Training the Mind in Loving Kindness and Compassion

THE GREAT VEHICLE of the Buddha's teaching is distinguished by its emphasis on cultivating bodhicitta, the attitude of loving-kindness and compassion towards all beings. Through such an altruistic attitude one seeks to attain liberation not for oneself alone, but for the benefit of all sentient beings without any exception or any left behind. The complete attainment of Buddhahood is impossible without this profound and vast aspiration and accompanying activity. Generating and enriching such an extraordinary outlook is the cornerstone of the Mahayana teachings of the Buddha.

Teachings on bodhicitta have been given by many distinguished Kagyu masters. Excerpts from some of these teachings follow.

The Manifestation of Compassionate Activity

 By His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa

TIBETAN DHARMA IS BASED ON Mahayana Buddhism and in Tibet there is a special Mahayana tradition. Centuries ago, Indian Mahasiddhas collected the essence of the Buddha's teachings which were subsequently brought to Tibet. Down to this present day, it is still possible to study these same teachings at an educational institution. In addition, you can actually come to experience the effect of what you have learned and enjoy the fruit of what you have practiced. I have confidence that you all are capable of experiencing this fruition of Buddhahood.

The heart of Mahayana teaching is the practice of experiencing bodhicitta, or the enlightened mind. Bodhicitta can be seen from two aspects--the aspiration to benefit oneself and to benefit others--but when you are truly doing the practice then you generate bodhicitta that includes both yourself and all other beings. As you are working in the world or accomplishing some task, if you do it with the intention of benefiting others and with the understanding of cause and effect, then you generate trust in people and they can have complete confidence in what you do.

The skillful means of bodhicitta allow you to be effective in helping others. Bodhisattva activities are divided into four kinds: generosity, pleasant speech, beneficial conduct and consistency of word and deed. In practicing generosity, a Bodhisattva may see someone who is poor; spontaneously they would give food, clothing or whatever may be needed. Bodhisattvas also know that people will not listen well to words spoken in anger. They are sensitive to each person's situation and understanding this, they speak without abruptness, smoothly and calmly so that the other person feels comfortable. Bodhisattva conduct allows a Bodhisattva to adapt the Dharma to many different situations. If you consider Eastern and Western religions, you can see that the faith in religion can be the same even though the religions themselves are different. If you consider philosophy, however, you will see that there is a difference. In Western countries, therefore, teachers must speak according to Western thought patterns so that the seed of Dharma can fully enter into the experience of Western people. This is the way in which the lamas speak.

Because we are in a fortunate time, America, Canada, Europe, the whole world receives the light of the Buddha's compassion. People now want to do practice and it gives them much joy. But in order to do the practice, you have to meet with the right situation and this meeting itself is the extraordinary blessing of the Dharma. Once having received this wonderful blessing, it is the responsibility of the Dharma practitioner to pass the teachings on to those who are ready for them.

As I said in the beginning of this talk, the root of the Dharma is precious bodhicitta, and bodhicitta is compassion for others. This is the essential meaning of everything I have spoken of today.

Some people think it is very difficult to receive this teaching. Further, they believe that even though they have received the teachings, they are extremely difficult and take an inordinately long time to realize. Perhaps this is true. For example, as in this world it is difficult to get what you want, so it is not easy to achieve the profound, secret teaching of Mahayana Dharma. Through practicing Mahayana, it is not easy to achieve the state of bliss or enlightenment. But all this depends on your mind. Actually you should follow the Dharma, practice, and keep precisely in mind the workings of cause and effect. If you do this steadfastly and confidently, perhaps realization might not take a long time, nor be difficult. It is said in the secret Mahayana:

In a moment, something becomes special. In a moment, enlightenment is attained.

Nevertheless, whether there are Dharma practitioners or not, this era is a hectic one, filled with distracting activity. During such a time, what kind of practice should we be doing? As an example, we can take the situation of our own needs: whatever we might need, so will others. With this under standing, we can continuously think of benefiting others--that is the core of Dharma practice. We ground ourselves in this thought of benefiting others. If we have confidence in the workings of cause and effect, whatever work we do will have an excellent result. To take another example: In this world we say, "these are my parents, this is my country, this is my property," etc. But from a Dharmic standpoint, we look on all beings and deeply wish that they be relieved of their suffering and achieve Buddhahood. Generating bodhicitta in this way, we practice benefiting others. This thought is absolutely essential not only for Dharma activity, but for any activity in our lives. If we maintain the thought of benefiting others and recite only one OM MANI PEME HUNG, that will help liberate them from suffering and help raise them to the level of Buddhahood.

Today, many people gathered for the talk and things have gone well. You are performing the role of students and I am acting as the teacher giving a brief explanation of Dharma. I would like to extend to you my thoughts and blessings in whatever you may do and offer many wishes for your long life.


From a public talk His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa gave at the University of Colorado in 1980. The Manifestation of Compassionate Activity was the subject of the teaching, which was sponsored by Naropa Institute and translated by Ngodrup Burkhar. Dharmadhatu has very kindly given us a tape of this teaching so that it may be published in Densal. From this tape a revised translation was made by Sangye Wangchuk with collaboration and editing by Michele Martin.

Advice on Spiritual Practice

By His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa

THE PRACTICE OF DHARMA involves certain possibilities. How these potentials evolve into actual situations for the practitioner, and how much is possible within these situations depends on the capacity of individual beings. It depends upon the level of teachings that one is able to relate to, such as Mahayana or Hinayana. At this particular time in our lives, the practice of the Mahayana teaching is possible. It is absolutely precious and absolutely rare. Our concern for development and our sense of responsibility has placed us in a position to integrate the preciousness and rarity of the Mahayana teaching with our lives. Through it there is the possibility of the experience of no-returning back into Samsara and the experience of ultimate bliss that is self knowing and in which there are no doubts.

In the midst of the wanderings of our minds we might sometimes fall into thinking that whether one practices or not, the Dharma will always be available. If you have that kind of notion, it is a very serious mistake. Any brief moment, any time at all that one could use as an opportunity for Dharma practice, one must use. If one does not take this responsibility and offer sincere respect to the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings, there is a definite possibility of causing harm to oneself as well as to those spiritual friends to whom one is linked. A lack of attention to the responsibilities of the Mahayana path constitutes a breaking of the Samaya principles, therefore, in whatever way one can hold to the teachings, one must sincerely do so.

If you think that the teaching is negligible, such a reality will manifest because of your attitude, to your great loss. The fact is that the teaching is very much hidden from you, so you cannot really make speculations about it. On the other hand, the validity of the teaching has been witnessed by its ageless effectiveness from the time of the Buddha to this day. This is something to dwell upon. You must sincerely realize the sacredness of the teachings, to the extent of understanding that there is actually nothing more important than the practice of the Dharma within this lifetime, and in lifetimes to come. In a simple mundane life situation, in the field of 'business' we know that the businessman develops a plan for a project, he knows what it will cost him, perhaps one million dollars, and every detail of the project is regarded with the utmost care. Absolute importance is attached to such a project in the business world, and a great deal of energy is put into bringing it to a successful conclusion. The point is if one is going to expend such effort for a result of such a temporary nature, why not put at least as much effort into a project that is going to cause one's temporary as well as ultimate benefit? Whether you are receiving an empowerment or an explanation, if you are able to have or develop that sense of importance about the Dharma, then there is purpose in your relationship with the Mahayana teachings and there is going to be fulfillment, too. If there is a genuine commitment to the teaching, you will be able to develop direct and meaningful trust and confidence in the teachings and sincere compassion towards beings.A true understanding of the universality of the working of karma, the nature of cause and effect, will occur.

The Bodhisattva's aspiration and actions are powerful because from the very beginning when bodhisattva embarks on the journey of the bodhi path he aspires to work for the benefit and liberation of all sentient beings with a very determined, definite and powerful intention. Because of the sincere resolve that is within this aspiration, whatever actions need to be performed to benefit and liberate beings are performed with great power and tirelessness. Having undertaken such a profound journey by virtue of the aspiration to help beings, as the different stages of the Bodhisattva are experienced, one finds oneself increasingly capable of benefiting countless beings. That is how the Bodhisattva first treads upon the path.

When the bodhisattvas work for the benefit of all beings with such appropriate aspirations and actions there is total fulfillment. The fulfillment appropriate in the sense that there is no selfishness involved in the way of expectations, doubts, hopes, attachment or aversion regarding gains and losses of any kind. The Bodhisattva is completely pure and spotless, working incessantly and wholeheartedly for the benefit of beings. Not for a moment is there any hesitation or doubt, as these obstacles have been transcended. The ways of a Bodhisattva are gentle, since all harmful actions and indulgences have been abandoned. Not only are harmful deeds themselves eliminated in a Bodhisattva's life, but also the creation of causes of future harmful situations. Work is done solely for the benefit of other beings, not only in direct deeds, but in laying the foundations for future benefits to accrue. When these bodhisattvas initiate work, then, they are able to cause immeasurable benefit towards beings, and they do so manifesting fearless generosity without doubts or expectations, like the great Bodhisattva of Boundless Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, or the Bodhisattva of Boundless Power, Vajrapani, and so on.

All who comprise the great assemblage of Bodhisattvas are equally powerful and equally beneficial to countless beings, so that all things seem to be at their command. Sometimes beautiful lotuses and lotus trees are caused by them to grow from the middle of the ocean, or a teardrop is transformed into an ocean. Everything in nature is at the Bodhisattva's call. Fire can appear as water; water can appear as fire. It is all because of the strength of the Bodhisattva's attitude, the aspiration and action. For us this says that the practice of compassion must be given full consideration and it must at all times be in our awareness and at all times performed.

If one is going to attempt to do meditation, for example, on emptiness, Sunyata, one must never fail to relate to the enlightened objects of the Refuge on one hand, and to consistently generate genuine compassion towards beings on the other hand. The true nature of emptiness is compassion. Without the experience of the fullness of compassion, even if one claims to have realized emptiness, Sunyata, it does not have any significance.

At this particular point you have the opportunity to receive the teachings. There are teachers, there are facilities. You have been receiving many levels of teachings, and it is important that you don't miss the point in terms of putting into practice what is taught. It is absolutely important. I am emphasizing today something you must have heard many times. And yet there is always the need for complete integration, for mindfulness and respect, for the treasuring of what one has understood, what one has received. There is the need of working towards the fulfillment of the teachings and the complete realization of the meaning. And toward that end the most important factor, once again, is the practice of bodhicitta, the Enlightened Mind, by which you will gradually tread the Vajrayana path. At every turn bodhicitta is indispensable. Unless the profound techniques of the Vajrayana are being supported by bodhicitta one will not necessarily make meaningful realizations. So, you see, that everything is actually rooted in the practice of bodhicitta, and to pursue with sincerity whatever enhances and supports the practice of bodhicitta creates favorable situations for its development.

An example of a means to develop bodhicitta is Pratimoksa. In the Pratimoksa tradition there are seven families or levels of Pratimoksa, or self-discipline. These are known as the precepts or vows. Refuge is the most important prerequisite to enter into the practice of discipline. After taking refuge, you take whatever other precepts you can. Keeping them strengthens your practice of bodhicitta, and enables you to tread on the path of Buddhadharma more simply, sincerely and sanely. The importance of the application of self-discipline, the precepts, must not be neglected. Strongly ingrained are the patterns of the three poisons: aggression, attachment and ignorance. If one is to uproot these patterns and to apply the proper antidote for these poisons, the practices of discipline as outlined in the Pratimoksa are necessary tools.

Then we have the Mahayana principles. We must practice living the Mahayana ideals which we have been talking about: the development of the Enlightened Attitude, a concern for the benefit and liberation of all beings. From the material point of view this country is very rich, which means life is busier for everyone than in other places in the world, and people are occupied by all kinds of mundane demands. Because of the overwhelming material concerns that surround one, the speed of life activity increases. One busy situation leads to another, and on and on. You are constantly busy. The truth of cyclic existence is very well manifested in your lives. To remedy this state of affairs one first needs to calm down the mind. Do not be completely absorbed by your surroundings. Develop some degree of stillness. Cultivate simple control of mind, tranquility. At least some openness of the mind needs to be developed. No matter who you are, everyone needs first to relate to basic meditation practices, meditation practices that are specifically designed to bring about the calmness of the minds of beings who are occupied in such constant, busy involvement. This is the first step in the practice of the Dharma, the Dharma that is so very important for oneself and for others.

If you could see and appreciate the truth of the Dharma, and in the light of that appreciation continue to practice, there is no doubt about your being of tremendous benefit to the people you encounter and to this country especially. There would be no doubt about your ability to save beings from countless problems and conflicts. So the practice of the Dharma must be taken very seriously and done very sincerely. It plays a crucial part in shaping of one's life, and not this life alone but all lifetimes to come. If one is to have temporary as well as ultimate fulfillment of happiness, the incomparable and the only reliable connection is the practice of the Dharma. The notion of perception and perceiver has existed from beginningless time, and it is part of the pattern of clinging. From beginningless time our shortcoming has been to fall back into Samsara. In the past, in the future and in the present, the mind has been in many ways very playful. But where the true nature of the mind is concerned, neither the color nor the shape nor the location of the mind nor its consciousness can be pinpointed.

The nature of mind goes beyond all such substantialities. This being so, in the meditation practice it is important neither to invite the future nor recollect the past, but to remain in the state of nowness. The nowness of the mind is the practice which should be developed by you all.


This teaching was given at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra by His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa on Sunday, August 31, 1980. It first appeared in Densal Vol. 2. No. 3, Summer 1981.

Compassion without Illusions

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

AS WE GO THROUGH OUR LIVES, we undergo tremendous struggles; yet we do not seem able to accomplish or achieve what we would like. In addition, there are a great many undesirable things that we would like to avoid, but we are unable to do so. As a result of these conflicts, we experience a great deal of pain and suffering.

Yet the simple truth is that each and every one of us inherently possesses powerful resources. Each of us has the potential to experience true wisdom, or, for that matter, transcendent awareness; we have the potential to express gentleness and genuine compassion; we have the potential to generate great warmth and kindness towards ourselves and others; we have the potential to engender openness and patience. Nevertheless, we have misconceptions about ourselves and the world around us. We wrongly assume that that which we all desire--a true sense of well-being and contentment--comes from external situations, things outside of ourselves.

Armed with this erroneous notion, we try to solve our internal conflict and dissatisfaction externally. But the truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try to manipulate external things to secure a complete sense of well-being for ourselves, we will never have complete control over external reality. All along, we have been working with the wrong tools, overlooking the actual, workable potentialities and concentrating on superficial things, hoping something genuine and unconditioned will come out of that. But whatever is superficial runs counter to that which is genuinely true. This seems to be our basic problem, confusing our external situation with our own potential for internal well-being and mental harmony.

Another serious delusion we have is the unyielding primacy of our egocentricity, our "I for myself" attitude. We limit our perspective to our own happiness, our own satisfaction. We are concerned only with how we can make things better in our lives, and if it creates problems or inconveniences for anyone else, it doesn't matter, because we need this or that for ourselves. Thus we create a fence, or an enclosure, around ourselves. Once this egoistic mechanism has been constructed, it causes an upheaval of conflicting emotions, such as jealousy, aggression, and so forth.

