A Teaching given by H.H. Penor Rinpoche
November 12, 1999.
We are very pleased to present you with a rare opportunity to study His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s teachings in print. Very few of His Holiness’ teachings are available to the general public, so this chance is all the more precious. You can also study a Guru Yoga teaching from a 1996 Berkeley, CA, teaching on this site. You will find small annotations in the text by the teachings which interconnect the two. These are points that His Holiness has expounded upon more fully in the other teaching. Use your “back” button to return to the teaching you are studying.
Re-cycling in worldy existence (“Samsara”)
In this world, as we were born as human beings, we need to have something beneficial that we can do. In general, we have some kind of activity by which to earn our livelihood, just to have something to eat and drink. Of course, not only human beings, but also animals know how to live their lives in this way. As we were born human, we can talk and understand language and meaning. That is the specific characteristic of a human being. So based on that we need to have some ultimate benefit that we can achieve within this lifetime.
Generally speaking, two main activity categories we can engage in: our normal worldly activities and then the Dharma activities. But the majority of the world’s people become very busy with worldly activities rather than following some kind of spiritual practice. These worldly works or activities are based on one’s capabilities and power and skill, and of these there are many different levels – some have more or better and some have less.
However, whatever worldly activities that we complete, whether or not they are good or meaningful, they will only endure for a few months or years. There is not anything within these activities that we can ultimately rely on. For example, from young childhood we pursue educational training, from first grade until graduation. For almost fifteen or twenty years we work very hard and study so that we can get a specific job. Then if through one’s job one becomes more successful, then possibly in twenty or thirty years we consider that we have a better or happier life. And if during all that time, if we have a very pure and sincere mind in all these works, then of course there is some benefit which is known as virtuous action. But there are also those that have the qualifications to do these activities but who have so much ego or arrogance or pride that their works, even if completed, are not really beneficial in this lifetime.
So many human beings consider the benefit for their individual selves as the most important thing. The result is we are all re-cycled over and over in what is called Samsara or the cyclic existence.
We cannot really establish or find out how long we have been drifting about in Samsara or cyclic existence. No one can know for certain how many lives we have taken in this world – one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, perhaps one million lifetimes. We cannot calculate the countless aeons of times we have been reborn in this world, in this Samsara.
Sometimes we were able to fulfill some of our wishes and sometimes we could not. For this life, from the time we have taken birth from our mother’s womb until now, whatever our ages, we have been constantly thinking about our own benefit and how we can be more happy people. All of our education and financial developments are all just for one’s own benefit. There is not anything left out that one has not thought of for one’s own benefit.
The law of cause and effect (“Karma”) and ignorance
However, whatever we do, fulfill or complete in this lifetime is mainly based on our Karma, the action, of what we have done in our many past lifetimes. One cannot complete one’s every wish immediately because of the Law of Karma. Because have never developed their spiritual side, they mainly have deluded minds. So they are not able to understand the causes and conditions based on the Law of Karma. They can only think of what is happening today, and have no idea what is really going on. They don’t have a deeper level of understanding of these spiritual practices and so they don’t understand what is involved in past lifetimes and future lifetimes. It is because of their obscurations or ignorance that they don’t have any clear understanding about the causes and conditions. They really don’t know anything about the Law of Karma.
And there are many, many beings that don’t know much about Buddha or Enlightenment or the Dharma teachings or liberation. They really don’t have any idea of such things. Even with all the explanations we could find in these Dharma teachings, and even though so many lamas and other qualified teachers give these teachings, still one might think that these teachings are just myths. And so you can’t truly accept them or believe in the absolute reality.
Everything is based on what is called the Law of Karma which is the actions that we do, the causes and conditions we create ourselves. Furthermore there is a Law of Karma which is known as the Collective Karma, the actions, causes and conditions we create together. There is no way we can change ourselves other than understanding Karma. Moreover, when one cannot understand all these deeper things, then one thinks that these things do not really exist.
When the lamas and the many other qualified teachers¹ teach on the sufferings of Samsara, of course it is not really nice to hear and then one feels like, “I don´t want to hear these kinds of teachings.” Certain people when lama gives these teachings on suffering even say, “I’m not interested to listen about the sufferings of Samsara. This lama doesn’t seem like he can give out good teachings!” These people prefer to just express their own ideas.
