Today I’m supposed to give an introduction to taking refuge and the five precepts, and to bodhicitta and tantra. To demonstrate this in a clean-clear way and to do so completely is difficult in a short time. I’m sure most of you already know why and how, so I’ll just explain a little bit briefly. I’ll try, OK?
External Refuge and Inner Refuge
Taking refuge is actually very important. Anyway, we do take refuge—in food, clothes, friends and security. We try to be secure, to make life comfortable—this is taking refuge. Even mosquitoes and chicken take refuge. Refuge is not something new. I want you to know this clean-clearly. Even when we are babies we cry: “Ehhhhhh! I want milk; I want milk, Mama!” The baby doesn’t say “milk,” but the “ehhhhhh,” cry is itself the asking for milk and saying, “I’m thirsty.” Everything that we try to do physically or mentally is an expression of trying to take refuge. That’s why taking refuge is not a new thing. It’s important to know that taking refuge is not something new; it’s our trip. We do everything to try to make ourselves happy.
In an industrialized country we take everything—the minerals of the earth, everything—don’t we? This is taking refuge. Those big companies digging for oil are taking refuge, aren’t they? You know what I mean—to make a better world, they say. Maybe it’s true to some extent. All of you appeared here like mushrooms, coming by plane. Maybe those companies worked hard and did research. Anyway, we mean well; everybody means well. We take refuge to make life better, more comfortable, richer or whatever.
I agree we human beings need comfort; I agree we need a peaceful and healthy body. There’s no disagreement with the Western philosophy of having a healthy body; we agree. However, if we take refuge only in a healthy body and forget about a healthy mind, that is unfortunate, because we are forgetting the principal thing, or nucleus of life and we are just trying to do something unimportant, secondary. We should try to put effort into the important things. The Buddhist point of view is that the mind is the most important thing so that whether we are healthy or sick physically, our mind will be healthy and happy. The mind is the most important thing in order to have clarity and satisfaction, because the mind is what has the experience of misery or happiness. That’s why taking refuge in a temporary object is alright; taking the right food and right medicine for our body is important.
We call some things an “ultimate refuge.” This means taking refuge or comfort without depending on material objects, on substances or external energy—oil and petrol or whatever, or our friends, our wife or husband, our girlfriend or boyfriend. There’s something inside us which somehow can deal with things and create mental satisfaction within ourselves. That is important. For example, you people come here to Kopan and your standard of life at Kopan is sort of third world. It’s uncomfortable, you know, cold, no hot showers! I mean, it is something unusual for you; it’s not your style. But you are trying something, checking up what’s going on in Tibetan Buddhism, so your mind has decided, “I’m alright; I’m uncomfortable but that’s alright. I am trying to check out what they’re thinking, what they’re doing.” So you’re still existent here, aren’t you? That comes from the mind, not from the body. If your parents were to come for one day they couldn’t stay here, I tell you! Except Philippe’s mother. He pushes his mother too much. I was surprised this year: his mother’s house in Geneva is super comfortable and she stayed here. I could not believe it!
So you see, taking refuge is something we can do in any situation—sometimes we are so tired, sometimes angry; you never know. You may have a check here, but the situation is that you cannot buy something, so you will be angry, won’t you? In life we can never predict what will happen the next day. Life is something unpredictable: whether we will be alive tomorrow or dead tomorrow, who knows? We all have to go through sickness, don’t we? Most people on this earth die from illness. Is it true or not? Yes, we do have to go through sickness. So, when we have physical sickness, if our mind is tranquil, peaceful and blissful, we are satisfied, there’s no disaster. But if the mind doesn’t have any refuge, any kind of technique to keep it clean-clear and satisfied, then if the body is bananas already, the mind becomes bananas too!
Buddhism teaches that if the circumstances of the body are poor conditions, such as being a prisoner in a concentration camp or in any other kind of bad conditions, if the mind has refuge, strength and some way to utilize that moment, then we can use that time and energy to make life useful, satisfied, controlled and clean-clear. We can definitely do that. That’s important, isn’t it? Physically not having good conditions—some sort of disaster—but mentally we can be content and satisfied. That is the difference between taking refuge inside and taking refuge only in external things. The difference is that when disasters or miserable conditions come, we can cope with the situation and still be clean-clear. We can hold a clean-clear, satisfied and happy life inside the mind. That is the benefit of taking inner refuge.
This was my own experience: I was a young monk, a young boy, who was taken care of by all the family—the Tibetan family is very strong. In the monastery one old monk, my uncle—my father’s brother—took care of me. My mother and my father took care of me and protected me in that way until I was twenty-five years old. When I was twenty-five years old the Chinese came and somehow, I had to leave my life, that protected situation. I had never been educated about the world; I didn’t know about the Western world. I only presumed that there must be some place where there’s no China and they have some freedom, where my own spiritual growth could continue. I only knew that! So I said, “OK, I’m just going—at least there’s spiritual freedom there. I’m going—I don’t care where I’m going.” Actually, I didn’t know where I was going to.
So, they put us in some concentration camp. Somehow we could still cope with the concentration camp: the only thing left that could help was some kind of Dharma, “orientation thinking.” That was the only thing which helped me. The rest—my comfort, my home, my Mama, my Papa, my uncle, who took care of me up until twenty-five—all disappeared. I never thought I needed clothes up until then because they gave me clothes—they were just there. Suddenly, when I was alone, I realized, “I need some clothes.” Then I thought, “My parents were very kind.”
However, what I’m saying is that we were alone, with nothing; we didn’t even have prayer books. Normally monks used to have a lot of prayer books but I didn’t have anything; I had one bälgö1 with which I slept on the floor in the concentration camp. Then what was left over was whatever Dharma I had learned. That was helpful, really helpful. That explained why I had to leave my home and family. That was the only reason I adjusted to the concentration camp. This was my experience—there was no comfort when the dahl and rice came, it was unbelievable. The dahl that came was like kaka, you know, because it was not our style. When dahl and rice came it was incredibly painful. When we ate the dahl we got dysentery. I had dysentery for months and months. Sometimes I realized I would have to stop eating dahl. Anyway, you understand. Now I don’t want to talk about my trip.
I’m not talking about higher realizations; I’m simply talking about a difficult time. What was really helpful was first of all, thinking, “It must be my karma.” Secondly, the Tibetan people, all of us, have some common karmic connection and everybody has some kind of way in which we are contributing to each other, a reflection of karma. So, we have to experience some suffering. However, to adjust to this situation, Dharma was the only thing left that was helpful for me. I didn’t cry at that time; I was just in a completely new situation. Nobody explained the new situation because I didn’t know the language. The only explanation came from my little understanding of Dharma, and this preserved me. At least I didn’t become crazy at that time. It’s possible, isn’t it? At that time many people became crazy and many people killed themselves because they couldn’t understand. India was like a hot hell, completely, and they had lost everything—their wife, their husband—it was unbelievable! They couldn’t cope and some people killed themselves. However, taking refuge in Dharma will help to bring us up and help us adjust our life in any kind of circumstances, any miserable situation. That is the way of taking refuge.
So, taking refuge is very useful. Why it’s useful taking refuge inside is that then we do not depend so deliberately, with such intensive awareness, on that or this comfort, on that or this beautiful flower. We know exactly that this flower is an impermanent, transitory relationship. It’s alright—it has some kind of energy, it’s giving us help; but if we take refuge only in the flower, my goodness, it’s crazy, isn’t it? Completely crazy! Oh, what a crazy mind we have! I am just talking about a flower now, but we do have this crazy mind. We choose one object, and think, “Wonderful! Fantastic! This is my life. This is my refuge. This is my god. This is my Jesus. This is my everything.” Something like that. When we have an exaggerated mind that is the beginning of trouble. When I say, “You are the Buddha, the Dharma, you are Jesus, you are God,” you people think I’m crazy, “This monk is crazy!” So, we all have this similar crazy attitude. We do have it—check it out. This is what makes us miserable.
This kind of attitude of projecting and then starting a relationship with the external world always brings trouble because it’s not true. Even if we have this kind of relationship with the external guru or external environment, or external church or temple, it is completely wrong. It is not possible to take these with us all the time. Then we say, “This is my life.” This is the beginning of trouble and more trouble. So that is when we should take refuge clean-clearly and deliberately: “My relationship to the external world, well, it goes, it comes; it is not absolute. My destination, taking refuge, is something I need, that I can keep. But in a true sense when taking refuge, I’m never sure when and where I’m going in my life. Who knows?” Even though we say we control our life, we do not control it. I never expected that in my life I would be talking to you people. I just happen to be talking to you people and I just happened to come to India. I never planned, “I’m going because Tibet is going to be taken by China.” It just happened. I don’t even know why I have to talk to you; I’m just doing it. It’s true. I have to be honest, don’t I? I’m joking.
Life is never a certainty; even one night is never a certainty. When you are sleeping comfortably and are healthy, suddenly in the middle of the night asthma comes. It is my experience: I am sleeping very comfortably and I have an experience of asthma suddenly coming. You check your life: it’s something you have to deal with.
Without Inner Refuge, Western Life is Painful
What I’m saying is not only about dying, but in every situation of our life we have circumstances where we are up and down, up and down, and to really keep a happy and healthy condition we definitely need something inside—some understanding. Without understanding something inside it is very difficult, so miserable. I think it is very miserable, especially in the Western world. We have so much external comfort, yet it seems like our mind is more difficult, more sensitive, more dualistic, more superstitious, more deluded, than these simple country people. Simple country people don’t even know good chocolate, do they? They don’t know the twenty-one flavors of ice cream. We have so much, so we have conflict just choosing what ice cream to eat! Those conflicts come from the mind, not the body. There’s no question—Western people definitely need to take refuge. They need it desperately, I tell you.
