.

Anyway, I don’t want to bring down the, you know, we have to be happy; it is important, but at least to be aware of the opportunities we have. Because sometimes the self-cherishing mind starts saying, “Oh, poor me. Look at me, oh,” and we start putting ourselves down, we start to limit ourselves. And that is a big mistake because we are beautiful, and we have an amazing potential and you know it. But sometimes, you’re not trying to move forward because somehow you are scared of your potential, so you limit yourself. And that is very dangerous. I think most of us we do that; most of us, we limit ourselves.

So right now, I am very lucky, because I am hot. In Amsterdam right now, what is the temperature? Minus 2.5 or something? It’s really cold. I mean, for me at least.

OK, so now we talked a little bit of the ego and the self-cherishing mind, of how we create suffering with this concept of “poor me,” limiting ourselves. So, what was the other thing?

Q: Compassion.

Ösel: Compassion. Ah, so compassion is so important because that’s the key. It’s like when you’re cooking without the salt, even if you have all the ingredients but if you don’t have salt then there’s something missing, right? It doesn’t become so delicious. Well, at least for me being Spanish. For us, the salt is important or olive oil, it’s like the key ingredient. So compassion would be like that or much more than that, actually. So you have the method, and then, so, you have the method and what’s the other thing?

Q: Wisdom.

Ösel: The wisdom, right. So compassion. What is compassion? The method or the wisdom?

Q: The method.

Ösel: The method, right. So the wisdom is to recognize our situation, to recognize the pattern of our mind. We have lots of thoughts coming and going all the time. The thoughts are like the clouds in the sky. You can see the clouds but when you go to touch them, there is nothing there. They come and they go. But we tend to give so much importance to our thoughts. Why is that?

Why do we believe so much in our thoughts? Like sometimes when we get emotional, it is based so much on the thoughts. The thought comes in and we start to become so obsessed with that thought, and then we become emotional. Our state of mind is based, it depends on the thoughts. But the thoughts, they have no substance; they just come and go. But we seem to think and feel that they are so important; that they are so solid. Why is that? Why do you think that is? Any ideas?

Q: Maybe because we are programed at an early age.

Ösel: Programed, and?

Q: Habits?

Ösel: Habits, yeah, what else?

Q: Conditioning?

Ösel: Conditioning, yeah.

Q: It looks like we are thoughts.

Ösel: We are. This is interesting. We identify with the thoughts, but actually we are not the thoughts. The mind or the thoughts is just a tool. It’s like an electrician. The electrician is not the screwdriver, right? The screwdriver is a tool the electrician uses to repair something. So it’s the same. We are not the hand, but we use the hand.  So the mind is a little bit like that, the thoughts, the mindstream, right.

It helps us to maybe to understand or to analyze or conceptualize, label, judge and condition, everything, maybe give you purpose, situationally, “I am this, you are that, he’s here, I am there,” blah, blah, blah.  But actually, we are not the thoughts. The thoughts are just part of us, it’s a tool, you know. For example, in meditation you have one meditation, which is called analytical meditation. Which is very helpful, to analyze. So you have to use thoughts for that.

But sometimes you should really switch off the thoughts and not have thoughts. Some people say it’s impossible not to think, but when we are sleeping, we are not thinking. When we fall asleep we stop thinking; in order to fall asleep we have to stop thinking. Many times some people have this difficulty, “Oh, I can’t fall asleep, I can’t sleep, it's really hard to fall asleep.” Why do you think that is? It’s because we don’t stop thinking. And then we just think, think, think, think, think and then we get so tired and then boom, we automatically just fall asleep. We collapse.

But if you try to train your mind to stop thinking and to just forget about the self; we are like a meteor floating in space; it doesn’t have the capacity to think, for example. Or you can think like you are in a theater, the curtains close, black curtains or white curtains, they close, and all the images disappear, or you push them away to the side. Or you just focus on an image, like a flower or a deity, a buddha or something, anything that works for you in order to stop thinking. And when the thoughts come you don’t focus on them, you don't give it power, you don’t give it importance. And then before you fall asleep if you try to do that, then slowly, manually, you will fall asleep and that will actually really help a lot to fall asleep earlier, when you want to sleep. Because many times when we want to sleep we can’t sleep because we are thinking too much. So that is a good training, a very good training because the monkey mind can be very dangerous.

It’s important; so sometimes you can give the monkey mind a job. I think Mingyur Rinpoche, on Huffington Post they showed this video, where he is talking about the monkey mind and he says it’s good to give the monkey mind a job. So you put the monkey mind to work and that way you can give yourself some space, some time out.