However, when taught by a qualified lama, it is indeed the Dharma, the truth. These teachings about the nature of Samsara and the reality of the faults of Samsara have been taught by all the Enlightened Beings such as Shakyamuni Buddha. The Enlightened Beings, the Buddhas, all gave these teachings because if we could just understand the nature of Samsara, we could then move on to the actual practices through which we could purify our obscurations. We could have the ultimate realization through which we achieve peace and happiness, and through that we could manifest ourselves to benefit all other sentient beings in Samsara. For that purpose Buddha gave all these teachings. It is not that Buddha wanted to be famous and so gave these teachings, nor was the Buddha showing off his skills in teaching, nor was he explaining things to us so that we would become frightened. These teachings are mainly about how all sentient beings can believe and act to attain complete Enlightenment, to liberate themselves from the sufferings of Samsara. So you see, Buddha gave these teachings with great compassion.
Take the example of a having a nightmare. Within such dreams, no matter what you do, you still cannot escape the scary feeling of a nightmare until you wake up. At the same moment, someone who is awake and watching beside the bed, can see that you are having a dream. We can understand something of the nature of Samsara from this dream example. While we are in Samsara experiencing all different kinds of sufferings, it is exactly like somebody who is having a nightmare.
The samsaric sufferings we experience are the result of non-virtuous actions of the body, speech and mind. For example, if somebody performed a negative action, such as killing, for instance, then the result based on that action, the reaction or its ripening Karma, is for the person’s life to shorten. And in the next lifetime he may be born in the hell realms where he has to suffer the result of the Karma he created. Similarly, if someone thinks that in this lifetime they could obtain material possessions by stealing or robbing, like a rat who steals all kinds of grains, such stealing ultimately ripens its fruit so that in the next lifetime, or maybe in this lifetime, this person may actually not have enough wealth and become very poor. Even the physical body’s negative actions, such as sexual misconduct, have negative results. This can be that within one’s lifetime, or in the next lifetime, one’s family will not be in harmony and will suffer quarrels and fighting. Similarly there are four negativities of speech, which are known as lies, interferences, harsh words and gossip. From these are certain negative results that one experiences, such that whatever one tries to tell, people will not believe. Even when one tries to say something beneficial it will seem like one is trying to harm somebody. Likewise with the three negative mental actions: Greediness, thoughts of harming others and wrong views. Based on these, one will not have success whatever one tries to do in this lifetime or in future lifetimes, one will experience a lot of harm from other beings, one will be unable to remain together with one’s masters, teachers or good friends and so on. These are examples of the ripening of negative actions.
So understanding all these causes and conditions are based on the actions of our body, speech and mind, we should then try to abandon all the ten negative actions and try to train ourselves so that our mindstream flows with the spiritual path. Then one can practice and accumulate all the virtuous activities. The teachings say that if one follows the worldly aspect of the Dharma practice, with good or positive behaviors, that naturally turns into a spiritual path through which one can have peace and happiness. In this way, with our bodies, speech and mind, in whatever conditions of life, it is very important to try to benefit others and have loving kindness toward everybody.
Loving-kindness, the root of practice
This is the root of all the Dharma practices: generating the Bodhicitta [loving-kindness]. If one can really generate genuine Bodhicitta within one’s mind, then it is very easy to move nearer to ultimate liberation. Bodhicitta is known as the awakening mind. The awakening mind is without partiality and equally benefits all sentient beings. If we have the thought of doing something good and beneficial only for our families and friends and then we want to create all kinds of obstacles for someone we don’t like or whom we consider to be an enemy, this is not Bodhicitta.
Generating Bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is for the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings without any exception. Even living creatures such as ants, in their ultimate nature, they also have the Buddha nature. Even cockroaches. There is no difference in the size of the form. In the teachings it says that there is no limit to space, that space is immeasurable, and similarly there is no limit of sentient beings. Their number is immeasurable. Hence we have to generate the kind of Bodhicitta that is immeasurable for all these immeasurable numbers of beings.
If Bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is within your mindstream from birth, then of course it is very good! But if one cannot generate in that way or have that kind of quality, at least one can understand the necessity and importance of Bodhicitta. Based on that one can receive the Bodhisattva vows from a master and also from the body, speech and mind supports – like shrines and altars. As we receive the Bodhisattva vows, we can apply all this into practice, and the fact that we have been born as human beings becomes something really meaningful.
Within our mind-streams, there are all kinds of mental afflictions or defilements that are called the five poisons. These are the main causes by which we experience all the kinds of sufferings and problems in Samsara. That is why our most important responsibility as a practitioner is how we can get rid of this afflicted mind, how we can abandon it and how we can suppress these poisons.