When we limit our minds to a selfish notion of happiness and well-being, obstacles of all kinds will seem to arise spontaneously in order to thwart our plans or destroy what we have created around ourselves. Consequently, we respond to these obstacles with aggression or with jealousy, feeling that our private enclosure is being threatened or jeopardized. And we know from personal experience that when conflicting emotions are constantly running rampant in our lives, there is no possibility of experiencing or even appreciating any sense of well-being, goodness, or true sanity.

When we stop to think about it, we find our lives full of uncomfortable experiences. We all know certain individuals whose lives seem to be constantly plagued with problems, no matter where they are. Their relationships with other people do not work out, nor do their living or job arrangements. They try to find new acquaintances, or they move to another place, and that does not work out either. They find themselves in situations where it seems as if the world is isolating them. They feel as though they were excluded from the world, in some sense. In this way, wherever they go they have very painful experiences. This is caused by the tremendous expectations they have of others and of the world at large. Instead of recognizing that they have the inherent potential to experience this for themselves, no matter who they are or what their current situation is, it is as if they believe the world owes them the experience of well-being and goodness. Failing to acknowledge their own resourcefulness, they indulge in this deception and develop a sense of total deprivation about themselves.

There are other individuals who seem to have an atmosphere of pleasantness or friendliness around them, who have endearing personalities and are well mannered and cultured. Wherever these individuals go, they feel good about themselves and have healthy, positive attitudes about things. They can generously extend genuine warmth and offer others a genial smile. They are able to do this because there is an element of stability and gentleness, maybe even clarity, about their minds.

Our lives can be led in the same fashion. Since we basically experience our lives through the filter of our minds, the makeup of our minds will determine the quality of our lives. For instance, when we experience a very gentle, easy mind, we then allow ourselves to feel good about who we are, and the things that we do become enjoyable. We are able to enjoy the food we eat, and our interactions with others are very good. On the other hand, when we have a disturbed mind, a mind of aggression and jealousy, subject to the upheaval of conflicting emotions, we are not able to fully enjoy anything. Even if we are surrounded by the best of things--good companions, good food, and various other luxuries--we cannot enjoy them. In this case, it would not be too farfetched to say that our minds have flipped upside down, because all priorities are completely inverted. While we have the potential to be totally free from deception and to experience genuine love for ourselves and others, we still entertain ourselves with the illusion of limitations. We believe that our only resort is to change the phenomenal world outside of ourselves.

Hence, while we strive for well-being and an experience of life that is free of suffering, as long as we are not free from conflicting emotions such as aggression and jealousy, we are never going to be free from dissatisfactions of one kind or another.

As you begin to understand this predicament, you may start entertaining various solutions to it in your mind, thinking that perhaps you should retreat to a secluded place where you would be free of the objects that arouse aggressive and jealous tendencies. But this would not solve the problem. These conflicting emotions are mental patterns, and even if we go to a place of seclusion, we are going to take these habits with us. And just as we usually do, we will then open up a world of speculation (What went wrong in the past? What good or bad things might happen in the future?) and create a mental world that will become the basis for further intensification and amplification of these conflicting emotions.

The solution to our problem is basically quite simple. Since the problem begins with the mind, we must go where the problem is, and work with the mind. As was mentioned earlier, although our minds have become weakened by conflicting emotions and habitual tendencies, we do have the potential to become completely self-liberated of these conditionings and to express our inherent freshness in the true, unconditioned heart of compassion and loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, or maitri, is a Buddhist term denoting the sincere desire for others to experience happiness and well-being. And when this happiness is achieved, there is genuine rejoicing.

Most of us are vaguely familiar with this attitude, because we are able to feel that way when our friends or relatives experience good fortune, and when something is going well for them, we want it to continue. We are also familiar with the attitude of compassion in a general sense. When friends or relatives are experiencing difficulties, we genuinely wish for them to become free of these sufferings. We have these basic qualities, but our experience of loving-kindness and compassion is, shall we say, tainted. It is something like the toy we call a yo-yo: you play with it and make it spin, but there is always a string attached. Similarly, we can afford genuine sympathy, concern, and loving-kindness for these people because they are our relatives, our friends, because they somehow seem to fit within our territory. There is a string attached; the pull is back towards ourselves. Therefore, egocentric tendencies and fixations remain, so these experiences are contaminated and are not free from deception. Still, although we have not worked on developing these qualities, we have glimpses of them because they are inherent potentialities.

At present, our experience of the mind has the shortcomings and defects of habitual conditionings. At the same time, our mind has the potential to become completely free of defects and limitations. The difference between the defects and the potential is great; the defects are entirely extraneous to the mind, while the potential is inherent. Therefore, no matter how serious our present limitations may be, we can work with our minds and achieve a state completely free of such limitations.

To put it another way, as long as we are experiencing a defect like jealousy or envy, we cannot experience loving-kindness. And when we are experiencing loving-kindness, we cannot experience jealousy or envy. The two cannot happen at the same time. To be jealous is to desire someone else's well-being and success for yourself. To experience loving-kindness, on the other hand, is to be happy for others and rejoice when you witness their well-being and success, whether it be of a material or a spiritual nature. Jealousy runs completely counter to this disposition. In a similar fashion, when you experience genuine compassion, you cannot simultaneously experience hatred, anger, or aggression. As long as there is the one, it will displace the other.

The Buddhist teachings instruct us to practice true loving-kindness and compassion, but, in order to genuinely do so, perhaps you should first sit down and allow yourself a few moments of reflection. Become aware of the fact that each day is spent in constant restlessness, constant striving, constant preoccupation. This is how it has always been, because you do not want to experience suffering, pain, or discomfort; you want to experience well-being and contentment. You want to feel good about your life, you want your life to be meaningful. Your experience of life is meaningful to you; that is why you are continuously striving, constantly busy.

Just as you want to avoid the experience of suffering, and just as you want to experience happiness and well-being, so too does each and every being want to avoid suffering and to experience its own well-being. This is a fundamental truth, no matter what their way of life is or how it may appear. This being so, how could you then cause suffering to anybody else? Knowing that you would not like others to inflict sufferings upon you, how could you inflict suffering upon others?

This is why it is necessary to work with the mind. You may not immediately be able to wipe away the sufferings of others on any grand scale, or immediately be able to permeate the lives of each and every being with happiness and well-being. But you can certainly cease to harm yourself and others. To brush it aside just because the results are not immediately tangible, and then continue to harm yourself and others, would reveal an attitude lacking in true understanding and compassion.

As we have seen, the conflicting emotions jealousy, anger, aggression, and so forth--cause harm, and genuine loving-kindness and compassion bring about well-being and happiness. As is said in the teachings, "The best protection, for oneself and for others, is true loving-kindness and compassion." Again, since we have the potential, we must begin to work with our minds and use the mind's potential to free itself of defects. Furthermore, we have to scrutinize our lives and what we feel to be the purpose of our lives. Then, if we have achieved any level of clarity, we will realize that an adjustment of our minds is essential. We must become more thoughtful and considerate. We cannot afford to act on impulse, driven by the upheaval of conflicting emotions, causing harm to ourselves and others both in the present and in the future.

It is not, however, easy to become victorious over our confusion and illusions. It is as if our minds have walled themselves in. We must begin to break through the barriers of our conditionings. In the teachings of the Buddha, the way to generate an accommodating, open mind is through the practice of sitting meditation, known in Tibetan as shinay. Shi means stability, tranquility, or harmony. Nay means to dwell or to stay. So, shinay literally means to dwell in stability, in tranquility. Although we may understand the importance of experiencing a noble heart of compassion and loving-kindness, when it comes to actually practicing it, our egoistic patterns will invariably obstruct or deflect our intentions. This is why we must first train our chaotic and constantly distracted minds through the practice of basic meditation. This will help us to develop a habitually centered and tranquil mind. One of the most seriously detrimental attitudes we can take is to view ego's negative habitual patterns as permanent aspects of our personalities, to attribute such defects as anger or jealousy to our natures. It is very harmful and destructive to make no effort, to simply say, "I can't do anything about it because it's my nature." From the point of view of Buddhist psychology, and even of basic common sense, this is faulty reasoning. The experience of anger, jealousy, or aggression is an experience of the mind. It arises because of habitual patterns, because of mental conditionings. When we say something is a part of our nature, it makes it seem to be a permanent, unchangeable thing. But the mind is the easiest thing to change.

On the other hand, if we were talking about the body, maybe that would be harder to change. For instance, Rinpoche says, now that he has become an old man, no matter how much he wants to be a young person, it is not going to happen. It is difficult to change these physical things. But the mind is the easiest thing to change. As we know from experience, just one little thing can make someone extremely happy. And just one little thing can make someone raging mad. It does not take anything major to set the mind reeling in one direction or the other, because it changes so easily. So we cannot make excuses and claim that limitations are a part of our "nature," because they are not, and there is no way to prove that they are.


Excerpt of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche on December 16, 1986 at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. This transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore

Engendering Bodhichitta

By Kalu Rinpoche

IN THE SADHANA of the One Hundred Families of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, the Refuge reads as follows: "I go for Refuge to essence, nature, and compassion," which is to say, to the essential emptiness, the natural clarity, and the unimpeded compassion and awareness of the mind; "I go for Refuge to bliss and nonconceptuality," which are the three qualities of meditation experience; and finally, "I go for Refuge to the fruit, I go for Refuge to the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, and the nirmanakaya."

Therefore, if someone practices and completes the 100,000 recitations of the Refuge vow and the accompanying 100,000 prostrations, this is exceedingly wonderful and extraordinarily, incalculably beneficial. The result of this seemingly quite simple practice is to cause oneself to gradually obtain Buddhahood, to bring oneself gradually to freedom from the sufferings of samsara, and, beyond that, to be protected in all one's lifetimes from fears, dangers, and sufferings.

If the practice and meaning of going for Refuge become joined to or instilled in one's stream of experience, then faith in the Three Jewels and the Three Roots will arise naturally and automatically. As a result of that faith, practices that lead to the accumulation of merit will be very easy and will come naturally. For example, offerings are ordinarily made of flowers, incense, lights, and so forth; but anything one experiences with the senses that is pleasing, one will immediately see as an offering to the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. Anything that is beautiful to the sight, that smells good, that sounds beautiful, and so forth, one will use as offerings. For example, if one is walking along the road and one sees beautiful flowers or fine houses, anything that is pleasing, then one will immediately think of them as offerings and offer them to the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. By means of this process and this attitude, one will gather a vast accumulation of merit.

Therefore, all the Kagyupas of the past began their practice with the taking of Refuge. By relying upon Refuge as the foundation and basis of all practice, they came to realize the ultimate Refuge, which is the taking of Refuge in one's own ultimate attainment of dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya

In our present situation as humans, we feel that we are extremely intelligent, that we are free, and that we have control or power over our own situations. We feel we can do whatever we wish; but if we examine the situation, we'll see that we have neither freedom of body nor freedom of mind, because the actual power in our situations is in the hands of our karma, our mental afflictions, and our habits. If we were free then we would always have been and would always be happy. We would never become depressed, and nothing unpleasant would ever arise in our mind. If we were free, then we would always remain the same. We would have always been young and would remain that way. But we don't. We have absolutely no control over it. Every second of our lives we are growing older. Eventually we are going to die.

If we have intense faith and are able to entrust ourselves to our lamas (gurus), and then the Three Jewels, and supplicate them with complete sincerity, then it is possible to eliminate, or at least lessen, these obscurations because of the power of compassion of the Three Jewels.

That is the meaning of taking Refuge and the engendering of bodhicitta. The attitude of awakening must go along with that. The attitude that one engenders when one speaks of bodhicitta is an attitude that is with reference to all sentient beings; the actual essence of one's consideration of all beings is compassion. This has to be developed in a certain sequence. One must begin by understanding the actual situation of all beings. Then by meditating upon this, one will develop the attitude and will become accustomed to and trained in it.

The situation that must be understood is that wherever there is space, it is filled with sentient beings. There are so many sentient beings that one can say they are numberless. Each sentient being has been one of one's parents so many times that the number of times that any given sentient being has been one of one's parents is a number beyond reckoning, as the Buddha said. Also, there is not any single being that has not been one's parent. At the time when beings were one's parent, they showed the same kindness toward one as one's parents in this life. This means that, for example, if one had been a human being in a lifetime, one's mother in that life would have carried one in her womb, continually worrying about one's fate, whether one would be born alive whether one would be healthy, and undergoing incredible suffering and sacrifice in order to keep one alive. After one had been born, one's parents would have looked after one and sacrificed everything for one's benefit and welfare. Every sentient being has done this for each of us countless times.

An example of the way that the rebirths can occur comes from the time of the Buddha when a disciple of Buddha's, an arhat named Katayana, went begging one day and came across a woman sitting by the side of the road with a small child in her lap, which she was caressing very fondly. The woman was eating fish, some of which she was feeding the child. A big dog was trying to get the bones of the fish from the woman. She was scolding the dog, kicking it away, and trying to avoid giving it any fish. With his extraordinary cognition, Katayana examined the lifetimes previous to the present lives of these beings. He saw that the fish had been the woman's father in her previous lifetime, the dog that she was beating had been her mother, and the child that she was cuddling in her lap had been her worst enemy, someone who continually reviled her and caused scandal about her, and someone whom she herself had fought viciously as well.

All sentient beings, who have been one's parents countless times, and countless times been as kind to one as our parents in this life, are going through an unending and intolerable experience of suffering through wandering round and round in the six realms of samsara. This is actually an ocean of suffering because what is being experienced is, in any form of birth, only suffering. As denizens of the hells, beings experience the agonies of heat and cold; as hungry ghosts, the agonies of hunger and thirst; as animals, the suffering of killing and being killed for food and survival; as humans, the four great sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death (and beyond those sufferings, the eight or sixteen lesser sufferings as well); as asuras, the sufferings of jealousy and constant fighting; as gods, the sufferings of death and falling to a lower rebirth.

If one actually understands the fact that these beings who have been so kind to one are undergoing an endless experience of intolerable suffering, then one will give rise to the attitude, "What can I do, what can be done to establish all these beings in happiness and freedom from suffering?" This is the beginning of loving-kindness and compassion. This is the reason why we recite, "May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. " The cause of happiness is the practice of virtuous action, and the cause of suffering is the practice of unvirtuous action. So the attitude--understand this--that is automatically, necessarily given rise to at this point, is the aspiration that all sentient beings, right now, experience happiness and be free from suffering, and also that they accumulate the causes of their future happiness and be free from the accumulation or causes of their future suffering. This is the development of loving kindness and compassion.

Further, the nature of the mind of every sentient being is emptiness. Not recognizing this, sentient beings grasp their minds as an I, as an ego. Beyond that, they do not recognize that the nature of confused appearances of samsara, which relies on the mind, is impermanent and changing. Not recognizing this, they undergo endless and continual suffering. If one understands this as well, then it is impossible that one will not give rise to compassion automatically.

The mind of any one of us, or of every one of us, has no form, no color, no shape; therefore, it is empty. But the mind is not simply empty in that the mind can experience various objects that arise: sight, sound, and so forth. So the mind has a quality of clarity. That which actually experiences these is the awareness, which is also a quality of the mind. So the mind is actually the inseparability or integration of emptiness, clarity, and awareness. However, as the clarity and awareness themselves do not possess form, color, size, shape, etc., they do not pass beyond the essential emptiness of the mind.