So how do you give it a job, it’s by focusing on your breathing, in-out-in, or by gratefulness and thinking “Oh, I have this body,” and focusing on your body from the tip of your toes, to your head, to your organs, to your heart pumping and the lungs, everything. By giving it a job, the monkey mind, so that you can actually relax a little bit without all the time thinking, thinking, thinking, because at the end its just like clouds that come and go.

Another technique is to just observe the thoughts. How they come and how they go. And then thoughts are just completely ephemeral. They are just empty from their own side, right?

So what were we talking about?

Q: Compassion.

Ösel: Compassion. Yeah, so we are talking about compassion. So compassion is the method. So the wisdom, we have to use the thoughts, we have to use the mind in order to use the method. So it’s very important. Sorry, the mind is the wisdom.  The method is compassion. Without the method, the wisdom is completely useless. So how to put in action the compassion? The same way we take joy in ourselves, “Oh, I want to buy new clothes. I want to buy a new Macintosh. I want to buy a new car; I want to eat chocolate; I want to eat good food; I want to sleep in a comfy bed; I want a beautiful partner.” All these things that we think will make us happy, that will bring us temporary joy, that kind of mental concept. Instead of putting it to ourselves, we should start putting it to others. That’s step number one.

How to do that, right? First of all, stop feeling so sorry for ourselves. I think it is important, and start feeling more sorry for other people. Because we tend to judge a lot, for example, we judge so much. Wow, I mean, as humans we kind of maybe even enjoy judging, I think. I think it is possible. We like to gossip. Oh, this person said this, and this person did that. Oh my god, what do you think, blah, blah, blah. OK, the best example is Trump. Trump is such a good gossip, everybody likes to criticize. But what about compassion. Does anyone have compassion for Trump?

Q: I have compassion for his wife.

Ösel: Oh, for his wife! But I think Trump, he suffers so much. And he’s going to suffer so much more because he’s creating the conditions to suffer so much more. But do we think about that? No. We only tend to judge. Maybe it’s not human nature but we do think it’s human nature because it is so like systematically put into our habits. But one of the things about judging, why we enjoy judging so much is because it makes us not have to focus so much on ourselves.

We don’t have to check ourselves so much anymore when we say, “Oh, this person did this, or that person did that,” we don’t have to look at ourselves. It is easy to be kind of like, forget about me, I’m perfect. But we don’t really have the right to judge anyone because we don’t know anyone, we don’t even know ourselves. I mean, if we knew ourselves, we would know how we would react to certain circumstances in the future. If something happened to us, how would we react?

What if we suddenly became a millionaire how would we react? If we get a certain sickness, how would we react? If we lose a leg, how would we react? We don’t know how we would react. We have an idea, a concept, but when it actually happens, how we start to react, then we start to really learn about ourselves. We are actually learning and knowing ourselves every day. So we don’t even know ourselves, how can we even think that we know other people, and that we have the right to judge them. Come on, be realistic.

So, yeah it’s very easy to judge because we don’t want to look at ourselves. We don’t want to have to judge ourselves. You know many people don’t like to take criticism, but I think criticism is really good. You know the best friends are the people who criticize you to your face and talk really good things about you behind your back. Those are the real friends.

And that’s what we should do. We should really be good friends, starting from, to ourselves and to other people. We should start criticizing ourselves more.  Not in a bad way; not like being heavy with ourselves and regretting and all this. No, it’s more about just moving on and saying, “OK, I did this wrong, I have to think about it and I have to recognize it and use this mistake in order to not repeat it but to improve, to move on, to become a better human being.” I mean, that is the whole purpose, right? What’s the purpose in life? To learn, to improve, to help.

For us, our purpose  many times it’s to be happy. I mean that is, kind of, a way, but how do you reach happiness? It’s a little bit like the concept of the donkey going after the carrot. You know, the stick with the carrot and the donkey going after it all the time and we never reach there. Maybe instead of searching for happiness, we can start searching for non-unhappiness. Maybe that’s easier. Maybe we start to be not unhappy and we create the conditions to maybe start to be actually happy.

How to be not unhappy is to maybe to start to focus on other people and to try to have compassion for them. Try to not judge them so much; try to talk good things about them; to try to maybe value more positiveness than negativeness.

It tends to happen a lot, when we turn on the news, it’s more interesting to see bad things than good things, sometimes. In society, that’s how it is, the good things, they’re not so viral but the bad things are more viral. Not so much, but sometimes it is. If you have, let’s say, a football game, a rugby game, a golf game, a basketball game, all these different sports going on and everybody is watching the sports and then suddenly a fight breaks out. Everybody is going to want to watch the fight, nobody is looking at their games. Everybody is looking at the fight and going, “Oh, what’s going on?  What’s happening?”