It is difficult in the beginning to really generate Bodhicitta, the positive thought of benefiting all other sentient beings, within one’s mind. But if we constantly think of it and try to contemplate and to train ourselves to get through all these practices, then it will become easy, like a habit. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past, in countless numbers like the stars of the sky, all these Enlightened Beings were in the beginning the same as us – just sentient beings. They were not born from the beginning as Buddhas.
So with this precious human birth, when we have all this intellectual understanding, we have to really contemplate and think about what is the best benefit that one can really achieve within this lifetime. We could just complete our worldly activities. But that is still just cultivating the same kinds of causes and conditions, and we will just rebound into Samsara again. We will not achieve the ultimate happiness. Even if we have really high rank or we have all kinds of luxuries and material belongings, or we have fame and very good friends and many subjects or attendants, still there is no real essence there from which we can benefit. So if we spend our whole lifetime just to get success still we will find there is nothing there that we can rely on. Everything is so impermanent and changeable.
You all have some intellectual understanding so you can think and examine for yourself and understand what is really going on. One should examine and think over what one has really done and what benefits one is really getting within one’s lifetime. Even if one is very rich, very wealthy, very intellectual, very wise – if we look into ourselves, into our own minds, we can understand just how much experience of peace or happiness is really there.
Does “I” exist?
Within this world, the most powerful obscuration or negativity is known as the grasping of self, the “I”, or the ego. When one just thinks of “I” and has that kind of strong ego and pride, then within that kind of mind-stream it is very difficult to have these Dharma teachings and practices. Pride or the ego is like an iron ball which pulls us down.
If we carefully investigate ourselves, we will not find an “I” existing in reality. We think, “I am,” and “He is,” or “She is,” but when we examine truly, these are not existing in an absolute sense. For example, we may think of our body as “I,” but when we investigate we can see that the body is not the “I.” The “I” feels happy, the “I” suffers, the “I” has this pain and sickness, and then the “I” dies. But when at death the five aggregates of our physical bodies die, still our external body is there, but it no longer has all those kinds of experiences of happiness or pain. For example, when the dead body burns in the fire, it does not feel the heat at all. When it is buried under the ground, there is not any kind of feeling either. Even when it is eaten by dogs and vultures, there is no pain at all. When death happens, all the pains and sufferings associated with the body are no longer there.
Even right now if we try to find this “I” within our body, from top to bottom, we cannot really find it. When we investigate, asking: Is the head the “I?” Is the eye the “I?” Is the nose the “I?” Is the chest the “I?” We cannot find in any part what we call the “I.” There is no way we can find our mind, our “I,” there.
In the relative bodily existence, it is our mind’s grasping of subject and object through which we think there is this “I” and through which we experience things. It is merely created by the conceptual mind. Verbal speech, also, when we investigate and divide past, present and future, then we cannot find what is called speech. It is just in our mind
What mind is
So the mind – does it need to be something which we can see? If we think that what has pain, suffering, problems and so forth, that this is what is called the mind, in this way we have to perceive the mind as something like a round ball. When we investigate into the mind itself there is not anyone who can really perceive a mind.
At the same time, this mind does not really die. From beginningless lifetimes until now, the mind of Samsara has just been getting rebirth over and over. The mind which has been conceptualized by having that thought of subject and object is that which binds oneself here. It is that which projects the external world and then one’s body and so forth. But no matter how much we investigate, there is no way anyone can perceive this mind.
All the past Buddhas have explained that there is no way one can perceive the mind in the past, present and future. If it is self-existing, then we could see it, like a round pill or something! So why do we think that it has to be perceived as some “thing?” All these “things” are created by the mind. All the experiences of happiness and suffering of Samsara and nirvana – everything is just created by the mind itself.
So we will find if we think over the absolute nature of the mind, it is definitely emptiness. Some people might say, “Oh, my mind is very active and multicolored! Maybe it is possible somebody might have it!” Or maybe somebody might say, “My mind is something like a white light!” But it does not really exist in that way.
When we don’t control the mind and just let it be free, then it starts to create all these negative actions and thoughts. That is why in these practices which we call meditation, although there are many levels of meditations, whatever the Dharma teachings that have been taught by all the Enlightened Buddhas, it is mainly to subdue this mind and to tame this mind. It is to recognize the fault of the mind is conceptual thought, which is a very dualistic thing where there is always subject and object, and this binds us into Samsara or cyclic existence. At the same time we try to realize its absolute nature, to realize or recognize this, and that is the most important part of our practice.