Since the essence of the mind is emptiness, there is nothing in the mind that can die or be destroyed, which means that we have always had this mind and, until we attain Buddhahood, we will continue to take rebirth and undergo the sufferings of samsara. This can be shown by an example. The mind is empty in the sense that space is empty, and it is impossible to kill or destroy space.

This can further be illustrated by examining the situation of mind in the various stages of life. When we are born, or more specifically, conceived, the parents do not see a mind come floating into the womb. There is no material form to the mind of the being that enters the womb. There is nothing to be seen. When someone dies, one does not see a mind come floating out of the body. There is no materiality or form or physical existence to the mind as such that can be perceived. Even during our lifetime we can't find, pinpoint, or describe the mind with reference to any kind of material, physical, or real characteristics. Thus, it can be established that the mind is emptiness. In both the Hinayana and the Mahayana, it is accepted that direct realization of the emptiness of the mind is the realization of the egolessness of the individual.

Although the mind of every sentient being is empty in this way, every sentient being conceives of this empty mind as an I, as an ego. At the same time, because of the radiance or projection of the mind, which is inseparable from the empty aspect of the mind, there are the confused appearances that we experience. For example, as human beings, we experience the confused appearance or hallucinations that are characteristic of the human life. The nature of these is like a magical illusion, like a dream, like the reflection of the moon on water, like a rainbow, and so forth. We could say that it's very much like film or television. In the case of television, there is a small box. The images that we see do not exist as such any where, and certainly aren't what they appear to be. It's hard to say where they are coming from, but they certainly do arise in this small box. That is very much like the nature of hallucinations or confused appearances of samsaric existence. The illusory nature of what we experience can be seen most clearly by examining the dream state. One can see very clearly by examining the process of dreams that everything we experience is actually nothing other than the mind. Because what happens when we go to sleep is that our minds become dull and stupid and as a result, we experience a variety of hallucinations. At the time, these appear to be of the same nature or quality as what we experience when we are awake, except that when we wake up, we can't find them anymore. They have disappeared. For example, when we are dreaming, we might see places, people, objects, and events, but when we wake up they are not around us. They are not even inside our body; they are nowhere. They were simply projections of the mind. Everything we experience is like that.

The nature of these experiences is something that arises or appears while it is nonexistent. The actual manner in which we experience things is through what is called the "three bodies." The physical body in which we experience the waking state is the body of complete maturation. Then the body that we seem to experience in the dream state is called the habitual body or body of habit. The body that we seem to experience in the interval after death and before the following rebirth is called the mental body. In this way, all sentient beings who have been our parents take that which is impermanent to be permanent, that which is untrue to be true, and that which is unreal to be real. Because of this they wander through the three realms of samsara, undergoing suffering. Understanding this will cause one to think very strongly that one must free all sentient beings from this and bring all these beings to the state of Buddhahood. However, at the same time, one will understand that the only way that one can bring other beings to Buddhahood is by obtaining it oneself first. So at this point, the intense motivation must develop to obtain Buddhahood and engage in the methods that will lead to this.

Therefore, when one arises in the morning, one should first of all take Refuge and then give rise to the enlightened attitude, the attitude of awakened bodhicitta. Giving rise to the attitude that "everything I do today, for the rest of the day, will be done to the benefit of sentient beings in order to bring all beings to Buddhahood" will cause all of one's virtuous actions during the day to increase in power dramatically. Even ordinary actions during the day, within that frame of reference, that attitude, will become virtuous, will become causes for Buddhahood. Therefore it is said that the engendering of bodhicitta and the carrying of it through one's activities is like the magical elixir that turns to gold what ever metal it is painted on.

If the attitude is good, then the progression through the 1,000 stages will be good. If the attitude is poor, then the progression through the 1,000 stages will be poor. For that reason, there is no instruction more profound or necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood than this one instruction on the arousing and maintaining of the attitude of awakening and also, by means of this attitude of awakening of bodhicitta, engaging in activity for the benefit of sentient beings. This is some thing that bodhisattvas not only performed in the past, but will continue to do until samsara is emptied of sentient beings.

Therefore the distinction between someone who is a practitioner of Buddhadharma and someone who is not is the taking of Refuge. The distinction between a practitioner of the Hinayana and a practitioner of the Mahayana is the arousing and development of the attitude of awakening.

Let us dedicate the virtue of the teaching and listening of the Dharma this morning to the Buddhahood of all sentient beings.


Taken from a teaching given by Second Kalu Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra on the weekend of October 24, 1986. It was translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso and edited by Krista Schwimmer.

The Practice of Loving-Kindness and Compassion

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

LOVING-KINDNESS AND COMPASSION play such an important role in the Buddhist approach to spirituality that we can say that a genuine practice of the Dharma is actually based on the development of these qualities. The teachings always emphasize that, unless we practice and integrate these qualities into our everyday lives, it will be utterly impossible to attain enlightenment and liberation. Moreover, without such an integration of loving-kindness and compassion, not only are we failing to benefit others, we are actually harming them, whether directly or indirectly. In the same way that water can never be used to make things dry, and fire cannot be used to make them wet, aggression and harmfulness can never cause enlightenment.

Loving-kindness and compassion are also the cause of accumulating the merit to be born in the higher realms, including this human realm. If we had not practiced these qualities in the past, we would not have been born as human beings, and there would be no chance to be born into any of the higher states of experience. Therefore, loving-kindness and compassion are karmically very significant, and we should make them the core of whatever Dharma practices we do.

These positive qualities should be like the life force within us, like the mind in a living being. A body without a mind, or a life force, would not be able to perform actions like a real human being. Instead, it would be only an empty reflection or effigy. In the same way, spiritual practice without the core practice of loving-kindness and compassion could only be a parody of genuine spirituality.

Unenlightened beings suffer continuously from the neuroses of attachment, aggression, and ignorance. These emotional upheavals develop because of a lack of compassion, kindness, and open concern for the well-being of others. Lacking such positive attitudes and feelings, we continually indulge ourselves, developing these three mental poisons further, and thus bring added suffering and confusion to ourselves and others alike.

Conversely, a person who has fully integrated loving-kindness and compassion has transcended the three poisons. For such a kind, gentle, and compassionate person, the upheaval of aggression has ceased. Gentleness and compassion cannot coexist with aggression and hatred toward others. Therefore, in treading on the Buddhist path toward the experience of enlightenment, the essential basis of development for both beginners and advanced practitioners is the practice of loving-kindness and compassion.

Without the basic ground of the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion, the Vajrayana would not exist. It simply would not make any sense without a genuine practice and ongoing experience of loving-kindness and compassion towards all beings. In addition, the bodhisattva vow could not be taken without a sincere commitment to generate such an attitude. The enlightened bodhisattva attitude embodies the complete letting go of oneself for the benefit and enlightenment of all sentient beings, without exception. Without this attitude, therefore, there would not be much use in taking the vow. It would be meaningless--just another label, a label that is as laughable as a blind man claiming to have good vision. Such a person would be ridiculed, or else pitied for his stupidity. Therefore, the bodhisattva vow is to be taken with a sincere concern for the benefit of all sentient beings. Having taken the vow and developed loving-kindness and compassion, the three mental poisons are transcended because there is no room for aggression and hatred when the mind is filled with these qualities.

With the realization of the importance of these two supreme qualities, and the desire to benefit all beings, great clarity and understanding develop. That clarity and understanding is itself the transcendence of ignorance, attachment, and passion--all of which arise because of the insatiable thirst for selfish attainment and success. Whoever has given priority to benefiting all beings is able gradually to let go of such negative patterns.

For all these reasons, a sincere and proper understanding of loving-kindness and compassion is very important. Having that understanding and an appreciation of the need to integrate these qualities into daily practice, you will experience frequent moments of leisure and calmness when you can take advantage, as a beginner, of the opportunity to practice loving-kindness and compassion. In this way, the gradual integration of these qualities comes about, so that in times of frustration, fear, and aggression, you are able to transform the situation.

On the other hand, if we do not realize the practice of loving-kindness and compassion, then when the need arises--for example, when the experience of fear or aggression suddenly occurs--it will be very difficult to achieve a state of gentleness and compassion because of the intensity of our habitual mental patterns. Trying to experience a state of gentleness in those circumstances might even increase the frustration and confusion, due to the intensity of the upheaval.

Through the noble practice of loving-kindness and compassion, we can develop a very open relationship toward all beings. Such a relationship is one of respect, based on the idea that no matter what disparities may exist between different categories of beings, such as human beings, animals, or whatever, they all have equal capacities. Thus the practitioner tries to develop equal concern for them all. The mere sight of any living being--whether tiny or huge, whether our own kind or a different species --will arouse the feeling of gentleness and kindness. This is a very powerful feeling; in fact, it is the gateway to the experience of the perfect state of enlightenment. Having developed such kindness, gentleness, and openness of mind toward all beings, it is possible to genuinely feel the needs of others. A very true and honest concern for beings develops. Then, if at times a certain being projects aggression or hatred, the gentleness and kindness we have developed will help us feel and express an even stronger sense of compassion and gentleness. This is due to the understanding that in the past we have been caught up in the experience of samsara precisely because of the lack of such qualities of gentleness and loving-kindness.

In addition, developing further aggression and ignorance in the present is only going to cause further suffering and entrapment in cyclic existence. If we cannot have a loving, kind, and compassionate attitude toward all beings, if we cannot experience tenderness and gentleness toward all beings, there is no purpose in life. Further, there is no purpose in being connected with the Dharma.

The very purpose of the Dharma is to develop and integrate the practice of loving kindness and compassion. In doing so, we not only benefit ourselves, but others at the same time. Practicing and integrating these qualities brings about the possibility of the enlightening situation of openness and an experience of ongoing happiness within this lifetime; thus, there is a tremendous need to develop these qualities. People experience depression, confusion, and frustration because they make all kinds of categorizations. When we are with certain beings who have greater success than we do, a feeling of inferiority can arise. Evaluating things from this mundane point of view can give rise to a sense of jealousy, accompanied by a desire to inflict harm. Envy can grow in our minds, causing all kinds of frustration and confusion.

Another situation can arise when everyone in a particular society belongs to the same class and is on an equal level: this can give rise to feelings of competition, of wanting to dominate others or to be better than others. Such wishes usually result in failure, and once again we are overcome by anger, frustration, depression, and hatred, and all kinds of neurotic projections take place.

Then there are other times when we are with people and feel they are completely incapable, or at least that they are less capable than we are. In comparing ourselves with these beings, we feel they do not have this or that ability; we feel they are somehow lacking. This gives rise to feelings of superiority, and then there is the sense of wanting to neglect or overlook such people. If we have integrated loving-kindness and compassion, no matter what type of beings we are with and must adjust to, a sense of joyfulness and happiness will be present. There will be openness and communication and a sense of well-being toward other people. Other people can feel this and relate to us accordingly.

In the same way, if we are in a situation where everyone is basically equal, a feeling of support for each other will grow, along with the wish that these people will become more successful, more comfortable, and happier in their life situations and relationships. Thus we create a situation of openness and communication, and we are able to concern ourselves with benefiting others who are less capable by helping, supporting, and encouraging them. With that kind of relationship, everyone feels respected and trusted and can rejoice in each others' progress. There is an experience of openness, happiness, and gentleness in all kinds of relationships, such as within families, between husband and wife or parents and children, and among relatives and friends. All kinds of relationships will have these positive possibilities.

In contrast, the most destructive thing in our lives, the perpetual experience of great suffering, is brought about by our own egocentric clinging to selfish and insatiable pursuits. As long as this situation exists in our lives, it is inseparable from aggression. Clinging to ourselves and devoting all efforts to ourselves continually gives rise to aggression and perpetuates samsara's endless suffering. The transcendence of this suffering is possible only through the antidote of loving-kindness and compassion. Without these qualities, all kinds of destructive situations and suffering come about, because we have tremendous expectations. For example, we have expectations that we should be respected, arising from the selfish feeling that we are somehow the greatest person and, therefore, should be looked up to. We also have expectations that we should not be harmed in any way.

We also have very unrealistic attitudes about others living up to our expectations. When these are not met, trouble develops between husband and wife, among relatives and between friends. Each of us believes that our wishes, our needs, and our notions of what is good must be respected by everyone else. Even though we may talk a lot about loving-kindness, inside we are still going through the same difficulties and experiencing the same suffering. If we really have a sincere experience of loving kindness and compassion toward others, we no longer need to say things like, "I have to work on my anger," "I have to work on my aggression," or "I have to work on my egotism. The feeling of loving-kindness itself liberates our egocentric notions and the other neurotic patterns that arise.

It should be very clear that the experience of relative and ultimate happiness within this lifetime, as well as in future lifetimes, is dependent upon our practice and integration of loving-kindness and compassion now. A total dedication to the benefit of others is essential.

This precious human birth is not obtained by chance, nor will it be obtained by chance in the future. Right now we are in the fortunate situation of being able to live happily in this life and to accumulate the seeds of future happiness. Now is the time when loving-kindness and compassion can be developed, progressively leading to more and more benefit to more and more beings.

Such a possibility depends on our practice right now, within this particular lifetime. If we have no practice of loving-kindness and compassion, then even if we had the opportunity to teach a gathering of people, we might feel tremendous aggression toward that group. Such feelings of opposition or unfriendliness would lead to the desire to control others, to have power over them, which is the cause of harm and destruction. We can clearly see around us these days how such attitudes bring tremendous harm to us and to others and bring about many hopeless situations. Only the sincere development of loving-kindness and compassion can prevent or transform such situations. It enables others to live respectable and dignified lives, bringing them, as well as us, both relative and ultimate happiness.

In thinking about these qualities, we also need to take into consideration the factor of karmic conditioning. When we are at the edge of a cliff, it is possible to be very careful and avoid falling off. But if we have not developed the ability to be careful and mindful, when we fall off the edge it is useless to start wishing for wings. In the same fashion, what we will experience in the future definitely depends on how we live our lives. If we practice loving-kindness and compassion sincerely and fully for the benefit of others, then in the future not even a very powerful being can prevent us from experiencing further happiness and well-being. Even if we have the notion that we really do not want to experience such happiness, it would still come about. On the other hand, if all we have done is accumulate the causes of further suffering, then at the moment when we are on the verge of experiencing such suffering and confusion, there is no chance to be wise, no chance to think twice about our past behavior.

It is truly pathetic to see beings who sincerely want to experience happiness and well-being acting at the same time in ways that will bring them every imaginable kind of suffering, pain, and destruction (both physical and mental), not only in this lifetime but in lifetimes to come. This is the epitome of confusion and bewilderment. It is heartbreaking to see beings who desire happiness and well-being, who even desire the experience of liberation and enlightenment, doing the very things that totally prevent the possibility of such an experience. Such people are totally bewildered and confused. This is not to say that they are so ignorant they would not know how to eat, that they would use a hat for their feet or put their shoes on their head, but karmically it is a similar situation.

As practitioners of the Dharma, we cannot ignore the state of confusion and bewilderment beings are going through. It is so obvious that we cannot ignore it. We also cannot afford to continue committing such actions of confusion and bewilderment ourselves, because the nature of the situation is so clearly obvious. It is not a myth or a legend, not a situation taking place only in far away countries like Vietnam or Cambodia. It is occurring right here and now.

Everyone, in one way or another, and to a greater or lesser degree, wants to experience happiness and well-being. Instead, there is considerable bewilderment and confusion as a result of neurotic patterns. For example, we may try to obtain happiness and well-being by depriving others of their wealth, their power, their freedom, even their lives. Thus, in our confusion, we bring immense suffering both to ourselves and to others, yet everyone involved still hopes to experience happiness and well-being. What an unfortunate situation beings are in! For those in such a state of total confusion, the chance of achieving ultimate enlightenment or ultimate happiness is very slim. Therefore, as practitioners of the Dharma, we must realize the preciousness of our practice. We need to see what really causes the confusion of beings: doing the very opposite of what they should do. We should recognize that, since we ourselves are not going through such intense confusion and bewilderment, we have the opportunity to develop enlightened abilities and to relieve the confusion and bewilderment of others. There is no reason whatever not to seize this opportunity and practice with greater and greater exertion.

With this commitment, the most important aspect of the practice consists of seeing the limitations beings suffer from and sincerely wishing to benefit all beings by removing these limitations and relieving their suffering. This practice involves helping beings attain complete liberation from confusion and suffering, not only from the ongoing experience of confusion and suffering, but even from the very roots of such experiences. We develop the aspiration time and time again to uproot the confusion and suffering of all beings with a sincere, honest, and genuine concern. Repeatedly, we train ourselves to be continually mindful so we will not cause harm or confusion to others, to be continually mindful of the need for a compassionate attitude toward all beings, not only when we are making a specific effort to do so, but at all times.

If we do the necessary practices to develop compassion and loving-kindness on a daily basis, then we will surely be able to carry these qualities out of the practice situation and into our daily lives and to maintain a continual attitude of openness toward the limitations of various beings. However, if we are not engaged in such regular practices, a surface understanding of these teachings will not help at all. This is because even a slight negative reaction from someone would bring about a negative response from us, since we have not developed compassion and loving-kindness as an integral part of our being.

With this in mind, it is important to maintain the attitude of loving-kindness and compassion, as well as the desire to benefit all beings, in whatever practice we may be doing--the visualization of deities, the recitation of mantra, prostrations, or any other form of practice. Even if it is only one prostration or one mantra, you can dedicate it totally for the benefit of all beings; you can give yourself totally toward that end. Eventually, such an attitude and aspiration will begin to come about effortlessly and spontaneously. As a result, loving-kindness, gentleness, and compassion will be present all the time, like an undercurrent to whatever practice you do. When that situation occurs and that experience becomes part of practice, the practice is fruitful: it becomes a worthy practice according to the path of the enlightened ones. On the other hand, you may do all sorts of different practices, but if there is no flavor of compassion or loving-kindness in them, they will not be beneficial either to you or to others.

The great Indian mahapandita Chandrakirti said that all scholars, according to tradition, first do their prostrations to a particular deity before they write about the teachings. In his case, however, he made his supplication to loving-kindness and compassion. He explained it in this way: the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are the fruition, but without compassion, which is the cause, there can not be Buddhas or bodhisattvas. Thus, he did his prostrations to loving-kindness and compassion, because the possibility of attaining Buddhahood depends on the integration of these qualities; the practice of compassion gives birth to Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

At first, formal practice is very important. We might be able to actively practice loving-kindness and compassion for the liberation of all beings, but due to our limitations it will be very difficult to actually fulfill the needs of all beings. Therefore, we first need to work on self-development. When doing practice, we must first have the attitude that we are going to do it to benefit all sentient beings. Then we must actually do it for the benefit of beings. Finally, we must dedicate the merit of the practice for the benefit of all beings. These are three very important steps which must take place in order to prevent practice from becoming a selfish pursuit intended only for our own liberation.

With this kind of attitude in practice, individual development will take place, including developing skill in benefiting beings as well as completely ceasing to harm beings. At this point, there may be times when we do cause harm to others, but if our sincere concern is to benefit others, and it is simply because of our limitations and ignorance that we have caused harm, the harm has not been intentional. This is, in fact, quite an encouraging step, in spite of whatever limitations we still may have.

Training ourselves individually is very important, because in doing so, we begin to develop some of the qualities that are important for working with others. These qualities include appreciation, which is a source of great joy in working with others, and patience, so that even if you have to do the same thing over and over until it works, you will not get tired of it. These important qualities can be developed through the practice and whatever other activities we may do.

Patience, in particular, can be developed through the practice of loving-kindness and compassion. As well as benefiting others, patience is also a key to our own sanity and the gradual attainment of enlightenment. The emotional upheaval of the three poisons takes place because of the lack of patience, which can occur in many different ways. For example, suppose you have done favors or brought about good things for others, but without a positive attitude. As a result, certain negative emotional and neurotic patterns arise, such as feeling that you are not being shown the gratitude you deserve, and becoming very impatient and frustrated.

Aggression is such a destructive force! If a person's mind is filled with aggression, many other unhappy and confusing situations may also occur. Sometimes, it gets to the point that they cannot even avoid falling asleep in an angry state. In that case, they wake up feeling worn out. The sleep has not been restful at all, having slept in a very unhealthy mental state in which the dreams may have been intensely negative, even nightmarish. The antidote for aggression, whether while dreaming or while awake, is gentle loving-kindness and compassion. People sometimes have the feeling that by going to a solitary place where the environment is quiet, they will experience peace and happiness. But if your mind is in a state of aggression, no matter where your body is--no matter how secluded or solitary the place--turmoil will always be present. For example, some animals are always by themselves, alone in the quiet of nature, yet they have a burning sense of aggression because they fear they will be killed and eaten or they think they are going to catch something themselves. Being in solitude is not going to help them experience calmness and gentleness.

We must have the understanding that the most important thing to do is the practice; that we need to work toward the integration of what we hear and understand, and sincerely put both into practice.

Of particular importance is the practice of Sending and Receiving: With the out breath, we send out all goodness and happiness, every possible goodness that we embody, toward all beings, so that everyone may experience goodness and happiness. With the incoming breath, we take in the negativities of all beings, all confusion, suffering, and neurotic patterns. Doing the Sending and Receiving practice in this way, both formally and informally, is very important. After doing the practice .of loving-kindness and compassion in this way for a while, the practitioner then tries to experience the true nature of the mind with nothing to let go of, nothing to receive--just the awareness of the mind, beyond any reference point.

While doing formal meditation practice, training our minds with loving-kindness and compassion, we may be able to generate this attitude toward all sentient beings equally. However, in the daily course of our lives, when encountering different situations--which are sometimes more like confrontations--we may not be able to maintain the attitude of loving-kindness and compassion directed equally toward all beings. At such times, mindfulness of the practice of patience and the application of certain techniques will help us to continue generating this attitude. The next part of our discussion is concerned with how to continue to generate loving-kindness and compassion, even under adverse circumstances.

Generally, it is quite easy to generate loving-kindness, compassion, and tenderness when we are in a situation of well-being, when everything is running very smoothly. The difficulty arises when someone is causing us harm. For example, if one of our friends is being abused or harmed for any reason, whether because of their class, their profession, or whatever else, we feel a sense of irresistible anger or hatred toward the perpetrators. That is the time when we should have patience. That is the time when we can and must truly practice compassion. The antidote at this time is to have patience, to be able to generate patience and gentleness.

We project our neuroses in many ways. Sometimes we feel that we are in a position to defeat our opponents. In our pride or anger, we want to pay them back, "an eye for an eye," with a strong sense of revenge. Then, when we find ourselves incapable of defeating or causing harm to the other people or beings, we keep this hatred in our minds. We hold onto this hatred, thinking that at some future time we are definitely going to pay them back by causing harm to them.

As practitioners on the path of sanity, trying to incorporate sanity into our lives, the key to all these situations is patience. We can use patience, as well as tremendous compassion, for beings when they are caught up in situations in which they have such negative attitudes toward others. These beings always experience negative feelings about everything they do, be it concepts or actions or situations. It is an unfortunate situation for them. Therefore, having patience, and at the same time generating compassion, is the right practice.

Because of the way we have been brought up, because of the way society works, there is a strong feeling that if somebody is angry at us it is legitimate to pay them back with anger and aggression. That is in the pattern of society. As a result, you feel that it is impossible not to get angry when someone gets angry at you.

The situation can be seen more clearly and simply, though, in a way that is more helpful to you and to others. For one thing, it is certain that this person, who is experiencing so much aggression and hatred, has not taken this position out of a sense of joy. Instead, he finds himself helpless in this situation, experiencing a great deal of confusion, sadness, discomfort, and disturbance. He might even beat someone, such as his friends or his children. He might pound on things or throw things around. He truly desires happiness, well-being, and comfort, and he knows very well that this is not the way to achieve those ends. These actions do not represent his true being, but suddenly this upheaval of neurosis has taken hold of him. His real being would not do this: he would know that it is not good or healthy to do this. Even if he does not know it might bring all kinds of suffering and discomfort in the future, he certainly knows it does not pay in the present situation, but he still gets caught up in such emotions. When you are able to see this, and to see from a state of openness, you should definitely be more able to extend kindness and compassion toward that person.

Second, if people are projecting their hatred and neurosis toward you, you can be certain this is a karmic situation you must experience. This is a result of what has been accumulating--the harm and confusion you have caused other beings, or perhaps this particular being, in the past. Due to this conditioning, these are experiences you must have. The people or beings are not angry and aggressive indiscriminately toward all beings; instead, this anger is being projected toward you in particular. There has to be something about you that creates or stimulates this reaction. There has to be something negative about you, so your attitude should be that this is a situation you have to go through because of your karmic accumulations. Having created such projections in the past, you now have to go through the samsaric patterns resulting from them, and now that you have become the object of these negativities, further samsaric suffering could be inflicted upon other people in the future if you do not act appropriately.

Therefore, a tremendous sense of sympathy toward yourself, as well as others, is in order. You have sympathy for yourself because you are truly caught up in a situation of confusion and limitations. You must acknowledge that this is so, and that therefore you are responsible for what is coming to you, so you go through it with a sense of patience. Understanding that in the past you have caused harm toward other beings, you see that the result is that you are again on the way to causing more harm and more confusion to others. This cycle must stop; it must not be carried on any further.

Third, the past negative accumulations you have collected are born in a body full of defects, full of weaknesses and limitations. Your body is subject to all kinds of vulnerability that you may view as harmful and as threats of harm. In reality, no one is actually threatening you. However, you may feel you are the subject of threats or suffering because of the limitations of your body. If you were not subject to the pain of your body, there would be nothing to cause such pain. By analogy, if you hold a piece of rotten meat in your hand, all sorts of worms and maggots will be attracted to it. The more you try to get rid of the worms, the more attracted they are. You may get very frustrated because you cannot get rid of the piece of rotten meat. But if you were able to throw away this meat, you would not have to go through the frustration. This is because no one is forcing you to hold onto the rotten meat.

Similarly, nobody is projecting aggression onto you. It is simply that your previous actions have put you in your present position where you are subject to this aggression. Had you obtained a better birth, had you not been so caught up in samsaric patterns, you would not have become the object of these limitations and suffering. It is you who is to be blamed, not for the sake of blaming, but because this is the rational explanation for your situation. When somebody says something to you, if you do not have the limitation of feeling pain, then you will not go through the projections and sense of defensiveness associated with that experience. Therefore, whatever problems result from your circumstances, you must go through the sufferings involved. Other beings are not to be blamed. Similarly, when other beings go through such projections and all the pain associated with them, you must have patience and extend kindness toward them and toward all beings. Another way to look at the situation is that one of the most efficient and powerful ways of attaining enlightenment is by practicing patience. If nobody is bothering you, there is no occasion to practice patience. Therefore, in Buddhist philosophy and teaching, it is said that even your enemies are to be seen as your most helpful friends. You should be most grateful to them because they have given you the best opportunity to practice patience. This is simply the instruction for the highest forms of practice, given in a clear and naked way so you may have a simple, direct relationship to them.

Shakyamuni Buddha attained the perfect state of enlightenment in a very short period of time. Having reached the state of complete enlightenment, his activity--which brought about all-pervasive benefit for beings--was also the practice of patience. Life after life, time after time, with beings such as Devadatta trying to evoke anger, impatience, and all other kinds of neurosis in him--and this was very challenging, even for him--he had the commitment to go beyond such reactions. Thus, it is definitely true that our enemies are in fact our best friends. We should be grateful to them all the time because our "real friends" are not able to create that kind of situation for us.

Therefore patience, compassion, and love are the keys toward our attainment of enlightenment. When these situations are provided by our enemies, or by the beings that we find difficult to work with, we can see these beings as bodhisattva emanations coming to us to give the highest instructions. In a sense, this is the heart of the instruction, because it is definitely going to cause enlightenment. Since we are to work for the benefit and enlightenment of all beings, how better to repay our debt to beings than with gratitude, compassion, and loving-kindness? This is all the more so because of the benefit these beings are causing: they are giving you the opportunity, not only to attain enlightenment, but also to benefit all beings. If you are afflicted by disease and a prominent physician comes, bringing the most modern and effective medical treatments, it would be incredibly foolish to try to get rid of him or to try to kill him. On the contrary, you should extend the warmest of welcomes toward him.

If you train your mind with this understanding, you will find you have reason to be compassionate, and you can become truly gentle and kind. On the other hand, if you just think, "If I am faced with such situations, I will try to practice compassion at that time," it might be very difficult to actually do so. Now that you have seen how sane and important such training is, the healthiest approach is to become familiar with the methods involved and to train yourself with them again and again.

Another way of looking at it is that the particular being who is causing you harm or projecting hatred toward you may have been your parent in a former lifetime. Perhaps that being has been of great benefit to you in the past, and will be in the future as well, but right now, in this lifetime, he or she is caught up in an insane situation. Maybe you are in a better position than that person to see the situation openly and, therefore, to benefit the person out of a sense of gratitude. You owe that person something from the past, and you might also owe him or her something again in the future. You now have the opportunity to do something to repay that debt or, at the very least, not to cause any further stimulation of negative feelings.

The being who is bothering you actually can be viewed as your child, or as a friend whom you always loved and shared kindness with and who suddenly became completely insane as a result of some sort of intoxication or drug or sickness. In this insanity, this person started pouring all of his negativities onto you. When there was a normal exchange of love, kindness, and tenderness between you, the negativities were not there. But now, because the situation is not something the person wanted to create, you would naturally feel a greater sense of love for them, because you know them so well and you are sympathetic. He or she does not really mean to be rude, but is unfortunately caught up in this position. Your feeling for this person would therefore be very real and very sincere. There is no difference between that kind of feeling, which you would extend toward your friend or your child, and the kind of feeling you might be able to develop for anyone who causes you harm or difficulty.

On a more advanced level, this situation can be seen as being, in essence, dreamlike. In reality, no one is causing anyone harm. There is actually no harm to be caused. It is like a reflection in the mirror. Therefore, it is not going to cause any harm, and there is no true intention of causing harm. This situation, which appears to involve the causing of harm and having to be subjected to it, is in its true nature unoriginated; it is unborn within the nature of the situation. On this more ultimate level, it can be seen that everything exists only in passing. Things that appear only do so moment by moment, and nothing is truly fixed, or substantial, or creating a real obstacle.