We have this tendency of being attracted to this concept of negativity. You know a mother who raised her children by herself and put them through university, a single mother, will she make headlines in the newspaper? Difficult. But a mother that killed her son in one instant of rage, she will make headlines. “Mother kills her son,” everybody is going to be talking about her. But the mother who raised children for twenty years by herself working two jobs, cooking for them and putting them through university and all of this every day, every day, for twenty years. Is she going to make headlines? I don’t know. I mean, why? Why is that? Why is it not important, the positiveness?

Sometimes it’s like, for example, I have a friend, his parents were very liberal. They always gave him a lot of space, anything he wanted to do, they supported him one hundred percent, they never hit him, never. But his mother slapped him one time and he remembers that clear, so clear, and he even speaks about it still.  “Oh, yeah. I remember when my mother slapped me.” It’s like, come on man. Why is that so important? It just happened in one second, one time. Why does that stay so strong in your mind?

We give so much importance to negativity. Why don’t we just switch that around? If we gave so much importance to positiveness, and negativeness we just try to forget, unless we are learning from it or using it as a tool, then in the end what is really going to matter is the positiveness. The negativeness is going to slowly disappear; it’s going to become insignificant, unless of course we are using it as a tool.

Every day, every moment in life is an opportunity to learn and improve. All the time. It is always there, we’re always here, it’s always now, right now. And it’s always been now. It’s always the same day. It’s just the earth going around the sun. It’s always the same day; it’s day and night, day and night. It’s the same day, it’s the same life. And it’s changing all the time. I mean time doesn’t really exist. It is change what exists. And what is change? It’s vibration, it’s movement. The scientists call it oxidation. We are dying, but we are not dying, we are living. It’s movement, it’s vibration. If there was no movement, we would be stuck like ice. We would be statues. Anyways, I am going to go to the notes now.

Do you want to do some question and answer? Or any suggestions what I should talk about maybe?

Q: Should you give the monkey mind a full-time job or a part-time job?

Ösel: Oh, what do you think?

Q: A part-time job.

Ösel: Part-time is more easy, right.  I think it’s a good opportunity, for example, when we are traveling, let’s say, in the bus or on the tube going to work, we have this time when we can put it to work and do some meditation. You know, when we have this time, instead of thinking, thinking and getting nervous or getting stressed out by the circumstances, I think it’s good to breathe out, chill out a bit and just give oneself some space.

Many times we don’t give ourselves space, and we are always thinking about the future;  we are thinking about the past; we are not really thinking about the present. We have these patterns and we allow the habits and the patterns to take over, to take control of our lives, you know.

It’s like addiction. Addiction is sometimes like that. We are addicted to something because we give leadership to the patterns and habits and we follow them. We don’t really become the captains of our boat. We just let the wind take us wherever it wants and sometimes the sails will break, sometimes we may hit the rocks, so it becomes really complicated and we can really damage the ship. So I think it is important to really be the captain of your boat and not to allow the habits or the patterns, or the unsatisfaction, all this, to really take over.

What is unsatisfaction? Unsatisfaction is not living the moment. If we lived in the moment, we would be satisfied. Satisfaction is a big deal. I mean, capitalism works on that. If everybody was satisfied, probably the economy would collapse.

We are all satisfied? Apart from maybe having a bed, food, a roof and company. We don’t really need much more than that to survive. There would be no economy. Capitalism wouldn’t really work. So unsatisfaction, it’s a big deal.

Like cosmetics, for example. If most women were, if they had this security, this self-esteem that they should have, probably the cosmetics business would collapse. Because they feel good about themselves, they would feel sure about themselves, they would feel, “I am beautiful.”  When you wake up, you are so beautiful, you don’t need any make-up to be beautiful. The real beauty is inside. That’s the real beauty and that’s what people see. It’s not about outside, how I look. It’s what’s inside, that’s what really reflects, that’s what really comes out and that’s what people see and that’s what they appreciate.

And that, sometimes we don’t tend to see that because we are influenced by society. We think, we have this concept of beauty, is what we see when we see—what are they called? The advertisements? The windows, the billboards, but actually that's not real, it doesn’t exist. That person does not exist. It has gone through so much Photoshop, so much manipulation, that actually that person does not exist. And they try to make us believe that that is the concept of beauty. But it is not, because it doesn’t exist. How can beauty, how can something that doesn’t exist be beautiful? Think about it.

Q: Holographic.

Ösel: Yeah, it’s like a hallucination. Yeah, samsara is a little bit of a hallucination actually.