When lama gives all these teachings, the practitioner receives them and tries to put them into practice and then they say, “Oh! I recognize the nature of the mind!” But by just recognizing the conceptual mind, it is very difficult that one could attain Enlightenment. That which creates all these emotions and conceptual thoughts – that is called the mind. But the actual practice is of something which is beyond that kind of conceptual mind, which is known as wisdom. It is that which we need to realize. So we cannot achieve the ultimate happiness just by recognizing the conceptual mind.
There are many kinds of practices¹ which aim to pacify all these kinds of negative thoughts and to control the afflicted mind, to purify and abandon them. When we do these practices and achieve some tranquility through which we can concentrate our mind and make it very stable, then we can perhaps concentrate our minds on the emptiness through which we may achieve some realization. So when we practice meditation and manage to get kind of settled and stable, even having just a little bit of experience of emptiness is really beneficial and can accumulate lots of merit.
Emptiness and the idea of emptiness
Emptiness is not something like just remaining there without having thoughts or anything at all. It has been said in the texts that if one does not know how to meditate properly on emptiness, then one can fall into the wrong pot. So one has to investigate the true nature of the mind in order to really establish its absolute nature as emptiness, and this must be maintained through the practice of meditation.
Emptiness which is merely emptiness, and the emptiness which is the nature of mind, are two different things. The one emptiness is kind of like nothingness. This kind of nothingness emptiness in the Dharma teachings is explained by the example of the rabbit’s horn – something which does not exist at all. But the emptiness of the mind, which does not have any form or colors or shape, is in certain ways non-existing, but at the same time this mind is everything. It is that which creates all these samsaric phenomena and all the nirvana phenomena.
When you do meditation practice, it is good to cut through all these conceptual thoughts. To be without any such thoughts and then to remain in meditation is very beneficial. This is what is known as samatha or tranquility meditation. If one carries through with such meditation practice for awhile, one begins to have some stability of the mind, and then it is easier to achieve the vipassana or insight meditation practices.
All Dharma teachings and practices have to follow through the proper lineage. That is to say, the lama, the master, must be really qualified to give these teachings. Then the disciple, the practitioner, if he or she has really strong devotion or faith, can understand through his or her actual practice. There is no other way to give and receive these teachings.
So the lama, the master, must have that quality by which he can “read” the disciple’s mind. When the lama has that quality – the knowledge by which he realizes the mind-stream of the practitioner – then according to that knowledge he can give the right introduction of the nature of the mind. For example, when the lama examines a practitioner, he can directly experience whether or not the practitioner has the actual recognition of the nature of the mind.³
Other than that kind of direct mind-to-mind interaction, there is no way to explain, “Oh, the nature of mind is something like this.” There are no words to handle it. If there was any kind of expressway diagram about the nature of the mind, then we could just draw it and then explain, “Here! This is the nature of mind!” So it is important to carry through all the practices, constantly watching through the samatha meditation practice, getting used to that kind of concentration of mind, so that there can be a way for one to have the true recognition of mind.
The Tibetan word, “lama,” means the Unsurpassable Teacher. The “la” is based on the quality of the realization and the “ma” symbolizes the mother, the loving-kindness and affection that one needs to have, just like a mother gives to her children. All the past, present and future Buddhas obtained Enlightenment by relying upon the lama². There is not any Buddha who just by him or herself attained Enlightenment.
The lama, the master, means someone that has complete knowledge about all these practices. So all who just have a red cloth are not lamas. Those also who wear yellow clothes, they are not necessarily lamas! Someone who has true purification and realization internally is who is known as the lama³. And the lama’s mind-stream must have the genuine Bodhicitta to benefit all sentient beings.
Meditation the Dzogchen Way
Many of you are interested and have asked, “Please give us the Dzogchen teachings.” But even I myself don’t know what is Dzogchen and I don’t have anything to teach you!
Anyway, as I explained to you earlier, if one practices the Bodhicitta, that kind of pure intention to really benefit all other sentient beings, and then the samatha meditation practices to establish one’s mind in full concentration, then of course there will be the Great Perfection (“Dzogchen”) meditations.