Westerners suffer from loneliness, and relationships within Western society are without much connection. The connection is very artificial, a very—I don’t know—shunyata relationship. I think in one way I can maybe call them shunyata relationships because there is no relative connection with each other, is there? It’s very complicated! So that’s why we have such loneliness feelings. There are a lot of people who, even though they are working together, are still incredibly lonely—they are working together but the relationship is shunyata, so there is no warm communication to touch each other’s human heart. There’s nothing. It’s not that one is a bad person; it’s something in society’s structure, that’s all. It’s just the structure of karma, that’s all. It’s not that Western people are bad guys. Alright!
So, we have to deal with the Western situation. My point of view is that Western life without something of inner comfort, some inner refuge, is very painful; extremely painful. Maybe I’m deluded; this is only my opinion that it’s so painful. The Western life is dedicated so much, from morning to evening, to hard work just for bread and butter, just for the existence of the body. My goodness! Working so hard, so dedicated; working for bread and butter and to eat well and make kaka and sleep. I’m sorry, I’ve made you angry now. I hope not. We work hard and make money and buy more bread and butter, and eat and make kaka and sleep, then we go and do it again! I’m putting this down a lot.
I think you have to check it out, don’t you? In Buddhism I can say anything, it’s my opinion, so you have to check it out; you have to analyze.
We are born and we get old—sixty, seventy, eighty years old—then what? What is left over? Our life is spent that way, that way, that way and that way, isn’t it? With no inner strength, with no confidence, no satisfaction from what we did. If we didn’t serve any other people, the result is that when we’re old we say, “Wow! It’s incredible—I came to this earth and I worked so hard to make money. Of course, I helped my wife or helped my husband. I gave them money and then I ate, I slept, I made kaka, but really, I didn’t do so much in this world.” The result is guilt.
Guilt is not something that comes from religion, you know. Guilt is feeling, “I should have done something better; I could have done something more, but at that time I didn’t. At that time I had some opportunity, but I didn’t. I didn’t contribute much for others.” And then, before dying we are so sad. It’s just natural. I think it’s so sad. And then, when we retire, we just wait for death, thinking, “Young people never look at me because I’m too ugly.” Do you understand? In the West young people never like to look at old men or old ladies; they think they are terrifying. They think, “I’m going to become like that. Who wants it? I hope I die before I become like that!” Well!
Buddhism talks about reality: what is happening in reality; what is happening in life. Buddhism’s only business is in what is happening in life—what is happening in my life, in my body and my mind. If we are really clever, if our mind is clean-clear, we can see what will go on for the rest of our life; we can see something. It’s not something we have to have mental telepathic powers for—we can see it with our present level of mind. “My mind is going this way, this way and this way, so I can see my life going this way and that way.” We can predict it because of the karma of our existence. Don’t you think it’s painful, that kind of thing? It’s very painful. Especially now, Western people are so sad; many are non-religious people. They’re non-religious people. When they’re old they don’t have any sort of strength, they don’t get resources from relatives or from anything, you know. They’re just so scared, very scared. It’s very sad, very sad.
In the Western world when you’re old you’re almost dead already! Let’s say I’m your father: I’m old and useless, I cannot do anything. You are going, you have no time. Do you have time? If you are my daughter or my son, do you have time for me? Do you in the West have time for me? Answer the question—maybe the question’s silly! I’m your father, a sick man, bananas! Do you have time for me? You can’t have time! Some say they have time, but it’s very difficult: you have obligations to your friends, you take care of your friends, so how can you have time for an old man? It’s just difficult, very difficult. So, for the old man who is just waiting to die the reality is that he has no confidence that dying can be very happy; no confidence, no mental exercise—just misery, meditation on misery. Alright, I’m not going to talk too much. I’m not putting anyone down, but you check. Maybe I exaggerate sometimes, but this is my experience. I want to show some reality, that’s why I express things like this. My reality is that without happiness or without having the inner strength from taking refuge or something, I think we are very miserable. So, taking refuge is very important.
Why Take Refuge in Buddhadharma?
Then, the business of taking refuge—why take refuge in Buddhadharma? Buddha means “opened” in the Sanskrit language, totally opened. A mind that is totally opened, having universal understanding, embracing universal reality. You can say “opened”—you can call that buddha. Maybe you are already a buddha. It is only a word. Of course, we have a philosophic, scientific explanation of the meaning of buddha, but I’m talking about it in a simple way. Buddha means opened mind, rather than closed tight, or wrapped up in a confused way. That’s why the Buddhist point of view is that all of us have got problems; we have small thoughts, wrong conceptions, tightness, bondage, superstition. But we also have the capability to cut all these things and be totally open, to become a buddha. To unify with buddha is within our capacity; we do have buddha potential. That’s why you shouldn’t think buddha is something foreign, don’t think that way; buddha is completely developed method—great love, bodhicitta, whatever—and great wisdom. Then you become a buddha. That’s all; it’s very simple. Don’t think in terms of language, don’t think of buddha in that language; you can call buddha something in your own language. What would you call it? Maybe Mickey Mouse. When you become a buddha, you become Mickey Mouse. Or maybe I shouldn’t say that. Sorry!
So, you understand, language is a problem: we are so oriented to dualistic concepts. Whenever I say an Eastern word you pull a face. Language is terrible; language makes a double wall for you—somehow buddha means a completely developed human being; that is buddha. That’s all, that’s all.
Dharma is the wisdom, the way to become a buddha, the way to liberation. Liberation from what? From human problems, human conflict, ego problems, attachment problems, hatred problems, desire problems, ignorance problems—liberated from these. So, Dharma is the way to liberate yourself from the difficulty of the three poisons.
Sangha are those who help each other. Maybe you can say we are Sangha. We try—I mean well when I try to talk to you. I hope I can help you. Maybe I’m your Sangha. Alright! So Sangha is us helping each other, acting together for the graduated path to enlightenment. We try to help each other, we mean well. Anyone who helps you to became more clean-clear, more realized, more satisfied—not superficial, worldly satisfaction, but some deeper satisfaction, more solid, more stable, more lasting—through wisdom and pure love, that kind of human being is Sangha. That can be a lady or gentleman, or anything. Sangha does not mean only those who have taken monk’s or nun’s vows—all of us are Sangha. Most of you Western people are couples, and a couple can be Sangha. A wife and husband can be Sangha, can really help each other—they can temporally help each other and ultimately help each other. We all need help for temporary adjustment in life, we need help emotionally and we need to give ultimate help to each other—we do need it, you know. We have emotions, so we need to somehow take care so we are emotionally stable, and we need to develop some kind of true great loving kindness and great wisdom.
Anyone around you who can do that is Sangha—that is your Sangha. That is not necessarily only a Buddhist. If you go back to a Christian priest and he helps your development of loving kindness and wisdom, he is also Sangha, even though he has a philosophically different religion. But as long as he helps you practically, he’s your Sangha. It’s true! Why do we need a helper? It depends—we don’t always need somebody who helps us to be right in front of us and we don’t always need relative Sangha—but while we are beginners we need somebody’s support, somebody’s help. When we are developed and have total confidence, we don’t need external Sangha or helpers; we don’t need an external guru—we can go completely inside, totally inside, like Milarepa. That’s a good example—Milarepa went alone into the mountains; he didn’t have any friends. Similarly, you can stay in your society and have good friends, but you don’t need “blah, blah,” friends.
You can see, in the West people desperately need a friend and yet the friend brings us down. What is really happening? Instead of being helpful to us, by being a friend they bring us down, make us irritated, increase our hatred and increase our agitation. That is not Sangha. “Sorry, I’m not helping you, you’re not helping me; when I helped you, you hurt me,”—that’s not right. You can say, “I have compassion for you, but I can’t help you; I’m sad, so goodbye,”—that’s a little better. If you hurt other people, it’s no good. Alright! So now you understand clean-clearly that taking refuge in Buddhadharma is so simple. You see, to take refuge in Buddhadharma you don’t need to say one word of an Eastern language; you don’t need to say one Western word—it’s just a way of understanding and an experience, that’s all. In Eastern countries, like Thailand or Tibet, people perform the taking of refuge; it’s the custom. Buddhism went into the culture, so people come together and recite:
La ma la kyab su chi o
Sang gyä la kyab su chi o
Chö la kyab su chi o
Ge dün la kyab su chi o
Taking refuge is definitely not some words. My opinion is—maybe I have the wrong conception—that it’s not saying any words, but just shutting up this mouth, locking it. First, you shut up this one, the mouth, then secondly you shut or block your eyes; then this sense; then this sense; do you understand? You lock the five sense perceptions and stay in intensive awareness, that’s all. I believe that’s the best way of taking refuge. Do you understand? In Buddhist countries taking refuge is again sensation: La ma la kyab su chi o, sang gyä la kyab su chi o. Again sensation, isn’t it? It’s the same thing as in a church; church sometimes becomes sensational, like a dancing place or opera. Puja becomes like an opera, unfortunately. Western people sometimes like Tibetan rituals and they come to see an opera the same as they watch in the West. It’s as if they’re watching gorillas or monkeys—Tibetan monks like monkeys!