Q: I have a question about our process as a human being. Death is like a really big thing in our process. It’s already really hard to get a clear mind throughout our lives, you know to practice the Dharma and to try to spend our lives to really be in the moment. So after the death process, where we will end up? It’s really nice to ask you this question because here you are, and you know about your previous life. So I was wondering because many times you hear that high lamas they do a lot of pujas and everything for them and when they are born again they have to be found and different things have to be done for them so to get them on their process again. So most of us we don’t have that. So you know we just end up dying somewhere and we don’t have someone to help us get us back on the trail. So I am wondering how’s this going. We have imprints, but it looks like it is so hard to really get out of samsara.

Ösel: It’s a really good question, I mean, there are many questions in one. I should take notes.

Q: Like for you, do you remember? Do you still have these realizations that you had in your previous life?

Ösel: If I did, I would probably be like floating right now.

Q: So, if it works like that for you,  where are we? You are so far in your process and …

Ösel: Look, let me start with the first question. So death, death is very interesting but I think every night we go to sleep, it is a small death. And every morning we wake up, it is a rebirth. It is a training for the final death. But death is just a concept actually. It is just a continuation. It’s not definite. So we all have this same potential. We all have the same potential and we have infinite potential.

So, the essence of what we are is like clear light. The way the Dharma explains it is clear light. So that’s what really travels from the body. And then when it takes form in the body at the moment the sperm and the egg come together, then the clear light comes in at that moment and slowly the heart starts beating after some time. And then the single cell starts dividing and starts multiplying into many, many cells. We are an organism composed by billions of cells. The amoeba are single cell animals. Are they animals? Can we call them animals? Maybe they are like microbes?

Q: It’s an organism.

Ösel: So it is an animal or not? It's a living thing. It has a consciousness, right? The scientists, they tested it. It wants to run away from suffering and it likes to have enjoyment. So for example, the food, it goes to the food and when you poke it, it runs away. I’m not sure, but it does have that concept of ….

Q: It swims away.

Ösel: Yeah, it swims away. Anyway, single-cell animals like amoeba they are alive and they have a consciousness and they are a part of us. We are multi-celled sentient beings; multi-organisms. Many organisms together, billions of them. I mean, if you think of a consciousness of an amoeba in our stomach, maybe. We have amoebas in our stomach, right? Do we or not?

Q: Some kind of ...

Ösel: OK, so some kind of single-celled amoeba or something. The consciousness of that sentient being compared to our consciousness, for example. It’s a big difference, right? I mean think about that difference, the capacity, thet difference. So maybe think about the sun compared to the solar system for example, or the earth compared to the solar system. The consciousness of the earth compared to the consciousness of the sun, or the consciousness of the sun compared to the consciousness of the galaxy. It’s a little bit like that, it’s so big. It’s so different. The distance is so huge, but it is there.

It’s our responsibility, all these organisms are under our responsibility. So when we are unhappy, we also bring them down. If we have compassion for them, if we have this gratefulness to our body, we bring them up, the energy, and they will support us and it will make us more happy and bring us up also. Also depending on our moods, it’s very subtle, maybe we don’t really see it, but it is there. The more joy, the more positive things we say, the more positive things we think, automatically the body also uplifts itself and it helps us to be more joyful, more happy, more not unhappy, right? Sometimes it is good to think about these things, to see a little bit and have this broad mind.

For example, in space we have stars, planets and the distance between them, the space between them. We have planets going around the stars and all the space in between. It’s a little bit like the nucleus and the electrons and the protons and all this going around, with all this space in between. So it is just, the metaphor is like a reflection of what is around us. This table looks solid but actually what is happening is very similar to what is happening in space. It’s just that we can see all the space in space. But the table, we may not be really aware of it, but if you check it is there.

Quantum mechanics and quantum physics talks about it. They say, I’m not sure what percentage, but they say around ninety-nine percent is empty. I’m not sure if this is true, but I have read it and it could be true that they say, if you really put together all the physically solid material that composes earth, it would all fit in a sugar cube. I mean that is mind boggling, right? Wow.

So what is solid? What is true? What we see, is it really what there is? Because what we see and what we experience has to go through all these senses, right. So for example, I see you, but what I am seeing is the brain neurons, the receptors that are receiving the sensorial mind of the eye which is sending that information through the eye, through the reflection, through the light that bounces off, making the colors, the shapes. My brain receives it and then my mind receives it through the brain, so there are all these different conditioners, all these different receptors that it has to go through. So in the end, it is just the theory, it is theoretically, what do you call that?

For example, when you read a book, you never really understand completely what the writer wants to say. And the writer will never really understand what the reader will understand. So there is this big space between them.

Q: Subjective? Perception?

Ösel: Yeah, it is subjective and perception.

Q: It’s like you make an image for yourself.

Ösel: Yeah, exactly, you make your own image. Like maybe we can say religion. Religion started, let’s say for Buddhism, it started 2,500 years ago approximately, right? How long ago? 2,500 or 2,600 years ago. It's gone through lots of theories and understandings and concepts and interpretations.