But if one cannot cultivate the Bodhicitta within one’s mind, the path to Enlightenment is already broken. Without Bodhicitta, there is no real path. Bodhicitta is that which is without any partiality. The pure intention of Bodhicitta, the thought to benefit all sentient beings without any exception, can be understood by realizing that in one or another lifetime, each being has been one’s parent. If we understand this and think of how dearly they have taken care of us, then we will feel grateful to all the parently beings and we can generate Bodhicitta to all of them.
This present body of ours is here because of our parents. If we did not have parents, there is no possibility that we could have these bodies. And if we don’t have this physical body, then we cannot accomplish any kind of worldly or Dharma activity. So our mothers are indeed very kind and we should be grateful.
Of course, there are many kinds of parent-child relationships in this world, but we should remember that whether or not we are close to our parents is based on our own desires and our own thoughts. Beyond that sort of thing, the main meaning here is that without our parents, we could not have this body, and because of this we should understand and be grateful for their kindness. So first one really concentrates on generating Bodhicitta based on one’s gratefulness to this life’s mother, and from that one can extend this Bodhicitta to all sentient beings equally.
So the most important points are to have faith and devotion in the Dharma, then meditating and contemplating on Bodhicitta and compassion. Then one can apply these into practice through the meditations on emptiness.
In the Dharma practice one should not think, “Oh, I am doing all this practice for the benefit of this lama or for these Buddhas.” Never think in this way. The Dharma practice is for yourself. Each and every one of you as individuals has to liberate yourself from Samsara. You are attaining Enlightenment for yourself. You are attaining Buddhahood for yourself. By your practice, your lama is not going to attain Enlightenment nor is Buddha going to attain Enlightenment! Buddha has already achieved Buddhahood! And if you cannot attend to Dharma practice in the proper way, then it is yourself who will fall down into the three lower realms. It is not the lama or the Buddha who will fall into the lower realms!
So, though it is important to think spiritually of one’s own benefit and how one can attain Enlightenment, still the acheivement of that kind of liberation is by the path of benefiting all other sentient beings. Without that kind of Bodhicitta one cannot attain complete Enlightenment.
The Bodhicitta we can generate right now, however vast, is beneficial. In the future, when one attains Enlightenment, according to the vastness of that Bodhicitta, that many sentient beings can benefit and liberate themselves from the sufferings of Samsara. Right now we cannot really perceive all that fruition, but if we continue to practice, then in the future we will realize it as a direct perception.
Buddha Amitabha, for example, ultimately achieved that kind of result from his generation of Bodhicitta and his accumulation over many countless years of practices of commitments and aspiration prayers. So even as the Amitabha Buddha achieved Enlightenment over a long time based on aspiration prayers and the commitment to benefit all sentient beings, so we as practitioners must constantly apply the practice of the six perfections to benefit all other beings.
The Buddha Amitabha did not just do these aspiration prayers once or twice, or make this kind of commitment just one or two times. It was over many aeons that he practiced these aspirations and commitments, such that whoever hears the Amitabha’s name and does supplication prayers to Amitabha, they will instantly be born in his pure land. If one has single-pointed devotion to Amitabha Buddha and one carries through all of these supplication prayers, then even oneself as an ordinary person with an afflicted mind can be reborn in his pure land. It is all because of Amitabha Buddha’s special aspiration prayers. So although there are countless Buddhafields, the Amitabha Buddha’s pure land is very special because of these reasons.
We all could also achieve that kind of completion when we attain Enlightenment if we continue on the path and carry through our practices, generating Bodhicitta in as vast a way as possible. So we should not lose courage, thinking, “Oh, I cannot do it. I could never attain that kind of Enlightenment.” It is not good to lose one’s courage like that. Think instead that all these past Enlightened Beings, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, they also attained Enlightenment and ultimate realization by beginning the same as us, standard beings, and if they could attain Enlightenment, we can also attain that same kind of realization.
So today, though there is much that has been taught, if one can just try to keep in one’s mind to have one hundred percent devotion to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and if one will train one’s mind by generating Bodhicitta and carry though the practices, then one can definitely have this kind of fruition. We can all do aspiration prayers, that in the future we can all attain Enlightenment within one mandala through these Great Perfection (“Dzogchen”) meditations. Just as in the past such great Great Perfection (“Dzogchen”) realized masters like Garab Dorje and Shri Singha and so forth attained Enlightenment through these Great Perfection (“Dzogchen”) practices, similarly we can also have that aspiration prayer to attain Enlightenment.
Translated by Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche.