Turning the Mind Toward the Dharma

THE BUDDHA TAUGHT THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS that have to do with understanding that what we take to be real manifests as suffering, but that there is a path that we can follow that leads from this suffering to the experience of ultimate happiness.

Within the Tibetan tradition, four thoughts on reality help us to internalize our understanding of the Four Noble Truths. These four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma also help us to overcome our habitual inertia, and provide the impetus and motivation for our Buddhist practice. The four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma are taken as a profound contemplation leading us to a direct confrontation with our own personal reality: the preciousness of our human birth and the opportunity that it affords us to practice, the transitoriness of all phenomena including the very temporary and short-lived nature of our opportunity to practice, the importance of taking karma into account and recognizing that what we do with this opportunity does make an enormous difference; and the unsatisfactoriness of samsara and the appreciation that there is really no good or useful alternative to applying ourself to the study and practice of the Dharma.

 Teachings on turning the mind to Dharma have been given by many distinguished Kagyu masters. Excerpts from some of these teachings follow.

A Song

 By His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa

FEELING GREAT SORROW over the monstrous views and actions of the people of this dark age, and a link with the mind of my only father guru having arisen, I wrote this song calling on him to dispel the torment of my thoughts.


AH HO! Embodiment of all refuges, dharmakaya Vajradhara,
Glorious body of the guru, inseparable from truth,
To you, with overpowering yearning, I sing this song.


Awesome devotion pervades my mind
And the natural state is brilliantly clear
But unable to remain in this penetrating state,
How confused I am in discursive and analytical thoughts!
Contemplating this, I am mindful of the Karma Kagyu
And focus on the self-existing ground of knowledge and emptiness.
This ordinary mind of nowness
Is untouched by fixations on birth and liberation,
Its unceasing manifestation unshaken by projections.
The realms of samsara and nirvana appear simultaneously
This effortless path is the marvelous mahamudra.
Seeing the self-existing ground of insight,
The gaits of samsara and nirvana fall into step
And the apparent confusion of the three worlds collapse into space.


The trikaya is arrived at while in the natural state,
So why look forward to future results?
This is the special teaching of the Kagyupas.
Thinking on that, I emulate my forefathers.
My followers who depend on me,
Without desire for this life, think on the hereafter.
Though outwardly adorned with monks' robes, saffron, like the
    clouds of evening,
Men's inward discipline of the three yanas is like horns on a hare;
I am sad that the two stages of the path are not meditated upon. 

Tomorrow at the time of death,
The regretful mind may be overcome by darkness;
Because of that, vigorously study, contemplate, meditate.

May I raise the victory banner of the practicing lineage to the
    summit of the world!
May I attain well-being for myself and others on this very seat!
Gurus, mamos and gonpos with their brothers and sisters,
So that fortunate circumstances may bring this about
May my wishes forthwith be fulfilled! 

In general, real conviction in the view and meditation of the Kagyupas is scarcely to be found. Those who show the outward form of Dharma but do not practice the actions of Dharma cause me to feel sad.

For a long time my secretary and my retreat master Dechen had been requesting me to write a song such as this. Though they asked me repeatedly, it did not come about. But this time, on the appropriate occasion of the preparation of a new edition of the woodblock of The Oceans of Songs of the Kagyu Fathers, as I was again pressed by my head of Discipline, Drupgyu Tendar, in order not to reject his request, I, the glorious Sixteenth Karmapa spoke this spontaneously from whatever arose in my mind.




The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind

By Lama Ganga

WE ARE VERY FORTUNATE TO BE BORN as human beings and to encounter the Dharma. Achieving a human birth is not easy. It takes positive karma to be reborn and then to practice successfully. If we had not accumulated good karma in past lives, then we might have taken birth in the lower realms.

Even with this precious human body our lives are extremely difficult, and Dharma practice is essential to succeed on any path we follow. Our first thought as we begin to practice must be appreciation for our human birth.

Western people especially should understand that their collective karma is ripening now. To be able to practice the Dharma without great difficulties and to meet a teacher without going through hardship are signs of the ripening of karma in the West. If the fruits of this ripening are skillfully used, they will in the future produce greater fruits.

Generally speaking, all living beings--whether human, animal, or insect--desire happiness and comfort, pleasure and success. But because of attachment to the self, the ego, people separate self from others, subject from object. From that separation comes the problems of hatred, jealousy, and anger. It is ignorance that produces these poisons, because we are attached to a self that is actually nonexistent. Ignorance is the basic cause of all of our confusion. We all have Buddhanature within us, but in our ignorance we do not recognize it. Dharma practice introduces us to our own nature, and through practice we can eventually fully realize it as Buddhanature.

Because in our present state of ignorance and attachment we do not recognize our own nature, we try out of curiosity to obtain possessions, wealth, fame, and so forth. But in fact these things bring us suffering. When at last we do realize Buddhanature, we no longer feel attached to any thing, and no one is our enemy; there is nothing that is self or other. Actually, everything and everybody are one, and realizing the oneness of everything brings eternal happiness. It is known as Buddhahood. The best method to find Buddhanature is self-examination, to observe what is happening within ourselves. This is better than studying others, because when we look at another's errors we do not see our own, and when we criticize others' faults we feel that we have none. We might even feel that we are perfect. Without self examination we can only remain ignorant and make many mistakes without even knowing it.

The second thought in starting to practice the Dharma is understanding that everything is impermanent, even our selves. When we do not examine ourselves we forget this obvious fact, and we act as if we will live forever. We collect as many possessions as possible and try to make hundreds of friends, and we waste our lives. But when we face the inevitability of our death, then we start to wonder what to do about it and how to deal with the uncertainty of life.

As soon as we personally encounter impermanence in this way, Dharma practice becomes easy--our mind falls into practice, so to speak. We become interested in it, and we know why it is important. From the start we must base our practice on this awareness, realizing that at the time of our death the only thing that can help us is the practice that we have done during our life. Nobody else can help. In this way we meditate on the impermanence of both our selves and others.

Our third thought as we practice is to consider karma, or cause and effect. Karma and its result are infallible. They are like a seed and its fruit. If you plant the seed of a sweet fruit such as an orange, it will grow as an orange tree and produce oranges. The result of a sweet fruit is health, if you plant its seed. If you plant a poisonous seed, it will produce poisonous fruit, and its result will be painful or even life threatening. Karma works in the same way, because if we act negatively now, then in our next life we will experience suffering, illness, pain, and frustration. If we practice the precious actions of body, speech, and mind now, then in our next life we will experience greater happiness and success.

The fourth thought, and a big obstacle to success on the path of enlightenment, is our attachment to samsara. Because we are all so strongly attached to samsaric life we need to examine with great care whether worldly activities will benefit us eternally or not. For instance, most people desire possessions and also love and acceptance, and many work hard, day and night, to obtain them, going through much discomfort and even suffering. Yet if we evaluate whether possessions or popularity will help us after death or with a better rebirth, we find that neither does us any good. Clinging to samsaric life is fruitless. To practice the Dharma means to remove our confusion. Right now we are so confused that we are attached to everything. We take the right thing as the wrong thing, and the wrong thing as the right thing. Again we must examine everything that we do. For example, we may feel that friends, relatives, and family truly make us happy. But if we look carefully, we see instead that these, too, bring sufferings.

When you look for a spouse, for example, you first experience the suffering of searching, trying to find a suitable person who has things in common with you. Finally you find someone and you get married. But before too long painful problems arise between the two of you, and you separate. You file for a divorce to free yourself from the same person that not so long ago you worked so hard to find. That is the result of samsara; it is the nature of samsara.

The divorce itself does not happen easily, either. Both partners go through intense emotional pain, and if you have children, they suffer, too. You have to go through the law and the courts, and many people become involved. All of this causes suffering, not only for you and your partner but for many other people. Samsara is nothing but suffering.

The samsaric life distracts us from practicing the Dharma. No matter who we are or what job we are doing--whether president or engineer, doctor or singer, a dancer or even a beggar--each of us wants only to be happy and successful. But that is samsaric life, and it will never help after death. For example, the Shah of Iran was very rich, but when he be came gravely ill, even his great wealth could not save his life. Similarly, when death came for the great singer John Lennon, neither money nor friends could help him. Thousands and thousands of his friends cried for him, but they could not return him to life. If Lennon had done Dharma practice, it would surely have helped him far more than thousands of people crying in the street. Everyone needs to practice, for only practice will help. It will help ourselves as well as other people.