It is important to practice patience through the understanding of impermanence, along with the fact that there is a definite upheaval of our own neuroses. For example, you may have the experience of wanting to cause harm to, or even kill, certain beings. At such times, perhaps you can realize how stupid it is to get into that neurotic state of mind. Why go through all the effort of such emotions when it is already definite that beings are going to die anyway, whether or not you make the extra effort of wanting to kill them. It is ridiculous and very stupid to see yourself as living a long life and another person as about to die; it is a very confused projection. In fact, you are going through all kinds of suffering, and the other person is going through all kinds of confusion. Why put your effort into creating even more harm when beings already are going through constant harm, suffering, and confusion?

Instead, when the upheaval of discursive thoughts arises in your mind (such as wanting to harm beings), a different series of thoughts will be more beneficial. First, realize that this being is going through all kinds of suffering and confusion. Second, understand that whatever anger or aggression this being has projected will cause him or her to go through further sufferings. How could you add to that? To strengthen your attitude that no more harm should be inflicted, you should work on developing the attitude of patience, together with the realization that this being is helping you to practice. Therefore, you should feel grateful to this person and try to help them.

The most essential and primary point in the mahayana approach is that, by entering the Buddha's path, we have made a courageous commitment by promising to work for the benefit of all beings and to reduce the harm we cause to them. Not only have we made the commitment to benefit all sentient beings, but we have even promised that we will get to the point where we will cause no more harm to beings at all. We must be inwardly sincere in this, honestly trusting in our ability and believing it is possible to go through such development. We must be honest with ourselves in believing that we are going to do something, in understanding that this commitment is sane and healthy and that we are going to live up to it. Therefore, we take on the commitment with a vow.

With that commitment, we have to maintain a certain standard of dignity. We have to live up to it for the sake of so many friends who have done the same thing, or who are now trying to do so. Having taken these vows and promised to live up to the goal of a sane, wholesome, and dignified life and to benefit all, we must try to support our friends and never disgrace them in any way. If we reject even one person or one being, it would be a disgrace--a great defeat to our friends as well as to ourselves. This is because we have taken it upon ourselves to work on behalf of all sentient beings. We have committed ourselves by saying that we are going to work for their benefit, so we must continually remind ourselves of the sincere commitment we have taken upon ourselves--of the kindness that this commitment requires, and of how sincerely we must respect it.

Therefore, when someone seems to be your enemy, maybe you should have this attitude: having taken on this commitment to benefit all beings, this particular person should be the foremost of your disciples, the foremost of the beings you should help. It is as if you have an assemblage of disciples, and the weaker ones must be given more attention. In the same way, sentient beings are going through all kinds of situations, but this particular being must be attended to first. Even if we cannot keep all of these different points in our minds at once, at least we can be mindful of just one of them. We can remind ourselves to be mindful, not just in a formal context, but by declaring it throughout our daily lives. It is possible to have patience, and it is possible not to pay back harmful things to others.

It is worth repeating that if you do not actively maintain this mindfulness, it is just empty words to say, "If someone does something to me, then I will have compassion at that time." In that case, it will be very difficult, so it is most important to have patience toward all other beings and to accept that all beings are your friends. Your enemies can indeed be your friends, and the practice of patience is a very compassionate practice whether directed toward others or toward yourself.

Thus, in practicing the Dharma, there is a tremendous need to develop kindness and compassion through the practice of patience. It is not always pleasant or easy to do this, so the practice of patience itself requires patience! Sometimes it can be terribly disappointing because it is so different from what we are used to. It does not fit with the demands made upon us by the society we live in, nor does it fit with the concepts and attitudes of the people around us.

For example, having to sit for hours just listening to someone (such as when receiving teachings) is not necessarily very entertaining. Therefore, we need to develop patience and compassion toward ourselves in this situation. Meditation practice is not always blissful, yet we need to do it, so we need to be compassionate and patient toward ourselves while practicing. If you are trying to work with various situations and people from the point of view of the practice, people will not always understand what you are doing, and often you will not be able to communicate it clearly to them, which can also be quite difficult and disappointing. There can be the feeling of loneliness as well, of being very much on your own in the practice. In all these situations, patience is very important. It is not very easy to be compassionate and patient toward yourself, as you would be toward a person who is having major surgery--someone who is very sick and going through all kinds of pain. Yet you might be able to happily and willingly go through a surgical operation despite the pain, because you know where it is going to lead. Knowing why you are going through this extra pain, when you had already experienced a great deal of pain, you would be patient enough to go through with it, no matter which part of your body had to be opened up.

In the teachings, it is said that we have to be warriors, victorious warriors. We must declare that we are victorious warriors--and we definitely are, we must be. Someone who has killed thousands of people may claim to be very brave and victorious, but to what avail? Still this person claims to be a brave and victorious warrior. Samsara is vast and filled with beings caught up in confusion and selfish pursuits, and yet this is not discouraging for a real practitioner. He or she is able to say that even if every situation they face is a barrier in their path, nonetheless, they will continue to work for the benefit of beings. Such a stance is not stupid; it is a very courageous and warrior-like position in which we can be victorious, both inwardly and in relation to others. Therefore, the practice of patience is essential.

Doing the practice of the Dharma is a virtuous action, and through it, virtuous attitudes are being practiced. If you have the goal of being born into a noble family in your future life, surrounded by wealth and luxury and by many beautiful forms, it is possible that this aim might be fulfilled because of the effect of the practice. But one moment of aggression could completely throw you off balance and destroy whatever accumulation you have made. From this point of view, it is also very important to practice compassion and patience. Practicing patience means practicing compassion and loving-kindness toward all beings. If you are practicing compassion and loving kindness toward beings, there is no need for you to aspire to be born in a noble or influential family. You will simply be born into that situation, and as a result, you will be able to benefit beings. It is like the continuation of a greater and greater project. This is the situation with an incarnate bodhisattva who is born into a beautiful home in a beautiful setting: it does not happen out of attachment. An incarnate bodhisattva who wants to be born into a particular situation or a particular family is just born there. It is like the shade of a huge tree, which is just naturally there. There is no need to put any extra work into creating the shade.

Whatever viewpoint you take on the practice of loving-kindness and compassion, the practice of patience is most important. There is not any doubt about it. The future buddha, Maitreya Buddha, will be born in a unique form. He will be tall and handsome, uniquely beautiful, with everyone looking up to him and asking, "Why?, How?" The truth of the matter is that he will be born in such a human form out of kindness. Because of the unique way he will appear, he will be able to benefit many human beings, and his appearance will indeed be due to his love and kindness.

During this particular time in which we have been born, with the situations we experience right now in the world, there is an immense need for the practice of compassion and loving-kindness. A great deal of destruction and confusion is taking place everywhere in the name of living beings, which indicates a lack of sanity, of patience, and of kindness and compassion. It also reminds us every moment that as practitioners of the Dharma we have to be very sincere. Every day we get reminders from so many different things: from daily news stories and from the criticism, blasphemy, emotional turmoil, paranoia, and frustration going on around us.

As an analogy, it is said that people who are blind will never be able to appreciate the beauty of form--of the distinction between different things. This is really a pity. We empathize with them and generate compassion toward them because they are in such an unfortunate situation. Similarly, people who are blind to the right view are also in an unfortunate situation and deserve our compassion. They cause more harm to themselves than to other people, because they do not understand the nature of their wrong view or the way in which their words and attitudes are misinformed and their actions misguided. Unfortunately, such beings often think the solution is another wrong view, another confrontation, or more violence. They might insist that you are being cowardly if you say that fighting back is no solution. Such things happen in politics and many other worldly situations all the time. As practitioners of the Dharma and followers of the Buddha's path, developing the attitude that we have been talking about toward our practice and ourselves--toward each other and toward all sentient beings--is most important at all times.

To conclude this teaching, it is appropriate to take the attitude of dedicating the merit of this discussion on loving-kindness and compassion and on the Sending and Receiving practice. In addition, all meritorious accumulations everyone has made from beginningless time, we dedicate to all beings, particularly for the benefit of those beings who are caught up in war and hatred. May these beings awaken from such a situation of insanity. May the benefit of our dedication extend to all beings in the six realms, that they may experience total liberation.


Taken from a transcript of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. The transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.

The Bodhisattva Vow

By Thranu Rinpoche

Naropa PREDICTED TO HIS STUDENT MARPA that in the future the teachings of the Dharma would become increasingly profound and the students successively greater. The proof of this prediction can be seen in the transmission of the teachings from Marpa to Milarepa and then to Gampopa. Gampopa integrated two traditions, that of the six yogas of Naropa, included the mahamudra, and the Kadam system of Atisha. Next the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, who was realized in both the maha ati and mahamudra systems, integrated these two traditions. It was in this way that the profundity of the teachings increased. The tradition of mahamudra that we are practicing now has the lineage of instruction from Atisha on the taking of refuge, bodhicitta and the two points of bodhisattva training also integrated with the systems of Maitripa and Nagarjuna.

The development of bodhicitta is essential. All the Buddhas and bodhisattvas attained realization through first developing bodhicitta within themselves. Because the realization of the bodhisattva level comes from developing bodhicitta, we need to follow the same system of developing bodhicitta within ourselves.

The important subject of bodhicitta is actually a method of thinking, the essence of which is developing limitless loving-kindness and compassion. This is not the ordinary loving-kindness and compassion that we have for those close to us. Instead, it is the development of an attitude of wishing to remove suffering and give happiness to all sentient beings. It is loving-kindness and compassion that is vast, limitless and profound.

Ordinarily, the development of loving-kindness and compassion occurs when an individual sees someone suffering. When an individual develops the wish to liberate that being from the experience of suffering, this is compassion. Knowing that all beings wish to obtain happiness, and wanting to give them happiness, this is loving-kindness.

The development of loving-kindness and compassion for all sentient beings is necessary because all have one thing in common, the wish to experience peace and happiness, and not experience pain and suffering. It is not that 95% are longing for happiness and 5% just do not care. 100% of all beings share this common wish of wanting to have happiness and be rid of suffering. Therefore, we have to include every single living being in our development of bodhicitta of loving-kindness and compassion.

So in this way, we must extend our wish to liberate all sentient beings to even those beings in numerous other realms of existence. Although they might have different forms, the ultimate wish of all beings is the same, the desire to obtain happiness and be rid of suffering. We must develop compassion and loving-kindness to all living beings without discriminating between those we feel close to and those we dislike. It is necessary to not discriminate between friend and foe. This is the first characteristic of loving-kindness and compassion.

Ordinarily, we try to help others in various ways. We give medicine to help relieve pain, illness and injury. We try to teach others so as to release them from the state of ignorance. We try to help by giving material gifts to remove others from the state of poverty. We wage war to protect others from the fear of their enemies. This is the ordinary form of trying to help others. Although these efforts come from a wish to help, the type of help we have mentioned might lead to helping others, but also might lead to harming others. These are not methods that benefit every living being; we need to learn techniques that actually help all sentient beings. Since happiness and the source of happiness is a matter of the mind according to Buddhism, we must teach others how to develop mental happiness. The wish to liberate sentient beings and teach them how to remove the root suffering of the mind, and how to attain the root happiness of the mind, is known as establishing sentient beings on the buddha-level. The wish to establish the root of happiness in others, remove their unhappiness and cause them to experience eternal happiness is known as bodhicitta.

Bodhicitta can be explained by its Tibetan word jangchup-sem. Jang means removal: the desire to remove the root of suffering from every individual so that the individual no longer experiences the suffering mental state of conceptions and thought. Chup means acquainted: developing and establishing happiness within the heart or mind of living beings so strongly that it becomes very familiar. Sem means mind, so jangchup-sem means a mind that wishes to remove suffering and establish happiness. When the syllable pa is added to jangchup-sem, it becomes a noun and indicates a person who possesses such a mind.

Pa is also translated as warrior or hero. Commonly we think of a warrior as an individual who makes war against others and is able to destroy his or her enemy. However, spiritually speaking, that individual is not really a warrior. Regardless of whether you destroy an enemy or not, that individual will eventually experience death. Everyone has to die, so there is no need to destroy someone we think of as an enemy who is subject to death anyway. This is not really being a warrior. The actual meaning of a warrior in the Dharmic sense is subduing the enemy of the mind so as to remove the root of suffering.

Thus far we have explained bodhicitta and the development of bodhicitta through the wish to liberate all sentient beings. This is the warrior attitude. As beginners, we do not have bodhicitta firmly established within our minds. Therefore, we need to take the vow and make the commitment that we will develop bodhicitta always.

There are many kinds of commitments or vows that are referred to as samayas. There are the pratimoksha vows or physical commitments such as not taking the life of other sentient beings and anything that does not belong to one. There are other vows called sosotarpa, the self-liberating vows. The bodhisattva vow is based on the mind. It seems easier to keep physical vows such as not killing or stealing, because as long as you do not take the life of sentient beings or steal anything, you are able to keep such vows unbroken. The bodhisattva vow is a matter of attitude and a way of thinking. Our mind develops many thoughts, both positive and negative, so it seems more difficult to keep a vow of the mind. However, although the pratimoksha physical vows, such as not to kill and steal, may seem to be easier, once you have killed the life of a being, or have stolen something, you performed the physical actions that break the vow. Therefore, the pratimoksha vows are considered to be like a clay pot. Once the pot is broken, it cannot be repaired. With the bodhisattva vow, although you can develop many negative thoughts, physically you have not performed a harmful action, such as having killed someone. You can immediately change a negative attitude into something positive. Therefore, the bodhisattva vow is considered to be a vessel that is made of gold; if it falls, it may get out of shape, but it can be repaired and returned to its original form.

We should understand and appreciate our good fortune of having the opportunity to take the bodhisattva vow. We should not be afraid that we may be unable to keep the vow within our heart at all times. At the moment we realize we are developing a negative thought, we can always change and transform that attitude, so there is no need to be frightened about taking the vow. We also should appreciate the fact that we are able to learn such methods.

We will now speak about the benefits of the bodhisattva vow. In the sutrayana teachings, there are 230 benefits talked about by the Buddha. We will condense these and explain them in four points.

The first benefit of having obtained the bodhisattva vow is that through the practice of bodhicitta, we will learn how to remove suffering and obtain happiness. We will come to recognize that the root of all happiness is bodhicitta.

Secondly, having developed bodhicitta, not only do we experience our own happiness that is free from suffering, but with the bodhisattva vow, we are able to benefit others by giving happiness and removing suffering. For example, a long time ago Buddha Shakyamuni turned the wheel of Dharma in India in a place known as Bodh Gaya. Because the Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma and revealed the teachings, they spread to many other countries where people practiced them and achieved the complete realization of Buddhahood, the experience of ultimate happiness free from suffering. How did all those beings obtain Buddhahood? They did this by following the instruction of Shakyamuni Buddha. How did Shakyamuni Buddha himself obtain the level of the ultimate experience of happiness? In the very beginning he developed what is known as bodhicitta. Through the development and perfection of bodhicitta, the Buddha was able to benefit limitless beings.

When we begin to develop the altruistic attitude of bodhicitta, it may seem to be quite limited, as a very small number of such thoughts arise in our mind, and we think this really cannot help anybody. However, in the long run, as bodhicitta develops, we become more familiar with it and realize that this buddha activity is the source of all happiness, and the method to remove suffering and benefit uncountable beings.