That's the word I was looking for, interpretation. So it goes through lots of interpretations and then it reaches us and it’s a little similar like that, you know. What we receive as information of what reality is, is just interpretations of interpretations of interpretations. So what is really there is not exactly what we are seeing or experiencing and that is the reality.

So it’s good to question ourselves all the time. Question. That is one of the basis of Dharma, to question. The Buddha when he gave teachings, he said that his teachings should be treated like a goldsmith treats gold. Before the goldsmith accepts that the gold is gold, it has to go through a process. He heats up the gold, he melts it, he scratches it, he burns it, he tests it to the limit and once he’s done all of those things, then he says, “OK, this is authentic gold.” Then he says, “This is a precious metal.”  And he treats it as such.

So we can’t just say, “Oh, because Buddha said, or because this teacher said, or because it is written in the text, then it is true.” We take it as my truth. Nobody can really come and say, “Oh, I found the truth. Here, take it,” because maybe this is my truth, maybe my path, maybe my reality, my understanding, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is your understanding, right?

You have to find your own way, your own path. I mean, what Dharma can do is a little bit like the medicine, is a little bit like the light in the middle of a dark forest. If you are in the middle of a dark, dark forest and there is absolutely no light and you want to get out this forest, it will take much longer if you are in total darkness. You may fall, you may get scratched, wild animals may eat you up.

But if you have some light, let’s say full moon shining at night, then at least we can see a little bit. And then we can maybe climb a tree or go up on top of a mountain and see from far away and say, ”Ah, look, the forest ends over there,” or there’s water over there or there’s a clearing or something. So we say, “OK, I want to go in that direction,” so thanks to the light we can really gain time.

We go in a straight line, we don’t fall, we don’t get scratched. We just reach our destination that we chose because it was our idea, “Oh, that’s the way out of the forest.” Because we are trying to get out.

We are not going to the moon. We can’t get to the moon. The moon is a little bit like Dharma or the guru. We’re not going to the guru, we’re not going to the Dharma. We are trying to understand ourselves and we are trying to discover our inner potential, right. We are trying to nourish ourselves in order to nourish others through wisdom and compassion.

So sometimes it does create confusion. Some people get lost in their way, “Oh, Dharma, Dharma, Dharma, Dharma, or religion or spirituality, or this or the guru, guru, guru, guru."  And then somehow thirty years pass by, and they’re still a little bit, they’re not really sure what’s going on, if they’re really advancing or not.

And that is the thing, the more we focus outside, the further away we are from ourselves and from our inner potential. So it is really important to really see that, to really try to use it as a tool to go deep inside. When you understand yourself, you can understand everything. When you understand your own reality then you can understand the external reality too. So it is not about focusing outside; it’s about focusing inside. Of course, we have to focus outside in order to understand the inside too, because that is also the process of life, it is an experience. We are like on a boat. This body is part of the experience.

So, your question was about the teachers. Many of the practitioners who practice most of their life and they train for the meditation of the clear light, they call it, which is after death. Once the heart stops beating and the lungs stop functioning, the body doesn’t decay. It doesn’t become stiff. It is very flexible, the body, and it smells good too. It doesn’t smell bad. Some of these meditators after they die or their physical body dies they stay in meditation maybe for one week, two weeks and even sometimes a month. And this happens very often, or occasionally depending on; it’s not every day but there are many meditators who do that.

Like, for example, my teacher who passed away last August, he was like my father and my mother. He raised me literally since I was six years old. Every day he gave me so much, so much compassion, so much love and dedication and patience, oh my god. I was such a brat when I was a kid. I was a rebel, I was uncontrollable. And he had so much patience with me, oh my god. And through that patience eventually I started to really respect him and really love him and appreciate him, so when he said something I would listen to him immediately, because of that patience, because of that dedication, because of that love and that huge heart he had.

Anyway, he passed away this last August, suddenly. I think he got food poisoning and started vomiting one night and he had some heart difficulty. So I think because the food poisoning, the next day he was at the hospital and he just suddenly passed away. His heart stopped.

So he was for about a week in meditation, his body. And his teacher was for three weeks in meditation. I remember back when I was in the monastery his teacher was for three weeks, amazing. Really amazing. So basically the body is dead, physically dead, but the mind, the clear mind, is still there. So there is a type of meditation that you do where it’s not really using the body, it just stays in the body, so it is completely independent. It doesn’t depend on the body to exist, to survive.

So I don’t know how to explain. But maybe you can say it’s not so connected to samsara or the emotions or thoughts or to all these conditions, like we need to drink water, we need to breathe air, we need food, we have many necessities like, for example, excess brings suffering. Anything without moderation, we are not going to enjoy. In order to enjoy we need moderation. That’s how it is. Even water, if we drink excess water we can die from it; our stomach will just explode. So if we want to enjoy we have to do it in a moderate way and then we can enjoy. If we eat too much chocolate, it’s not going to be delicious anymore.