We have now examined four thoughts that turn our mind away from its clinging to samsara. We have seen that the first thought is to appreciate that obtaining a precious human birth is not easy. The second is to recognize that because this precious human birth is impermanent we should practice as soon and quickly as possible. Third is karma and its result, knowing that if we act positively through body, speech, and mind we experience happiness, and if we act negatively we experience suffering. Fourth, we understand that the nature of samsara is suffering. These are sometimes called the four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma, or the four ordinary foundations. They are the basis or foundation of all Dharma practice.

The best way to practice is the way of the great yogi Milarepa. Milarepa practiced in solitude, living in a cave and owning no clothes, no cushions, and no food. He ate only nettles and meditated for many years, and he obtained enlightenment in one life time. He was not attached to his family and he did not want a wife.

Because he did not seek success or fame, it might seem that Milarepa led the life of a hippie. You might say, "OK, that sounds good, I'll live the hippie life like Milarepa. I won't buy clothes, I won't live with my family, and I won't follow conventional rules. I won't even pay taxes. I'll be real happy." But the hippie point of view is not the attitude of a Dharma practitioner. If you call yourself a hippie, you may believe that you live simply. Yet you roam everywhere, smoke everything, and do not practice the Dharma. In the end you are still just a human being, no matter what you call yourself.

The difference between Milarepa's practice and the life of a hippie is that Milarepa was practicing Mahayana Buddhism, not just a kinky alternative life-style. Shakyamuni Buddha, our teacher, presented three different teachings--the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana--and Tibetan Buddhism combines all three of these. For instance, through our physical body we follow Hinayana disciplines. Through our mind we follow the Mahayana mind called bodhicitta, or enlightened attitude for the benefit of all sentient beings. In the Vajrayana, or secret practice, we use methods such as visualization and recitation of mantras that combine the Buddha's three teachings. With the Vajrayana practice we accomplish the two types of accumulation: accumulation of merit and accumulation of wisdom. In addition, our practice includes shamatha and vipasyana meditation.

Vajrayana practice is the fastest way to attain enlightenment. But to do it requires strong devotion from the bottom of our heart and from the marrow of our bones. To have that kind of faith is very difficult in this age, and to develop it we must go step by step. The first step is to take Refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The second is to meditate, generating love and compassion equally toward all sentient beings. Finally, gradually, we begin the Vajrayana practice.

When we meditate on love and compassion, we develop bodhicitta, which means enlightened attitude or bodhisattva mind. To obtain such a mind or attitude, we have to first engender love and compassion in ourselves. Loving kindness is engendered through relative truth and compassion through absolute truth. As we meditate on these two truths, we generate the two types of bodhicitta. The first, aspiration bodhicitta, means understanding the suffering of all beings and wanting to remove it. Basically, aspiration bodhicitta is just wanting something. Perseverance bodhicitta is actually entering onto the path, starting to do what we wanted to do, acting to remove the illness, frustrations, and suffering of ourselves and others.

The Four Ordinary Foundations

By Khenop Karthar Rinpoche

THE FIRST ORDINARY FOUNDATION that helps point the mind towards the Dharma is the realization of the true advantage of our precious human birth. What we are sincerely learning to appreciate here is the inherent capabilities we have as humans and the negativities that we are free of. There are eight gross negativities that reveal just how precious our current human birth is. To begin with, if we had been born as beings in the hell realm and had to experience the agonizing torments they must endure, we would have neither the ability nor the opportunity to practice the Dharma for a single moment. For example, if somebody was being whipped continuously without respite, would this person have the opportunity to practice, let alone think about the Dharma? And actually, the real sufferings that beings in the hell realm go through are far greater than anything we could imagine, and far worse than this situation. Obviously, there is no chance of liberation whatsoever, and we are quite fortunate to have avoided those circumstances.

The second gross negativity that serves to illustrate the value of human birth is rebirth as a preta, or hungry ghost. Even though such beings are not hell-beings, the desire and paranoia they experience is as excruciating as that of the hell realm. Here there is relentless thirst and hunger which is never gratified or eased. In fact, it is so great that with any movement, the friction of the joints and internal organs produces fire throughout the entire being. What is worse is the psychological torture they endure, deliriously believing that food, water, and a host of wealth and riches are waiting nearby. Yet, no matter how frenzied their search, they are unable to find it, or if they do, it suddenly disappears. And of course, as humans we could experience the same torment, because of our own patterns of greed and miserliness. In either case, insatiable thirst would drive away any thoughts of practicing the Dharma. So, lacking this negativity we have another opportunity to actualize the Dharma in our lives.

If the unspeakable misery of such existences seems intangible, the sufferings of those born in the animal realm should be quite familiar to us. Those creatures live such lives of ignorance that they are unable to make any conscious decisions, and are wholly lead by desire and fear. In some cases they have no idea what they should or shouldn't do unless they are severely beaten. They know no better than to constantly bear whatever pain and suffering comes to them. Although some may be slightly more sensitive or more intelligent, the level of suffering is no less intense because of the constant state of paranoia. These beings are not able to eat a single bite in peace for fear of being caught and eaten themselves. And as for domestic animals, they are total slaves to the whims of others. They are unable to express any desires or feelings, but must do whatever is demanded of them, no matter how unpleasant or painful. To that end, there is no opportunity to practice the Dharma in the animal realm.

And yet, as ordinary sentient beings, we too are quite ignorant. We have the limitations of not being able to understand and relate to things in the most proper way. So there was every possibility that we could have been born as animals, but since this has not occurred during this lifetime, we have a third opportunity to practice the Dharma. After all, it's not as if an external force decided who was to be reborn as an animal and who was to be a human, it was merely a result of the habitual patterns and negativities each individual has accumulated. Given that understanding, why should we not entirely put ourselves towards the practice of the Dharma?

Even if one is born a human being, if it is as a member of an uncivilized border tribe, or, more precisely, as a barbarian of some kind, that is still not very favorable. Let alone think of anything uplifting, one wouldn't even know how to dress properly, running around naked killing and hurting others, and living quite barbarously. In that state there is no point in even having been born as a human being, since it is empty of opportunities. Despite their pretensions of deep spiritual practices, all it does is cause harm to themselves and others, so it is not spiritual in the truest sense. Evidently, there is no opportunity to practice the Dharma in this condition either.

If, on the other hand, you are born in the realm of gods, experiencing the psychological pleasures of such beings, still you would be unable to practice the Dharma. Although this happiness would probably be the result of wholesome and virtuous actions in previous lifetimes, unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to generate the proper attitude and aspirations in order to channel this merit in the proper direction. Completely absorbed in these pleasurable entertainments, you would give no thought whatsoever to practicing the Dharma, because the harshness of reality would not seem relevant. And yet, because this is a part of samsara, you will still experience tremendous suffering sooner or later, and have to return to the same old cycle. Having remained in that condition of attachment and pleasure for such a long period of time without accomplishing anything wholesome and virtuous and Dharmic, the consequences are definitely serious and painful. Thus, not having been born in that situation provides us with another opportunity to practice the Dharma.

There is also the possibility of being born as a human, enjoying all the benefits of wealth, intelligence and popularity and still being completely against the Dharma and spirituality in general. There are many people like this all over the world. Not only do they detest the Dharma, they reject anyone associated with it. Because of this hatred, they deprive themselves of any possibility of real sanity. It's extremely unfortunate to be attached to that which will only cause greater confusion and suffering in the long run, and to reject that which will bring greater wisdom and happiness.

One may also be born as a human being with severe mental and physical disabilities. Since there would be little that could be comprehended by such a person, learning the Dharma would be out of the question as well. In that case, even though there is a human birth, the opportunity of practice is denied. We are extremely fortunate to have escaped these various disadvantages and paranoias, and to have the capability and the opportunity to effectively practice the Dharma. And we have to be very sincere about our undertakings now. We may not be experiencing these limitations in this life, but there is every possibility of experiencing them in the future because of our negative, poisonous habitual patterns. For this reason, we should rejoice in the opportunities we have, and realize that we cannot afford to waste them.

While we may have been able to avoid the eight gross negativities, there still remain the sixteen unfavorable conditions that we can be ensnared by, if indeed, this has not already occurred. Therefore, it is important to know what they are, so that we can maintain a vigilant mindfulness to remain free of them. The first of these is the upheaval of negative emotions: ignorance, pride, aggression, attachment, etc. In this case, even though we may have an understanding of the Dharma and a desire to practice it, we constantly experience upheavals of negative emotion which sway us from our practice. It's like drinking something very sweet and then suddenly adding a tablespoon of salt--which will make it taste very strange. We must be mindful of this possibility and diligently apply the antidote.

The second unfavorable condition is coming under the influence of bad friends, people involved in doing all kinds of non-Dharmic or negative things. Since we are not yet fully established in the practice of the Dharma, and don't have enough experience to withstand various influences, we are very flexible at this point and can be distracted by almost anything. This is why we should be mindful of the possibility of harmful and destructive influences and associations.

The third limitation concerns the possibility of coming under the influence of false views and practices. Many harmful things are done in the name of spirituality and spiritual practice. Certain people advocate killing other beings as the highest and most profound practice and some advocate other destructive practices, and unfortunately, there is a very real possibility of falling under the spell of these false teachings. Quite often, when faith is needed most it is difficult to generate yet sometimes we are able to have faith in the most absurd notions. It is important thus to be aware of the possibility of developing wrong views of the Dharma and its practice.

The fourth obstruction is the habit of laziness. Because of this negative pattern we put off doing our practice until the next day or the day after that or maybe next month or next year, and so on. We just keep procrastinating, and end up not getting anything accomplished. In this way, laziness can have a very undermining effect on our practice, and discipline as well as mindfulness is needed to combat it.

The fifth unfavorable condition arises because of previous bad actions. Whenever we attempt to do anything Dharmic, all kinds of obstacles will spontaneously arise to distract us and divert our energies. These obstructions will consistently arise, and drive us from the path altogether if we do not remain mindful of the fact that they are caused by our own actions and our own negative habits. Therefore, it is crucial to have the determination not to give in to these limitations when they arise.

The sixth barrier to Dharma practice is falling under the control of another person. If you become a slave or a servant, you will always have to live up to the demands of other people whether you like it or not, and won't have the time or the opportunity to fulfill your Dharma practice. You may even be a slave to your own self, always needing to have a boss to tell you what to do in order to make your living. If you are subject to this mentality or this situation, you will be constantly occupied with the tasks of others and won't have the opportunity to practice the Dharma at all.

The seventh unfavorable condition is to practice the Dharma in the hopes of gaining more material comforts for yourself, such as better food, clothing, and living accommodations. The eighth adverse condition for Dharma practice is to seek understanding of the Dharma merely to gain fame and reputation for yourself. Of course, seeking popularity and power runs counter to the true purpose of the Dharma, and in the long run, one would not enjoy the benefit of the Dharma.

These first eight negativities are ones which we are already subject to, or by which we run the risk of becoming ensnared. This is why we must be aware of them. These limitations are highly flexible and can be strengthened or weakened by different circumstances you encounter or create.

Now, the next eight limitations are more gross and more established because they result from negativities accumulated in the past. Because they arise as karmic fruitions they are thus more difficult to unfold and purify. So what is needed is a stronger sense of practice as well as a stronger, more genuine commitment. The first of these hardened imperfections is great attachment to wealth and to oneself. In this case one hesitates to give anything one has to others, because one desires more and more for oneself. Giving something away is very, very painful. One doesn't even see the possibilities of actually extending one's hand to others. But, when it comes to receiving from others, one could just go on doing it continuously, tirelessly. This is all because of heavy habitual patterns which need to be shaken out.

The second limitation is having an overly aggressive and rude personality. This disposition is very apparent in the way one talks because there is a sense of hatred or unwillingness to talk. Even the movements of such a person have something very negative about them and give off negative vibrations to everyone around. Since these patterns are so heavy, much cultivation of discipline is needed.

The third obscuration is having no fear of the different sufferings which one might possibly have to go through. For instance, if the psychological torments the beings of the lower realms experience are explained to one, it has no effect whatsoever. It's like speaking to a rock or a tree-only when it falls or rolls does it move, otherwise it is ignorantly content, completely unaware of what could await it. Similarly, the fourth limitation involves an insensitivity to the teachings. In this case, one has no appreciation of the possibilities of liberation. As far as the sanity, joy, and benefit of liberation are concerned, again, it's like talking to a tree or a rock.

The fifth limitation is having no appreciation of Dharma practice, such that when the opportunity to practice the Dharma is extended, one is not responsive. Even if the facilities are extended and somebody generously offers their sponsorship and hospitality, one has no interest in it-- it's like offering grass to a dog. The sixth limitation is having the propensity for indulging in negativities. Whenever somebody is explaining how to kill or harm others, one is there, completely ready to learn and do it oneself. In this way, one is always willing to strengthen and develop one's neurosis and confusion.

The seventh harmful condition is having negative views about a solemn vow or aspiration one has made and then violating it. If this is done, then it is necessary to reveal the violation, and to purify it by making complete reparation for it. If the proper purification of such a limitation is not made, then continued practice of the Dharma would not make much sense. It would be like trying to put something inside of a closed door, or like trying to pour something into a pot held upside down.

The eighth limitation is breaking the samayas, the sacred commitments, one has with the teacher from whom one has received the sacred teachings and empowerments. A strong Dharmic connection is made when one receives empowerments, and it is extremely destructive to have wrong views about one's teacher and show disrespect towards him. It is imperative that one establishes a good relationship with one's teacher. It is a violation of the sacredness of the relationship to harbor feelings of hatred towards one's Dharma friends as well. And again, it is important that for whatever limitations one may have generated in the past, and may generate in the future, genuine reparation and purification of them is necessary.

Altogether, these three sets of eight form the twenty-four negativities, or twenty-four situations which become hindrances to the practice of the Dharma. They either deprive us of the opportunity to practice the Dharma or obstruct our progress on the path of the Dharma. As far as the first set (the Eight Unfavorable Conditions of Existence) is concerned, we should rejoice that we are not bound by such severe limitations. As for as the second two sets, there is the possibility that we have some or all of these limitations, or that we will still may still fall prey to them. In any case, whatever obscurations one has should be acknowledged so that one can work on the purification of them. And whatever negativities one does not have, one should still be mindful of them, so as not to get caught up in them later. For this reason, wakeful discipline is a necessary part of the practice.

As human beings, we enjoy ten blessings which enable us to practice the Dharma. The first five have to do with our personal circumstances. The first of these is that we have the precious human birth, and are not deprived of the opportunity to practice the Dharma. If we had been born in one of the unfavorable states of existence or were burdened with some of the unfavorable mental conditions, we would not be able to practice at all.

The second blessing is being born in a land where the Dharma is prevalent or at least available. The third blessing is having all of our senses intact, and being able to thus understand and practice the Dharma.

The fourth blessing is that we have a karmic link with the Dharma, and hence, have a desire to practice it. Even if we have no real desire to do so, there is still the link of this practice. Many people do not want to practice the Dharma, and many go astray, but we are all here so we must have some link. The fifth blessing is that we not only have a link to the Dharma, but we also have an appreciation of the Three Jewels-the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and relate to them as the most profound examples and witnesses. These are the five opportunities that we each personally enjoy.

The second group of five blessings are the benefits that we receive from others which facilitate our ability to practice. The first of these is that the Buddha was born within the current kalpa. If this had not taken place, then although we have human birth, there would currently be no Dharma to practice. The second blessing is that the Buddha did not seek enlightenment merely for himself, but has made the Teachings available to others as well. The third blessing is that the Teachings have been maintained as a living tradition. If this had not been done, then all that would remain would be a legend that the Teachings had once been prevalent, but are no longer available.

The fourth blessing is that the Teachings are available to anyone who is willing to learn and understand them, with no discrimination in regards to sex, age, race, or whatever categories. The fifth blessing is that there are spiritual teachers who will transmit the Teachings to others, and who have the wisdom to make the Teachings understandable. If there were no teachers who had the compassion to give the Teachings, then we would have no opportunity to practice the Dharma. Therefore, because of these five opportunities afforded us by the compassion of others, the teachings are available to us as long as we have the desire to hear them.

The first ordinary foundation of the ngondro practice, the first foundation that we need to meditate upon and sincerely consider, is the preciousness of our human birth. This human birth is extremely valuable because we are currently experiencing the eight opportunities and the ten blessings. Indeed, this precious human birth is like a wish-fulfilling gem. Definitely, we can make the best of it and have the favorable circumstances to do so. And it is rare like a gem, because although there are many who are experiencing a human birth, those who can open up to and appreciate the Dharma are very rare. Unfortunately, not many have accumulated meritorious actions and wholesome qualities in the past, and therefore, few experience the possibilities favorable to the Dharma. Among thousands of beings, there is hardly one who is experiencing the opportunities you enjoy. For this reason you should be tremendously joyful and appreciative, and not let this chance go to waste.