The third benefit of obtaining the bodhisattva vow and developing bodhicitta is that since we all have our greatest enemy within ourselves, the conflicting emotions, through which we experience endless suffering, it is bodhicitta that gives us the strength to overcome these conflicting emotions. Bodhicitta is like a sword that cuts through all suffering .

The fourth benefit of developing pure bodhicitta is that it is the root of obtaining ultimate happiness for self and others. If it is not pure, we can not experience happiness, nor can we teach others to experience happiness. Bodhicitta is like a precious, wish-fulfilling jewel.


This teaching was given by the Ninth Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra on November 9, 1985. It was translated by Chojor Radha.

Sending and Receiving

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

TRAINING IN SHAMATHA MEDITATION, the basic meditation practice, is very important and will bring many benefits. With consistent practice, we acquire calmness and clarity of mind as well as a sense of mental precision. We also develop a greater perception of space, and are able to view situations properly and more precisely within this experience of space. Yet, as we work with this technique and begin to appreciate the qualities that develop from it, we should begin to develop a greater vision of what we can accomplish for other beings, and how we can best apply what we have learned to the situations around us.

Although basic meditation is extremely important, it is not the only thing you should be content practicing. It does provide some sense of openness, and helps us to see our confusion more clearly and with less fear, but it does not uproot our confusion completely. Application of different stages of skillful means is necessary if we are to cut through the confusion, the paranoia, and the habitual patterns that we have developed. In this way, practicing basic meditation is like sharpening our minds, facilitating our ability to appreciate and work more effectively with situations and materials that exist around us. For example, when you sharpen an axe, if you just keep sharpening it and sharpening it for no reason, there is not much point to your efforts. But, if you use it for some purpose, like chopping wood, then it makes great sense to sharpen it.

In order to further develop and integrate skillful means on the path, the openness and the firm grounding cultivated in the basic meditation practice are indispensable. Yet, if we are content to practice only the basic meditation, after a while we will not be able to do without it, and it will become just another habitual pattern or attachment. Instead of developing greater vision and sense of space, we may be developing different kinds of claustrophobia. Therefore, while the mind becomes calm, clear, and precise, it must also be playful enough to utilize the skills it has developed.

Realistically, we must be aware that as our practices become more meaningful, continuous transformations are necessary to ensure progress. We must not get so comfortable at one stage of development that we are overwhelmed by any situations of transformation. Mentally, we may have advanced somewhat, but from an ultimate point of view, we still have not achieved perfect sanity. For instance, if you are tied up, it does not matter whether the rope is black or white; as long as you stay bound, you will remain in a state of fixation and stagnation. The important thing is to get free. The practices we work with are designed to help us understand the nature of ego so we can recognize the possibilities of cutting through or unfolding the patterns of ego clinging. And if our practice--be it shamatha meditation or any other practice--is not leading in such directions, then we are missing the point. Consequently, whatever skillful means we can exercise through the practice of shamatha will aid us in fulfilling our potential for greater sanity and wakefulness.

When we talk about cutting through ego-clinging, we must not misunderstand and think that there is something substantial and solid that needs to be transferred or taken out, or that somebody could take out for us. Instead, there is something very narrow and rigid about our attitude and the way we perceive the world, and readjustment is necessary. The practice we are going to work with demands a realistic concern, not simply about ourselves, but about the environment and the beings around us; it also demands a sense of responsibility for our past, present, and potential actions. We must develop a greater sense of openness in order to accommodate situations that might demand some participation or responsibility, no matter how unpleasant or how little they accord with our desires or expectations.

To begin to nurture this understanding and vision, we can consider the traditional teachings which elucidate the Buddhist view of the nature of samsaric beings. This outlook is that all beings have been entangled in various kinds of painful confusion and paranoia from beginningless time, and there is every possibility that this will continue into the future. Comprehending this, we desire to know (and we are not afraid to actually find out) how this situation has transpired, and if there is some way we could be more responsible about it.

In traditional Buddhism, we consider all sentient beings as having once been our mothers or having acted in some protective, caring capacity toward us. Given the interrelated nature of existence, this is quite conceivable. If we sincerely probe into the situation even further, we begin to realize that we are actually very responsible for a great deal of the pain and suffering that beings are experiencing. When these beings were our mothers, they did everything possible to try to possess us, to protect us, and to bring us up, with tremendous attachment and clinging. Because of this, they developed strong patterns of paranoia, confusion, and constriction, which constantly cause them intense pain.

If you examine the relationship with your mother within this lifetime, you can begin to appreciate the frustration, the embarrassment, the difficulties, and the suffering that you have caused endless beings. She had to go through a tremendous amount of embarrassment attempting to protect you, experiencing harm and developing confusion in subtle and gross ways. No matter how demanding and frustrating it was, no matter how inconsiderate and ungrateful you were, no matter how much turmoil and chaos you precipitated, still she continued to care for and attend to you when you were unable to care for yourself. Even now, when you are grown up, she continues to cling to you and wants to protect you from various situations of fear, confusion, and so on. Whereas, as far as you are concerned, quite frankly, you have not done anything very beneficial for her. On the contrary, you have always wanted more, thinking, "Well, she didn't do this or that for me, and she could have done a little bit better in so many cases." Obviously, we have been very ungrateful and inconsiderate.

It is possible that your mother is going through the deepest suffering and confusion as a result of the patterns that were built up and the circumstances that were undergone to guarantee your very existence. Therefore, you must awaken to the responsibility you need to take. Despite any unpleasantness and pain, you must acknowledge the suffering you have caused and develop a concern for creating an environment of sanity. If you can recognize this, then--although you are confused and have much to work through--there is still a sense of courage and a determination that it is time to take sincere action. We cannot always try to hide and pretend that we do not actually see the situation. It is important that you be sincere and honest with yourself in thinking about the confusion you have brought into being. At this point you should be responsible enough to actually bring about some positive changes and contribute towards the unfolding of confusion. We should train our minds with this understanding.

Some people might take the easy way out and brush it aside, saying, "Yes, for certain individuals I might have caused problems and created confusion, and maybe there are a few things for which I should be grateful and for which I should take responsibility. But, still, there is nothing I can do about it at this point." And there are those who might say, "Actually, those other people have been responsible for the difficulties and confusion I'm going through. They are the ones who should do something about it." This just means they have shifted accountability for their own lives onto somebody else and are not willing to become responsible people. For them, responsibility is a very scary thing to handle, or even think about.

It should be quite different for someone who is a practitioner of the Dharma, having practiced meditation and having some sense of who we are. Through the meditation practice we should have a sense of openness towards ourselves and others, some precision of insight, and some clarity of mind. When we see the suffering and the confusion that beings are going through, we can actually open whatever veils we have created and see that there is confusion, it is real, and it is taking place. And because we have a sense of our true essence, we can actually do something to help eliminate this suffering. A genuine desire to sincerely participate arises.

Through the meditation practice, it is possible to develop a situation of friendship with yourself, from which you can radiate friendship towards others. Although a situation may look very frustrating and depressing, it is not necessary to remain in that state of mind, and maybe you can illuminate the situation with this friendliness and generate a warm and affectionate atmosphere.

As individuals we can make contributions towards the elimination of suffering and the creation of joy and happiness. In fact, if you had a true sense of who you are and what you could accomplish, it would be so overwhelming as to cause tears of joy and enthusiasm. Therefore, you should have confidence in your ability to make large and powerful strides. After all, it is not that you are really tied down or that you have to be so uptight.

As far as actually bringing about tremendous friendship and happiness in the lives of others, and eliminating all suffering and confusions, you may have a lot of patterns that you need to work out yourself, and may not immediately be able to perform such a service. For this reason, you should first train your mind with these possibilities until you begin to appreciate who you are and what you can do. When the mind has been trained properly, your body and speech synchronize with the responsibility that the mind has taken. Accordingly, in the sutras it is said, "Remain in the meditative state of loving-kindness," which means that you should train your mind with compassionate awareness and develop your ability to actually illuminate and radiate such friendship. In order for our body and speech to spontaneously appreciate and thus support the training of the mind, we use the traditional mind training practice of Tonglen, or the "sending and receiving" practice.

In the sending and receiving practice, the mind is trained in a meditative way, with a basic understanding of the friendship and the goodness that could be brought about. There is also a sense of responsibility towards eliminating the sufferings and the confusions of others. To begin with, we sit in the formal meditation position and follow the breath. With the outgoing breath, we send out towards all beings whatever goodness, health, and wholesome situation we have. As a result, all beings radiate with goodness, health and well-being, creating an environment of richness and sanity. You can also be more specific, sending out joy and health to a particular being, such as your mother or the person for whom you have the greatest concern. Whatever seems appropriate is fine. Then, while remaining confident in your ability to accommodate the negativities of others, you take in with the incoming breath all the confusion, limitations, and sufferings of other beings.

Working with the breath in this way, you train the mind by offering others all the wakefulness you have, and by taking all the confusion and paranoia of others on yourself. It is as if a bright light were going out with the breath towards all beings, representing your good and wholesome qualities. With the incoming breath, it is as if the embodiment of all suffering were coming towards you, which you then gladly take in. This giving and taking is, in a sense, what we have been trying to do in the practice all along, but up to this point we have not been able to generate true compassion or cut through the ego-clinging. On the contrary, everything has been for the purpose of self-gratification, for protection and security, and has only resulted in greater dissatisfaction. This is why it is necessary to change your attitude and the way you relate to the world at large.

Through this practice, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and let go of our clinging, loosening the state of fixation while also generating compassion towards others. Nurturing this attitude in our minds is important, because, although we often do some sort of giving and receiving, it is always incomplete because of the self aggrandizement we seek and the doubts and expectations we have. One moment we will be glowing with a bright smile, and the next moment we will be completely frozen, because we have not been properly trained.

To that end, a vital meditation practice will be consistent and will incorporate the Tonglen discipline of sending and receiving. It will also bring positive effects into post-meditation situations. If you understand and take your responsibilities sincerely, and meditate consistently, it is entirely possible that you will have the ability to produce these effects. You will feel that everyone, no matter who they are, is actually quite friendly and amiable, and that no one intentionally means to do harm. You will begin to understand that there may be great confusion in the surrounding world, but there is also some capacity for friendship. Whatever dissonance is taking place will not be seen as intentional, but will be recognized as a result of the confusion and limitations beings suffer, and this will only inspire you to take on even more responsibility. Furthermore, in all activities you will generate kindness, tenderness, and compassion; you will speak gentle and kind words accompanied by comforting body gestures. You will be constantly giving of yourself to others. There will be no sense of self-concern or selfish pride because you will identify with the responsibilities you have taken.

There may be situations where kindness shown towards beings who cannot appreciate it, will result in projections of further confusion. However, because of intensive meditation, and because of the understanding that has been developed, you will be able to accommodate that neurosis and perceive its unintentional nature. In this state of compassion, there is a sincere desire to benefit others however we can. Because of these sane intentions and activities, there will be a great deal of inner and spiritual development. Outwardly, you become a very decent, responsible, genial person.

We like to talk about the possibilities of a sane society where everyone is responsible and can generate a friendly environment and live in a dignified, or uplifted, manner. This is definitely possible in the ordinary world, as well as in terms of the spiritual realm and the experience of bodhisattva realization. It is not something out there beyond reach; instead, it is an inherent quality that is as close as home. It is simply a question of some work and integration. If you could become truly responsible for yourself and for others, if you could become responsible for your total liberation, then you could make a tremendous contribution to creating a very dignified and sane society. This is what the Tonglen training can bring into the world.


Taken from a transcript of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. The transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.

Questions & Answers

Q: In your teaching, you always emphasize the importance of having a right motivation based on loving-kindness and compassion. Why is this so important?

Thrangu Rinpoche: The main concern for Buddhists is one's own mind and its possible transformation. These days most other religions or philosophies accentuate the need for their followers to develop through social work or service of some sort--healing the sick, helping the aged, the lonely, etc. They often think that Buddhists are rather lacking in those areas. This is not particularly true because concern for others and the effort to help them is a living part of the Mahayana teachings. However, the main "function in society" of a Buddhist is to work on one's own inner purification--and as a result of that, then there will be a very natural flow of all the good and useful things around one. Such a happy, peaceful, contented person cannot emerge through changing externals--those inestimable qualities emerge from an inner work upon the mind. In order to change the mind then, one needs to be aware of one's mental processes and work upon increasing those that are wholesome whilst eliminating those that are unwholesome. In such purification the motivation of loving kindness and compassion is absolutely vital.

In particular, when there are lectures it is possible for one to really gain a lot from what is being taught and the presence of the bodhicitta motivation will stop the possibility of such goodness becoming polluted by pride, since one is always directing one's mind to the good of all other beings.

Q: I was interested in your comments this morning about the relationship between self-confidence and compassion. Could you speak about this in a little more depth? In our culture, and, I guess, in all cultures, we often see people who become overly self-confident. A lot of people who we think of as being self confident become arrogant and seem to lack the qualities of compassion. Sometimes compassion is associated with someone who is rather passive and meek, so I am interested to know more about this relationship.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: There is the possibility of confusing self-confidence and arrogance, so I must make it clear that the two qualities are very different. The kind of self-confidence I mean here is having confidence in yourself, first, in the sense that you want to provide happiness to not only a few people, but all sentient beings, and second, that you are also able to do so. Seeing that possibility in yourself is self-confidence. Arrogance is very deceptive. With arrogance, you feel good, but you look down on others. With self-confidence, you do not look down on anyone; you believe you have the capacity to help everyone and that everyone is equal. In that sense, the feelings are very different.

Concerning compassion, according to the dharmic understanding, it is explained as realizing that the greatest deception is self-centeredness. Therefore, we try to break through that self-centeredness, realizing that we are not the only ones who are experiencing suffering, but that every living being experiences suffering. We are not the only ones trying to obtain happiness, but every living being is longing for happiness. With that knowledge, we try to do whatever possible within our physical capacity to benefit others, and spiritually we try to grow and develop our capacities. The union of spiritual and physical benefit for others is done through the true knowledge of compassion.

Q: Could you elaborate on your remarks this morning about how compassion and wisdom work together?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The union of compassion and wisdom is like the union of skillful means and wisdom. Skillful means is actually equivalent to compassion. For example, those of you who take the refuge vow, if you think, "I am taking the refuge vow for the benefit of all living beings," that is compassion. In order to include all living beings in your heart, you must have some compassion, understanding, and acceptance. That acceptance and understanding becomes a part of compassion, which is skillful means. If you do not understand the ultimate goal or ultimate destination is enlightenment, and if you think, "I want to take refuge for the benefit of all living beings," but enlightenment is not included there, then you are missing the wisdom part because it is very temporary. You can be helpful to beings, but whatever help you provide is subject to deterioration, and the beings can return again to further suffering. To accomplish their being truly finished with suffering, we aspire to establish all of them in the ultimate realization which is buddhahood.

Compassion does not mean that we include only people we know personally, or those of our own nationality. It does not mean that we are only thinking of liberating human beings. It means including every living being: birds, insects, and every other sort of being. That is unconditional compassion.