So we do have these conditions and so when these meditators, they practice their whole life, you know. Every night when they go to sleep they are practicing, like the small death and when they awake they are also being reborn again. It’s learning, the earth is a school, you could call it a school. So after, like this, say a week or three weeks, when they finish their meditation then they leave their bodies. And somehow they ejaculate. For a woman, I am not sure what the case would be. But for a man that’s what happens. It is very interesting, after the clinical death for one week or three weeks, still they can actually ejaculate. It’s amazing. And that is when the mind leaves the body.

Meanwhile, there is no smell. Like for my teacher’s teacher, for three weeks they would wash him, and he would be flexible, and they put some cotton in the nose and the ears because some liquid would come out. But that’s it.

So the mind, the clear light, is still inside the body but it doesn’t depend on the body. So after that process, then they leave the body. But that’s like, for people who have been practicing their whole life for that death.

We all have the same potential. Buddha is an example. Buddha was a normal human being like us with all the attachments and the fears, the jealousy, the greed, the unsatisfaction, all these things. But he decided to let go of the candy and take the hand out of the coconut.

It is easy. We just have to recognize the attachment, we have to recognize how the mind plays tricks on us every day. Observe the emotions, observe the mind and slowly start to detach from that. And through the wisdom and the compassion in action, then we can slowly do it. And every day, every moment is a chance, an opportunity to practice it. 

So we shouldn’t think, Oh, we are so far away. They are so great and we are so small. No. We all have the same potential, it’s just maybe we are more lazy. We are kind of lazy, actually. I am really lazy. I am super lazy, I like to sleep a lot. I want to make myself believe that it’s a very good meditation.

Let’s see, maybe I can get some ideas from the notebook. Of course, happiness is very relative. For each person we find the joy in different things, but the real joy is to see other people happy. That is the real joy, when we really see the smile on other people, the gratefulness, their joy, their happiness. That’s when we can really feel the satisfaction. That is when we really feel good about ourselves. And we are not supposed to do it to feel good about ourselves, we are supposed to genuinely do it for them, and then the result will be to feel good about ourselves. So that is also karma. Karma really works with intention. It can be the same action, but the intention really makes a big difference.

Like for example, there is this story in the Buddha’s past life. In one of his lives he was on a boat and he found out about someone who wanted to kill three hundred people on the boat. And out of great compassion, because he knew if he killed that person he would go to the lower realms, but out of great compassion for the killer and for the victims he decided to take it upon himself to kill the killer. Even though that would create the cause for him to go to the lower realms and to create a huge amount of bad karma. So with that compassion, with that intention, he killed that person.

And many lifetimes later, as the Buddha, he was walking on a path with one of his disciples and he stepped on a thorn. And then he told his disciple, “See, this is the karma from having killed that person,” and the disciple said, “Wow, but that is so minimum. I thought killing a person is much bigger than that, it is lifetimes of suffering in the hell realms.” The Buddha said, “Yes, my son, but the intention changed everything.”

So when we actually do actions when we have the mind, the speech and the body; so the mind is the first, it is the beginning. Everything you see here started with a thought. Maybe besides the flowers, but even the arrangement of the flowers started with a thought. Everything. Tell me one thing that did not start with a thought in here. Nothing, right? Yes, the flowers themselves, but the arrangement is also a part of the thought. Everything started with a thought; somebody had to have that idea.

So that is how powerful thoughts are. Everything when you walk out the door and go into the city—the buildings, the planes, everything started with a thought. That is how powerful thoughts are. So we really have to be careful with the thoughts.

And then what follows the thought, the speech. We have a thought, we talk very fast. The Sufis, they say sometimes opportunities are like an arrow. Once you shoot an arrow, there is no going back. Just like when you say something fast without thinking, once you say it you can’t take back what you said. So that is why you have to be very aware of what you say, and how do you do that, by being aware of our thoughts in the mindstream.

So the thought first, then the speech and then the body. So these three things are very important. And what is behind that? The intention. So what is the intention? To help other people, to help them to be more happy, right? Because that is what we want for us. So that is compassion. To find that joy in us, but in other people. The real joy. So that’s Dharma, I think. It is a method that will really work if you put it into practice every day.

So it’s not really about the destination. You are talking about the destination. It’s about the journey. I mean, once you reach the destination, you become a buddha, then you have to dedicate everything to helping sentient beings. But the journey is the same. The journey is really what we should focus on. The destination is important to give us a purpose, the intention, but the real experience is the journey, the path, and it is happening in every moment of every day. Here we are, right?

