Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 11

Being under the influence of wrong views you do not realize the ultimate nature of things, therefore investigate correct meanings.

This refers to the wisdom realizing emptiness. We have already established that everything is just a dream.  Now, I want to talk about the implications of this.

While there are many many different benefits of this sort of analysis, it seems to me there are two main ideas which stand out:  By understanding that it is our mind that is the creator of all we realize that we are uniquely responsible for everything that happens in this world of suffering.  It is very easy, due to our grasping, to think that some of the things that happen in this world or that happen to the people of this world, while sad, are not really our responsibility.  These are ‘events taking place’ in the world, and we feel as if our own mind has no role in their creation.  When we go this deep into emptiness we realize that there is absolutely nothing that happens to anybody that we are not responsible for.  It is our own mind that has created this world of suffering and all the beings within it.   When I look at the world I have created, I realize that I have imprisoned everyone I know into contaminated aggregates and trapped them in a cycle of uncontrolled rebirth.    When I see emptiness, I realize that I am responsible for everything that happens to everyone in my dream.  I realize that if I don’t save the beings of my dream, nobody else can; after all, they are the beings of MY dream.  Why are beings trapped in the lower realms or caught in the spell of samsara?  Because I, due to my self-cherishing and self-grasping, have been neglecting them.  When I think that their suffering has nothing to do with me, then I can perhaps say a few prayers, but I don’t really take any personal responsibility. But when I realize that all this suffering is caused by nobody and nothing else than my OWN mind, then I immediately feel a strong sense of responsibility for everything that happens.  In this way, the deeper we understand emptiness, the more effortless our superior intention and bodhichitta becomes.

By understanding that it is our mind that is the creator of all we realize that by changing and purifying our own mind we can actually free all those we know and love from the terrible dream we have created for them.  When I think that their suffering and their experiences have nothing to do with my own mind, then I think, even if I change my mind it won’t really change anything.  Others will continue to suffer, etc., and my efforts aimed at changing my mind will change little to nothing.  But when I understand that it is because I still have an ordinary, deluded mind that I perceive a world filled with ordinary, deluded beings I simultaneously understand that if I purify and perfect my mind I will naturally perceive a world filled with pure and perfect beings.  While of course there will be a ‘karmic lag’ between when I generate this view and when it becomes a living reality for the beings of my dream, I understand that if I am persistent in maintaining this view it will just be a matter of time before I have transformed this world of suffering into a completely pure world.  I will have freed all those I have, by ignorance and self-cherishing, imprisoned.

Neither of these two observations requires even one iota of faith.  Emptiness is something that does not require a leap of faith to believe, but it is something that we can verify and confirm beyond any doubt for ourselves.  We have been given tools for establishing that everything is the dream of our self-centered mind, and when we go and check we come to the simultaneously horrifying and liberating realization that it is true.  It is horrifying in the sense we realize what our self-centered mind has done since beginningless time (created and world of suffering in which all beings have been tortured endlessly) But it is liberating in the sense that we realize the solution to all of this suffering lies within our own hands (or our own mind, to be more precise).

When I understand this emptiness we have been discussing, a ‘real’ solution to all the suffering of all living beings becomes something ‘perfectly feasible.’  I see the feasibility of the bodhichitta task.  Instead of it being some insurmountable problem, it becomes a rather limited issue of purifying my own mind.  Gen Tharchin said that we cannot take on spiritual goals unless we see them as being feasible.  But when we see that they are feasible (we know what to do and we know that it is doable) then effort becomes, well, effortless.  We easily and joyfully take such spiritual challenges on board and with the confidence of conviction grounded in fact, not blind faith, we go about the business of building a whole new world for ourselves and all beings.  I think when we see the teachings on emptiness in this light, we start to glimpse the unimaginable and we are filled with an enormous energy and confidence in what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Friends, there is no happiness in this swamp of samsara, so move to the firm ground of liberation.

The main point of renunciation is we need to wake up.  We recognize that this dream is created by a contaminated source, so everything in it will necessarily be contaminated.  The mind of renunciation realizes that it is impossible to find any happiness anywhere in samsara, so the only thing that remains to do is wake up.  Samsara is like a Rubik’s cube without a solution.  No matter how long we play, we will never get the pieces lined up.  So we should just stop playing.

Meditate according to the advice of your Spiritual Guide and dry up the river of samsaric suffering.

Samsara is just a contaminated dream.  If we meditate on the mahamudra, we dissolve all contaminated appearances of ourself and others into the Dharmakaya.  This concentration functions to purify the contaminated karma giving rise to the dream of samsara.  When all this contaminated karma is purified, the dream ceases and everyone is freed.

You should consider this well because it is not just words from the mouth, but sincere advice from the heart.

If you practise like this you will delight me, and you will bring happiness to yourself and others.

I who am ignorant request you to take this advice to heart.

He is offering us this advice as a friend because he wants us to become freed from our contamianted dream.  We should take his advice to heart.


I dedicate any merit I have accumulated from doing this series of posts so that all Kadampas can easily follow Atisha’s advice and come to live their life in accordance with it.  By doing so, may they set an immaculate example for others inspring countless millions to enter into the Kadampa path themselves.  Through continuing in this way, generation after generation, may all living beings eventually be led to freedom.

Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 10

Distracting enjoyments have no essence, therefore sincerely practise giving.

We can understand the perfection of giving from a couple of different angles:  From the perspective of consuming merit, if we consider something to be ‘ours’ we burn up merit for as long as we consider it to be ours.  If we consider something to belong to ‘others’ we accumulate merit for as long as we maintain this view.  From the perspective of exchanging self with others, when we have completed exchanging self with others, we have the feeling that all beings are cells in a single body, and so just as our right hand gives to our left, we give to other parts of ourself.  Finally, from the perspective of karma and emptiness, karmically speaking, others are future emanations of ourself.  So by giving to others now, we are giving to ourself in the future.