Q: My question is about having anger or intense anger without hatred. If a person has great anger, maybe for a short period of time, toward another person, but without hatred, how would that relate to keeping vows or accumulating negative karma.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Anger itself is definitely not a positive thing, but it is not as intense or unvirtuous as hatred. The cause of anger is often that we are unable to accomplish something--we have some expectation or wishes that are not met. Such anger can stimulate hatred toward others. Since it can arouse hatred, anger is definitely not a comfortable experience.

Q: I am asking this because--not here but some places--I have seen a tendency for some people to, I think, feel anger, but they think, "Well, I don't want to be attached to anger," so they do not acknowledge their anger. They think "I'm not attached to the anger," but they still have it. They do not experience it, or they are afraid to experience it and let it go, and they would rather just pretend that they are not attached to it.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The remedy here is to have patience, which Shantideva explained in his teachings by saying, "If you could do something with the cause of your anger (to your mind, behavior, and so forth), it is important for you to do that. If the cause of your anger is such that, from the side of both object and subject, there is nothing you can do, there is no point in getting angry, because you cannot do anything." That is the teaching of Shantideva. To the last sentence, I would add that what we really need is to have patience.

Q: Sometimes we have compassion for people, but it is very harmful for them, in a way. It is not in their best interest. Without being enlightened, how can we have the wisdom to know whether we are really acting in their interest, or if it is more our own interest that is motivating us?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Real compassion is such that it is always harmless. Even if there is some mixture of self-interest in the compassion, still it is harmless. As a beginner in the practice, since our mind is not fully pure right now, self-interest may be mixed in. That happens--we may go back and forth with that situation. If you really want to know if your compassion is authentic compassion, if the being for whom you have compassion punches you, slaps your face, and even then you have no anger, then you have authentic compassion. The remedy for anger is compassion.

Q: When talking about the limitations of negative emotions, Rinpoche said that there was an antidote for anger. What is it?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The antidote for anger is, of course, patience. As long as one works at cultivating the root antidote of patience, then one can prevent constant upheavals of anger from taking place. During the actual moment of emotional upheaval, when one has already given in to anger, the antidote cannot be applied because one has let anger take the place of patience. This is why it is important to make preparations beforehand. For instance, you are not currently experiencing anger, but since you know that you have that limitation, there is every possibility that you will unnecessarily become very angry at some time in the future. Furthermore, it is important to realize that without anger there is no such thing as the realm of hell, since it is the accumulation of negativities through anger that causes one to experience the psychological and phenomenal manifestations of hell. In reality, there is no mandatory hell, it is only because of anger that people experience such sufferings. As you can see, you really can't afford to get angry.

Another aspect of the limitation of anger is that it causes great disruption and disturbance to yourself as well as those around you. When you are angry, you cannot do anything well and you feel very uncomfortable. In addition, you send out this emotion to others and make them feel uncomfortable as well. Obviously, you don't want to constantly experience this discomfort, nor do you want to make others feel that way. In this way, you can use a meditation on the negativities of anger as an antidote.

Ultimately, the opposite of anger is patience, and the perfection of patience is essentially the attainment of enlightenment. So, once you have perfected the practice of patience, you have actually achieved liberation from the sufferings of samsara. Then, if somebody becomes angry with you, you have no desire to get back at this person because you will understand the nature of anger. You will realize that to make someone else angry and to cause anger to arise in yourself would only create tremendous suffering for the both of you, and so you would respond with the sanity of patience. Moreover, by the practice of patience, it is actually possible to purify the negativities you have accumulated through anger in the past.

If you work on understanding the benefit of patience and the defect of anger, constantly reminding yourself of this reality, then at some point in the future--not immediately--when anger arises, this wisdom will help you to see around it. Instead of rushing headlong into this negative emotion, you will be able to slow down and pull yourself out of it. Gradually, you will see no point in getting angry at all. This is an effective means of developing an antidote to anger.

Those who are practitioners of the Dharma, and who have some understanding of the Dharma, definitely have a much greater element of sanity than those who do not. This is because non-practitioners of the Dharma generally see upheavals of negative emotions as a positive quality. For instance, anger is often encouraged because it shows that you are able to stand up for yourself and protect what is yours. As practitioners of the Dharma, however, although we may not immediately be able to uproot such negative patterns, we don't encourage them because we know how harmful they are. We may become caught up in them as they arise, but afterwards we realize that they were actually very unpleasant and brought no benefit to anyone. For this reason we don't encourage these emotions, and we don't congratulate ourselves for having been completely taken by our anger. And if you are able to remain always mindful of the defects of anger and the benefit of patience, then not only will you be able to control yourself in the face of these emotions, but you will also discourage them from even arising.

Q: You said that one person cannot take on the karma of another person. Is there still some value in the practice or attitude of exchanging oneself for others? For instance, people were talking yesterday about eating meat. When eating meat, I was thinking of trying to take on the karma of the person who might have been responsible for killing the animal. Is that possible? Is that something to keep in mind, for instance, when eating or during any other kind of activity?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: It is ordinarily almost impossible to shift any karma from one person to another. The sending and receiving practice, or tonglen, is given quite freely to those who are beginners in the practice of dharma. However, a beginner does not have the power or ability to take on the karma of others and, at the same time, transfer good karma to others. If we do not have that power, why do we practice tonglen? By doing tonglen effectively, we are primarily cutting through our arrogance, our attachment to self or ego. Whatever merit we accumulate by overcoming attachment (particularly the attachment to self) and arrogance, and because that selfish notion has been removed, we are able to dedicate that merit quite freely or openly. The pure dedication of merit is very helpful in the long run. Therefore, there is some connection, but it is not the case that by doing tonglen we are actually taking away negative karma and giving out positive karma.

Concerning eating meat, there are great bodhisattvas (yogis and yoginis), those who are quite advanced in the practice who with their intolerable love and compassion, by eating meat are able to concentrate their blessings on the being who is dead as well as the one who did the killing, benefiting both individuals. There is that possibility, but those are quite advanced beings who can do such things.

Q: I began the tonglen practice using my grandmother as the specific focus, and it became very emotional, which seems paradoxical. For instance, in shamata, you are not supposed to concentrate on the emotions or become involved in them as they arise. Is this practice expected to stimulate emotions? How should I deal with them? Am I approaching this incorrectly?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: At first the shamata and tonglen practices may seem contradictory, but after closer examination, you will see that it is not so. It is like when you peel something which has two layers--both are of the same thing. There may seem to be contradiction in that one layer is outside and one inside, but if you think about it, this is not paradoxical. Shamata meditation is crucial because otherwise we are overwhelmed by all kinds of emotions and distractions. We will cling to anything; anything can tear us apart. Almost all of these indulgences do not benefit us, even if they are beneficial, because of our destructive relationship to them. No matter what the circumstances are, if we approach them with a neurotic attitude, we merely intensify the neurosis. In this case, we do the shamata practice in order to avoid being inundated by confusions, negativities, and preoccupations.

Tonglen practice will definitely evoke some emotion; it should do this. But the quality of the emotion is quite different. Before beginning your shamata practice you may have been totally engrossed with certain attitudes, but the quality of the emotion that you begin to notice and experience in the tonglen practice is quite different. It is important to develop this kind of emotion to some extent, and this sensibility as well. If you are just doing shamata practice, although it is absolutely important, it is very easy to mistake it for the be-all and end-all. Therefore, you must realize the limitations and the importance at the same time. In order to appreciate the main benefit of the practice, you need to integrate something else. Many times shamata practice becomes a form of security; for instance, when you hear people saying, "Today I did well at work because I did my practice."

Certainly it is good to do the practice and to have a good feeling from that. But on the other hand, if that is the reason you are doing the practice, you are not going to get very far. Sometimes you may feel very happy and calm and think "Oh, this is really great!" and you will want to continue with it, but that is just another form of clinging. As mentioned earlier, if you are tied up with either a black or a white rope, it amounts to the same thing. You might have a sense of immediate satisfaction, thinking that because the rope is white, it will be looser. But in fact, you are still immobile. In this way, it is important to use shamata meditation to clear things up and not to get caught in them.

But the possibility is very real of getting caught up in some of the experiences we encounter in shamata practice. Therefore, we must avail ourselves of the tonglen practice, which involves a lot of emotion and will supply us with many things to work with. These have been neglected, and you may not have even known you had those things to work with. This gradual refinement is quite necessary.

In a very literal sense, you may step from an unwholesome, confused attitude to an attitude which embodies a subtler shade of confusion, but it is still a matter of clinging and a continuation of the confusion. The bias still remains, which is why you should begin the practice by focusing on somebody you know well, somebody you love. You may not be able to begin with other beings, like somebody you really hate, because the idea of giving benefit and of accommodating that person's neurosis may freeze you. As you can see, the dualism is very powerful, and the clinging, of course, is very predominant. But this is all right, you will be working at it.

There will be many things to work out, many emotions to deal with and refine. The emotions of this practice will have a different quality and taste, because as you work with them, they shift and change, and you will find that it is really not that difficult to participate in situations and work with beings in general. You will begin to willingly relate to everyone with feelings of confidence, capability, and responsibility. So the sense of duality you feel will change, and you will be able to bridge those distinctions.

Q: So these emotions help to cultivate bodhicitta?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Yes. For those in whom bodhicitta has not arisen, such training could help the arising of bodhicitta. For those who have generated some bodhicitta, this training will aid in the further cultivation and development of bodhicitta. A great deal depends on how well you are able to work with these emotions and how sensitively you handle situations. And of course, taking the bodhisattva commitment by receiving the transmission of the bodhisattva vow plays a most important part in the practice.

Q: When practicing sending and receiving, are you attempting to give something internal, such as your feelings or your desire to help other beings, or are you trying to send all of yourself by giving the positive elements of your identity, such as your intelligence or your upbringing?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: At this point in the giving and receiving, it is just an attitude, as you know. It is probably a very foreign attitude for us, because we are used to always wanting and taking for ourselves. The habitual pattern we have developed is to constantly feed our egos. Giving all good to other beings and receiving all of their negativities demands quite a dramatic shift from trying to give all our negativities to others and taking all the good for ourselves. But there is no cause to worry, because you are not actually giving anything at this point, nothing will be taken from you, and you do not need to concern yourself with where these things may be put. There may be a point where it might be relevant to know what you should give and to whom, what they are going to do with it and how well they are going to take care of it. But at this point, it is simply an attitude. Initially, one must cultivate this attitude, hoping it will make some sense, because it will be quite foreign to you.

Thus, the primary thing is to give whatever goodness you have, completely and without hesitation or expectations. And whatever negativities there may be, close by or distant, you welcome all of them. That is the essential attitude. If there is anything you have reservations about giving, give it all the more. If there are any sufferings that you really do not want to receive, welcome them all the more. That is the correct way to deal with it.

Q: While practicing tonglen, should the eyes be angled down as in shamata meditation?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: As long as you maintain a meditative body position, it does not matter where the focus of your eyes is, or whether they are open or closed. The important thing is the awareness of sending out all goodness with the exhalations and taking in all the negativities and confusion with the inhalations. That is the basis of this meditation practice. Sometimes you might remind yourself of a couple of specific incidents, to make it more real or to clarify what you are doing, instead of merely following the breath, unaware of what you are doing.

If you are able to handle the practice of giving and receiving with all sentient beings, that is very good. But to begin with, it might be helpful to choose a specific target. You can start with a person as the focal point, somebody that you are fond of and want to help experience goodness and happiness, and then expand it to include groups, such as your community, your country, the human species, and so on. Slowly, you can focus on those whom you dislike or hate, welcoming them as foremost among beings that you are going to work with. Extend to them all goodness, health, happiness, and awakening, and take all their negativities and limitations of whatever kind. In gradually expanding the focus to include greater and greater numbers, after a while you will be able to send and receive for the benefit of all sentient beings, without reservations. This practice incorporates both loving kindness and compassion: loving-kindness in your desire for and rejoicing in the happiness, liberation and sanity of all beings, and compassion in your desire to uproot the sufferings, problems, and negativities of others.

Q: Sometimes, when I am doing tonglen, it seems so real that I do not want to do it. That is silly, because I made vows to help all beings. But it is difficult to pick up someone else's pain and actually feel it. It is like thinking about all the people with hangovers on New Years Day, and getting a bad headache. I know that is an emotional response, but how do I develop the correct exertion?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: As far as the experience is concerned, it is a very, very good experience. Now you have to deal with the resistance you feel. It sounds as if you have really worked on this practice to be able to do this, which is excellent. In a sense, this is a good habit, and we encourage it. You are not going through the pain, but you are watching it and you can see it very clearly. This is fine for a particular situation or person. But the emotion here is so strong that you are getting caught up in the emotional pattern. It becomes a situation of great worry and concern. Instead of allowing it to become like that, the reality of this particular experience should be an instrument of encouragement for you, helping you to overcome this resistance. And this is but one of a thousand cases.

You also mentioned that you have taken a vow to work and to generate something totally sane for all beings. Right now you may find it very difficult, but you have a lot more work to do and you cannot stop here. Taking into account the reality of the suffering that all sentient beings are going through, your practice needs immediate attention. It should not be delayed. You develop exertion by paying sincere and immediate attention to what your practice requires. At this point, nothing is happening--you are just watching these sufferings, and it is very moving. Ordinarily there are many veils and pretensions, and we do not see sufferings very dearly. But you have cultivated the ability to go beyond that.

Therefore, remind yourself of the commitment you have made and the sanity in that commitment. It may sound ironic, but that makes an excellent reminder. And you are going to do it. You may feel you lack something, but actually you do not lack anything, because you have taken refuge and have some understanding of the lineage. You know your teacher and your relationships well. If nothing else, you can revitalize your exertion by thinking of how silly and embarrassing it would be to the people you associate with to halt your forward progress. For this reason, supplicate your root guru and the lineage, and remind yourself of the situation of having taken refuge. Connect that with your own sincerity and strength and confidence, and nothing will be impossible for you.

Test yourself, as well, by working on different specific situations. If there are particular beings or people you do not feel very comfortable about, work on them. Realize how joyful you can feel working with them. If there are some people you have a discrimination against because of religious or professional background, maybe you should include them in your practice and see how well you are able to deal with them. If you feel that way about one person or group, think of how many other beings are going through similar torments. How sincere are you with them? Is your sincerity nondiscriminating? You can test yourself with these questions.

Q: Along the same lines as one of the previous questions, when I meditate I have been watching the negativities come into Dorje Chang [visualization of the primordial Buddha] and disappear as they enter his body. And then, all the goodness comes out from the void. Is this all right?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In the tonglen practice, please understand that the target of practice is simply you and your ego, and that is what you have to work with. You should not try to bring about any help or try to shield yourself--you simply work with the situation. You should face the work by yourself with confidence, knowing it is something you can and will do alone. It is like a battle with your own ego. The task is quite difficult, but it is possible. In some of the more advanced practices, deities are incorporated, but that is not relevant to this discussion. In the tonglen practice, you simply develop the attitude of giving and receiving, and just sit in that awareness, following the movement and riding the breath with your mind.