In the true sense, when taking refuge, actually it is better to shut up this one, you know. But, of course, sometimes strong words help mental contemplation. We can do both; there are many different ways we can do it, but only words— “Blah, blah,”—is not taking refuge. What I’m saying is that “Buddha, Dharma, la, la, la ...” is not taking refuge. The mind ... something, mind ... something, something, something—I didn’t say anything, did I? Do you understand what “mind something” means? Oh my God! My language is only half, half, half! Do you know what I’m saying?
The mind is somehow confident because of having utilized your skill to put it into a clean-clear state, an intense awareness state. You have the ability to develop; you have the mental skill to bring your mind to such a tranquil, peaceful level. I think that’s all. Is that clear or not? I think that’s the way to be liberated. So simple, isn’t it? You have method, you have wisdom, you are capable. That’s all.
If you think, “I cannot, I cannot. Buddha can do it, somebody else can do it,”—that’s garbage! That thinking is weak; then there’s no strength. You can do it; I can do it. It’s true. Then you have confidence in the external Buddha and confidence in the internal Buddha; confidence in the outer Dharma and inner Dharma; in the inner Sangha and outer Sangha. That is the way to take refuge. In my opinion it is like some kind of realization. In my opinion, taking refuge is not something just like, “I’m hopeless, so Buddha help me, Dharma help me, Sangha help me!” It doesn’t work. “I’m miserable, so Buddha help me, Dharma help me.” I don’t think so. Somehow, for me, that is difficult. I won’t accept that, unfortunately—I must be a bad guy, you know!
That’s why I say taking refuge is some experience, some kind of realization. Many people misunderstand; they say, “I’m hopeless, so this is my protection. I get many problems, I am so much out of control, so I take refuge.” Maybe it’s OK, I don’t know! Maybe it’s alright, but taking refuge is something inside, it’s your experience, something very worthwhile, your realization, something pure, something very worthwhile. “Because I’ve had a certain experience already, I can go on in this way continuously. Keeping clean-clear conditions within my consciousness is the only way to liberate myself.” This is the way to take refuge.
It’s very simple: no rituals, no dorje and bell. You can take refuge in an airplane—you do take refuge there, don’t you? Sure! Definitely! Who knows when you may take refuge; perhaps they may suddenly say, “Oh, ladies and gentlemen, now our engine is going.” Who knows? Who knows? So, you take refuge. As long as there is engine power, as long as our mind is clean-clear, who cares? Who cares? Come, come, go, go—that’s all you know. What you can do is keep your inner mandala clean-clear, OK? It’s so simple. I think I’m not going to talk so much about taking refuge; that’s enough. Time is running out. Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—then what else? Is that enough for you people? Alright!
That’s good; otherwise there can be so many subjects about taking refuge—how and why? The qualities of a buddha: great compassion and limitless love, limitless wisdom and limitless power. You know these things from Rinpoche’s teachings; if I explain these things it becomes too much.
We also have explanations about true Sangha, remember? The ultimate Sangha are those who have the cessation of samsaric sufferings; we call them aryas to distinguish them from ordinary beings. The absolute Sangha have clean-clear understanding of shunyata. Practical Sangha is anyone who really brings you up and makes you clean-clear, who brings you satisfaction and happiness. That is why we have so much explanation in a scientific or philosophic way about how they have cut this and this, but that takes too much time. OK, that’s enough.
Five Lay Precepts
1. Abstaining from Killing
Precepts are very important actually. Let’s say we talk, like last time, about collecting merits. You do not kill other people but you may ask, “Why should I take a vow not to kill other people?” It’s different when you understand the situation and decide, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I will never kill any sentient being, any human being.” When you make that decision about any human being, about universal human beings, you get some kind of growth, some sort of energy. For example, if you say, “I will never kill my relatives or my friends, but those who are not my friends I’m never sure,” you make it limited, but when you say, “I will never kill; it doesn’t matter what nation—East, West, African or any people, without discrimination color-wise—I will never kill any human being,” you get merit according to the number of people in the world. So in your mind the object of not killing that you embrace is all international, universal people.
Also, if the situation comes there is no hesitation. Let’s say we have made a strong determination and then one African man tries to harm us, we have no hesitation about whether we should kill this African man or not. We have already decided we should never kill this African man, haven’t we? We have already made the determination, “I shall not kill anybody,” so when the situation comes there’s no hesitation. That’s why it’s very useful to take a vow to not kill any human being. I tell you, it’s such good merit. When we are determined, the merit is strong, and also loving kindness for others increases in each moment. Not killing is not something we are joking about; we are putting ourselves into the situation of others’ space, aren’t we? “I don’t want to be killed, so why should I kill other people?” So, I think it’s very useful for developing love and compassion.
You people should be the number one example for peacekeeping, shouldn’t you? Don’t you think you should be a good example, the number one example, for keeping peace in the world? Yes, I think definitely, definitely. You should decide, you know.
We are not going “blah, blah, blah, blah.” We will definitely be a good example by not killing anybody on this earth. We have enough understanding so we should make the determination. I was surprised when I gave lectures at Berkeley and Santa Cruz University. There were a hundred people there and my lecture was on “The Nuclear Age and Buddhism” or something like that. I explained how many miles of damage there would be physically and then how much damage from the vibration if they [bomb] San Francisco. After this we were talking and I asked, “How many of you people have a determination to not kill anybody?” I asked them to raise their hands. Most of the people did. They were just people who came, university-style people, not all meditators, and they all said that. I was so emotional: wonderful, isn’t it? American life is not an easy life; American life is a distracted life, so these people saying, “I will never kill,” was incredible. I was just so happy.
Even if we ask Eastern people directly, “Will you ever kill anybody in your life?” they are going to say, “Well, something ....” They make rationalizations, you know. It’s not easy; I was very happy that all these Berkeley people and Santa Cruz people said, “I will never kill anyone in my life.” I couldn’t imagine those people saying that—American life is not easy. Is it easy or not? In some ways easy, yes, but in some ways not killing is not easy. It’s very difficult, that’s why we should as much as possible be determined to keep peace by living in the vow to not kill other human beings, otherwise we are worthless. I think that’s the main point.
On this earth now so many people are killing with selfish motivation. To kill a human being is not a big deal now. You don’t need, what is it? A gun without sound—they have bullets without sound, have you heard? Guns without sound—my goodness!
Student: It’s called a silencer.
Lama: How do they make it? It’s too much! It was in the newspaper—some embassy person or someone was killed by a bullet without sound. It’s too much, you know! And then we don’t need a gun—we just need some small poison, some smell. There are so many ways to kill people now.
This is my advice about what you should do: number one, be a good example for peacekeeping. Don’t think you are not capable—you are capable. Not killing is practicing loving kindness. Even if somebody else has killed and we rejoice, that is terrible, again that is negative. For example, maybe she said something “blah, blah,” criticizing, and then he killed her and we heard about it and thought, “Oh really, he killed her—good!” Then we get the merit of killing.
Killing is not only done directly, but also indirectly—I can order someone else to do it. That is very dangerous. So, taking a vow to not kill is extremely important. Those presidents of big countries send out armies—they just sit there and do nothing, but they kill because they gave orders to kill. Then, of course, some Western people are very sensitive: “I’m taking a vow to not kill any sentient beings, so how can I walk?” When walking we kill—we kill ants. Even if I wave my arm like this I can kill because in space there are so many animals, sentient beings. And when we drink water, we kill. Anyway, there is no choice, so what to do? Without killing, drinking tea is not possible.
You people think in Buddhism we don’t have science: we have science that Buddha taught about 2,500 years ago. We talk about the science of water; what is in the water. What we have to do is analyze as much as we can and then use it—that’s all we can do. But certain animals, insects, in the water are invisible. Then we just have to give up, don’t we? Normally in monasteries we have to use these cloth strainers before drinking the water. But still there are insects—I saw them. So what to do? In those instances, we do not deliberately kill so there’s no breaking of the vow. If we kill deliberately with motivation, that is breaking the vow. Some things are not possible without killing. What can I say?
Now you can decide your way of not killing, “I will never kill any human being,” or “I will never kill any female,” or “I will never kill any man,”—it’s still good enough! Even that kind of understanding is good enough, or you can decide, “I will never kill any living being deliberately.” This is the condition—“I will never kill deliberately with intense awareness.” That’s good enough.
I know that when you travel along a highway in the summertime many insects are killed. Unbelievable, isn’t it? When I came from Europe to Delhi, I was completely shocked at Delhi airport—oh, my goodness, it was incredible, full of these big animals! What is their name? I don’t know the name. Beginning from customs, the entire area was completely, totally filled. You could not walk without killing so many. Really! What to do? I mean, international people were arriving at the airport and they had to pick up their luggage, but there was no choice—there was no place to walk because it was so full of animals. That was their karma. So, we shouldn’t worry about those kinds of things. When we’re driving a car, we are not thinking to kill—they are just there.
2. Abstaining from False Speech
Then, not lying. Lying is by motivation—all these are by motivation. In Buddhism the characteristic of lying is to change other people’s reality—to show a false reality. Lying is creating a double delusion for other people. Are we communicating or not? Lying is not just joking about things; lying is done with a seriously selfish purpose. What can it be? The selfish purpose of getting materials, getting clothes, getting food, getting money, getting reputation, gaining something for ourselves and wanting to change other people’s minds. Are we communicating? Alright! That’s all.