Always keep pure moral discipline for it leads to beauty in this life and happiness hereafter.

Moral discipline is quite simply trying to have all of our actions move us in the direction of enlightenment.  The main point is no matter what appears to our mind, we should respond by trying to send our mind in the direction of enlightenment.  When we have a negative tendency and we resist assenting to it, we purify that negative tendency and we practice moral discipline.  This greatly simplifies our life into two things:  appearance – response.  That is all we need to know.  In terms of moral discipline making us beautiful, we can see this when we look at the monks and nuns.  They are all gorgeous people.  Moral discpline leads to happiness in future lives because it results in higher rebirth.

Since hatred is rife in these impure times, don the armour of patience, free from anger.

Getting angry at others is completely illogical.  Others harm us because we have created the karma to have the appearance of somebody harming us.  This is the karmic echo of our own past actions.  The other person was compelled to harm us by the force of our karma.  Likewise, if we get angry at others, karmically speaking we are getting angry at ourself in the future.  Everything we do to others we can correctly view as us doing to ourself in the future.  If instead we learn to accept others and respect their freedom to choose, then we likewise are doing the same thing for ourself in the future.  In short, karmically speaking, everything others do to us is our previous selves doing it to us, and everything we do to others is us doing something to our future selves.  If we keep this in mind, there will be no basis for anger or harmful actions.

You remain in samsara through the power of laziness, therefore ignite the fire of the effort of application.

The bottom line is this:  we are dreaming.  If we don’t do what it takes to wake up, we will remain forever asleep.  Since we have a (rudimentary) understanding of emptiness, we can liken right now to being in a dream, but realizing that we are dreaming.  We all know that this moment will quickly pass and we will forget we are dreaming and think it is all real again.  If this happens, there is no way we can wake up, because unless we wake ourselves up, we will remain forever asleep.  Effort in its simplest form is delighting in engaging in virtue.  The source of our pleasure is engaging in virtue.  What we enjoy is creating good causes.  We can generate this effort with the confidence that knows that if we never give up trying, nothing can prevent us from waking up and accomplishing all our spiritual goals.

Since this human life is wasted by indulging in distractions, now is the time to practise concentration.

Ultimately, a distraction is allowing ourselves to forget that we are dreaming.  When we develop attachment for things, we are necessarily grasping at things being real and not being just appearances in a dream.  As a result of this, we can easily get swept away and forget that it is a dream.  If it crosses a certain threshold, then there is no turning back and we lose this opportunity forever.

What does it mean to concentrate?  It means to not forget.  We try to maintain the continuum of not forgetting our Dharma understanding.  In general, Dharma is a process of familiarizing ourselves with the truth of how things are and how things work so that we don’t make mistakes.  The reason why we make mistakes is we forget our wisdom and believe our old deluded ways of viewing things.  We need to put to our mind again and again, ‘I am dreaming.  This is all a dream.’  ‘This is the contaminated dream of my self-cherishing mind.’  We keep doing this until we never forget it.  On the basis of that, we will naturally start changing our actions.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 9

Since all the happiness and suffering of this life arise from previous actions, do not blame others.

Normally we blame others for our problems.  Our partner, our government, our friends, our boss, even the weather.  But we are the architect of our own experience, we created the cause for everything we experience.  Virtuous actions are the causes of happiness and non-vituous actions are the causes of suffering.

All happiness comes from the blessings of your Spiritual Guide, therefore always repay his kindness.

A blessing is a subtle infusion of our spiritual guide’s mind into our own mind that functions to transform our mind from a negative state to a positive state.  The spiritual guide explains the true causes of happiness, and so by putting into practice his advice we will become happy.  The supreme way of repaying the kindness of the spiritual guide is by putting his instructions into practice.  He gets nothing out of it, and he doesn’t want anything for himself since he already has everything.  We are the ones who benefit.

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

There are a couple of different levels we can understand this:  At a purely pragmatic level we will not know how to help others tame their own mind if we haven’t yet tamed our own.  Somebody who has not learned how to drive cannot teach somebody else.  At the level of effectiveness, if we haven’t tamed our own mind, we will not be credible in the eyes of others.  We could be somebody who knows an incredible amount of Dharma, but if we have not been able to master our own mind, we will not be credible when we give advice to people about how to tame their own mind.  At a profound level, others are projections of your own mind.  This I will now explain in detail.

This is a love conjoined with a realization of emptiness, namely that your own mind is the creator of this world.  You can think, “I am dreaming a dream in which all of these beings are trapped in a cycle of uncontrolled rebirth.”  Buddha explains that all of this is just our dream.  We are dreaming.  This is the dream of our gross mind, our dreams at night are the dreams of our subtle mind.  But both are equally dreams.  In this dream of ours, all the beings are trapped in a cycle of uncontrolled rebirth in the various abodes of samsara.  In this dream, just in the human realm there are things like genoicides, AIDS, poverty, war, etc.  Basically, we are dreaming a world of suffering.

The way to free these beings from the world of suffering I have created for them is for myself to wake up from this dream by destroying its creator, my self-centered mind.  We can understand this through the analogy of a dream.  I once had a dream where I knew I was dreaming and I was playing with my kids.  They then put a plastic bag over my face and I couldn’t escape.  I knew the only way to escape from the situation was to wake up.  My wife once had a dream where her sister, who she had just dropped off at the airport, had died in a plane crash.  In the dream, it seemed completely real and she was devastated.  But when she woke up from that dream, her sister had made it safely to Paris and she realized none of it has been anything other than a dream.  In exactly the same way, we are dreaming a world of suffering.  By following the stages of the path to enlightenment, we can learn how to wake up from this dream. When we do, we will wake up in the world of the Buddhas in which everybody is already enlightened and we are all in the pure land.  By waking up from this world of suffering, we free ourselves and all the beings of our dream from the world of suffering we have created for them.  The generator of this world of suffering is our own self-centered mind.  This creates the clouds of this dream.  By destroying this self-centered mind, we can cause the dream it creates to cease and we will wake up in the enlightened world of the Buddhas.