Q: I have been trying to do this practice for a while, and I find it very difficult to do, and I am able to get very little out of it. I become very spaced out, and, although I have had that experience with other practices, this particular one seems to be the one that gets me. I am wondering why that is. Is more exertion needed? Could a particular fixation be keeping me from experiencing it correctly?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: There is probably a certain lack of exertion, but this may result from a lack of understanding concerning the practice. You have to understand your practice, and the practice has to become, in some sense, realistic. But exertion is most important. And exertion does not necessarily mean being able to spend a long time with the practice. Exertion here means that you are very sincere about the practice, and do it with joy and willingness rather than with a feeling of being forced to do it. When there is sincere and willing participation, you are able to focus yourself and be right on the spot with the practice. If there is not that sense of sincerity and exertion, you could be spending a lot of time and be quite apart from the practice.

To have genuine exertion we have to understand the reality of the practice. That is why the emphasis of this talk has been on understanding of the practice. We must have confidence in the reality of the practice, because the suffering and confusion that beings are going through is quite real. Often we are not aware of or concerned about this. Sometimes we think about it, but it is upsetting and we try to forget it, especially since we want to believe that everything is just fine, and create a soft and cushy world for ourselves.

Usually we even fail to appreciate the sufferings that others have gone through for our own sake. For instance, the actual physical and mental sufferings that your parents went through have been tremendous, no matter how insincere you think they have been. If you examine it carefully, without trying to protect yourself, and allow yourself to nakedly see what has really happened, you will find that there is a lot to take into consideration and a lot to appreciate. Because of you, a great deal of confusion has been generated, and the intensity of the resulting sufferings that your parents are going through or will be going through is immeasurable. From that point of view, you have a great responsibility. Confidence in the reality of this is essential if you are to appreciate, in a real sense, the practice you are going to do.

If you incorporate this example into your practice, perhaps it will help you be mindful of what the limitations in your practice could be.

Q: When I do the practice, I imagine a big white light in my heart filled with love and compassion and so forth, and I send it out with my breath. When I breathe in all the suffering of the world, I imagine it as a black cloud which, when it meets the white light, dissipates. This makes it easier to breathe in the suffering and breathe out light, because instead of my heart turning black with the suffering, the light dispels the blackness. I was wondering if this is okay?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In some sense, it is fine, but still, it needs improvement. When you imagine that there is this white light, clinging to the notion of self is very evident because you are building a form of protection for yourself. This light acts as a protective barrier between you and the negativities you are supposed to be accepting. Instead of promoting the experience of egolessness, this allows you to remain involved with your ego, which misses the point. Although there is a sense of goodness and direction, it is not completely appropriate and needs to be refined.

It is not necessary to imagine a light or anything like that. Earlier, we used light to exemplify specific qualities of the practice. To elaborate on that, in the meditation practice you give out all the goodness that you have, that you are, and that you could be. Whatever is good--sanity, wealth, awakening, spiritual or mundane happiness--is given to all beings. This radiates out towards all sentient beings, just like when something is lit in darkness and light spontaneously radiates, dispelling the darkness in the whole room. But again, it is not necessary to imagine the light. Then all sufferings, confusions, and negativities, whatever they may be, you welcome to yourself, which is like nailing down your ego with the hammer of all these things. And that is where the actual work needs to be done.

At this point, however, when the negativities of others are welcomed in this way, we encounter what can be the most difficult problem: the fear of these negative things actually causing us harm. After all, if we are going to invite the sufferings and limitations of all beings to ourselves, what is going to happen? Who is there to get hurt? What can you complain about?

Furthermore, in the giving, we are giving every form of goodness we have. Usually we desire everything, but who is going to want anything now? It has all been given. You have decided to give everything, so what is there to want now? Fundamentally, we are training ourselves in the experience of egolessness. It may seem that what we are doing is making no difference, but actually it is making a difference to us and is indirectly benefitting beings. If you have not recognized or experienced some form of egolessness, your desire to benefit sentient beings is going to be very limited, if you have any at all, because of expectations of returns and so on. Ultimately speaking, it would just be words--there would be little practical benefit you could extend to beings. Thus, even though you have a very sincere desire to work for others, first you have to work on yourself in this way. That is how you should relate to the practice, instead of trying to shield yourself from something.

Q: As I practiced sending and receiving, I visualized a large plain filled with people and animals. To breathe over the whole plain, however, I had to be much larger than they were. And that was bothering me. Should I be more specific in my focus?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: For sending or for receiving, it is not necessary for you to become bigger. We are so attached to form that we can relate only to fixed, substantial objects. As a result, we feel the need to expand ourselves or to become like some kind of a container. In some respects, this is okay, but not with this fixed preconception that you need to be larger. The primary thing is the attitude. The embodiment of the negativity and suffering comes from everywhere, and keeps coming and coming. And the goodness and sanity starts from you and radiates out in all directions. You could be any size or shape. So you do not have to be bigger or smaller in that sense.

Right now, we are not working on envisioning lights coming out of our bodies, or anything like that. All we are dealing with is our need to feel protected and be the center of everything. We are working on our ego clinging, our clinging to the concept of self. This is why we welcome everything to this I, wherever it is, and give of the self to all. It does not matter whether you visualize yourself larger or smaller--nothing is coming into your body.

As for having specific focuses, this is done for a few different reasons. For instance, all of you here seem quite familiar with the Buddhadharma and have some grounding in the teachings, so you can understand and relate to it. Otherwise, this teaching could be so alien to our habitual way of thinking that it could initially frighten people. That is why we teach stage by stage, allowing time to integrate an experience before moving to another stage. Given all at once, it could be too overwhelming. Also, abilities vary, and some people are more courageous than others. All can do the work, but in different ways or in different stages. Some are not very courageous in accommodating the sufferings and confusions of all sentient beings, and especially of certain beings. Therefore, by working with a friendly situation, with those whom you really like, you could perhaps extend yourself from there. Gradually you become more and more outgoing and courageous.

Another reason for being specific is that when you have not developed the attitude of compassion and loving-kindness, it is likely that the practice will not really flow. It is as if sensitivity to the practice has not yet evolved. Our attention becomes spaced out, and losing interest rapidly, we focus wherever we think to, as if it does not matter. When you are specific, however, and deeply conscious of the suffering, then it becomes quite a sensitive situation. From there you can extend your awareness. Sensitivity to the reality of the practice thus seems to grow and expand.

Those who are more courageous, and have a stronger desire to be a conqueror, can begin working with the most unfavorable situations first. This would include beings that you hate or dislike, such as people from a country with which your own country is at war. There may be specific people in your everyday life you do not like to be around, and you can start with them first. You welcome whatever is most difficult first. After that, the rest will come quite easily. These are a few examples of the value of specificity to the tonglen practice.

Q: Is it all right to focus your Sending and Receiving on a particular person or group of people while you are doing the practice?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Actually this practice has to encompass all beings. Letting go and sending out goodness and virtue from yourself to all beings is done with a sense of contentment and with the intention that goodness, happiness, and well-being may penetrate all beings and that goodness may become all-encompassing. Inviting and receiving all the suffering, confusion, and negativity of all beings involves having the willingness, the courage, and the openness to take all of this upon yourself. This should be the general practice, but if you have a problem getting into that state of mind, you can work with individuals or groups where you can see specific sufferings that are definitely physical and very obvious. When you are able to have a one-to-one relationship with these people, there is naturally a strong feeling of wanting to send out every goodness to them and to take in every possible limitation they experience. Such people could include your parents, to whom you are grateful, or perhaps a friend, or someone you see in a very difficult situation. You can begin with them, but you must not get stuck with them. The more heroic way of performing the mahayana level of practice is to start with the more difficult task: to start with all beings.

By starting with those who are the most difficult, such as those you might regard as enemies or feel hatred for, whether human beings, animals, or whatever, the next level becomes more achievable. If you are able to deal with them, doing the sending out and taking in with those who are difficult for you, then it is certain you will be able to do it with all beings, which is very wonderful.

Q: What is a good thing to do when you take in the sufferings and you feel a kind of heaviness or fear, depending on how much you do it?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The Sending and Receiving practice is very healthy and sane. It is also a very powerful and heroic practice because we have always been caught up with doing everything for ourselves, with trying to get all the goodness for ourselves. Now, suddenly, we are going in the opposite direction. Yes, it may definitely be a shock at first. There may be a sense of, "How is this happening?" This is because our attachment has been so strong. Because of our clinging, we have always had the orientation that if we seek benefit for ourselves, that is how we will get it.

Now we are learning, however, that taking on the sufferings of others is the key to benefiting ourselves. Therefore, the more you are able to take in, the more you should rejoice. If you are able to take in the sufferings of all human beings, that is fantastic. But even if you are just thinking or imagining it, rather than actually taking in all sufferings, at least you are able to have the right kind of attitude: heroic and truly open and compassionate. There should be joy in that, because it is such a contrast to the way we are usually thinking, "I am good," "I am the best one," and so forth. The benefit of this practice is the purification of our own negative patterns, and also a greater sense of being able to respect other beings. That is actually what you incorporate, what you take in and develop, instead of something negative. If there are fears, if there is some hesitation or heaviness, it is actually very positive. Think, "Maybe I am able to take it--so why not take more of it?" In reality, of course, you will not be afflicted by anything at all.

The main reason human beings are caught up in samsaric patterns is a very strong sense of dichotomy: the sense of myself and my group, and desiring everything for my group, in opposition to the concerns and needs of others. Now suddenly you are going in reverse. At the beginning it may be uncomfortable because you really do not have the habit of doing much to benefit others, so we train mentally, by imagining we are doing something. Who is benefitted? We are, of course, because right now we are not enlightened beings, we are not bodhisattvas, and we are not actually able to take on anybody's suffering. It is not possible right now, even if we want to, because we do not have the ability at the moment. We can imagine it, though, which is a means of self-purification. We imagine we are taking in the sufferings of all beings, and at first this is most beneficial to just us personally. Then, gradually, the benefit spreads to all beings. However, it is important to be clear about what you are actually doing, or you might become confused and feel that you are taking in something that you are not.

Q: I was thinking that in doing the practice it would be easier for me to envision giving to friends whom I know and care about, or even animals, than to beings I see as my enemies. Mosquitos I see as my enemies--they take my blood and make me itch. Worms get into my system. Roaches infest my food. I'd like to kill these animals--so I have a question about that, about starting the practice off with beings you see as your enemies. It seems that I would be giving especially to those beings I feel aggressive toward, and I wondered at what point it would be harmful to do that. At what point would it make you sick?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Actually it is very difficult, but it is also very important to work with beings or animals you see as your enemies. It is important to have loving-kindness and compassion toward such creatures, because they are very helpless. They are born in a situation in which they are able to cause harm--though totally helpless, they are still able to harm, which is to say that in the future these creatures will cause more harm for beings and more suffering for themselves. When you realize this, genuine compassion can arise. These creatures are harming you, yet it is almost certain that in past lifetimes they were in human form, or in some form in which they helped you. These beings are not aware of this now, yet they have been born into their present situations, and you have been born into yours. Now they do not know any better; they are very stupid and in a confused situation. You are now in a better situation to understand, in an enlightened situation to understand and to relate, and you have the freedom and the power to do so. Make use of the knowledge you have, and understand that there is no question about it: you must generate loving kindness and compassion to transform the situation. It will not cause you any harm to do so. Even when great harm or disturbance is being caused to you, there are gentle and skillful ways you can put the other beings into a situation where they are not harmed. It is best to do so to the degree of understanding that you have.

Q: Rinpoche, can you discuss how one can use anger in a positive and constructive way in practice?

H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche: If you learn about the different principles of the different Buddha families, there is a lot to say about that. Practically, though, I'm not too sure about the use of anger for most people. I personally think anger, as most people see it, is one thing. Some people have a concept about anger, and when they say they have anger their behavior differs from their concept. It is not the same kind of anger.

Let's assume the majority of people would say anger occurs when something happens that you don't like. For example, somebody does something quite selfish and inconsiderate towards you or towards someone that you care about, and that makes you upset and angry. That is one thing. But in our community there are people who have lots of anger for no reason. In the West there are a lot of them. So that's another thing, which is coming from some kind of disappointment, like when something happens and it doesn't work out the way you want and you cannot do any thing about it. Then it becomes a sort of imprint in your conscious thought or even at the subconscious level which builds up, making it much easier for some people to be angrier than other people.

Some people are very slow to anger but some people are very, very easy to anger. And this type of anger has some sense of impatience about it. There is not much tolerance and patience in that person. Sometimes it is negative; sometimes it could even be positive, because for people like that, if they really manage to transform it, it is a kind of energy. For example, there is a big river flowing through a gorgeous Himalayan valley and the power of the river is all wasted, yet if somebody thought about building a power station right there, it could light up the whole city.

So in the same way, when a person has that kind of characteristic, and that person manages to use it and direct it correctly, that is energy. I don't think that person can be lethargic. That person will be very active and have a lot of ability to do many, many things. So I would look for a way to use this anger or to transform this anger in a more practical way then looking into the five Buddha families and five wisdoms. That is really more of a result than a cause. You have to have a lot of practice, a lot of realization in order to transform anger in that way. If you are not at that level of transformation, then use it in a more practical way. Do things, become a more active person. You should get involved mentally and physically in projects so that this energy is utilized. You can direct it into effective works and generate many outcomes from it.

In this way, there is a great possibility that you can even become a totally different person after a long enough period of doing things and seeing their results. Then you will not be disappointed, because you will see what you have done, you will see its results, and then you will learn to let this make you happy. When you learn to appreciate things, then this negativity is not there. It becomes much, much less.

If I were a psychologist I would have much more to say besides this. But unfortunately, I am not [laughter] so I really don't know. But what psychologists say is quite accurate. They can tell you exactly how this is developed, and then, if they are really skillful, they can actually work on the kleshas, like anger and jealousy, and some how cure them--sometimes permanently, but most of the time temporarily. But that's good enough. Many times temporary improvement can lead to a more long-lasting result.

Q: I experience a great deal of passion, and I find myself constantly being drawn into situations because of this. Initially there seems to be some genuine interest in relating with the world, but once I am involved in the situation it's like my fingers have glue on them and everything sticks. As an aspirant on the bodhisattva path, I would like to know how you balance a sense of openness with the attitude of letting go, especially in a situation you've already committed to. And at the same time, how do you practice this detachment while maintaining enough passion to feel compassion for the world? I have just begun vajrayana practice, but I am already involved in a situation, and I seem to be stuck. I have vowed to work with people, but I feel like I should be more devotional...

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Well, if Rinpoche understood your question properly, which is to say, if I translated it clearly, it is a very, very good question. Rinpoche feels it might be more helpful, because of the nature of your practice, to talk to Rinpoche privately if there is an opportunity. Then we can talk in a little more depth. But, to address the question generally, on the bodhisattva path there are two aspects, that of the mental aspirations and that of the actual responses and actions. You should, of course, always have the best and highest motivations. But when it comes to actually living up to those motivations with your actions, you have to see what it is you can do, and what further experiences you may need first. If you overzealously jump into things and let your motivations push and pull you this way and that, it would not be very skillful. For example, say there was a river, and if you could swim across to the other side, you could accomplish tremendous good for yourself and others. However, you would first have to know how well you can swim, and how strong the current is. If you were like Rinpoche, who does not know how to swim and is short-legged as well, and you got all excited and jumped in the water anyway, not only would you not benefit anybody, you would be in trouble. Now, it is exciting that there is water and that there is also the possibility of swimming across to the other side, because there could be a lot to discover over there. But how well-equipped are you with the experience that is necessary to go through with it? This is just a general point to keep in mind.