Lying is not just words; it needs the false motivation to change other people’s will. That’s terrible, isn’t it? It should be a selfish purpose; if the purpose is to benefit mother sentient beings—other people—we don’t call it lying. Westerners call it lying. From Western society’s point of view if we say something different it is a lie. Do you understand? But from the point of view of ethics, Vinaya, Buddhist psychology, if, let’s say, New York was going to be destroyed by a nuclear missile or something and we lied in order to protect the New York people, that would not be a lie. That doesn’t have the negative connotation of lying. That’s positive; that’s compassion; that’s love. Are we communicating or not?
Western people think, “Oh you, lied! Look, you did know!” It’s not bad; it’s a good lie, isn’t it? It’s positive—it’s Dharma, it’s wisdom. Lying has an incredible explanation because we are so sneaky. Especially in the Vinaya we have explanations for monks and nuns: lying is dangerous, like if we don’t have any kind of knowledge yet we try to show that we have that kind of knowledge by giving a false appearance. Are we communicating or not? We show “I’m a very high man” by false appearance. This is the most dangerous lie—cheating other people. We say that’s the worst lie. We call it mi chog la me dzün2—it’s a kind of unsurpassed lie. If we don’t have higher realizations yet show a false image of being a very high person, that is cheating. Those kinds of things are lies.
Maybe that’s good enough about lying. My main point here is that lying is to do with a bad motivation—to change other people’s reality. To give a false, wrong conception is very dangerous. Other people have enough confusion already, enough ignorance already, and then we put more ignorance on them. Lying is not just a joke; it’s a very serious thing. We should be aware.
3. Abstaining from Stealing
Then, stealing. Stealing may be direct or indirect. Stealing is again to do with motivation. The most important thing in Buddhism is motivation. For example, maybe I take your pen from you—normally we take pens from each other just unconsciously, don’t we? I think I do, and other people take my pens too! I don’t say they’re stealing from me; like when we are working together. Stealing has to be deliberate. Mostly the motivation is selfishness, attachment or hatred. I think many young people have hatred for rich people, feeling that they don’t really need their money or whatever. Young people say, “These rich people have too much, so I will take it and give it to poor people.” That is also some jealousy. If it’s pure motivation it may be OK—I cannot say it’s not OK. Rich people don’t even know how much they have. But if [the person taking from the rich] does it with a motivation of hatred it is wrong. We should never have hatred for rich people.
We should never have hatred for Ronald Reagan.3 Come on—never! As long as we have hatred for Reagan that’s our problem isn’t it, not Reagan’s problem. We are making ourselves unhappy by being angry with him. It’s not worth it. It’s better if we just pray for him, “Poor man, so much obligation. Some are pulling him this way, some are pulling that way, and he is just in the middle, confused.” That’s my feeling—he has no choice. In many of Reagan’s decisions he has no choice. He’s just an object of compassion. It’s true! Most politicians have no choice, but American people think they do have a choice and they blame Reagan, saying, “He has the choice. He made this decision and it’s wrong.” They don’t understand the notion of interdependence. Somebody else often controls his power, so it’s a waste of our time if we’re angry with him. Why? What are we gaining? We’re not gaining anything. So just love him and say, “Poor man.”
What am I talking about? Stealing. Then, any problems with stealing?
What I’m saying is, the way we take has to be deliberate. Taking unconsciously is not wrong. Unconsciously we can do anything. I will give you an example: what about a mad monk? A mad monk who kills, who has no control. A mad monk who breaks everything due to some mental disorder. Sometimes in the monastery monks become mentally disordered, completely disordered, crazy. According to the Vinaya, we consider that they are not breaking vows. They aren’t conscious, they don’t have control, they don’t know what they are doing.
Also, dreaming that we are stealing is OK; we are not breaking the vow. Are we communicating or not? If the wish to steal comes suddenly we are not breaking the vow because it is mental speculation; it has to be physical in order to break the vow. OK, clear? Stealing is also something technical, isn’t it?
Suppose last year I borrowed something from another person—“Please lend me this cup, it’s so nice for drinking my jasmine tea.” Then I become so happy with this and develop attachment and I think, “I wish Annabel would forget about this; I hope she never comes back to Kopan, so I don’t have to return it.” This is stealing. When I reach a certain point of thinking, “Oh, she has completely forgotten so now this belongs to me,” it is completely stealing. So, stealing is very much to do with a sneaky mind; the mind is sneaky, therefore stealing is also very subtle. Or, for example, in the Vinaya it is explained that if you go on a bus or train and don’t pay according to that country’s law, then you are stealing. It is explained very clearly. Of course, if you don’t have money, that is something else, I think.
4. Abstaining from Sexual Misconduct
We have some understanding of sexual misconduct. Misconduct means, for example, if you are married to somebody and you have verbally said, “We are together; we will live together; we are
partners and will never ever take any other partner,”—if that’s understood with clean-clear determination inside and then you go with another lady or gentleman, you have broken your agreement. This is sexual misconduct. In marriage a couple make a vow to each other, they understand it to be that way. So, when you break the vow, that is dangerous. Most couples make a disaster with each other because they do that, don’t they? Then they distrust each other and so much conflict comes. If you don’t trust your partner, that’s terrible, isn’t it? You live together in the house and don’t trust each other: “I’m very uncomfortable, I’m not going to live for one hour with that kind of person.” It’s very difficult, isn’t it? You make a disaster out of your situation, that’s why it’s no good.
The Vinaya rule is that you can change. Buddha said that when the country’s customs change, the conditions change, the delusions change or the motivation changes, then the rule changes—whatever is the opposite, whatever is necessary, whatever mind is good or bad also changes at that moment. Are we communicating or not? If the culture changes, the mind changes, delusions change, motivation changes, behavior changes. Maybe one thousand years ago some behaviors were considered negative but then the mind changed and the culture changed and now maybe it’s positive. Buddha said to then change. What was considered to be negative mind before can possibly become positive now. Are we communicating or not?
I will make an example: earlier the British sent their criminals to Australia. Do you know that history? A long time ago Australia was an empty place4 so the British sent their criminals there. Last year in Australia they found some documents about a woman who stole one piece of bread or one piece of butter, such a small thing, and they sent her to Australia. It’s documented there, the paper is there. Do you know, Wendy? You don’t know? Wow! Can you imagine? At that time the British people were incredible, weren’t they? At that time the British were conservative and very ethical people—some lady stole one piece of butter and they said, “Oh, you’re a criminal.” But now the British people don’t think that someone who steals a piece of bread or piece of butter is a criminal; I don’t think so. It’s a different culture now.
Have you heard something like that or not? It’s a completely new culture, isn’t it? It almost seems that something like that is coming into the world now. So what is the big deal? If the couple say, “OK, whatever you want to do you can do, as long as you come home,” or if the man says, “Whatever you want to do, you can do. It’s OK, it’s fine,” then what is wrong? It’s completely clean-clear, isn’t it? It’s the mind that’s the problem, not the body. If you have said it and it’s clean-clear, then what is the problem? Then that is not sexual misconduct. Are we communicating? The situation has changed. It’s possible; who can say? The human mind is incredible and changes. Now men know what women are going to do; men are not stupid. And women also know what men are going to do, anyway. So they somehow say OK, you know. The culture is changing, so the connotation of sexual misconduct can change.
We also have different interpretations of this vow in the Vinaya. For example, have you heard that at new or full moon times it is considered that merits are multiplied one hundred times? So, if you do a negative action it also becomes multiplied a hundred times. Therefore, according to the interpretation of the Vinaya, even if you do it with your wife, on the full moon it becomes sexual misconduct, something like that. It’s only an interpretation. But there is this interpretation, so I don’t want you to be confused. You shouldn’t worry about that; whatever you feel is a problem is good enough. If you feel something is a problem, “I shouldn’t do it because I get out of control,”—it’s clean-clear. Anyway, don’t create a disaster situation. It’s simple, isn’t it? If you want a happy home with your husband or wife, a warm home, a comfortable, peaceful home, a satisfied home, don’t create problems, that’s all. The conclusion is: don’t create any kind of disaster situation where you distrust each other; it’s no good. It depends; only you know, I don’t know.
5. Abstaining from Intoxicants
Then, intoxicants. Intoxicants can be anything—drinking wine or alcohol, or it can be heavy drugs. I don’t know what kinds of drugs make you unconscious. You should not take any kind of drug that makes you unconscious unless it’s for medical purposes. For medical purposes it’s alright. Also, if taking the drug does not damage intense awareness, then it’s OK; you can take as much as possible! I think you know hashish, yes? Does hashish damage your consciousness or not?
Student: It depends on how much you take.
Lama: That’s right, isn’t it? Taking a little bit is OK; it causes some kind of waking up, some intense awareness. Possible! Maybe! Some drugs can help intense awareness. For example, Tibetan monks who studied very hard would drink very heavy, strong Tibetan tea. I did it myself when I was in Tibet. If I drink strong Tibetan tea, really strong butter tea, I can stay awake all night and I can study, I can read. I believe that is kind-of being intoxicated, isn’t it? You are very much awake and don’t want to sleep, so you read and you think very clean-clearly. So that’s why I cannot criticize or say taking drugs is bad. How can you say that? Very strong tea is like a drug, isn’t it? When you drink strong Tibetan tea and you don’t eat well, you shake, because there is too much of a wind explosion in the blood—you are almost walking in space! It’s our experience.
I’m sure most Tibetans who were doing very heavy studies in Tibet all liked heavy, heavy, strong tea. Some monks were addicted to tea, I’m sure. Yes, I saw it! I could not believe it—they didn’t really care about food but they had to have their tea. That’s very bad. Their faces became so dark and like pig skin. They didn’t eat; all they did was drink their tea. We’ve got our problems. Even though those people were extremely learned, extremely knowledgeable, they became like that.