The method for destroying my self-centered mind is to develop and act upon the superior intention to lead all the beings of my dream along the stages of the path to enlightenment.  This superior intention is the exact opposite of the self-centered mind.  It directly opposes it.  First we need to develop the intention to free all the beings of our dream from the world of suffering we have created for them.  The greatest wish of a bodhisattva for others is that they wake up.  It is not enough to have the wish that others wake up, but we actually need to act upon it.  We need to engage in the actions necessary for all the beings of our dream to attain enlightenment – we do this by becoming a Buddha ourselves and helping others do the same. Developing and acting upon this superior intention is the actual method for destroying our self-centered mind.  When we do this, the samsaric dream will simply cease, just like last night’s dream, and all the beings of our dream will awake in the pure world of the Buddhas, and everyone will be an enlightened being.

Since you will definitely have to depart without the wealth you have accumulated, do not accumulate negativity for the sake of wealth.

Wealth and resources in and of themselves are not negative.  In fact, they can be quite positive if we use them to engage in virtue and to help others.  But it is foolish to attempt to accumulate wealth by engaging in negativity.  First of all, even if it works to accumulate wealth by engaging in negativity, it is not worth it since the negative karmic consequences of the negative actions far outweigh the potential benefit of our increased wealth.  Second, even practically it doesn’t work even though we think it does.  On the surface, it may seem like it is our negative actions which are making us rich, but from a karmic perspective it is actually our past practice of giving that is making us rich.  The question is not how rich are our negative actions making us, rather the question is how much richer would we be if we weren’t engaging in negative actions?  Virtuous minds function to active virtuous karmic seeds and negative minds function to activate negative karmic seeds.  When we engage in negative actions we necessarily have a negative mind, so this necessarily is activating negative seeds.  So we may wonder, why then are we seemingly getting rich by engaging in this negativity?  The answer is due to previous minds, our past karma of giving is ripening making us rich.  Our present negativity is actually slowing down and obstructing this process of ripening much in the same way that rocks in the soil obstruct the growing of a flower.  If we weren’t engaging in such negativity, this karma would be ripening even more fully and we would in fact be getting even richer!  Wealth and resources, whether they are inner or outer, are in and of themselves neutral tools.  The question is what do we intend to use these things for.  If we genuinely use them for virtuous purposes, there is nothing with having them.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 8

If you talk too much with little meaning you will make mistakes, therefore speak in moderation, only when necessary.

While normally we say that idle chatter is the least negative of the 10 non-virtuous actions, from the perspective of a Bodhisattva it is one of the most harmful.  Why?  Because when we say a bunch of non-sense, it creates the causes for people to not listen to what we have to say.  So then, in the future, when we do have something meaningful to say (such as giving Dharma teachings) people don’t really pay attention and therefore receive little to no benefit.  What makes our speech meaningless?  This is easier to define by understanding what is meaningful speech.  Meaningful speech is speech whose purpose is to help others find happiness and freedom from suffering.  Anything other than that is meaningless speech.

When should we speak?  Generally only when we are asked something (either directly or implicitly depending on the situation).  How much should we say?  Generally it is better to say too little than it is to say too much.  Je Phabongkhapa said we should end our conversations before they are over because that creates the causes to meet again in the future.  As a general rule, we should probably listen at least 3-4 times more than we speak.  This number doesn’t come from any qualified source (so take it with a grain of salt), but rather comes from my own understanding of the world.  But it seems about right!

If you engage in many meaningless activities your virtuous activities will degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.

Again, what is a meaningless activity?  No activity is, from its own side, meaningless.  Activities become meaningless only when we engage in them with a meaningless mind.  What is a meaningless  mind?  Again, this can be understood by understanding what is a meaningful mind.  A meaningful mind is one whose intention is to help others find happiness or freedom from suffering.  Any mind other than that is a meaningless one, and therefore any activity engaged in motivated by that mind is a meaningless activity.  Notice this has nothing to do with what is our actual activity, rather it has only to do with what we are doing with our mind.  To keep things simple, we can divide our motivations into two types:  worldly and spiritual.  Worldly motivations are ones that are primary concerned with the happiness and well-being of this life alone.  Spiritual motivations are ones that are primarily concerned with the happiness and well-being of our countless future lives.  So it suffices to check to see if our motivation is spiritual or worldly.

It is completely meaningless to put effort into activities that have no essence.

We can basically view others as karmic echos of how we used to be towards others in our previous lives.  Because we were like that, we planted the karma on our mind which is currently ripening in the form of an appearance of somebody who acts like this towards us.  How can we blame the other person when there is no other person, it is just the karmic echo of our own past actions.  If we respond badly, all we do is create new negative karma and restart the cycle. By acting differently, we can create the karma to have different ‘others’ appear to us in the future.  So we accept whatever happens as purification for our past actions and we respond correctly to create the causes for a better future.

If the things you desire do not come it is due to karma created long ago, therefore keep a happy and relaxed mind.

Venerable Tharchin explains that virtually everything that happens to us in this life is the result of actions we engaged in in our previous lives, and virtually everything we do in this life will ripen in our future lives.  Sometimes we see people who lead very negative lives enjoying great good fortune and we see other pure practitioners experiencing endless suffering.  Understanding what is happening to them in this life comes from their previous lives and understanding that what they are doing now will determine the quality of their future lives it is clear who is better off.  This advice primarily is aimed at helping us completely abandon any and all attachment to results.  Ghandi said “full effort is [itself] full victory.”  We don’t care what results ripen, we only care about what causes we are creating.  Trying alone, regardless of whether we succeed, is what creates the good karma for our future.  So even if our life is one tragedy after another, we should not care but instead be satisfied that we are responding well.

Beware, offending a holy being is worse than dying, therefore be honest and straightforward.