Q: It’s like the metta meditation.

Ösel: What is that?

Q: It’s like when you meditate on people and you wish them happiness.

Ösel: Yes, bodhicitta. Wishing them joy.

Q: It is very nice that you are here and that we have the opportunity to ask you some questions and share some thoughts and ideas. You said life is a journey, a path with intention. I would like to get some comments or reaction from you. A donkey that travels up a mountain doesn’t come back as a horse. How about us with studies, we try to integrate the ideas of Buddhist thinking but still we get sometimes trapped in old behaviors constantly, it's a journey. Where does it end?

Ösel: Here. Now. The beginning.

Q: But do you understand what I mean by the donkey who travels up the mountain but doesn’t come back as a horse?

Ösel: Yeah, but it’s a little bit like this, the donkey is a good example, but how about coal. Coal. Have you seen the old Superman movie? I remember when I was a kid it really impacted me, that scene when Superman is flying around the planet and he goes around the planet a lot of times and he makes the time go back or something like that, and then he saves the world and then he’s like, “OK, I want to get a diamond ring for my girlfriend.” So he goes to this coal mine and he takes a piece of coal, puts it in his hand, squishes it in his hand and then he opens his hand and there’s a diamond in his hand. You know how with coal, with enough time and enough pressure eventually it becomes a diamond. At least that is the theory, right.

So it doesn’t look like a diamond at the beginning but after billions of years, and a lot of pressure, millions of tons of pressure, that’s how the mineral becomes a diamond, you know. Then they work it and then, oh wow, it’s a beautiful diamond, and then you put it on a ring and then, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. But originally it was littlepiece of coal.

Just like, for example, from the darkest clouds, really dark clouds, suddenly the purest rain falls.

There’s a saying in Spanish that came to my mind. I don’t know, please don’t get offended, OK? But in Spanish we say …. It means, "From so much thinking, the donkey died." 

I don’t want to be offensive but sometimes from this type of thinking we are limiting ourselves. I mean actually in a way the education system and society does educate us to be like donkeys or like sheep, you know. We follow. Our creativity kind of disappears because we are scared of making mistakes, so we limit ourselves. And we have this pattern of following what is written in the book, "That is right, that’s how reality is, this is a great thing.” But actually, we are much more than donkeys and sheep, we are potentially buddhas.

In education, I think, it’s important to see that. Maybe they teach us and educate us on how to work, but there is a big piece missing, which is how to live; how to take care of ourselves; how to be aware of energies, cause and effect; how to take care of our bodies through diet, nutrition, through exercise. I mean nowadays a lot of different types of education are really helping us to understand this and to grow as human beings. So that is very lucky. But it is good to inform ourselves and to be aware of that, and not always be stuck in the habit, the patterns of, "This is how it has been so it’s always going to be like that all the time."

Things change. Sometimes life can surprise you. You know, we tend to be in our comfort zone, “This is my comfort zone, I am chilled, relaxed.” Until something big happens we don’t really move or make an effort to change or do something. So before life hits us really hard, if we can actually stand up and try to get out of the comfort zone and do something, it is better.

Because if we are lucky enough; otherwise life will really hit us hard. And then that’s when we will wake up, “Whoa, I have to do something.” But otherwise we are just chilling in the comfort zone, we are just lazy. We tend to be like, “Oh, it’s always been like that. Oh, let me just chill more. It’s OK, one more day.”

We don’t have much time. We really have to move on, we have to make an effort. And if we think we are donkeys than we are always going to be donkeys. And we are not donkeys, we are human beings with huge potential and we have big purpose and a big job, and a big, big, big opportunity and potential. So we really have to not limit ourselves in that way. We really have to see ourselves as buddhas.

That is why in many meditations, part of the meditation is to visualize ourselves as deities, as a buddha. And each buddha represents a good quality in a human being. For example, the Compassionate Buddha, compassion, you know, wisdom, things like that. So when we visualize that buddha, we are visualizing that good habit, that good quality in ourselves, which we already have it. Like His Holiness, in the Kalachakra in Bodhgaya, he was talking about how some babies, newborn children, like just five months old, they don’t speak or anything. But they did an experiment, they showed them photos of children, like one child taking the ball from the other and when they showed that photo, they would frown. Then one child pushing the other one and when they showed that photo, the baby would frown. But when they showed a baby hugging another baby or giving them an apple to each other, then he would smile.

So even at five months old, already they have this ability and this innate, natural capacity of really recognizing empathy, love and compassion, and sharing, all these things. So it’s already inside of us. We are born with that, we are born pure, even though sometimes, many times, we have the imprints and the patterns from past lives. It comes with it, so also we have to learn to recognize that and to change.