Still, these opportunities and these blessings are not permanently established. In fact, they could easily be destroyed and disappear. After all, these opportunities are not the experience of enlightenment or a state of realization, they merely point to such a possibility. It's like you have various sicknesses and are given a unique medicine that can cure whatever illness you may have. But, if you don't use the medicine and attend to your sickness immediately, things could easily get worse. You could lose the medicine or get too sick to use it. Any number of unexpected things could happen. So you must be aware of how easily you could lose your opportunities. Thus, for your own personal benefit and for the benefit of others, you should make this lifetime meaningful.

We may have an appreciation of the reality of this first foundation and yet believe that we will have a better understanding and a greater opportunity to practice sometime in the future, and put off serious practice until then. Or we may think that when we are young we can satisfy our mundane needs and learn from that type of existence, and then fully commit ourselves to the Dharma when we are old. But Death is not going to come talk it over with you and say, "Well, since you haven't really established yourself in the practice of the Dharma, I'll just procrastinate for a little while longer. . ." The time of death is uncertain. This is why we must make use of the opportunities while we can.

This leads us into the second ordinary foundation practice, which is to meditate upon the reality of impermanence. The natures of all things--the outer phenomenal world, as well as the inner psychic world--are impermanent. Thus, we have four different names that correspond with each of the four seasons because they are constantly changing and never stay the same. If day and night stayed the same, we wouldn't have to make a distinction between them. In terms of these gross changes, whatever we build, no matter how high the walls, will collapse and fall.

As for the inner life of things, this too changes, for instance, when we talk about different nations, the names may seem to be continuous, but there are constant changes. There are conflicts with other nations, there are civil conflicts among different communities, there are governmental changes, individuals come and go, and so forth. The play of impermanence is constantly at work, even if we cannot keep track of it. It is very real. Everything is impermanent, and that which we have managed to gather around ourselves is no exception. Yet we have the opportunity to pursue something very meaningful. To that end, we should not continue to waste our time and procrastinate, but should sincerely and wholly commit ourselves to the Dharma.

There have been countless numbers of people that suffered misfortunes and died in the past, and it was not because they were willing to die or because they were completely stupid and helpless. In fact, these were people who were extremely popular and intelligent, people whom others looked up to as examples, people who were well-known for their qualifications, their wealth and their security. But when the time of death overtook them, there was nothing they could do, no matter how powerful or popular they were.

Think back on all of the people that you have known in your life that have died, from your first moment of remembrance up to this day. Never mind all of the rest, just think of those you knew: friends, relatives and so on. The number is probably so large you can hardly keep track of it. Some were just infants. Some were merely children. For all of them, this you well know: that none of them had the satisfaction of saying, "Yes, I have completed everything, now I'm ready to die, and will be very pleased to do so." None of them! Every one of them had a long list of things to do in the future, and in the midst of something unfinished, they died. This was not expected, this was not planned, nor was it enjoyed or welcomed, it just happened.

Again, they didn't die because they were completely helpless or stupid, or because they couldn't provide food, clothing, and the basic necessities for themselves. For the most part, they were probably quite able to do just fine for themselves. But still, no matter how many facilities were at their disposal, nothing could keep them alive. Pondering this reality, it's a wonder that we're still alive, that we haven't died yet. For all the strange causes of death, we could have died several times by now. Frankly, our bodies are actually very weak and sensitive, and the slightest thing could cause our deaths. And we have hardly any protection against these different causes. From that point of view, we are actually quite defenseless.

In this defenseless state, the time of death is uncertain. All we can say is that we are very fortunate to have lived to this day. This is why the practice of the Dharma is so important. It is the only way we can utilize this knowledge to actually make some kind of progress. One has to take all these things into account in order to sincerely and genuinely practice the Dharma. If one does not integrate these realities into one's life, then the practice will remain a game of sorts--a form of play that keeps us occupied--and one will not become an accomplished practitioner of the Dharma, and that practice will not be very meaningful.

We all love our bodies and are tremendously attached to them. In fact, everyone likes to believe that other people find their bodies very attractive and elegant. For this reason people go through many hassles and great expenses to protect this beauty and elegance. But does this preserve us from the experience of death? Although many people may currently find you very good-looking and attractive, when you're dead and your body is lying there in a state of decay, smelling, no one will want to be with you or even look at you. You'll be without shelter, utterly homeless. Even to those people who were close to you and loved you, you'll be just a piece of stuff that no one will want around.

And on your death bed, surrounded by all your relatives and friends, they will all be crying and begging you to continue living and to think of them, as if you really had any say in the matter. And no matter how sincerely they may mean it, not a single one is capable of protecting you and extending your life. Although all of them will be very sad and grieving, none of them will be going through as severe and traumatic pain as you will be going through. At the moment of death, when the breath stops altogether, the fear and frustration of the dying person is extremely great. And the minute you are dead, they will all want to leave immediately. But as far as you are concerned, you'll still have considerable attachments to them. You thought some of them were going to come with you, you thought you'd live with some of them forever, but you'll be completely powerless.

During your life you may have thought you were intelligent and capable, and that you would continue doing many more exciting things, but in death you'll be helpless. During your entire life you worked to accumulate wealth with great attachment, harming and inconveniencing those who got in your way. But now, here you are. You can't even take a piece of thread or a needle with you. Everything gets left behind. In addition, all of the suffering that those around you have caused you, and will continue to cause you, will leave you feeling taken advantage of. You will want to stay with them and with all of the wealth for which you have worked so hard. You will have no choice.

Now, if this situation describes reality, then all we really need is the basic necessities, enough to keep our bodies functioning properly. If we have this, then we have everything we physically need to relate to the practice of the Dharma properly. After all, this is the view of reality we have to integrate into our lives if we wish to fully benefit from our practice. The hopelessness of these situations is what should provide us with the impetus to accomplish this. And therefore, we understand that all recollections of the past and all expectations of the future are meaningless, and all that is important is the present and our practice of the Dharma.

If you are able to fully commit yourself to the practice, there is the possibility that you may attain enlightenment within this lifetime, or at least at the time of death or in a couple of lifetimes. If you have no attachment to this life and to the Self, then in the next life you will be born with a greater understanding of the Dharma and with better opportunities to practice it. You will also enjoy a greater ability to benefit others, and perhaps even greater beauty and intelligence.

Clearly, the practice of the Dharma is all that really matters. Rinpoche says that in the Kagyu lineage there is a special emphasis on the ordinary foundation practices, the "four thoughts which turn the mind towards the Dharma," because this is how our forefathers applied the practice and became awakened. And this possibility is very real for us as well.

If we do not take these realities seriously enough, we run the risk of practicing only when we feel good about it, when we are getting a lot of attention, and things are going right for us and we're receiving respect and compliments. In these cases, we even try to do it a little longer, to prolong this exaltation. But when we are sad and nothing seems to be going right, and when no compliments are forthcoming, then we find excuses not to practice. Or else, even if we always try to sincerely practice, if we lack these understandings of reality, we won't do it long enough.

As long as we don't integrate these understandings into our lives, we will lack the motivation to practice intensely enough. We will always come up with excuses for the poor quality of our practice, saying "Oh, the Dharma is not really as effective as they had told me it was. I've been practicing for so many years or so many months, and still nothing has happened." Rinpoche says that it's like trying to take back a black piece of cloth for not being red enough. It is a very unfortunate thing to lose confidence in the Dharma and blame it for our own shortcomings.

The third ordinary foundation practice is the truth of karma, cause and effect. Unfortunately, many deluded people believe that although death may be a very harrowing experience, after it has occurred, one is then completely free. Some believe that once you're dead, things are all taken care of for you, as if somebody picks you up and puts you in a very enjoyable place where there are all kinds of pleasant entertainments. Other people believe that after death there is nothing, all experience just abruptly ends. There's no good or evil, it's just ashes to ashes and that's that. Of course, such attitudes are the epitome of ignorance, and reveal a total lack of wisdom. It is utter delusion to believe that there will be no suffering, only pure enjoyment awaiting you after death. It is grievous that people do not realize that we are experiencing this life and its various conditions because of our conduct in previous lives.

Sometimes we think that once we are dead we will experience a very magical realm, and that even if we face suffering we'll have the ability to immediately transform it. But how could this possibly be done? We should use our intelligence and other abilities now, while we have time, to see through our delusions. For instance, if it's winter and you want it to be summer, no matter how much you long for the seasons to change, you are powerless to do anything about it. And if you are sick and want to be healthy again, you can't just miraculously cure yourself. All suffering and experiences of the phenomenal world are caused by our habitual patterns and our karmic accumulations, and these are the materials with which you must work.