From their own side a holy being cannot be offended, but from our side we can create the karma as if they were.  The reason why it is worse than death is death can only harm this one life, whereas the negative karma from offending a holy being harms us in all our future lives.  They are a particularly powerful object, so it multiplies the karma in relation to them, either for good or for bad.  Since we don’t know who is and who is not a holy being, we should treat everyone as if they were one.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 7

Do not contemplate your own good qualities, but contemplate the good qualities of others, and respect everyone as a servant would.

What are some tricks to help us see the good qualities in others.  We need to make the distinction between the person and their delusions.  People are not their delusions.  Delusions are the cancer of their mind.  Geshe-la said it is useful to see delusions like evil spirits who temporarily take possession of those around us and cause them to engage in all sorts of negative actions.  They are the helpless victim of their own delusions. We can also practice pure view of others.  Pure view does not say that what the other person did was perfect, when manifestly it was not; rather it asks, ‘how can I receive perfect benefit from what they in fact did?’  By receiving such perfect benefit, as far as we are concerned, what they in fact did was perfect.  It was just an expression of their skillful means.  At the end of the day, all of our Dharma training is just a question of habit, so we train over a long period of time until eventually it becomes habit.  Once it becomes habit to see and relate to others good qualities, then the rest of the vast path falls into place like dominos.  From seeing their good qualities naturally comes affection love, which naturally leads to cherishing love, great compassion, bodhichitta and our eventual enlightenment.

See all living beings as your father or mother, and love them as if you were their child.

We are all familiar with the Lamrim meditation of recognizing all living beings as our mother.  The purpose of this meditation is to feel close to everyone and to develop a special feeling of gratitude towards them.  It is a sign of degenerate times that people often really struggle with this meditation because so many of us have strained relationships with our parents.  In ancient times, people generally respected their parents and generally felt enormous gratitude for all that they did for them.  Nowadays, we have psychoanalysts who tell us that our parents are the cause of all of our problems.  Our goal as an adult frequently becomes to avoid becoming like our parents instead of aspiring to emulate them.  This creates unique modern difficulties with this meditation.  The solution to this problem is fairly simple:  be grateful for whatever they did do (no matter how small it may be), don’t be resentful for what they didn’t do.  The reason why our parents “disappoint” us is because we expect so much of them.  When they fall short of our arbitrary expectations, we then get upset at them.  We may find it “normal” for our parents to live up to our expectations (often because everybody else in society expects the same things), and so therefore even when they do we don’t feel grateful for what they have done.  This is an incredibly ugly attitude.  Gen-la Losang advises us to “expect nothing from others.”  If our expectations are set to zero (and we are OK with that), then anything others do for us will be seen as special and we will find it easy to generate gratitude.  So the way in which we can practice this advice from Atisha in these degenerate times is to train in expecting nothing from anyone, especially our parents.  Once we have done that, then everything tends to fall into place easily.

Always keep a smiling face and a loving mind, and speak truthfully without malice.

While this is a very short and simple piece of advice, its application is virtually all of our daily life.  Keeping a smiling face does not mean we fake a smile, rather the meaning here is a smile should reflect what is in our heart.  If our mind is at peace, we view everything as emanated and we have the wisdom of samsara making us laugh, we can’t help but have a smile on our face.  To maintain a loving mind primarily is a question of what do we focus our attention on.  If we focus our attention on others’ good qualities and we take the time to appreciate and rejoice in those qualities, then a loving mind will develop quite naturally.  If instead we are always judging others and internally criticizing them for their short-comings, a loving mind will be impossible. 

We speak truthfully always for the simple reason that doing so creates the causes for people to believe what we say (giving our speech power).  But sometimes people misunderstand this advice to speak truthfully to mean we should tell others all of our deluded points of view.  No, it is not enough to speak the truth, we must speak that part of the truth which is beneficial to say.  If it is not beneficial to say, we shouldn’t say it even if it is the truth. 

Malice is an easy mind to develop, especially in our speech.  This most frequently arises when we want somebody to like us and we know they dislike somebody else.  So we say mean and hurtful things about the other person in an effort to get the person we want to like us to actually like us.  But this is completely wrong.  If somebody will only like us if we dislike somebody else, then that person is not a true friend anyways.  Wishing harm on others is a really stupid mind because our wishing that doesn’t harm them in anyway, but it definitely harms us.  Shantideva warns us that that there are special cauldrons in hell for those with a mind filled with malice!  But we need to be careful to distinguish between the ripening of a malicious tendency similar to the cause and the action mental action of malice.  As part of our legacy from our countless previous lives, we have innumerable tendencies in our mind to think malicious thoughts.  When these thoughts ripen in our mind (which, let’s be honest, happens to all of us), it only becomes a NEW action of malice if we ASSENT to the malicious thought.  If instead when this thought arises we realize the dangers of such thinking and apply effort to think differently then we will not only not accumulate new negative karma, but we will actually be practicing moral discipline (of restraint) and creating the causes for future precious human rebirths.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 6

Since future lives last for a very long time, gather up riches to provide for the future.

The main point is this:  we are going to die and the only thing we can take with us are the causes we create for ourselves.  Realizing this gives us a total equanimity with respect to what effects happen in this life.  All equally give us an opportunity to create causes, so everything is equally good for us.  Realizing this also helps us to become a spiritual being.  The definition of maturity is when we use today for tomorrow.  The definition of spiriutal maturity is when we use this life for our future lives.

You will have to depart leaving everything behind, so do not be attached to anything.