In 1978 or something, when I was at Santa Cruz University I went down to the beach and there were two young couples and their parents there. They came together and took hashish together—young children and old parents came together and took hashish. They were very happy with each other, you know. Very nice, isn’t it? Very open—young son and old father taking hashish together by the ocean. They laughed with each other—it was very nice. Maybe it’s California style. It’s so simple, isn’t it? That’s the way it is.
The emphasis in Buddhism is to not become intoxicated because being intoxicated is very dangerous, for example, when you are drinking wine you could break every [vow.] Many monks break their vows because they drink. When you drink, your good knowledge-wisdom goes, doesn’t it? But desire is there, hatred is there, everything’s there. Everything is there; the body is there. That’s why intoxicants break vows: first thing, you can have sexual contact unconsciously; maybe you steal ladies and gentlemen from their partners. Then you come home and you lie. So the one action of drinking leads to doing the five things together. It’s dangerous because we get out of control, with no awareness. That’s all the precepts are.
The way of taking precepts is that you can take five, you can take one, you can take two, you can take three; you can take them for one day or one month, one year or your lifetime, whatever you want; it’s up to you completely. But it should be clean-clearly understood that there is no pressure. If you’re not clean-clear, there’s no need to take them—there’s no pressure. I’m not pushing you; but my responsibility is to make it clean-clear for you so that when you take them, we are not hypnotizing you—do you know what I mean? We are not pushing you—you are clean-clear to make your own decision. In Buddhism we believe that your own decision is the best. We don’t say anything; we just make it clean-clear. That is our duty, if we can.
Then what? Next, bodhisatta vows.
the Bodhisattva Vows
There are two ways of taking the bodhisattva vows. The first is the wishful way. Here we are completely sure, without the slightest doubt, that the only way to live is with bodhicitta; that the selfish way we have lived so far is only painful and dominated by the paranoia that others are always trying to take advantage of us. This is not true. Everything we have has come through the kindness of others. We were born with nothing; all our food, clothes and other possessions have been given to us by other people. At least, this is what we Buddhists believe. We were born naked; we weren’t wearing clothes when we came out from our mother’s womb. All our happiness has come from others. Is this a difficult concept for Western minds to grasp? That all our happiness comes from others? It’s not difficult to understand—it’s true, definitely true—we can prove it scientifically. Think about it—everything we have has come from others.
In my opinion, bodhicitta is the essence of all religions, the essence of all good philosophies, the essence of all humanity, even the essence of all animals. I mean, wild animals die for their young, don’t they? Even if they have no hope they’ll try to protect them. So, bodhicitta is the most worthwhile thing there is.
For Westerners, bodhicitta is the best and easiest thing to practice, much better than sitting meditation. Sitting meditation is often very difficult—it’s not your style. But loving kindness, bodhicitta, is something that Westerners can easily relate to, probably because of your Christian background. Christianity greatly emphasizes love, so that philosophy is already deeply rooted in you. I feel Western people have a lot of love in them, and for that reason they find the practice of bodhicitta very simple and very logical, and it makes them very happy.
It seems that many Western people think that others are always trying to take advantage of them. They feel it’s a feature of their society: “People are always trying to take advantage of me, me, me; I have to protect myself.” Now you’re probably thinking, “He’s exaggerating; Lama Yeshe doesn’t understand Western society.” However, I’m not talking about an individual point of view, I’m generalizing. Perhaps I shouldn’t do that, but sometimes generalizations help. And even if people do take advantage of you, they’ve benefited you far more often. Even people who spend all their lives working hard and collecting possessions with selfish motivation don’t take those things with them when they die. They leave them for the benefit of others.
Bodhicitta is very important. When we have bodhicitta we’re relaxed, we have space. Even if someone tries to take advantage of us, we’re relaxed. If we don’t have bodhicitta, it’s very painful for us; very, very painful. For example, in poor countries there are always beggars coming up to us asking for something, knocking at our door, “Hello, I’m a beggar; please give me something.” If we don’t have bodhicitta we’ll really hate that beggar: “He’s disturbing me, asking me for money.” If we have bodhicitta, we’ll think, “Oh, I’m so lucky; now I have change to share something with someone,” and we will give happily.
It’s the same when we’re at home: our friends always ask us for so much—money, things and especially our time and attention. If we have bodhicitta, we give our friends whatever they want with much happiness and satisfaction. If we don’t have bodhicitta, we feel pain whenever they ask us for anything—unless we have something to gain. Usually when someone asks us for something we think, “If I give it to them maybe they’ll do this for me, so I’ll give.” This sort of generosity is a joke; it’s just bartering. It doesn’t give us any satisfaction—not the inner satisfaction that I’m talking about.
Bodhicitta is extremely practical. Just the philosophy itself helps us a great deal, without having to meditate. If we simply understand the philosophy and psychology of bodhicitta and daily try to act according to it, experimenting in all our actions, that’s good enough. That, for Western people, is very practical. Of course, actual bodhicitta is some kind of realization. For us to have the realization of bodhicitta, there’s a long way to go, baby! There’s a long training to undergo, such as the seven-point thought transformation—we have to change our self-cherishing attitude into cherishing of others.
So that’s what Buddhism offers you—training. We don’t tell you that bodhicitta is fantastic because Buddha said so. We tell you how to actualize, how to practice bodhicitta; we give you the method. This is the most important thing for you. Thus, gradually you are led to bodhicitta. You should appreciate this quality of the Buddha’s teaching of the graduated path.
Now, the first thing we have to develop is equilibrium, space in our mind. This is the foundation of bodhicitta, just as level ground is the basis on which we build a house. Past meditators’ experience is that when we have developed equilibrium, we can realize bodhicitta very quickly and easily. But equilibrium is one of the most difficult things to develop. Our habit of discriminating between friends, enemies and strangers is very deeply rooted. With our tremendous grasping desire, we become attached and cling to our dear friends, and with aversion and hatred we reject those we don’t like as enemies. As long as we have these kinds of minds, we can never realize bodhicitta, therefore equilibrium—the first of the four immeasurables—is extremely important.
Equilibrium is not an intellectual thing. We have to make our mind equal. For example, when I teach a group of people at a meditation course, I feel the same toward each of them. I haven’t met them before; all of a sudden they have just gathered together—popped up like mushrooms. I haven’t had time to develop attachment or aversion to any of them, so my feeling is neutral, equal. If I take the experience of this ordinary feeling of equality and apply it to my dear friends to whom I am attached and to my enemies and critics, I can start to develop equilibrium.
Actually, there is a meditation technique for this. You imagine three people—your dearest friend, your worst enemy and a total stranger. Visualize your friend behind you, your enemy and the stranger in front of you, and all other sentient beings in human form surrounding you. Then examine your feelings toward each of the three people you have visualized and analyze why you have labeled each of them as you have. You will find that the reasons for having done so are because of events of only this life. When you reflect that each sentient being has, over beginningless past lives, done just the same kind and unkind things to you as have the friend and enemy of this life, you will see that all beings are equal in having been friend, enemy and stranger. Thus, your feelings of attachment and aversion to your friend and enemy will subside and you will start to experience some equilibrium. So, you hold that feeling and meditate upon it.
Meditating on equilibrium is one of the best ways of producing mental health. Instead of going to a psychiatrist and paying one hundred dollars an hour, meditate on equilibrium. Shut your mouth, eyes, ears and nose and ignore all physical sensations; abandon the five sense perceptions and go deeply into the intensive awareness of your mind’s experience of equilibrium—it is so good for you. After just ten minutes of this kind of meditation you come out into a different world.
The wishful way of taking the bodhisattva vows is very important. You determine that this is the only way to live; that no matter what happens, whether you are rich or poor, you will dedicate yourself to others; that this is the only way to be satisfied; that this is the only way to make your life worthwhile. It’s true: you’ve been born human, you’re considered intelligent, however, if you live with the same selfish attitude that animals have, you render your human life meaningless. Thus, even if you cannot actualize bodhicitta, taking the vows with the wishing attitude is most worthwhile.
The second way of taking the bodhisattva vows is with the intention of actualizing bodhicitta in your daily life. Here you actually have to keep the eighteen root and forty-six branch vows; hence you should understand them. They are not some set of rules that you have to obey for fear of punishment, but a psychological method for transforming your mind. When you understand how they work, why you follow them and what is going on in your consciousness, taking and keeping these vows to actualize bodhicitta is highly meaningful.
Once you have taken them in this way, what is your responsibility? What should you do? You have to practice the six paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. From the practical point of view it means sharing your body, wealth and everything else with others. Anyway, you have to do this; there’s no choice. Do you think you really have a choice about sharing your time and energy with others? I believe that everybody does share their things with others. Perhaps I’m deluded! None of us never share anything with others—if you understand that, it’s a kind of realization. The difference is whether you share your things with others with bodhicitta or not. If you don’t have bodhicitta it can be very painful when you have to share things; you feel very badly toward those who ask you for help. I mean, you do give to them, but reluctantly.
When we have bodhicitta it is so easy to share with others. First it is difficult to share even small things, but slowly, slowly we can learn. It’s simply a matter of mind, of conscious energy. We have more than enough, so why not share? Human energy is inexhaustible; we humans have unbelievable resources of energy within is and we have so much energy to share with others. All of us have. So with bodhicitta, we can share with great happiness, and when we do, it’s just like meditation—bodhicitta meditation. This is extremely worthwhile.
When you practice bodhicitta you shouldn’t worry that your practice is only an Eastern trip or that you are merely following some religious belief. It has nothing to do with blind faith. You don’t have to believe in anything, even Buddha. All you have to think is, “My religion, my meditation is sharing with others, having concern for others.” This is highly beneficial and not at all dangerous.
You see, there is a danger that if you are an extreme believer, a religious fanatic, bloodshed can result. You might fight with followers of other religions. If you have bodhicitta, you will never, ever fight with or kill others. Sometimes disciples of one guru kill disciples of another; dangerous things like that happen, but not if you have bodhicitta—it is totally pure, a perfect medicine, totally safe.
Even other meditations, such as shunyata meditation, can be dangerous. They can cause lung [wind disease.] Bodhicitta will never cause lung; it always makes you peaceful. Equilibrium and bodhicitta are the essence of the Mahayana teaching and completely perfect. You will never want to hurt anybody; you will want only to serve others as much as possible. It is the only way you will want to spend your life and I think this is the best kind of life there is. There’s no doubt about that—bodhicitta is very, very, worthwhile. With bodhicitta, there’s no pressure. According to your level, you dedicate yourself to others as much as you can. There’s nobody telling you, “You should do this; you should do that.” Just do what you comfortably can, that’s all. When you dedicate yourself to others with concern for their happiness, your heart opens and the tightness disappears. That makes you really healthy.
When you meditate on equilibrium, you think, “It’s silly; such small things upset me. What a waste of time! Many, many times this person has helped me—in beginningless past lives they have been everything to me: my mother, my father, my wife, my husband. For life after life they have been so kind to me, for hundreds and hundreds of years, but just at this moment, this short moment, they are criticizing me. Why should I be upset? It’s so transient. In fact, by doing this they are helping me. They are reflecting the hatred within me, showing me my weaknesses. So even now they are kind.” I truly believe this myself—that those who give us a bad time are actually helping us.
For example, when the Chinese took over Tibet, from the point of view of my personal development I was very happy. They really helped me. They gave me a much better understanding of Buddhadharma and my refuge. So in my experience, the Chinese were very kind and I’m grateful to Mao Zedong. If I’d stayed in Tibet, I’d have got caught up in family obligations; my family was very strong and I was on the way to becoming a geshe. If I’d received that title and the reputation that goes with it, I’d have had to get involved in an incredible trip, taking care of my family and that sort of thing. This is not a monk’s business, but it’s what would have happened. True monks don’t have to look after their families.
So, I’m glad Mao and the soldiers threw me out of Tibet and showed me my reality! I really had to ask myself, “Now, what’s your reality?” I’d been a monk from the age of six and from then until I was twenty-five, I’d spent each year receiving teachings and studying. When I was chased out by the Chinese army with machine guns pointing at me, I had to ask myself, “OK, now you’re close to death. OK, Thubten Yeshe,”—I’m not lying about this— “Now you’re dead. Here come the soldiers with their guns, and what have you achieved? Are you ready to die? Can you die peacefully?” All these questions came because of Mao Zedong. This was my own experience. So the enemy is a great help. Those who kicked me out of my home improved the quality of my Dharma and my refuge. Even our enemies are very, very kind.
When we have bodhicitta we are warm, peaceful and satisfied; we can relax. Without bodhicitta we cannot relax. Even though we might think we’re relaxed, we’re not—the selfish attitude is deeply rooted in our nervous system; it twists us, it shakes us. You see, even though in Buddhism we have many meditation techniques, clean-clear wisdom and method, it is still very hard to actualize the teachings so that, for example, we can help the poor and sick without flinching. Personally, I find it very difficult to work with people suffering from cancer or to go to dirty places like leprosy colonies. Why? Because of the selfish attitude.
For us, Christians are a very good example; they are so dedicated to helping others. Without worrying about getting the disease themselves, they touch lepers and dress their wounds, working voluntarily to help. They put us Buddhists to shame. We talk about our great methods, but we don’t put them into action; they remain intellectual. We should observe Christians very carefully to see what hardships they undergo to work with devotion and humanity to take care of the old and sick and to live under difficult conditions, like in Africa, in order to spread Christianity. We wouldn’t want to go to Africa and live where there is trouble finding food and water and there is much discomfort, because we are selfish.
So, I have much respect for Christians; they really have bodhicitta. We just say the word “bodhicitta” and don’t do anything about it; they don’t say “bodhicitta” but they act the way we should. Christians talk about love, having loving kindness for others. That is incredibly worthwhile—it is the essence of bodhicitta. If we never think of anything else, I’m sure that’s enough.
The Essence of Tantra
Tantra is such a simple thing; tantra is a method to quickly transform oneself into having divine qualities. Technically, our body is transformed into a rainbow radiating light body; our speech is transformed into the purity of the divine, pure mantra instead of “blah, blah” nonsense words; and our thought into dharmakaya—right now. Tantra is very Western style: in the West the attitude is “I want to be happy right now; I want everything right now,” isn’t it? So, tantra is like that. In tantra we never believe, “I’m selfish, I’ve got a long way to go—I will become a buddha at some time when these garbage thoughts have finished.” We generate the recognition, “Right now my body is a buddha’s body, my speech is a buddha’s speech and my mind is the enlightened stage of wisdom.” That’s the kind of technique we experience when we practice tantra. Tantra is a method to manipulate every uncontrolled situation and transform it into the peaceful path to liberation.
Tantra is very powerful because normally we consider every situation of worldly involvement bad and we twist every situation, everything we think about. In the lamrim, in the ordinary sense, it is negative, but the mind can transform every situation into medicine, into intensive awareness and loving kindness. That’s why it’s so quick—everything is turned upside down, turned positive. Normally we consider these situations as poison, but here we make them into medicine, and that’s why it’s powerful. Normally we consider that having pleasure is being out of control, but in tantra we should have pleasure as much as possible, because it is the method to utilize intensive awareness of nonduality, intensive awareness of shunyata. Then every situation is a resource to free us from the uncontrolled mind. Tantra is like an industrialized country which uses everything for human benefit and for money—digging up the earth for minerals; using air, space, the sun’s rays. In tantra it’s the same thing; we use everything. Every human being has to do things, so we just do those things and use the experience to develop blissful intensive awareness.
That’s why tantra is very powerful. Normally only skillful people, very intelligent people, very fortunate people, can practice tantra. I think the essence of tantra is taking desire objects, normally considered as negative, as the path to liberation. Only tantra can do that. There is no method in the Paramitayana to do that. I think that’s enough on tantra.
Now, do you have questions? We can do the taking of refuge easily, in a couple of minutes. Are there any questions about taking refuge? The reason why I’m taking time and asking for questions is that I want you people to be comfortable—I don’t want to cheat you people. I don’t want to say, “Buddhism is special, you should do this.” That’s not my style, not my business. My statement is, “I want you to be free, I want you to be responsible.” My style, my statement is, “You are free to go wherever you want to go”—that’s my style. If you want to become Christian, I give you permission; if you want to be Rajneesh, Hindu or Muslim, you are free, completely. I’m happy—that’s my style. I don’t say, “You do this, you do this.” I believe you have buddha nature; you decide everything. This is my style.
Student: I come from a rich Western country where people are killing, stealing and lying. Why should I take precepts in this situation?
Lama: Western people are also doing good things, that’s why they’re rich.
Student: But the West is rich because people kill and steal and lie and exploit third world countries.
Lama: The Buddhist way of thinking is that the West is rich not because they take advantage of underdeveloped countries. We think differently—that Western people are rich because they created their internal richness within themselves, so they can create wealth now. They have projections of how to make the outside rich, whereas underdeveloped countries have no imagination. Like my neighbors, these people here. It takes visualization to make wealth; it takes such energy and karma. You are thinking the wrong way; we think positively, you think negatively.
I have some evidence too. Like the history of American life—if you look at it superficially it seems that in order to keep their economy they have to make war, but from another way of thinking, it’s not true—besides that, they have some karma so that they have the mind to create wealth. I don’t think only about the negative side. If you think about it, Western wealth has both positive and negative aspects.
Millions of American people live a comfortable life—they are good, they are lucky and they deserve it. I believe they should have a comfortable life, because American people are very hard-working, however, Nepalese people do not work hard—they just gamble. I know, and everybody knows, what he’s saying; he’s right in one way, but we shouldn’t think only in that way. From the Buddhist point of view, Western people, you people, are rich not only because of this life—for millions of lives you have made the karma to live comfortably and be intelligent. Maybe in the lamrim it sounds like your entire life is negative.
Student: How can I stay clean if people are killing and stealing? If people don’t kill and lie for me then I can’t sit here and I can’t take precepts.
Lama: What are you saying? You’re confusing me!
Student: An example would be that two months ago the United States invaded a small island in the Caribbean.5
Lama: Yes, I know, dear.
Student: With that example, as a US citizen and with my government supposedly working to represent me, did I not participate in some way in the killing of the people during that invasion? And what’s happening in Central America—am I not accumulating karma by that activity? That’s one example. A history of those types of activities has given me the freedom to be here to know the Dharma in some way.
Lama: I see, yes. I don’t know how to answer your question. I can only answer that there is a good side and a bad side at the same time. For American people to live a comfortable life and have pleasure is good karma, but we cannot say it is because they killed. It looks like that, but it’s not the case. It sounds like you are saying America is like that because they killed other people. I understand what you mean, but I don’t think so.
I agree that you have some karmic involvement if America goes to war with other countries like Russia or Vietnam. Definitely, because you paid your taxes. There’s no choice and that’s why, due to universal karma, you are included with your own nation. You have karma all together and then individual karma. So, there is definitely some karma. But if you are clean-clear yourself all the time, then that cannot harm you; when you are confused, all karma arrives because you have no space and time. You came here with tickets, but it’s not true to say, “My ticket is due to Americans killing in Vietnam.” That’s not true; you worked hard so you could come here with that ticket. Do you get the ticket without working?
Student: I got it by lying.
Lama: You are not lying, come on! I don’t believe you! You worked hard.
Student: When I am working, I am lying.
Lama: When you work, you have to lie? Everybody? All these people here are working class people, but they do not lie. I don’t think you are lying when you work. Let’s say you are my boss. I say, “I would like to do this,” and you agree and give me a job, then I just do it as well as I can. If you are not satisfied, you say, “Go.” That’s the way it is. Do you have to lie?
Student: Of course, everyone is lying!
Lama: Oh, I don’t think so.
Student: People have to do it; you can’t stay clean. People will do it. If you don’t kill and lie it’s easy because you stay clean. But you mustn’t forget that all the people are working in the shit. Where is bodhicitta?
Lama: Where is bodhicitta? That is your question?
Student: It’s my question—where is bodhicitta? Isn’t bodhicitta working in the shit to enable all the people to stay here and listen to the Dharma?
Lama: You mean you have to lie?
Student: Even to kill! There are soldiers in my country, in every country, like in Jack’s example. I know some soldiers who are disgusted by killing but they do it because they have to do it, and that allows us to sit here and listen. Where is bodhicitta?
Lama: We cannot say bodhicitta is there or there. Bodhicitta is conscious energy. We cannot say, “This is bodhicitta.” To show it physically is difficult. I think we all understood what you mean. I think that’s good enough, isn’t it? Really, you are explaining the lamrim: talking about life and how to do it. I am successful! Alright dear, we are communicating. Any other questions? That question is clear; what he says is clear.
Student: If good people had not killed during World War II, then Hitler may have been the ruler of the world today.
Lama: Not clear—repeat your question please.
Student: If I take a vow not to kill ...
Lama: Yes, are you in the American army?
Student: No. Then tomorrow there is a crazy guy who wants to be the king of the world.
Lama: They will do it, yes! Definitely, they will. They haven’t been able to do it, that’s why they are waiting for the opportunity. If somebody feels as you said and they get the opportunity, they will do it. I tell you, that’s the character of a selfish attitude of mind. Then, do you have to go with a gun to kill this person or not?
Student: That’s my question—to protect the Dharma.
Lama: Then do it, yes! If you have great love and want to protect human beings of the entire world, forget about creating a disaster if you kill. I give permission; Buddha gives permission; we all give permission to you. If you kill for the sake of us, you don’t break a vow. As I told you, breaking a vow is acting with selfish motivation—the condition is killing with a selfish motivation, without caring for other people. It’s very clean-clear—that’s not negative killing, it’s positive killing. That action is positive. He’s scared now! Sometimes killing can be positive too.
Lama: I agree with what you say. Every nation fights with negative, selfish motivation if their territory is attacked. What he said about killing a guy who wants to destroy, to get power over the world ....
Student: But that’s an individual ....
Lama: It’s an individual, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. I agree, it’s difficult. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t kill; if you kill without knowing, it’s negative.
Lama: Tibetan people are attached to their own territory, so whoever was fighting the Chinese, it was negative. I agree.
Lama: That’s what we call ignorance.
Student: [Inaudible question about killing fleas and lice]
Lama: Try without killing. It’s possible. Put something there and they will go away. For example, what I do is put spray there before the fleas come; then they never come. They know the horrible smell. Make protection before they come. The same thing with lice, put some bad smell and they will go away. The same with worms—take worm medicine that just paralyses the worms; it’s not necessary to kill. There is a method, come on! There are many drugs you can use which do not kill.
Student: I’m studying to be a plant pathologist and we have to deal with insects that are destroying crops and causing starvation for thousands of people or wiping out entire areas. My job would be either to go in and spray directly and kill these insects or give the order to someone else.
Lama: Yes, that can also be done with compassion. Think with compassion of all the people starving and then the killing is part of compassion. You are not in the least selfish, so it’s alright.
Student: Why should you care more about the people than about the insects?
Lama: I think it’s a matter of value; a human being has more value—a human being can do more to help, can do more powerful actions than an animal. If you have strong compassion to preserve human beings, then maybe it’s not negative; it depends on what kind of motivation you have and how strong it is. It depends on what you look at and how your motivation is.
Student: I don’t understand initiations and how they work, for example, Vajrasattva initiation. To visualize one of these images and then to say a mantra and for that to purify one of our past negative karmas? It doesn’t seem to deal with the root delusions inside me which cause that negative karma.
Lama: Think, when you emanate yourself as Vajrasattva, that it is the already pure energy within you now that is revealed and developed strongly, and that understanding is produced, a better understanding of yourself. We hold some kind of self-pitying image of ourselves and that’s why we manifest anger and hatred and desire. But when we emanate as a pure aspect of our archetypal image, then the self-pitying image concepts disappear, and in that way we eliminate the root of desire and anger and ignorance.
You see, for most of us the problem is we have a strong ego which holds a self-pitying image of ourselves and this basic mistake brings tremendous problems in our life. Tantra is dealing with this self-pitying image and causing it to vanish, so we identify ourselves with the pure, divine quality of an archetypal self-image. In that way we can eliminate all kinds of worldly problems. Is that some sort to help for you?
Student: I want to say something about the insecticide or pesticide questions because I think we are experiencing quite a lot of negative karma right now and will experience much more. I think most of it is done with greed, because it is ordered by people who are greedy. A lot of farmers have greed—they want to plant more, to have more crops, more grain. Lots of countries are greedy and just want to have grain for exchanging or whatever, and even if these people who are using it at the very moment are not governed by greed, then those who have ordered it in the long run are greedy. We will experience [negative karma] in the long run and even in the short run we are experiencing a lot of negative karma for that. You can look around, especially in the United States or Europe, and see dying woods and dying animals and a dying world, so that’s negative karma.
Lama: That’s true, it’s a very good explanation. You know, industrialized countries actually produce more than they need. Here, we never spray, but there is just enough for everybody this year. I asked Chowkidhar, an old guy, “Is this year OK?” He said, “This year’s OK. There’s enough.” In Tibet we never sprayed—we didn’t have any drugs to spray. Often countries do not get money and they throw the crops into the sea, tons and tons. Here we have suffering, in Africa there is suffering, yet they don’t give the crops to these people. Industrialized countries are facing many problems now—they have almost destroyed their environment and their health, and they have contaminated their water, so it has become toxic. In America so many cities have toxic water. Children are dying, so many people get cancer and trees die.
It’s so dangerous, I tell you. If you eat dahl-rice you don’t need to worry because it doesn’t have poison. In America whatever you eat always has drug poisoning. When you eat an apple it’s unbelievable—the apple is so nice, so beautiful on the outside, but inside it is completely rotten. And it smells like drug spray. The environment and the people are becoming unhealthy, so what can we say? That’s karma—some good things happen, some bad things happen sometimes.
I absolutely agree—the way industrialized countries produce food is completely greedy. Those who are working don’t know that’s going on, especially in America. You know, this time when I was there, they reported that some poor black people had been captured and kept as prisoners and made to work on a farm. Can you imagine? They were given two dollars for one day—can you imagine? That is unbelievable, in America! I’m not talking about some small thing—it was on the television. This man beat black men and also white men, like in history. It’s heartbreaking. In America we don’t need slavery, but there is slavery. In America what can you do with two dollars? One cup of coffee is two dollars!
Student: I think everybody here has the chance to practice some bodhicitta right now by not asking you any more questions.
Lama: Great! Great!
Now, at this time, anyone who wants to take refuge, just meditate. If you don’t want to, it doesn’t matter—you can stay but you don’t need to participate; just sit down and meditate on bodhicitta. Anyone who wants to take refuge, sit down and meditate.
The way to meditate is normally you put your father on the right side and your mother on the left side. Buddhism is concerned so much with one’s father, mother, enemy, dear friend and everything, so visualize your father on your right, your mother on your left, your enemy in front of you and someone you feel indifferent about behind you. Generate much equilibrium, much compassion and much love, wishing to liberate them and wishing to develop intensive awareness, nonduality wisdom of shunyata for the sake of your father and mother and all sentient beings who criticize you.
Buddha’s liberated consciousness is externally manifested as a yellow radiant light rainbow body. From his crown, white radiating light energy comes; from his throat red radiating light energy comes; from the heart infinite blue radiating light energy comes—to your crown, throat and heart. It purifies impure body, impure speech and impure wrong conception mind and develops intensive awareness of reality.
Think, “The totally open state of my consciousness is my Buddha; the total intensive awareness of reality is my Dharma. Those who help me to develop these two are the Sangha. I take inner refuge to liberate myself from misery and awaken my Buddha, awaken my Dharma, awaken my own Sangha. Other people’s totally open buddha quality can also help me; other people’s intensive awareness of universal reality can help me; and other people, Sangha, can help externally and also internally. My own Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the most important thing in order to liberate myself. From now until my death I am taking refuge in my inner qualities, my inner wisdom, my inner loving kindness and my own conscious energy. Especially I am taking refuge in order to develop my loving kindness and wisdom in order to sufficiently help others.”