Furthermore, when somebody says that nothing exists after death, that you are free of suffering because you're dead and it's all finished, that is a very ignorant attitude. It's something like standing before a blazing fire and telling somebody that if they close their eyes and jump into it, it'll be okay. This will of course just make the situation worse. It's a simple refusal to acknowledge reality, a wishful desire to escape the order of things. But it doesn't change anything. It will only make reality that much more difficult to face. It's also akin to playing around on the edge of a cliff, believing you won't fall off. But then, once you've fallen, and you're in midair, it's completely useless to say to yourself, "Oh no, I hope I land softly." No matter how much wishful thinking you do at that point, it won't help you at all.

Now is the time to change the course of things, since you have the opportunities and the abilities currently at your disposal. No matter what limitations you may have, you possess a very powerful antidote, you have the facilities, and you have people around you who will encourage you. So once this is over, don't expect something better to be waiting for you.

Ordinarily, when people go to receive teachings or to relate to some form of spirituality, they expect to be placated with talk about bliss and ecstasy, but here we're discussing mostly unpleasant things. This is because we're interested in learning to deal with reality, and our practice concerns reality. For this reason, Rinpoche says that if you feel somewhat sad about your life, and think that your life at this point is quite meaningless and can be made more meaningful, that's actually a valuable thing to experience. Some sense of the meaninglessness of the whole thing is necessary before you can have any sense of renunciation about it, so this sadness can be quite beneficial. As Rinpoche says, if you are hungry you appreciate food more and can better understand the importance of it to your well-being. Similarly, if you are extremely cold, then you are more capable of appreciating the warmth of heavy clothing, both for yourself and for others. In order to make any progress, we must realize what our suffering actually is, how it arises and how we allow it to overwhelm us.

So far we have gone through the first three ordinary foundation practices: the meditations on the preciousness of the human birth, the reality of impermanence and death, and the truth of karma, cause, and effect. The fourth meditation is on the defects of samsara and the possibilities of becoming overwhelmed by them in many destructive ways. For example, we may feel very happy with our lives as they are now, things may be going quite well and we may desire for this to continue indefinitely. As long we don't suffer rebirth in any of the lower existences, we don't mind not being born in the higher realms, because we are satisfied with the comforts we are now enjoying.

As a result, many people engage in prayer or various spiritual practices with the aspirations of attaining a similar rebirth, again and again. They desire to live in the same country, in the same environment, among the same people, and to enjoy similar opportunities to what they now enjoy. But if one is filled with such attachment, and liable to such limitations and confusion, it would be nearly impossible to be born at the level of existence one now has. Let alone attaining a similar birth, one may experience even grosser conditions of suffering and confusion. If one's aspirations and understanding are so exceedingly limited, there is the possibility of never actually experiencing liberation, but remaining forever subject to samsaric existence.

As we discussed this morning, we are greatly attached to wealth and to ourselves. In fact, our attachment is so great that we find Dharma practice to be too strenuous for our minds and bodies, and would always prefer to be in a more rested condition. But there is no end to the comforts we could provide for our bodies, since our ability to absorb and demand more and more luxuries is immeasurable. We could experience incredible luxury and still feel dissatisfied and unhappy. There is no point where we will finally feel completely satiated, yet we still continue to strive for it with a ridiculous intensity.

And so, this is how we become completely absorbed in samsara. The phenomenal world is tremendously entertaining and manipulative, and we end up just getting sucked right into it without thinking about it. And yet, all we really need is enough to keep our body healthy and functioning properly, and the only pursuit that is worthwhile and meaningful is the practice of the Dharma. After all, it's a complete waste to struggle and toil in order to accumulate possessions that you will have no use for in death. As Rinpoche said earlier, we can't even take a piece of thread or a needle with us. We do, however, carry our karmic baggage, and will have to experience the consequences of our unwholesome actions and attitudes.

Furthermore, if we could see the true situation behind our tremendous attachments to friends and relatives, we would see how little sense it makes to remain so. Which is not to say that we should create disharmony and be unfriendly with our friends and relatives, and with other people. But our relationships are based on expectations of all kinds, and when we make a hundred friends we are also making a hundred potential enemies since we are creating that many more situations where hatred and negative intentions can erupt. Furthermore, because of our possessive attachments we want to protect our friends and agree with them, and then end up creating disharmony with others.

Still, when we are on our death beds, no matter how sincere and genuine their attachments to us and our expectations of them may be, there is nothing these friends will be able to do for us. All we are really doing is causing greater problems and inconveniences for each other. And our realization of our true solitude at the time of death will probably cause us to be filled with hatred and distrust and various negative emotions, which is completely unnecessary. This is why a sense of renunciation is a good thing to have. Friendship should not be based on attachment and expectations, for that would merely create a situation of adversity instead of amity. One would do better not to have such friendship at all. From that point of view, when we talk about giving up relationships, we specifically mean those relationships which are based on creating further problems for each other.

So, as long as we are subject to rebirth in the realms of samsara, no matter how pleasurable or entertaining, we will experience further confusion and sufferings. Let alone having the ability to benefit others, we will not be able to benefit ourselves. True renunciation means having a sense of the realities of samsara and therefore having a willingness to disavow them. In this way, you show a desire to do good to yourself and to others, and to cease doing anything harmful. It is very easy to get caught up in all kinds of negativities, and the majority of people unfortunately have no interest in the practice of the Dharma. Those who genuinely want to practice the Dharma are becoming rarer and rarer as time goes on, and the spread of the teachings is diminishing as well. This is because the number of those who have accumulated meritorious actions and have the good fortune to be connected with the Dharma are decreasing. Yet, at the same time, the birth of humans in general, with all kinds of negative accumulations, seems to be increasing. There never seems to be a shortage of anything that is not good, whereas that which is precious is always more rare.

In this way, enjoying a human birth is not necessarily precious, especially if we indulge in things that will only bring greater confusion and suffering. Just as Milarepa once said, "Though human birth is precious, the birth of your kind is not." There's no real point to having obtained a human birth, even one with opportunities like ours, if we simply misuse it and create further suffering. So, looking at the broad picture, it becomes very clear that the practice of the Dharma is the only activity that has any real meaning. Therefore, when committing oneself to something profound and sane, the choice of the Dharma is very obvious. And with that understanding, we can easily see why one should not neglect one's practice but should remain mindful of all the limitations that one could get caught up in, and of all the opportunities that one has. Samsara is very deceptive, and one must be careful to remain in situations where one is always reminded of and influenced by the Dharma.

Here we will conclude our discussion of the four ordinary foundations, the four thoughts which turn one's mind towards the Dharma and away from samsara. Yet, it cannot be stressed enough how important an understanding of these teachings on the reality of suffering is. One must realize that samsara is impermanent and all of its activities and exertions are ultimately worthless and bear no meaningful fruit. Only with such an understanding will one be able to turn to the Dharma sincerely and with devotion. Without a proper understanding of the limitations of samsara, there will always be a very strong limitation to one's practice. Either one's practice will be very spiritual-materialistic, based on expectations and doubts, or one will relate to it as to any other mundane activity, and one's realization will be neither immediate or meaningful.


Taken from a transcript of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD. This transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.

Questions and Answers

Q: How do you think that the teachings of the Dharma can help the people here?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Actually, it all depends on individual practitioners--on the extent to which they can live their lives in accordance with the Dharma. If they can apply the Dharma to their own experience one hundred per cent, then the Dharma will help those individuals, not only by bringing about liberation from samsara and eventually enlightenment, but also by producing benefits within this lifetime.

For example, when our minds are strengthened through Dharma practice, we become more capable of handling the vicissitudes of daily life experiences and the various emotions that accompany them. Because we have this mental strength, we can remain centered, instead of going crazy because of the different situations we have to face. If, in terms of basic sanity, our minds are not strong, then the challenges of the outside world can result in emotional disturbance, whereas if we have learned to relate to the practice, our minds are strengthened by the vision of the Dharma.

In worldly terms, the United States is the most prosperous country on earth, and the average person here lives in relative luxury. Living in a society with such a high standard of living, some individuals have difficulty dealing with the changing conditions that they experience in daily life. Sometimes there is so much happiness that they are unable to absorb it and become overwhelmed, and again, when faced with loss they lose their balance, so to speak, plunging to the depths of despair and suffering a complete loss of confidence. By applying Dharma practice, these two emotional extremes can be brought into balance so that one is not overwhelmed by peaks and valleys of happiness and sadness that are so great they can not be assimilated. The minds of average people are conditionally weak, but when they have applied themselves to the Dharma their minds become more balanced, making them braver and stronger. In this way Dharma can be great benefit.