At the time of your death, there is a very special delusion that arises called ‘dependent-related craving.’  Basically every attachment you haven’t dealt with during life will reassert itself at the time of death.  The most important thing to remember at the time of death is that all of this is mere appearance to mind.  I had a dream once which illustrates the dangers.  At first, there was a terrible monster who was chasing after me and attacking me.  In my dream, I remembered that it was a dream and I went for refuge requesting that this karmic appearance be pacified, and it immediately was.  But then there were a couple of dazzling Dakinis who were ready to ‘have some fun’, and because I had attachment in my mind towards this type of thing, I dove right in, even though I knew it wasn’t real.  I thought, ‘its just a dream, so why not have some fun.’  But then I woke up and realized that if this happened to me at the time of death, I would have been dragged back down into samsara.  I don’t have to worry about the Devaputra mara, but I do have to worry about the tempting demonesses.

If throughout our life, we have always chosen to pursue our objects of attachment, we will do the same at the time of death and go back into samsara.  But if we have always chosen the pure land in life, then we will be able to do the same at the time of death.  So our job is to abandon all of our attachments now while we still can.  In this way, we can approach death with a peaceful heart.

Generate compassion for lowly beings, and especially avoid despising or humiliating them.

We need to examine the nature of the others that we see.  Self-cherishing thinks that we are just this one appearance, and that only the happiness of this one appearance matters.  If we do the meditation on the emptiness of others, we realize that they are nothing more than mere appearances in our mind.  If we do the meditation on the emptiness of ourself, we realize that we too are just a mere appearance to our mind.  In this sense, we are exactly the same.  So if I think that this appearance is me, then I need to think that other appearances are also me.  Both are just thoughts in my mind.  Seen in this way, we realize that everyone is equally me.  Everyone is like a cell in a giant body or waves on the same ocean.  We impute our I validly on all living beings.  When we do this, just as our right hand cherishes our left, so too we cherish and care for all living beings.  Their suffering is our suffering.

Have no hatred for enemies, and no attachment for friends.

Geshe-la is very clear when he says there is no such thing as external enemies.  The only enemies we have are our own delusions.  External enemies actually have no real power to harm us, only we can harm ourselves by responding in a deluded way to what they do to us.  If instead, we transform their hostility towards us into the path, they become our kindest spiritual benefactors.  We generate enemies because we still grasp at our happiness as depending upon external conditions.  We have enemies only because we still have worldly concerns.

If we think carefully, we will realize being a friend and generating attachment to our friends are mutually exclusive.  If we generate attachment to our friends, we view them as causes of our attachment and our relationship with them is, in the final analysis, us using them for our own ends.  What true friend does that?  A Bodhisattva is a friend of the world.  A true friend is there for others when they need it most and what makes them a friend (as opposed to a business partner) is they ask for nothing in return.

Do not be jealous of others’ good qualities, but out of admiration adopt them yourself.

We need to understand cause and effect.  If we are jealous of the good things that others have, it creates the causes for us to not have such qualities.  Normally when we observe the qualities of others, we generate the thought, ‘yes, but …’ and then we find some fault in the person.  If we are critical of others when we observe their faults, it creates the cause for us to acquire those very faults ourselves.  But if we rejoice in the good qualities of others it creates the cause for us to acquire these good qualities ourselves.  Karmically, rejoicing plants the seeds on our mind which ripen in the form of the appearance of us having these qualities ourselves.  Because nothing exists from its own side, the world we experience is the world we pay attention to.  So by focusing on the good qualities of others, we draw them out and come to abide in a world with more and more qualities.

Do not look for faults in others, but look for faults in your- self, and purge them like bad blood.

When you see faults in others we should ‘own their faults as our own.’  The only reason why others appear to have any faults is because we yourself possess the same fault within our mind.  When we see a fault in somebody else, we should see that person as a ‘mirror-like’ Buddha who reflects back to us our own faults.  Then find we should that fault within ourself and purge it like bad blood.  When we do this, we gain the realizations we need to be able to help the other person overcome their fault and you set the best possible example for them.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 5

Profit and respect are nooses of the maras, so brush them aside like stones on the path.

How are profit and respect harmful?  Seeking profit is trying to ripen merit.  We are trying to squeeze good things out of samsara.  Actually all of society has one goal – to burn up as much merit as we can.   If we do this and it works, then we think that samsara works and we don’t develop the wish to wake up.

The key question we should ask ourselves whenever we have any of the objects of the 8 worldly concerns is are we consuming them or are we investing them?  If we try to enjoy them, as ends in themselves, then we consume our merit and it is a total waste.  If we ‘reinvest’ them, as a means to the accomplishment of our spiritual goals, then the more such effects ripen, the more merit we can accumulate.  A good example of this is Geshe Langri Tangpa who had a habit of giving away everything he had accumulated every time he moved to a new place.  Through this practice of giving, he eventually became very rich and was able to support thousands of monks.

Venerable Tharchin explains that whether we are burning up our merit or increasing it depends on whether we impute “mine” onto any objects under our care.  For example, if we impute “mine” on our house, then our enjoyment of that house functions to burn up the merit.  If instead, we impute “others’” onto our house, viewing the house as our offering to our family for example or taking good care of our house as a custodian for the future owner, then our use of the house functions to increase our merit because we are continually offering it.

Words of praise and fame serve only to beguile us, therefore blow them away as you would blow your nose.

Who cares if we have a good reputation or not?  We do.  We’re very concerned, aren’t we, about what others think of us. It matters, a good reputation matters to us.  Why?  We need to check what our reasons are to see if they are good reasons.  I actually have a very funny story with this advice.  About 10 years ago I was doing a lot of formal work for the tradition, as a teacher, on the on-line chat groups and with NKTforKids.  Up until that point, I had not had the karma of meeting Geshe-la in person.  I was setting up the Creperie to be the day care for kids during the teaching and Geshe-la was going to give the teaching itself.  This was my chance when it would just be me and him, and I was certain he would just look at me with delight for all that I was doing for the tradition!  So I was standing there waiting for him to come.  He entered the room, took one look at me, then rolled his eyes away in disgust and blew his nose strongly!  Needless to say, this was not the reaction I was expecting, but I immediately remembered this advice from Atisha and realized the lesson.