To help others is very difficult. We don’t know how to help, so we need to develop ourselves a lot. For that reason, think, “I take refuge in order to elevate myself.”
Make a strong determination. “Without having inner refuge, taking refuge in the external world is foolish and painful and lonely, because I have not revealed my internal richness.” So, any time I have symptoms of a problem I will take refuge, absolute refuge, in my inner quality to solve the problem and bring satisfaction within me. My limitation mind is so lonely; when I have problems I take refuge externally but ice cream and all these things are ridiculous, so superficial. I have the solution right now which does not depend on any external matter or energy. My consciousness is a limitless resource of energy that I have.” Well, that’s good enough.
For the people who want to take precepts, you can take them for one month, two months, one year, or you can take them for your lifetime. You can take one, two, three, four or five, but with the understanding I mentioned—“I am never going to deliberately cheat other people by lying and I will not steal deliberately. I will work, eat, make business, sell and in my country make profits as honestly as I can.” Everybody makes profits—it is allowed. That’s not lying; that’s right livelihood. So, there is no need to always be lying, there’s no need to always be stealing, [taking] whatever you want to, whatever you feel is worthwhile, even for one or two days.
In my opinion not lying even for one day takes unbelievable awareness. We are sleeping, you know. We have no mental discipline; we’re like a wild animal. No rules. Going there, going there, up and down—our mind is like a monkey mind or like a tiger. When we have precepts, at least we have some kind of direction about how much further we can go into total negativity. I think it’s very worthwhile, because we can feel how much we are going in the right direction. With precepts it’s like being psychologically free, and we can see how much further we are going. This is my experience: honestly, precepts help when I’m going to extremes.
Without mental rules, without an understanding of psychological freedom, it’s like being completely open to any negative inclination. When we are sinking in the ocean of negativity, we don’t know we are negative; we don’t know that we are uncontrolled because we are sinking into the ocean of uncontrol. Knowing the conditions of what kind of negative mind leads to what kind of action and that it brings a miserable result has such a clean-clear scientific explanation. Therefore, whatever you want to take, whatever you feel is worthwhile, you should do. Also you don’t need to feel now that you have to make a lifelong commitment—you can just say, “I’ll take them and check them out for one month, and see if I can handle them and they are helping me. If not, I will give them up.” Giving them up in a gentle way is OK.
Buddha’s teaching and Buddha’s ordination is very clear. Ordination is like a bridge. In order to cross a river we need a bridge, and after we have crossed the bridge we are not concerned with keeping it, so we say, “Thank you so much,” and forget about the bridge. It’s the same thing with ordination. It’s not something absolutely necessary; it just guides us temporarily in order to develop intensive awareness and to judge our actions for ourselves. If we are capable, if we totally understand our mind—absolutely and relatively—we don’t need precepts. The person who takes precepts is one who has an uncontrolled mind and habitual behaviors of repeatedly making mistakes even though knowing intellectually that it’s wrong. Controlled people like Milarepa don’t need precepts. Buddha didn’t have vows. People who are uncontrolled and undisciplined, like a mad elephant, need direction.
So, we know what we need. “For countless lives I have been sort of hypocritical—blah, blah, blah, blah—not doing any action but saying, ‘I want to be a great meditator, I want deep samadhi,’ but then my three doors of body, speech and mind were a disaster! I did terrible actions because of being distracted by desire, distracted by hatred, distracted by ignorance, but still saying, ‘I want good meditation.’ I blamed others for not having good meditation, saying, ‘You are disturbing me.’”
Good meditation comes from harmonious body, speech and mind, and harmony comes from not being associated with body disasters or speech disasters. If we keep the body, speech and mind in a clean-clear condition, the mind becomes intensively aware. So, ordination is helpful, supportive, for making a mandala—for making the environment for good meditation and intensive awareness. Hypocrisy is people who talk “blah, blah, blah,” but do not keep any ordination, any purity. I tell you, it’s impossible: if we don’t act, if we don’t try to control our body, speech and mind even for one day, and we expect that suddenly meditation will become indestructible, it’s impossible. The mind and body are related, they work together very closely, and having a body not linked with negative actions is extremely important. If we have emotionally strong desire or are physically disturbed, how can we have good meditation? It’s not possible. Ordination makes space in order to have tranquil, peaceful, intensive awareness. We should not expect deep samadhi meditation and intensive awareness without having harmonious body and speech.
Suppose your husband or wife goes on for twenty-four hours, “Blah, blah, blah, blah—you are bad, you didn’t give me a Christmas present last year,” do you think you can have good meditation? It’s not possible! That’s your karma, isn’t it? If somebody makes us physically agitated, mentally agitated, it’s not possible to have indestructible meditation. That’s why keeping the precepts is action. As long as we have a mad elephant uncontrolled mind, we need discipline. When we have completely reached total intensive awareness, we have no rules—we go beyond ordination. Lord Buddha didn’t take five precepts because he didn’t need them. Therefore, it’s completely up to the individual.
Also, if you don’t want to take them totally, but as much as possible, you can also do that, thinking, “Whatever I see that’s negative and disturbs me and brings difficulties, as much as possible I will try to control.” This is also honest; so you can do it by not taking them completely, but saying, “As much as I can, I will do.” Whatever you can do; it’s up to your mind. Ordination is also a condition—it comes from the mind; it’s a projection of the mind. With strong determination and renunciation of old negative habits you will be happy; you will feel pleasure but it’s not the kind of pleasure that will lead you to misery. You feel many things as pleasurable but they lead to misery.
Therefore, have strong renunciation, “For countless lives, and from when I was born up to now, I repeatedly did that, that and that with an uncontrolled mind. I was never satisfied, so I am tired of the cycle of samsara and therefore I should rest from the cycle of samsara. So, I should cut off at least the gross mind.” Ordination, especially these five Vinaya precepts, is dealing with the gross mind. The way to correct our behavior and our mind is first to control our gross negative old habits and then control subtle things. If we first try subtle things, complicated things, it doesn’t work. We have to control easy things first.
With a strong motivation think, “Especially I want to help others: I want to help my wife; I want to help my husband; I want to help my boyfriend; I want to help my girlfriend; I want to help my mama; I want to help my father. With my disaster-making mind, my mad elephant mind, how can I help? It’s a joke. I’m ashamed. I try and help my mama, but my mind is worse than my mama’s, so how can I help her? I should correct my own mind, my own behavior, then I can help my mama, my father, my wife or my husband. With my disaster mind I cannot help. So, I will try as much as possible to control the gross and negative mind, to make a transformation and make myself satisfied and happy. If I am satisfied and happy that is the way to help all humanity.
“If I’m hypocritical, if I go ‘blah, blah, blah, blah,’ but with my own actions never do anything solid to make real Dharma or to purify; if I say other people are bad and impure while I myself am impure, I will never correct myself. Keeping precepts purely for one day is so worthwhile—at least I will reach beyond being a hypocritical religious being. It’s completely personal, my need has nothing to do with my nation, nothing to do with other people. It is my personal need for development. With strong motivation I will meditate on Dharma and actualize Dharma and develop intensive awareness of the inner life, and I will keep these vows as much as possible until I become completely free of my uncontrolled mind.”
The essence of ordination is peaceful energy, a peaceful consciousness, without expectation. When you make the determination that you are never going to kill, there is no hesitation; when you have decided, totally, to never do sexual misconduct, there’s no hesitation, there’s no alternative—otherwise when the time comes you are just out of control. But the strong motivation helps you, protects you from getting out of control.
With ordination you can trust yourself; when you trust yourself your mind and your actions are controlled, and you trust other people. When you are uncontrolled you don’t control yourself and you never trust anybody because you can’t trust yourself. If you develop confidence, control and a feeling of trust within yourself, then you can trust others. Ordination is peaceful energy—peaceful, light, blissful energy throughout your entire body and consciousness. That experience of some peaceful energy is the essence of ordination. The essence of ordination is compassion, love, peace, bliss, because you don’t harm other people.
One characteristic of Buddhism is compassion, to never try to harm anybody. If you cannot help, you should at least never harm anybody. The basic reason for taking ordination is to never harm anybody or do those actions that are harmful for others. The worst thing is harming others. I think that’s all. So, we have finished taking precepts.
Today we didn’t do any ritual, we just made strong determination. That’s good enough. We have ritual prayers, but we don’t need to do Buddhist prayers. So, in Buddhism you are responsible. The giving of a name is to remind you that on such and such a day at such and such a time you took ordination. It is to remind you of your newborn life. So, if you want a name, you can have one; if you don’t want one—it is still superstition and delusion, and you don’t want any more delusion—you don’t need to take one. It’s not important but is a tradition.
As I told you, we should be responsible for keeping peace in this world, so at least we should have the determination to never kill any human being. We should be a good example, we cannot only say “blah, blah.” You shouldn’t care what other people do—you must show that you are a peacekeeper. Trust yourself. What can I say? If I have not made it clear, I have cheated you and that would be terrible. Maybe we will do dedication with bodhicitta.
Jang chub sem chog ...
1 Wyl: bal gos. A type of woolen cloth. [Return to text]
2 Wyl: mi mchog bla med rdzun. [Return to text]
3 Reagan was president of the United States from 1981–89. [Return to text]
4 There were an estimated 315,000 to 750,000 indigenous people in Australia when British settlement began in 1788. [Return to text]
5 The United States invaded Grenada on October 25, 1983. [Return to text]