But that's just the mundane level of benefit--to be able to cope better with everyday life. The spiritual benefit, of course, goes without saying: By learning the Dharma, we come to understand that our present life is not all there is. There is a succession or string of lives, continuing from lifetime to lifetime, and each one is conditioned by karma. Whether future lives will be full of happiness or suffering depends on the actions that one cultivates during this lifetime, as well as on the actions of previous lifetimes. Negativity results from karmic accumulations of previous negative involvements. Once one comes to understand these things, that is the spiritual benefit.

Q: What exactly is the Dharma that we are supposed to practice? Is it the teachings that we receive or is it something other than the teachings?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Yes, properly speaking, the practice of whatever teachings and instructions one has received is what is called the practice of the Dharma. But at this particular point, we're talking in this teaching about the preparations necessary for correct Dharma practice. Understanding and meditating upon four common foundations is the first part of the practice. Once we are able to relate to these, we will come to the four extraordinary practices, the stage-by-stage practices. So, learning to understand the four common foundations is like preparing to fight enemies you have never seen. You have to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses as a warrior in order to accentuate your advantages and fortify your limitations. On the other hand, if you just rush out to fight your enemies without any preparation, it would be quite difficult to achieve any victory. For this reason these preliminary stages are crucial.

Q: What are the benefits of learning to do meditation?

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche: In coming to study and learn how to meditate, it is important first to recognize the benefits of meditation itself. Prior to entering the path of meditation, we have never been able to relate directly to the actual nature of our own minds. Ordinary people's minds are busy with their concepts of daily life. As a result, the mind cannot rest in the peace of its own original nature. Our experiences of everyday life are not really the mind itself but conceptions. So one benefit of learning meditation is to be able to recognize the very nature of the mind, and then to rest the mind in its own natural state, something we are unable to do in our present condition. Our minds are fixated on concepts, according to which we experience feelings. But through meditation we attempt to relate to the mind's basic nature and to rest the mind in its own nature--to put it where it is supposed to be, in other words.

Of course, being able to realize the true nature of the mind comes later, as the result of extensive meditation practice. We certainly cannot expect to attain the absolute understanding of the nature of the mind in one or two days, weeks, months, or even years. But we are trying to learn how to take the first step.

Q: I have a question about the unintentional unvirtuous actions as a result of karma. It seems to me that, for myself, a lot of things I do are the result of not being aware of what the real forces are, and which are making me act the way I do. Is that a result of ignorance? What is the cause of that? How can we understand more about our actions as a result of karma? How can we better understand and be more aware of what it is in us that is making us behave that way?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: We ordinarily engage in unvirtuous activity in four different ways. The first is through ignorance, not knowing that we are doing something negative. Not being aware of what is negative or harmful, we engage in unvirtuous actions based on that ignorance.

Second is the absence of mindfulness. If the mind is totally distracted, although we know something is bad, we engage in unvirtuous action based on the absence of mindfulness.

Third, we also engage in unvirtuous actions through disrespect. This means we know about something, but we have no respect, either for the subject or for the person we have learned it from. Although we have been told that doing a certain thing is negative, because of our disrespect we do not believe it, and so continue to engage in the unvirtuous actions.

Fourth, we engage in unvirtuous activity through the power of the mental afflictions. We know that something is negative, but our patterns are so powerful that, without any control, we engage in that negative activity. That is the power of mental afflictions.

There are remedies that you need to use to overcome these fourfold unvirtuous activities. If unvirtuous activity is because of ignorance, try to study more about virtuous actions, the qualities of virtuous actions, how the Dharma is based on virtuous actions. The more you study, the more your knowledge develops, and that also develops the quality of prajna. Prajna eliminates the obstacle of ignorance, so you are free from engaging in unvirtuous actions through ignorance.

If you are engaging in unvirtuous actions through disrespect, you need to study more, particularly on cause and result, and fruition (Tib. GYUN DREL). The more you develop confidence in the reality of cause and effect, the better you can eliminate engaging in unvirtuous action out of disrespect.

If you lack mindfulness, you must remind yourself over and over (whenever you are mindful!) to not become careless during any situation. Instead, make a commitment to maintaining strong mindfulness. The more you remind yourself this way, the better you will become at being mindful in all situations and under all conditions.

Finally, the remedy for being overpowered by mental afflictions is to first gain an understanding of the most powerful ones you have. Once you determine which emotion (anger, hatred and so forth) is most powerful for you, you must work through it by developing loving-kindness and an understanding of emptiness, including the inherent lack of solid basis for all conflicting emotions.

Those are techniques or methods for overcoming the fourfold unvirtuous actions.

Q: Say that my actions are a result of my own karma. For me, it feels as if the karma has more power than I can control, or that I'm going to be a victim of my own karma. It almost seems too easy to say "Oh, I did this and it was because of my karma and I had no control over it." How is it that we can even have a sense of what our own karma is making us do?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In Buddhism, we often teach the idea of cause and result, and also include the teaching about suffering. To define suffering again, when we have any physical or mental discomfort or pain, that is suffering. That suffering is really the karma you are talking about, because it is the result, or fruition, of whatever we have caused. The fruition is often negative, because we have engaged in more negative or unvirtuous actions, and the result of any negative actions is pain and suffering. How did we cultivate that cause? We experience that mental or physical pain through the intensity of our conflicting emotions, which are hatred, attachment, pride, jealousy, and so forth. The power of these conflicting emotions is the "cause" of what is now ripening in our life as experiences of discomfort, pain, and suffering. That is the real meaning of karma.

For example, say that a person commits a negative action such as killing because of his or her mental afflictions. From the act of killing there is a resultant karmic accumulation. The person's kleshas are stirred up by the pain and suffering that resulted from the act of killing, which builds habitual patterns of experiencing the kleshas. Habitual patterns themselves are not karma. In order to undo the habitual patterns of negativity, we simply have to apply strong habitual patterns of virtuous activities. The only remedy for negative habitual patterns is to develop positive habitual patterns.

We have the option, however, to prevent ourselves from further cultivating such a cause, so we can prevent the future experience of such suffering. What cultivates the negative unvirtuous seeds of the experience of suffering is the mental afflictions. In many ways, our mental afflictions seem to be very powerful, almost uncontrollable. What makes them seem to be so powerful is very simple. From beginningless time, we have "spoiled" the mental afflictions, providing whatever they desire. Having given them such opportunity, we are quite used to that habit. The mental afflictions have developed such habitual patterns that they seem to us to be uncontrollable.

However, the mental afflictions can be controlled. The Buddhadharma is filled with ideas and techniques for controlling or eliminating the mental afflictions, so you can learn to control them by studying the Buddhadharma. Only through learning the Buddhadharma are we able to pacify and subdue the powerful mental afflictions so that we are not further cultivating the cause that results in suffering and pain.

Q: Rinpoche, in the West people are usually very busy with jobs and families and many other commitments, and they often have difficulty finding time to practice. Do you have any suggestions that might be helpful in this regard?

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche: Actually, there is no difference between East and West--as soon as one is born into this life, it's samsara. Everyone who begins the life of dualism has many things to do to survive, many things to do to increase pleasure, and so forth. But you could actually say that life in the West is busier because of the greater economic development, in comparison to the Eastern side of the world. Nevertheless, we have to think that everyone is equally involved in dualistic life. As long as one is born in this world, on this planet, whether one is north, south, east, or west, everything is impermanent. The ultimate truth is that as long as one is conditioned to the life of a human being, physical as well as mental, nothing is experienced everlastingly. Everything ends after a certain period of time. But very few people are able to open their minds to the nature of impermanence. Someone who truly recognizes and understands impermanence is very rare.

Once you recognize the problem of impermanence, then time is what you make it. In other words, if you want to make time, you can make time. If you don't really want to make the time available, then somehow there is never enough time. That is because time is controlled by people. Time should not be controlling people, people should be controlling time. As long as the desire to make time is lacking, it is impossible to describe what kind of time should be made. So I can't say exactly how to find more time to practice, other than to say that if you are really interested in doing so, you should be able to. You know?