Compliments and praise beguile us because we take credit for these things ourselves.  Also around the same time as the Creperie story, I started developing pride about all of my wonderous Dharma activities.  Then, all of a sudden, it felt as if the flow of blessings was completely shut off.  I was still responsible for everything I was responsible for before, but now I no longer had this flow of blessings working through me.  This lasted for several days and I was left dangling in the wind.  I realized clearly from this that I had started taking credit for me doing everything when in reality it was Geshe-la working through me all along.  Left on my own, I am completely useless.  Message received!

When it comes to what are others thinking about us, Venerable Tharcin answered this question with an emphatic ‘nothing!’ There is no other person thinking anything.  It is just our dream arising from our karma. So others are thinking about us what they are karmically determined to do.  If we want to change what they think about us, we need to change our karma.  We can think only good things about others, and gradually others will think only good things about us.  We can imagine that when others see us they think Buddha, in this way we can provide real benefit to them.

Since the happiness, pleasure, and friends you gather in this life last only for a moment, put them all behind you.

We are a society in search of stimulation.  Stimulation of any kind is the drug of modern times.  We need more and more just to feel something.  When we do not have strong stimulation, we feel like we are missing something.  When we do have strong stimulation, it makes us even more unhappy afterwards because it is increasingly rare to be able to generate such feelings.  In reality, what we are feeling is completely irrelevant.  Shantideva says if we awoke from a dream in which we experienced a few moments of happiness or a hundred years of happiness, once awake it is all the same.  Instead of running after intense feelings as the meaning of our life, we should build and invest in a solid foundation for the future.

We must be skillful – we cannot drop immediately all worldly concerns so that tomorrow we find ourselves with none. We must be skillful with how we approach our worldly concerns.  The correct model should be a child outgrowing their toys.  Because we have found better things within our mind, we gradually lose interest in our old things.  They don’t work for us because we have seen through their illusion.  Because we are desire realm beings, we will do whatever it is we want.  So the trick is to learn to want what is good for us (virtue) and want to abandon what is bad for us (delusions).  The trick to abandoning any attachment is to realize how it is in fact harmful to us.  Our objects of attachment pretend to be beneficial, but with Dharma wisdom we understand they are harmful.  If we see this, we will naturally not be as interested in them anymore until eventually we outgrow them.   When we do enjoy samsaric enjoyments, we should try to enjoy them in a spiritual way.  But our main focus should be learning how to find our happiness from a different source, namely from our own pure mind.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 4

If from your heart you practise in accordance with Dharma, both food and resources will come naturally to hand.

Buddha Shakyamuni made special dedications that future practitioners never want for basic necessities.  How does this work?  Through his virtuous actions, he accumulated a tremendous amount of merit.  So much so it was enough virtuous karma that he could take rebirth as a Chakravatin king many many times in succession.  A Chakravatin king is basically the king of the entire universe.  This is a lot of wealth, food and resources!  He then “dedicated” (invested) that merit into what we can consider to be a giant philanthropic karmic trust fund.  The purpose of the karmic trust fund is to ensure that all future practitioners who sincerely go for refuge to the three jewels will not have to worry about their basic needs being met.  This then frees them to focus on their spiritual development.  When we generate faith in the three jewels, and in Buddha in particular, it is like we gain special access to this fund.  Just as a king or a very rich person has the power to give away their wealth and resources to others, so too a Chakravatin king (or more specifically the karma giving rise to a Chakravatin king) can do the same.  When we generate faith in Buddha it functions to open our mind up to receive his special blessings which make this dedication a reality.  We have on our mind countless karmic seeds.  Buddhas have the power to activate specific karmic seeds.  Our faith in Buddha functions to open up our mind to the specific blessings which function to activate the seeds on our mind to have our basic needs met.

At a more practical level, we can understand this advice from the perspective of our own karma.  When we engage in virtue, we create the causes for future happiness.  If we practice Dharma, we will naturally be giving, practicing moral discipline, being patient and cherishing others.  All of these actions plant good karmic seeds on our mind which will ripen in the future in the form of us effortlessly having resources, and not just the limited resources of meeting our basic needs, but potentially unlimited resources.  What do we do with these unlimited resources?  Like Buddha, we invest them in the welfare of others, in particular supporting their ability to follow the spiritual path.

Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking sea water, therefore practise contentment.

There are two main points here:  Indulging your attachments does not satisfy them, it feeds them.  They only get stronger, like feeding the dinosaur which will eventually eat you.  If you have a mind that is wanting, you will always be poor no matter how much you have.  If you have a mind of contentment, you will always be rich no matter what you have.  This is why contentment is the greatest wealth.  One of life’s basic principles which will enable us to avoid many many daily problems is to learn to be happy with what you do have, not unhappy about what you don’t have.  Why do the things of this life not give the satisfaction we wish for?  Because they can’t.  It is our false belief in attachment that makes us think that they can.  But there is nothing there and it has no power from its own side to give us anything.

Avoid all haughty, conceited, proud, and arrogant minds, and remain peaceful and subdued.

I think Ghandi said it best when he said his goal was to become the lowest of all because then he could serve everybody.  The mind of a Kadampa is one of being a servant of all living beings.  We seek only to serve others without wanting or expecting anything in return for ourselves.  Pride is, in many ways, the most dangerous delusion we can have.  If we have any other delusion but not pride we will seek out help and put the instructions into practice and eventually get better.  But if we have pride, we feel we have nothing to learn from others, we deny our mental sickness and therefore the door of spiritual life remains firmly closed.  When we view ourselves as lower than others, we look up to and appreciate their good qualities.  This rejoicing creates the causes for us to obtain for ourselves the same good qualities we see in others.  But if instead we arrogantly look down at others, our mind will be filled with judgmental criticism of everyone.  Judging and criticizing others creates the causes for us to obtain exactly the same faults we criticize in others.  It is exactly the opposite of rejoicing.  Pride is, in short, spiritual suicide.  Paradoxically (or is it logically…), it is by making ourselves the lowest of all that we make ourselves the highest of all.  While this is true, even here we need to be careful because this thought can easily be kidnapped by our pride thinking, “I am so humble, doesn’t that make me better than everyone else!”  Such thoughts are completely absurd!

