That's the Lam-rim!

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Kathmandu, Nepal (Archive #092)

Lama Yeshe gave this teaching at the tenth Kopan meditation course, November 1977. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. See also the first part of this talk, Emotional Ambition.

This teaching was published in Mandala magazine, October 2013.

Those who understand the entire evolution of samsara see that it’s ignorance that makes people dedicate their whole lives, beginning to end, to the pursuit of temporal pleasure without getting bored. Therefore there’s a need for meditation, not only for religious people but also for those who are not religious. Liberation is not only for religious people. If you understand your own situation, your own lifestyle, even if you’re non-religious you can see your own confusion, your own dissatisfaction; you can see that what you consider to be happiness, that which causes attachment to arise, doesn’t truly give you pleasure. You can also see how your experiences of misery make it easy to get angry and your neutral experiences make you ignorant and dull.

This is samsara. Your entire life becomes samsara. It’s not just that you’re alive, therefore you’re in samsara. No. It’s linked to your ignorant, grasping, dull attitude. That’s what makes your life samsara. And as its name, cyclic existence, suggests, it’s a circle and you keep going around and around without end.

Meditation can release you from all this repeated, repeated, repeated, emotional self-sensitivity. With release your life becomes more stable; you have fewer expectations because you understand the nature of things—that the pleasure they give is limited. If I expect my clothes to give me everlasting pleasure I’m going to be disappointed.

In the same way, human beings cannot give each other everlasting pleasure; a Himalayan gorilla monk like me cannot give you everlasting pleasure. Your everlasting pleasure is your responsibility. And it’s the same thing with all the other people in relationships on earth. It’s not possible for one to give everlasting pleasure to the other; each person has to make an individual effort to develop his or her own mind.

In one way, we Westerners are very ambitious in wanting to help others. Everybody is. For some reason Westerners have really good intentions, whether they’re religious or not. “I really feel I want to help others. I want to do something to help.” Of course, that can be an ego trip, too.

Nevertheless, somewhere within you is the motivation wanting to help others. Anyway, you’re bored and suffering, so you want to do something. But wanting to help others when you’re miserable, when you’re suffering, is too emotional. You’re confused and dissatisfied. As long as you’re dissatisfied you can’t give satisfaction to others. That’s one hundred percent true. As long as I’m intoxicated by misery I cannot give happiness to others, I cannot free them from suffering. It’s not possible.

Helping others doesn’t simply mean relieving their physical pain. That’s not the real meaning of helping others because their body is not the actual source of their suffering. The essential, basic source is the mind. The mind makes us suffer; the mind makes us happy. The mind is the source of all happiness and unhappiness. Everything comes from the mind, from the energy of the mind.

So, if you really want to help others you need to understand the mind. If you don’t know the nature of the mind you can’t even cure your own misery. As long as you have not cured your own disease of emotional misery, there’s no way you can help others do it. That’s just dreaming, completely dreaming.

Perhaps at this point you have a question arising: “Who says my life is unhappy? You, gorilla, say my life is miserable but you’re wrong. I have a job, a house, a garden; I can go to the movies, I can watch television, I can do this, I can do that….”

Yes, you can do all that, but with what kind of mind? Is the mind that experiences all the things you can do really happy? I can ask you a question of my own: is everything that you think to be happiness really happiness or not? Tibetans say, “A pig lives in a filthy enclosure but thinks it’s a palace.” Don’t be like that.

Whoever we are, we usually have preconceived notions of what constitutes happiness and unhappiness. Different people have different ideas about the specifics, but in general it’s like this. So you have to investigate for yourself if what you think is happiness really is happiness. If you check deeply with a penetrating, meditative mind, you will see that in reality, what you call happiness is actually misery. If you can see that, it’s a kind of realization. That insight can be the beginning of your journey as a seeker of liberation.

As long as you think that a pigsty is a beautiful mandala, even though you might say you’re a seeker of liberation, you’re not. It’s impossible, because you’re trapped in a situation created by the dark shadow of ignorance in your mind.

I’m not trying to be dramatic here. I’m not saying that all life is miserable and bad. You have to understand what I’m saying without thinking that. I’m not saying that everything is miserable and hopeless, that there’s no future on this earth and you’d be better off cutting your throat. The thing is that each of us has this fantasy about what is happiness and what’s not; we all have this wrong conception. We have to recognize this wrong conception and let it go. If you can do that you’ll become stable; you’ll stop being overambitious. You’ll accept that life changes. If somebody makes a mistake, you accept it. There’s no more hypersensitive mind overreacting emotionally and making you go up and down, up and down all the time. Because you know how things are.

You can see how we are all involved with each other. Humans are constantly involved with other humans. And all this interaction between people who have extreme ambition in their mind causes conflict. We create trouble for each other. It all comes from the mind.

I’ve heard that half of all marriages end in divorce. Can you imagine how many millions of people must be miserable as a result? So where does that actually come from? The meeting, the getting together, the marriage, the divorce, the “goodbye, I don’t like you and more”—all the ridiculous situations that happen on that particular trip. Who made all that? Check up. It comes from emotional ambition, grasping at fixed ideas, illusions. Two people meet: “Oh, you’re so beautiful, fantastic.” There’s some kind of, “I’ve found such a precious companion.” There’s an incredible build up of expectation from something that began with delusion. There’s no way those expectations can be met, there’s no way the other person can give you satisfaction, so sooner or later the two of you split. You can see how it happens.

These are common human experiences. If you understand how and why two people get together and then separate and finish up miserable, that’s the lam-rim! That’s the lam-rim. That you don’t have to take on faith; you don’t to adhere to some extreme religious trip to see the truth of that. You can see it at the scientific level.

Lord Buddha’s teachings are so simple. You just have to check into your own life. Investigating how you live is the first step to renunciation. Once you have developed renunciation of samsara you’re on the path to liberation. Knowledge of how samsara works is itself renunciation.

Don’t think, as many do, that renunciation means giving something desirable up. But there’s a dangerous fire burning inside you. That’s what you have to extinguish; what you have to renounce, let go, is the flaming mind of grasping attachment. That’s what’s burning you.