So it’s not easy, it’s a challenge, but it’s interesting. If there was no challenge, it would be boring, right? If there is no mystery, what is the point? If we already know what is going to happen when we die. If we already know that, then there is no mystery. It’s not juicy. It’s not so interesting. We like it to be more interesting, so mystery is good and challenge is good. We need to challenge ourselves, so don’t limit yourself, OK?

Any more questions or comments?

Q: Who was your teacher?

Ösel: Geshe Gendun Choephel. He was amazing. He was seventy-three when he passed away. More questions please. One more, OK.

Q: First of all, welcome, and thanks very much that you came. There are some people like myself in the public that use certain programs from the FPMT like the Sixteen Guidelines or from Pam Cayton. I know there’s a few here who are busy doing that kind of stuff, like myself. I just wondered if you had any advice along those lines, because I am very interested in those programs because it takes — it doesn’t take it out of Buddhist culture, but it puts it into Lama Yeshe said, Universal Education and that sort of stuff. I’m just wondering if you have any advice at all about how to best do that.

Ösel: Where are you from?

Q: I am originally from the Bahamas.

Ösel: The Bahamas, wow, it must be nice there. Is it cold here?

Q: Yeah, it’s very cold.

Ösel: Thank you for that question, it’s very interesting. I think it’s very helpful, the Sixteen Guidelines. I mean all the information is really, really helpful and it’s really good to have it, and it’s a great opportunity, but we also have to understand it from our own perspective, because each of us have a different perspective in life so each of us understands it in a different way. So it’s good to get information from everywhere and then try to filter it and see what is helpful for you and what is not. Just because it is written there, you don’t have to push and hit your head really hard and be like, “I must absorb this. This has to work for me.” It doesn’t necessarily have to work for everybody. The Buddha taught different paths, different techniques for different people, so there’s not one path for everybody. Everybody has to find also their own, what works for them and what they identify with, what attracts them. But eventually we are all going to the same place.

So anyway, maybe we should wrap it up. I don’t want to make you too tired, I don’t want to make it too late. I know many of you have to work tomorrow. I want to thank you so much for coming here and I want to thank also the center, Maitreya. I really want to thank the center Maitreya which has been here for how long?

Q: Twenty years in Amsterdam.

Ösel: Twenty years in Amsterdam. And thanks to everybody who is the community and thanks to everybody who comes to the center and who supports the center and who participates in the center. So thanks to all of you, this center has been able to be here. It is a means for many people to understand life, learn about life, find their own potential, and maybe find happiness and help other people to find happiness too. So I really want to thank you, all of you as a community, and please keep helping Maitreya center, Maitreya Institute? Is it Institute? Because without you there is no Maitreya Institute.

By being part of the community and participating, it also helps for the next generations to also be introduced to that, and to be able to have that opportunity. Especially in Amsterdam many people are very anxious and stressed; they are bombarded by entertainment and narcotics, external agents, intoxicants that change the perception of our mind. I mean, maybe it can be helpful, I am not sure, sometimes to see the different perspective, but in the end it is just putting more samsara on top of samsara. So it’s not really that helpful. It is much more important to really be who you are, instead of running away from who you are.

I think sometimes addicts who take drugs or alcoholism or like nicotine or tobacco, all of these things, in a way it is a representation of a conflict that we have inside. And the conflict many times it comes because we don’t have a sense of belonging, we don’t have this sense of purpose, you know, of being useful.

So we really have to find that. If somehow we are addicted to something like that, we have to recognize, first step, that we are addicted; the second step is, “What can I do to fill that gap up, fill that space up? So what do I have to do to feel a part of something, what is my purpose? How can I belong? How can I be useful?” So also the center in a way is a community to help people like that.

It is also our responsibility also in life and society to be able to support each other, to give each other attention and help and love. You know, just walking in the street it is good to look at people in the eyes. It’s good to smile. Why wouldn’t you smile? Smile to people. It doesn’t matter if they don’t smile back, it’s OK. You know, at least they saw that smile, that’s going to change their day, you know. Ask the people a question when you go to eat something or when you are going somewhere public. Someone who is working in a public place, like the person who sells you a ticket or the person who is serving you food, ask them, "How is your day? What time did you come in and how many hours have you got left until you get out?" Ask them questions like that, that will make them feel happy. It will make them feel like you care for them.

Many times in the city people feel nobody cares for them. You know, we are all together walking on the streets, but we feel so lonely. So it is good to ask questions, it’s good to look at people and smile at them and talk to them and care for them. It may change their day,  it may even change their life. Who knows what that person is going through? Many small details make the big detail, you know, so just be aware of those small details. Thank you so much for being here and thank you so much for supporting the community. Keep up the good work.