Avoid activities that are said to be meritorious, but which in fact are obstacles to Dharma.

This advice warns us against engaging in our Dharma work with worldly minds.  Many Kadampas work for Dharma centers, as a teacher, an Administrative Director, an EPC or even just cleaning the toilets at the center.  Such work is potentially a spiritual bonanza which pays FAR more than even the highest paid banker.  But it is also perfectly possible (and all too common) for people to do such work with heavily deluded minds.  Many people get resentful about how they are doing all of the work and everybody else is a “consumer” of the center.  Many people generate pride at how important they are because of their important position in the center.  Many people wind up abusing their authority in a center while rationalizing it as them “protecting the tradition.”  All such minds are classic examples of activities that are said to be meritorious but which in fact are obstacles to Dharma.  Such distorted minds subvert the virtues we accumulate and quickly bring the Dharma into disrepute.  So far from helping the tradition, they are actually destroying the tradition!  This does not mean we need to be perfect before we can work for the center, rather it means we need to be mindful to not fall into such mental traps but instead remain a humble servent eager to learn.  The higher our position in a center, the more we should relate to ourselves as the lowest of all.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 3

Dedicate your virtues throughout the day and the night, and always watch your mind.

If we think about it deeply, one of the scariest disadvantages of anger is it functions to destroy our undedicated merit.  We may engage in very extensive spiritual training and engage in all sorts of virtues, but if we fail to dedicate and we subsequently get angry, we will lose all of the good karma we have created for ourself.  Karmically speaking, it will be as if we had never engaged in the virtue in the first place.  The best analogy for understanding how this works is saving our work on our computer.  We have all had the experience of doing a lot of work on a computer but then for whatever reason the computer crashes, and since we haven’t saved our work we lose it completely.  Then we have to start over from scratch.  Dedicating our merit is like saving our spiritual work on the computer of our very subtle mind.  It protects it in such a way that even if our mind subsequently crashes with anger, the merit is safe, secure and retrievable.

What does it mean to “dedicate” our merit.  I think the best analogy is “choosing how to invest it.”  If you make a lot of money then you have excess savings that you need to invest.  You want to invest the money in such a way that you get a good return on your money.  So you invest the money into something.  Once it is invested, that money is set aside and reserved, and even if you subsequently make no more money, the invested money is still there.  If instead you kept all of your money under your mattress at home, if there was a fire (of anger) in your house, you would lose everything.  So, like a spiritual philanthropist, we need to consciously decide how we want to invest our merit.  We can invest it in things like praying that others be granted the wisdom to transform their difficulties into the path or we can invest it in things like having the Kadampa tradition flourish in this world forevermore or we can invest it in things like having our mind be blessed at the time of our death so we are taken to the pure land where we can complete our training.

“Always watch your mind” means always watch your mind to avoid getting angry or other delusions, which functions to destroy your undedicated merit.

Because you have received advice, whenever you are not meditating always practise in accordance with what your Spiritual Guide says.

If we view everyone as our spiritual guide, then we can receive teachings from him through absolutely everybody.  In particular, the Spiritual Guide is a Buddha appearing in the aspect of an ordinary being.  He does so that you relate to him in a normal way.  By relating to him in a normal way, you will gain the realizations you need to attain enlightenment.   This does not mean doing whatever he says.  With this special view, you will receive powerful blessings through everybody, where whatever people say it will contain a Dharma lesson for you.  We can also do this with situations as well, not just people.

If you practise with great devotion, results will arise immediately, without your having to wait for a long time.

This refers primarily to practicing without attachment to results. If we have faith in karma, we are happy to just create causes because we know the karmic results are guaranteed.  This faith enables us to let go of attachment to results which actually blocks results from ripening.  The ‘result’ here is ‘enjoying practicing Dharma’.  If you have faith in karma, you will enjoy creating causes.  From this, the rest comes.

We need to have faith in the Dharma jewel of emptiness.  It is easy to develop faith in this Dharma jewel because it actually doesn’t take faith to establish it.  When we check, we realize directly that it is true.  So we do not take a risk by living our life as if it were a dream because that is exactly what it is.  What does it mean to live your life as if it were a dream?  It means to realize what needs to change is our own mind since it is our mind that creates the world.

To practice with devotion means to practice with faith, so I thought it might be useful to say a few words about faith.  What are the types of faith?

  1. Blind faith – this is faith without a valid reason.  We completely reject this is Buddhism (though in our Tantric practice, blind faith is better than no faith at all).    Blind faith is better than no faith only when you happen to get lucky and place your blind faith in something that is perfect.  But with blind faith there is the risk that you could place your faith in something not worthy of faith.  And even if you did put blind faith in a worthwhile object, you wouldn’t get very far because from a Buddhist perspective you need to realize all the stages of the path from your own side.  We are not training to be followers, we are training to be leaders, those who lead others to perfect freedom.  You can never do this if you don’t understand everything perfectly yourself in your heart.
  2. Admiring faith – appreciation for the good qualities of enlightened beings, or their teachings, or our spiritual friends.  Our mind naturally becomes very clear and free from disturbing conceptions.  This creates the space within our mind to allow ourselves to come under the influence of what we admire.  For example, when I was growing up I aspired to be like the Karate Kid and Michael Jordon.  Normally we keep a distance between ourselves and other objects because we fear coming under their influence.  But by contemplating and realizing their good qualities from our own side helps us to break down this fear, and thereby enables us to open our mind up.  But the way in which we open up is through investigating these things.
  3. Wishing faith – here we wish to acquire for ourselves the good qualities that we admire with our admiring faith.  This compels us to engage in practice.
  4. Believing faith – This is faith based on valid reasoning.  Even though it does not fully understand the given subject, it engages the topic without doubt.  Believing faith accomplishes a similar function as wisdom.  Wisdom knows its object thoroughly from one’s own side, and it functions to dispel doubt.  Believing faith accepts the truth of the subject even while uncertainty remains, and so therefore functions to dispel doubt.  It enables the practitioner to practice fully even when they don’t yet fully understand.