Q: On the basis of your experience of Western culture, what do you think the problems are that we should be working on; and, also, what particular gifts from Buddhism could and should we be receiving?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Frankly, if I am not mistaken, what seems to be the biggest problem is that although of course there is the element of lack of moderation in the lives of everyone in the world, there seems to be an extreme case of lack of moderation and lack of the sense of the importance of moderation in the West or in the States. Everyone wants to get ahead of everybody else, and then when they are ahead they want to get more and more ahead. Yes, definitely, there are a lot of admirable things here. Almost all the people are very educated and intelligent and efficient and so forth, and it is a very advanced country materially and technologically . But in the midst of all these good things, there is this sense of competition and lack of moderation. And people do not really seem to take into consideration what exactly their abilities or their talents are, and how much of their talents can be pursued--there seems to be very little consideration given to these matters. Each one simply wants to get above someone else, credential-wise, material-wise, or in any other way possible. So this element seems to be very strong.

And then in terms of the contribution Buddhism could make, there isn't any one thing in particular. Actually, Buddhist methods are simply a way of life, a very human way of life, which is something necessary for everyone. Whoever applies them, in whatever part of the world, is definitely going to experience the benefit toward solving the main problem of all people: breaking through the confusion and cares of the mind and becoming more tranquil and stable, which also brings along with it the situation of greater moderation.

Q: Rinpoche, you spoke of anger, aggression, jealousy and envy. Where does fear fit into this psychological framework?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The experience of fear arises when we think we are going to be harmed, or that damage is going to be inflicted upon our sense of well-being, our possessions, or our bodies. Fear is produced by the egoistic notion of self-importance. We believe that everything must be geared towards our personal benefit, and are fearful that this will not happen. This comes from, again, lack of true loving-kindness and compassion, because when one has genuinely experienced these qualities, true patience is generated. Through patience we are able to dispel such fears, since as long as you extend yourself for the well-being of others, it doesn't matter what kind of harmful things might be directed at you.

Q: Could you please give an example of how we could transmute or change anger or jealousy versus suppressing these feelings and therefore not really getting rid of them?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The transformation of any sort of neurosis (you asked particularly about anger) has three forms:

1. abandoning the kleshas,

2. bringing the kleshas onto the path, and

3. transforming the kleshas into wisdom.

Again, these approaches are based on the different vehicles.

According to the hinayana tradition, we talk about abandoning the kleshas. It is just as if we were walking alone in a forest where there are known to be many wild animals. We would be very cautious and always alert so as not to suddenly encounter any of those animals. Similarly, according to the hinayana tradition, we try to have alertness toward the kleshas. To develop alertness, we first acknowledge how powerful and damaging the kleshas can be . Once that is realized, we are always alert, just as we would be while walking in a dangerous forest.

In the bodhisattvayana, in bringing the kleshas onto the path we use our love and compassion toward living beings. Developing love and compassion toward living beings by understanding our emotions works like this: If something seems to bother or trouble us, if it churns up our emotions (for example, anger), we try not to blame it on other people. We try to immediately recognize that all those misfortunes or unfavorable conditions arise because we have done something negative in our past lives. It is our own responsibility to encounter such things, not the responsibility of the beings who are annoying us.

With that knowledge, and not blaming others, we understand the condition of all sentient beings with a sense of greater love and compassion. Earlier, I gave the example of being the parent of a blind child, and how we would not abandon this child in a dangerous place. Similarly, with compassion and love and, at the same time, with an understanding of our own negative karma, we become tolerant.

Finally, there is the vajrayana or tantrayana tradition, which is very pleasant to hear about but very difficult to practice. It is known as transforming the mental afflictions (often referred to as poisons) into wisdom. This is a fine idea, but very difficult to do.

Q: I have a question about the origin of the mind. It is said in certain teachings that the mind is in its essence clear and limitless and blissful. My question is, how did it come about that we have these defilements, all these layers of ignorance? On the one hand, it is said that we have been in samsara since beginningless time, we have been ignorant. But then on the other hand, the whole cosmos or universe is based on this love or compassion. How did it come to be that we have these layers?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: There is a reason it is taught that we have been confused or deluded from beginningless time. We say "beginningless time" because there never was a time when our minds were pure, free from delusion or confusion. If there had been a time when our minds were pure and then they became deluded, we could say that there was a starting point when our minds became impure or deluded. Logically speaking, when we have accumulated karma, we must either experience the result or purify it.

When we experience the result of the karma we have cultivated, we are cultivating a new seed of karma to mature in the future (either in this life or a future life). Since experiencing karma does not mean we have overcome the mental afflictions, when we experience the fruition of that karma we accumulate new karma in the process, which requires us to experience another life. That is why samsara is called beginningless and endless. The end of it would be only when we purify past karma and uproot the mental afflictions that create new karma. Then we do not fall back into samsara.

However, the wisdom aspect of the mind has always been there, from beginningless time; it is just that we have never met all the conditions to awaken or realize that wisdom. Perhaps at some times we did meet all the conditions to realize the wisdom, but we were not diligent enough to realize the wisdom. Generally we have been more diligent and interested in conducting our lives in the more negative, unvirtuous actions, which led us to experience more negative karma, which defiled our minds further.

Q: This is a question about blaming others and the idea that you can use that blame to look at your own patterns--that the annoyance is really coming from the karma of your past. I guess that I am thinking about is that in Atisha's teachings, "Drive all blames into oneself...'' My interpretation of that is that when somebody gets us angry or annoys us, if some sort of emotion comes up, it is an opportunity to look at why we are becoming angry or emotional. In the way it was just put, if we took the attitude that it was just the accumulation of karma from the past that is making us feel this way, it seems like we would not be taking the responsibility to really look at what is going on right there at that moment, and what it is that is bothering us.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Basically there is not much need to analyze or speculate on why we have the emotion (anger, in this case). All the unfavorable conditions we experience, which churn up our anger, jealousy, attachment, or passion, show that we must overcome those emotions, and we that have a lot of faults. There is no particular reason to analyze to find why and how and so forth. It is obvious that we have those kleshas, and as long as we have them, anything that tends to instigate or incite those patterns will be able to do so.

For example, I had surgery recently and I now have a small incision which is still healing, and I am very sensitive at that location. If somebody touched me roughly on that opening, I would become angry. I would not have to think about why I am becoming angry, because that spot is very sensitive. Likewise, when we are very sensitive, it just shows how our mental afflictions are very powerful. Knowing why is really not necessary. What I am trying to say here is that, in my case, when somebody touches my wound, I realize that there is no point in getting angry, because it is my wound. The person who does the touching really has nothing to do with the wound except that he or she has touched it, so we try not to blame them, not to switch the anger to whoever caused it. In this case, the reason it is painful is that the wound is there, which is analogous to the kleshas. All the upheavals of anger and passion is because we have these kleshas.

In the hinayana system, there are many techniques to subdue or overcome the strength and power of the kleshas. For example, it is quite normal, when a man sees an attractive woman, or when a woman sees a handsome man, attachment and passion are churned up. We do not have to intellectualize about why this happens--we know that people are passionate. Knowing that, a practitioner needs to do something in order not to act in accordance with that passion, to not be under its influence. In the case of the anger, we try not to be under the influence of anger and act it out physically.

Going back to Atisha's teaching on mind training, whenever anything stimulates anger or jealousy or whatever, do not think, "This person has caused me to be angry," but "Because of my habitual pattern of aggressiveness (anger), I still tend to lean toward that habitual pattern." Even if the person who is causing your anger seems to be extremely aggressive toward you, you then try to make yourself quite a sensible individual, thinking, "If I react to the aggressive nature of my object, then I am becoming caught up in it." We have to learn not to participate in that aggressive exchange.

Q: Where does the consciousness go after it leaves the body? Where does the consciousness abide before it takes rebirth or becomes liberated? Does it float around? I do not understand.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Where is your consciousness abiding right now?

[Q: Well, I suppose it is in the body--no?]

The mind has no true concrete existence; there is no substance to it. Therefore, at present, even when we have our physical bodies, we cannot locate the mind (consciousness). At present, we have feeling. Wherever we touch any part of our bodies, we are able to feel it. Who feels that? It is the mind that feels it. Wherever we touch, that is where the feeling is, so it is not necessarily the case that the mind is in the head or in the body. We cannot pinpoint the location of the consciousness, even at the present moment. As long as there is the confusion or fixation, we believe that mind exists actually. Other than that, we cannot locate the mind. That is why we often say that the ultimate nature of mind is nonexistent or that there is no concreteness to its existence.

Q: I have been wondering why we chose to come here and take this form. I do not know if this is a correct answer, but recently I have read that ignorance is one of the reasons. How did we get this ignorance to make this choice?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In fact, we did not have a choice at all. It was brought about by our karma. Choosing implies that we pick the human form and we have the capacity to choose which family (the father and mother with whom we want to take birth). We do not have that choice. Based on the strength of positive and negative karma, this had to happen, so there is no choice involved. We could say that ignorance is implied there because we had no choice. Because of not having a choice about our parents or where we will take birth, it could be said that ignorance is involved. To give an example of the force of karma, it is very similar to going up in an airplane and throwing thousands of pieces of paper out of it. How far they would go and where they land depends on how the wind blows them. Likewise, where we are born, what family we are born in and what sort of form we have, are based on the power of the karma, not on our choice.

For some spiritually advanced beings, it is quite different. They have much fewer defilements. They do have a choice as to where they will take birth, even in what form and in what family.

Q: Where does the karma "hang out"?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: When you find the location of the mind or the consciousness, you will also find where the karma "hangs out."

Q: Often I hear stories like the about a person hitting someone with a stick, for which action they could suffer a thousand years in a hell realm. They would suffer this incredible amount of time in the hell realms for what seems like a rather minor action. Somehow it is hard not to think the karma or the punishment should be more equal to the negative action. Could you explain that?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: That could be answered very logically. If we plant one seed of barley, when it matures we will have several grains of barley. The result is always more than what we started with.

Q: Could you elaborate on the importance of spiritual friends and how a person can develop and maintain a relationship with a spiritual friend in contemporary society?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: A beginner on the spiritual path is very much like an infant. The upbringing of the infant is based on what sort of environment and family he or she is brought up with. We are very easily influenced, just as an infant is, and we are very dependent on those who are spiritually well balanced, those we call spiritual friends. With their example of devotion to the spiritual path, we learn as we grow in that path.

For example, if you are living with a group of smokers, you are influenced by the smokers and learn to smoke. If you are living with a group of heavy drinkers, you become a drinker. If you are living with a group of drug users, you learn to use drugs. We are not born with all those addictions; we are influenced by those around us, based on the strength of the influence in our environment.

Spiritual growth is very similar. Right now, being like infants, we have to depend on the spiritual friend. Although the Dharma is very new in the United States, there are quite a few people who are devoted to spiritual practice. It is helpful to be around such people so we can lead and inspire each other in virtuous activities, becoming very strong minded in the goal. Once you have become strong in the spiritual path yourself, (or balanced, you could say) then even if you mix with nonvirtuous people, they cannot influence you. That is what it means to become strong in that way. Until you become that strong, a spiritual friend is necessary.

If you are around practitioners (preferably with masters, but they are not always available) even ordinary practitioners can help inspire each other not to engage in harmful activities of body, speech, and mind. Together, many practitioners may be able to make a perfect environment for the practice. It is like burning a branch of wood. It is very difficult to make a fire with only one piece of wood, but with a collection of many branches together, you can have a big fire. Likewise, even if you are not all realized, even a collection of beginners in the Dharma can develop a good practice together. That would be a positive thing to look for.

Q: I have a question with regard to basically the first of the nonvirtuous activities and the tenth: killing and holding wrong views. One of the things that was stated, and maybe you could give us an example, is that when the tenth negative action (holding wrong views) is combined with the first (killing), one goes through endless hell realms. Does that mean that the hell realms otherwise are not endless, and that this one is?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Compared to the hell realm called NAR ME, which really means "ceaseless" or "uninterrupted" (not "eternal"), the other hell realms have some sense of possibly experiencing a break from the torture, so to speak. Ordinarily speaking, there are eighteen levels of hell realms, based on the intensity of the negative karma. The one called NAR ME is the lowest of the eighteen. For example, there is one hell realm where beings experience birth and death ten thousand times in one day. When they are first born, when they are dead, and before birth after the death, there is a little gap in the torture. Compare to that, NAR ME has no gap at all, which is why we say it is uninterrupted.

Q: Could you give us an example of what might produce that result for us?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The cause of such rebirth is the intensity of believing in the wrong view. Based on a belief in the wrong view, you spend your entire life believing the wrong view and engaging in the ten unvirtuous actions we talked about, and you end your life in such a way. You do not believe in virtue. Not having believed in virtue, you make no attempt to practice virtue or to feel remorse for what you have done wrong. When you die in that manner, doing all the negative things, enjoying them, and not believing, that would be the cause of such rebirth in that hell realm.

Q: You said there is no way out of this, once born in that realm?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: There is a way out, but it is a very long way. It is based on kalpas--the life span in this realm is a kalpa, which is an incredibly long span of time.

Q: Throughout human history, it seems that human beings have created more negative than positive karma, and that therefore human beings have gone into the other realms, instead of the human realms or into enlightenment. How is it that, at least right now, there are more and more human beings on this Earth? How is it that we are increasing in numbers rather than decreasing?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Looking at the history of our own world--this planet--it is very true that more beings are engaging in negative activities than positive ones. We need to understand that the human birth has great advantages as well as great disadvantages. The advantages are that if we are seriously devoted to the practice, enlightenment is possible in one lifetime. However, if we are very involved with doing harm to beings, human consciousness is so very creative and powerful that a person can create tremendous negative karma.

Asking why we are experiencing an increasing population in our world when the majority of beings engage in negative actions shows that you are not fully accepting that there are other existences or realms. According to Buddhism, there are billions of existences besides this human world. Yes, the majority of people in our human world are accumulating negative karma and falling into the lower realms, but there are other realms where beings are acting positively and then taking birth here. We are not generally aware of that; we just think of our immediate situation.

Q: Rinpoche, according to what you have been saying about action, the way people who are non-Buddhist (which is most of world) could accumulate merit was through positive actions to help others or to help the earth. Is this some of what you are talking about on a larger scale? I know there is a lot of anger and disappointment in the world. Can whole communities do this? In other words, instead of fighting each other or killing each other, or raping, or a husband beating his wife, or whatever.... Through this action that you are talking about, like thinking of good actions to do, could this work on a larger scale? I'm just wondering what you have to say about that.

H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche: Okay, I think I understood. Anyway, I will try to reflect on it. I think maybe I'm being very presumptuous, but I'm allowed to be here, you know [laughter]. You all expect me to be, so I needn't be too careful.

I think in this world there is so much fighting, so many problems that people create for other people. The natural problems are one thing, but a person creating problems for another person is a totally different thing. All these things come from disappointment and dissatisfaction. Whether they are total misunderstandings or whether there is some ground for them, it is certainly an outcome of disappointment and dissatisfaction. It comes from that. But if I understood your question correctly, if people do something good and positive, then it doesn't have to be exactly compatible with what they are disappointed about. They are disappointed about some thing, so you don't have to find out exactly what they are disappointed about and try to do something about that. If people really put energy into doing good things, they don't have to have extra supernatural energy to do a lot of good things as well as do a lot of bad things. If they are really involved in social activities and the environment, there is no limit. The sky is the limit, you see. There are ten million things that you can do. So when people really get involved, I don't think they will have the time and energy to make trouble for each other.

I definitely believe that it's people who first are disappointed and dissatisfied. And secondly, they have a lot of time to do those negative things. It is not so easy to make war. It is not so easy to make trouble for other people. Initially yes, because the other person is not thinking about somebody making trouble for them. But once you warn the other person--hey you, I'm going to make trouble--then it wouldn't be easy, you see. So people put lots of energy, time and effort--they invest a lot to do those things.

Sometimes people think good things take time and energy but bad things don't take time and energy. That is little bit naive, because doing negative things takes lots of time and energy as well. I think this is quite important, that as a society at large we have the awareness and the individual and group effort to do good things, so that people's time and energy will be occupied by doing good things.

But if you are a Buddhist, a serious Buddhist, practicing Dharma, doing meditation, that is not doing nothing. That is total energy consumption. Meditating, praying, learning--that takes all the energy. So in that way, one can accomplish a lot. When I say not doing anything, I mean there is no hope, no aim, no motivation. If there isn't anything that you believe in, then you are just floating around. In that situation, the negative aspect is much easier, and then it is hard to imagine, because we are not involved in it, just how much time and energy these people invest in their activity when they are doing wrong things. I think we would be surprised if we found out. So I think that can definitely be avoided.

But then, of course, we are being a little bit too presumptuous to think that we can just talk about it right here and then have it occur. It is not easy at all. Also, human beings continue, and the maturity and positiveness of one generation does not guarantee the maturity and positiveness of the next generation. It has to be active all the time. You have to go on. You can't say, we have done it, that's it. It will always need constant regeneration, constant effort, and constant activity to continue.