It is important to understand the key relationship between faith and wisdom.  This can be understood according to the following equation:  intellectual understanding plus believing faith equals wisdom.  There are many different methods we can use to develop believing faith.  First, we can use the logical reasoning contained within the Lamrim to convince ourselves by weight of argument.  Second, we can be like a good scientist who for the sake of the experiment suspends their doubts about whether it works or not, and instead puts the instructions into practice purely to see if they work.  Third, we can choose to believe.  Faith is a choice to believe.  What do we choose to believe?  That which is most beneficial to believe.  So we simply investigate whether it is beneficial to think in a particular way, and then we choose to do so.

The fundamental question of faith is:  upon whose mind do I rely?  Since we are not enlightened, if we rely upon ourself we will just go in circles and never get anywhere.  Since the guru has gotten there, if we rely upon his perfect mind then he will take us to wherever we want to go.  The most intelligent thing to do is to rely upon the guru’s mind alone.


Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 2

Since you cannot become a Buddha merely by understanding Dharma, practise earnestly with understanding.

It is said that Dharma instructions are like a diamond, like the sun and like a medicinal tree.  The meaning is that just as every little shard of a diamond, ray of sunshine or leaf of a medicinal tree is valuable, so too every tiny understanding of Dharma understanding has great value.  There are many levels of understanding for every instruction, and each one functions to free our mind to a certain extent.  Gaining an intellectual understanding is a good thing.  Many people, understanding that personal experience is better, mistakenly conclude that an intellectual understanding is not good.  They then criticize when discussions of emptiness or other technical topics take place or they judge themselves as being somehow superior because they are “a practitioner.”  All of this is wrong.  Our intellectual understanding develops in relation to our practical experience of the instructions, with each reinforcing and informing the other.  But with that being said, we should never be satisfied with an intellectual understanding alone.  The real meaning of Dharma is only understood when we actually change ourselves with it.

Venerable Tharchin explains there are basically three levels at which we mix our mind with the Dharma.  First, through our listening to and reading of Dharma instructions we can gain a primarily intellectual understanding of the wisdom and good qualities of others.  Second, when we contemplate the Dharma and test its validity, we transform what was the wisdom and understanding of others into our own wisdom and understanding.  Finally, third, when we engage in formal meditation or actually put the instructions into practice we make the Dharma an “acquisition of our personality.”  In short, we become what we mix our mind with.  For example, by reading instructions on compassion I can get an understanding of what it is and how to develop it, but it is not mine – I am understanding how others’ minds work.  By contemplating it, I develop my own compassion.  By putting it into practice, I become a compassionate person – it becomes part of my personality.  To practice earnestly with understanding means to make this progression from intellectual understanding to personality acquisition.  First we understand what we need to do, then we do it, then we become it.

Avoid places that disturb your mind, and always remain where your virtues increase.

Until you attain stable realizations, worldly amusements are harmful, therefore abide in a place where there are no such distractions.

Avoid friends who cause you to increase delusions, and rely upon those who increase your virtue. This you should take to heart.

This is very practical advice.  Of course in theory, a Bodhisattva can transform any situation into the path and so has no need to avoid certain places or remain in other places.  But we are not yet bodhisattvas.  We are still heavily influenced by our surroundings, so we need to pay attention.  There are some parts of our life where we can remember that everything is a dream, but there are other parts where it is more difficult, where we are easily swept away by our ignorance, attachment and aversion.

There are three main pieces of advice in this respect.  With respect to remaining in places that draw out your virtuous qualities, the point is going to bars will not bring out the best qualities of an alcoholic.  This is why our Dharma centers are so important.  When we spend time with the people there, we become socialized into their way of thinking and they encourage us to engage in virtue.  Where else in this world can we find that?   The meaning of the advice to avoid worldly distractions is if we are easily swept away by worldly activities and we wind up forgetting our practice, then we need to be aware of such situations and avoid them.  We need to cultivate relationships with friends who draw out the best in us.  We are easily socialized by those around us, so we should remain with people who draw out our virtues.  A good analogy is with children.  The goal is to be able to have our children be fully functional in the world, but while they are growing in maturity we need to keep them protected from certain influences until they are ready to deal with them correctly.  After we have stabilized these things, then we can safely ‘go out into the world’ without losing our practice.  But as long as we are still vulnerable, it is wise to keep yourself somewhat sheltered.

Since there is never a time when worldly activities come to an end, limit your activities.

It is important to understand what Atisha means by “worldly activities.”  No activity is worldly from its own side.  It only becomes worldly if we engage in it with a worldly mind.  Spending time with our families, working, shopping, etc., are not by nature worldly activities.  We just have bad mental habits of engaging in these activities with a worldly mind.  A worldly mind is one that is primarily concerned with the happiness and welfare of this life alone.  A spiritual or pure mind is one that is primarily concerned with the happiness and welfare of all of our future lives.  We can engage in exactly the same activity with a worldly mind or a spiritual mind depending on how we relate to it.  So the advice here is not to abandon our normal activities, rather it is to abandon engaging in them with a worldly mind.

But with that being said, it is likewise important to make the time to engage in our formal Dharma practice.  If we do not make time to engage in our practice, we will never have time to do so.  If we do not take the time to wake up from this dream, we will never wake up from it.  Just as we find time every day to clean and feed our body, so too we must find time every day to clean and feed our mind with virtue.  Just as we take the time to exercise our body and keep it healthy, so too we need to find the time to exercise our mind and keep it healthy.